A few light anecdotes for today:

Today I went running and I ended up having eight barefooted Xhosa boys (none no older than nine years old) following me on my run shouting, “umlungu! umlungu!” (that means “white person”) They laughed and imitated how I ran the whole time. The only thing I could tell them was “be careful!” To which they imitated: “aw yeahs beee cahrfull” (with a strong rolling “R”).

Also, at work today, I splinted one of my patients spastic legs and then told him we were going to transfer to the parallel bars to practice standing. He doesn’t speak fluent English, but he thought it was necessary and funny to make of my “american accent” by saying “lets trEEnsfer to the pEErallel baRRs.”

I will hopefully have something more of substance to write soon…it’s very hot here (hovering around 100 degrees for the last 3 days) and sometimes even thinking produces too much kinetic energy and wears me out 😉 But, I love this country and I am having a good time!

Shoutouts: Julie M who just found out that she is expecting a baby boy…congrats!

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I just wanted to upload some photos of the pre-schoolers at Itipini. These kids are so freaking adorable, as soon as I brought out my camera they yelled “shoot me! shoot me!” It was hard to get these pictures as they were tackling me! A true camp counselor’s dream. I became a human set of monkey bars and the kids wanted to model my glasses. I might just have to take some of these guys home with me …(kidding).

I also wanted to post some pics of a birthday party I recently went to…Georgio, an Italian doctor, who is also my neighbor, threw a birthday party for his wife, Sabra. The best part of the nite was learning salsa dance lessons to American music by an exiled Cuban with a Pakistani, Italian, and several South African dance partners….it was a good nite.

On the physio front, I was able to “loan” my Ipod to the one patient who really wanted to listen to music…he listened to it for three hours! I felt bad that I had to take it away from him to recharge the battery. It was precious to hear him singing along to the songs in broken english. Also, I was able to use some of the forced weight-bearing techniques that I learned while I was living in Texas with the young boy who has the cranial stab injury…he is doing a lot better with balance and ambulation…today was a day of good hope.

Oh and it was at least 100 degrees farenheit today….how are you liking the snow in the Northeast?

Ok guys, I have been here for almost a month now…enough time for things to really “settle in”…I am getting a clear picture of what life is really like in this part of the world. First and foremost, I am absolutely loving loving loving my experience here. I’m already sad that I am going to be leaving in seven weeks and am starting to feel that maybe I will come back…maybe I will come back on a longer basis, with a more leadership type role, or something like that…this place has a strangely addicting characteristic to it…I can’t explain it…but my heart, body, mind and soul are in sync in more of a way than I have felt in a long time anywhere else…and this is such an amazing feeling.

That being said, I know that most of my blog up until now has focused on the fun “touristy” aspects of my trip so far…I am incredibly blessed to be able to take opportunities to go to the mountains and to the coast, etc…anyway, this week has been a really difficult week for me…I am struggling with many complicated feelings, my self awareness has really been put to the test while I am here, in a very foreign place with very foreign people. Instead of beating around the bush, let me explain, as best as I can. In no way am I trying to take on a “holier than thou” attitude or place myself above anyone. I’m not trying to portray pity, I am just trying to externalize some of the thought processes that I have dealt with lately.

Two days ago, for the first time, on of my patients actually expressed pain and frustration with his situation (people are so stoic here and don’t easily show pain, perhaps that is a sign of weakness) . He is a 30-year-old man who was in a freak car accident last August. His fate is an incomplete cervical spinal injury, leaving his body painfully spastic and paralyzed…all he wants to be able to do is be able to walk again, instead he has been on his back in a hospital bed for the last 5 months. I can’t tell you how much I love this man, he has a beautiful soul and has taught me many Xhosa words and jokes, but when I do his therapy, it is heart breaking to see the pain in his eyes and imagine what his life is like. This guy is not much older than me, but he can’t live my life because of the circumstances he was given.

Another patient is HIV positive and is having a poor reaction to his anti-retroviral medications, leaving him paralyzed and also incredibly spastic. He said that the “witch doctors” at home told him that he is the way he is because he didn’t follow some secret code or crossed some boundary and therefore, is not able to walk. This man also has a beautiful soul and an indestructible spirit. He will do whatever I ask of him, no matter how much pain it puts him in. However, the CD4 counts don’t lie, he has a very very tough road ahead of him…and there is really nothing I can do about it. The other day he told me that he would really like to be able to have a radio…just simple music to listen to….I almost ran home to get my iPod to give to him…I still might do that. Another 15-year-old boy was stabbed in the head and now presents as a stroke victim, he can’t walk…but I try to help him…maybe someday he will walk…he has the spirit and conviction to do so. When I was 15 I was worried about which cute boys to ask to the school dance or how well I was going to do on my history test…I was running everywhere and sure as heck wasn’t depending on a make shift brace out of plywood and cheesecloth to stand and force my body to accept weight in a paralyzed limb.

