Another few weeks have passed and I’m safe to say a lot has happened. Since I last checked in I began to work in two new locations each equally full of new learning experiences. Following those weeks, our group’s most recent weekend together was spent in Cape Town for our first “Independent Student Travel” experience.
My first week was spent working in Phakamisani Primary School with a class of around 40 fourth graders. The second I stepped into the classroom I felt a surge of focus shift straight to me and knew immediately these kids were as interested in me as I was in each of them. As I walked around helping them, it was frustrating to be bound by the language barrier because it was obvious how badly they wanted to learn. Each answer I marked was often preceded by wide eyes or a quick prayer but quickly turned back to focus and a laugh when they realized they were beginning to understand what I was teaching them. In no way am I critiquing the teacher from the classroom I worked in, but rather I’m acknowledging the difficulties she faced with such a large class forced to learn math in a language they only began learning this same year. The amount of focus I had to put on teaching a student only allowed me to go one at a time and I often finished the hour and a half sessions mentally exhausted. Still, the whole experience at the school was rewarding seeing the immediate satisfaction of the kids and the more long-term results of giving these kids individual attention in school for possibly one of the first times in their lives. Leaving the school on Friday was genuinely upsetting not only because of how much fun I had working with these kids, but also seeing their faces and reading the cards they gave me as I left. Working in the primary school was incredibly rich and fulfilling disparate from the slow, behind the scenes results of a smaller local clinic. I’m now super hyped for the education unit in India.
During this week when I wasn’t working I found myself in Plett enjoying life. I wrote some poetry, drew a lot, and even got my nose pierced. A lot of us went cave exploring after we found some amazing coastal caves on the outskirts of one of the townships students are staying in. The views from the rocky coast were straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. October 13th this week also marked one month spent in South Africa and away from home. It was an odd realization because one month sounds long relative to the whole six and a half of the trip and had felt filled to the brim with experiences and memories. Still I couldn’t help but feel time had flown by too quickly.
My second week was spent in a different city entirely. The whole group spent a week away from our host families and lived in a hostel in Robertson. The hostel was quirky, colorful, welcoming, and entirely ours for the week (mostly). The time spent working with Breed River Hospice was great. The work I did there was similar to my first week in the Crags clinic where I shadowed a community health worker, but I feel I learned more. I asked lots of questions as we left each house to find out what had happened and what my colleague’s opinion on the situation was. What I gathered if I had to sum it up quickly is that the patients/community have a different outlook on the healthcare system than the workers do. This I feel created a disconnect between the two groups allowing for unnecessary tension and excuses. While I don’t have much of a right to judge the system due to my lack of experience in health care and potential prior bias towards the American healthcare system, I found myself very interested in this topic during the week. On a slight side note, the community health worker I worked with was by far one of the smallest people I’ve ever seen, easily standing a few inches under five feet.
Spending another full week with the group in close quarters almost 24/7 didn’t go quite the same way as it did during our orientation at Ingwe. I know myself and others as well felt over-saturated with social interactions so new sides to people I had not yet seen began to show. I wouldn’t say it was a bad week, but rather a stressful one that worked itself out and now I feel closer than ever to some of the students. Things like this are inevitable with such a small group spending 6 months with only each other. Some of the highlights of this week were finally watching the movie Boyhood (which was amazing and I highly suggest everyone to watch) and going on lots of runs, one of which was up a literal mountain with Matt and Katy (had to give them props for running it with me).
Our weekend was spent in Cape Town for our Independent Student Travel period. Cape Town is known for its street fashion and I got to see it firsthand which was really cool. The true highlight of this week though was climbing Table Mountain. Benji, Matt, and I cleared the thing in just over an hour, which felt great. But what was even better was the view not only of Cape Town below, but incredibly beautiful mountain ranges, valleys, coastlines, and everything else you could imagine as well. Cape Town is a city I know I’d love to come visit again.
I wanted to keep these blog posts short and sweet but it’s too hard when so much is happening all the time. Regardless, thanks for reading and I hope you check back for my next post to keep you all updated on my experience with Thinking Beyond Borders.