The other day I sent an email to 30 or so friends and family members who have been asking me what is it that I am doing out here. It was interesting to see who responded. It’s always interesting to see who makes an effort to keep in contact while you’re traveling. Traveling can be lonely, especially when you do it alone and for a long time – I think people often underestimate that. Yes, traveling is a damn fun, incredible, privilege. But that does not mean is doesn’t come with i’s own challenges.
Anyways, I figured I would write a blog post about what I’m doing, answering some of those questions, and adding a little sprinkle about my time here so far.
Fair warning: the blog is long. But I think it’s worth it. Yeah, yeah, get over myself. But actually, most of the blog isn’t about me.
Just read it.
Q: What are you doing out there?
A: I am volunteering with a NPO called Silethokuhle Foundation. I am living on a private game reserve called Kube Yini. Silethokuhle serves the community of Ngwenya, which is about an hour up the mountain. The community is incredibly beautiful: the location, the people, the animals, the culture. If you ask Christa what her goal is with Silethokuhle, she will say “To bring themba to the community”. Hope.
Q: How do you pronounce that?
A: Ok, the ‘th’ is just ‘t’, the ‘k’ is ‘g’ and the ‘hle’ is a sort of hissing/whistle sound; a histle, if I may.
Q: Ok, but like, what are you doing?
A: The Foundation has several running projects and mostly I will be helping with strategic planning – making sure there is a plan for the Foundation and resources aren’t stretched too thin. I studied nonprofit management this past year so I think I have a lot to offer her on that front. I’ve already given her a 7 page document that I created to kick things off – just need to get her to look at it now. I am also going to be helping with the projects themselves, mostly in the form of program evaluation – both qualitative and quantitative. This means finding ways to measure the impact and effectiveness of the foundation’s programs and looking for ways to improve them and get money to run them.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I work out, do yoga, run, read, write, meditate, watch TV, go for walks, cook, sing, dance. Almost all the same shit I do for fun at home, I just can’t really go anywhere which is hard.
Q: How long will you be there?
A: I could get a 90-day visa easy-peasy so I am here for about 11.5 weeks. I have 9 weeks left. You all better come see me in Madison when I get back, I ain’t playin’!
Q: How did you find out about the opportunity?
A: I didn’t. I created it.
Q: Do people speak English?
A: Yes. But I don’t speak Zulu! So, I am trying my best to learn some while I am here.
Q: Hella death heat?
A: Nah, hella freezing winter.
Q: Do you like it there?
A: I love it. Its challenging at times, but I am so grateful for the opportunity. I know that the experience I am having now will be instrumental in shaping my future.
Q: BUT WHO IS WATCHING THE BABIES??
A: I have a wonderful cat-sitter named Nicole living in my house with the girls this summer. She is a friend of a friend, we met a few times before I left, including having her over to meet and play with the girls. I don’t wanna talk about it anymore, I miss them terribly.
Here are some pictures.
I have learned quite a few things in the two weeks that I have been here:
- It’s ok to slow down on your run, especially when the big daddy giraffe is 20 feet away, watching you.
- It’s ok to walk on your run, especially when a herd of wildbeast is running next to you.
- It’s totally ok to completely abandon your run when there are 4 baboons, as tall as your waist when they’re on all fours, blocking the road and making intense eye contact with you (I swear there’s a gang of baboons here plotting against me).
- I love zebra.
- I like keeping up with the Kardashians on Sunday evenings while eating my beef stew and rice.
- Hyenas sound like a Family Guy character watching a naked woman get out of the shower.
- The mouse that lives in my house is completely immune to traps and poison – he likes to eat avocado, raw beets, and papaya.
- I love all the lizards that live in my house and eat all the bugs and spiders.
- I really really really hate lizard poop.
- I like to cook! I mean, if I don’t then I don’t eat.
- Yoga on my deck as the sun rises followed by a hot cup of jasmine green tea is literally the best way to start my day.
- Zulu is a beautiful language, especially in song.
- Silethokuhle Foundation is really important.
- Forgiveness and compassion go a long way.
- My family and my friends are my most valued treasures.
- Heartbreak can be just as powerful as love.
