Homecoming

I apologize for the lack of posting in the past week as it has been a week full of getting better, traveling, and reflecting. Since my last post we traveled to Botswana where we went to Tuli Safari Lodge for some time to unwind and reflect on the trip. My heart is so full and I’m so grateful for all of your support.

The past few weeks have been different, fun, mind-opening, and life-changing just to name a few things. Coming home is giving me mixed feelings; I’m excited to see my family and to get back into the swing of normal life but also very sad to leave the people I met and I think it will be hard to feel the same level of fulfillment at home.

Moving forward I want to keep the trip in my head at all times. I don’t want to ever forget the things I heard and the things I saw; they have shifted my mindset so much and I hope to one day go back and experience it again.

As I sit on a train back to my family and friends my mind is heavily on the people in South Africa and the love I felt. I wonder what they are doing, if they have thought of me, and what the future holds for them as well. I wonder if they will ever see the beach, and maybe one day America. I hope so deeply in my heart that they will remember me and think of me sometimes as I will also think of them. I left a few pieces of my heart everywhere that I went over the past few weeks and I hope that the people who hold those pieces know that they are so loved.

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Day 17: 05.30.2017

This morning was a free morning so Kristen, Laura, Sky, and I went down to the waterfront to do some last minutes shopping. After we returned we went to another township to assist in the after school feeding of the children and then played with them. We had a pretty scary encounter as one girl walked up with a knife behind her back and by the time the professor found out, the children were handing off the knife discretely across the playground. When we got back to the house we had a short academic session on the effect of connection on different addictions, and most of the group is going out to karaoke tonight.

What I really want to talk about is the academic session we had today. We watched a TED talk on how we are getting addiction all wrong. There was a study done with rats in which they were given one bottle with only water and one bottle with water laced with drugs. They found the the rats went to the one with drugs over and over until they finally died. Thankfully, scientists realized this isn’t a realistic set-up. This time, they put the same two bottles on the cage, but also put other rats in the cage, tunnels, houses, or in other words, plenty of room for connection. What they found was that the rats almost never used the bottle with drugs in it, and that the overdose rates were at almost 0%. This idea that addiction, to anything, not just drugs, is more complex than a chemical problem is shifting the way that people are, and should, handle addiction and life. What people are discovering is that addiction isn’t just a chemical process, but more an inability to bare with one’s life, or lack of connection sometimes.

I know that this is going to open up a lot of room for argument; however, I want you to do your own research on Portugal’s drug policy before raising a fist. Portugal decriminalized ALL drugs, from marijuana to crack, and put an emphasis on rehabilitation and connection instead of punishment and now their addiction and overdose rates are among the lowest in the world. Essentially what their government does is takes the money that they would have spend on punishing said addict and puts it into making that person’s life meaningful and making connections for them. Instead of funneling money into a criminal justice system, they may offer to pay half of a person’s wages at an employer for a year. This support and kindness not only motivates the addict to become well, but doesn’t demoralize them in the process.

So where does this come full circle for me today? Dr. Rush discussed with us how some of the students we played with today could have been raped last night. For some, the kindness we showed today and the act of just playing with them may have been the first little bit of light they’ve seen in months, or even years. It’s never the demoralizing, blaming, or shaming that gets a person to change, but usually the kindness, and for some of those kids, the kindness they felt today may be what gets them through the next few days or even months.

With this being said, I want to bring this back to America with me where the circumstances may not be as dramatic. When I’m home, I won’t be faced with people who are in poverty and violent situations; however, that doesn’t mean that they deserve less kindness.

I also encourage anyone who is still reading this to consider how your actions effect people. You never know what your words could do for someone, both good and bad. Something as small as asking someone how their day was, or just giving them a chance to be heard, could be that glimpse of hope and kindness that could prevent so many adverse health outcomes and addictions whether they be to substances, relationships, technology, etc. Opposite to this, what you may think is “tough love” towards someone could be breaking what feels like the last bond that person has, and could send them searching for any other connection they can find.

In the end we are all human and we all want a bond/connection to something, and we will find it one way or another. Whether it be drugs, alcohol, our phones, our followers, our Facebook friends, or our toxic relationships, we will hold onto whatever makes us “feel” something in life, because it’s better than feeling nothing at all. If all of us could put our phones down and open our ears for a few minutes maybe, just maybe, we could become addicted to conversations and each others’ stories again instead.

P.S. if everyone could just keep me in your thoughts, I’ve got a nasty respiratory bug and I’m not feeling the best. Thanks in advance <3.

