Monday, August 29, 2011

Driving in Mthatha

Today, I drove in town for the first time on a weekday. Driving in Mthatha is unexplainable. You really have to experience it to know what I mean. It wouldn’t be a normal day if at least one stoplight (they’re called Robots here) were not out. Cross walks are optional and people generally don’t take the option. Pot holes are everywhere. There are the “Transkei Big Five” wandering about and sometimes in the road – that’s cows, horses, goats, sheep, and dogs.  As well, what could be considered “reckless driving” in the States is generally the norm here. People here say that if you can drive in Mthatha, you can drive anywhere, but I think that if I drove in Oklahoma the way I do here, I would be pulled over on suspicion of DUI. It’s kind of like playing Frogger, but in real life. Some days, it can be made into a game like “Dodge the Potholes” or “How Many People are in the Taxi that Just Cut Me Off,” and sometimes, it is just nerve-wracking. Especially for someone just learning how to drive stick on the left side of the road! I think I’m starting to get the hang of it though and the women that I drive to and from Itipini everyday are really nice about it. I stalled out at a four-way stop today and they just said, “It’s okay, Karen. Just take it slow. You got it.” I’ve found that having driving music is also a must. Something to keep you groovin, moving along, and calm is key to not losing your mind. 
Yup... I drive a truck these days.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Little TLC

This weekend was full of adventure! On Saturday, Sarah and I went to the Mthatha Dam and a nature reserve with her friend Sim and Sim’s daughter, Asiko. It was a beautiful day and, though we didn’t see too many animals (aside from some very distant Zebra and Hartebeests), it was nice to walk around and enjoy the breeze and each other’s company. That night, we went to Jenny’s house to watch the Springboks rugby game with Jenny and Adam. I can’t say I’ve ever watched a rugby match before and it was thoroughly entertaining. On Sunday, we went to church at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where the preacher is a really eccentric French-Canadian. It was a small community that was very welcoming. I also got recruited to play guitar with them starting next Sunday! Talk about a community with arms wide open. Later on Sunday evening, we went to hang out at Weemama’s house and I got to try my first amagwina! It’s a traditional South African food that’s essentially really dense fried bread. It was delicious!

This morning was a little tough. When we arrived at the clinic, there was someone wrapped in a blanket lying outside the clinic doors on the concrete. My first thought was that they may be dead and I had a minor panic. It turned out that she was okay, just in a lot of pain. We helped her up and took her to sick bay where she could lay down while we waited on Jenny to get there. It turns out this particular woman had nothing but a slight fever and is a kind of known hypochondriac at the clinic, but Sarah was telling me how she had been to the funeral of a good friend this past weekend. I suspect that maybe she was just a little overwhelmed from that and all she wanted was some TLC. Sometimes that happens, though. Sometimes it just feels good to be taken care of - it’s a reassuring feeling that reminds you that, even in the midst of tragedy or sickness, love and tenderness are still present. And I am glad that we could provide that to her.
The Mthatha Dam

Looking across the lake at the nature reserve.

Sim and her daughter, Asiko.

Someone stole the last of my amangwina!

Doing laundry on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Trading cell numbers with Nonzuzo.

Sarah, Nonzuzo, and myself at Weemama's house!

A view of one side of the clinic...

...and a view back the other way!

There are ALWAYS kids playing on the swingset. It's never empty!

A view of iTipini.
Thanks for tuning in!

Karen Langley

Thursday, August 18, 2011

3rd Day in Mthatha

It occurred to me that the name of this place may need a little clarification. Mthatha was Umtata (a more British, phonetic spelling) for many years and the more indigenous spelling was reclaimed after apartheid. I believe that’s the long and short of it, anyway. So, if you’re wondering how to pronounce it, the answer is: oom-ta-ta with the stress on the second syllable.

Last night, I got to go to Jenny’s house for dinner. Jenny McConnehie is the woman who runs the clinic and who founded the African Medical Mission with her late husband, Chris. She is absolutely wonderful. She cooked us a fabulous dinner and let me use her hot shower! A young man from Durban named Adam also joined us. He is going to medical school here in Mthatha and is absolutely hilarious. He also hooked us up with some bananas that someone he knew was trying to get rid of. So, this morning, Sarah and I went to pick up said bananas to take to iTipini. We were expecting maybe 3-5 crates and arrived to find about 20-30! We filled up the back of the pick-up and got our upper body strength work-out for the day. We gave away a ton of bananas at iTipini today and still had many more left. Tomorrow we will give them out with our weekly care packages for HIV patients and give whatever is left to the preschoolers. Tomorrow is also the day that we do tutoring for high school students in the afternoon, so I will get to embark on that adventure soon! 

