Saturday, February 21

Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

The end of our time in Thailand also marked the end of nearly four months in south-east Asia; I think the group was ready for a change. Our trip continued to our final country abroad, South Africa, via a grueling fifty-nine hour, six-flight, epic journey. Of all the countries we've visited, I think South Africa was the one I pictured least in my head. I really had no idea what to expect, and there will be a lot to learn here.

We're staying in Plettenberg Bay, a coastal town on the southern shore of the Indian Ocean (!) It was chosen because of it's safety relative to larger cities, and it's this bizarre mixture of different racial and socio-economic groups. Initially, it comes across as a hugely tourist town, attracting affluent visitors during it's summer months (December and January) and Main Street is full of expensive beachy boutiques. But there's also a predominantly black section of town with wholesale discount stores.

We're staying in a hostel - taking it over, really. The boys and the girls each have their own dorm room, and it's already quite crowded for nine girls to share a single toilet and shower. But there's really nice communal space, with couches, a pool table, and a beautiful balcony that overlooks the ocean, where we eat our meals. It will be a welcome change to trade our savory rice breakfasts for yogurt and muesli and fruit! Best of all, we have access to the small kitchen, and the supermarket in town is well-stocked, so we can cook just about anything we've been craving.

Our curriculum focus here in South Africa will be public health. We'll be working with an NGO called PlettAid, a home-based care service for 250 impoverished patients in the townships surrounding Plettenberg Bay. 40% of the patients (as opposed to 27% in the region) are HIV-positive; many have tuberculosis, disabilities, terminal illnesses. In groups of two, we'll be shadowing a care worker on her daily routine for three weeks. PlettAid has asked us to help by giving an evaluation of their organization's services to the patients we meet. Work will start on Monday; I'm partners with Zach.

So far we've spent our days meeting with PlettAid and visiting various townships. They're not at all what I expected, somehow rather than the quintessential images of poverty I pictured, they seem more spread out, and in between different towns lie beautiful green pastures. Also, it finally occured me why the town scene is particularly striking: not a single building exceeds one story, and telephone wires tower high above. It gives the appearance of being vastly flat and expansive.

It's nice to be so close to the beach -- a ten or fifteen minute walk. It's undoubtedly a gorgeous spot, but there's a lot more to be seen. I suspect our perception of Plett will change a lot as we begin to work with the carers.

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