Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Saying goodbye to Hawston

This is my last blog post from Hawston, and I'm afraid that what I've written seems inadequate.  I'm trying to convey something I'm feeling, and I fear that my language is failing me.  In the words of Marilynne Robinson, “It all means more than I can tell you. So you must not judge what I know by what I find words for.”  And please don't be turned off by my honesty.  I think it's important to for you, the people who donated to make my mission possible, the people who have prayed for me, and also for the people in South Africa who have come to mean the whole world to me, to know this.

If I have to sum up what my time in Hawston has been like, I would say I fell in love.  I never expected that to happen.  When I first got to Hawston last August, I have to admit I was a little freaked out.  I had just spent a week and a half in Cape Town, and who doesn't love Cape Town?  It's an awesome city, and I was lucky enough to fit right in to the HOPE Africa offices and Anhouse.  I had a surprisingly easy transition to South Africa; I kinda just dove in and never looked back.  But then I had to move.  I arrived in Hawston on a Friday afternoon and found myself very alone for what turned out to be a long, cold, rainy weekend.  I didn't know a single person in town, and I couldn't even get the hot water turned on in my house.  I'm sure you can imagine that I wanted more than anything to go back to Cape Town (or even, at my very lowest moment, back to Richmond).  Thankfully, that weekend ended, I started work at the care centre and began to meet people in Hawston and Hermanus, and by the end of the first work week, my outlook had changed from 'Oh God what am I DOING here?' to 'I can totally do this, and it's going to be great!'

Still, at the end of that first week, even at the end of the first month, when I would say I was pretty settled, pretty happy, I didn't expect THIS.  I didn't expect to love my job so much, to be accepted into a group of friends so completely, to feel rooted to this place so irreversibly.  I really feel at home here.  And that surprised me.  Yeah, the Western Cape is a beautiful place, and I think anyone who visits would love it here.  But it is so much more than that to me.  On my way home from my trip to Kruger with Jacob, on a foggy and drizzly day (just like the day I first came to Hawston in August), when I drove over the last mountain pass and the view of the coastline opened up in front of me, the sun chose just that moment to poke through the clouds, and, believe it or not, there was a rainbow right over Hawston.  I started crying.  Now, I'm not much of a crier.  The last time I cried was when I said goodbye to Goldielocks.  But that day I almost had to pull off the road because I was suddenly sobbing.  I don't mean like a pretty little tear on my cheek, I mean like red eyes, runny nose, hiccups and all sobbing because it was the last time I would truly come home to Hawston.  I have come to feel that this is MY Hawston, MY Hermanus.  But after this week, it won't be my Hawston anymore.  That is to say, I know that I will never come back to South Africa.  I don't mean I'll never visit, I certainly expect that I will at some point.  In fact, I have plans to come back to Hermanus for a few days after Lesotho and before I fly home for good.  What I mean is that, even if I visit, I will never really come back here, in any significant sense of the word.  There is a big difference between visiting somewhere, even if it's somewhere you know and love, and living there.  It's like going to a college reunion.  Awesome, but not the same as being a student in college.  If my life is a book, then the chapter about living in South Africa ends now, not in August.  

There are things I'm excited about.  I'm totally psyched about going to Lesotho.  This is a great opportunity, and I can't wait to get started.  I get to go to two countries this year, make an impact in two places.  How amazing is that? And I'm excited to go home in August.  I miss my family, my dog, my house, my city, my friends, my car, Mexican food, craft beer, trees, porches, sports I understand, TV shows, fast and reliable internet, and a host of other things.  I really miss my very patient and understanding husband.  Not only was he willing to allow his wife to leave him for a year, but he also listens to me complain about how I don't want to go home to him.  A lesser man would find that insulting, but not Jacob.  Jacob tries his best to understand what I'm feeling and support me any way he can, even if he doesn't like it.  I wish every woman in the world could find a guy as amazing as my husband.  

So it comes down to this:  I feel at home in two very different places, on two very different continents, with two different groups of people, with a different job, a different lifestyle.  And if I love Virginia and South Africa, then I am doomed to always miss one or the other because I cannot be in two places at once.  But I have decided that this is a great gift.  Not only did I have an awesome life in Richmond with a loving family and great friends and a good job, but now I have a second place where I feel like I belong.  Lots of people would kill to have one place like that.  And I get two.  Yeah, I fell in love with Hawston.  And yeah, it sucks to leave, and it sucks even more to leave early.  But it is actually a privilege to be so sad about leaving, because it means that I was so happy here.  In the end, even if I never come back, even if I'm leaving a part of myself behind, I get to have a second home, and that makes me one of the luckiest people I know.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The last few weeks

Here is an update about what I've been up to since returning from my safari vacay.  Basically, it's been work like normal at the care centre and hanging out with all the usual suspects on the weekends.  But a few special things have happened recently, so let's talk about them now.