Every day at the clinic, after we are done working and the ladies are cleaning, Sarah and I go out to play with the kids. It’s mostly the preschoolers and every day, someone wants to feel my hair. Today, my watch was the center of attention. Everyone wanted to play with it and try it on and practice putting it back on my wrist and then taking it off and putting it back on and so on. It was really entertaining. The other thing that we do daily at iTipini is that  we start with morning songs and prayers on the veranda. I don’t understand most of the songs because they are in Xhosa, but the children have about 3 different prayers they say in English. Which prayer they say just depends on the day and who is leading but they start and end every one with a call and response. The teacher starts by saying, “Close your eyes,” to which all of the kids say, “I am closing my eyes.” Then the prayer – my favorite one is this:
                I am somebody
                I may be poor
                I may be small
                But I am somebody
                I must be protected
    I must be respected
                Not neglected
                I am GOD’S child
Then the teacher says, “Open your eyes,” to which all of the children reply in unison, “I am opening my eyes…”  WOW. I am going to try and get a recording of it, because I feel like I can’t convey how powerful that closing is. “I am opening my eyes…” they all say together. The way they say the prayer as well is incredibly fascinating as it’s full of all kinds of inflections that we normally wouldn’t put on different words or phrases.

Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of iTipini for you yet, but I will. I feel like I need to get a little bit more settled into and familiar with the community before I break out a camera and start taking pictures of people. I want to build some relationship and trust there first. BUT – soon. I will post pictures of iTipini soon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Greetings from Mthatha!

I have arrived! After spending a short night in Johannesburg, I hopped on a short plane ride to Mthatha this morning where Sarah met me. Sarah Cardwell is the YASC volunteer who is preceding me here and we have two weeks of overlap time! She is great. After coming to the Bedford Hospital to drop off my stuff, we went straight on to iTipini for a day at the clinic. Tuesday is “baby day” at the clinic and mothers are encouraged to bring in their infants for wellness checks and free baby formula. I was still very glad to see that many of the women who came in to receive free formula were also still breast-feeding as well. Most of the day, I took on menial tasks to keep my hands busy while I sat back and observed a little. I spent the day spooning wintergreen salve into individual containers, recording patient logs, counting pills, and making “MVT Cocktails” (a mix of multi-vitamins) that we give to all of our HIV patients and anyone that could just use a little boost. Sounds pretty simple for a first day, huh? However, being in iTipini today was overwhelming. Small, mindless tasks were about all I could handle. I can’t convey to you the difference between seeing pictures or reading about extreme poverty and walking straight into it. Something about being able to physically touch it makes that level of poverty something real and tangible. No matter what I do or where I am for the rest of my life, I won’t be able to deny in any way that people still live like this in the 21st century. And not just here either. Shanty-towns and refugee camps are a widespread phenomenon. Why is this level of poverty still allowed to exist? Is it apathy from outside parties, lack of resources, oppression by systems of government and trade, or something else? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this: Being in iTipini today is making my night a very enjoyable one. My electricity keeps going on and off, I don’t have any water (and haven’t showered in 3 days), it is very cold here, and birds, roosters, and barking dogs are making it near impossible to sleep. BUT… I ate a full dinner – a HOT dinner, I have blankets to keep me warm, books (and the ability to read) to keep me entertained, a tile floor, a bed, a sturdy place to live, and the knowledge that I will probably never have to live in such deep poverty. However, this is not about have’s and have not’s, and it is most definitely not about using extreme poverty as a gauge of my own fortune. This is about enjoying the simple things of life that many of us so often take for granted. It is about counting our blessings rather than our misfortunes and giving thanks for the things we do have even in light of things that we don’t. This journey is going to be a very interesting one and I feel that my eyes and heart will be opened in ways I never imagined. Thank you for walking with me as I explore life in Mthatha. It means a great deal to me.

Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… PICTURE TIME!                         

 Mountains on the way to Mthatha (view from the plane).

Country-side getting closer to town. Don't you love how colorful the houses all are?

Rondavel: take one!

Rondavel: take 2.

Ceiling of my rondavel!

Night stand of home.

Bread that Sarah and I picked up to take to iTipini.

 A little off-roading short cut we took!

Thanks again for tuning in!

Karen Langley