Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wacky Weather

The weather here is very unpredictable. The locals say you can experience all 4 seasons in 1 day, and that's pretty much what I have experienced. You can wake up and it be freezing, by noon the sun will make an appearance, around 4 the winds will pick up, and by 7 it's cold and rainy again! We had some good days in September, but the cold and rainy ones far outnumbered the good ones. When it rains, the clouds get so dense and thick that the mountain literally disappears. At one point we went for a period of about 4 days straight without seeing the mountain! October brought with it fewer rainy days, much warmer weather, and even stronger winds. At times the wind blows so hard that, from my room, it sounds like the house is literally going to be blown off it's foundation! The picture below was taken on a cloudy day right after I got back from work. I hope you can see the rainbow just over the building!

A Small Piece of Home

Thursday night, a few of us (Alexis, Kaitlin, and Anuja) went to the John Legend concert. It was nice to get a little piece of home after having been away for what seems like forever! John Legend put on an AWESOME show, and I really enjoyed it. Keri Hilson opened for him, and I could have passed on that one. The concert was scheduled to start at 8, and by 8:05 Keri Hilson was taking the stage! She preformed for about 30 minutes, and I hate to say it but those 30 minutes were pretty painful. At the end, people clapped but I am not sure if it was because they loved the performance or they were happy she was finally finished. The crowd seemed content with her part of the show being over when her hype man came back on the stage and tried to convince the crowd to cheer for an encore. She did one more song and finally left the stage for good!

While they were setting up the stage for John (we're on a first name basis now), arena workers were passing out these little plastic packs of water. Alexis, Anuja, and I were pretty thirst, so we had no problem drinking it. Kaitlin, on the other hand, has a serious fear of food poisoning and was really skeptical about drinking it. Her thirst eventually trumped her phobia, and she drank some water...but only after she made us promise to care of her if she got sick! John Legend performed straight for about an hour and a half. He started the show in the crowd singing a Bob Marley tune and then made his way to the stage. He sang hit after hit and even pulled a girl up on stage for Slow Dance....if only that had been me! All in all, it was a GREAT night! Alexis and I had been talking about going since about day 3, and we were definitely not disappointed!

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Friday, October 16, 2009

The Masterpiece

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Hi, my name is Eboni, and I'm addicted to Bananagrams….. Sad but true!

Kaitlin introduced me to a new game, and after one round I was hooked. Bananagrams is like scrabble without a board. Each player gets a certain amount of letters and you basically make your own crossword board. Once you have used all your letters, you say 'PEEL' and everyone has to take another letter. If you want to get rid of a letter, you say 'DUMP'. You can put back a letter but you have to pick up three in its place. The goal is to be the first one to use all your letters. It may not sound like much, but it is LOADS OF FUN!!!! The other morning, I actually played a round all by myself and (with Anne Marie's help) managed to win! "BANAGRAMS!!!"
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The general feeling I get from people here towards Americans is very different now than when I was here two years ago. Before coming in 2007, I remember the program director telling us to be very cautious and not draw attention to the fact that we were American. Of course, no matter how hard you try, people know exactly where you are from once you speak :o)

I went to Cape Point with Professor Lee and Dr. Murphey-Brown and just happened to be wearing an Obama shirt. The entire day, people were smiling, waving, and giving me thumbs up! It's amazing what a warm and positive reception he receives from the rest of the world. One man even commented that he would love to see Obama and Mandela photographed together. Talk about a powerful photo! This was before the Nobel Peace Prize controversy, but my guess is that though people may not agree with that decision, they still support President Obama and the things he is trying to accomplish. Alexis and I joked about wearing a George W. Bush shirt as a social experiment to compare the reactions but decided we did not want to risk having things thrown at us.
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Room (trying again)

I realized this picture didn't post, so I thought I would try again.
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My second trip out with the Tutu tester crew was to the heart of Nyanga, one of the most dangerous townships. We were stationed at the taxi rank (the place were all the minibus taxies park; similar to a bus station). The taxi rank is full of people and action. There are hundreds of minibuses parked in rows and street vendors selling everything from clothes to goats lining the perimeter. The day in Nyanga was the first day the crew did TB testing since I started, so Katharina thought it would be a good idea for me to see how that part of the study works. It turned out to be a very good day for me to go because quite a few people tested HIV positive, so there were lots of sputum samples to collect. This was my first experience with inducing sputum, and trust me, it's not pretty. I felt really bad for those people just sitting in a tent, breathing salt water, and coughing their lungs out!