Voting Day:

South Africa held its fourth general election on May 7.  I sure picked a good news year to be in South Africa... a general election, the Oskar Pistorius trial, Mandela's death, all that happened while I was here!  Election day in SA is a little different from election day in the US.  It's actually a public holiday here.  Yay!  Perhaps that explains the higher voter turn out (77% in the Overstrand municipality)?  In South Africa, voters vote for a party rather than a candidate.  The head of the winning party becomes the president. Parties do have to announce who their head is before the election, so yes, you do know who you're actually voting for.  Presidents are elected by straight popular vote and serve a five year term.  There are lots of political parties in South Africa.  I counted at least 15.  (Random question:  What exactly is the purpose of an electoral college?  I was trying to explain our election process in America, and I know HOW the electoral college works, but I could not come up with a single reason WHY we have one.  Could some political science major please explain this to me?   Thanks!)

I tagged along with two of my friends when they went to vote.  Dewald voted at the municipal building in Hermanus.  Besides for the fact that political parties are allowed to set up promotional tables right beside the polling place, the atmosphere here wasn't that different from the last time I voted at Main Street Station in Richmond.  Lots of white people queued quietly outside the building.  Once inside, an official from the Independent Electoral Commission checked the voters' IDs and gave them a paper ballot that was ripped out of a big pad.  Voters go behind a little screen, tick off their ballots and place them in a cardboard box.  Actually, Dewald let me put his ballot in the box for him.  So yes, I cast a vote in South Africa!  I guess this also explains why it took three days to get the election results.  Someone had to count all those paper ballots in all those boxes by hand!  I don't think I would want that job.

I also went with Hananja to vote.  Hananja is registered at her permanent home address in Cape Town, but in South Africa you can vote at any polling station as long as it is in the same province where you are registered.  Hananja chose to go to Zwelihle, the black township outside of Hermanus, just because we thought it might be a more interesting experience.  The atmosphere here was a little different.  Adults and kids alike were just hanging out in the street by the town hall, watching the goings-on.  In Zwelihle, instead of an all-white crowd, we were the only two white people in sight.  But no one seemed to care.  In fact, the guy working at Democratic Alliance table was quite happy to see us there, and he ushered us straight into the hall.  I thought it was a little funny that, first of all, the DA had a presence at all in the township, and also that this guy saw a white person and assumed that since she was white, she was obviously voting DA.  But anyway, it was nice to feel so welcomed even in a place where we stood out.  Another difference between Zwelihle and Hermanus was that there were armed police guards outside the polling place in Zwelihle.  They must have just been a precaution, because everyone was quite in order, and once inside the hall, the process was exactly the same as in town.  Again, isn't it interesting that, in South Africa, it's just assumed that the township will require an armed patrol in order to vote, but the wealthy white area is obviously fine?  Like I've said, sometimes I really don't understand this country at all.

So yes, that was election day.  I spent the rest of my day off helping Hananja shop for some new winter clothes and going to a braai that night.  I like this whole day off to vote thing.  Let's do that next year in the US!  Who is with me?

Just FYI, in case like me you don't follow the news at all, the election results were just as expected.  The ANC won the presidency and all but one of the provinces, so Jacob Zuma was reelected.  The DA held the Western Cape.  And the EFF is now the third party nationally.  I've heard some people express misgivings about the EFF's gains.  But it was a fair election that went off with almost no incidents, so there you go.

The DA table outside of the polling place in Hermanus
The queue to vote in Hermanus
ANC, EFF, and DA tables in Zwelhile
The police outside the polling place in Zwelhile
Some ANC supporters in Zwel
Wheelchairs everywhere:

 I got to see some wheelchair basketball a few weeks ago.  The Hawston team was having a training day, where they were practicing and running drills against a more experienced team from Worcester, and one of the most experienced wheelchair basketball coaches was there on site to give them some pointers.  A lot of the players on the Hawston team are patients I've seen before, either in the centre or as home care patients.  It was so fun to see these guys play!  They were pretty impressive... those chairs fly up and down the court, and the nets are at the same height as usual, so imagine trying to shoot from a chair and not being able to jump to grab a rebound and stuff.  It must be very difficult.  I can rarely make a basket myself, and I have four working limbs (although admittedly no hand eye coordination or athletic ability in general).

