Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

You may have noticed I've been MIA from blogging for a few weeks.  That's because my husband Jacob was visiting me in South Africa!  I celebrated Christmas by spending an awesome 2 weeks with my very favorite person in the whole world!  Recap with lots of pictures coming soon :)

In the meantime, I'd like to wish everyone a happy new year.  I hope that wherever you are when 2013 draws to a close, you are able to look back on this past year and realize that you have probably made someone's life better just by being you.  If you're reading my blog, then chances are you know me, and have made a difference in my life!  I'm not really into resolutions (although I often make them, I tend to not take them very seriously).  So instead of making a resolution to lose 5 pounds or keep the apartment clean or give up chocolate, let's instead take the opportunity a new year gives us as a chance to be more firmly committed to loving the people around us, whatever form that may take.  

I hope everyone reading this had as great a Christmas as I did, as mine was filled with love and time spent with the person who knows me best.  Happy New Year from the bottom of Africa, where it is 85 degrees and sunny on New Year's Eve.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A sad day for South Africa

As you all know, former president Nelson Mandela died December 5 following his battle with cardiac failure and a lung infection.  At the age of 95, after a difficult but revolutionary life, I am glad that this great leader's soul may rest in peace.  But the death of 'Mandiba' is a terrible loss for the nation of South Africa.  With the figurehead of the anti-apartheid movement gone, what does that mean for the country?

I believe that South Africa has come a long way since Mandela was chosen as president in the first free election in 1994.  In less than 20 years, this once oppressive country has sought to move on into a new era of freedom and opportunity for all.  The attitudes of South Africans are astounding.  It has been less than a generation since apartheid fell, but I see less racism here than I do in my own city of Richmond.  The progress made in these 19 years is truly astounding.

That being said, South Africa still has a long way to go.  In my position at the care centre, I see the lasting effects of apartheid and racism daily.  I see it in patients who live in squalid shacks, in people who are unemployed (or who are employed full-time but are paid way less than US minimum wage), and in a healthcare system filled with dedicated professionals who lack the resources to provide adequate care to those who need it most.  HIV is rampant in South Africa (a situation that Mandela fought against following the end of his presidential term).  Townships remain as full as ever.  Gender violence statistics are appallingly high.  Despite the enormous progress, these issues remain the daily reality for far too many people in this country.

During my three and a half months in South Africa, I have met some of the most dedicated and compassionate people that I have ever had occasion to call my friends.  I have absolute faith that this nation, which has an extraordinary capacity for forgiveness and Christ-like love, will continue to strive towards resolving its problems.  South Africa is a beautiful place.  It is graced with a stunning natural setting, but the real beauty of this country lies not in the land but in its people.  I am so privileged to live among them, especially during this time of morning and transition and celebration, when their ability to pull together and support one another is more evident than ever.

God bless Africa;
Guard her children;
Guide her leaders;
And grant her peace, for Jesus Christ's sake.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A HOPEful Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope that all my American readers are enjoying a peaceful and family-filled holiday.  For those of you who are not Americans, I imagine you have at least heard of Thanksgiving, even if you're not sure exactly what we're celebrating.  Basically Thanksgiving is a holiday set aside to thank God (or just to be thankful in general if you aren't religious) for all the blessings in our lives.  

Now here is where I am going to be a bit annoying and tell you the REAL Thanksgiving story.  The ACTUAL first American Thanksgiving happened in Richmond, Virginia (yes, that's my city!) at Berkley Plantation, and it was in the spring.  The wealthy plantation owners of European descent had a big feast to thank God for getting them through the winter with their crops and land and possessions intact.  However, that's not the story that most Americans know.  We are all taught about the second American Thanksgiving, which happened in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Pilgrims from Europe arrived in America without enough resources to get them through the winter.  They were saved by the American Indians, who shared their harvest with the pilgrims.  The pilgrims then cooked a feast using some of the provisions and ate with their new Indian friends.  Obviously, this makes a better story (two cultures coming together and sharing their wealth) than the Virginia story of rich people retaining their riches.  In the end, though, those same pilgrims brought diseases and wars that eventually killed off the Indians who originally saved the Pilgrims.  So that story didn't end very well either.  But anyway, those are the two stories, and you can do with them what you will.

