Thursday, 22 June 2017

Hiking Lion's Head

This past Sunday part of our group hiked up Lion’s Head, a mountain in Cape Town between the famed Table Mountain and Signal Hill.  While we haven’t hiked Table Mountain yet (we are planning on it soon!) during our tour of the notable Bo-Kaap neighborhood this past Saturday we spent part of the day on Signal Hill to watch the daily firing of the historic Noon Gun.  In turn, when starting our hike up Lion’s Head I was happy to feel decently oriented to the surrounding areas and enjoyed taking in and identifying other parts of Cape Town our group had already started to explore or were planning on visiting soon.

While most of the path was along a steep dirt trail, the final descent towards the summit did involve a bit of hectic scrambling on my end to get up the sharper steep segments of rocky faces.  Although there were moments where I debated whether or not I should attempt this final vertical ascend, I decided to carry on and the views from the 669 m (2,195 ft) summit were absolutely spectacular and worth the last push.  Growing up in San Francisco, I’d like to say I am accustomed to hills and great views but the outlook from Lion’s Head was unlike anything I had ever seen before. While our group has experienced other stunning views from car rides over passes surrounding Cape Town and through assorted shorter walks that we’ve taken, the 360 panoramic views overlooking the surrounding downtown areas and other neighborhoods of Cape Town, Camps Bay and the Atlantic Ocean were absolutely unique and quite fantastic.

Hanging out on the summit for a bit also allowed for some quality interactions with other hikers and we were happy to get advice from some more seasoned climbers on what route would be best to take for when we decide to tackle table mountain.  We also got to play with quite the cute little dog (still curious how she managed to get up the sheer rocks) and had an interesting time talking to her owner, who was from Cape Town.  It was nice to hear that a good number of locals frequently enjoyed hiking and visiting Lion’s Head along with the thousands of visitors who come each year.  I’m looking forward to our further hiking adventures during our down time here when we aren’t in class, at our assorted internship sites, touring local public health facilities or exploring other exciting spots and can’t wait to see what new views and experiences are to come from our future treks!  

- Toby Harris

Friday, 2 June 2017

2017s are GO!

Good evening, readers, and greetings from beautiful Cape Town where the 2017 students have been in residence now for a very full 24 hours!  Jasmine, Jiyoon, Ben, Isaac, Max, Karina, Tiffany, Toby, Peyton, Arjun, Michelle, and graduate student assistant Meagan all arrived June 1, and today, June 2, we spent as a group getting to know each other and the UCT campus.  We had gorgeous weather for our walking tour, and a great tour guide, Ian (in the UCT sweatshirt in the photo).  Everyone's got a student ID, a local phone, some good maps, and did well absorbing a lot of information quickly on this exciting first day.  Tomorrow - on to the District Six Museum and a visit to a local clinic as we continue to establish some history and context and explore!

Lisa Folda

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Running Through Cape Town

My original motivation for running in Cape Town was to be able to eat copious amounts of food without having to feel guilty about it. However, over the past four weeks, running has come to be a great way for me to learn about the city. Through a very scientific process of randomly deciding to turn down streets that look interesting and following random other runners that I see (definitely not creepy at all), I’ve discovered some really neat places and some magnificent views. So lace up your virtual running shoes and follow along below to discover with me a few of the many beautiful places in Cape Town!

Step 1: It’s 7:30 am and the sun is just about to rise. You’re all geared up and have one hour to run before you have to get ready to go to your internship site. If you’re feeling up for a challenge head up the hill (go to step 2a), if you’re feeling like a flatter run head down the hill (go to step 2b).

Step 2a: Good for you sprinting up that hill! You can now either keep left to run along what looks like a fairly flat path (go to step 3a), or continue up the hill in the general direction of the University of Cape Town (go to step 3b).

Step 2b: You’ve run downhill from the cottage and are now at main road. You know there are shops in both directions but past those you have very little knowledge of the areas. So what would you like to do? To go left proceed to 3c and to go right proceed to 3d.

Step 3a: So you chose to take the flatter path. No shame in that. Unfortunately for you the path was only flat for about half a mile, and your next two miles were pretty much all uphill. Luckily all your hard work paid off and you reached the beautiful Kirstenbosch gardens. Take a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful plants and views and then enjoy your downhill run home.

