Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ubuntu Philosophy

This week is bittersweet. Saying goodbye to friends is rough. It seems like we are just getting to know each other. And the way of life. These days I am studying for my last test, on Friday. Been wrapping up all the last minute details around leaving, finances through the school, packing, clearing out the room. Man, we are getting so used to how it all goes, here. Even the slow pace of walking has caught on with me, the "Howsit?!" greetings in the hallways, the little things that make the big impressions. The time people spend with one another. There is soo much socializing. And while I think part of it is how I choose to spend MY time, as compared to Berkeley, for example, I think a big part of it is the spirit of African community. It is everywhere. Support for one another is embedded in every action, it seems. People hang out all the time. You do laundry together. You sit outside not even talking, together. You cook together. You walk each other to the store. All these actions stem from the philosophy of Ubuntu. The ideas of respect and care and value for others (aside from the issues I have previously described related to criminal violence, ironically...) add up to strong sense of community. Ubuntu is a term derived from the Bantu language. To try to summarize the concept, I have cut and pasted some words by the famous archbishop, Desmond Tutu, known especially for his anti-apartheid efforts in the 80's.
“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity."

To wrap things up: I won't be writing on the blog much more, because I will be in transit more than usual. But still checking emails.
If you were wondering, the Comrades winner this year finished in something like 5 hours 23 minutes and 26 seconds.
The exchange rate has dropped tremendously since we arrived in January. It is now under 8 rand to the dollar. We are trying to tell ourselves that we just got lucky in the beginning!
What else?!
I am excited to go off travelling, and will look forward to catching up with you in July :)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Warm Winter

I am uploading a picture from surfing in Durban last week and then another photo I got from a friend, when we were setting up a science experiment for the kids at the Ubuntu Center.

A really pleasant day out today, maybe in the late 70’s, and it is just about winter! If I have failed to mention in the past, the climate here is: wet summers, dry winters --- I was pretty surprised, among other things, to step off the plane in January and be welcomed by thunderstorms. But now it's all paying off cause winter is alright.
Two exams down, two to go. It is sad saying goodbye to friends I have made in class. Some people have been at home for the last week or so, and are just returning the days of their exams, so, we say goodbye upon finishing the test. And then there are the friends in the dorms, we still see each other all this week, but, man Friday is coming up fast.
Last Wednesday we went out to watch the big soccer game (Barcelona beat Manchester) at a local bar. It was packed! Soccer is everywhere here. Really gearing up for 2010. It is not like the sport isn’t already incorporated into the cultures around here, I mean kids are always kicking around a ball, and adults are pretty into it. There are some weirdly obsessed individuals, in fact. But that is besides the point. The sport is up there on a pedestal right now because the country is going to be hosting the games next year, about this time. Therefore, games on TV, no matter who is playing, are Must Sees. That said, Wednesday’s game was, well…hyped up. But my friends and I are into the karaoke Wednesday nigths...so we balanced our time (photo).
Thursday was a study day. And on Friday I wrote the Virology test, and then gave a presentation. Both of which went alright. It was neat to hear all the other students’ presentations but the whole thing took more than 4 hours and we didn’t break in between anywhere! The presentations were all about our community service and individual research projects. Many people, myself included used powerpoints—but the power outlets didn’t work, so we had to just show off of a laptop, not the same. I was impressed that our professor managed to stay seated in the same chair that whole 4 hours! I was getting antsy.
Saturday we hung out around here then studied at a local coffee place, Bread Ahead, probably go back there today, in fact. The owner is a nice guy, he's always there. They make all the pastries you could ever dream of.
So that leaves me at today, Sunday. Still thinking about saying the goodbyes on Friday. Can’t believe it is so soon.
I am going to be traveling (with two other friends) a little bit after the exams period: to Kruger Park, then to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, then to the Okavango River, where it floods the Kalahari Desert, then to the sand dunes in Namibia, and a couple big cities, like Windhoek. I will fly home from JoBurg on the 2nd of July. If you have suggestions about anything, parks to see or cities to hit, please don’t hesitate to send a note: shellbell@berkeley.edu

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Crime and Violence

It is Wednesday, time is flying by. I have mostly been studying virology, and writing a paper about crime in KwaZulu Natal. the paper is for my service-learning (Poli Sci) class. We were allowed to research pretty much any topic related to policy in South Africa, and initially I was going to write about health care, but after observing in the hospital a couple weeks ago I realized that the root of a lot of the problems that came in to the hospital, was criminal violence. So I wanted to learn more about why there is so much of it, or even if there is all that much, compared to the past years. So far, the conclusions I have drawn are that the government transformed their approach from crime control to crime prevention, in 1996, with the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS). This strategy also outlined other goals for the country, like better communication between different tiers of govt. and authority, and trying to portray a more accurate account of crime and violence in South Africa (to the Int'l community)-so as not to scare people, but to still be honest. The strategy highlighted the importance of incorporating the issues of crime and violence within other social reform and development initiatives, so as not to isolate the problem as something that could easily be fixed from one angle (like using only the police to fight crime, or placing all the money to carry out crime prevention in one area of the budget). By considering other social factors, like education and poverty alleviation, the NCPS is a farther sighted and more comprehensive measure when compared with other policies and agendas the country has tried to use. The NCPS has been faithful at reviewing it's accomplishments and failures, so that is good, too. All in all, crime and violence is still a problem here, while the stats say some incidences are on the decline, the daily news and stories from people still make the place out to be "dangerous". But, I guess compared to the late 80's and early 90's it is a dream.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Study Break