I had my own little Pilgrim and Indian story this year (and mine does have a happy ending).  You see, whichever YASCer is in the Cape Town area is in charge of organizing Thanksgiving dinner for the HOPE Africa offices.  Since Emily has returned to the US, this job fell to me.  On Monday, I went out to buy my turkey to make sure it would have plenty of time to thaw in the refrigerator like it's supposed to.  Yes, they do sell turkeys in South African grocery stores, but they only have small ones.  So instead of one 15 pounder, I had to buy two smaller turkeys to feed the office, which means they needed to hang out in the freezer for another 24 hours before I started to thaw them.  Here is where I encountered a problem:  my freezer needs to be defrosted, and it is so full of ice that the door was stuck shut!  OH NO!  WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY BIRDS????

I sent a frantic text message to my friend Dewald, who lives close by, begging him to let me use his freezer for 24 hours.  Luckily, Dewald happened to be at home, and we managed to rearrange all of his ice cream (who keeps like 4 half gallons of ice cream in their freezer anyway?) to fit the birds.  

The next problem was getting the birds from Hawston to Cape Town.  I tried putting the birds in the car like this:

But I was afraid that wouldn't really be food safe.  Remember, it's summer here, and with traffic it can be a two hour drive.  I was worried about driving partially thawed birds in a hot car for that long.  Well, Dewald came to the rescue again with his cooler bag.  My birds (who I have by now started to call Tom and Jerry) rode in ice pack-conditioned comfort.

They were good passengers.  They didn't complain about my driving or my singing along to the radio.

So there you have it.  A nice little version of the Pilgrim and Indian Thanksgiving story, in which an expat in a strange land (me) was saved from disaster (or at least my turkeys were saved) by a friendly and obliging local (or rather, his freezer and cooler bag).

Once I got to Cape Town, I was able to start making the other dishes I had planned, specifically macaroni and cheese and pecan pies.  Other traditional Thanksgiving dishes were provided by HOPE Africa staffers, and a former HOPE Africa YASCer from a few years ago who happens to be in Cape Town right now, and whose name is, confusingly, Emily.  But this is a different Emily than the one you've seen pictures of.

I have never made a turkey before.  Luckily, I have been emailing back and forth with my mom for several days getting all her turkey-related wisdom, and I have also googled 'how to cook a turkey'.  That makes me fully qualified as a bird-preparer.

I got the idea of stuffing some sliced lemons into my birds from a blog.  Sounded like a good idea to me!

There they are, Tom and Jerry, all dressed up and ready to go!

Khilowe made some roasted veggies.  Apparently this was a big deal, because she is known to hate the kitchen with a fiery passion.

Delene made an awesome fresh salad.

Last night I made a giant vat of macaroni and cheese while I was at Anhouse.  All I had to do today was bake it.  I also made two chocolate chip pecan pies.  I had to substitute some very American ingredients for the closest South African equivalent.  Corn syrup simply does not exist outside of America!  The HOPE Africa office has a well-stocked kitchen, but it lacks some things that I needed for the pies.  Like pie pans.  And a rolling pin.

Yes, I am using my Nalgene to roll out a pie crust.  The Washington and Lee University Outing Club taught me well!

Yup, looks like pie crust!

Pretty soon, everything was ready and we were all gathered in the board room.  Thankfully, Delene was willing to carve the turkey.  Otherwise, I would have butchered it I'm sure.

The finished products were all delicious!

Jenny and Khilowe enjoyed Tom and Jerry.

The chocolate chip pecan pie!  It turned out just fine, despite the improvisation.  You know that desserts is stressed spelled backwards, right?