Day 16: 05.29.2017

Today we went to Kirstenbosch which is a garden here in Cape Town where we had a chance to do some self-reflection and journaling. It reminded me a lot of Maymount. The entire place was absolutely beautiful and the weather was wonderful today; it got up to about 70 degrees. They had a canopy tree walk (pictured) which was beautiful. After, we went to the beach and played the drums with Pastor John (the pastor from the homeless shelter). Then, in honor of Memorial Day we had a braai which is a South African version of a barbecue. We had potato salad, couscous, vegetable salad, rolls, lamb and beef balls, lamb sausage, ostrich skewers, beef skewers, chicken skewers, veggie skewers, and malva pudding. I definitely recommend trying the malva pudding if you ever get the chance! It was amazing. Now we are all about to watch a movie together, and have a relaxing night!

Sorry I didn’t get pictures of the braai, my camera died. 😦

Day 15: 05.28.2017

Today was our last true “free day” (time is FLYING). We spent it doing a wine tour that lasted from 10-4 and consisted of five wineries with five wine tastings each. Personally, I only drank at the first winery, but the entire group loved most of the wines. The first winery paired one wine with a chocolate and another wine with a beef jerky (which is very different than American jerky, it’s more moist), the second winery paired all of their wines with different cheeses, the third winery served us lunch which consisted of beef sausage, chicken skewers, salad, potato salad, and a toasted mozzarella and tomato sandwich, the fourth winery paired four of their wines with chocolates, and the final winery paired one of their wines with an antelope jerky. Overall the day was good and only a few people got belligerent ;). I enjoyed the scenery and the company a lot! I’m looking forward to enjoying my last week here in Cape Town before heading to Botswana for the last part of my trip!

Day 14: 05.27.2017

Today was another free day, and unlike shark cage diving, today was successful! We went zip-lining at a place called Cape Canopy Tours and I 100% recommend them if you ever come to South Africa. The guides were so funny and nice, they made us all feel (pretty) safe, and they serve you a warm chicken, springbok, or spinach pie when you come back. The tour itself consisted of 11 lines, a swing bridge, and a steep 1 km hike back up. We got to and from the lines by a 4×4 which was pretty bumpy. Our guides, Luwayne and Gummy were so funny and did everything they could to make it fun for us. The views were amazing on all of the lines too. Today was fun, I just would have liked an optional shorter trip, 11 lines was a lot and it took about 5 hours, other than that it was a great day!

Here is a link to a video the team made for us…some not so pretty shots in here…

https://capecanopytour.fldn.tv/17516343

Day 13: 05.26.2017

Today started at another early childhood development center where we did the same thing we did the other day; we took the students’ heights, weights, eye color, and hair color for identification purposes, then played with them. This one was a little different because it was in a township with no electricity or plumbing. The building consisted of four “containers” but they resembled cut out dumpsters to me. They were placed in a square to form three classrooms, a kitchen, a toilets area, and an office. The interior of the four containers was covered with roofing. When asked why they were built like that instead of actual buildings we were told that it makes it easier to pick up and leave if they have to evacuate in a day. This really struck me. I’ve never been in a school setting where I had to worry about picking up and leaving everything behind just because someone told us to get out. The children were just as sweet as all of the others. They sang songs for us, welcomed us with open arms, and I got plenty of kisses today. After a quick lunch, we went to the Children’s Institute here in Cape Town to discuss children’s rights as well as where the health of children in South Africa stands. While improvements are being made in the areas of HIV, TB, nutrition, breast feeding, sanitation, and water availability, there are still many strides to be made. The most staggering fact that I heard was that 0.5% of the national budget is spent on nutrition; however, malnutrition is still a horrible problem here with 1/5 of children’s growth being stunted due to lack of nutrients. Another really shocking fact for me was that there are only 50 child psychiatrists in the country, only 15 are in the public sector, and there are only 5 certified training facilities. With mental health issues being so present here due to high levels of physical and sexual abuse, drug use, abandonment, violence, gangs, diseases, and many other socioeconomic fathers, it really upsets me that there is so little help available to these children.

I know that the stigma surrounding mental health is still high in America, and I also know that we don’t have all of the resources that we need; however, I really feel like we should be thankful for the discussion in our country and the help that we do have. There are so many problems on this country’s plate that it is hard for them to tackle mental health right now, and it makes me very thankful that our country is moving in the direction of treating these issues and providing judgement free care.

Day 12: 05.25.2017

Sorry that I’m running behind, yesterday was a long day! We spent the day on the “Baz Bus” which is a bus that drives you to scenic locations along the coast. We started the day on a boat to a small island that was covered with fur seals. They were all so cute, and the smaller ones were literally jumping out of the water. It was a beautiful ride out, and there was no sickness this time! After that we went to a scenic overlook where we all took pictures with the flag and had a snack. When we left there we went to a penguin colony on Boulder beach. This was my first time seeing penguins in their natural habitat so it was really cool to me! There were so many of them, and it is their breeding season so there were babies everywhere. After leaving there we went to the Cape Peninsula where we had the option to ride bikes to our lunch. Anyone that knows me well know that I had a traumatic experience when I was younger with bikes so I opted out of that trip ;). Our lunch was delicious, and then we went to an older lighthouse on the peninsula and hiked to the top. I’ve personally struggled with my physical fitness for the past few years, so reaching the top was a real accomplishment for me and the views were beautiful. From there, we hiked to the edge of the peninsula which can be seen in pictures. This peak is the most south-western point on the entire continent, and the closest I will ever be to Antarctica (maybe). After a short break, we went out to celebrate Kristen’s 21st birthday last night (another reason you didn’t get a blog post until today). Yesterday was a day full of fun, but also exhaustion. I’m still amazed by this country’s beauty and I am going to be extremely sad to leave.

