Saturday, February 19, 2011

Even Better Than the Ice Cream

We’ve now been in South Africa for a week, and so far it’s been fantastic. When we first arrived, we were bussed to a hostel/retreat-type place called Rocky Road. I don’t know if I can even describe how happy I was when I got there. Driving down the dirt driveway through pastures filled with (healthy-looking) cows, horses, and ponds, I could breathe fresh air again. Butterflies flocked around the flower bushes. I could hear birds singing. I felt like I was in heaven. Even though we had been traveling all night, Rocky Road gave us all a second wind of energy—everyone kicked off their shoes and jumped around on the grass. It got even better, as that night Mac (the owner of Rocky Road and one of the directors of Willing Workers in South Africa, the NGO we’re working with here) made us delicious hamburgers. Sorry India, I missed beef.

We were at Rocky Road from Saturday until Thursday, mostly relaxing, taking hikes to the beach, doing orientation things, and adjusting to culture shock. South Africa is such a huge change from India, but I’ll talk about that a bit more later.

We moved into our homestays in Plettenberg Bay on Thursday. Our homestays here are very different than they have been in previous countries—here, we’re divided up into only two houses, seven students in each. I’m living with McKinley, Kasha, Hannah, Maddie, Lauren, and Alex in a house owned by Bruce, a single man in his forties. Our house is so cute and perfect. We even have a pool. It’s located about a five minute walk from the main street of Plettenberg Bay, with all of its shops, cafes, restaurants, and bookstores. Plett draws many tourists due to its location right on the beach and proximity to myriad outdoor adventure activities. To get to the beach from my house, it’s about another ten minute walk from town, down a HUGE hill. It’ll hopefully get me back into mountain climbing shape for when I come back home! The food has been delicious, too. We even have salad to accompany our dinners…it’s amazing. Bruce, our host, is a really nice, incredibly interesting guy. On our first night, we all sat around the dinner table for at least two hours, talking about things ranging from racial issues to the science behind HIV/AIDS to natural plant medicines to cooking.

All of the Western conveniences we need are here—reliable showers, clean tap water, familiar food. The language barrier is virtually non-existent as well. It’s a bit odd to feel so at home, yet be halfway around the world. On the other hand, though, things are still very different for me here than at home. For example, the townships. The wealthy community of Plett is surrounded by poor, black settlements. I haven’t spent extensive time in any of them yet, but you can immediately tell the huge differences driving by. Fortunately, in this area at least, it seems that there are many initiatives coming from volunteer organizations and NGOs to provide help to these communities. I don’t know if that’s being done nationally though, or how much they are actually helping. Coming from seeing the slums in India though, I have to say that these townships were in better shape than I was expecting. We start our work in the townships on Monday, so I’ll soon be able to get a better look. For work, we’re all matched up with caregivers, either in singles or in pairs. Lauren and I are paired up and matched with Priscilla, who works and lives in the township of Kwanokuthula, which is about a ten minute’s drive out of Plett. I’m really excited to work with Priscilla or, as she told us to call her, Big Mama.

The sun is shining and I’ve got a free day, so I’m thinking I’ll go down to the beach later. Or into the pool. Or both!

I miss everyone lots!

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