So you can see that I had a lovely Thanksgiving with the HOPE Africa staff, otherwise known as my South African family.  I hope that, wherever you are in this world, your Thanksgiving was also enjoyable.  

Before I sign off for the day, I just want to list a few things I'm thankful for.  This is in no particular order, and it is by no means a complete list.  It's just the things that are in my head right now.

New friends in South Africa
My family
Old friends at home
This beautiful area of the world that is my home for a year
The other YASCers
My patients and the staff I work with at the care centre
Martin's TV
That my Mizuno running shoes are sold in a store in Cape Town
That even half a world away, I can find running buddies
St. John's Church in Richmond, VA
St. Peter's Church in Hermanus, Western Cape
A working water heater (or geyser as we say here)
My purple teddy bear
... and of course blog readers!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Exciting times at Overstrand Care Centre

Christmas has come early!  Someone has decided to smile down on the care centre recently.  Check out all our new stuff:

Our new medication fridge.  Previously we were forced to store refrigerated medications in the food fridge because that is all we had.  This new mini-fridge was donated a few weeks ago, and it is kept in the nurses' station (aka my office) and is used only for medication.  This is a great improvement and Martin and I are really excited!

New beds!  I'm really looking forward to using these.  It looks like most of them have raisable heads (only about half of our beds right now do that), and they appear to be low to the ground, which is great for patients who are confused and at risk for falls.

Are those chairs in the back there?  That'll be so great!  We can get patients out of bed and sit them up for a while!

This month I've been doing some work with the home-based care team from the care centre.  The home-based care program is part of the government health care system, and is run by the local clinics.  In Hawston, the home based program is housed in the care centre building because it's such a nice building and we have the space.  Day-to-day delivery of home health services is done by home-based carers, whose level of practice and job description is very similar to our inpatient carers.  Each carer has somewhere between 9 to 15 patients.  The carers work with a community health sister (nurse), who coordinates the care for several different towns.  The coordinator for Hawston, for example, also oversees Fishershaven, Vermont, Onrus, Paradise Park, and Stanford.  That means that the coordinator might have 250 patients, so I think my work with home-based care will be a big help!

A patient could be referred to home-based care for a variety of reasons.  Some are frail and elderly and have no family and no resources to pay for a care giver.  Some have wounds that need cleaning and dressing several times per week.  Some are bed-bound and cared for by their families, but they need supervision and extra help.  Some are on chronic medications that have to be picked up from the clinic or even the hospital over in Hermanus, but they have no transport to get there, other than hitchhiking, which is not really a viable option to pick up monthly meds.  Some are TB positive, which means that a qualified health professional is required to ensure that the medications are being taken daily.  

The types of services a carer could do for a patient vary depending on the reason the patient is in the program.  It could be anything from stopping by every day, Monday through Friday, to watch the patient swallow their pills or take a blood pressure reading.  Or the carer could be doing a full bed bath for the patient three times per week.  They could be doing wound care or changing a urinary catheter.  The sister in charge of the carers tries to see each patient as often as possible (which may only be every 3 months or so because of the volume of patients).  The sister needs to know about all their patients, and only the sister can recommend changes to the care plan.

Where do I fit into this picture?  I've been going out with a couple of our home-based carers to see what resources they have for tasks like wound care so that I can make recommendations about how to improve the current practices.  I've also joined the sister in charge when he has been in town two days last week.  The home-based carers are responsible for handing out chronic medications to all the people in Hawston who get them from the clinic.  This medication day happens once per quarter, and it happened last week.  It reminded me of coming to get your race number for a big marathon.  The carers tote all the boxes of everyone's medications to the community centre, and people line up to find their meds.  I helped out by taking a blood pressure for anyone on cardiac medications.  I probably did a hundred manual BP's that day, and my right hand was sore from blowing up the cuff so much!  My favorite day with home-based services so far was the day we went around to all the creches (day cares) to give out vitamin A drops.  