Step 3b: Wow- continuing up the hill! You must really be in great shape! If not, you’re really feeling the burn right now. But don’t worry, the climb was definitely worth it. You’ve made it to Rhode’s Memorial where you have a beautiful view of the city. If you’re feeling extra adventurous you can hop on one of the trails that leads even further up the mountain. But I’m not doing that so you're on your own!

Step 3c: You run down Main Street past the familiar Pick’N’Pay and Nando’s and head into an unfamiliar area. But all of the sudden you come upon an extremely large and beautiful park where there are lots of other runners. As if that wasn’t enough, you turn around and notice that you have a perfectly unobstructed view of the mountains. Great find!

Step 3d: You run down Main Street past Woolsworth and the Creamery (you should go there tonight- you definitely deserve ice cream after this run). You head through a nice neighborhood and right when you were about to turn around you come across a large dog park. Assuming that the dogs won’t mind sharing the park with you, you head on in and run around the loop. There are several cute little streams running through the park and some nice greenery as well. The best part is that you didn’t get attacked by any dogs! Just kidding, the best part is definitely the great views of the mountains. Now time to say goodbye to all the doggies and head back home.

Running through a city allows you to learn so much more than you ever can just driving around. You find the secret hideaways and the little charms that make it unique and special. It makes you feel less like a tourist and more like a member of a community. And while I’ve loved all of the cool adventures we’ve had (paragliding, going to markets, kayaking, etc.) some of my favorite moments have come from running around the city.

Hope you enjoyed your virtual run!

-Karly R.

Friday, 3 July 2015

A Day in Bo-Kaap

The Aural Mosque (on the far left) 
               Looking from the outside, Bo-Kaap is known for its' colorful houses that are tucked safely into the fold of Signal hill. The neighborhood is actually filled with impacting history, memorable culture and enjoyable cuisines and also serves as the home of the Cape Malay people who are predominantly of the Muslim faith and in addition, it is the home of the oldest mosque in South Africa called The Auwal Mosque. Before coming to Cape Town I use to spend all day googling tourist sites, which mountains to hike and which towns to visit but, all that changed when my class got one of the most enticing tours of Cape Town.

The tour of Bo-Kaap began in their local museum. Our tour guide, Shareen, took us on one of the quickest but heart felt tours of the basic culture and history of the Cape Malay people of Bo-Kaap. In the museum, we were able to see things such as old pictures from past weddings in the older streets of Bo-Kaap as well as the types of materials used by families to make their meals. It was an impressive variety of items that in combination focused on the norms of this community.

As we made our way out of the museum, we crossed the street to enter “The World of Spices” formerly known as the Atlas Trading Company. There, we were all amazed by the grand selection of spices such as coriander, cumin, and chilli all the way to my personal favorite Chicken Tikka Masala. Shareen was great enough to coach us on the specific spices that are used to make some of the more traditional meals the neighborhood.
A few of the spices ;)
When we began our journey in the vivid streets of Bo-Kaap, we quickly documented what we saw. On each street there were different arrays of colored houses that almost seemed to not repeat because the colors of each house was as vibrant and breathtaking as the next.
Leaving the spice grocery
              After what it seemed to be the last of the colored houses, we arrived to a beautiful home of one of the locals. A local Bo-Kaap woman, who invited us into her home for lunch and a mini samoosas folding and stuffing lesson, greeted us with open arms. As soon as I sat at the table I swiftly took some mouth-watering pictures of the appetizers and dug into the samoosas (one of my favorite foods). As we continued to stuff our faces with such goodness, the mother offered to teach us how to fold and fill the samoosas but not too long after we were eating lunch. The samoosas and Dhaltjies (Chili bites) served as an appetizer while the main course consisted of the traditional Cape Malay Curry Chicken and Roti while for dessert we had Koesisters (something I have never tasted before but it was delightful). The meal was so delicious and I found myself asking for seconds, thirds and also fourths. At that moment, it was appropriate to say that I visited the Cape Malay paradise. 

Samoosas and Dhaljties
Bo-Kaap woman teaching us how to hold the samoosas.