Traveling to the ortho wards, you see people of all ages, even young children, as young as 2 years old, lying in skin traction for weeks and weeks at a time because the surgical schedule is so backed up and the doctors have no choice but to tell people to wait because there just isn’t enough time or resources, and so they wait, and wait, and live with he bed sores and the sepsis, their fractures begin to callous and heal the wrong way, because there is no other way to do it. The outpatient surgical clinic has to turn away traumas that would get first priority in the US because there is somebody many times worse off that needs immediate attention. Every time I go to the waiting room, I discover new and horrible things that these patients deal with, deformed limbs, broken backs, etc…toughening the spirit and perhaps dampening the soul. I can’t read their minds, but I can’t help but personalize what their life for them must be like.

The staff is doing the best they can, but on the other hand I can’t help but notice a feeling of apathy or lack of accountability among many of the full-time local staff. One of the doctors rounds with the spinal ward every thursday morning and it has taken weeks for the nurses to get correct blood counts, etc…it seems like the patients don’t have enough advocates to help their situation…they just stay here, day in and day out. And these patients graciously accept their situations, this is just the “way it is”…I’m not even sure if they totally understand what is really going on. If and when they do go home, how are they going to survive on their own? My roommate (there are about 10 americans here now) has said that “Africa is hard enough, even when you are not paralyzed.” This is a beautiful land with dichotomous hardship and struggle.

I wish that some of the staff and patients that I dealt with at home could come here and get a good healthy whopping of perspective change. Instead of whining that the patient in room 213 has rang his call bell every 20 minutes for the last hour, instead, maybe we should be thankful that patient has the capability and audacity to ask for help. Instead of crying because your knee hurts or you have back pain, perhaps being thankful that you can walk and have adequate medical care is a song sang to a better tune. I wish that my friends and family members who like to sit around and discuss how to solve the worlds problems, could actually find ways to put their great ideas to work.

Today I was lucky enough to spend time at Itipini, a clinic developed by Jenny McConnachie, a nurse from Scotland who has graciously devoted her life to bettering the lives of the poorest of the poor in Mthatha, South Africa. These people live in corrugated tin houses situated on shards of broken glass and heaps of garbage. They depend on the clinic for clean water, bread, TB meds, HIV tests, pregnancy tests, etc…and there is also a pre school on site. The children are your instant best friends, especially if you have a camera, and they are gorgeous. The have it tough but they are rich in love…so heartbreaking and incredibly inspiring at the same time. I have learned more from the brief interaction I have had with these people than I could ever, ever possibly hope to teach them in a lifetime.

Never have I felt so helpless or so motivated to try to help. Never have I felt so privileged, so rich, so embarrassingly well off. I have been brought to tears, brought to my knees, driven to frustration and left with so many questions. All I can think about is my expensive bike at home, the expensive car that I bought, the money I spend on food, beer, friends, etc…not only that, but I have the privilege of choice. I can choose where to work, where to go to school, what to eat, I can chose to go for a run, can chose to go to a movie, because my life circumstances have provided me the means and opportunity to do so. I never asked to be a middle class american with a supportive family, a fully functioning body, good health, intelligence and a strong education…but I have it. Richard told me not to reject my blessings and use what I have to help others…That was some of the best advice I have heard. It is so hard to walk the “fine line” between living on a soap box or falling into the trap of the “rich white kids syndrome” where I think I can save the world and instead devoting my time towards getting my hands dirty and perhaps making a connection with another human soul in this place, to affect their lives in a positive way, if only for a day or an hour…perhaps these people aren’t asking to be “saved” and I certainly know that they don’t want to be pitied or looked at as some sort of “charity” and it is not my place to judge them or to cast a downward eye upon them…that is not what I am here to do…I have so many conflicted emotions and difficult thought processes. I struggle with the fact that in the end, I can just hop on a plane and go back to my “extravagant” lifestyle….while there are people here fighting just to find a reason to make it through another day. I just don’t know how to explain it. It hurts my heart.

