It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in South Africa for over a year! Time seems to be passing by quickly, yet I still remind myself daily how fortunate and grateful I am to live in this remarkable country. And I’m certainly doing my best to take advantage of my stay.
Russell continues to indoctrinate me into local customs and culture. In fact, he and his boys have introduced me to the world of extreme endurance motorcycle racing, where they ride over mindboggling terrain and obstacles, with a goal of not to win, but to simply finish the race.
And so, a few months ago, we road-tripped to Boston, Kwa-Zulu Natal for the ‘Man and Machine 2-day Navigational Enduro Race’ (who knew there was a Boston, South Africa). Unlike the sprawling metropolis of Boston in the states, this city of Boston was a very small farming community in the heart of the Midlands Meander. As such, accommodations were non-existent…
But Russell made a few calls to the event organizers and a young farming couple opened up their home to us! I was amazed by their warmth, kindness, generosity and trust! They literally handed over the keys to their house to four total strangers…it truly made for a delightful experience as I was able to see a side of South Africa that felt intimate and real. In short, they made us feel as if we were a part of their community… a feeling that has been lacking in Pretoria!
I now understand the lure of these kinds of races, as it’s so much more than just a racing course. There is such camaraderie among the riders…and I must admit, it’s pretty amazing to watch these guys ride!
Another perk to life in South Africa, I’ve already had a string of visitors (please, keep them coming). One of my friends from Austin, Chris Cwik, recently came to Pretoria! We splurged and went on a horseback-riding safari outside of Cullinan. Such a lovely day! The family that runs the place is delightful…it’s a pleasure to support their business.
Work is also going exceedingly well. In fact, I just participated in the Ministry of Health’s National TB/HIV/PMTCT Review. As such, I spent ten days in the very rural district of Umkhanyakude, Kwa-Zulu Natal, visiting four separate hospitals, community health centers and primary health care clinics. Data collection was rather intense, as our survey looked at numerous aspects of the health system, including human resources, infrastructure, supply chain, integration of services, monitoring and evaluation, infection control, medical male circumcision, support groups, supervision, drugs and commodities, etc., etc., etc.
According to South Africa’s District Health Barometer, this particular district is one of the most deprived districts in the country (“deprivation” is defined as a combination of indicators including unemployment rates, access to piped water and electricity, female-headed households with high numbers of children and low education levels). This was quite apparent as we traversed the district; traveling upwards of five to six hours a day just to reach the facility!
Living in Pretoria, it’s very easy to forget how the majority of South African’s live. As I watched women and children collecting water, carrying heavy buckets of water on their heads (to walk unknown distances home), it served as a reminder not to take something as precious as water for granted.
By and large, I absolutely loved being in the field and probably learned more about our HIV/AIDS program in those ten days than I have collectively over the past year! Which only shows that I desperately need to get to the sites more frequently.
I returned to Pretoria just in time to celebrate mine and Russell’s one-year anniversary! We celebrated in style and flew to the stunningly charming town of Knysna, nestled along the Garden Route, a popular stretch of the southeastern coast.
We rented a car and explored every nook and cranny from George, the Garden Route’s largest city, to the Storms River from the vantage view over the Paul Sauer Bridge. The scenery along the garden route is simply breathtaking, with its rugged coastline and varied ecosystems, including mountains, indigenous forests and a unique mixture of Cape Fynbos.
We spent our days visiting national parks, hiking along various nature trails, and eating exquisite food. But the highlight of our weekend was an outing to the Knysna Elephant Park, where we had a rare and exciting opportunity to get up close and personal with these gentle giants.
Truth be told, I’m actually quite frightened by elephants as I’ve been charged one too many times in the wild. However, I felt quite at ease hanging out with this particular breeding herd of females and their babies. Surprisingly, these elephants are left to their own devices, enjoying a free-range controlled environment whilst interacting with visitors on their terms. I felt awed by their presence…and relished every moment of our interactions!
Russell and I had the entire elephant park to ourselves, which made for an even more memorable occasion. We hand-fed the elephants, and then walked with them in the field, hugging and petting them every so often.
Their bristly skin, the smoothness of their tusks, and the agility of their trunks mesmerized me. I walked away from this experience with a profound respect and appreciation for these animals.
Lots of happenings on the horizon. My dear friend, Mona, is flying here next weekend from Vietnam; and Russell and I are preparing for an extended camping trip through Botswana’s National Parks over Christmas/New Years.
As always, our doors are open if you ever want to visit…
Sending much love to all,