(Or, “Hello” in Xitsonga, one of the eleven national languages of South Africa!)
Greetings from South Africa!
We blinked and woke up in Johannesburg, South Africa on Feb 17th. Our first week in Johannesburg provided the perfect adjustment period from one extreme way of life to another. We stayed at an old seminary, which was like a little paradise tucked away in the suburbs of the industrial city. The week provided us with the historical and medical background we needed to continue onto our rural stay in Bushbuckridge, a former Apartheid homeland. The major focus of the week was to unpack Apartheid and to better understand how South Africa’s recent history contributes to the way people live today and how their health has been impacted.
After our time in Johannesburg we took the scenic 10-hour bus journey to Islington Village in Bushbuckridge where we have spent the majority of our time here in South Africa. Life in Islington was surreal and wonderful and difficult and emotional and joyous; pinching myself became a daily occurrence. To fully process all the thoughts after living there will take more time but I can certainly say it was nothing less than eye opening. Talk about perspective! It’s difficult to understand how we can be so lucky to travel the world while the people hosting me don’t even own a car or simply don’t have running water. But the kindness, happiness and generosity of our host families and their community still leave us in awe.
We arrived in Islington late on a Wednesday night. After a long day of travel the community members greeted us at the Tribal Authority, they fed us a traditional “braai,” or barbeque and then we were then paired with families. We’ve learned to put a lot of trust and faith in this program because many times we don’t know what the next minute will bring, or in this case, who we were going home with.
There were always people flowing constantly in and out of the homes freely—it was really a comforting and beautiful thing to be a part of. Although it took us a while to understand family trees, as “brother” and “sister” are used to refer to just about anyone, we quickly realized that all were equals and everyone takes care of each other. There were so many kids constantly wanting to play with us!! Playing UNO became a nightly tradition, as did tea time and “Generations,” a South African Soap Opera ha! Everyone I came across in Islington was so generous and just simply happy.
Resources in Islington are scarce but certainly stretched! Water was transported in jugs from a faucet down the street. On our way to school every morning we could see everyone already lining up to fill their jugs. Our oven was a fire pit fashioned out of clay. Water was constantly kept boiling for future drinking, or bathing, or cooking uses. While using latrines, or taking bucket showers behind a tarp, or cooking over the fire may be considered rural to us, this was a reality for many people.
In the free time that was available we took day trips to Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon, and God’s Window for some hiking and safari! Kruger National Park is a game reserve the size of Holland and our village was about 30 minutes from the gates. There we saw all of the biggest game and wildlife, including elephants, zebras, giraffes, kudu, wildebeests, vultures, impala, cheetah, African wild dogs, hyenas, and lions. Islington and the Bushbuckridge region really are extraordinarily special places, and we all feel very lucky to have been able to experience life in this context.
Our week of vacation followed our time in Islington and everyone traveled independently to Cape Town. After just one week, we all fell in love with life here. We used this week to reflect, be a tourist, and enjoy some independence. The weather was absolutely gorgeous which has allowed for a lot of adventures, highlights including Table Mountain, wine tours, Lion’s Head, Boulder’s Beach, Cape of Good Hope, among others.
So excited to make our way to Argentina tomorrow and to continue this journey to our last program site!
IHP Health & Community, Spring 2015 Track II