Day 11: 05.24.2017

This morning we went to Stepping Stones children center to help the teachers with a  new initiative to identify each student. One of the teachers talked to us about how violence and crime rates are really high here against children; recently a child was killed and when trying to identify the body there was only one black and white picture of her ever, and no true record of identifiable characteristics. With this being said, we went through the preschool and measured each child’s height, weight, took their hair color and eye color, and finally took color pictures of them for the teachers to have. While this may seem like a simple task, it’s a step towards the children being in safer hands which means a lot to all of us here. After doing this we had a chance to read to the children and play with them and it again reminded me of how loving and welcoming everyone here is. The children had no hesitation sitting in my lap, reading to me, making up secret handshakes, and even singing for me.

After playing with the children, the chef at the preschool had created a few traditional African snacks for us. Unfortunately I can’t remember the names of them, but one was like a croissant with a chicken filling, one was similar to a triangular spring roll with a ground beef filling, and one was like a donut with coconut on top. All of them were so delicious and we all took seconds (and thirds).

After our snacks we went through the District Six museum. District Six is an area in South Africa that got completely redivided during the Apartheid. Many blacks were forced to move from their homes with barely a suitcase full of stuff to their assigned housing location based on their color. This led to the development of some of the townships I have mentioned earlier in my posts. As I walked through this museum I found myself wondering what I would do if someone walked into my home and told me to pack a suitcase and move to a whole new location just because my skin color was white. Another thing that weighed heavy on my mind was the number of people that were forced out. 60,000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the estimated population in Dinwiddie County on July 1st 2016 was 28,144. Imagine forcing EVERYONE in Dinwiddie County out of their homes TWICE and then some. Every child, every family, every memory. It’s easy to think that it’s a big number, but it doesn’t really hit you how large of a number that is until you can compare it to something you are familiar with.

After the museum we went back to the waterfront where I was able to catch some more pictures of the art work and signs around the different buildings. On our walk over to the waterfront I saw both a McLaren and Aston Martin dealership so I had to take pictures for my sweet nephew. Also, while shopping for something to wear to a 21st birthday dinner tomorrow in H&M we convinced the baby of the trip, Chris, to try on some thigh high glitter boots. I’ve included those pictures for your entertainment as well.

I’ve struggled a little more today with feelings of loneliness and even awkwardness. I think I’ve finally gotten to the point in the trip where I’m feeling a mixture of physical and mental exhaustion combined with being homesick and mixed emotions. I knew that coming here was going to push my established values and morals but I wasn’t really ready for the things I have seen and heard both good and bad, as well as how many self-realizations I have had. I’ve felt many mixed feelings of happiness and pride for the life I have been given, as well as building, while also feeling a lot of guilt for the things I have been greedy over as well as for the times that I have discriminated without trying to.

After a lot of thought (and I’m sure there will be plenty more), I’m trying to come to peace with who I have been, as well as some of the people I have associated with. I’ve acknowledged that I haven’t always made the best decisions or been the nicest person, and I won’t always be perfect in the future; however, this trip has given me a lot of enlightenment on the type of person I want to be, and the type of person I want to associate with. It also has reminded me of the things I can do with my privilege as well as my voice and moving forward I want to remember that as much as possible, not only in my giving and my work, but in my character and who I am at the end of the day.

A quote that I read today was by Nelson Mandela… “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

This really spoke to me, as he put an emphasis on both white domination and black domination. So often in America the media can taint what’s actually going on which leads to only ONE side being bad, and the other side being innocent. It’s this idea that there are flaws between each side, but the overall goal is harmony and equality that really resided with me. There are things that black people have done that I have personally been offended by, and there are things that white people have done that I have been offended by, but at the end of the day both are human beings and deserve equal rights and an equal shot at happiness, neither side is COMPLETELY at fault, and neither side is the ONLY side that matters, and neither side matters MORE. This seems to be a hard concept for many people in our country to grasp and even I still don’t have a complete grasp on it. What I do have a grasp on is the depth of a man saying he would die for the rights of other people. It’s very easy to live for something. I, personally, live for my education, my family, my friends, my ambition, my dreams. These are the things that keep me alive everyday and if I were to ever have a thought of ending my life, these are the reasons I wouldn’t, they are my reasons to live. But to die for something is totally different. Those are things that you would sacrifice all the things you live for, for. I can’t say with complete honesty that there is anything or anyone besides my sister, my niece, and both of my nephews that I would willingly give up every reason for living for. So for Mr. Mandela to say that he would give up his money, his power, his career, his family, his friends, his education, his home, and every other reason he has to live, for the freedom of OTHER people, is not only awe-inspiring, but should also clench you in your gut a little bit, because death shouldn’t be normalized, and to die for something shouldn’t be taken lightly.

