Days 60-65/76: Trauma Queen

Last weekend was awesome. I arranged to do two more night shifts at the trauma center and it was amazing, even better than the last time. Dr. Shein and Dr. Beeka are amazing, kind, and love to teach us. They taught us to take femoral blood, put in IVs, and even suture wounds. I loved it. They let us be hands on and do what we know, they take the time to include us and engage us, and they genuinely enjoy teaching us. I learn so much from them and appreciate how much effort they put into teaching us. I bought them each cupcakes and gave them thank you cards. They are my absolute favorite and they were so nice and helpful, I'm going to miss them a lot. Night shifts with them have been the highlight of my entire internship and summer abroad.

Monday

Melisse knows a doctor who works at a TB clinic here in Cape Town. On Monday, she invited Hannah and I to go check it out with her. We did rounds with the doctors in the pediatric unit, it was very interesting and very sad, but I'm glad we got to go see it. The babies in there were incredibly cute and surprisingly energetic and happy. I loved playing with them and holding them as the doctors went around in their rounds. It was a very humbling experience.

Thursday

Today was my last day at work since there’s another public holiday next week.  Anthea said that it’s required that all American interns bring a cake on their last day. It's a little weird, since we have non-american interns and they don’t have to bring cake on their last days, I don't really understand, but whatever, I put it aside and brought a nice red-velvet cake from the store. When I got to work, I asked if I could work in trauma for my last day since it's my favorite. Anthea straight up said no, like a hard no, and then she made a rude comment about my cake being “too small”.  She put me with Dr. Adams (the one I told her wasn't very nice to me). It was fine, but it was odd because she put the new girl in trauma today even though she already went there Tuesday and it was only her second day. She made the rest of us work in reception for our entire first week, but this girl didn't work in reception at all and went straight to trauma. It’s not a huge deal, I was just sad since it was my last day. My driver sent me a text saying he was going to be early to get us because he had to get people from the airport later. We weren't going to have enough time to pull everyone together to say goodbye and eat cake like we usually do. I went to go tell Anthea, but she was still angry with me over the size of cake I brought. At this point, I was a little upset too since she had placed me in my least favorite place and complained over the size of cake I brought. I thanked her for having me this summer and just left. As I walked out, I said bye and handed out cake to my favorite nurses, doctors and security guards. I felt bad that I left things off sourly with Anthea, but I just wasn't going to stand for her being angry with me over the size of cake I brought for my own farewell party. She hasn't been very happy with me since she asked for feedback from me last week. I don't think I was rude, but it seems as if whatever I said wasn't taken well by her. I expressed that I would like to work in trauma more because it was my favorite place and told her about how some of the doctors don't like to have us sit in with them and how they speak in Afrikaans or Xhosa when they don't want to deal with us. I thought I gave her honest, helpful and professional feedback, I was trying to help the other interns out so she would send them to trauma more and stop sending them to the doctors that don't like us, but I think she took it as criticism because she got very angry with me last week and was very short and snappy with me this week. This has been the first time the whole summer that she seemed to be upset with me or have a problem with me at all. It sucks if it reflects poorly on me in my supervisor evaluation, but I couldn't help but be a little hurt by the way I was treated this week. Thursday wasn't a great last day, but the weekend in the ER was so good that I don't even care. When I got home I walked around my neighborhood and handed out the rest of the pieces of my cake to the homeless people that stay in Obs, so at least that made me feel good. 

After work I went to VAC to do my exit interview. I expressed some of my concerns and explained what had just happened between me and Anthea. I knew Anthea was going to email them about how I just left on my last day and skipped out on my farewell "ceremony" that they usually do. I knew it would come across as rude, but I really didn't feel like giving free cake to people who yelled at me and complained about the size of my cake. The person I talked to at VAC was not very empathetic at all. She eluded that it was all my fault, that I was super rude and she didn't even care that Anthea had yelled at me about the cake. She wasn't taking me seriously at all and just laughed and said that Anthea was probably just joking, which she definitely wasn't. That really frustrated me. I've voiced concerns to VAC multiple times this summer, looking for help and support and every time they've turned it around on me as if it's entirely my fault. It would be nice if they could just take my side just once on an issue and help advocate for me with internship offices or at least just take accountability for their fault in some of the issues we've experience. But no, it's literally always my fault, my problem, my responsibility, and its always up to me to try to figure it out on my own. All that is fine, I'm an adult, I can figure it out, but then why did I pay them to help facilitate my internship if they're not going to help advocate for me? Frustrating, but whatever, I'm officially done with VAC and my job today so theres no point in dwelling on it.

Okay so I know that Thursday sounds terrible now, but it gets better. I had previously made reservations at one of Cape Town's most famous restaurants for my last day of work, The Pot Luck Club. It's owned and run by the same people who own The Test Kitchen, Cape Town's number one restaurant and its ranked 22 in the world (I originally tried to get a reservation at the Test Kitchen, but its booked until September, but the Pot Luck Club was the next best thing). It was so fancy that we had to put down a R250 deposit per person just to make the reservation. It was totally worth it. Literally some of the best food I've ever eaten. So worth it. Totally repaired the damage from the rest of the day. 

Days 24-27/76: Express Garden Route

         

          The Garden Route is one of the most popular trips in South Africa. Pretty much every intern plans to make it out there at least once during their stay, the only barrier is that it’s roughly a 5-6 hour drive away from Cape Town. Basically it’s a route along which you find places for skydiving, animal sanctuaries, safaris, zip-lining, bungee jumping, hiking, surfing, and pretty much all of the coolest things South Africa has to offer along one road trip. Most people make the garden route an entire week long trip, but Noelle is leaving soon and none of us could get that long of work off, plus we didn’t want to blow a ton of money, so we were going to see how much we could get done in three days.

