Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bloody Valentine's Day

We have been quite busy so I haven’t been able to update my blog much lately – my apologies!  In the past two weeks I have: gone through many orientation activities, visited our service sites, gone on tours, and obtained my scuba diving certification.  Our first diving experience in the ocean was just next to the pier, where we saw an octopus and a few other fish.  Bradley was our tour guide who showed us downtown Port Elizabeth as well as some townships and our service sights.  He is a mixture of black and white and many other ethnicities and he grew up in a colored township.  His had countless stories to share with us.  He also brought us to The Red Location, a museum located in the township of Missionvale.  Missionvale is one of the largest townships in South Africa and three out of every five people have AIDS.  The conditions are desperate.  It was incredibly moving and I had tears in my eyes much of the time.

The Red Location museum.

My group traveled through Missionvale on this "hakuna ma tata" bus.
Yesterday we had our second day of service learning. The fifteen or so of us arrived at Pendla to find out that all of the students had gone on a fieldtrip for the day. So, we surveyed the conditions around Pendla and brainstormed projects and activities that we can do this semester. One of the biggest projects we are looking at is getting some sort of check-out system going in the library. My aunt and uncle’s group built the library at Pendla about thirteen years ago, but it is currently not used at all by the students because the principal is afraid that if they open it up to the kids, books will be damaged or stolen. We spent much of the day yesterday organizing the teachers’ lesson books on the right side of the library. We also walked with an administrative woman named Sweetness to the public library just six blocks away from Pendla to have a look. We were pleasantly surprised to find an organized building with a separate childrens’ section, teenage section, newspaper room, and study room. It is our goal to take a few field trips to the library during our stay here.

I think that one of our biggest challenges will be making sure that we properly understand what is going on and why things are run in certain manners.  We have already misconstrued why a huge pile of broken alcoholic bottles are located right next to the kids’ playing field.  Our immediate reaction was that it should not be there so we started cleaning it up.  However, when we asked the principal, Mrs. Peters, about it she informed us that they ask people to bring their bottles to the school so that they can get money for them when a glass recycling company comes to pick them up.  This is just one example of how communication will be key in finding a mutual understanding of impending projects.  Another significant challenge we will need to keep in mind is the fact that whatever we accomplish while we are here needs to be able to easily be sustained by the employees of the school after our departure.  Because we come from such a “get it done” type of culture, it is vital that we recognize that enduring whatever projects and activities we get done here will be a huge strain on an already stressful job of the educators, who also need to have multiple other roles.

Today was our second day of class.  It was a nice day so I decided to walk to NMMU with Joe, Isaac, Sarah, and Kelsey since I hadn’t yet walked.  I was walking in the grass just next to the sidewalk so that I could chat with Joe and Kelsey when I suddenly dropped into a hole.  It was covered in grass so I did not see it.  I pulled my leg out and noticed it was bleeding quite badly.  Luckily, Isaac is an EMT so I laid down next to the sidewalk and he took good care of me.  Sarah and Joe ran a short distance to the mall to buy bandaging supplies.  Meanwhile, a couple of guys from a nearby hotel came out with an emergency medical kit.  While Isaac wrapped up my leg, I turned away due to my queasy nature.  When I looked up, I was surrounded by a rugby team making awful faces as they stared at my leg.  “Happy Valentine’s Day!” I exclaimed as they slowly continued on the path.  The two men from the hotel were nice enough to give me and Sarah a ride to the NMMU health center, where they poured iodine in the wound and were fully prepared to stitch me up right away.  As they were treating it, Sarah asked, “So… do you recommend stitches?”  The man replied with, “We don’t recommend them – we’re just going to put them in.”  Both of us were nervous about this statement.  Luckily, they couldn’t find the right materials so we told them we would seek care at a private clinic down the road.  Connie brought me to the clinic where they gave me about 20 stitches.  She was a wonderful advocate and support system – it was much like having my mom there.  A plus is that the wound is similarly shaped to the continent of Africa!

I have not had much luck on Valentine’s Day in the past either.  I wonder if it is a coincidence that two years ago on Valentine’s Day I totaled a car on my way back to CSB from a weekend at home.

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