Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The final stretchhhh

So I know I was super MIA those last few days in South Africa. Then I got home and was super MIA because I needed a few days to be obsessed with my family/thesis. Now I am here and prepared to update you (and writing this from the commuter rail on my way to PVD... I know. Everywhere has wireless these days.)

Even though I said I wouldn't, I ended up going to Cape Town my last few days in SA. Thank god I did. It was amazing. Having spent almost everyday since Pat left Durban (to go back to Cape Town) on the phone with Pat, I finally decided enough was enough. I needed to go to Cape Town. Plus I knew that Stru had a killer pad that I could crash at and Einat K. was also going to be there and Pat (duh) it sort of became a no brainer, I had to go to Cape Town. 

So here's the (sort of) abridged version of what happened (I can tell you the extended version over a glass of wine someday if you want to hear it):

Friday: We (me, Ryan, Teresa, and Rita) got up super early and said byebye to Durban. We touched down in Cape Town and we were welcomed by.....rain. Ew. Boo. This was not good. Cape Town is a very outdoor town, if the weather sucks then (ipso facto) your time in Cape Town sucks.

After a rainy run around the city center with Pat (doing various errands, having yummy lunch) the sky broke into blue clarity. Right as we boarded the ferry that would take us to Robben Island the sun was beginning to shine and snuggled up next to Pat (attempting to read Zulu and mostly failing) I breathed a sigh of relief.

Robben Island has had various incarnations (once it housed South Africa's leper populations, who woulda thunk it?) but the time period of interest is when Robben Island served as a prison for South Africa's political prisoners. Robben Island housed all of the anti-apartheid movement's heavy hitters (Nelson Mandele, Robert Sobukwe, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, and Jacob Zuma to name a few!) All the Robben Island tour guides are ex-political prisoners and they all still life on the island with their families (I know, heavy right?) It was such an uplifting experience to roam Robben Island and peep the amazing views of Cape Town. We even got to see Nelson Mandela's prison cell, which is pretty amazing. I'm glad we went and when we got back we got to see some chubby seals (and nothing makes me happier than chubby animals) so the day was off to a good start.

We met up with Stru (!) and he took us to see the University of Cape Town (which has the most breathtaking views and the Rhodes memorial (yes he was an imperialist, but a very very wealthy imperialist). We had some beers (well I had a strawberry daiquiri) at a place nearby, dinner, and then more drinks and then we drifted off to bed.

Saturday: Saturday we (me, Ryan, Stru, Pat, Einat) drove to Stellenbosch for the Stellenbosch Wine Festival. The only thing comparable to the beautiful countryside we drove through and the beauty of Stellenbosch is the beauty of 500 wine for the tasting and college aged people. Amazing. It was a victory of a day for a lush like me. Yum. I still salivate at the thought of all that Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Sigh. Note: Drinking at 11am into the early evening doesn't mean you don't get hungover. It just means the hangover comes at like 11pm. Lesson learned.

Sunday: Sunday was EPIC. Epic. Packed into the car with Stru, Einat, Pat and Ryan we headed out for a roadtrip along the coast. Our first stop was a delicious breakfast at Olympia Cafe where I may have had the best omelette of all time (arugula, pesto, tomato, brie) and we all gulped down lattes and cappucinos (in good company, some of Stru's wonderful college friends had come to join us). After that we were off to Simon's Town and Boulders Beach (famous for its colony of Jackass Penguins) where Pat and I sat and contemplated life on some big beautiful rocks and Einat and I bought some glorious jewelry. We headed off to the Cape of Good Hope (take a look at a map of South Africa, see that little talon-like-hook-like thing on the bottom left, that's the Cape of Good Hope. Good geography lesson, Ms. Martinez.) After gaping at the views and hunting down many a postcard we were off to Hout Bay (driving through Misty Cliffs, a cute little beach town, to get there). At Hout Bay we ate at a restaurant near the beach and watched the sunset. I am gong to publicly apologize to everyone in that car who had to deal with me when I get hungry. Not cute. Sorry guys! After stopping off for some dessert in Calk Bay, we were exhausted and ready to hit the sack. 

Monday: We woke up to hike Lions Head. If you need to know anything about Cape Town, you should know that it boasts some of the world's prettiest mountains and greatest hikes (with spectacular views). I don't have the words to describes the epic-ness of this hike so I will leave it up to the pictures (they always seem to do the trick). Also here's a quick lesson: Never hike in red skinny jeans. It's just a bad idea. And a mistake I will never repeat again. Double sigh. After that we headed to Cafe Royale to meet Pat and Einat (burgers? good. shakes? super good).

I took 200 + pics in Cape Town:

Tuesday: Back to Durban. Spent our night at MOYO with Robs, Rita, and Teresa. Man, I miss those girls. 

