Postcards From South Africa: Need Continues For Medical Clinic, Hospital

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA: It has been a busy two months, and full of unique, interesting experiences, as always.

The day after I sent my last email it was my birthday, and besides a nice big cake for all the staff at work to share, and a home-made card signed by all, a few friends chipped in to buy a special gift: a live chicken, whose head was promptly cut off outside in the yard, and then the whole thing was prepared for stewing.

I asked if it wouldn’t have been easier to get a chicken at the grocery store, and the answer was that it may have been easier, but buying a live chicken is SO much better. Why? 1) It’s cheaper; 2) These chickens are called “hard bodies” because they are too old to lay eggs anymore and the meat is tougher, which means you chew it longer so it SEEMS like you are eating more; and 3) You get ALL the parts, so when I was poking through the pot to find a piece of what I consider edible, I just about lost my appetite looking at the head, the feet and the intestines in there. I can vouch for this particular chicken being a hard body, because it was the consistency of rubber. Hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? As an aside, don’t you think it’s unfair that chickens become “hard bodies” when they age and people go the opposite way?

On October 27 we went to meet the Bapedi King. Perhaps it was his royal prerogative, but he double booked himself and went to the other appointment, so he designated his senior councilor and a couple of other men to meet with us and report back to him.

The meeting went well, but we are still waiting for a response to our request for land for a clinic. We visited the one-and-only existing clinic at about 4:30 in the afternoon and there were still at least 50 people waiting to be seen. The clinic starts seeing patients at 8:30 a.m. and some start lining up at 4:30 in the morning. Once you are on the queue,there is no food, water, toilets or shelter from the hot sun, rain, whatever. There are only four nurses who can see patients every day, and they see about 75 each. Other people are turned away, many having walked miles to get there. We were told that by 2 p.m., 547 patients had registered, which means 247 people were turned away.

And this happens everyday. A doctor only comes once a week for a few hours. The need for another clinic and even a small hospital is desperate.

It turns out there are some rules of propriety for entering the royal quarters, even though the King’s office is just a sparsely furnished room.

 His “throne” was an old office chair that was a little bigger and nicer than the other ones at that desk, and I was invited to stand in front of it for the photo.

Back to the rules: Women must wear a hat or other head covering; we must wear a skirt or dress that comes below the knees; and we must not expose our shoulders. Men need to wear a jacket. The royal officials can actually fine you for not respecting the dress code. (The woman on the far right in the photo was excused because she was just arriving from work in her nurse’s uniform.) The only hats I have here are a couple of baseball caps, which would have looked strange with my outfit, so I borrowed a friend’s safari hat – which only looked semi-strange.

I mentioned last time that this venture is in a rural province (Limpopo), and the most interesting thing about the three-and-a-half-hour drive out there was avoiding hitting a big baboon who decided to run across the freeway without looking.

The Sunday before last, six boys from the neighborhood showed up to visit me around 9:30 in the morning, and of course had not eaten breakfast. I made a big batch of pancakes, and as we were sitting around the table about to dig in, one of them sweetly said, “This is like a family.” The others all agreed. I almost cried.

After breakfast, they insisted on doing the dishes, cleaning up the kitchen, mopping the floor, washing my car inside and out, and anything else they could think of to hang around. Four hours later when I told them I had work I needed to do, they said I should go ahead and work – they would just watch. Six – actually by then it was seven – little boys do not have the capacity to just sit for long, so once I said they needed to go home, it took another hour for them to get from the door to the gate with all the “one more things” they thought of to do. I’m truly going to miss these kids. I wish I could stow them away on the plane with me.

In the mornings, there is often the sound outside of wood breaking. A very industrious neighbor woman must be using or selling wood so she finds big pieces which need to be made smaller. She dismantled the wooden pallet with a rock.

Then she carried off small pieces of the long boards she got down to a manageable size by wedging them in the fork of the tree and pulling them until they broke.

A number of you expressed interest in the baskets I mentioned in the previous email Here are some that are available for sale. 

I don’t put prices on them because any profit goes directly toward helping with such things as scholarships and health care (doctors, dentists, medications) that wouldn’t be available at the government clinics. So pay what you wish as a donation to the cause. If you have your eye on a particular basket, let me know and I’ll save it for you.

Love, Marilyn

Marilyn Traugott retired in 2007 as manager of Mercy Hospice in Redding after a career that began with the program’s inception in 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 at-risk youth.

She spends part of the year at a non-profit organization doing management consulting, mentoring, and community development in a rural township between Pretoria and Johannesburg, South Africa.


Marilyn Traugott
Marilyn is the founder and director of One Future at a Time (, a tax exempt nonprofit organization that raises funds to support health, education, and personal empowerment in impoverished communities in South Africa, Uganda, and Rwanda. She spends a significant part of each year in Africa, where she is involved on a voluntary basis with projects and programs for local organizations as well as with individuals and communities at large. Over time there, she has become a mentor, mom, and friend to many children and young adults.
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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Robyn says:


    The people in Africa are all so beautiful. So are you for doing what you're doing. I'm so proud of you. Love the article!!!

  2. Avatar Darcie Gore says:

    Thank you so much for allowing us to share your experience. I love reading your 'postcards'

  3. Avatar kirsten says:

    I have worked in Zambia and Nigeria and also find the people so statuesque, beautiful and harmonious. The baskets are lovely- where do we find you, Marilyn?

  4. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Marilyn, what a noble undertaking you have taken. I had to laugh at your discription of that hard body chicken stew. Yuck, I'd lose my appetite too.

    The clinic situation sounds critical. What steps are being taken to raise funds for more clinics and more doctors in Johanesburg?

    Keep up the good work. You are special.

    • Marilyn Traugott Marilyn Traugott says:

      Hi Budd. For those who have health insurance or money, private health care in South Africa is very good. Unfortunately, the majority of the population is impoverished and must rely on the government clinics and hospitals which are underfunded, under-resourced, and overburdened. People in the rural areas have access to even fewer services than those in the cities, plus they often can't afford transportation to get to those services. I am involved with a group of local leaders (the ones in the photo with me in the King's office) who just this month registered a nonprofit organization over there called Itsoseng Community Services for the purpose of bringing health and human services to Moletjie, starting with building a clinic and possibly even a small hospital. We can begin fundraising as soon as the relevant government department that approved the registration issues us a registration number. Don't even bother to ask why the number didn't come with the approval. :-/

  5. Avatar Carrie says:

    I always look forward to reading Marilyn's letters from Africa. Her work involves interesting stories that can be touching and/or humorous. Bless you for all you are doing there………

  6. Avatar Canda says:

    Such a wonderful postcard, as always, Marilyn. I love reading your heart-warming, and at times, heart-wrenching stories. I'm looking forward to seeing those beautiful baskets in person. Love to you and all your families!