Never Been

My Journey Across South Africa

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Final Impressions of South Africa

So many things happened to me, intrinsically and extrinsically, while I was living in South Africa, making it hard for me to explain my experience in full to anyone, even those who were with me on the trip: it was that surreal. “Surreal” is one of the few words I can easily use to describe my time in South Africa; after all, I had never been out of the United States before and had always assumed I would travel to Europe if anywhere. And, unlike many of the others on our trip, Africa (as much as I hate to admit it now) was hardly on my radar before I came across the opportunity. So with little expectations, I flew to South Africa to gain a “new experience” and, low and behold, I gained way more than that.

One of the most immediate things I gained from visiting South Africa was a new perspective on America. Living in the U.S. all of my life, it has been shoved down my throat how “amazing” and “powerful” and “influential” our country is and had grown to detest anything nationalistic. However, landing in South Africa and seeing the plethora of KFCs, hearing the American music, watching American television and movies, I finally began to see how influential, for better or for worse, the U.S. really is. Even seeing how South Africans reacted to my accent was something I had not expected; understanding that many other countries detest Americans, I was prepared for snide comments but I was not prepared for my American citizenship to put people on the defensive. Many times I would ask why something was performed in such a manner out of simple curiosity (for example, why at Livingstone Hospital they did not use their computers for patient information) and would be met with, “well, remember, we are a third world country and have not caught up to the United States yet…” as if I the ways in which the United States performs tasks are the best and right way (which I must add here I do not believe is true).

My perspective of America was altered the most, however, by the remnants of apartheid that still exist across South Africa. As sociology minor who is interested in racial and ethnic relations in the United States I have always abhorred how covert racism can be, but travelling to South Africa exposed me to the other side of racism. Because the era of apartheid came to an end less than two decades ago, most South Africans we encountered have experienced a world with and without it and have their opinions on which way of life was better. Change is a hard and slow process for all, so I had expected people to have negative stances on race-centered issues but I was not prepared for how blatant it was. Even hearing the word “coloured” (although it simply means bi-racial in South Africa) would make me cringe; in the United States, many terms that have been used to describe race in the past, like “coloured” have been retired because of their negative connotations. However, although I was not comfortable with how openly many South Africans spoke about race, it got me thinking: presently in the U.S. it is the fear of talking about race that prevents us from moving past racial issues. And, even worse, sometimes the silence that surrounds the issues of race tricks us into believing that racism no longer exists; a myth that is more dangerous than racism itself. Thus, I believe, as long as South Africans maintain the ability to openly converse about racial issues, there is hope for a brighter future.

My time spent working at Livingstone Hospital also had a profound effect on my perspective of the American workplace. As a recent college graduate in the “real world” that is looking for any kind of employment I can get, I have been trained to put my all into a task, no matter how simple, monotonous, tiring, or dull it is, lest I am deemed unworthy of the job and let go. Waking up early, staying late, always being on call, and working through any kind of break is what I am prepared to do; thus, I took this work-ethic with me when I arrived at Livingstone. However, the workplace culture that exists in South Africa differs from our own as a job is simply that: a job. Not a second life. In the first week, Emilee and I offered to skip our tea and lunch breaks in order to organize more files but, instead of being met with a simple “okay”, the staff would insist we take our break. And when we insisted we just wanted to keep working, the reaction we got from staff members made me feel as if I offended them for not taking my break!

Emilee and I also designed posters and informational booklets after work and paid out of our own pockets to ensure what we created was the most professional work we could do, but we did not expect even a thank-you from the staff at Livingstone because in an American workplace it would be assumed we would do such a thing. However, the staff surprised us on our last day by calling a meeting in the middle of their workday to say goodbye to us! Amusingly enough, Emilee and I almost left the meeting because we were unsure if we were supposed to be there; we figured it was about hospital technicalities that did not involve us. During the meeting one of the head nurses gave a speech for us and everyone began singing as they handed us a card they had all written in. Then everyone wanted pictures with us and began referring to us as family! That is when I lost it and started crying. Being called family by staff at a government funded hospital who I worked alongside of for less than a month is something that would most likely not occur in the U.S. because people do not allow themselves to step out of that professional boundary.  And, to be honest, I did not feel as if I made much of an impact at Livingstone within the few weeks I was there, but the staff’s thanks and praises, whether I deserved them or not, made me feel as if what I choose to do is important and can have a positive effect on those around me. 