My other duty in Nyanga was to assist with registering patients. When people come to the tester, they have their height and weight taken. Then they come to me to be registered. I basically enter their information into the computer, get their fingerprint, and give them a tester number. They then rejoin the cue and wait for the nurses to call them in for the tests. I met some very nice people and a few not so nice ones! Among the nice ones was a man from Zim who had family in St. Louis. He has been in Cape Town for about 10 years and is considering going to the US to see if he would like it. Among the not so nice ones were two older men who were not very pleased with me. They approached the table and began speaking Xhosa. When I told them I did not under stand and asked them to speak English, one man got very upset. "English! NO!" he said, and continued to yell at me in Xhosa. After a couple of minutes of this, my friend from Zim came to the rescue. He said something to the man who then threw up his hands and walked away. My friend explained to me that the man was upset because I was black but did not speak the language. To the man, this was unacceptable. He explained to the man that I was from the US, but by that point the man was so displeased that he just walked away. Since then, I have been trying to work on my conversational Xhosa, but I'm sad to report my progress has been very slow.

Yesterday, I went back to Nyanga to assist with a 12-hour testing event. The MSR coordinators wanted to test as many men as they could from 10am to 10pm. I went out with the first shift and was  at the testing site from 9 to 2:30. I was the one-man registration station and was responsible for registering all the men and then printing their vouchers (today they were given R50; $7 USD) after they finished posttest counseling. Within the first few hours, I had registered over 50 men (about the same amount that we did the whole day I was out the last time), and there were probably double that waiting. I believe they were expecting over 500 men to show up, but with only a handful of nurses and even fewer counselors, I have no clue how they were going to serve all those men.

I was supposed to go to the airport with Professor Lee, so I left at 2:30. At around 6:30, I got a very disturbing phone call from Katharina. Shortly after I left, there was an armed robbery at the testing site. I do not know many details, but the computer, some supplies, and all the staff's cell phones were stolen. Other than being very shaken up, everyone is ok. The Lord was definitely looking out for me yesterday. Had I been there,  I probably would have been on the next flight home! Cape Town is a very beautiful place, and it is so easy to forget that it is also a very dangerous place. I will continue to work at the foundation and ask that you send prayers of health and safety my way.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Man at the Side of the Road

I have finally started work at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation and am really enjoying it. I'm working under Dr. Katharina Kranzer on a study of undiagnosed TB among HIV positive people. She is in the early stages of data collection, and my duties are basically to manage the data flow. This includes going into the field and assisting with interviews,  overseeing data entry staff, and managing and validating the database. The Tutu Tester is a mobile voluntary testing and counseling unit that goes into the townships. People can come to the tester and meet with nurses who test them for hypertension, diabetes, and HIV and counselors who provide pre and posttest counseling. All people who are either known to be HIV positive or newly diagnosed on the Tutu Tester are invited to participate in the study and are asked to give a sputum sample which is used to test for TB.

My first day out with the Tutu Tester crew was a memorable one to say the least. The day I went out, they were testing for a program called Man at the Side of the Road (MSR). If you drive out of the city, it's not uncommon to see groups of men sitting at corners. At first glance, it looks like they are just hanging out. What they are actually doing is hoping for work. Men gather and sit on the sides of the road and at intersections and wait for someone to come hire them. For instance, if you were moving, you could pull up, grab a few of the men to move your things, and then pay them whatever you see fit. It's not the most stable or reliable source of income, but it's something.

We traveled quite a ways to the outskirts of a township called Philipi. I wasn't really sure what to expect and pretty much nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. We pulled up literally on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. There was sand for miles and a few small dunes with some weeds, but that was pretty much it. Once we pulled up, about 50 men seemed to appear from nowhere. We could only serve about 40 of them, so unfortunately there were some men who were turned away. As part of the MSR program, the men receive R75 ($10.71 USD) once they have completed their posttest counseling. The purpose of the incentive is to compensate them for their time and basically pay them slightly more than what they would have made if they had worked for the day. Off in the distance, I noticed a group of four women walking down the road. As the afternoon went on, two of the women actually came over to the testing van and said something in Xosha. All the men laughed, and the women walked away. Once they were gone, one of the testing crew explained to me that the women were prostitutes, and they told the men that they would be up the road but the men must show their papers stating that they tested negative before they could purchase! Talk about being where the action is!

