Tuesday, March 10

Final Days Abroad

We've just finished our time shadowing careworkers in the townships. I ended up getting to know not only Beulah but also her co-worker Anthea, who together cover all of Kranshoek. Our morning routine stayed much the same, visiting patients in their homes to check blood pressure, deliver medicine, clean wounds and schedule appointments with the clinic. I've learned a large part of the careworker's role is to give the patient a sense of accountability, and by dependably visiting time and time again, proving that someone is there to help and to remind. One day we were invited to have lunch by one patient's wife; she cooked us a traditional meal, with mealie balls, fried chicken, and lots of processed snack food. We had a fascinating conversation with her and some other colored neighbors about the upcoming election, and we discovered really complex racial relations. We were at first shocked to hear them say how forcefully they resented "the blacks" and saying that apartheid was decidedly "so much better." Other excursions in Kranshoek included visiting a retirement club where the elderly members sang us songs, and when they demanded us to sing, we chose a Christmas carol. The response of the frumpy leader who'd forced us to perform was, "It's okay. In our culture it's a tradition to sing; clearly, in yours, it is not."

During the final week and a half, I took a number of photographs of them for my media project. For this month's project, I decided to work alone and initially intended to use film. I've been toting around fifty rolls of black and white film that I'd wanted to use with my simple SLR camera, which of course broke by China. Though I replaced it with an ancient $20 point-and-shoot, that camera had no controls or zoom whatsoever. Then I learned that I wouldn't be able to process and develop my film here in Plett, so I had to scrap the film idea all together. I set my camera to its black and white setting and decided to use that instead.

My media project is a coffee-table book of a series of portraits I took of the patients I knew best. Before coming to South Africa, all I knew of the AIDS epidemic were the facts, the cold, hard, immense statistics, and I wanted to give the numbers a face, show the stories of a few patients. I coupled their photos with anecdotes about their life and their illness and my interactions with them. I was hesitant at first use my camera, but after I asked, nearly everyone was pleased to have their picture taken. I got to know about a dozen patients really well, visiting them every other day. Some improved, some did not. Most of them will always be patients, suffering from chronic diseases and old age.

We presented our media projects (many podcasts, a collage, and writing pieces) to an open audience which included our host NGO and all the carers we'd been working with. The Kranshoek crew took our two care-workers out to dinner, to their favorite spot in town -- a gaudy grill chain restauranted themed on native-Americans? Good-byes were very sad, both among the patients and with Anthea and Beulah. I gave the patients extra prints of their photos and we gave the carers a framed group shot, which they insist they will sleep with under their pillows.

It's hard to believe, but our time abroad is only a week! We've got a couple days more in Plett, the chance for independent student travel. I'm staying around and volunteering at an orphanage in another township, Kwanokathula. The children's shelter, Masizami, is home to twenty-six kids. Some have been orphaned by AIDS; others have parents, but they may be mentally incapable of raising them. The shelter was pretty empty this weekend, because many of the kids were on a group outing, but we played with six or seven of them. One boy looks about seven years old. He's eleven. He lacked the nutrition early on in life necessary for development. A couple have HIV and are spindly even for little kids. On the whole, though, the kids are brilliant fun and we're having a great time with them.

The TBB group will go on a brief safari in Addo, and within a week, board a plane back to the US. It'll be bizarre to be there after six months abroad, but I'm really looking forward to our schedule. We have a number of really interesting visits in NYC and DC, with NGOs and the UN and senators. The cold weather will be a shock to our system; days here in the sun get up to nearly 100 degrees!

some of the photos from my project -