 

Day One:

We wanted to start off early so we could make the drive and still have time to do things in the afternoon so we woke up at 4:30, got our rental car at the airport, and started the drive. Unfortunately, 30 minutes into the drive, we realized the radio didn’t work and we couldn’t charge our phones. Then we learned that Noelle left her credit card at the car rental place. We lost about an hour turning around to switch cars and get her card, but it wasn’t too big of a deal. We made it to Knysna, our first stop. Knysna has an elephant sanctuary where you can feed and walk around with the elephants for literally only $16 USD.  Coolest thing ever. Zoe has a thing for elephants so it was super funny to watch her reaction to getting to pet and feed the elephants at the park.

After the elephants we went to the hostel where we’d be staying for the night. It was really cute and really nice. We went out to dinner at a place called The Table. It was highly recommended by our director at VAC and by the people at the hostel. I got a GF pizza with brie, figs and prosciutto. It was pretty freaking good.

Day Two:

We woke up early again to get started on our way to Storms River Mouth where there’s a huge suspension bridge that overlooks where the Storms River meets the Indian ocean. It felt like we were in Hawaii, it was so beautiful. We did a short hike there, played in the sand for a little bit and then proceeded on to the waterfall zip-line park.

The zip-lines were pretty cool, not quite as cool as the pictures made them look, and a lot shorter than we thought it would be, but it was still pretty cool.  I’ve done a lot of zip-lining before so I could just be biased. It was eight different lines over the small canyon. Most of them were very short, but two of them were pretty long and crossed over a small waterfall and river. After zip-lining, we drove to our next hostel. 

The next hostel was called Wild Spirit, its basically a summer camp for adults and its one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to. It was just a couple of small buildings around a center lodge with fire pits, tents, tree houses, wood cabins and a bunch of hippies in the middle of a forest. Everyone was super relaxed and chill, it was all about having “good vibes” and going with the flow. They made our dinner over the fire, we had a drum circle, story telling at the campfire, some hippie played the guitar and sang for us, it was freezing but a lot of people weren’t wearing shoes, it was very chill and very interesting. At one point, we were sitting around the fire, trying to plan what we were going to do tomorrow and one of the hippies interrupted us and told us to stop planning. He told us just to wake up and go with the flow. He was like, if you want to do the hike, go on the hike, if you feel like you should sky dive, sky dive, if you want to just chill here and watch the sun and stars, then just chill. It was actually pretty funny. The other people in my group totally bought into it and were like “yeah, we’ll just wake up and see what we want to do tomorrow”. But I was having none of that. I’m a planner. I plan. I like to have a plan. I like to know what I’m going to do and what’s going to happen so we have time to accomplish all the things we drove six hours just to see. I wasn’t buying that hippie crap. We had talked about doing a moon-lit hike to a nearby waterfall, it was basically a 30 minute walk. But after dinner, my friends were a little tipsy and were really digging the hippie vibe around the campfire so they didn’t want to go with me. There were baboons in the area (baboons are insanely vicious) so I couldn’t go by myself. We ended up just hanging out and not really doing much, I was sad I didn’t get to do the hike, but it was fine.

Day Three

The next morning, we had planned to wake up to see the sunrise at a place called God’s Window. Its basically just a random opening in the trees on a ledge so that you can see the sunrise over the entire forest. However, that morning, no one was wanting to wake up. So I just went by myself. It was incredible. I sat there for a while and then decided to run a different hike called the Magic Forest. That was also super cool. I ran back to the room because the others had to make their skydiving appointment by 9 so we had to be leaving at 8:30. I hadn’t planned on skydiving, but I was getting the feeling like I should do it. When we go to the place we asked if they had any more spots open today, but they didn’t. I was a little bummed. I had to sit there and watch everyone else go for almost three hours. It looked super cool, they were all freaking out and talking about it for basically the rest of the day. I get why, it is incredible. But it made it a little rough since I couldn’t go and just had to watch and take pictures for them.

After that, we drove off to the Cango Caves. That was pretty cool. We spent a good two hours climbing, crawling, and sliding through the caves. In was extremely hot in there, which none of us anticipated. It was hard to get good pictures since it was so dark, but it was super cool. Afterwards we made the five hour drive home and went to bed. It was a pretty jam-packed weekend.

Week 3/11

            Work last week was uneventful. Most of our time is spent shadowing physicians. It’s very interesting, but not very helpful to anyone but ourselves. On Wednesday, Anthea (our supervisor) didn’t come into work because someone had broken into her house. Without her there, there wasn’t much we could do, but we found our way into the operating room and watched a few surgeries. On Thursday, she also wasn’t there, the workers basically told us there was nothing we could do for them and sent us home a few minutes after we arrived. Since I got off so early, I went with Noelle to the markets and we did some shopping. I got a few cool bracelets, some adorable elephant earrings and a few necklaces. Afterwards, we went back to observatory to plan a road trip for the weekend. In the process of planning, I ended up using the computer to contact Airbnb about the issues with Frances and how she was refusing to provide WiFi even though it was on the listing. They ended up telling me that my best option would be to ask for a refund and move to a different Airbnb. I found a great one very close to all of the other interns and much nicer than Frances’ place. I went over and met the girl that’s living there and then contacted Frances about a refund. She wasn’t very happy at all. Airbnb called me and I explained the situation to them, they agreed with me and ended up calling Frances themselves. When I got home she was livid. I brought Noelle with me so I’d have some back up. She agreed to refund me the remainder of my stay, but she wasn’t happy about it and she let me know it. There was no way I was staying there with her that night. We quickly packed up all my things, canceled the remainder of my trip on Airbnb and peaced-out to Noelle’s house. We were planning on leaving for the weekend anyways so I would just have to spend one night at her place and then move into my new place on Sunday night or Monday. I ended up sleeping on Noelles floor next to her bed because it was warmer than the couch. 