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A little late: My last week in South Africa

These past few days have been crazy, awesome, amazing (etc., etc.) travelling across the Garden Route of South Africa so I am just going to briefly describe what we have been up to since we left Plettenberg Monday morning…

Monday

After getting on the overcrowded Baz Bus (a hop-on, hope-off bus that stops across South Africa) we drove to Gorge, where we got onto the shuttle to take us to Outshoorn up in the mountains. The whole trip basically took up most of our day, so once we arrived we got dinner and then just relaxed and went to bed early.


Tuesday

We woke up early and went to Cango Caves, where we did the “adventure” tour, i.e. the one where we crawl through small spaces in the cave for about an hour and a half. Because I have been “caving” (or whatever walking underground in a cave is called) at Mammoth Cave a few times and know how I get when I am placed underground far from any exit, I was kind of nervous I would have a panic attack but, not wanting to hold the group back, I sucked it up and joined them on the excursion. For most of the tour I pretended I was doing some sort of alternate work out exercise to prevent myself from freaking out and the experience was not as bad as I had anticipated.

 After that we went to an ostrich farm, which was surprisingly really fun.  Ostriches are the weirdest looking animals in the world; they resemble what an animal would look like if a chicken and a dinosaur mated, which makes them twenty times more fun to be around because they look so weird! Haha. We were also supposed to ride an ostrich but, since it was muddy, it was too dangerous because ostriches tend to randomly fall in the mud (we saw one wipe out and it was the saddest thing ever), so we ended up just getting to sit on one and we also got to stand on ostrich eggs – two things I definitely never thought I would do!

After our escapades around Oudtshoorn we got back in our “shuttle” and drove back down more windy mountain-hills to meet the Baz Bus in George. From there we travelled until about 8PM, stopping right outside of Cape Town in the suburb of Somerset West to meet Mal’s family friends, the Marshalls. Maury, Robbie, and Claire were waiting for us at the stop and loaded us and our twenty-odd bags into two cars and drove us back to their beautiful home for the night. I must admit, I was semi-reluctant to stay with a family for two nights who I had never met but Maury, Robbie, and Claire made us feel like we had known them forever! Welcoming us into their amazing home to make us dinner and allowing us to use their showers (finally, no baths!), was a welcomed break from the hustle of travelling. For the next two days there I felt as if I was home in America at a relatives’ house; the home-cooked meals, nice beds, and not having to worry about if my stuff was going to be stolen!

 

Wednesday

Staying at the Marshall’s house, we were finally able to sleep in (“sleeping in” is relative here, I mean we didn’t have to wake up by 8 AM ha) and enjoy a much needed less eventful day. After breakfast, Maury took us to Vergelegen, one of the world’s best known wineries, for a tour and a wine tasting. The tour was not really my kind of thing; personally, I would rather skip the lecture about alcohol and just drink it (haha), but it was nice being able to see how much work really goes into the wine-making process. In addition, the tour provided us with a unique way to see the beautiful landscape around us as the actual winery is situated upon a large hill while the other sorts of buildings and museums associated with it sit at the bottom. Standing on top of the winery you can either face the mountains or look down on to the city and bay, which is somewhat mind-blowing to be able to see both kinds of scenery all at once. After the guided-tour, we were able to participate in a wine-tasting. I have never been a part of a wine tasting and, although they give you sheets that explain the different wines, I really did not know what I was suppose to be tasting or smelling  but it was fun to pretend I was a cultured wine-connoisseur for a day.

Somerset West is right next to Stellenbosch, a place known for its wineries and university, so we decided to go get some lunch in town and walk around the campus. Stellenbosch is an older town with visible Dutch influence; Afrikaans is everywhere, written and spoken. The buildings are also painted white and based on a similar Dutch design, reminding me of a white, non-brick Athens. And, like Athens, Stellenbosch is composed of primarily college students. Walking around the town, I kind of wished our program had been located there because I think our group would have met more people our own age, but I still would not trade my experience at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth for anything!

