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29.7.08

South Africa: without access

posted by Brett - he traveled to South Africa during July and August of 2008 for hands-on experience in public health, one of his concentrations at NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study

So I just got back from Durban in KwaZulu Natal, one of the other 8 provinces in South Africa. We spent our time doing a ton of stuff.

The first is that we drove for a few hours and arrived at Hlabisa Hospital, a pretty comprehensive medical facility, but it is still lacking in a lot of resources. We sat with the hospital manager and the head nurse for pediatrics and maternity. We then walked around to some of the wards, specifically the children's surgery ward. Apparently one of the patients there was also there last year. It has become a bit more of a facility for housing kids that are chronically ill or have been orphaned. The whole hospital has maybe 8 doctors. Clinical Nurse Practitioners are really heading a lot of the efforts there. One little boy was asking us in Zulu to gather around and put our hands in a pile and then he started chanting and praying. He felt like he needed to pray for us.

We slowly moved out of the hospital. It was a weird circumstance to be there and not be able to put in any effort towards helping or facilitating or anything.

We drove directly to a rural township in Hlabisa and hung out for about two or three hours with a bunch of kids from the village. They were ranging in age from 3 to 18 and then there were a handful of grandmothers and some older men around, as well. After some performances, some greetings, some minispeeches, and more, we sat down to this killer dinner. They had cooked some meats, some sausages, these unbelievable beans, fried pap, ah so good! We wound up he meals, and followed a few family members up this big-ass hill, crazy dark out, and wandered onto the families' respective compounds. Since 18 year-old males cannot live in the house proper, two-bedroom huts are built for them and usually their brother(s). That is where Drew and I stayed. We walked around with 3 of the guys in the family we were staying with, who were all in high school. Eventually Drew and I were off to bed and tried to sleep through the squaking geese. The rooster started crowing around 5:00 or 5:30, so we got up and wandered into the main house. There, two of the older women had prepared our baths: two wide buckets, shallowly filled with about two inches of hot water. They handed us each a buckets and bar of soap. So we headed back to out rooms and did our thing.

We brought back the buckets and were handed glasses of water for brushing our teeth, so we did and again came back to the house. Then breakfast. The women sat us down in the livingroom, and one said, here is some porridge, and sugar, and here's some warm milk. So we took the porridge (Corn Flakes), and poured the warm milk over it. So good, yo. Add sugar, and that's something special. Then they brought out glasses of hot water and instant coffee (basically instant is that standard in South Africa, and filter is only occasionally found) and then the main breakfast. They had cooked fried eggs, bacon (which is usually cooked less here than in the states and is a lot thicker) and some cooked tomatoes. They gave us a bunch of buttered bread, and we started eating. I was so full by the end, but it was delicious! It really was clear that they had gone above and beyond their usually means for us and we are unbelievably grateful for their generosity. We stuck around, talked with these three grandmothers (as the guys and girl had left for school around 6:00) and had some pictures. We then walked down to the area where we had been dropped off the day before and met with our classmates and other people from the village. I handed over my cameras to a girl who was maybe 3 and she just tooled around with my film and digital cameras. She figured out how to view, shoot, and display the images without me doing anything.

We left for the school where the 5th, 6th, and 7th graders performed traditional Zulu dances and songs. They were unbelievable. I was sure that I didn't have Jaclyn's voice recorder with me, and I was wrong, I found out yesterday, but I did get some pretty good pictures. We then went into the classrooms and we asked them questions, they asked us, apparently one ground even held a miniclass on volume and area, etc. When we were getting drilled with questions, I was consistently asked if I was a rock star. Then asked about all of my piercings. But the best was when a boy asked about my tattoos and I explained them to him and the class, and then he raised his hand again and said that God doesn't like it when we "write on our bodies." To which I had no other explanation than, "I know..." Do Cooper followed up with a concise and PC explanation of the differences in beliefs.

I was given a Polaroid camera by the professors and went to every table to get their pictures and class pictures of each of the grades (it was a 4 room school house with about 40-60 students in each of the 3 classrooms). For a bunch of them, this may be the only picture that they have of themselves. They went apeshit for pictures. They loved seeing them in the digital cameras and they were always grabbing at them and it almost become violent the way they kids were trying to cram in front of the lens.

The process was hard as we slowly pulled ourselves out of the mix and into the cars. We drove to St. Lucia, a suburb of Durban, and headed immediately for a croc and hippo tour. We saw crocs and hippos and birds and tons of vegetation and were on a boat and the skipper spoke about five languages. We were exhausted so it was like, Whateva.

Then for the next few days it was safari. It was two days in a game park and one day in a wetland. We then flew back to Cape Town yesterday, and here I am. So much stuff. It was unreal. The pictures are the only way to get across some of the weight of what we were seeing and doing.

Anyways, that be it. Ciao for now.


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2 comments:

@ 10:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brett,

Interesting: "The pictures are the only way to get across some of the weight of what we were seeing and doing."
A few weeks ago you questioned whether photography was even a medium that was capable of transferring your feelings in a meaningful way. I am glad that you are finding photography suitable at least for these purposes. I am sure that these photos will scream with emotion.
Dad

 
@ 1:24 PM, Blogger Jacqueline said...

Rock star! That's the best.

I find your response to the comment about body art interesting--how the belief of another person can seem entirely true and plausible in that moment. Also I wonder what is their religion?

 

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