I sat in with one of the nurses and helped with a few of the tests, but I didn't last very long. The day didn't go as well for me as I had hoped. I'll spare you the details, but out of nowhere I got very sick. It would be just my luck to be sick, in the middle of nowhere, with no bathroom in sight! One of the nurses was really sweet and walked with me down the road where there was a security shack. After some pleading, the guard let me use her bathroom but wasn't happy when I asked for toilet paper. Oh well… luckily I made it through the day and was fully recovered after about 2 days :o) For many reasons, this is not an experience that I will soon forget!

Friday, October 9, 2009

My room....with the small bed. I've upgraded since this photo was taken :o)

Whale Festival

A view of some of the whale watchers!
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A Whale of a Time

One thing I wanted to do the last time I was here, but didn't get the opportunity to do, was go whale watching. We hired Parks (our driver) for the day and went about 112km east to Hermanus for the whale festival. Hermanus is a really small town but is known as the whale capital of South Africa. Parks took the scenic route along the coast, so it took almost 3 hours to get there, but the trip was definitely worth it! We were greeted by two jumping whales right as we pulled up to the cliff! I was really shocked at how close to the land the whales actually came. We all jumped out of the van and headed down to the action. People were lined all along the coast and out on the rocks poised with cameras in the ready position just hoping to get a shot; and it wasn't long before I was right there with them…out on the rocks just waiting for some action! After a while with no action, we decided to grab some lunch. There was a small little strip mall with some restaurants, but I decided to take in the festival and ventured to the food tents. There were so many different things to choose, but I settled on some sort of homemade wrap with sun-dried tomatoes, feta, and avo (avocado: I don't think I've seen the whole word spelled out here. Of course, I only recently discovered that I like them, so it could be that way in the US and I'm just not up to speed). To my surprise, it was nutritious and delicious!!!

After lunch, we headed up to the cliff for a different vantage point, and it wasn't long before two whales (a mom and her calf I think) came right over to where we were. People seemed to come out of nowhere and within seconds the cliff was full of people…standing right in my view and messing up my shot! I really didn't want to go to the edge, but I sucked it up and went down to get a better view. Getting a good picture was much harder than I thought. I got what I thought were some good shots of the whales in the water, but they turned out to look like dark blobs in the water (they really are whales… I promise!). By the time I made it to the edge of the cliff, I had given up on still shots and switched to video. (Unfortunately, it will take to much Internet usage for me to upload them here, but maybe I'll post one on Facebook when I get back.) The awesome view at the edge came to a quick end when the police came and made us all move back. Shortly after that, it started raining and our day in Hermanus came to an abrupt end. Despite the soggy ending, I really enjoyed it!
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Resident Little Sister

While I was in Ohio, Kedada always called me 'the little sister'. To be honest, I never quite knew exactly why she called me that. Well, Dada, now I know! Alexis has officially become my resident little sister! Being the only two Black women in the house, we naturally gravitated toward each other, and over the past few weeks our relationship has really blossomed. We've both had our ups and downs while here, and I'm really grateful for her being there for me when I feeling down and I hope that I have done the same for her. We have quite a bit in common and get along really well. Before I upgraded to the bigger bed, she and I used to watch movies and fall asleep in my twin bed! Can you believe it??? Two grown women sleeping in a twin bed! We spend lots of time swapping stories about our families and school experiences. She and her mom are extremely close just like my mom and me, and we both come from blended families. She's a junior majoring in Political Science and American Studies and is considering law school after graduation. While here, she's interning at Christel House (a school K-12 for at-risk youth) and works counseling high school aged children. Overall, she's a really sweet girl, and I'm pretty sure we will remain friends long after this trip ends!
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Bouncing Back

About two weeks ago, I hit a (very unexpected) personal road block. I was pretty down for a few days, and being so far away from friends and family didn't make things any easier. But, don't worry. With the love and support from my family in the US and my surrogate family here in Cape Town, I've bounced back! I am feeling refreshed and really trying to maintain a positive attitude. I strongly believe that when one door closes, another door or window will open. I'm looking forward to our upcoming excursion to Jo'burg and Pretoria and the arrival of some of my closest friends! Please continue to keep me in your prayers as I am learning more about myself and growing each day.
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Friday, October 2, 2009

Hillcrest Manor (Last One)

The view from the house!!! Who could ask for a better place to write?

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Hillcrest Manor Pt. II

This is a picture of the guesthouse. I had some trouble uploading pictures earlier, but hopefully I'll have better luck in the future!
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Things I Miss

I really miss...
-My family and friends: It's good to get emails and phone calls from people I love, but it's just not the same as seeing their faces!