Day 17/76: As South as South Africa Gets

            Today we took a road trip down to Cape Agulhas, the most Southern tip of the entire African continent. We left around 8:30 this morning and took the longer route along the coastline for the scenery, totally worth it. It was a great trip. Noelle was our designated driver. She was the only one confident in her ability to drive a manual stick shift on the left side of the road, while sitting on the right side of the car, shifting with her left hand. She did impressively well. There was no way I could have pulled that off. The entire trip was actually surprisingly smooth, we only bumped the curb once, and we never got lost. Go us! The car rental was also super cheap, it ended up being around $13USD each to rent the car for the day. We took tons of cool pictures. There was lots of singing and dancing in the car. Lots of snacks. The trip took up our entire day, but it was totally worth it. It was a pretty good day. I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves this time.

Day 15/76: Once cyst, two cyst, red cyst, blue cyst…

            I was so pumped to watch surgery this morning. I was chatting with Jenna in the car about surgeries; what we’ve seen before, what we like and don’t like , etc. I was telling her about how nervous I was the first time a shadowed a surgeon because I was afraid that I would get nauseous, but I handled a fully tummy tuck, breast reduction and lipo like a champ and didn’t get sick once. I actually thought it was just super cool. I was pretty confident that I would be solid today. We were laughing because I told Jenna that I can handle a ton of blood and gore, but the one thing I cannot stomach is like weird/gross skin lesions and cysts. For some reason skin things really gross me out. Especially popping cysts. I hate cysts. Guess what I watched today? Cyst extractions. And only Cyst extractions. For 4 hours. Cysts. It was actually pretty funny. I kind of jinxed myself on the whole cyst thing. It wasn’t terrible or anything, I was just super grossed out by the nasty sebum that spewed out of all those nasty freaking cysts. I tried not to make a grossed out face, but I totally did. The surgeon was super cool. He’s been practicing for 18 year and teaches at the University of Cape Town. He told us that he usually doesn’t do that many cysts, but by incredible odds, all of his patients today came in with cysts. Lucky me.         

          But wait, it gets even better. One of the last patients we saw came in with a MASSIVE cyst underneath his armpit (we’re talking like 2 golf balls, side by side underneath this man’s arm). The doctor and nurse were kind of in an awkward position during the procedure, so I backed way up to avoid being in their way. By this point I had already seen like 10 cyst extractions without any major traumatic events occurring. But, by a miracle, as the doctor began to cut into this man’s cyst, it unexpectedly burst and sprayed across the room. Onto my scrubs. I was seriously 5-6 feet away from the table and I still got hit. Luckily, it was a clear, watery cyst and not a nasty, sebaceous one, but that didn’t really make it better, I almost threw up right there. The doctor laughed at my attempt to maneuver out of the way of the splash, but I obviously wasn’t fast enough. I was starting to go into full panic mode as I saw some on my scrubs, but then I looked over at the doctor. He had been sprayed in the face. No mask, no shield, just nasty cyst fluid on is face. He seemed totally unphased by it. He operated for another 35 minutes without stopping to wash his face. I’m not sure if I should be impressed by his diligence or concerned for the sanitation and personnel protection practices of the clinic.

            Speaking of which, the most mind blowing thing we witnessed today was how they turn over the OR for the next patient. The table linens were not changed once, the sterile trays were touched multiple times, people picked up bloody, cyst covered gauze off the floor and table with their BARE HANDS. Jenna and I almost passed out. We were freaking out, looking at each other like “PLEASE DO NOT PICK IT UP, OH MY GOSH, HE ACTUALLY PICKED IT UP.” What was even grosser was that after touching all that biohazard material with his bare hands, the doctor went over to the sink, rinsed his hands with water quickly and then picked up his phone and the patient file. We were super grossed out, we’ve touched thousands of those files. And now we know what they’re covered in. Needless to say,, we immediately washed are hands after leaving and when I got home, I immediately shoved my clothes into a plastic bag and hopped in the shower.

            It was a pretty eventful workday. Even though I hate cyst extractions and got sprayed, I still like watching surgery so it was still totally cool and way better than a workday at SACLA. We have a holiday tomorrow, so we don’t have to work again until Monday!

Day 14/76: My Second First Day

            It’s been exactly two weeks since I left Utah. Today was my first day at the Heideveld Clinic. They told me that my first day would be up with reception, likely finding files. They were right. I spent most of the day searching through thousands of poorly organized files on shelves. Patients arrive with a card that has their ID number on it, we take the card and search through the stacks and shelves of patient files to find the one with their number on it before they are allowed to go back into the clinic. It’s a painfully tedious and stressful process, but really I’m just happy to actually be productive. It’s such a slow process that some patients wait up to 6 hours before their file is even found. They have to start lining up around 5 or 6 AM in order to be seen. Apparently, in South Africa, it’s standard to have 10:30AM teatime. Basically, regardless of how many patients there are, how stressful it is, how long people have been waiting, or how busy you are, at 10:30 you take a 30 minute break to sit around and have tea. As interns, we are not allowed to be unattended, so even though we didn’t bring any tea or cups with us, we have to sit in the break room for 30 minutes. The other girls sat and read, I just kind of hung out, I didn’t bring anything to do and there’s no Wi-Fi and I can’t bring my computer, so I just sat there for a little. The break room is the only room in the entire building that has a heater, which is soooo nice. It’s only the second heater I’ve seen so far in South Africa (the first was in the LDS chapel). After teatime, I walked around with a girl named Terrin and gave surveys to people waiting in the emergency department. I was a little nervous about the language barrier, but most people spoke wonderful English and were very happy to answer the survey questions. You could tell that they liked their complaints to be heard. Many of them told me stories about the questions on the survey as I asked them. I was shocked by some of the answers.

