Recently in Alexa Nelson Category
I've done quite a lot of things since my last blog. V&A waterfront where they have Two Oceans Aquarium. It is named as such because it has creatures from both the Atlantic and Indian ocean (I believe). It was amazing!!! You all know what a fish geek I am, so I obviously had a fab time. I saw a cuttlefish, an octopus, a angler fish, and tons of others that I've never seen before. We took a ferry to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was in prison for over 20 years. The stories the guides told us were pretty intense, but sprinkled with humor. No matter how much I learn about it, the horrors of Apartheid still floor me.
Been back to the townships a few times. One of the things we did was walk around Delft and visit with sick patients. The first patient I saw was a 20 something year old boy who had a mental disorder and a physical one, they said it was something to do with epilepsy. The house was pretty nice, compared to others I've seen, but still very small. The boy we visited was laying on a bed, in a tiny room, wearing only a diaper. He was literally the skinniest person I have ever seen, and it was hard for me to understand how he was even alive. You hear the expression skin and bones, but that's the first time I've ever actually seen it. His mom and the people who cared for him were super nice though, and didn't seem down about their situation. We also met a woman who was HIV positive, and she was very friendly and welcoming. We did a bit more physical work today, which felt kinda nice.
We've also been to Table mountain, which is a flat topped mountain in the middle of Cape Town, and we rode a Cable car to the top. Beautiful isn't even an adequate enough word to describe this place. Like the educo retreat, I felt so peaceful, and at home when I was up there. I love the mountains so very much.
But possibly the best day I've has so far was the wine tour we did yesterday. I went on this tour because I heard we would get to see cheetahs, and didn't really care much about the wine... However, when we first arrived, we went to a place that had many animals, a room full of butterflies, duikers (look like baby antelopes), meercats, monkeys, iguanas, beautiful exotic birds, turtles, and lots of other creatures. There was actually one monkey, called a marmoset, who crawled all over me, and let me pet him. He was so cute! After that, we went to 3 wine farms, and saw some really pretty vineyards. I tasted a lot of wine and cheese, and learned more about wine than I ever have in my life. It was actually really fun! Last stop was the cheetah place! We were only allowed to touch their backs and their sides, but we got to pet one adult cheetah (Joseph), and two cubs! There will be plenty of pics when I return. This place also had wild dogs, foxes, and probably other animals, but I didn't have time to see them all. I did, however, get the opportunity to play with baby owls, and hold an adult one :)
For the past couple of days, we have began some really challenging work here in South Africa. We have started to go to the township, Delft and attempt to help the people of Afrika Takkun, which is an organization put together to work with the community of Delft. For those of you back home who I have not explained it to, "townships" are the poverty stricken areas that many blacks and coloureds were forced to relocate to during Apartheid. There are still an overwhelming amount of people living in them, and most of them live in shacks made out of tin and wood, while some have small concrete/brick houses. The first day we went to Delft, we visited a health care clinic, which was an especially moving experience for me. One of the first rooms we visited held several bedridden patients; only they did not have enough beds, so some were placed on mattresses on the floor. We also walked through the HIV, tuberculosis, and womens/maternity clinics. We had to squeeze through the hallways where dozens of patients were sitting along the walls, with little stickers on their hands, indicating their place in line. I felt so terrible; I can't even imagine how long these people have to wait. I have often complained about the long wait times in the emergency rooms at the States, but after seeing all those patient people who were suffering from diseases I will probably never encounter, I don't think I ever will again. I was more aware of the lighter color of my skin, and my American privilege than I ever have been; walking down those hallways I felt like an awful tourist, gazing at a zoo exhibit. However, I did meet one of the most inspirational people, Sister Kiewiets, who was giving us the tour of the clinic. This woman works so hard at that clinic, selflessly giving her time to those who would not be able to afford a "regular" clinic. She was an amazing woman!
Other than the clinic visit, we have helped Afrika Tikkun by pulling weeds from their garden, and visiting homes of people who live there. Everyone at home knows that I'm not the biggest fan of kids, so I didn't get an extra charge from being with them, like many of my cohort did. I could not help but feel saddened about the poor conditions these people were living in, the smells, the cramped spaces... and the animals. Seeing the dogs and cats of Delft broke my heart; many of them were emaciated, and I saw some with lesions who looked ill. The hardest part was that I was not allowed to touch them, because they are known to carry diseases. I just wanted to give them a little attention, and a lot of food. Though I know that we were appreciated for being there, I still felt completely powerless to do anything to help.
