Wildebeest, Drakensberg Mountains, and Chatsworth Hospice
On Thursday night, our group went to the Roma Revolving restaurant in order to say goodbye to my roommate Subu, who left on Saturday. He went to Cape Town first and had been in South Africa since May, so now it is just me, Mrs. Z, and the two boys at home. Roma is one of 31 revolving restaurants in the world and over the course of our meal we got an incredible view of the whole city as the restaurant is on the 32nd floor. Dinner was absolutely fantastic, but I think I might have gotten a little too ambitious with what I ate. I ordered raw Wildebeest as an appetizer because I was feeling adventurous, and it was honestly some of the tastiest meat I have ever had. Subu ordered an avocado stuffed with prawns for his appetizer that was just picked that afternoon, and it absolutely melted in your mouth. I then had Ostrich steaks for dinner in a mushroom cream sauce, and was genuinely surprised that it tasted much more like beef than the chicken like flavor I was expecting. The next morning however, the exotic meal caught up with me and I got my first “cleansing” sickness that I was told to expect when coming here, which unfortunately meant I couldn’t even go into work on Friday.
Friday night, we left for the Drakensberg Mountains, the biggest mountain range in all of Africa. We stayed at a really cool hostel and hung out with some Dutch and South African people for the night. Drakensberg is far enough away from civilization that the stars were absolutely amazing, although I unfortunately couldn’t get them into focus on my camera to capture it. We had a bit of a misunderstanding with the tour agency the next morning though, and set out for a driving tour when we thought we had scheduled a hiking tour. So much for exercise I guess. Our tour took us through the mountains and into Lesotho, a small country surrounded by South Africa on all sides. The Lesotho people are very traditional, and rely on young shepherds to watch their most precious asset that their entire economy relies on: sheep. Sheep’s wool can be sold for a lot of money, and a person’s wealth in Lesotho is assessed by how many sheep they own. All in all, I was a little bummed that we didn’t get to hike much, but there was no way I would have been able to see all what I did if we were hiking, so I guess it didn’t turn out as bad as we thought it was going to be.
Huts in Lesotho
We came back to Durban on Saturday night, and I spent Sunday at Victoria St. Market where I used my bartering skills to get some good deals on a few cool souvenirs. We then had some awesome Bunny Chow, a Durban specialty, which is a ¼ loaf of bread dug out and filled with Curry. I have really developed a taste for spice as I’ve been eating Indian food (Zulu food is very similar) almost every day, and this Bunny Chow filled with Braised Mutton Curry was out of this world.
As for the work side of my trip, I have started visiting the local clinics this week. Monday and Tuesday I was at Chatsworth Hospice. Wednesday I go to Malagasy for a small, one room clinic that is run entirely by nurses in a very underprivileged part of town, and Thursday and Friday I am at Blue Roof, an HIV clinic that disperses ARV’s and gives all of the patients a free meal. Blue Roof was started by and is still supported in part by Alicia Keys. The Chatsworth Hospice is a really cool complex crawling with palm trees and monkeys. It is 100% privately funded, and donations come from all over the world. It can house up to 9 patients, and the maximum stay is 10 days before the patients are sent home again. The goal of the physical hospice is for crisis management (like a breakdown) or for the final few days of life. The other few hundred patients are graded by severity and visited monthly, twice a month, or weekly by the nurses. I’ll start referring to the nurses as sisters because that is what we really call them. It is not a religious term like a nun, more of a cultural term for caregiving women. It is also very common to call older men “uncle”, so for example, Uncle Roy is who drives me to the clinics and hospitals. There are 6 sisters that work at the hospice, and 2 of them go out on house visits every day. After doing the house visits for 2 days, I realized that these sisters are more of emotional counselors for these terminally ill patients and their families than they are medical professionals. Most times, the patients just need to talk to someone about their situation, their family, or even coming to terms with death. The patients seem to really like me and are fascinated by America, and after eating Roti (Indian unleavened bread) and Curry with one, I asked him if he were to go to America where he would like to visit. I expected a typical answer like California, New York, or Washington D.C. but was surprised at his answer. He said he wants to go to Seattle because it looks so cool in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. I explained that my aunt and uncle live in a houseboat very similar to the one in the movie just on the other side of the lake, and he thought that was the coolest thing in the world.
My host mom and Subu
It seems as though so many people in America want to help the medical or food situation in Africa and I am finally starting to see a clearer picture of what I would like to do. There is so much corruption in this country, and I think that a lot of Americans don’t really understand where their money is going when they donate to “help a kid in Africa” or something like that. When I have the means to do so, I think that sponsoring a sister at a private clinic is a great way to give back to the people fighting the battle on the front lines. Each of the sisters at the clinic is sponsored by a donor, and their salary is paid by that donor. With the average salary in South Africa being $7000 a year, what a great way to support someone who is giving of their time and energy to fight what is quite honestly a losing battle against HIV, TB, malnutrition, and even cancer due to the lack of treatment options and resources here. It may seem silly now because I don’t have money to give and am staring at a lot of medical school bills in the future, but I thought it was worth sharing that I believe the best way for an individual person of not extraordinary means to help is to give directly to private clinics or organizations and bypass the tertiary healthcare system entirely. A few thousand dollars is not going to find a cure for HIV, but sure can make the difference in someone’s life who works with HIV diagnosed patients each and every day with the goal being not to cure them, but to try to extend their life as well as better the quality of the life that they have left.
I came to South Africa not to learn how to do a surgery, draw blood, or what to prescribe to a patient suffering from seizures; I have plenty of time to learn these things back in America. I came to South Africa to assess the healthcare system as a whole, to be able to see the great things about America as well as the things that need to be improved, and I believe that I am starting to see these aspects more clearly. I think this experience is instilling in me the personal, philanthropic aspects of being a doctor that are sometimes pushed to the side in America. South Africa will not vastly improve my medical skills, but it will improve my bedside manner, personability, understanding of the healthcare system, and ability to sympathize with patients far different from myself. And for me, that is more than I ever could have expected to learn spending a summer in the states.
The highest point in Africa
My football stars from Mandela Day