Does it take you longer than 30 minutes to get to the hospital? Most answered no, but a good portion answered yes, someone said it takes her two hours to walk there on an injured leg.

Do you think the hospital is clean and in good condition? This one was funny because by US standards the answer would have been a strong no. But almost every person said they felt it was a nice hospital.

Did you have to wait a long time for your folder? Every single person answered yes. People wait anywhere from 2-6 hours (from what I heard) just to get their patient file. Then they have to wait for the nurse. Then they have to wait for the doctor. Then again to pick up medications. Then again to make the next appointment. It’s an all day event. And all of this is because these people had appointments, if you don’t have an appointment, its even worse. I remember how mad I would get in the US waiting more than 15 minutes for a doctor’s appointment. I thought it was absurd when I had to wait an hour one time. It’s insane that people are using entire days to go to a clinic. And what’s even worse, sometimes when we can’t find the file, or it took too long, they just send them home and tell them to come back tomorrow. These people work and missing two days of work to go and wait at a clinic is a lot to ask. It’s extremely sad. 

 

            Those are just a few of the questions. It was really interesting to hear their stories and complaints. One woman, when asked if she thought the toilets were clean, proceeded to tell me in full and explicit detail about how she gets a UTI every time she uses the restroom at our hospital and only at our hospital (I’m no doctor yet, but I’m 99% sure that that’s impossible, but she was very convinced and adamant that I tell my supervisors about it). After surveys, I was sent back to reception to work with some more files, yay. Instead of having me find files, they had me stand at a window where patients were supposed to come up to make new appointments. They quickly taught me how to schedule appointments in their ancient computer, it was pretty easy, I was just learning a lot on the go and trying to remember everything. I was able to make quite a few appointments. The only problem was that people saw that my line was moving quickly so people started coming up to the window with their issues even if they didn’t need to make an appointment. I had to tell them that I literally just knew how to make appointments and had to keep asking my supervisor, Anthea, to help whenever someone came to the window not looking for an appointment. I could tell I was bothering her, but there was nothing I could do to help those people so I didn’t really have a choice besides to ask her. I learned how to open new files and how to search for old files. At 1PM, even though there was still a huge line and everyone was yelling for her, Anthea said it was time for lunch so we left the front office. No one else was up there, we just left it unattended for our hour of lunch.

            Another thing that is going to take some getting used to is the volume at which people talk in the work place. I’m from a Brazilian family, I’m used to loud people. But holy cow, these people basically speak in a yell at all times in English, Xhosa and Afrikaans. Happy yelling, angry yelling, ambiguous yelling, just a whole lot of yelling. The break room was painfully loud. People laughing, screaming, singing, etc. Very different from a break room in the US. Even up at the reception desk, whether people were angry or not, they were always yelling at each other. It can be pretty entertaining, but it can also be a little scary and intimidating.

            The most frustrating thing is just the speed at which everyone works. Efficiency does not seem to be a major concern in South African culture. There can be 200 people in the waiting area, tons of people in need of help and yelling out for assistance, lined up at the windows, knocking on the door, but everyone behind the reception desk moves at the same, casual, indifferent pace. I really don’t see the point in teatime, but I get that it’s a cultural thing, I just don’t see why it’s a half hour and why lunch is an hour. Every job I’ve had in the US is one or two 5-15 minute breaks and 30 minutes or less for lunch. And no one is in a hurry to get anywhere after lunch. And from what I heard from the interns, nothing really gets done after lunch, that’s basically when the workday ends. We leave at two anyways, but they said that everything really slows down because they stop taking patients really early. It’s going to take some getting used to. I really like it at the clinic, it’s a million times better than SACLA, even though filing is super boring, at least we’re being helpful with getting patient files out. Tomorrow they said I’ll be in the “theater” all day. Theater is what they call the operating room. Nisha said I’ll get to scrub in and watch the surgeries for most of the day! I’m so excited. Surgery is my favorite so this is going to be way cool.

            After work I used the free Wi-Fi at a café called Billy Boo’s, it’s everyone’s favorite. Apparently their chocolate croissants are legendary, Nisha gets one every morning for breakfast. It was the cutest place. All I had was a hot chocolate and a brownie while I used their Wi-Fi, but it’s the cutest place and I want to go back and try everything there!