However, as Liz (one of the lovely women who work for Afrika Tikkun) reminded us, its not all doom and gloom. We have to remember that though the conditions may look terrible to us, many of the people living there seem genuinely happy. I saw their eyes light up in a way that I've not seen in most Americans. So, I am trying not to pity them, though it may be difficult for me. I am learning a lot here, and I appreciate what I have more than ever. Though I may be a poor college student at home, I am wealthy here. I am grateful to have my health (well mostly, lol), an opportunity for education, and my friends, family, and pets. I realize there are some material things that I can live without, and you don't have to have any money to be happy.
In addition to the townships, we've also visited the slave lodge, the district six museum, Desmond Tutu's cathedral, and lots of other interesting places in town. Combined with our social justic classes, I feel so inspired, and a bit confused about what to do with my life. I can't believe I only have about a week left here. Though I miss you all back home, I don't want to leave Africa, and I would absolutely wish for anyone to be able to have this experience; I am so grateful.
Alexa Nelson 1-2-12
I apologize to friends and family who I have not been in contact with since I've been in Africa, but, to be honest, I'm super busy here allll the tme. It's beyond amazing :) I will try to buy some more air time for my phone so I can call some of you. But, just know that I am safe and happy.
Since I've been here, we've been so many great things, but my absolute favorite was the Educo retreat we went to in Groot Winterhoek. We went way up in the mountains and camped in these little cabins. We went hiking, swimming in a water hole in the mountain, had bonfires, and ate all of our meals together around a big table. Its difficult to explain how fantastic this experience was, but I met some new people who were great, and I have never felt more close to nature than when I was there, sitting on a rock, watching the sun set over the mountains. I promise I will bring pictures back with me, but the internet is different here, and I'd rather just wait until I'm home for most of them. Until then, here is one of me hiking in the mountains.
New years eve was also a fabulous experience, as everyone went in the street for the count down, and immediately began hugging and shaking hands with anyone nearby, wishing them well for the new year. I would love to write more about the minibuses, and the markets, and everything else I'm seeing, but I'm afraid I'm quite tired, and have a long day tomorrow. For now, lets just suffice to say that I believe this is the most beautiful place on this earth.
Miss you all
Reading the description of the course, certain phrases struck a chord with me: "Their story of overcoming Apartheid is unfinished yet their spirit to endure is essential to our understanding of human possibility," "forgiveness," and "moving forward." I knew little of the story of Apartheid, but I have come to learn more about it in these past few months, and I am now excited to meet the people who have overcome such a tragic time. I think I will have a lot to learn from them, as I too have been through some difficult times (which pale in comparison to the struggles of the people of South Africa.) I absolutely adore listening to the stories that people have to share about their lives, and I tend to always see a thread of commonality in everyone that makes us intrinsically human, which I will be searching for in South Africa. I feel that us citizens of the United States have so much to learn from non-Western cultures; we are not the only beings on this planet and I believe there is more to life than we see here in our consumer-driven society. It is easy for me to read about non-American countries, and learn in classes about non-Western cultures, but I know it will be life-changing to immerse myself in another country.
I can't say that I'm not apprehensive about this trip at all. After all, I will be going to another country for the first time, for three weeks, with people who I have only met a few times before. However, the nervousness hasn't really sunk in yet. Right before I leave, I have had to finish up finals, and finish applying for grad schools. This is one of the most stressful times of my life, and its hard to feel worried when I have so many other things going on. South Africa will be a welcome "break" from my hectic life here in Minneapolis, and from what I know of the people I'm going with, they are awesome. Honestly, the biggest thing that's bothering me right now is that I will be leaving my pets, and my boyfriend, Corey. This is the longest I will have ever been away from my cat, Distance, since she was born, and Corey tells me she often sits by the door and waits for me to come home from work.
(This is her)
I think I am just rambling at this point; I always do that when I am faced with the task of writing a blog. I want to leave some final words to my friends and family: I know you are worried about me, but I am going to be okay. Others have made the trip before, and survived. I am extremely excited to be able to participate in this wonderful opportunity, and I know I will bore you with many stories on my return.