Friday, March 11, 2011

Really? This Is My Final Stop?

Molo from Plettenberg!

From Costa Rica to Ecuador to Peru to China to Cambodia to India and now South Africa. Wow, what a journey it has been. I hope my blog - although relatively quiet over the past two months - has given you a small taste of the many once-in-a-lifetime experiences I have had over seven months. 

As my greeting indicates I have now landed in Plettenberg Bay which is located on the Western Cape of South Africa. It is a beautiful destination for tourists who wish to bask in the sun, enjoy the beach, or get attacked sharks! While I am able to appreciate the luxury of living in a beach town, after my previous stops, there much sobering work to be done here in Plett.

What most the smiling tourists fail to see on their magical vacations is the foundation upon which their luxuries are built. The roads that take the tourists to the beaches, to the restaurants, and to their comfortable accommodations continue on. From the paved avenues of Plett one can travel just a few more miles down bumpy roads to the townships that are home to the vast majority of the Western Cape population. Here the sun still shines, the people still smile, but their is a very human toll to be recognized and understood. 

Each day I take a 5 minute taxi ride to Kwanakuthula where I meet up with my care worker, Pumza. Together, we make our rounds through the township providing home based care.

The first patient we visited today is HIV positive and has recently come down with TB. The dear woman is 70 years old and lives in a small two room house with her son. Unable to work because of her illnesses she is receiving a government grant to provide for her very basic needs. Tragically, however, her son believes his needs - whatever they may be - are more important.  Consequently, my friend is unable to buy food, making it very difficult to take her medicines which must be taken on a full stomach.

Abused grants are a common thread throughout the townships and it is very evident that there is a need for social workers. Pumza and I sat there and listened to the eldery woman express her feelings of hunger and fright. I feel helpless. I feel ashamed. Just days before I spoke to my Dad about the opportunity to pay $200 to go skydiving in Plett. Do you know how many meals that would buy for my friend? How can I do that? 

Oh, if that was my only friend who needed help . . .
Another patient Pumza and I visit on a regular basis is a forty year-old man who was diagnosed with spinal cord cancer last year. With no money, no thought of nationwide health care, he has few treatment options. We find him each day lying in bed waiting for his next fix of morphene, which he takes every 4 hours. Each day Pumza and I  bath him, fix him breakfast and pray that he finds peace some time soon.

A few houses down lives a single mother with three children. The mother is only twenty-five, but looks as though she is nearing sixty. She has AIDS. Afraid of being left by her husband she refused to get tested. The disease has now progressed to this terrifying stage. But even more tragic, because of her refusal to get tested her youngest daughter was born HIV positive and will be on ARVs for the remainder of her life. As the tragedy so predictably unfolds, the husband has now left the mother to fend for herself and her sick child. Pumza and I visit to the mother and daughter to make sure medications are being taken and that a resistance to the treatment has not formed. What else can we do?

Each day Pumza and I visit anywhere from 2 to 20 patients. We see everything from stroke victims to diabetics, and a large number of HIV positive patients. The tasks we preform are minor but essential is trying to help improve their standard of living.  As we walk through Kwankuthula we see rows and rows of shacks, with government housing in between. I will perform these visits of care for a mere three weeks. Pumza does it as her calling, her passion. Pumza is my hero. 

After hearing these stories, my Dad keeps telling me to read THE ONE'S WHO WALK AWAY FROM OMELAS by Ursula K. LeGuin. I tell him put down the books and come live it . . .

As I wrote earlier I am living in Plettenberg Bay, near the center of town on a large hill overlooking the beautiful vast ocean. I am spoiled and am finding it hard to fully enjoy all the luxuries at my disposal. The vast contradictions I see in South Africa make me realize how much I take for granted in my life. As I prepare myself to go back home, I am haunted and blessed by images of my work here that will remain with me for my life. I fully understand why Plett is the last stop on my TBB journey.


I went bungee jumping last weekend from what I'm told is the highest bridge in the world!!! It was insane. I now truly know what it is to free fall. With all the time in the sun - both in the air and on the ground, my skin is slowly begining to match my hair. Oh, I also took a roll down the hill the other day ago and scraped myself up silly, but don't worry Bruce (my host) made me a liquid silver clay to clean them. A new business perhaps, Mom?

Ohhh, did I tell you I come back to the USA in less than a month?!!!!!!!? I'm ready.

Plett is beautiful. I strongly recommend that you take a vacation here. Truly. But if you do, promise me one thing: That you'll visit my friends.

Bye for now,