And by Thursday I was back in the US of A and feeling like America is fucking weird sometimes, but mostly loving the weirdness. 

Now I need to go and I'm afraid this may be the end of the blog. Thank you whoever you are for tuning in and riding this adventure out with me. I appreciate you for caring and reading this even though I'm sure it was pretty lame sometimes. 

dreaming (of more South Africa),

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What happened to me?

You may be wondering, cause like, it's been a while.

Last Thursday: Last day of work; last night out on Davenport Rd. with the lovely Robs, Teresa, Ryan, and Rita.
Last Friday: Boarded an early plane; landed in Cape Town (played with PMT, Einat, and Stru) stayed until Tuesday.
Wednesday: Woke up early, last lunch at KZNSA, boarded a series of planes (Durban --> Jo'berg--> Washington --> Boston)

25 hours later: I ended up here. Very tired and in my lovely Boston home and cruising through "Long Walk to Freedom" (oh no, have a become a walking-talking-American-goes-to-SA-cliche?!)

A more cohesive update soon to come....just thought I'd let you know that I'm like...alive.

dreaming (of more Long Walk to Freedom, mami's dinner, and constipation jokes by Jesse Martinez),

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bunny chow, Sharks, WTF am I doing in Durban anyways?, and interracial couples counting.

An assortment of unrelated events/thoughts on a lazy Sunday:

1) Yummy yummy bunny chow:
Ok so you may not know this but South Africa (Durban in particular) boasts the largest population of Indian people outside of India itself. This population is largely descended from indentured workers who were brought to South Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s to work on sugar cane plantations. Most of them never returned to India and over generations their families settled and became South African to some extent. As a result (of this messy history), Durban has some of the most delicious Indian food I have ever tasted. There is one particular specialty that Durban is known for called Bunny Chow.

 After weeks and weeks of being in Durban, we FINALLY ate some bunny chow this past week and it was quite yummy. Bunny chow is a curry (usually very spicy) that is placed inside a hollowed out bread loaf. Sort of like a bread bowl, but not. You can order bunnies of all sizes (1/3 bunny, 1/2 bunny, full bunny--depending on how many people are sharing and how hungry you are) and bunnies of all flavors (mutton bunny, chicken bunny, veg bunny, bean bunny).  This is a very spicy 1/3 mutton bunny. I needed extra extra water but man it was good.

2) Sharks v Bulls:
On Friday we went to our first rugby game: Sharks (Durban) v Bulls (Pretoria). These two happen to be rivals so we were in luck. Rubgy is pretty cool and pretty vicious and the guys are very tough. It moves a lot faster than football which was good for me. The South African version of tailgating takes place AFTER the game in the parking lots. Thankfully, the Sharks delivered a killer game. Who doesn't love a little victory?

3) Am I working in Durban or WHAT? 
So you may have noticed I have sort of avoided the topic of work and I seem to be having a lot of (maybe too much) fun in Durban. Work has been a challenge. I DO have a job, as an intern to the research cluster at the RHRU (Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit). My initial intentions were to come to Durban and spend half my time doing research on my thesis and the other half interning at the RHRU. However, the personal research never really came into fruition due to many unconnected, and unfortunate events and so I have spent 100% of my time working as a research assistant to the RHRU. 

I am currently helping on two projects. The first is the Female Condom Study, which is a qualitative project that deals with perceptions of the female condom both before and after use amongst University students in KwaZulu-Natal. Very cool study, but unfortunately the interactive parts of the study were done and the data was collected by the time I got here. In research, after interviews are transcribed and before they are analyzed, there is the long and tedious project of cleaning the transcripts (editing the transcripts and making them as accurate as possible.) Although an essential step, it is not the most thrilling of jobs and involves sitting at a desk, listening to a tape, and continuously pressing rewind, play, rewind, play, rewind, rewind, play. This has consumed a lot of my time in Durban. As a result, I know a WHOLE LOT about the female condom. Seriously if you have any questions let me know.

The other project I am working on is the Integration Study. This is a little bit more of a complicated project so I'll try not to delve into too much of the nitty gritty. Basically, the RHRU is doing a quantitative survey with various clients and providers throughout Durban on their thoughts on integrating HIV care with sexual & reproductive health care (SRH). Integration means (for example) that if a patient went to the clinic and needed family planning, but also needed STI treatment and needed to be enrolled in an ARV program they could be seen and treated by one provider for all those services in one visit. In the current public health setting in SA some clinics are already sort of doing this but most provide the three services on three different days. For example, Monday is the day to come for STIs, Tuesday is the day for family planning, and Fridays is ARVs. This makes life quite complicated for people that have to work or can barely afford to make it to the clinic once a week. It also leads to greater issues of noncompliance on ARVs, limited HIV testing, disjunction between the various services, etc. The RHRU is currently in the phase of interviewing the providers, which I have been helping with. As a result, I have been getting out the office and seeing a lot more of KwaZulu-Natal, I get to see the different clinics, and I get to actually talk to people instead of listening to a tape of other people talking to people. 