 

Thursday

Although our past couple days in Stellenbosch were relatively stress free, I managed to wake up with a migraine on Thursday morning and all I wanted to do was hide under the covers in a bed for the rest of the day. However, we had scheduled to travel to Cape Town that afternoon and go to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was infamously held, and I was determined not to miss experiencing this piece of history even if I was sick. Unfortunately, even though everyone had told us tours to the island were dead during the off-season (i.e. winter in South Africa) and we would have no problem getting tickets, the ferry was booked until Sunday! Just our luck (Table Mountain’s cable car, which takes you to the top of the mountain, was also closed down for maintenance the week we were in Cape Town too L ), but probably all for the better for me because, while the rest of the group decided to go to the aquarium, I was able to sleep for the rest of the day without the guilt of missing out of something amazing. 

After my long afternoon nap, I was feeling better and met up with the girls to go to dinner at Burkarh. Maury and Robbie has recommended Burkarh as one of the best Indian restaurants to go to in South Africa, but I did not comprehend what “best” entailed until we got there. Burkarah, I know now, is a very swanky place to eat at and is appropriately worldly renown for its Indian food, but, not having realized this before, I rolled into the restaurant under-dressed in my stained hoodie and hair in braids. If this situation would have been in the States, I doubt I would have been seated, much less served, but the waiter was more than obliging and navigated us through the foreign menu! However, the best part about the dinner was how inexpensive it was for such amazing food; roughly $26 U.S. dollars per person, making the experience one of my favorites throughout the whole trip (haha).


Friday

Friday was jammed packed with things to do and see in Cape Town. I am pretty sure you can live in Cape Town for years and still find something new to experience each day, but we only had under three days to experience it so we went from one thing to the next, seeing an impressive amount of sights in such a short period. In order to see and experience as much as possible, we bought red and blue bus tickets for Friday and Saturday. The red and blue bus tickets allow you to experience Cape Town at your own pace, stopping at areas in Cape Town (the red bus) and outside of the city (the blue bus). The first day we primarily stayed on the blue bus, hitting up:

  • Another winery (the name escapes me now) where there was more wine tasting. The original owner’s house has also been kept in tact and refurbished with historical furniture to act as a museum, which I really enjoyed touring as a history buff.
  • The botanical garden Kirstenbosch that was gorgeous, but something I still can’t appreciate to its fullest because I grow impatient with walking around looking at plants. Maybe one day…
  • Monkeyland and Birdland, where we were able to walking through the cages where the birds were! Aside from your typical talking parrot, Birdland had many vultures and owls and we walked through many of the areas where the owls were. This does not sound like it would be frightening but owls are pretty intimidating up close, especially when they click and hiss at you. We also got to see lots of different kinds of monkeys

We also got to experience another township tour and, in my opinion, this one was better than the one we had taken in Port Elizabeth because it was a walking tour thus we were able to meet residents and experience township life up close. The most interesting part of the tour was going to the community center located in the middle of the township where young girls were taking dance lessons. It was amazing to see all of these young girls in such a small space with a single teacher dancing like crazy and all on beat. Too bad we weren’t there long enough for them to teach us some moves (haha).   

We then ate a late lunch and did some window shopping down by the wharf. Getting tired, we decided to just ride the bus around Cape Town until our dinner reservations at the restaurant inside of the Gold Museum. Eating at the Gold Museum was an experience I don’t think I will ever forget. First of all, all of the waiters and waitresses are dressed in a traditional African style, who sing, dance, drum, and put on three shows throughout the course of your meal. It is a long dinner with thirteen African dishes and desserts (that are coated in gold!) slowly brought out to you during the night while you enjoy the shows. And, if you are impatient for the eating to begin (or insanely early for your reservations like we were), there is a chance to drink cocktails while taking drum lessons before being seated. It was one of the nicest and most interesting dinners I have been too, and although it was expensive in comparison to what we had been spending on dinners during our travels, it only cost us about $60 U.S. dollars each and was well worth the money.