We fight all the time
You and I… that’s alright
We’re the same soul
I don’t need… I don’t need to hear you say
That if we weren’t so alike
You’d like me a whole lot more

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go it alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own
-U2

I think that if anyone remotely knows me…they understand that for me, the mountains are home, and that was one of the things that I was really going to miss while in SA…being able to hop in my car and get to Lake Placid (holla) within a reasonable amount of time…well…..guess what?…this past weekend I got to go to the MOUNTAINS!

On saturday morning at 6am, Richard, Peter and I started out towards the Drakensberg mountains south of Mthatha. I was so so happy to be getting away because Bedford gets sooooo quiet on the weekends when everyone (well, all the staff) goes home. It was about a 4.5 hour trip to get to Underberg, the town where the mountains lie. We had to stop in Kokstad first to wire money to the people who own the bed and breakfast place where we wanted to stay. (They don’t really do things the easy way here through credit card transaction). We had to wait in line for about an hour to do this…very much a cultural experience, as it was the last day of the month and most people were trying to deposit their paychecks. Anyway, after taking care of all that…we drove a little further and found Underberg, a quaint South African town, with much more obvious European influence than Mthatha (which is very much urban black South Africa). We found our nice accommodations: a 4 bedroom house with a kitchen, 2 bathrooms, a shower (!), and a living room…very nice!

After we got settled, we got back into the car and drove to Cobham which had many of the hiking trails around the mountains. We started off hiking a nice flat trail near a river bed…then Richard said that he “really wanted to explore a nearby waterfall”…we bushwacked it to the waterfall and then ended up climbing the entire “mountain” (very different from what I’m used to, its grassy the whole way with no marked trails and random rock outcroppings). It took us about 45 minutes to get to the top, along the way we saw lizards, snakes, many different birds and even…a few groups of baboons! They were off in the distance, but Peter had binoculars and they were for sure babboons…very cool!

After our sense of adventure had been satiated, we hiked back down, went back to the house, showered, and went out to find a good brew and burger for dinner.

The next day, we embarked on a guided 4×4 adventure tour up the “Sani Pass” which took us between two of the highest peaks in the Drakensberg Range. The tour guide said that the ride would be extremely bumpy, he called it the “African Massage”…he was totally right…wicked switchbacks and the rockiest driving terrain I have ever experienced, but the views were breathtakingly worth it…wow.

The Sani Pass actually takes you to Lesotho…a small obscure country within South Africa…so, we actually went through customs and got our passports stamped and whatnot. Lesotho is a tiny mountain town were the people all live in stone rondavels and live entirely off the land. We actually got to go into one of the rondavels and purchase some hand crafted goods and eat some bread that was made from the stone fire pit in the middle of the hut.

After that, we went to a bar that one of the Lesotho residents actually runs…it’s the highest bar in Africa…and the beer is all canned because they really can’t brew it up there…oh well, it was still pretty darn good. I wonder if Lesthoto has a Hash House Harriers kennel? Probably not…..

We then took the bumpy road back down the mountains and trekked on back towards Mthatha…arriving close to 11 at night…a trip well worth it!

therapy sessions have recently become “teach Irena Xhosa sessions”. I must say that this language is very difficult with all the different clicks. I’m trying, but don’t think I will get very far in the short time that I am here. Anyway, I found this webpage http://www.xhosadictionary.com and I think It will be very helpful. Here are some basic words/phrases that I have learned:

Hello: Molo
How are you?: Ninjani?
Thank You: Nkosi
pain: ubuhlungu
walk: hamba
man: indoda
woman: umfazi
knee: idolo
leg: umlenze
tired: diniwe

I also want to learn the south african national anthem…but i think that will take a long time…

time for work! have a good day 🙂

To say that it rained here last night would be a huge understatement….it freakin’ poured….monsooned…here last night…all night long, starting at around 6pm and continued until mid morning today. The rain was totally a blessing, yesterday and the day before were, “bloody hot”. Probably reaching past 100 degrees. (On a sidenote, when people here find out that I’m from New York, the immediately think I’m from NYC and they immediately feel pity for me, and assume that I must be dieing from the heat, because every day for me is burried under at least a few feet of snow;) ). Anyway, It was wonderful to sit in my living room with the door open and just be “overcome” with the sensation of rain all around me…here are some words that I wrote down in my journal:

“The rainstorms here are incredible, they overcome the entire earth with flooding downpour. All I can hear is rain crashing on my roof, all I can see are puddles quickly rising from the ground. So nourishing, cleansing and refreshing for my soul. The heat is finally broken. A true blessing for life. The silence in my apartment is also broken. A weight is lifted.”