            At dinner, Matt (one of the interns) came in late because he said he was stopped by a street magician on his way in who did a really cool trick. Matt ended up giving the guy 50R because he was so impressed. But then some random dude who was watching the trick too, named Sean (possibly on meth), followed Matt to FOREX and started asking him for his number and if he could hang out with him. He was kind of a sketchy dude so Matt just brushed him off. But Sean followed him up into FOREX and sat down with all of the interns. The meal coordinator noticed and started talking to him trying to get him to leave. He followed us out after dinner and tried to pull Matt into an ally. Sean was telling us that Matt was going to give him 100R so he could go get change for two 50’s so he could go buy weed. We were all totally confused and starting to get angry because this guy wouldn’t leave us alone. Zoe and I started yelling at him, we just grabbed Matt by the arms and starting pulling him away. We were going to go meet up with a group of interns who are leaving in the next few days, but Sean kept following us. It was starting to get a little scary because Sean’s friend had come now too and they were still trying to get Matt. Plus all of us had our laptops and iPhones in our backpacks since we had all just been doing work in cafés for Wi-Fi. Luckily, Philip, a bartender at FOREX, saw the whole thing go down and ran over to help us (small miracle here). Philip is a huge, easily 6’7”, ~230lb, black local who could have easily beat the crap out of those guys. He just ran over, grabbed me and Zoe and pulled us away, he turned back and started yelling at Sean and his friend to leave us alone. Sean tried to take a swing at him, but Philip just leaned over and pushed him away. They left after that and Philip walked us all home to make sure they didn’t follow us. That was way nice of him. He didn’t have to do that, it’s not part of his job, he just looks after the interns since he knows we’re all new. We totally owe him. We ended up seeing Sean and his friend again later, but we bolted into a café as soon as we saw them and waited for them to pass, I don’t think they saw us. But, by random chance, the two male baristas from Billy Boo’s were in the café that we ran into and they offered to walk us to the house we were headed to (they know all the interns since we all stop by everyday before work). That was also super nice of them.

             The odds are incredible that Philip was there when that all happened and that on my first day going into Billy Boo’s, I ran into the baristas again and they offered to walk us home.  All in all it was a pretty good day. Work was cool, I had a really good brownie and hot chocolate, we were escorted home by Philip and the baristas from Billy Boo’s, and I get to watch surgery tomorrow!

 

 

            

Day 8/76: Xhosa

            Today was much better. I wore my nikes, loose scrubs, top, and hoodie, tied my hair back into a low bun and wore my widest headband. I made it to the shuttle on time and listened to and read messages from friends at home while we dropped everyone off (Brooke and I are the last stop that the shuttle makes so it takes a little while). We get there before the caregivers so we sat on the couch and talked for about 30 minutes (She told me a hilarious story about her experience sand surfing, we laughed pretty hard). After the caregivers arrived, we went into the main room and attempted to determine what we would be doing today and who we would be following. We tried to help the caregivers out, but there wasn’t much we could do. We just kind of sat there and listened to them yell at each other in Xhosa, we couldn’t really tell if they were angry or not, but they speak in a yell most of the time. Then we started to hear our names thrown in every once in a while, Brooke said they were probably determining who would be taking us today. If that’s true, then it seemed as if no one wanted us. We were handed some boxes of medication and instructed to follow the group. We weren’t sure where we were going or if we were staying together. After asking a few times, we were able to piece together that we were going to a “support group” with more elderly people to do more health screenings. We were so happy to learn that we would be going together today and that we’d be in a big group with 6 caregivers (Serious tender mercy after yesterday’s experience).

             The walk to the center was much shorter than yesterday’s and we felt much safer with the large group. They were laughing and talking the whole way, the people we ran into were very nice on the street. We passed some men cooking cow’s head over an open flame and frying chicken feet, the caregivers said we had to try it sometime (They said it was really good, but hard pass. No thanks. Haha). One of the caregivers (the same one I was with yesterday, I can barely say her name, I’m not going to attempt to spell it), taught us words and phrases in Xhosa as we walked. We were so bad at it. Neither of us are very good at making the click sounds. And it’s hard to tell how to say the word without seeing it, but we tried our best. They laughed at us. It was pretty funny. As we walked, the caregivers would laugh as they heard Brooke and I mumbling words to ourselves, trying to force our mouths to make the right sounds. Then afterwards, we were waiting in front of one of the houses, standing with a fence to our back, and a dog jumped up and put his feet on the fence, making a really loud sound, scaring the crap out of all of the caregivers. We had no idea it was there so we all jumped. One of the caregivers was so afraid she pushed Brooke out of the way and ran. Once we all saw it was a dog, we just cracked up laughing for like 5 solid minutes.

            Everyone was in a cheerful mood by the time we got to the center with the elderly. They were very happy to see us and very sweet to talk to. Brooke and I were in charge of BP/HR again today, we had a pretty good system down where one would prep a patient while the other was taking another patient’s BP/HR and then we would pass the cuff and record the data, it made it a lot faster than yesterday. The hardest part is writing down everyone’s name. We can barely understand/say their names, we have no idea how to spell them. The caregivers usually come and help us with the names. It was a pretty big room so it took a while. Plus, the other caregivers were also taking blood glucose and weight measurements so it took most of our day. I have no idea how (if) they keep all this information organized, everything is just hand written on different notebooks. On our way back to the clinic, we ran into one of the caregiver’s neighbors with her little baby girl. She was the most beautiful baby girl, Brooke asked to hold her as we walked. That little girl was so freaking cute. She had like a really shocked look on her face when she was looking at us (I’m certain we were the first white people that baby has ever seen). On the way back we practiced more Xhosa, it’s so hard to remember the words. They don’t seem like words to us, they’re just sounds haha. We struggled for a while. I’m sure it was very entertaining for the caregivers. They taught us how to say, “white person”, apparently it’s the word that people yell at us when we walk by. Even the little kids say it when we pass. After we got back, the caregivers all went home and Brooke and I had to wait for our shuttle. Some people were on the couch that we normally sit on out in the main office, so we pulled some chairs out of a room and awkwardly sat in the hall. Everyone was looking at us super weird. My phone was dying so I started looking for an outlet, apparently, the room at the end of the hall is like a break room with tons of couches and chairs. We were literally sitting right in front of it in the hall. No wonder they all thought we were crazy. Brooke and I laughed so hard we were almost crying and went and sat on the couches in the room. All in all, it was actually a pretty good day. I left work feeling good today.