Saturday

Saturday was our last day in Cape Town and South Africa, which was depressing enough, but to make it worse we had to wait around all day for our flight that was not due to leave until 11:30 that night. Wanting to make most of our last day and avoid thinking about the terrible, long flight ahead of us, we spent most of the day riding the bus around town and shopping at the local market and other stores in downtown Cape Town. However, everything closes earlier in South Africa, including all of the stores in Cape Town, so without anything else to do Emilee and I passed the time at a small coffee shop while waiting for Jessi’s friends (Jessi has family friends who live in a suburb outside of Cape Town and they were going to pick us up later that afternoon and make us dinner before taking us to the airport). Since staying in South Africa, my coffee intake has risen 500% and, in turn, I have seen and been in many different coffee shops but none were as great as this one; when I order a cappuccino, not only did it come with cookies and a shot of water, but they drew in different designs and sayings in the foam before giving it to me! The first time I had a heart that read “I love you” and the second time I received a dove holding an olive branch in its mouth with “You’re an angel”. Talk about a pick-me-up! No one can be sad after seeing something like that elaborately drawn in your coffee foam. Definitely something that would not happen at Starbucks.

After my amazing coffee shop experience (that looks corny but it really was), we were picked up by Jessi’s friends and went to their house for another delicious home-cooked meal before being taken to the airport. Going to the airport to catch our flight, I was not as upset as I had thought I would be but I definitely wish there was a way I could have stayed in South Africa for longer, whether it was in Cape Town or Port Elizabeth or anywhere for that matter.  Maybe it is just the novelty of my South African experience, but I can’t even say that the ways that South Africa is deemed “behind” the U.S. are completely negative; yes, technology is slower coming over there and, yes, there is more overt racial issues  because apartheid took place in the not-so-distant past, but the diversity, the geography, the food, and the friendliness of the people of the nation make me wish I could re-live my trip for the rest of my life.

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July 24th

I was going to begin this post by stating how thankful I was that today was less life-threatening than Saturday’s hike. However, that will not make sense once I state what exactly we did as zip-lining over waterfalls, tackling the highest bungee jump in the world, and saw leopards, cheetahs, and other various types of African wild cats up close and in person, all which may not constitute as the safest activities.  In my defense, all of these things were much more regulated than our adventurous hike yesterday. Although it was raining all day and I ended up more soaked than I have ever been in my entire life (with the exception of jumping in a pool with all of my clothes on) I had another fun day.

Beginning with a zip lining course across water falls earlier in the morning, we were left with a pretty open day so we decided to check out the world’s tallest bungee jump. The jump, which takes place off a bridge over a gorge, also offers a view of the ocean. I really wanted to attempt the jump (after yesterday I feel as if I could do anything haha), but after reading the warning signs about chronic back conditions and then seeing peoples’ bodies who jumped snap up like rubber bands, I figured I would rather sit out and be able to walk for the rest of the trip than free fall for a quick eight seconds. Mal and Jesse weren’t interested in making the jump either, but Emilee went for it! Jessi and I did, however, walk across in this rickety cage-type path to the bridge to be moral support for Emilee as she did it, and that alone managed to get my heart rate up.

After that we stopped by a wildlife reservation called Tenikwa that specialized in big cat tours. Being the old cat lady I am, I was extremely pumped about seeing more big cats up close (petting the cheetah at our first game park just wasn’t enough!) but, unfortunately, it was raining. Although we did manage to make it through the hour tour, it was far less enjoyable as we continued to get more soaked by rain. Regardless of their size, most cats also do not like the rain, so many of them stayed in their little cat houses and, even though we got to go into their enclosures and could see them, it was nearly as cool as if they would have been walking around L. However, one of the cheetahs did show off for us, walking around us in his enclosure and occasionally coming up to us. But the highlight for me was when we went into the serval kittens enclosure. A serval looks like a cross between a hyenea and a cheetah and is, apparently, one of the more socialable big cats. Although the other four kittens stayed closer together underneath their play area, one of them ran around us and then came up to me, purring, and rubbed on my leg!! Our visit to Tenikwa also allowed us to complete our list of the “Big Five” animal sightings in Africa. The Big Five list is comprised of the “the most difficult animals to hunt in Africa” and includes elephants, lions, buffalos, rhinos, and leopards. During our other game park visits we were able to see the other four animals, but those game parks did not have a leopard. Yeahh buddy. 