In other happenings, I went to a Xhosa church service on Sunday with Richard (the volunteer from Wisconsin). I asked him if I could go along because I wanted to experience church from a cultural Xhosa standpoint. The church is held in a huge stone building, Richard doesn’t know the name of it, he just calls it “the cathedral”. The building is lined with hard wooden chairs which were all filled with mostly young to middle-aged families with several children running up and down the aisles. Everyone was dressed very nicely, in a different, more urban way, than the people who I saw walking to church while on the wild coast a week before. Richard and I were the only non-African of the group, but that didn’t seem to matter. The service started out as a seemingly traditional Anglican service (a small step down from high mass) with burning incense and bells ringing, etc…the readings were spoken in English and the songs were sung in Xhosa. Let me tell you, there was a LOT of singing…a LOT of singing! The formality of the service soon gave way to people clapping, shouting, an even at one point everyone joined hands and started swaying back and forth and lifting their interwoven hands up and down. I really had no idea what was going on because of the language barrier…I just tried to follow suit as best as I could, standing up and sitting down when I thought was appropriate. Richard has an English version of the prayer-book but he told me to not even bother with it because it was too difficult to follow along. There was a traditional communion where the sacraments were taken by people kneeling at the altar. After communion, we headed out because the service lasts 2 and a half hours which is a little bit too much for our american-adult-onset-attention-defficit-herpyeractive minds! Otherwise, it was very interesting and I’m glad I had the chance to go. Somehow I think my religious/spiritual background will play a strong part in this trip, if only to give me something to talk about with the locals and something to foster socialization.

Anyway, that is all for now….more later!
Irena

shoutouts: gotta say hello to my crew at NWCH…how’s Julie’s baby bump coming along?
also wanna say hi to flour city H3…holy crap I miss you guys! OnOn!

Good news! I now have my own modem for my computer, so now I can be more efficient with my blog updates and emails and whatnot. Many of you have asked questions about what a typical day is like for me at Bedford Orthopedic Hospital, so I thought I would take you through a typical day here.

My watch alarm goes off at 7:00, but most of the time I am awake before then…the sun rises closer to 6:00 and the birds have been awake already for several hours, causing quite a ruckus outside my window. I crawl out of bed and put on my scrubs…I’m really the only one that wears scrubs, but they are comfortable and I would rather dirty them than my street clothes. I make myself breakfast…usually cereal with 2% milk (I had to look high and low for any type of milk other than full cream) and a cup of five-roses tea. Then I brush my teeth and read a little before walking to work at 8:00.

It takes me about 2 minutes to get to work as my housing complex is located on hospital grounds. I walk straight to the outpatient physiotherapy clinic (they call outpatient “OPD” here…I think that means “outpatient department”). I usually wait a few minutes for one of the other therapists to open the doors. There are 7 full time therapists at this clinic, one of them is a PTA and one of them is a “com serve” as she has just graduated from PT school and is doing a community service roatation before being hired permanently somewhere. The outpatient department consists of 2 sets of parallel bars, a set of practice stairs and 3 treatment mats. Outpatients can arrive as early as 8:00. I don’t work with the outpatients (Bedford is a strictly orthopedic hospital that consists of a male ward, a female ward, a pediatric ward, a spinal unit, outpatient surgical theaters and outpatient physio)…so I just go to the staff room and read a newspaper and relax for a little while. As I mentioned before, pace of work here is slower than it is at home.

If it is thursday, we start our real work at around 9:00 with doctors’ rounds. I work in the spinal ward, where there is 28 male beds and maybe 14 female beds. During doctors’ rounds, the doctor in charge of the spinal unit goes from bed to bed withe some of the nurses and therapists and assess the progress of each patient and what their discharge status is. He usually inquires as to how the patients are doing in physio…the goal being for each of them to be as functional as possible in order to be discharged home. For any new patients that have arrived over the week, the doctor assesses if they are appropriate for physio, if they are, he asks us to pick them up on our case load.