Above, photos of "Agric" part of campus, where my classes are, the natural and biological sciences. We have a pretty nice area of campus. And then a I am putting up a picture from the third floor of the building, too, sometimes we chill on the roof before class starts and look out at the farm area in the distance...that is about all that you see in the distance. This is the week we get off between attending classes during the semester and writing exams which contribute a significant amount to our class mark. My tests are the 29th (one written, one submission), the 1st (written), and the 5th (one written). This week is genius because there is not pressure, it is just expected that you will choose to study more often than not…So, that is what I have been doing, along with cooking, and chilling out. A couple highlights of the last couple days (you know, the stuff besides studying virology and the such in my dorm room…):
Thursday was spent with some friends, just hanging out, studying a bit. Did some music swapping, really exciting to get new South African pop music, actually.

We went to Durban for the day on Friday, did a bit of shopping in the Indian (actually this would describe a large portion of Durban) part of town, Victoria St. Market and Workshop (Photo here of Kerry and Laurin at the Workshop area). In the afternoon, I went the beach with the intention of watching my friend learn to surf, but I ended up thinking, that is sooo easy, I could do that…so, I did try to surf, and man was that tough, frustrating! It was not till I got off the waves that I realized it IS really a cool thing to do. Just you and the natural tide, each wave is different so you never get bored. No boat needed (like waterskiing!!!), no snow needed (snow boarding), all you need is a board and the ocean, peaceful.

Last night We went to The Royal Show, past the main part of down, in the city showgrounds. It was like a county fair, it is going on all this week and last night was like the opening show night, a few opening bands performed then the headliner, Prime Circle came on (they are the hottest band here in South Africa and apparently one of their songs just went International, listen for it J ). Have to say, not my kind of music, punk-rock, but it was a cool experience to see how South Africans celebrate their music. Show aside, the fair grounds were fun, lots of advertising, lots of high school kids, a few rides, a few festive food stands, and during the day the shows range from cattle and horses and dogs to motorbikes jumping cars. After the show, the after party was at the local dance club, Crowded House, and that was jam packed with better music and dancing.

This morning, Sunday the 24th, was the Comrades Marathon, which has been going on for decades, it is a foot race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, each year the direction alternates. This year it began here and ended in Durban. It is something like 55+ miles, more than twice a marathon!! And people actually finish, a whole lot of people in fact. This morning we walked down to town and saw the start, at 5:30AM. My friend Laurin joined in and ran the first 10k and back for fun. It was incredible to watch, 15,000 people went by, which took about 10 minutes, and that was at the start line! On TV we watched as the first runners came in, at 5 hours and 30 minutes or so, the female winners (for the last 6 of 9 years, in fact) were a pair of twins from Russia (32 yrs old). People come from all over this week to enter in this marathon. People do die from running it. Crazy. By the way, a lot of people just take it ‘easy’ and walk a good portion of it, just to say they did it, it takes them more like 11+ hours. It would be cool to say I did it someday. It is a big deal around here, there are many people that have done it for 15+ years, like addicts! But I say good for them. After watching the start this morning I went back to sleep for a while and studied more. Then my friend Mosima and I tried to imitate our favorite curry place’s food, we made our own bunny chow and I gotta say we were so excited--And Mosima loves taking pictures, so we can brag, basically, and well I have included a fair share of the photos...Good as the curry place in town, if not better. It was like a chicken curry stew we made, hot and spicy with veggies in it, then we scooped it into quarter loaves of bread and ate up. Mosima makes a good stew—she’s writing up the recipe for me to take back.

Alright, back to studying for us, there is a building on campus open 24/7, so as it is now past midnight, that is where we are headed to read for a while. And tomorrow, who knows? maybe some more studying?! And get the final results of the Comrades Marathon...how many people made it to the end? How many people made it under 8 hours? Ya, should be interesting news. To be honest, watching it on TV is like as exciting as the Olympics, at least the first few batches of people who are running all out...then the walkers are not as neat to watch, but still incredible to believe these people went so far in one day. Oh, and my friends recently told me that the marathon was started to commemorate the victims of WWII. It has been going on for 80 plus years. It supposedly is the worlds longest and oldest run!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Last day of classes

Wednesday. Sunny out, going to a luncheon put on by some Food Management students in my Agric Dept. There is a luncheon or two a month, where the students have to prepare a themed, three course meal for 40-50 people, plan, write menus, purchase, cook, and serve, all for a grade. I am excited to see how it goes, it will be the first one I have attended. The theme is Mexican, I am curious how well they pull it off. Already saw some decorations...