Working in people's homes has been really eye-opening.  Some patients are really quite sick, but they live in shacks, sometimes by themselves.  The work that the carers are able to do with the few resources they have is really amazing.  I'm so privileged to get to meet these patients and try to offer what I can to make their lives a little better.

Last weekend we had a giant rain and wind storm.  Apparently it's called a 'black southeaster', and I have to say that is an appropriate name!  It's always windy here, but it was so windy on Friday night that I kept answering the door, only to find it was just the wind rattling it, not someone knocking!  Luckily, there are very few trees in this area of the cape, so power loss wasn't a problem.  So I weathered this storm just fine, but I ask your prayers for the people in my area affected by flooding, especially those who live in informal settlements (townships).

Speaking of storms, please keep the people of the Philippines in your thoughts and prayers also.  And I will also tell you that yes, we do have two YASCers, Ashley (ashleyecameron.blogspot.com) and Margaret (seriveandstories.blogspot.com), stationed in the Philippines.  But they are in the North and did not get any of the storm, so thanks to God for keeping both of them safe and out of the path of destruction!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The making of a braai

Last Friday, we had a fundraising braai at the Overstrand Care Centre.  Each employee had to sell (or use for themselves) three tickets.  The tickets cost 30 rand each, and they bought you a to-go box of our fabulous braai food.  I thought this was a pretty good deal!

The braai started early in the morning.  You have to get the fire going so that the coals will form to smoke the chicken.

That's a pile of fuel!  It's going to make one heck of a fire.

While the guys get the fire going, the ladies are inside making the salads.

I wanted to help, mostly because I wanted to learn the recipes, but I was busy with my normal patient care work for most of the morning.

The next time I checked on the progress of the braai, the braaing of the meat was well underway.


That's a pile of chicken!  It explains why they needed so much wood!

Once the chicken was ready, it was time to package the food.  Since all of our patients were pretty quiet by this point, I took some time out to help with the boxing.

We packaged 120 boxes of food!  Each box had a little vegetable garnish (because we're totally healthy like that), pasta salad, potato salad, and a piece of chicken.  Everything was really good!

The finished product.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we braai.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Weekend fun

I shall now contradict my post from a few weeks ago, in which I told you not to call me a tourist, by showing you lots of touristy photos.

A few weekends ago, I visited Cape Town to hang out with Emily and to run in the 10 km Gun Run.

I love Cape Town!  Especially when it is called 'Kaapstad' because that just sounds a million times cooler than 'Cape Town'.

On Saturday, Emily and I walked around the Company Gardens again.  It was a glorious warm day.

The Cape Town Bonsaii Festival just happened to be in the Company Gardens at the same time we were!  This was my favorite tree.

How could you NOT love this city when there are such awesome street performers?  These girls were going to town in the market square, and they were really good!

We passed a drumming circle.  Emily joined in!  So did I, but I was not nearly as good at this as Emily.  Apparently, in addition to being somewhat tone-deaf, I also have no rythm.

On Sunday, I ran the Gun Run in the morning.  This was a really great race that started from the Cape Town stadium, went through Green Point and in front of the lighthouse, and wound through the V&A Waterfront.  After the race, we took a drive down the Cape Peninsula towards Simon's Town.  We convinced Marianne, one of the Anhouse girls, to join us.

Gorgeous views on the way down to Simon's Town!

Simon's Town is a pretty little spot with some cool stores and charming cafes.  But the real reason people come to Simon's Town is to go to Bolders Beach.  What is so special about Bolders?

Yes, Penguins!

Show off.

They're everywhere, all over the rocks that give Bolders its name, under the bushes, in the water...

Bolders also has the best signage I've ever seen:

Look under your vehicle for penguins?!?  OK.  Noted.

On the way back up the coast, we stopped at this idyllic beach.  Yes, you can see mountains on the horizon there.  This is the False Bay side of the peninsula, so you are looking East, sort of towards Hawston.

The water was quite cold.

