Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reflections in an African Watering Hole

It's been one week since I left the African continent and came back on a 40-hour traveling extravaganza involving airplanes, cars, and trains.

I've had one week to process through what my summer has entailed, and how it has changed me, and honestly, I still can't nail it down to a specific thing.  True, I have been busy with moving to Los Angeles (my present location until December, barring any job offers in the area) and trying to get my life reorganized to prepare for my clinical rotation at Cedar-Sinai (the reason for my move), but it's hard to just sit and reflect on this internship, when it felt so normal.  I do have to write a report on my going-ons during the summer for Loma Linda, and that has helped somewhat to work through things, but it still only covers the academic aspect of the trip.

This whole experience was eye-opening, in so many ways.   Although my first trip to Kenya brought a reality and tangibility to the hunger, starvation, and poverty that is endemic to Africa, this trip found me realizing that it is difficult to solve those problems, and that it is not easy or cheap.  When I look at the amount of money that the Foundation spends on building materials, salaries for staff members and the builders, food for the program, food for the staff, and various other supplies, it is astonishing.  In a country such as South Africa, money is a valuable resource that is necessary for anything to get done, and it needs to be constantly coming.  And money is not something that is lying around for the taking.

Zimbabwe's situation is much worse:  We were there shortly before coming back to the States, and I was supposed to be conducting a nutrition workshop for the HIV/AIDS support group that the Foundation has recently started, in conjunction with a clinic they just opened.  In order for me to even understand how to disseminate appropriate information to these individuals about nutrition in the face of being HIV-positive, I needed to know their normal diet, and what common problems they face.  All of them centered on food insecurity.  The majority of the support group members are on anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and these drugs need to be taken with food.  Except they don't have money to buy food, and with anywhere between 4 and 6 children in their family, plus whatever orphans they may need to take care of, food is something of a luxury.  This leaves them to take their drugs on an empty stomach, which causes them to be nauseous and feel sick, but they say that they get used to it, and now it's just something they live with.  And that just broke my heart.  Not only do these people have to live with the threat of their own vitality with HIV/AIDS, they also have the stigma that still pervades African society, and have to worry if there will be food on the table for their families.  I can't help but respect them, for their bravery in continuing to fight to live, but also in their desire to have a life that means something.  All they need is more money, and it saddens me that that is all it takes for them to have a better life.

The last week of my time in South Africa was an absolute joy.  I celebrated my birthday at the village, with a cake and hand-written card no less from the staff members and kids, which was so awesome.  I planted a tree, which is something all the volunteers get to do before they leave.  And I just had fun running around with the kids, as they discovered that I can do that. =)

That basically wraps everything up.  I'm in Los Angeles now and getting myself acquainted with the city.  Before I conclude this last summer-centric blog post, I present pictures galore:
From left to right: Diorca, Santi, and Blessing.  They are getting some clothes donations.

This is Blessing.  He's one of my favorites of the preschool kids because he is always smiling.  =)

My last day at the Zitha village: The kids are all mobbing me.

Just another day at the village.

Just some of the kids in the play group.  They are standing in one of the chicken houses being built.

This is Desire.  He's in the preschool and always greets me with a loud and robust "Good Morning!"

My birthday celebration and a little caking as well!

The peas!!

Some kids eating their snacks!  The one in the purple is named Soli, and he is hilarious!

Some of the kids in the preschool group sitting among the cabbage growing in the garden.

Well, thanks for reading!  We will now return to the irregularly scheduled food posts.

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