In conclusion: I'm not exactly interested in very much of this research. It is very very interesting but it is very separate from my personal interests in public health. I have tried to put this aside because I have gained a lot of important research experience since I have been here and I am sure I will use many of the basic skills learned here in the future.

If you made it through all that I guess you really do love me and care about what I'm doing. Gold stars all around.

4) Interracial Couples 
I had no idea that I was so conditioned to think multi-racially/ multi-culturally based on time spent in the states/at Brown. After what seemed like weeks of not seeing ANY interracial couples, I actually started counting the number of interracial couples spotted in Durban (count as of today: 7). I am like a freak, ogling the interracial couples but I can't help it. 7 interracal couples!? Come on! They are such a rarity here. It certainly makes me appreciate the openness and acceptance of interracial relationships at home.  

dreaming (of tonight's dinner at the only Mexican restaurant in Durban--Taco Zulu, no I am not kidding), 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Part Two: Hluhluwe/Umfalozi

The next day we headed off (very early) for an amazing day in Hluhluwe/Umfalozi Park. Inside the comfort of our rented Honda Jazz, we cruised through the park. There are so many pictures in this post and I think they can speak to the amazingness of the day with limited narrative. 

Impala: the most abundant of antelope in South Africa 

Apparently, it's really rare to see a hyena. This one crawled out of the bush and onto the road right in front of our car. It saw us, stopped and posed and then went on its merry way.

Rhino! #2 of the big 5!

Giraffe may be my favorite animal. They are so beautiful and extremely graceful for a creature whose middle name might as well be disproportionate. 

Eeek this one was so cute!

Baboon crossing!

We watched this rhino trot across the street right in front of us. It was so massive and it's horn actually made me squirm a little but man it was adorable. I guess you get caught up in how chubby and cute they are until one tramples you.

Beautiful, beautiful zebra!

Elephant! #3 of the big 5! I was ok with it being this far away. Apparently they can be quite vicious close up and personal.

Ok ok. So we didn't get to see any lions or leopards. But 3 of the big 5 in two days is pretty good. I am pretty sure my travel buddies got tired of me saying "Where are the kitties!?" throughout this trip. Sorry dudes.

What really completed the experience for me was that we were surrounded by this beautiful landscape. I have sort of become a nature fanatic over this trip. When you're in a country this beautiful, you just can't help yourself. The animals were completely serene and at peace and the park itself was absolutely amazing. Keep in mind that this is winter!

After a couple of hours of driving we decided to go back to St. Lucia and headed straight to the estuary, the proud home of a pretty beach and some fat hippos!  

The next morning we ambitiously got up to catch sunrise at the estuary. I have been seeing a lot of sunrises on this vacation and they have really put a lot of things into perspective for me. No matter how shitty things get the sun continues to rise and fall. The pure routine is ecstasy itself: no matter how bad today is the sun will inevitably go down and come back with tomorrow. Sheesh. Deep stuff.  

You know what is just as beautiful as sunrises? New friends. St. Lucia also brought (the long awaited) entry of one Mr. Patrick Martin-Tuite into my life. 

Pat is interning in Cape Town this summer and we had heard through mutual friends that we had to meet. We discovered that we were destined to be the best of friends over shared biltong pizza and sangria. You'll be hearing a lot more about Pat when I go to Cape Town (!) towards the end of my trip.

Honestly though, it's sort of been a tough week. As I look through these pictures, I can't help but smile because this is what my life is in South Africa. 

dreaming (of better weeks, biltong pizza, and seeing penguins in Cape Town),

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Part One: The Night Drive

It was a weekend of epic proportions. EPIC I tell you.

It all started on Friday. After a day of anxiousness/burning CDs (thanks homeboy) we were off to the Durban airport. We (me, Teresa (a new intern from London), and Jasmine) were about to entrust Ryan with our lives in a rented car. Usually Ivy does not worry about roadtrips but this one involved driving on the wrong side of the road (well, I guess it's the right side here but it looks SO wrong when you're driving) with a steering wheel on the wrong side of the car (eee, scary). But after a few minutes we sank into our seats, confident in Ryan's skills on the road and eased by the British voice coming from the GPS,The Beatles (Abbey Road to be specific), and the beautiful scenery.

3 hours later we arrived at our destination: St. Lucia. After checking into our backpackers (a sorry excuse for a hostel but it had running water and sheets and seriously what more could you ask for if you're paying $14/night?) and met up with our friends from the Africa Centre (the ones that came to visit us the other weekend in Durban) for dinner. After our meal we headed out to our night drive. Night drives are awesome because it's kind of REALLY hot in Africa so the animals tend to hide during the day, but just like college students they come out in masses and do it up at night. We boarded this monstrosity of a vehicle/ huge open-air 4 x 4 and greeted our tour guide, Kian.