I had one of the most memorable moments in her home and with her family. They were extremely welcoming people who were very excited to teach us about their culture and to be honest, I didn't want to leave. I found myself intrigued to learn more about their lives and more importantly, to be fed ;) 

By the end of the tour, I learned everything from the basic history of when the Malay people came to Cape Town all the way to the culture and types of cuisines they brought with them. More or less, whether it be the smell of the spices, the tiny roads, the beautiful mountains or the brightly colored houses, Bo-Kaap has proven to be the MOST beautiful places with the MOST lovely people.       

Walking through the tiny streets of Bo-Kaap
Zoe Anderson

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Feeling At Home in the Mother City

            Every year, thousands of people travel to other countries to volunteer in areas that have lower socioeconomic status and worse living conditions than their own.  These service trips are usually the only times that these people will ever be in these areas, and they leave with only the memories and pictures of their experiences.  So when thinking about my trip to Cape Town this summer, I knew I wanted to have more of a connective experience; I wanted to make relationships with the people I met and really continue my efforts to help the people I was about to meet, even after I returned to the United States.  But I was not completely confident that I would be able to do this.  I worried that being a financially stable, Caucasian American I would be so foreign that I would not be able to connect with the people I met and I would simply have to complete my program and leave.  The thought of completing my program superficially, without cultural immersion or personal connections, equally saddened me and worried me.
Funny moments with a child from the
Baphumelele Children's Home
            But soon after arriving in Cape Town, I realized that my fears were unnecessary.  I learned that as long as I made an effort to get to know people and understand their culture and perspective, I was accepted and welcomed by many.  A simple smile and “Molo” (“hello” in the local language, Xhosa), was a solid start, and asking people about their lives and ideas, as well as attempting to learn some basic Xhosa phrases, paved the way for some budding relationships in which I now feel accepted and less like a foreigner.  During my time in Cape Town so far, there have been several instances in which this has occurred and I’ve truly felt this bridge between cultures.
The Bikanis, my home stay family!
            My second weekend of the program was spent on a home stay visit in the Zwelethemba Township, outside the city of Worchester.  During this time I lived with a local family, eating with them and joining them for most activities.  Although initial nervousness led to awkwardness on both my end and my home stay family’s end, by the end of the visit I felt right at home.  The South African people have a way of welcoming newcomers in an endearing and friendly way.  They offer you food and drink, even if they have little of both in the first place, and they make you feel at home as best they can.  By asking my homestay family about their ideas and trying to immerse myself in their lives as best as I could, through going to the market with them or partaking in African rituals with them, I was able to further this welcoming, and make a connection with them.
Learning how to make samosas in Bo-Kaap
            Another cultural interaction like this occurred during my visit to Bo-Kaap, an area of Cape Town that is occupied primarily by people of the Islamic faith.  Although she had never met us before, a local Bo-Kaap woman invited us into her home after the tour of the area, and taught us how to cook traditional Cape Malay food.  She had the typical welcoming demeanor that I had experienced with other South Africans, cooking for us and teaching us about her culture, but I truly felt at home, in her home, when she sat down next to us at the dinner table and we asked her about her life in Bo-Kaap.  She told us about how communal life was for everyone in the area, and how she had grown up in Bo-Kaap and watched her children and grandchildren grow up there, too.  If we had been foreign Americans when we had walked through her door, by the end of our visit we had been more than that.  By extending that extra effort to get to know her, after she had welcomed us into her home, we were able to have a connection that crossed the lines drawn between our very different lives.
The OVC group at Yabonga
            But the place where I have really felt this bridge between cultures is at my internship site, Yabonga.  Although I will admit that I don’t feel this connection with every South African at the site, and it took the last four weeks to have the connection with those that I do, I have started to feel right at home at Yabonga.  Initially my fellow interns and I had felt like foreigners who were welcomed but still had this wall between ourselves and some of the gap year students at the site.  But the last few weeks have been spent getting to know these students, as well as some of the staff members, through talking to them about their lives in the Khayelitsha Township, playing soccer with them, seeing them perform traditional African music and dance and learning their native language of Xhosa.  And these efforts have definitely made a difference.  I feel more and more accepted, just by having gotten to know the students and working with them throughout the week.  I look forward to going to Yabonga because I don’t feel out of place there anymore.
Khayelitsha, the township Yabonga is in
A former Robben Island prisoner
giving us a tour of the prison!
            Developing relationships with some of the people I have met has been one of the most rewarding parts of my trip to South Africa.  Although coming into the trip I had worried about that cultural wall between my life and the lives of the people I was about to meet, I have found that making that extra effort to learn about people’s lives and learn bits and pieces of their language, even after they have welcomed you into their life, is what makes the difference.  I know that these relationships will last longer than just the duration of my trip and I look forward to returning to South Africa to continue doing what I love and helping improve South African public health.