This is probably my very favorite picture of Emily.  Actually, we have a picture of my sister Amy at the beach standing in this exact position, with her hands on her hips and her shades over her eyes and her mouth in a pout.  The only difference is Amy was 5.  Sorry, Em, for putting that up on the blog, but I couldn't resist!

'YASC 2013'.  Just a little advertisement for our awesome program!

More great signage.  I got SUPER excited when I saw this one.  I looked, but sadly I did not see any sharks here.  I'm DYING to see one, mostly so I can point at it and shout 'SHAAAAAAARRRRKK!!!!'

On Sunday night, Emily and I went up to the Rhodes Memorial.  She hadn't been there yet, so I had to show it to her.  And I know I already put up a video from this spot, but I really can't show it to you enough.  It's just SO PRETTY!

On a bit of a sad note, this was the last weekend that Emily and I spent together in South Africa.  Emily has decided to return to the US.  I will miss her a lot, but I am really happy that she is making the best decision for herself, and I wish her all the best in whatever she decides to do next!  If you want to know more about Emily's experience in Cape Town and her decision to return to the US, you best hear it from her: http://theysolovedtheworld.blogspot.com/2013/10/lessons-ive-learned-important-update.html

Now for some pictures of what I do on my weekends when I'm in Hawston:

This is the Saturday morning market in Hermanus.  It's just like the farmers' market by my house in Richmond, except there are fewer veggie vendors and more craft vendors.  Also there is beer and wine for sale, so you can come meet up with some friends, enjoy a tasty beverage and some lunch, and do some shopping and people watching.

And that's exactly what I did!

After the market, I headed over to the New Harbor (pictured here) to watch the rugby semi-finals.  One of the guys I met this day happens to work at an abelone farm.  So after the rugby, I was lucky enough to get a tour!

This is what an abelone farm looks like.

These are the breeding stock for the farm.  All the abelone in this tank are female, and they're around 14-15 years old.  Whenever it's time to breed them, hormones are added to the water in the tank to get them ready.  Ditto with the male tank right above this one.  Then the male sperm are put into the female tank.  The mature male and female abelone never actually come into contact with one another. Sorry, but apparently there is no romance among shellfish.

The fertilized eggs are then transferred to big holding tanks.  At this point, they look like tiny little dots in the water, and they're free-floating.  I didn't bother to take a picture of this stage of the process, because it really just looks like a big tank of sea water.  You have to look really closely to see the tiny little dots.

Once the abelone get a little bigger, they are transferred to tanks with these little pipe and filter devices that are covered with algae.  That's on purpose; the baby abelone eat the algae.

Those tiny little brown specks above Rod's thumb are the baby abelone.  Aren't they cute?  You're right, I didn't think they were very cute either.

Once they are a little bigger, they are transferred to another tank, where they grow some more on these cones.

Eventually they're big enough to go into this type of tank, where they get even bigger.

For the rest of their lives, the abelone are just moved from tank to tank and allowed to grow.  These are just a fraction of the tanks they have here.  It takes like 5-6 years for the abelone to get big enough to ship out.  

I asked if I could touch one, and Rod responded by plucking this guy out of the tank and plopping it on my hand:

It was slimy.

It was a pretty cool day.  And I have to admit, even though working at an abelone farm means lots of cleaning and fishy smell and slimy critters, I have to admit the 'office' has a great view:

I hope you enjoyed some fun touristy photos!  I sure enjoyed taking them for you.  I will again offer the disclaimer that in between my fun weekends, I actually do work pretty hard at the care centre, as you could see in my last post.  So if you're thinking that being a YASC missionary is all about playing with penguins and abelone and going to the beach, you're absolutely wrong!  These things are just experiences I enjoy in my free time.  But enjoy them I do.  That's the beauty of YASC:  not only do you work in a very practical job, but you are also encouraged to dive in and really explore the country where you're stationed.  It is my priviledge to get to share this little corner of South Africa with you!