Travel post-volunteer

South Africa is known as a truly varied and colorful holiday destination. It appeals as a vacation spot for line travelers, families and couples from all across the world.

Many of our volunteers end up taking a couple of weeks after the close of their MozVolunteers program to travel to different areas of this diverse and beautiful country.

I recently took a drive from Stellenbosch, down the garden route to Port Elizabeth. On route I stopped at Hermanus (the whale town) and Knysna (famous for fresh fresh seafood and a giant lagoon). I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty and variety I encountered along this route, the friendly places, and the stunning landscapes. The garden route is easily accessible: after leaving mozvol, fly from Durban to Port Elizabeth. Hire a vehicle and drive through to Cape Town, ensuring to take the time to explore the wine routes of stellenbosch, franschoek and Paarl.

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What is Africa?

What is the ‘real’ Africa?

Ask this question to any one person, anywhere in Afrixa and you will get a different answer each time.

For me? The real Africa, well, that’s easy.

Africa is certain sounds, or absence of sounds: the silence of the dawn, early morning waves of the Indian Ocean, too loud African house music- we call it ‘jelly legs music’ because young children dancing to it have legs wobbly like jelly, melancholy church gospel singing, cicada beetles and frogs lulling you to sleep and the gentle rumble of a lion’s call in the darkness.

Africa is also the smell of the potato bush.

Africa is the taste of fresh fish, the taste of salt on my lips and above all, a cold beer or glass of wine from the West coast.

Africa is hot and cold. Sunshine and snow with open fires and warm soup.

Above all, Africa is happiness, love, smiles, friendship, a struggle, but one that is truly worthwhile. Why? Because the rewards you get are better than anything else ever could be.

A time to think – world AIDS day.

World AIDS day is coming up, and for us that always means a time to pause and reflect, to think about our community and those around us who are less fortunate.

As many of you will know, South Africa has one of the highest levels of HIV infection in the world.  In particular, the small, rural, Umkhanyakude district and surrounds, where we are based is possibly the highest infected populations in the country.  Women of reproductive age have an infection level of between 70 and 75%.  When you think about this in real terms, 3 out of every 4 women aged between 16 and 26 are HIV positive.  Reasons for the phenomenally high infection rate are not clear, but high levels of labour migration, low income levels, low education attendance and high desired levels of young pregnancy (resulting in a high birth rate) all have an influence on the overall infection levels.

I could fill you in on the stats and perceived reasons behind the infection levels for hours, but it is far better just to describe the reality of the situation to you as told by those who know.   This is a description of the real life, daily reality faced by a lady called Zihle (name changed to protect identity) who is typical of around 75% of the women from the poorest, most neglected community we work with and alongside.

Zihle’s Story

I am 30 years old. When I was 24 I was diagnosed HIV+. That was in 2006.  I am not a South African, I am originally from Mozambique, that means that I have never been able to apply for an ID book.  This means that I sometimes have a problem getting my ARV drugs from the local clinics. If this is the case, I have to travel very far to another clinic to see if they will help me.  Luckily, the usual clinic gave me a patient card, which tells other doctors what pill combination I am on.  If this is changed, it makes me very, very sick for a long time.. About 6 months.

I live in a small community far from any large town. I have no children and I have no boyfriend.  Every morning I wake up, and fold away my bed, which is three blankets and a pillow. I prefer to sleep on the floor, others prefer to sleep on old wooden pallets that they make into a kind of bed, but I find that it hurts my back.  I light a small fire outside my door, and, if it has been raining, I clean the drips on the floor that come through the leaky roof.  I make tea, and get dressed then, if I am feeling well enough I will walk the 3 KM to the store, to find out if there is work for me on the banana farm today.  If I work, I share lunch with a neighbour, and finish about 4pm. I will get paid R35 for the day.  If there is no work, I usually go back to my house, and clean a bit, have a sleep or talk with my friends. Maybe if one of us is feeling sick, I will go and help, bring her water from the river and try and make some food with high nutrition like morvite or soup.

I ache a lot, my bones in my back, my legs, my arms, my head.  I can’t walk very fast, because my legs don’t seem to want to work properly anymore.  I can tell that my eyesight is going a bit, because I cannot see very well anymore.  If I eat a lot I usually feel sick, and I get stomach infections about once a week. I get cold very easily, and I lose weight. I am losing weight very fast now, I am very very thin, none of my clothes fit me anymore.

But, I have good days and I have bad days. I enjoy singing, going to church and talking to my friends, going out to socialise at a little cafe next to the store when I have some spare money and cooking traditional, Zulu or Mozambican food.  I love clothes, getting my hair done (although a lot of it has fallen out now) and my nails painted at the salon – really, I’m just like you underneath it all.