From around 10:00 to 1:00 every day, the spinal patients who have been deemed appropriate for physio, wheel themselves to the spinal ward gym where three other therapists and I perform treatment. Currently we have about 14 people on our caseload. Many of them are very young men who have been affected by tuberculosis of the spine, gunshot wounds, stabbings, or some other form of trauma. (As a sidenote, if any of the patients are older than 70, they are seen as very old, unlike at home when 70 is relatively young for our patient load.) Their range of abilities differ depending on the nature of their injuries, however, most of our treatment is focused on stretching their lower extremities (many of them have spasticity and synergistic patterns), and progressing their functional mobility so that they can sit independently, stand independently, transfer from bed to chair and walk with a “walking frame” (walker) or crutches (lofstrands). The therapy is very manual and very one-on-one. We don’t use things like therabands or weights like we do at home…those things are just not readily available…instead we use our hands to offer resistence or challenge their balance and strength in functional positions. For the patients that are flaccid in their lower extremities, we have made “back slabs”, which are planks of wood that we secure around the posterior part of their knees with cheesecloth…acting as a form of a brace, then we stand with them in the parallel bars and help them with balance and using the musculature that they do have control over, to attempt to ambulate. We also have use of a tilt table and a standing frame for patients to get used to being in the vertical position and to promote weight bearing through the lower extremities. I have noticed that the patients will do whatever I ask of them…some of them call me “sister”, and they look forward to me working with them…they work very hard so that they can gain independence and be mobile around the hospital and eventually at home.

At 1:00, I walk home for lunch, usually I have a sandwich if bread and cheese and a yogurt and some juice. On Wednesdays, the housekeeper is there, doing my laundry, washing my dishes, taking out the trash. I must say that having a housekeeper has taken some getting used to…I’m so used to doing everything for myself.. she even folds my clothes for me and puts them back on my shelf…on the days that she is there, I make her a sandwich for lunch as well. I wonder what she thinks of me….I only have two suitcases worth of possessions with me…but I still have an ipod, a computer, a camera…items that signify wealth and commercialism.

From 2:00 to 4:00, the physios on the spinal ward attend to the bed patients, those individuals who are not appropriate for skilled therapy. We perform range of motion on their hips, knees and ankles…these patients are very thankful to have their bodies moved. Bed sores are a common problem with these people as many of them lay in bed day after day, week after week with little movement.

4:00 is “knocking off time”, and i walk home. I change into street clothes and busy myself with other tasks. Usually I make dinner (something simple…pasta usually) at around 5, unless its a Wednesday, then all of the volunteers go to Jenny McConnachie’s house in town for dinner and conversation. The rest of my evenings I fill with reading, journaling, playing cards or using the computer (it’s definitely a more quiet, simple lifestyle than what I’ve grown accustomed to, but that’s not entirely a bad thing). If the weather isn’t too hot, I sometimes go running…although I am limited in the running department because safety is a concern…a young white female is unfortunately a target in these areas for violence, so I have to be careful. I also sometimes go for walks with the other volunteers or doctors that live in the complex. One night I went across the street to an Italian doctors house and he and his wife treated me to Italian wine, sheep cheese and buffalo mozarella…to think that I am getting more of an education on Italian culture in South Africa than I have ever gotten in the US!

If it’s a nice night, the view of the stars are pretty amazing…no smog or anything here to hinder the sight. I can see the southern cross from my yard! I take a bath (no shower here!) and I usually “hit the sack” anywhere from 9:00 to 10:00…the birds are still annoyingly awake all night long…but sometimes I can hear an owl that perches on the tree outside my window….thats’s pretty cool.

So, that sums it up…that’s pretty much my every day life here at Bedford Orthopedic Hospital in Mthatha, South Africa. I’ve been here for 2 weeks…the adventure had only just started.

Here are some pictures, I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures of the hospital myself, so many of these come from the African Medical Mission website (www.ammsa.org)

After two full days of work at Bedford Orthopedic Hospital…it was time for the weekend. Peter, the orthopedic surgeon from Alaska invited me to come with him to Coffee Bay, which is located on the Transkei Wild Coast, about an hour and a half away from Mthatha.

We climbed into his rental car (a VW polo or something like that) and made the drive on a nicely “paved” road towards the east coast. The farther away from Mthatha we drove, the more potholes became prevalent. We also had to stop several times to let cows or horses clear our path.