            After I got home, I showered and finished putting away my laundry from a few days ago (I hate hang drying clothes, it takes forever). Then I took the train to the city center and bought some rain boots, scarves, heavy socks and new sunglasses (sorry mom, the ones you let me use didn’t even make it off the plane without breaking).  It took a while to find the boots, but I really needed them. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow and the townships are super muddy and sandy, my Nikes wouldn’t survive. We had dinner at FOREX again for our meal plans, it was super good chicken curry. Buuuut, right after we finished eating, Zoe found a snail shell in her curry. And the snail was still inside it. And no, it was not supposed to be there. And yes, by this point we had all had seconds already. We were done eating for the night.  Appetite ruined. No longer hungry. It was a little funny, but mostly gross. 

Day 7/76: New Home

 

            (Heads up mom. You’re not going to love this post.)       

            Today we said goodbye to our fun little vacation weekend and hard hello to the townships, it was my first day of work. I got up early and rushed to get dressed in something decent from my business casual wardrobe (as instructed per VAC). I emptied out my entire backpack and put in only my lunch, my South African phone, my keys and a water bottle. I met the VAC staff member who would be driving me today at our office and we drove out to the township where I’ll be stationed. Twenty minutes later, we approached the freeway exit. I couldn’t really see much besides the sign reading Khayelitsha. I asked the driver how to pronounce it (KIE-LEET-CHA), he said it means “New Home” and that it’s the largest township in South Africa. As we exited the freeway and came up over the bridge, my heart literally skipped a beat. From the top of the bridge we could see all around us. Nothing. Literally nothing. Can prepare you for the first time you see Khayelitsha. I’ve seen ghettos and favelas, but a Khayelitsha is just inexplicably heartbreaking. Literally as far as you can see, just shacks, nothing but sheds and shacks and only 20 minutes outside of the city. Pictures online, videos, documentaries, nope, nothing can prepare you, its not real until you’re there. I wanted to cry. I suddenly understood why Anna mentioned yesterday in orientation that they have counselors available for us if we need them. As we drove to the “clinic” where I’d be stationed, and I looked around at the conditions and the people, I suddenly felt violently overdressed (and I was…). We pulled up to the fenced-in SACLA (South African Christian Leadership Assembly) buildings and waited a good 20 minutes for my supervisor (I was told to expect a lot of inefficiency and frustration, so this wasn’t a big deal, it was just weird).

            I met the other VAC intern (Yay! They told me I’d be alone there). Brooke is super nice and gave me a few heads up about what to expect. But as I looked to what she and the other caregivers where wearing, I felt sick to my stomach. Loose, dirty, navy blue scrubs with a very loose, modest fleece top and Nikes. I asked her about the dress code thing, she had also been told by VAC to wear cute flats, slacks and blouses with cardigans (as I was currently wearing), but after her first day, she said she dressed to match everyone else because she stood out way too much. I looked ridiculous in my pointed black flats, Calvin Klein slacks and stark white HH raincoat. I met my supervisor, kind of. She only spoke to the VAC staff member in Xhosa and then he would talk to me. At first I thought she didn’t speak English, but at then end, she gave me perfect instructions in English and then continued to talk to others in Xhosa. I’d soon find that even though they knew English, everyone only spoke in Xhosa to each other. Brooke said it would be very intimidating and it was. I’d occasionally pick up my name a few times, but besides that. I had no idea what was being said. And I had no idea what was being said about me. But luckily I had Brooke every once in a while, I can’t imagine how much it must have sucked for her to be there alone. I met the caregiver I’d be shadowing for the day, she was very nice. She’d occasionally give me a few words of direction in English, but she mostly talked to everyone else in Xhosa. We opened boxes containing packets of medication sent to the center by the government and organized the packets by patient and section. Once we collected all of the medication for our section and packed them into bags, it was time to go walk through the townships to deliver them.

            I was instructed to remove all of my jewelry, watch, tie my hair back, and leave my phone in my bag. But, an intern had her phone stolen by clinic staff last week at a different township and she had told me to keep my phone on me, just not in my pockets. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to listen to her or the SACLA caregivers, but I just bought this phone, so I tucked it into an inner zippered pocket of my jacket (bad call Jen, bad call). We left the relative safety of the clinic and began to wander through the endless maze of shacks. Before we really got into them, it was cold so I zipped up my jacket all the way. But the amount of layers I had on made my jacket tight and you could see the bulge of my phone. The caregiver noticed it quickly and very angrily asked what it was. About to pee my pants, I panicked and I told her it was a pack of gum. She bought it. As soon as they weren’t looking, I slipped my phone into the front waistband of my pants, it was completely imperceptible. Uncomfortable, but I figured it was unlikely that I’d be removing any clothes for anyone to find it. I wanted to throw up. Between my Calvin Klein’s, my blondish hair, pasty white skin, the bitter cold wind and my awkwardly concealed phone, I was barely keeping it together as we wandered through the littered streets. I stood out. Painfully so. It was like I was a giant neon sign reading “AMERICAN”. People stared (Men, women, children, they just stared). Yelled out at me (Mostly the men yelled…Mostly in Xhosa, but occasionally in English,“Whitey”, “White Girl”, etc.) Occasionally someone would run up to me and try to touch me. Someone came up behind us and pulled on my ponytail (very low buns from here on out). Someone threw a brick at one point. Not very close to us, but enough to make startle us. The caregivers escorting me were aggressive with everyone, they’d yell at anyone calling out to me and pushed away the few that approached me. For the most part, they were effective. But it still didn’t feel safe. ALL of the caregivers are women. It was just me and two small ladies wandering through the township. The majority of the people were very nice. I learned that most of the caregivers lived here in the township as we passed their homes. The caregivers would laugh and chat with the patients we visited and with people on the streets. It was me that was the problem. My skin color was the cause of the aggression. I suddenly felt like more of a burden than help. We walked for miles. My flats were starting to cut the backs of my ankles. When we stopped for a moment, I looked down and saw blood in my shoe and beginning to stain my slacks. I could describe the township for days, but I won’t. Google it. It’s heartbreaking.