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July 23rd: Barbie Goes Hiking

“I went from watching the Discovery Channel to being on it”  - Jessi Findley

Today was the first day on our adventure to Cape Town. Waking up at 5:45am in order to catch the Baz Bus to our first stop in Plettenberg, I was anticipating to arrive at the hostel and enjoy a more relaxing, slower afternoon with Emilee while Mal and Jesse did a horseback safari (I can’t do anything like horseback riding because of my back).  Well, I have never been so wrong in my life.  Upon arriving at the hostel, Mal and Jesse found out that the horseback safari they had been planning to do was a 45-minute drive away. Not wanting to pay for a cab out there, they decided to opt out of it and we began to look into something we could do collectively in town. The owner of our hostel asked us if we were interested in doing something active and starts showing us all of the brochures with water sports, etc. Not wanting to get wet because it was slightly cooler today, we asked her if she had something less intense for us. She proceeds to tell us about this peninsula located a few minutes away where we can take a hike for as little as 15 rand (i.e. $2.50 U.S. dollars).  Showing us beautiful pictures of the peninsula, Rhobberg, she  also mentions how one of her friends went to have a picnic near the water there and saw not only seals and dolphins but a whale! Sold, we asked her to call us transportation to take us to Rhobberg.

Driving up to the Pennisula (it is another one of those mountain-hill situations but this time its surrounded by water), I am expecting to take an hour long leisurely stroll and, if we are lucky, see some seals and turn around head back to the hostel. The transportation drops us off at the beginning of the trail at approximately 1:50 PM. Before getting out, the driver asks if we have a map. We didn’t, but tell him not to worry and go ahead because we’re sure we can find little brochure handouts of one at the beginning of the trail (wrong). Without a map and no other hikers in site, we do our best to memorize the board depicting the “trail” (I must use the term trail loosely here) which winds around the peninsula and back to the entrance, and set out on our way.

Starting out, things seem a little sketchy. And when I mean sketchy, I am referring to the fact that the path is teeny tiny, made of rocks, and faaaar above the ocean without any sort of handrails; one wrong step and one could easily plummet to their death. However, at this point, I am still keeping my cool, concentrating on my feet and occasionally stopping for the scenic picture. Then we begin to see (and smell, ugh) seals and start to get really excited. One quarter way through our hike, we cross a sand-dune type area marking the point where we can turn and head back to the entrance or keep going to the edge of the peninsula, where there are supposed to be more seals. A sign marks the part of the trail where we can continue onto the water’s edge, but it warns us that we should not continue if it is past 2:00 PM. At this point it is about 2:30, we assume that the sign is referring to the danger of hiking in the dark and we figure if we maintain a quick pace we should be fine.

This is where things start to get exciting (but it is only exciting because I am alive to type this). The trail begins to slowly dissolve away as we descend down the peninsula to the water. Literally. The path we are on has wire laid down across these little rocks keeping them from sliding too much. Soon, signs begin to appear warning us of slippery and falling rocks, but at this point it seems like a safer idea to continue going down as turning back, i.e. hiking back up the falling hill. Expecting a clear path to appear once we get to the bottom of rocks, I try to concentrate on taking pictures of the spectacular view, as the ocean is meeting itself right before our eyes, creating huge, crashing waves in the middle of the ocean. Here, the currents form these crazy patterns and seals and penguins are just swimming around.