We arrived at Coffee Bay (named for a coffee ship that wrecked on this part of the coast several years ago) and checked into two rooms at Ocean View hotel, which has accommodations right up alongside the Indian Ocean…breathtaking! It was about 5:30 (friday evening) and we still had a few hours before dinner was served, so we spent the evening walking along the beach and meandering in and out of the wooded hillside…mostly just enjoying the fact that we were indeed on the east coast of south africa!

The next day, we decided to take a drive to “hole in the wall”, a popular tourist attraction boasting a natural phenomenon where the power of the ocean has carved a tunnel like hole into a rock formation (pictures to follow). The drive was about an hour long, this time on an unpaved road with twice as many cattle to contend with. When we were almost there…a group of young African boys, who were walking on the street asked us if we were going to see “hole in the wall”, we slowed down and affirmed with them that those were our plans and the groups ring leader (his name was Warren) began explaining to us that he studies very hard at school to be “smart like a white person” and that he is the best tour guide around. Somehow he convinced us to let him lead us to hole in the wall while the other boys sat and watched our car…70 rand later, there were two happy tourists with their scenic appetites fulfilled and 5 happy boys running to the local candy store to spend their recently earned fortune. Warren should come to the US as a young entrepreneur…seriously, he has something good going!

For the rest of the weekend, we spent time driving along the hilly countryside, taking in the views of the coast and also observing life in very rural South Africa. Many of the families live in simple adobe, thatched roof rondavals. The young boys are in charge of herding the animals and the women do the laundry (most likely in the Mthata river which feeds into the Indian Ocean) and perform house upkeep. I especially enjoyed watching the people walk to church on sunday in their beautiful “sunday best”. I also enjoyed how all of the young children yelled out “sweet!” as we drove past, an innocent way of begging for candy. I only wish that I could have been a little less conspicuous. Two white people driving through in a “nice” car is, im sure not an everyday occurence in this part of the world.

This weekend I also got to body surf on the huge waves in the Indian Ocean…AND I got to drive standard on the LEFT hand side of the unpaved road with young african children watching, and cows to negotiate…and I only stalled out twice…woot woot!

What a great way to spend my first weekend in Africa. I returned re-charged and ready to start another week at Bedford.

Here are some pictures:

PS a few shoutouts:
Julie: you are married now! hope st thomas is treating you well!
Male Slot and the Virginator: hope the surgeries went smoothly and rehab isnt too tough
Dad: happy early birthday! love and miss you, say hi to rusty for me!

miss everyone back home…thanks for the nice comments!

Hello friends!
I am able to steal some precious internet time and here I am…writing a new blog post for whatever entertainment purposes you may want to use them for..

ANYWAY….I made it to Mthatha…I made it through a week of life in South Africa (well, just about)…what a week it has been! Let me fill you in on the basics…I’m still somewhat overwhelmed with everything that has been happening, so apologies if things are not as coherent as they should be.

When I flew into Mthatha, there were 9 people on the tiny 2 prop plane with me…mostly local people returning to home or school from the holiday. The flight from J-burg was less than an hour long. At the airport (this airport is tiny…so tiny that there is only half a runway and the plane had to circle it twice to come to a good stop), I was picked up by Richard, one of the other volunteers at Bedford Hospital (where I will be working) and taken to the place where I will be spending the next ten weeks…here are some initial impressions of just about everything:

Housing:
I have an entire apartment to myself with two bedrooms, a bathroom and living room and a kitchen…surprisingly very modern and accommodative. One thing I will have to get used to is bathing in a tub, not a shower…I also have noticed that things in my apartment are very very quiet…I am used to always having music playing or the tv on…not the case here, perhaps it will give me some time to think.

People (the ones I have met so far):
Richard: the boy who picked me up from the airport. He graduated from college in Wisconsin and moved to Mthatha for an entire year. He’s volunteering at Ipitini, the school that is attached to Bedford Hospital. He calls himself a missionary, yet enjoys beer and partying as much as anyone I know…I am thrilled that he is here because he has given me valuable advice on life in South Africa.
Peter: an orthopedic surgeon from Alaska. He’s very kind, interesting sense of humor, very thankful to be given the oportunity to practice orthopedics in such a unique setting.
Adam: energetic young med student…the only white student in his class at the medical school in Mthatha. He is not afraid to be himself, he reminds me a lot of my brother, Sean.
Jenny: an English woman whose husband founded Bedford Hospital to give aid to the poorest and sickest in South Africa. He has since passed away, however Jenny is doing saintly work with Ipitini where she provides food, education and healthcare to Mthatha residents at Ipitini. She could be described as the “mother theresa of south africa”.

