I haven’t written for two weeks because I was gone for a week of vacation to the Land of Aaahhhs: Tsitsikamma National Park, right on the Indian Ocean at the south coast of Africa. Aaahhh, look how gorgeous it is. Aaahhh, breathe in the ocean air and breathe out the stress and craziness of South African life. Aaahhh, spend hours staring at a clear night sky with no artificial light, see a shooting star, and not worry about getting mugged. Aaahhh, see the joy in the eyes of three sweet guys discovering the ocean (two for the first time), sticking their feet in while trying not to have a wave reach higher than their ankles, poking around tide pools and seeing among other things, a bed of tiny baby starfish. Aaahhh, take my first shower in over two months and wash my hair while standing upright instead of bent over a sink pouring water over my head.
Lucky and I have been to Tsitsikamma twice before, and haven’t yet discovered a more peaceful, restorative, not-too-touristy place where it’s sociologically comfortable for a white woman to travel with a black posse. I’ve attached a photo of Lucky, me, Sonny, and Joseph standing on a very moveable suspension bridge over the Storms River where it meets the ocean. It’s fun to watch people approach the bridge, as they are divided into three categories: those who just see it as a means to get to the other side; those who think it’s so much fun to jump around and make the bridge move and swing, and those afraid of heights standing on the approach, cursing the ones in category two.
The park has one mediocre restaurant and a small shop with a few groceries, so we were eating pretty lean until the night before we left. As I was hovering in the communal kitchen hut waiting for some eggs to get hard-boiled, there were two men, each tour leaders for separate groups of German tourists, fixing elaborate dinners for their people. One was making pasta with fresh seafood and vegetables and the other was making pork, potatoes, corn, and a few other things braised in a thick fruity sauce (maybe prunes and onions in there?). I jokingly asked them to let me know if they had leftovers they didn’t know what to do with, and both said to come back in a couple of hours. Well, what a score! It was the last night of their tours and there was enough left to feed the four of us that night plus lunch and dinner the next day.
How did Lucky get the time off? He had a friendly talk with the restaurant owner/manager about the exhausting conditions, and resigned. The owner actually puts in more hours than he demands of the staff, but it’s his choice if he wants to work 16-18 hour days, and he’s going to kill himself off as well as the staff. He offered to call Lucky if he lightened up his employment practices, though he gave no good reason for not doing so immediately since it would not have cost him a cent more. Meanwhile, there is something else Lucky is applying for that uses his real gifts – counseling people in an HIV testing program. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this pans out.
Here’s a puzzler for you… How bad can an education system be? An adult in his late 20’s, knowing I had been to the ocean, recently was discussing “earth science” with me and was really skeptical about the earth being round; and “If the North Pole is up, why then doesn’t the water in the Arctic Ocean just pour south?” Some people here truly believe there are mermaids and 7-headed serpents lurking in the ocean. It was like telling a kid that there is no Santa.
Work has gone well, as I tie up loose ends this week. I was able to teach 11 sessions of management/leadership training and we had a celebratory lunch Friday, complements of the agency. I hope the momentum and enthusiasm keep going while I’m in the US. They’ve scheduled another session with me in a few weeks via Skype.
The needs in Olievenhoutbosch are overwhelming. My long term goal is to see the establishment of a dental clinic, an eye clinic, and another medical clinic. The community has about 90,000 people (similar to Redding) and the only health services is from the one medical clinic, run by overwhelmed, overworked nurses and visited twice a week by a doctor. Needless to say, it is woefully inadequate. I need to start by networking, and to that end, am as of last Thursday, officially a member of Rotary. The chapter in this area is small, informal, and very active. They are also open to helping me bring services to Olievenhoutbosch as a project for this coming year.
The young man I started with restorative dental work in September finally got his smile the other day and can hardly get over how good he looks and how unselfconscious he feels. Besides that, oral surgery and medication took care of the cause of recurring and extraordinarily painful abscesses, so his health is vastly improved. For this, we owe a huge thank you and a wish for many blessings to all of you who have made so many undertakings possible. You have been changing lives, and here are the rest of the ways you have done so during my current stay: 2 continuing scholarships (1 law, 1 nursing); 3 other people still in college from earlier scholarships (accounting, advanced computer programming, and security management); 3 new scholarships (security supervision, chef, and information technology management); school supplies and transportation costs for an adult student; shoes, clothes, and school supplies for 2 children; transportation home to another province for a discharged patient; dental exam and medication for an adult; and a pediatric exam and medication for a child.
I leave here Tuesday night and will be back in Redding Wednesday night. As usual, I look forward to a few months of my American life, enjoying family, friends, home, personal freedom, mochas, Thai food, Chinese food, music gatherings, Irish whistle (which I don’t bring here as it would disturb the peace – though maybe I should see if it repels rats and cockroaches next time), etc. but will sorely miss my African life. Each time I’m here, and this is my 7th time, my purpose in being here seems to be strongly reaffirmed.
Marilyn Traugott retired in August 2007 as manager of Mercy Hospice in Redding after a 29-year career that began with the program’s inception. With clinical expertise in bereavement care, she has been providing professional and community education on hospice and end-of-life issues since 1978. Marilyn has an Ed.M. in counseling from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Prior to working in hospice, other professional experience included teaching special education, developing medical education materials and counseling.
She currently spends part of the year working at an inpatient hospice facility, Zaziwe Care Centre, in Johannesburg, South Africa.