The next weekend, I saw a bunch of these guys again.  Hermanus's annual Wheels and Runners race is put on by the Whalers, the club I run with.  So of course I had to participate.  There were lots of categories (21 km for sport wheelchairs only, 10km for wheelchairs of any type and for runners, 5 km for wheelchairs and runners, 7 km for electric wheelchairs, and 1.3 km for non-sport wheelchairs only).  I ran the 10 km, and it was actually really cool to be running right alongside the wheelchairs.  I think this race is totally awesome.  It really gives the runners a sense of gratitude for the ability we have to actually BE runners.  I think a lot of people forget how blessed we are every day.  Like I will think, 'Ugh I HAVE to go for a run now' or 'I'm really not up to running today, but I SHOULD run, so I'll just go struggle through', but really I should be saying to myself, 'How great is it that I GET TO run today?' (Side note: Shout out to Dewald and Rod for running with me!  Well, ahead of me.  You two are fast.)

Wheelchair basketball action!
Some  members of the community enjoying the basketball
The scrimmage was fast-paced, and the guys were really good!
Clinic and hospital visits:  

Martin and I decided that it is silly how we work with all the local clinics, sharing patients, sharing files, sharing services, but we never actually meet our colleagues outside of Hawston.  Ditto with the doctors at the Hermanus Hospital.  So I've been rectifying that.  I took a little field trip to the hospital last week and to several of the local clinics, just to meet in person some of the people we speak to on the phone and also to remind them of our services and answer any questions they have about the care centre.  It was fun to put faces to names and also just to see what types of facilities are available in the wider Overstrand area.

I think I mentioned in my last post that I spent a morning at the Hawston clinic during the weekly prenatal visits.  That was totally awesome!  I learned a lot about how prenatal care is handled here.  When a woman finds out she's pregnant, she makes an appointment at the clinic, and a nursing sister sees her.  The sister does an initial evaluation that focuses on finding any risk factors, like previous miscarriages or stillbirths, high blood pressure, diabetes, drug use, etc.  If it's a normal low-risk pregnancy, then all the prenatal visits can be done at the local clinic by the nursing sister.  So that means that if you're normal, you might NEVER see a doctor during your pregnancy.  Wow.  That is different.  But really, the type of questions the sister was asking the patient, the screenings she did, the focus of her physical exam, it's all the stuff I would have done to one of my patients in the US.  So it's nice to know that even if the details are different, nursing really is the same everywhere.
An exam room at the Zwelihle clinic

The waiting room at Zwelihle
Now I'm in my last week of work in the Care Centre.  The timing is actually really good.  Martin had exams last week and this week, so he is able to take some time off to study while I can still be in charge and the centre won't be left nurse-less.  Then next week I'm off to Cape Town for a few days in the office before I go up to Lesotho.  I'm both excited and sad about making this transition, but more on that later.  For now I am going to enjoy my last few days in Hawston!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Photo safari!

Please enjoy the below photos from my vacation with Jacob.

Unlike when Jacob visited in December and met me in Cape Town, this time we both flew into Johannesburg.  We arrived early on Easter morning.