Sometimes when I go into town, people stop and stare, although, nowadays there are so many people like me that it doesn’t happen so often.  I would love a child, but for me, it is not sensible. I know I don’t have much longer left – I can’t afford to look after myself as well as I would like, I need vitamin supplements, mineral tablets, protein, lots of very fresh fruit and vegetables, anti-nausea tablets, strong painkillers and I can’t afford it every day.

I make an effort to help educate others about this condition, and how to avoid it, or how to live positively with it. Mostly I am positive, but my positivity comes from being realistic. I have no false hope, no silly thoughts, I am just living each day as fully as I can and making an effort to help others in the same situation as me where and when I can.  I know it is not fair, I knew nothing about HIV when I was younger, I didn’t understand, but it has happened and I am living with it inside me as best I can.  Day to day.

 

To volunteer with us visit http://www.mozvolunteers.com or email alex@mozvolunteers.com

 

 

Creepy crawlies and bugs and things

I’m not a person who minds spiders, they have never bothered me, and I know that I can live happily side by side with all sorts of flying bugs, moths, insects and beetles (Bean on the other hand is terrified of spiders, and runs a mile screaming whenever one makes a visit).

One summer in Mozambique, we had just moved house, and after a good spring clean, we doused the outside walls liberally with fendona insecticide (a major necessity in the war against the anopheles mosquito and cerebral malaria). Settling into bed (after the rigmarole of showering in cold water, spraying liberally with peaceful sleep insect repellent, securely tucking mosquito net under sides of bed, cranking the fan up to high power, turning lights out and jumping into bed without disturbing the tenuous arrangement, or getting bitten by a sneaky mosquito in the process), I was about to fall into my usual deep dreamless sleep, when *ouch* I felt a sharp pain on my left shoulder blade, followed by a numbness on the left side of my body. I screamed, jumped a mile in the air, Scott also jumped, but to turn on the light and examined the place of impact. Spider bite. Huge, painful, red, swollen, instantly explosive spider bite.

After a massive dose of antihistamine, some ant-inflammatory and a large glass of wine, I was still numb (probably exacerbated by the wine), just a little sort but fine and even managed to fall back to sleep.

However, a couple of nights later, whilst lying in bed reading (again after the usual bed time rigmarole) Scott looked up at the corner of the door-jamb and immediately turned white (usual reaction to a large creepy crawly). Wedged between the hinge and the wall was the largest spider I have ever seen in my life, at least the size of a large dinner plate, with protruding eyes and fluffy legs. Mesmerised by the arachnid, we sat there for a while, and then in a moment of decision, Scott picked up the bug spray and doused the thing, full spray for at least 5 minutes – he was clearly taking no chances! It may or may not have been the thing that got me previously (doubtful, as smaller spiders usually cause the largest bites), but it definitely got the full force of our truly anti-arachnid feelings!

Luckily (for Bean anyway..!) spiders of that size are less common in South Africa than Mozambique, and I can safely say that we happily left that species well behind us with our move to South Africa.

Recently, however, now that summer is on its way, we are getting the usual increasing snake population here in South Africa. Although most species that reside here in South Africa are harmless and probably just a little curious, sadly, there are a few that can be very dangerous (to animals as well as humans), and although you can keep vigilant, check through your grounds for invaders who are the worst of the species, and never tramp through long grass without shoes, some (poisonous and not) do inevitably slip through the surveillance.

In January this year we had the most fabulous Australian girl volunteering with us. She was lying in bed, finishing writing up her volunteer diary entry for the day, and reached to the lamp at her bedside to turn out the light. As she did so, she noticed a small, grey snake coiled around the lamp’s stem. Very bravely, instead of screaming, or waking Scott or I (we were already sound asleep and oblivious to the maneuvers going on in the next room..!) she picked up the lamp by the shade, and moved it into the lounge. A little later, she realized what had happened (possibly after the adrenaline caused by finding a snake inches away from her head had subsided), and on second thoughts woke us up with the worry that one of the indoor animals may be vulnerable to being hurt by the snake. We removed the snake (luckily a non-poisonous variety) using a golf club, and all trundled back off to bed…

Are you scared of spiders like Bean? Do you not like snakes? Or are you more like me, and only worry about them when they hurt you?

Creepy crawlies and bugs and things often pop into our lives here to say hello, 99% of the time they are perfectly harmless and possibly just curious about what we are doing and who we are. Don’t get scared by them, try and stay calm, and always let someone know if there’s a snake on your lamp, or a spider in your bed -we can quickly set it free (its probably much happier outside anyway!) and carry on with our day or fall back to sleep to the wonderful sounds of the bush, the crickets, frogs and the cicadas: that African lullaby that makes our sleep so peaceful here.