-Lara Gaffney

Friday, 26 June 2015

St. Joseph's: A Home Away From Home

     The majority of my time here in South Africa is spent at the amazing St. Joseph’s Home For Chronically Ill Children. I have always adored kids.  From the day I decided to switch from being pre-law and instead go into medicine to become a pediatrician, I haven’t looked back.  That’s one of the reasons my internship at St. Joseph’s Home (SJH) is so great.  SJH is a wonderful facility for those children who have life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses. Each day that I am at SJH, I encounter kind, considerate and friendly nurses and staff members.  There are so many wonderful children here who are just bubbling with excitement and filled to the brim with joy regardless of their condition. It is honestly such a privilege to be surrounded by them. JHU_Gauri who also works at my site, in her own blog mentioned some great and also heartrending facts about the kids who live at the Home.

                                                      The delightful lobby of St. Joseph's Home      

      St. Joseph’s Home is not only great in the care it provides for so many children, but also in its pioneering of an innovative short-term block therapy program. Founded by German nuns who did not believe in idle hands, SJH focuses not on the disabilities that limit them, but instead, rather on improving the abilities the children do have. A number of the children at the Home were in car accidents and suffer from traumatic brain injuries. A few of these children have been enrolled in the two-week block program in which they can receive speech, occupational and physiotherapy. After the therapy program ends, the facility sends rehab care workers to follow up on the progress of the children.

      !An article about two adorable kids at SJH who were able to successfully progress to the next grade     

      For the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to shadow these therapists and never once have I found them to be lacking in compassion nor patience with any child, no matter how limited the child’s abilities were (they also certainly had the patience to answer the many questions I asked). It is such a pleasure to see these children who’ve suffered from a stroke or who have cerebral palsy, carry out the fun and creative tasks the therapists set out for them.  Although it is heartbreaking to know what these children have been through, constantly seeing a smile on their faces never fails to cheer me up.  As I watch them successfully complete each task, whether it is pronouncing a word or using their affected hand to throw a ball, I cannot help but to feel inspired by their tenacity to keep on improving.

                                                                  An amazing child who is doing well at SJH

      Since the block program is only two weeks, the therapists can only do so much before the time is up. Thus, the program requires that parents be an integral part of the process and attend at least four sessions so that when the child is discharged, the parent can continue the exercises. Unfortunately, although improvements are made in the program, many of these children regress in someway after being discharged. This is one of the few times I see the jovial therapists look defeated.  Many of these children come from poverty stricken homes and their families face multiple issues. Many parents have various responsibilities such as having to go to work or caring for their other children and so they cannot give their child the attention he/she needs nor do many of them have the financial means to properly support their disabled child.
       St. Joseph's Home allowed us to do a home visit in order to obtain a firsthand experience of the living situations of these children. In both homes we visited, a common concern was the child’s progress in school. After they are discharged, these children end up going to mainstream schools where there are forty kids to one teacher and so the teacher cannot give the individualized attention the child needs.  Unfortunately, as a consequence, the child ends up falling behind. Transferring the child to a special school can be a long and arduous process and in the mean time the kids continue to have difficulties at their current schools. It is saddening to know that so many of these children regress or fall through the cracks after all the progress they had made at St. Joseph’s Home, especially since with the right care they would have flourished. At the end of my days at the Home, I always wish I could have been more helpful to those children instead of just observing their plight, and I am constantly wondering how I could have made more of an impact in their lives.
       When I am taken away from those thoughts by doing some adventurous activity with the other girls on the trip, like hiking Lion’s Head (where I quickly found out I was not the world’s best hiker) or paragliding, I am able to immerse myself in the beauty of Cape Town. Being thousands of feet in the air and seeing all the beauty below, it is easy to just be in awe of what seems like a perfect surface. However, my time at St. Joseph’s Home has ensured that I will never forget the sad reality for so many children that lies beneath it all.
                                                  !Amazing view from when I went paragliding   

Chantal Clough