Today is the last day of classes and then we have a study week, in preparation for the big exams.

I am posting some pics of the rural area outside of Pietermaritzburg that I have visited several times with a woman, Sanele, who, is like our equivalent of a social worker, she goes out most days and checks on people who are on ARVs and makes sure they are taking them, asks them about how things are going, and just takes tabs on quite a few of the people in the community. I asked one family if I could photograph them, and the daughter was ecstatic, so, I will put that photo up too.

This area is called Buffa, and most of the houses are government build/provided, and date back at least 5 or 10 years. It is very different from the suburb area campus is in (Scottsville). And then I have a picture from when I went out with two of my friends, B and Mosima, from the dorms on Friday, to Lizard Rock, a bar/dancing place close to campus.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

SOPD, Edendale Hospital

SOPD (Surgical Outpatient Department) is where Dr. Ndaba works. This is like ER. The hospital is so big that their 'ER' is divided into many different sections, all ending in OPD. So there is Medical OPD, for example, too, and it takes different patients from SOPD. SOPD takes any severe trauma emergencies which could go on to surgery. I was just starting to understand the set up by the end of the day. Observing in SOPD was really fascinating, we saw a number of incredible cases, plus I was able to compare the way the facility was run to those back in the States. It makes me want to go to medical school. I am searching the AAMC website now...
So, that was all day Sunday. While it was busy, and long lines of patients (really, I would call them more like victims), and just crazy, I was told by the nurses that Friday and Saturday nights are much more hectic. Well, well. I guess next it would be cool to see a private hospital here, there is supposed to be a huge gap in how the two compare.
Saturday I walked into town with my buddies Laurin and Kerry. We checked out a really cool art museum, Tatham Art Gallery. I am going back there before I leave, there was all kinds of mixed media, painting, beading, collage, print making, photos, you name it, nice place. Unfortunately we forgot that shops close early on Saturdays, 2:30pm, so we didn't do much shopping, that's okay, we don't need to buy much, just browse. Downtown was pretty dead after 3, though. We ate at our Curry place and then walked on back. I have included some sweet pictures from downtown, the clock tower, and a statue of Gandhi.
I forgot to mention that Saturday was Open Day, a day when high schools from all around the area bring bus loads of students to UKZN PMB to check it out (i.e. super chaotic on campus, and a hence a good day to go to town). Girls and boys dress up in their school uniforms and look really nice and stroll around the campus and ask questions to all the departments who have set up tents of information. Plus the art students do some demos, and there is free ice cream. Like Cal Day at Berkeley.
So, this is the last few days of classes, we are out on Wednesday, then we have a study week, then exams. It is weird to think that a semester has gone by, seems like it it has been to short to be a semester.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

End of the School Week

It is early morning Friday, I am in the computer lab when it is soooo quiet, pleasant I have to say, cause normally it is so packed and you have to wait to use a computer. I realize what a privilege it is to use the Internet here, if you are not a student, you would have to use a shop in town which is much slower connection and costs money and you would still wait in line. This week has been a whorl wind, I submitted papers, had tests returned to me, and just been working hard in school, seems like it is paying off, reports are coming back with (at least) decent scores.
I am really excited for this weekend because I am going to the Edendale Hospital to job shadow a doctor I met at an HIV research center nearby the Ubuntu Children's' Centre. I met Dr. Ndaba (Nelly) a week and a half ago, when some of the girls from the center walked me over to the research center, and I ended up learning all about the research they are doing there, with anti microbicide gel. Really fascinating to hear about. But that same day I met the doctor that works at the clinic there, and she said that she works long shifts at the Edendale Hospital. Edendale is a rural, township I guess you could call it, just outside of Pietermaritzburg, the same area the Ubuntu Center is in.
So I have been keeping up with Dr. Ndaba, and she said that I could take my pick, she would be working the 24hr shift on Friday, then again on Sunday, sooo...Sunday I am planning to go out there. I have a taste of what it will be like, cause today was my second time visiting the place, I was supposed to ask permission from the head of surgery, but after waiting and waiting, 2 hours later I couldn't wait any longer and left a note with my info, hope that is okay.
The place is a completely different type of hospital than I have seen before. As I described it to my folks the first time I saw it, it is cross between a train station and a prison. Plus a lot of people (like thousands I am sure, and all those that are waiting outside), I don't know how nurses (a ton) and doctors (3 at a given time) that work there see it, but I hope to find out. It is a public hospital. That is a crucial point. Here, private (for patients with medical aid... NOT the vast majority of people here) hospitals and public (for all others) hospitals mean the difference between life and death, respectfully.