            We made it back to the clinic unharmed and successfully delivered all of the medication. I had only been seated for a second with Brooke when we were instructed to follow one of the caregivers to the church they call Abigail, where some of the elderly are treated. This was the highlight of the day. They were all so happy to see us. We went around and took everyone’s blood pressure and heart rate one by one. They only have one portable BP monitor, its old, slow and sometimes we had to redo it multiple times, there were roughly 50 people in the room, so it took a good 2 hours to make it to everyone. They were all very sweet to us and thanked us. I’m 98% sure that they think Brooke and I are doctors. They asked us for advice and asked if their BP and HR were good after we measured and recorded it. We just looked at each other with panic in our eyes like “what do we do?” We attempted to sing along to their hymns in Xhosa and prayed with them (fun note: they say very long and very enthusiastic prayers, I couldn’t understand them in Xhosa, but there was a lot of passion behind those prayers). Afterwards, one of the church workers gave us a ride back to the clinic in a large van (Tender mercy: Blood had actually pooled in my left shoe by this point and I had been standing and bent over so long I was about to pass out, I wasn’t going to make it back to the clinic walking through sand). It was roughly 1PM and apparently most workers leave at 1, so Brooke normally has to sit there for an hour to wait for our private shuttle at 2. So we sat and talked until the shuttle came for us. One of the caregivers told me to wear clothes like Brooke’s tomorrow and to wear a headscarf to hide my light hair. She said it will help me blend in and make me more comfortable. She was very kind, but I don’t think there’s much I can do to blend in at this point.

            Brooke is rotating to a different internship in two weeks, so that really sucks. But on the bright side, I’m home by 3PM everyday and I don’t work Fridays. But on the bad side, I have an utterly useless business casual wardrobe. I was able to buy some very lose scrub pants and I have a few loose sweaters I can wear, but they’re kind of nice, I didn’t bring and “not nice” clothes because I didn’t want to waste space in my luggage and thought I was wearing business clothes as instructed. Brooke just wears the exact same thing everyday and washes it on the weekend. I might have to do the same. I now legitimately just have one pair of wearable shoes. My black Nikes. I wear them everyday, everywhere. The other 4 pairs of business casual flats are pretty much useless, my blouses are useless, my cardigans, nice jackets, nice sweaters, all of it. Useless. Even my athletic clothes I brought for hiking is useless for work, most of it is too tight, I obviously can’t wear leggings. I got home and repacked all of the things I can’t wear. It’s almost an entire suitcase of clothes. What bothers me is that I asked multiple times what my dress code would be and asked very clearly what “business casual” meant for SA, and I was very clearly instructed to wear cute flats, slacks, blouses and cardigans. I have so many navy scrubs at home that I could have brought, loose hoodies and fleece. My old biomat uniforms look almost exactly like what the caregivers wear. There is some serious miscommunication between VAC and SACLA in terms of what interns should wear. It’s not a huge deal, I’ll be fine and just re-wear everything to work everyday. It’s just more frustration after the Airbnb frustration. There was just no need for me to bring half this stuff out here, but I was explicitly told to. And now I’m being explicitly told that its unsafe for me to wear the clothes I brought. And to add to the frustration, I can’t go to the waterfront to buy clothes at the mall, because there’s a terror threat to Americans for the next few weeks. Tomorrow I’ll wear my new scrubs (they only had a medium which is way too big, but the point is too wear baggy clothes so they’ll do), my thick headband (I wasn’t able to find a scarf in Obz), and my loose running long-sleeve with an olive coat (my white rain coat stands out too much).

            After dinner Zoe, Laney and I treated ourselves to dessert at a restaurant called Hello Sailor. I really needed that after today. It was really good. Between the frustration over bringing all the wrong things, my Wi-Fi situation, and the complete and utter shock of being in a township for the first time, I’m emotional and exhausted. Brooke said it gets a little better, but you’ll never get used to it, you’ll never cease to be shocked everyday. There’s a lot of good that can be done. They need a lot of help. I just hope that I can actually help and make a difference and not just slow them down because I’m white. It was a heavy day.

 

 

Day 6-76: The Monkey Whisperer

     So yesterday’s post didn’t make it up because my Wi-Fi went out in the middle of attempting to post it. I’m starting to get frustrated with this Airbnb situation. If paid for a listing with WiFi and a dryer, I want WiFi and a dryer (I know that it sounds like a really stupid problem, but everyone other intern in an Airbnb has both, I chose this listing because it had both, so it’s a little frustrating that I was kind of lied to).  Anyways, I met up with Zoe and Laney before orientation to get more Airtime on our phones and we walked to orientation together. Orientation wasn’t super insightful, it was only stuff about VAC, which is nice, but we’re all anxious to hear more about our actual internships. But I was able to talk to Anna and Thomas about my Wi-Fi situation. They think its impossible that I’m actually using a gig a day (I agree, its not like I’m streaming Netflix or something), and they hooked me up with a device that is also a prepaid thing, but through a different carrier and I have the ability to actually track how much data is on it so I don’t unexpectedly run out again. It was super nice and helpful of VAC to help me out. But we’ll see what happens, hopefully it goes down slower. After orientation, VAC gave us free lunch (yay free food!).