- Loving someone takes a lot of courage, especially when they don’t want to love you back.
- People are really, really amazing.
- And resilient.
- And good.
- People are damn good.
I’m not going to tell you about my first Zulu birthday party and how surprised everyone was to see me shakin’ my groove thang, or when I was woken up at 6:30am and told I would be the MC at a college learners’ debate about polyandry that morning (why they chose the American to announce all the leaners with Zulu names, I have no idea), or about my long silent drives with Khulekani. Those things are all just normal, day in the life, type things.
But I will tell you about Nkiza. My home visits to see their patients. Being shown a very different normal, day in the life, for hundreds of Ngwenya community members. Nkiza is a community grown NPO that focuses on HIV/AIDS healthcare and awareness. They have 16 or so volunteers, caregivers, who visit as many patients as they can each day. The caregivers don’t have transport and so many of them spend hours walking each day to visit their patients. Some of them help take care of young children while they are there. Some do laundry, cooking, cleaning. Some just come and visit and keep the patient company.
I don’t really know what to say. How do you describe perhaps the most humbling day of your life? I think, maybe, with pictures.
*I am intentionally leaving out some details of each patient out of respect. I am not sharing any of this information with any intent other than to promote the work and dedication of Nkiza. All pictures were taken with permission.
This is Betsy. She is 78. She is scared, living alone. It’s difficult for her to do her cooking and cleaning. She has no transportation to the only clinic in Ngwenya, which is several miles from her house. She needs a wheelchair but needs assistance to use it due to the rocky, dirt roads and rolling hills in the community. She can’t go to the store to buy food on her own.
This is Mgabadila. He is 80 years old. He recently had a stroke. When we came to greet him, he was sitting in the grass, beating a stick against his shoes. There is no one here taking care of him. His daughter lives and works in Durban, which is 3 hours away. His wheelchair is old and barely functional. He is supposed to take medicine every day, but he can’t afford it. He is hungry.
This is Elda. She is in her 60’s, and while no one is helping to take care of her, she is taking care of two small children. We met her sitting on the side of the road. She must have heard the truck in the area and knew we were making home visits today. We came to greet her on the side of the road. She was crying. She’s sick. She’s hungry. She can’t take her medicine because she doesn’t have enough food to eat. We all sat with her a bit while she cried, holding her hand and trying not to cry ourselves.
This is Wenziweyinkosi Duze. I don’t know how old she is, but she is a grandmother to many children. She often takes care of them by herself. She is also sick. One of the children is sick too, but they haven’t been able to take her to the doctor, so they aren’t exactly sure what’s wrong with her.
This is Dorrica Fakude. She is 81. When we came in the late morning, she was still in bed. She has trouble with her eyesight. I’m not sure she can see at all. She has diabetes and needs to take insulin twice per day. She can’t walk because of the pain in her feet. She is living alone and it looks like she needs help taking care of herself and her home.
This is Vainah Mngomezulu. She is 56. She is lucky to have someone taking care of her every day while she is taking care of an orphan. She has diabetes and high blood pressure, taking insulin once per day. Her caretaker needs gloves and a container to properly dispose of used items. She also cannot always take her medicine because she doesn’t always have food to eat.
This is just a brief glimpse into the work that Nkiza does with hundreds of patients, 90% of whom are HIV positive. What else can I say? Spending the day with these women, men and children was just incredibly humbling. This is the life they live every day. Hungry. In pain. Scared. Alone. Sick. Every day. And the volunteers who take care of them…onomusa.
In the almost three weeks that I have been here I have had to see a doctor, never mind for what. I went to the clinic in Mkhuze, which is a town. I assume the town clinic I went to is more expensive than the rural community clinic. Anyways, the consultation with the doctor and my prescription of 20 pills cost me 330.00R. That is $25.60 USD.
I don’t know how much diabetes insulin, HIV medication, high blood-pressure medicine, gloves, adult diapers, glasses, wheelchairs, or sanitary containers cost here. But I am sure they are not much more than my own doctor visit and prescription.
What fucking kills me is even the patients who do have medicine can’t take their medicine when they need to because they don’t always have food to eat.
Ukuphila Kunzima. Life is difficult.
Twenty. Five. Dollars.