-Daily pictures of Jazmyne: Tiff and Mom have been doing a pretty good job of sending me pictures, but my baby is growing so fast, and I don't want to miss a second!
-Central heat: Luckily I have a space heater in my room, but central heat is a MUST!


-College Football: I've tried to supplement with rugby, soccer (football), and cricket matches; but it's just not the same :o( GO VOLS!!!!

-My babies: Cali and Tink, I miss you! If anyone has any suggestions on how to get tink to poop in the litter box, please let me know! He's been giving my mom a run for her money!

-Digital cable, DVR, and the new seasons of all my shows: I really hope they will keep episodes of all my favorites online so I can watch them when I get back. If not, I hope mom and Chandra are taking notes and will fill me in on everything I've missed!

-Daily chats with Moni: I feel so out of the loop! Love you Moni!!!

-Unlimited Internet: This pay by the MB thing is not really working for me! The Internet at the guest house was extremely expensive, so I ended up getting a modem (similar to mobile broadband in the US). The modem was a bit expensive (R1,8000), but in the end it will be much better than what I was paying for wireless at the house. It will be a long time before I complain about my cable/Internet bill again!

-My Egyptian cotton bath towels

-Free refills

-Foxy (my car): For the most part, I walk to most places. If it's late or too far, we call a cab. But, there's just something about being able to get in the car and go and come as you please.

-Washcloths: Apparently most people here do not use them, but they are a must for me!

-Tap water in restaurants: Here, you purchase bottled water in restaurants (still or sparkling), and they look at you crazy if you ask for tap water.

-Pounds, inches, Fahrenheit, and Eastern Time: All these conversions are starting to make my head hurt!

-Good Morning America

-Cell phone plans: Here, you purchase airtime on a 'pay as you go' system.

This is just a start. I'm sure I'll think of more...

Hillcrest Manor

It's hard to believe I've been in Cape Town for over a month! I haven't been doing a very good job of keeping you up to date, but I'm going to make a conscience effort to do better! I've been keeping a list of things to write about, so some things will be current and others will be a bit dated.
The students and I are staying at Hillcrest Manor Guesthouse in a pretty nice area of the city called Tamboerskloof. The guesthouse is actually just about a 7-9 minute walk to where Eni and I stayed in 2007, so I'm pretty familiar with the area. The neighborhood is a relatively safe place, but I still try to keep walking at night to a minimum and I definitely don't go out alone after dark.
Before coming, I was not quite sure about staying in a house with 15 undergraduate students, but I was assured that I would have my own room and bathroom; and that was enough for me. When I first arrived, I must admit I was not too happy with my room. It's not actually in the house, but out the back door. My first thought was Great! They stuck me in the servant's quarters! Above my room, there is the 'Annex' where three other female students stay which is much nicer than the servant's quarters. My doors open directly to outside, so it gets extremely cold in here at night. After the first few nights, I was so miserable that Professor Lee let me borrow one of the heaters from her flat, and that made all the difference in the world! My room went from feeling like the servant's quarters to my own little oasis!!!! Gerda also came in and fixed my TV, so in addition to the three stations I had been getting (SABC1, SABC2, and SABC3), I now get E! TV and M-net. Who would have thought the DVR queen would be excited to now have 5 TV stations??? And just when I was finally getting comfortable, my twin bed was switched out for a much bigger double bed! If I didn't need food, I may not ever leave my room!!! (just kidding)
Breakfast consisting of cereal, toast, juice, and coffee is provided for us each morning. It's not the greatest, but it's better than nothing. On some Fridays, we get a special breakfast which is usually something like French toast or pancakes! Needless to say, I'm up extra early on Fridays! Dinnertime at the house is usually interesting. Some of the students are pretty good cooks, while others could use a little help. I had a good laugh last night when one of the guys told me about is failed attempt at pasta. He decided that since baked beans were packed in tomato sauce, they would go good with spaghetti noodles…. I think I laughed for a good 5 minutes straight on that one! There is a cute little cafĂ© called the Daily Deli right down the street. The food is relatively cheap and it's good too!
One of the down sides to Hillcrest is that we don't have access to the washer and dryer at the house. So every couple of weeks I pack up my backpack and grocery bags and walk down to the Laundromat. It's fine for now I suppose, but I'm definitely looking forward to warm and hot water cycles once I get back!