So when I say that I have been enlightened on the type of person I want to be, I want to be the type of person who would die for the equality and rights of others. Whether it be equality in healthcare, equality in human rights, or even just equality in love and happiness, I want to feel so passionately about something that I would give up everything that I love for the sake of that thing. Along with this, I want the wisdom to clearly see the inequalities that are present so that I can have at least a feeling for them instead of being blind. I want the voice to stand up and speak for those that don’t have the access, the power, the money, or simply the courage, because a lot of times those in power don’t realize how much oppression can mute a person’s voice. Finally, I want the hope that Mr. Mandela had. I want the hope that dominance can subside, and people can live in a time of peace and equality. I want the hope that the next generation, these children I’ve been hugging and holding and reading to and wiping boogers off of, never learns the hate of the world, and continues to play with peoples’ hair, even if they have a different skin color. I want the hope that one day socioeconomic status will not play a role in one’s access to healthcare, and that one’s health isn’t dependent upon the money in their bank account.

While I know to many this will be wishful thinking, and may almost seem like dreaming, but my question to you if you have read this far is, what great change isn’t brought about by wishful thinking, hope, and a voice? Without hope and a voice, there would be no change, or effort in general; in fact, without hope and a voice, everyone would just follow the flow of the norms set by those with power (or worse, those who used to have power), which unfortunately is all too familiar for me, and much of America.

Day 10: 05.23.2017

Today we didn’t necessarily have an academic session, so most of our group hiked the mountain this morning. I opted for sleeping in. 😉

After my catch-up on rest we went to a place called “Old Biscuit Mill” which was a collection of small shops and restaurants. We had brunch and then did some shopping there, then went to “Greenmarket Square” which is similar to a farmers market of different items that were more gift-like. This was really cool for me because I had my first chance to really bargain with vendors. I spent way too much money there but got some really cool things to bring home! After that we came home and had a very relaxed evening. We had a short group meeting to discuss a paper that we have to write upon coming home, and then we made one of the boys in our group watch “Mean Girls”. I ended the day with a coffee face mask and nice shower, which was much needed after feeling so much physically and mentally over the past ten days.

Aside from academics, I’ve noticed cliques forming within our groups and it has been hard for me to deal with. I try to be as honest and open as possible when writing these, so it’s important for me to include that I naturally feel like a very annoying, unwanted person. If you ask any of my close friends they will be able to tell you that I usually need a lot of reassurance about my friendship and my presence, and I’ve struggled with this for a long time. When I see cliques forming I always think that I am the outcast in the situation and I don’t fit in. Instead of thinking like this I’ve tried to stay very neutral and get along with everyone, but it’s been a struggle for me as I feel like the others don’t like me. I’m thankful for the friends I do have on this trip who have served as a constant reminder of my place here and that I am wanted here as it can be really hard to feel that when you are 8,000 miles from home.

Things start to pick up more again tomorrow so I should have more pictures soon!

Day 9: 05.22.2017

This morning I went to the soup kitchen that is ran by the same people as the homeless shelter that we visited last Thursday. We helped to serve breakfast to those in need. After serving, I got to sit down and talk to some of the guests to know their stories. The main person I talked to was named Rudolph (like the reindeer as he said). He discussed how he used to live up on the mountain and all of the wildlife, and he talked about how he had high blood pressure and he drinks some type of tea to lower his blood pressure. Again, I found myself amazed at how happy he was to just have someone to listen to him. More often than not, homeless people get treated like nuisances who are in the way; however, all of them have a story to tell and it did my heart good to hear Rudolph’s.

After leaving the soup kitchen we went back to the homeless shelter and got to talk to Pastor John more, the guy who runs the entire organization. The biggest thing he said that really stuck with me was “What if you got to the end of your life and realized you didn’t do what your purpose was?”. He talked a lot about fulfillment and that money may bring temporary happiness but won’t fulfill your sense of purpose at the end of the day.

