Tuesday, 9 June 2015

First Impressions: An Overview of Orientation

The Hopkins 2015 Public Health in South Africa Program officially kicked off on Wednesday, June 3 with students flying into Cape Town all throughout the day. Despite the cold and rainy weather, I was greeted with warm fires and even warmer smiles upon arriving at the retreat location, the Sacred Mountain Lodge. It was wonderful to get to know the other students on the trip, and also meet Lucina, who answered all of our questions ranging from tipping etiquette to water quality in Cape Town.
Sacred Mountain Lodge
The next day, we awoke to a beautiful, clear, sunny morning and were all awed by the sights of the city and mountains on our drive down to the University of Cape Town (UCT) campus. One of the first things we did was get our student ID cards and make sure we had access to the library (after all, we ARE Hopkins students). Later on, we had an informative heritage walking tour of the campus. It was fascinating to learn about how UCT came to be, especially in light of the recent unrest around the Rhodes Statue. As the guide explained, the statue was commemorating Cecil John Rhodes, whose land the university was built on. The Rhodes Must Fall protest movement sought to remove oppressive symbols of institutional racism and occurred just a few months before our group arrived in Cape Town. When we looked at the UCT campus, we noticed the absence of the statue, with only graffiti art indicating where it used to be.
University of Cape Town, aka home for the next 6 weeks
CJ Rhodes's shadow was left behind
After hearing so many stories, I was able to begin seeing firsthand some of the issues of discrimination and disparity that still remain in South Africa. We started the day with a walking tour of District Six, where over 60,000 residents were forced out of their homes by the apartheid regime in the 1970s. Our tour guide gave a personal and emotional account of her own family’s experience under apartheid, which really opened my eyes to South Africa’s dark past. Continuing on, we visited a clinic in Gugulethu and the Robbie Nurrock clinic. At the clinic in Gugulethu, we had to wait before Dr. Anna Cross could show us around. While waiting, I noticed that most patients wore masks, but some had them loosely over their chin or hanging around their neck instead of fully covering their mouth and nose. We waited in the same room as these patients, and while we didn’t know it at the time, we later found out that many of these patients had TB. In the US, patients with TB are often quarantined in order to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease. Here however, we were allowed to sit next to and breathe the same air as these patients without so much as a warning for us to wear a mask too. Dr. Cross even admitted, “I should probably wear a mask when seeing patients, but I don’t.” I was shocked by this overly relaxed environment that juxtaposed the rigid health care protocols of the US. Aside from the tour of the clinic, it was amazing to talk to the clinic workers and learn about what they do and see there.

District Six Museum
" Happy days [... ] living was cheap, life precious. Now [...] living's expensive and life is cheap."

Saturday was a full day of walking as we had a tour of the City Bowl, shopped at the Pan-African Market, hung out by the V&A Waterfront, and checked out the Noordhoek beach near the Sacred Mountain Lodge. We really got to see a wide range of beauty that the city of Cape Town has to offer- in an urban, cultural, and natural sense. I’ve only been in here for a week so far, but I already know that I’m going to have the most unforgettable next 6 weeks exploring the city, assimilating the culture, and bonding with the amazing group of ladies here with me!

City Walk Tour
Awestruck by these decorated/carved ostrich eggs. 
Sunset at Noordhoek Beach. Wow.

- Alice Jiang

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