We only had one day in Jo'berg at the beginning of the trip, and we were both tired.  We visited the Apartheid Museum, which was a very moving experience.  I learned a lot of new things about South Africa's past from this museum trip, and that helps me better understand the country I live in now.  Every time I think I'm beginning to understand South Africa, something like the Apartheid Museum comes along and reminds me how little I really know about this country and how, even after eight months, I really don't understand its people at all.
The Jo'burg skyline, as seen from the museum.
 The next day, we headed out to the Blyde River Canyon for some hiking.
Look!  It's my hubby!
Blyde River is like the Grand Canyon of South Africa.
Apparently there were crocs in the river, but we didn't see any that day.  Don't worry.  Lots of croc sightings happened later...
This is the Pinnacle, a random plug of hard rock that sticks up from the valley here.
This is a photo of the potholes.  The potholes are the start of the Blyde River Canyon, where two rivers come together to make the Blyde.  For very technical geologic reasons, the water has carved these round 'holes' in the rock here.  This was absolutely one of the coolest places I've been in South Africa.  It was gorgeous, and totally unlike anywhere else I've ever seen.
Looking into the canyon from the potholes.
Dipping my feet in a pothole.
Driving north from the potholes, a view into the canyon.
After the Blyde River Canyon, it was off to Kruger Park to see some critters!
The Orpen Gate to Kruger 
A ground hornbill
Look!  It's a donkey in pajamas!
Hippos in the river!
Me and our trusty safari steed.  It was WAY too nice and new of a car to be driving around Kruger.  I had actually forgotten how quiet and smooth a car can be, after driving around in my little Ford for eight months (I'm amazed that thing is still running).
Olifants rest camp
Impala.  Impala are to Kruger as tortoises are to the Galapagos and cathedrals are to Europe.  That is, when you see your first impala/tortoise/cathedral, you're like 'OMG!  Amazing!'  Then you see like a million impala/tortoises/cathedrals and you're like 'Ugh, it's another one of those!'
Giraffe!  Like RIGHT THERE!
Why did the elephant cross to road?  To eat the stuff on the other side.
Hippos look kinda awkward out of water.  BIG body, little tiny legs.
We watched a heard (troupe? pod? gaggle?) of elephants come to the river to drink.
The elephants chased away this buffalo.
Holy eye shine!  That, my friends, is a leopard.  My favorite (and the rarest) of the Big Five.
The giant spider and I weren't exactly friends.
One morning we went on a bush walk.  These two rangers with guns went with us.  You know, in case the elephants charge or something.  Apparently it happens.
The hubbs on the bush walk.
Walking around the bush with big guns... very Out of Africa, don't you think?  Just call me Karen Blixon.
This is the rondeval we stayed in at one of the rest camps.
The Olifants River at sunrise.
"Let's go swimming in this river in Kruger Park!" said nobody ever.
He was sooooo cute, and he came right up to our car.  I think he was trying to ask us for sandwiches.
Our first rhino sighting.  There are white and black rhinos in Kruger.  I wanted to see a black rhino because they are one of the most endangered species in the whole world right now, but sadly we only saw white rhinos like this one.
A pair of lions.  These two were busy getting busy, and they didn't care if they did it right by the road for everyone to see.  (Is that too racy for a missionary's blog?  I'm sorry, that's nature.)
Jacob watches the lions.
This is my very favorite zebra photo.
Jacob the braaimaster.  Watch out, South Africans, we're taking over your traditions!
Lekker braai.
Handsome lion in the morning light.
Jacob was a little concerned about how close he got to the car.  I told him not to worry, lions only eat Europeans.
A nice one of a big bull elephant.
Jacob sees what he can see from the bird hide.
Drinking wine on the porch of your rondeval is the perfect end to a day of game viewing!
Sunrise on the savannah.
Rhinos have the right of way.
So do elephants.  This car was pushing its luck, in my opinion.
After our Kruger safari, we headed back to Jo'berg for one last night, but we took a side trip to Pretoria so that we could see the capital of South Africa.
The Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Nelson, larger than life as always.
The Vortrekker Monument in Pretoria.
The view of Pretoria from the top of the Vortrekker Monument.  Also the only photo from the entire trip of me and Jacob together.
The last day of vacation, Jacob and I were back in Jo'berg and did a tour of Soweto.
The house where Nelson Mandela was living just before he died.  His third wife still lives there.
Soweto is an acronym for South West Township, because it is south west of Jo'berg.
Soweto is huge.  These were the worst looking houses in Soweto.  They look like the township shacks I'm used to seeing in places like Zwelihle near Hermanus and Khayelitsha outside of Cape Town.  But really these shacks were just one small portion of Soweto.  I was surprised by this... given what I know about townships, I expected the whole thing to look more like this.
Most of Soweto was made up of houses like this.  Honestly, it looks like Hawston.

Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto.
Me inside the Mandela house.
Arguably the most famous address in South Africa.
Our tour guide, who grew up in Soweto, outside of the Hector Pieterson museum.
The very famous photo of Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying Hector to the clinic, with his sister following behind.
Jacob in front of Soccer City in Soweto.
What have I been up to since I've been back in Hawston?  A lot!  Election Day was May 7, and I went with two of my friends as they voted, so stay tuned for a post about that coming soon.  I'm also busy preparing for my move to Lesotho.  Today I shadowed the nurses at the Hawston clinic during their weekly antenatal visits, just to brush up on my maternity nursing skills.  It felt so nice to get back to the type of nursing I do in the US!  So I'm very excited for my work with St. James Hospital.  Meanwhile, as autumn comes to the Cape, I'm trying to wrap my head around the fact that I only have 7 more days of work at the care centre! So crazy!  But I'm determined to make my last two weeks in Hawston as awesome as the first eight months have been.