Mthatha:
Mthata is a very urban African villiage..there are people and animals everywhere. Many of the residents live in small round huts or shacks outside of where Bedford is located…Mthata seems to be very “crammed”. However, there are full grocery stores and plazas…I think I could probably get whatever I need here.

Bedford:
This is the poorest of three hospitals in town. There is a male ward, a female ward, a pediatric ward, a spinal ward and a surgical unit (by wards, I mean several beds lined up next to each other, no private rooms). I am working in the spinal ward where many of the patients have suffered from gunshot wounds , stabbings or tuberculosis of the spine, leaving most of them paralyzed at least from the waist down. My job is to mobilize them…get them out of bed, stretch their muscles, work on their core strength, teach them functional mobility. There are 3 or 4 other “physiotherapists” that work at the hospital. I have noticed that the pace of work is very very laid back. At home we are expected to see people constantly and never have down time…here, if you say you are going to see a patient at 10, it usually means 10:30, and the work will be done when it gets done. The therapists still do a very good job and are very caring..it is just a different routine that I will have to get used to.

Language:
the people here mostly speak in Xhosa, which is a language characterized by “clicks”. Most of them, however, also can at least understand English. The language barrier is a little difficult when working with patients, however I am thankful that for the most part, I am able to communicate without too much issue.

Climate:
the weather seems to circulate from very hot, to very humid, to rainy, to cool…the hotest it’s been is about 105 degrees farenheit…I think that usually it stays around 70 or 80 degrees.

That is the basic first gist of things…I will get into more detail later. This week, I hope to get a modem connection for my own computer, so I will be able to keep in touch a little easier (and upload some pictures!). I just wanted to let everyone at home know that I am fine, safe and having a good time.

more to come later!
peace,
Irena

Hello everyone!

I am here! I made it scratch free! I’m tired, but happy. Right now I am sitting in my room at the “Aftonia Guest House” in Johannesburg, South Africa…it is 8:32 pm on Tuesday, january 12, 2010 (I am 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time). Let me recount for you the last 24ish hours of my life.

The airplane to SA from DC was pretty much filled to capacity…I was surprised by that because a year and a half ago, when I traveled to Australia…everyone pretty much had 3 seats to themselves to stretch out on…not the case here…i guess more people are interested in traveling to SA then to Oz…but who knew? I was a little dismayed that I would have to do all my in-flight sleeping in the “sitting up” position…but…not a big deal.

I sat next to a woman named Dawn, who is a pastor for the Church of the Nazerene…she goes to Capetown every year to do missionary work…she was slightly nervous and kind of germ-a-phobic…but all in all not a bad person to sit next to.

We had 3 meals in flight (total travel time was about 18 hours)…I was fed very well with fish, chicken, fresh fruit, hot tea, chocolatey desserts…very satisfying. I also had my own personal TV to look at so I watched “the time travelers wife”, “never been kissed” and a few episodes of “how I met your mother” and “the Simpsons”. The flight crew was very pleasant and very patient…I have no complaints.

We stopped for about an hour in Dakar, Senegal to refuel and pick up more passengers…I got to watch the sun rise while sitting in the plane…that was kinda neat…I also got to hold my breath for about 10 minutes while security sprayed the cabin with intoxicating anti-microbial spray of some sort…yum…

Arrival to J-burg was smooth and uneventful…I didn’t have to fill out a customs card, didn’t have my bags checked…pretty much just walked through…my bags were not lost and there was someone from the guest house waiting to pick me up.

My first blunder was trying to get into the car on the right hand side…I quickly realized that since I don’t know how to drive on the left hand side of the road…I should probably sit in the passenger seat on the left hand side of the car…

I was not able to really see much of J-burg because the driver took me right to the guest house…but it seems like a typical city….at the guest house, a young man grilled me a delicious steak and I enjoyed that with garlic bread, potatoes and salad…my belly is full and I am ready for a good night’s sleep.

Oh and the weather here is probably about 70 degrees…I got to put on sandals and a t-shirt…I can get used to this.

Tomorrow I will go back to the airport and will hop on a small plane to get to Mthatha (pronounced Uhm-Tah-Tah). This is when the real adventure will begin (and hopefully the blogs will become more interesting)…right now, I’m just getting warmed up.

til next time
Irena

PS shout out to my good buddy lee who had surgery on his hand today…heal quickly!

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