Once I have taken enough pictures and begin to survey our surrounds, I notice there is no path at all dictating where we should continue. The waves are starting to grow larger and come in, and we begin to realize the sign warning us not to hike after 2:00PM was referring to the incoming tide. Let me just take this time to put it out there that I am I am not the most experienced hiker (read: I am a fat kid who doesn’t venture much into the great outdoors and rarely go hiking..I mean, I brought my purse on this trip. Come on.), but I have seen enough episodes of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” to know this is not a good scenario. And to make things worse, I also happened to notice that, next to a sign of emergency rescue numbers, there is a sign that reads “Cape Point Cabin No Longer Exists Due to Being Washed Away from Freak Wave”. Freak Wave?!! What does that even mean?! Things are looking really safe. Not only do we not have appropriate hiking gear (this definitely a situation in America that would have some sort of hiking experience certificate thingy and gear requirement to attempt), no map, and no real trail to follow, “freak waves” are approaching us. Oh, did I also mention that no one, literally no one, except maybe the driver and hostel lady who hardly count, knows where we are? So if I die, its going to be weeks before my body washes up on shore and is identified. If I am lucky.

Then I see the dead birds. Yes, dead birds. Plural. And, again, I am not a nature-type person but I know lots of dead birds in one area is never a good indication of anything.  It is starting to seem like a good time to have a panic attack.  Luckily, Mal and Jesse were able to keep Emilee and I calm enough to prevent us from calling one of the emergency numbers right then and there, and we continued to press on at a faster pace. At this point, I am practically crawling to avoid slipping (I only happened to fall once though yess) and breaking my back out in the middle of god knows where. Then we spot people and I start shouting I am so excited; however, embarrassing for me, these people did not seem to impressed nor concerned about the state of the trail around us, they just were concerned if the point was close up ahead. (Which leads me to think that “hiking” in other countries, such as South Africa, may be less of a regulated activity and more of a do-at-your-own-risk deal…) Although we still cannot make out any clear path, the very fact we saw other people is comforting and I begin to feel like the chances of me surviving this are slightly higher than before.  

Sadly, this feeling begins to slip away from me once again when we have to cross over a series of crumbling rocks that are situated little too close for comfort near the rising tide (i.e. fifteen foot waves). I am also still worried about it becoming dark before we make it back to where we started; at this point we have only made it a little over halfway and we have been hiking well over an hour and a half. And we are all starting to feel the distance we have hiked; not only have we been dressed inappropriately and are sweltering under our heavy clothes for the past hour, the “trail” has been a series of up and downs: five minutes of walking tentatively across the slippery rocks at the bottom of the peninsula is immediately followed by a steep incline upwards (steep incline meaning we are practically scaling walls without any equipment or proper footing), then repeated over and over again.  In addition to all of this, I can make out rain miles off over the ocean. Waaahh, goodbye world.

Finally we reach the quarter point mark, the sand dunes at which we first decided to ignore the warnings signs and continue on to the point. Becoming relaxed once again, I am able to take in the beauty around me.  And I am not exaggerating, this place we are at is literally the most gorgeous place I have ever been in my life; it looks like one of the National Geographic Pictures of the Day I download for my desktop backgrounds. And, within the fourth hour, tired, bruised, and happy to be alive, we finally make it back to the entrance where we started. Only at this point do we notice the signs warning us of possible injury/death upon entrance and the signs warning of the trail being under construction, explaining why the “trail” hardly existed. Nice. Not the leisurely hike I had expected, but quite possibly worth it.

The excitement didn’t stop there, as while we were waiting for the driver to pick us back up, we not only spot more dolphins and seals but TWO whales. The one whale was closely aligned to shore and was the biggest creature I have ever seen in my life; it was definitely a blue whale or some other massive whale because it was much bigger than any sea mammal I have ever seen. Amazing day.

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mallorysauer:

rarwwwwwwww

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Don’t Make Me Leave!

Tonight is our last night Port Elizabeth :( Although our program technically ends today and the rest of the group is flying back to the States tomorrow, I am lucky and get to spend another week travelling across South Africa to Cape Town with Mal, Jesse, and Emilee. I know I am blessed to have such an opportunity, but I must admit I wouldn’t mind staying an extra few months or even a year over here! Living in a new culture has been an exciting change of pace after living comfortably living in a bubble (read: Athens) for the past four years. I think my reluctance to go home also stems from the period I have found myself in in my life as a recent graduate without a job: many of my friends are already living across the country and I dread the thought of living with my parents in Cincinnati (or Cincinnati in general) long term. As depressed as this may sound, I don’t feel I have a “home” to miss right now and, with little commitments I have waiting for me in the States, this is the ideal opportunity to move somewhere completely different and new…

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Livingstone Hospital: My Experience Working at the Wellness Clinic

(This is a week or two late, our last day was earlier this week but here is what I promised I would post about!)