This made me wonder if I’ve found my true life’s purpose or not. I honestly don’t know the answer to that and I think that’s a big reason of why I’m here. Pastor John discussed how some of the homeless people he has helped now make more money than he does but he lies awake at night excited for the next day because he loves what he does and he knows it is his calling. He talked about how he ends everyday with his heart so full because he knows he has served his purpose in life by helping those that need it. Anyone who knows me knows that I have always been very ambitious and I have always had big dreams; however, I often wonder what I will do with that ambition and those dreams once school and the work is done. While I love pharmacy, I yearn for the thing that sets my soul on fire and lets me go to sleep at night feeling full of life. I’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t something that you can decide for yourself, but yet something that you will just know when you feel it, and I look forward to hopefully finding that one day, if not soon.

The rest of the day was filled with food and drinks for one of our friend’s birthday…..Happy Birthday Sky!!!

Day 8: 05.21.2017

Today we went shark cage diving, saw no sharks, and I threw up off the side of the boat three times. The end.

(The lollipop was supposed to help with the sickness but as you can see by all of us on the front of the boat, it didn’t)

Day 7: 05.20.2017

Before I talk about my day, I want to give a birthday shout out to one of my best friends…it’s Briana’s 21st birthday today!!! I hate that I couldn’t be there but I hope today is everything you wanted and more because you deserve it. I love you tons!!!!

We started this morning at a fruit and vegetable market to pick up oranges and bananas for the kids that we would be visiting today. All of us pitched in some money and together we were able to buy at least one orange, banana, and two bags of crackers for all one hundred kids PLUS had money leftover for their after school program. Driving to the children gave me the same feelings of sadness as we drove through the townships and there was trash everywhere. When we pulled up to the field I was amazed to find the children jumping up and down and clapping their hands out of excitement for us to be there and I instantly wanted to cry. As we piled out of the van, your feet couldn’t hit the ground before the children were hugging you and literally climbing up you. All of them were so happy to see us which really melted my heart. We had bought toys for them earlier in the week so we gave them their toys and played with them. The girls loved to braid our hair and they told me over and over how pretty my hair was. After playing with them for a little while we got the snacks out of the car and brought them to them. It broke my heart knowing that this might be the only food that these children get today. What really shook me was that I accidentally dropped a bag of chips and a little boy picked them up and handed them back to me, even though I have plenty of food and he had none. I handed them back to him and told him to take them home and he had the largest grin. The main highlight of my day was the little boy that I hung out with all day (pictured). I don’t know his name because he spoke Afrikaans and I spoke English but he kept calling me “his mama” all day. He had a worn shirt that had holes all through it and I could feel his ribs but he was so happy. This really proved to me that hate is taught, and people aren’t born with it. Him and I were different skin colors, different ethnicities, and didn’t even speak the same language, and he still loved me. After eating, we walked through the township with the kids. These “homes”, and I say this lightly because it’s shelter not a home, were essentially dark holes inside. Most of the homes were the size of the bedroom I am sitting in and had holes all through the walls. It hurts me to know that a lot of these kids will never get to leave these walls; however, it made my heart feel so good to know that I brought them food as well as joy for a day. When it was time to leave the kids kept asking us if we could stay which was gut-wrenching. There were many tears shed as we waved goodbye to such loving kids. I will never forget this morning.

After a nap, our academic session was held on the beach. We did a lot of reflection on our past week as well as how we were feeling. I’ve realized how guilty I am of being selfish and greedy; I’ve witnessed people with so little who are so happy. We also discussed the lack of a sense of time here and how much happier everyone was. In America, we are always on the go and never have time to actually talk to others. I’ve talked to more people in the past week since I haven’t had my phone in my hand than I did the past two years at JMU I think. I also expressed the differences in genuine caring I’ve seen in the past week. In America, when something is wrong we usually care, but we say “take some ibuprofen” or “drink some ginger ale”. Today, one guy in our group hadn’t been feeling well and he told the little boy that he had a stomach ache and this little boy rubbed his stomach and said “I want to make it better for you”. This shook me to my bones. There’s a big difference between caring about someone and just giving them medicine you have in a cabinet, and this little boy who had nothing in his possession and barely had a roof over his head genuinely wanting someone to be better. It made me wonder if the times that I have cared for others have been from the inside of my heart or just because I had access to what those people needed.

Today has probably meant more to me than any day thus far. I found myself wondering what I could do moving forward to help these people until during discussion it was brought to my attention that the American standard of “normal” is not their standard of “normal”. We believe that these kids have nothing because they don’t have shiny phones and a big house; however, these kids think their lives are normal and ours are just extraordinary. It’s not my purpose in life to define what is and isn’t culturally normal for a person, but I do believe that it is my purpose to give these people what they need to define their own sense of “normal”, whether that be giving them a sense of joy for a little while, or donating to shelters like we saw Thursday to feed them.