Kian is the dude-- he literally knows anything and everything about wildlife, ecosystems, predators, plants, etc and he was HILARIOUS to boot. Man, this guy was awesome. We started our drive and we immediately knew it was going to be a cool ride. Kian sat in front and had this cool little spotlight thing that he would shine everywhere to find the animals. Within minutes he had already spotted the first little dude he would be showing us: the dwarf chameleon.  

The dwarf chameleon was so cute and Kian even let us hold it, and it just felt like having a little moving creature on your hand. Nothing too gross or scary, in fact quite comforting and I sort of want one of my own.

Now if you think that's cute then you are about TO DIE. After driving for another few seconds, Kian SOMEHOW managed to find a baby dwarf chameleon in the trees (he has to have the most incredible and sharp eye in the world). 

Soon after that it was animal after animal. Like this beautiful waterbuck.

And some waterbuck booty, which is very distinctive. According to Kian the waterbuck butt is so unique because if the animals are all out and suddenly a predator comes along then the lady bucks just chase the butts that they know belongs to their dudes. Pretty awesome.

Soon thereafter we encountered a water buffalo (!). 

You now need to learn a term: "The Big Five". 

"The Big Five" (Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard, and Black Rhinocerous) are the five most difficult animals to hunt by foot in Africa. Don't worry. I have not been hunting. The Big Five is a term used by everybody and anybody to talk about the coolest game to see (which is basically the big 5). So yay! 1 of 5 down. Sweet.

Kian described this particular buffalo as one of the old dudes, which he says sort of roam around like old bachelors together. Apparently, they are all chummy until they see a lady and then its basically each man for himself. This specific buffalo was totally at peace with us and our large vehicle. He just kept walking towards me (literally, he was on my side of the vehicle) as though he sensed my ladylike nature.  

Also, according to Kian that massive slab on skin in between the horns is 4 thick inches of forehead, ick. If this thing charges, you've got forehead to the stomach and basically you're donezos. With that thought in mind, we were off!

Next, Kian spotted a chameleon and he immediately got off to take it off its branch and bring her on board. She was bigger than the first one and super cool.

And duh. I have a weakness for babies and that includes baby animals so when Kian showed us the baby chameleon I just about peed myself (which could have been some pleasant warmness, IT WAS FREEZING).

We also saw a serval, well we mostly saw its ears, but I didn't manage to get a picture of it. But wikipedia that shit. Its mad cool.

So day 1 was down and we had only seen one of the big 5. Little did we know what was to come the next day when we drove through Hluhluwe/Umfalozi game reserve (gotta love a cliffhanger...)


until then, dreaming...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Can't get enough?

Are you itching for more? 
Is anybody reading this blog? 

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Michael Jackson, Gardens and Visitors

So many posts in so few days... clearly this is a slow week (Robyn you need to come back!)

We were really lucky to have some visitors this past weekend. 5 visitors: Eddie, Sam, and Stefanie are all MPH students at Brown and Gaargi and Lauren are grad students from Harvard. They are all working up north from Durban in Mtubtuba at the Africa Centre and they made big plans to come to Durban for the weekend. Due to the (massive) stye, I missed hanging out on Friday night. But given the hugeness of my sunglasses, I decided it was much more kosher to attend morning activities. 

So Saturday morning we met our visitors at the Essenwood Market, which is a funky market every Saturday on Essenwood Rd. There is so much delicious food, crafts, clothing, etc there and it's a fun place to roam around on a Saturday morning. 

In case you were wondering, South Africa is mourning the loss of MJ. And apparently MJ mourned lost time in SA. Also if you were wondering, I am personally mourning MJ and had a good three hour session of P.Y.T. on repeat.

We headed to the Botanical Gardens, which I will say was pretty but not that impressive. Due to inappropriate labeling techniques, it was hard to tell where we were and what we were looking at at any given time. But we did see some beautiful flowers, and what girl doesn't love some pretty flowers?


We made reservations to eat dinner at a cute little spot called Hemingway's on Davenport Rd (which has become our favorite street to go out on.) Ryan and I hit up a place called Yossi's for some pre-dinner drinks and I had A Pink Belly Dancer (Gin and tonic, mixed with apple sparking water, and strawberry juice. YUM.) We met up with the others at Hemingway's where I finally had my homojito (! Yum!) And then we headed back to Yossi's for some hookah (which South Africans call Hubbly Bubbly) and more drinks.

Sunday we suffered a double loss: Bafana Bafana lost to Spain and US lost to Brazil. Too much soccer disappointment for this girl to handle. But we went to watch the championship game at a bar and it was nice to be in a country that actually appreciates the amazingness of soccer.

dreaming (of 4th of July hotdogs)...