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 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.

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!