Day 6: 05.19.2017

Today started on the ferry to Robben Island, the island where the maximum security prison that held Nelson Mandela was. For those that don’t know, Nelson Mandela was arrested on grounds of treason during the Apartheid for trying to fight the government over equal rights for colored people. Some of the rules enacted during the apartheid banned mixed racial marriage, punished blacks for protesting at all, only allowed blacks to be in urban areas for 72 hours, and other really horrible laws. I found myself on the ferry ride over wondering what it must be like to be on a boat knowing that you had been exiled for life for trying to get basic human rights. The island itself was beautiful, I discovered that it holds approximately 250 people now, all workers of the museum. Inside the prison we were able to view different courtyards as well as Nelson Mandela’s cell. Unfortunately, my camera died on the way to the island so that was all for the pictures today.

After Robben Island we ate at a cute little food market back at the waterfront that had just about any ethnicity of food you could want and it was all fresh! There was a sign out front that said “Your Fast Food could be your Last Food” which we all really liked. After lunch we went to a place called the Watershed which had all local artists selling their goods. There were beautiful paintings, bead works, clothing, and many other toys to look at. Before leaving we all got a small portion of our hair wrapped and the lady who did it was so wonderful. She talked with us about how much she loves everyone regardless of color, and gave us tons of motherly advice. She discussed her love for Jesus and how she never works Sundays because that’s her time with her god. When she finished each of our hair she hugged us and told us we were angels. It costed us R80 (about $6), but we all gave her R100 and told her to keep the change. I will never forget her reaction, she literally got on her knees and blessed us and said that she was writing a check for her church and told us all individually that she loved us. I’ve never met such a loving, king, giving, humble woman in my life. The grace of the people in this country amazes me. I have yet to feel judged, unwanted, or anything and it truly makes me wonder why America is the way that it is.

Day 5: 05.18.2017

Today was a very long, refreshing day! The drive this morning was beautiful but still disheartening as we passed numerous people laying in fields, on sidewalks, and on benches. I’ve never seen such a large homeless population. Could you imagine everything you own fitting on one single pallet? We started the morning at University of Cape Town’s HIV/AIDS Inclusivity and Change Unit or HAICU. The purpose of this group is to decrease the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS as well as different sexualities. We met with a woman speaker who came to share her story and I wasn’t really prepared. She shared with us that she was gang raped and as a result contracted HIV. Unfortunately, this wasn’t her first time even being raped, as she was raised in a family where the males require sexual favors in return for food/shelter. She struggled with this for a long time until she finally decided that it didn’t define her. She also discussed labeling; she mentioned how she was speaking at a conference soon and the pamphlet said “Her Name, a person living with HIV” or something similar to that. She explained that her disease status does not define her, just as you would not put on a pamphlet “So and So’s Name, a person living with asthma”. This put into perspective the way that I’ve been thinking of those with disease, as well as how I naturally label them. We also discussed something called “corrective rape” in which people rape those in the LGBTQ+ community in order to try and “correct them”, which is utterly disgusting. We also discussed some of the myths and truths of HIV which I will discuss later. After leaving the meeting we walked on campus to the bookstore and purchased sweatshirts (we’re trying to go for a less touristy look). Their campus is BEAUTIFUL and there was music playing and people everywhere.

After lunch we went to a homeless shelter here in town. The shelter houses 70 people and it was our job today to cook for them, as well as the people on the streets. I couldn’t tell you the name of the dish we served, but it had fish, rice, curry seasoning, and tons of vegetables. The chef in the kitchen reminded us how important she thinks vegetables are numerous times and it was so sweet. Everyone in the shelter was so sweet; specifically, there was one woman and her daughter (pictured) that were absolutely amazing. We passed her little girl around and she smiled and smiled. All of the people in the shelter have a story and I think we forget that a lot; I heard stories from so many people today that just wanted a stranger to talk to and notice them. It helps that they complimented our cooking too! The homeless that came to get food outside of the gate were so funny and nice! One guy was dancing when he walked up and made all of us laugh, his name was Patrick. As we were leaving, all of the tenants had chairs in the main entry and a big projector and they were starting to watch a movie together. Once again, this was an eye opening experience. There were people walking off the street that had all of their stuff on crates on wheels that were singing and dancing over one free meal. They were so happy and so grateful. There were people who barely have a roof over their head sitting together eating off of plastic plates and watching a movie; they were happier than I had been all day because I was sleepy. I take so much for granted in my own life, even when I’m trying not to. I have a family, a roof over my head, an education, I’m not hungry, and that doesn’t even cover the luxuries (like the seven trash bags of clothes that are still in my apartment).