 It’s been about two weeks since Emilee and I started working at Livingstone Hospital, but I have been putting off blogging about our experience because I have found myself reluctant and somewhat at a loss for words. This reluctance stems from my fear that any description I give of Livingstone will portray the government-funded hospital in a manner that will reinforce any misconceptions and generalizations Americans already hold about South Africa and the continent as a whole. So before I begin this post, I want to stress that many of the weaknesses and faults I have found within Livingstone are not a product of those employed at the clinic; rather, they are a product of limited funding and high turnover rates, such issues that are not indigenous to South Africa and can be seen within many organizations in the United States. ..

Livingstone Wellness Clinic is a government-funded care center for those who have been infected with HIV/AIDs, insured or not. The patients that are primarily treated at Livingstone are non-white and are commonly living at or below the poverty line. Many of the employees are also of black or coloured (the term used to define those of a bi-racial history) background and speak isiXhosa, but it has not stopped them from accepting us as a part of their “family” (their words!!). Although, if taken at face value, this brief description of the clinic may seem like a dire place, working at Livingstone has not been depressing in any way; the patients and staff make do with what they are provided, facing away from the negatives by constantly joking and laughing together as if they are at a family, rather than a HIV/AIDs clinic. Regardless of how I may love working here, there are flaws, primarily which have to do with the funds (or lack thereof) they are provided via the government.

First of all, in regards to patient files and medical records, the government just recently cut funding from the budget for computerized record-keeping. Currently, everything is done by hand and filed away in cabinets. Due to the limited staff of nurses and doctors for a large amount of patients, much of the information recorded is done in a hurry and in illegible handwriting. Thus, when the data capturers, who gather information, transcribe it into books, and hand over the statistics for the budget, go to fill out the registers, information is missed or understood, preventing the budget from being spent properly. The faulty of doing everything by hand also effects the way files are kept; sometimes there are multiple files for a single patient with different information in each one and it is not uncommon to find people with similar names sharing the same file. The danger of this situation is grave and implicit, but I will give an example of what such an error could cause: if an individual’s file contains another person’s information who does not have an allergy that individual may suffer from (say, in regards to medicine), they could easily suffer from maltreatment and possibly death from being prescribed that very thing that makes them ill. In addition, high turnover rates also exacerbate an already spread thin staff as many of those who are brought it our on short-term contracts; therefore, time is wasted on training instead of actual work.

As I mentioned above, such shortcomings can be traced back to low-funding and poor budgeting. From what I have gathered, this is a consequence of having to answer to an upper management that does not have much experience in healthcare and who is involved in politics, as those running hospitals like Livingstone and others like it in South Africa are. And, because these politicians are the ones approving the budgets and designating where the money goes, many times the budget cuts occur in critical areas while more money is allotted towards unnecessary things.  For example, I previously mentioned that Livingstone suffered from the budgets being cut for their computerized-record keeping programs. However, they are still being allotted 6,000 rand for miscellaneous stationary (it is 6.7 per 1 rand to our dollar…you do the math). As our supervisor, Oupa, said, “what are we [they] going to do with 6,000r for stationary?!!”.

Problems such as these not only affect the care provided by the staff, but have a direct impact on the staff as well; they do not respect upper-management as stress is put on them for situations that are out their control. The staff deals with this by leaving their problems at work and not taking them home with them. This way of dealing with work-related problems is practically unseen in the U.S., especially as more and more corporations demand constant effort inside and outside of the office by their employees. This is also an aspect of the work environment Emilee and I first struggled with; we have been brought up in an environment where limited time for breaks (and the possibility of having to work through any lunch break given) is expected, making the idea of a 30 minute tea-time and a hour lunch break every day strange to us. Not needing this kind of break as we are only at Livingstone for a few hours a day, at first we had to fight to work through our breaks! Haha.

And I have to end this train of thought because we’re about to meet the group for one last dinner before leaving Port Elizabeth!