            After lunch, we all decided to go to the World of Birds, which is an animal sanctuary with a bunch of birds and monkeys that you can interact with. We Ubered over and spent a good amount of time there. It was a really cool place and they wrote a lot about how they saved the animals from either pet owners or if they were injured in the wild, but it was also kind of sad because it was over crowded and kind of run down. It was using the world “sanctuary” a little loosely and looking more like an underfunded zoo, I find it hard to believe they had that many rescue animals (and most of the animals weren’t even from Africa, most were from south America and china, so I don’t know how they “rescued” those). Honestly, I’m just not a fan of zoos, maybe I’m biased from all the conservation biology and ecology classes I had to take as a biology major, but it was a little sad in there. Plus, there was just poop absolutely everywhere, which is totally understandable for a place with millions of birds everywhere, its just gross (and smells really bad).

             I know I just made this place sound really bad, but it was totally worth it. They have this part where you go inside a cage with a bunch of little Squirrel Monkeys (these tiny monkeys the size of small cats) and you’re not allowed to reach out and touch them, but you can let them climb on you as long as you don’t put your hands on them. And apparently, I am the monkey whisperer. The monkeys literally flocked to me. At one point I had like 6-8 monkeys on me, I couldn’t even tell because they were all over my back so I had no idea. I honestly think it was my giant backpack that they liked because they were all over it. They were so freaking cute, and like super smart. They deliberately reached into our pockets and found a candy that one girl had in like a super small pocket. They were so cute. It was extra funny because it was Noelle’s idea to go to this place and she was deathly afraid of the little monkeys. It took a half hour of coaxing her to let a monkey climb on her so we could get a few pictures. It was hilarious. (PS. I don't have the pictures of me with the monkeys since other people took them, but as soon as they send them to me, I'll post a bunch. Sadly, I was not skilled enough to take a selfie with the monkeys)

            Afterwards we just got dinner at FOREX and then Laney and I went to go buy smart phones so we can Uber without Wi-Fi. Since I’m paying for Wi-Fi data anyways, might as well just use cellular data too so I can contact people from anywhere and use Uber.  If you need to get a hold of me, send me a message on facebook messenger or you can ask me for my South African phone number for WhatsApp. Tomorrow I get to meet my supervisors at the South African Christian Leadership Assembly and I think they’re taking me out to the township where I’ll be stationed. It’s going to be heartbreaking.

           

 

Day 1/76: A Series of Slightly Unfortunate, but Frustrating Enough to be Bothersome, Events

After an exhausting 28 trip and less than 3 hours of sleep, my legs were swollen and my butt was killing me, but I finally arrived in Cape Town around 9:30 PM. Getting out of the airport and to my Airbnb was super easy, my VACorps driver told be about Observatory, the area where I’ll be staying staying, and sternly warned me not to walk around the streets alone at night, good thing Uber is super cheap here. The house where I’m staying is absolutely adorable. Frances, the owner, is the sweetest lady ever. She gave me a hug as walked in and made me some herbal tea to help me sleep. My room is crazy nice. I have a huge comfy bed, a wardrobe, dresser, and a small desk. My bathroom however is… interesting. In roughly a 3x7ft tile closet, sits my shower, sink and toilet with absolutely no divider. Showering sprays down the entire room and if you turn the water on too high, it won’t drain fast enough and the entire space floods; and yes, I learned this the hard way. I’ll have to figure out some make-shift shower curtain because that’s going to get old fast. There’s also no storage space for anything, which kind of makes sense since it all gets wet, but hey, at least I don’t have to share. Besides that, everything seemed swell. I wanted to wait to unpack until tomorrow, but my OCD tendencies and urgent need for my outlet adapter (buried somewhere in my luggage) forced me to begin unpacking everything immediately. I quickly learned that my luggage was likely exposed to the rainstorm we had during my layover in Chicago because roughly a 4th of my clothes were sopping wet. I know there’s a dryer in the house somewhere, but by this time it was 11PM and I didn’t want to disturb Frances. I hung my clothes from the shower rods and towel racks and hoped they’d dry, even in the insane humidity. I found my adaptor, which I soon discovered it alone was insufficient to connect me to an outlet. It took a good 20 minutes and 4 different adaptors all stuck together to finally get power. Next adventure was the Wi-Fi. I was under the false impression that “Wi-Fi Available” meant that I got free Wi-Fi with my stay. Wi-Fi is indeed available here, you just can’t use it unless you purchase “airtime”. Airtime can easily purchased at any store, just not at 11:30 at night. You also have the option to purchase it online, but after an embarrassingly long attempt to do so, I learned that this can not actually be accomplished unless you have an account through TeleKom, but in order to make an account requires you to get online, which I could not do since that is the problem I was trying to overcome. Long story short, no Wi-Fi. I angrily got ready for bed in my surprisingly freezing cold room (apparently heaters are not a thing in South Africa), but I was pleasantly surprised as I crawled into bed as I found that Frances had placed a hot water pack under my comforter. That was a tender mercy I desperately needed after my little adventure. Unfortunately, that heat pack was not enough to keep me warm all night. I like it really warm, like 80°F warm, so a bible-sized water pack wasn’t really going to cut it for me. But I was also too cold to get out of bed to put on more clothes, I just snuggled that water pack and eventually passed out cold.