Aside from the other issues that I’ve mentioned in my posts, I’ve never seen patriarchy like I’ve seen here. When discussing why condom usage is so rare, or why women still have sex with men who are known to be HIV positive, the repeated answer is always “that’s what the man wants”. In most of the townships, the males in the families are having sex with the females in return for providing food and what shelter they can. Female condoms are very popular here; however, the university mentioned that while many women have them, they aren’t used because the male doesn’t appreciate them. In my past five days here I have seen this with my own eyes as we experienced a man in a relationship cheat on his girlfriend and laugh about it. When we discussed why he laughed it came out that he apparently does it all of the time, she knows about it, and that it is a regular thing here. All of this has been so disheartening for me, and I’m honestly not sure where to start to even think about empowering these women. The crime and violence rates are very high here, and unfortunately if the woman speaks up there is a good chance that she will be stranded and lose her child, or get hurt/killed.

Finally, I wanted to clear some stuff up because I got quite a few rude comments from people before I flew here, and I’ve gotten more since I’ve been here.

  1. You CANNOT catch HIV from skin to skin contact. Holding someone’s hand, hugging them, using the same bathroom as them, nothing. It doesn’t happen.
  2. You CANNOT catch HIV from someone’s saliva. That’s right, make out and swap spit until you can’t anymore. Share forks and spoons. Drink after the person. IN FACT: the virus itself doesn’t really like salivary amylase….the main enzyme in your saliva.
  3. You CAN catch HIV from blood to blood contact (dirty tattoo needles, dirty blood donation, shared injection needles).
  4. You CAN catch HIV from sexual intercourse (most commonly known cause).
  5. Your child CAN contract HIV both during pregnancy as well as through breastfeeding.
  6. While rare, you CAN contract HIV during oral sex. In these cases, there would need to be an open cut or sore during the activity in which the virus could infect…..again, YOU DO NOT CONTRACT IT THROUGH YOUR SALIVA, BUT THROUGH YOUR BLOOD.

So just to reiterate, if someone you know has HIV, or more importantly, someone you don’t know has HIV, don’t treat them like they’re dirty. Their skin can’t hurt you, their spit can’t hurt you, their food can’t hurt you, their clothes can’t hurt you, their shit and urine can’t hurt you, and to be COMPLETELY frank, the virus has been shown to only survive between 7 seconds and 1 minute once blood is dry so their dried blood CAN’T EVEN HURT YOU. So please, stop treating people like problems, and start treating them like humans, because you wouldn’t appreciate it too much if others told people to try not to catch an ugly heart around you, just because you have one on the inside. 🙂

P.S. Even if your blood came in contact with someone’s wet blood that was HIV positive, they make post exposure prophylaxis drugs that can still prevent the acquisition of HIV, similar to how Plan B works. So there’s still no reason to treat them poorly.

Day 4: 05.17.2017

This morning started early as we went to the hospital where the first human heart transplant was done. I was expecting a shiny beautiful building; however, the building was very run down and almost dirty. Nothing about the hospital was sanitary and there was barely any technology. I met with two counselors who talk with HIV patients today about their status (if the status is disclosed) as well as their family life. There were no computers or anything in these counselors’ rooms and it gave a very dull vibe. As you walked through the halls, there were about 4 patients in each hospital room. The beds were nothing like beds at all, and you didn’t hear the echo of the heart monitors. It was very awakening to the technology we have in the United States. The counselors discussed how they disclose HIV status to children with us. They start by teaching the importance of germs, the next phase is to introduce the idea of a germ inside the blood, and finally naming the germ as HIV. It also fascinated that the counselors explain to the children that they are taking their medications not because they are “sick” but to keep the germs away, just as you wash your hands and brush your teeth. I also talked to one of the most brilliant doctors I’ve ever met, Dr. Rudzani Muloiwa…I encourage you to look him up. The evening was spent by the water front eating dinner and then at a Justin Bieber concert (it was mediocre, sorry Briana and beliebers). The intro “DJ Sketchy Bongo” was really good!

On a more personal note, I’ve been noticing lately that not everyone’s intentions are always good, and with that I’ve been teaching myself that you can’t change someone’s intentions, you can only handle your own. I’m very happy to say that I’m here for the right reasons, and while I’m enjoying this beautiful place, my heart is in it to understand their culture and listen to their problems so that I can change myself in ways that may not eliminate them altogether, but at least help. At the end of the day, you can’t make others be focused, determined, or even care, but you can do that for yourself, and that’s better than nothing at all.

Day 3: 05.16.2017

Today was a much easier day. We started the day at the US Consulate where we were given information on the current state of South Africa. We were told cool facts (South Africa has the second best economy in Africa, has a 25% unemployment rate, and the US set up a really cool program targeting HIV/AIDS in 2003) and then briefed on safety measures here. The building was amazing; one thing we saw was where Mr. and Mrs. Obama were awarded the Freedom of the City award here in Cape Town. There were also numerous pictures of Martin Luther King Jr.. It restored some of the pride in my country that I lost in the past few days. When we left, we went to a place called China Town which was very similar to a dollar store. There we bought toys and coloring books to take with us on Saturday to one of the townships where we will be playing with over 200 children. After that we had a free evening so we went to the largest/most beautiful mall I’ve ever seen where we had lunch at a fish market. I got two sushi rolls both of which were delicious, and then we did some shopping. Fun fact: the Lush here is SO much cheaper than in America, and it wasn’t busy AT ALL. Now, we are back home and about to celebrate one of our drivers’ (we have an entire family driving us during our stay) birthday! He elected to spend his birthday evening with us. Today was not as influential as the past two days, but did my mind well to relax.

Day 2: 05.15.2017

Today was a much harder day for me. We got up and had breakfast and then my group was headed to a clinic in one of the townships here in Cape Town. Today was a free clinic day so we already knew that there were going to be a lot of people getting treatment. I was not mentally prepared for what I saw. As we drove there I saw the beautiful scenery, including the city skyline and I was in awe; however, all of a sudden I saw more poverty than I’ve ever seen. These townships were essentially people living in dumpsters, or shacks made of literally tin. You could sometimes smell where the people did not have plumbing. There was trash lining the streets, and there were stray dogs and goats lining the roads. You could see these shacks for miles and miles and it’s honestly heartbreaking.  We asked our driver on the way what he feels like the key to changing the circumstances was and he said “sports”. He began to explain that while in school these children have the access to sports and it gives them motivation; however, when they finish school or drop out, they no longer have access to this and they fall into drugs, sex work and poverty. He also explained that the leading drug right now was heroine. After turning off of the main road, a gate had to be opened for us to get into the health clinic. Walking into the health clinic I had numerous first impressions. There was a boy who was obviously mentally handicapped who was also in a wheelchair, there was a female with scars all over her face and it made me wonder what her story was, there were children….SO MANY CHILDREN. The biggest realization I had was that for once in my life I was the one that didn’t fit in. While I’ve always believed in equality, today was the first time that I could truly empathize with minorities in our country. As I stood in the middle of this clinic, it was very clear that I wasn’t the same as everyone else, there was no one else like me in the room, and I didn’t fit in. The difference between here and America is that everyone in the clinic was very welcoming. The children all waved to me and nobody was upset with having me here; there was no where near as much hate and judgement as I’ve seen in America and that really broke my heart. From there, I shadowed a physician as she saw pediatric HIV/AIDS patients. My physician explained to me that she is actually embarrassed to practice medicine here as she feels she only prescribes medicines everyday, she doesn’t help anyone achieve real health. She believed that the pharmaceutical industry pushed drugs on the South African government for the money, not for the patients best interest. She said that so much money is spent on these drugs that the government can’t help people’s socioeconomic status, which is what she believed is the root of health issues. She says the world has a socioeconomic problem and not a health problem and I honestly agree. She also felt strongly that HIV did not originate in Africa but was instead created in a lab for the money. The patients that we saw are what really hit me today. All of the patients were so happy, despite their circumstances. Some of these children already had AIDS, wearing tarnished clothing and they were smiling and laughing and playing. My professor was playing with one child on her phone throughout the day, and as the day came to a close he went in his bookbag and took out a balled up newspaper. When the kid unwrapped the newspaper there was 4 chicken feet in there and he set two chicken feet to the side, and walked up to my professor and offered the other 2 to her. She turned them down but said let’s eat, and he sat beside her eating his chicken feet, which barely even had meat on them, and was laughing and smiling after he just offered probably half of his food for the entire day. He even talked to my professor about how they cook them. Another woman’s son was malnourished and his mother explained that she was only living off of her child support, which was equivalent to 25 US dollars a month. My physician was also very interested in what the Affordable Care Act was, what the Obama administration did, as well as what the Trump administration was doing. I discussed the racial issues we are having as well as the police brutality and she explained that they were experiencing very similar obstacles. Overall, today really made me feel guilty. I left a multimillion dollar home after using my MacBook and iPhone all morning to go to people who barely had food for the day. I took a shower in my rainfall shower this morning and complained that I didn’t have hot water, while these people didn’t have water in general. It really made me see my privilege, and opened my eyes to my own selfishness and greed.

Day 18: 05.31.2017

Today started at a place called Chaeli Campaign. This is a fully inclusive school for students with impairments as well as those without impairments. The entire foundation focuses on ability instead of disability; they provide an educational setting in which all students are able to perform the same tasks/live the same life. In addition, the physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists come to the school and work with the children and their individual needs. One thing I particularly liked about this organization is that they accept ANY person with an impairment, they aren’t confined to one or two specific impairments. They adjust their educational staff and health staff accordingly which I thought was really cool.

Afterwards we went to a place called KidzPositive which sells all sorts of beadwork made by HIV positive mothers.

Finally, we went to a place called Muizenberg and had dinner for my professor’s birthday. Overall, it was a very good day!

I apologize that this post is so short, I’m still very under the weather and doing my best to rest as much as possible.