Adventuring in South Africa

I have been living, working, loving, and traveling around the tip of South Africa in Cape Town for the last five weeks. Yesterday marked my “midway point” to my trip and it was quite a shock. I have already done so much here, yet want to get so much more out of my trip.

I have been working in a township of Cape Town, Khayelitsha, at the Treatment Action Campaign. This is an HIV/AIDS foundation in the heart of the townships. They work nationally to better the quality of life through means of education, policy, and awareness. Their mission,  is, “To ensure that every person living with HIV has access to quality comprehensive prevention and treatment services to live a healthy life” (About the Treatment, n.d.). There are three core sectors that are run under the Treatment Action Campaign: Prevention and Treatment Literacy, Community Health Advocacy, and Policy, Communications and Research. The Prevention and Treatment Literacy sector and Community Health Advocacy sector both fight to reduce stigma towards HIV positive individuals, decrease gender based violence, and increase the knowledge about HIV and its associated illnesses within the respective communities. While the Policy, Communications and Research sector aims to protect the rights given to the people by the South African Constitution that are not being upheld. This sector fights in the courthouses, at the government, and with the local police.

Currently, I have been doing a variety of things at the organization. I have helped to organize files for branches and freed up time for others to do their work while I focus on the administrative side. While this is not my focus, I realize that working in a grassroots organization is not always going to be hands on, but rather fulfilling all of the little details in order to get anything done.

I have also been able to observe adherence councilors for ARV treatment which has been a very interesting process. The healthcare system is very different here and being able to observe these sessions has allowed me to see more into the lives of nurses, councilors, and HIV positive patients. I am only beginning to understand the struggles of HIV in this country and what the lives are like for the people living in poverty in the townships.

While I spend thirty hours a week at this organization, the rest of my time has been spent exploring Cape Town.

I have climbed Lion’s Head to see the sunrise and sunset over Cape Town, I have hiked along the base of Table Mountain and has seen the entirety of the city from above, I have also seen the city from the sea on a sail boat. I have visited the District Six museum to better understand how the displacement of peoples happened in this city, and have walked around the old and new districts to see the changes made.

I have also traveled along the eastern coast of South Africa along the Garden Route and bungy jumped, saw elephants, walked along a gorgeous beach, and stayed at the coolest hostel I have ever slept at. There is always so much to do in Cape Town like moonlight bike rides, exploring the quirky restaraunts and shops, and always finding something new.

There is so much to see here, I am sure that my next five weeks will be just as eventful, if not more.





My First 3 Weeks in Finland

I have been in Finland for close to three weeks now and so far I have already taken one class, the aquatics course. For this course I had to travel from Oulu up to the Oulanka research station where I stayed for about a week. In this course all the students were split into groups and each day the groups did something different. In the groups, half a day was spent working in the field and half a day was spent working in the lab. I learned how to take samples and recognize species of zooplankton, macro-invertebrates and fish. The days were long during the course, 9:00am to 5:00pm every day, but the experience was really enjoyable. I learned a ton on this course and I am definitely looking forward to the next one in August. Until that course begins I will be working on a caterpillar and butterfly project. My project work doesn’t start for a few weeks still, so I am debating on where to go and travel. I will probably see more of Finland since it is incredibly beautiful, but I would still like to visit another place. I’m hoping to find a place with a lot of history built into the town. Until I decide I will just spend sometime roaming around Oulu.

Hjort Fest

Bring on the sunshine!

This weekend (and past few days) the sun came out to stay and warm our winter bones. Perfect timing as it was the weekend of Hjort fest–a small outdoor festival held at one of the eco communities I am writing about. The community itself, Andelssamfundet (yea, i know…), is of about 150 people in all age ranges. Houses or apartments are either owned, partially owned, or rented so it’s pretty accessible to all financial capacities. There’s a lot to say about the history of it but I’ll probably bore you geeking out on it….

What’s really special though is its program for mentally handicapped people. One of the housing groups is dedicated for young men with varied abilities who are able to live and work in the community. The goal is to provide social interaction and participation for the men while finding them jobs that they are happy and successful in doing. Though the festival started so the community could raise money to buy a pice of land, Hjort fest is now held yearly to raise money for this housing group (also its super fun and Danes love any reason to party).

It was a bit unfortunate that I was totally exhausted from exams/moving out/Distortion (a festival I went to in Copenhagen that’s called distortion for a very good reason…ay). Most of the weekend I just enjoyed the music and sunshine while trying to give my brain a rest. I volunteered cooking with Folkenkoken—this vegetarian “people’s kitchen” some friends and I go to in Aarhus. A lot of the food was donated and everyone was really creative in making some awesome meals! There was also homemade ice cream made there at the community…damn.

But the best part of course was the music…because when Danes drink, they dance, and all the different ages/types of people made for a beautiful mess of happy, groovin’ people. For as small as the festival was, there were 3 stages with totally unique atmospheres and a bit of something for everyone. I really have to hand it to all the people who planned Hjort fest for creating a small little paradise in their backyard. EVERYTHING was decorated and given life in some way. Colorful crochets wrapped around the trees, fairly lights in the forest, paintings hug on the fence in front of the cows, flowers planted in old shoes, anything funky and fun you could imagine was there.

If anyone is interested in learning about the community itself please ask! In many ways, the Danes do it right and we could take a few notes from them 🙂





A little late on the blog posts…but here it goes. Time here in Denmark has gone so quickly! I would say it’s been a whirlwind adventure, but Denmark is too relaxed for that. It’s been more of a cozy–or hygge–time. For those of you who don’t know anything about Denmark, hygge is probably the most important thing to learn. Like most Danish words, it sounds nothing like it is spelled and is pronounced “who-gae”, or “hue-gah”.  There’s no real translation for it in English, but basically its spending a really intimate, cozy time with friends or family that involves a lot of candles. Or really just enjoying the pleasure of doing things not matter how simple they are. Which is probably one of the reasons Denmark is considered the happiest country on Earth.

Soooo…is Denmark the happiest country in the world? That’s what we’re all wondering here, isn’t it? Well yes, and no…I think. It’s hard to say really because my experience has been surprising and rewarding in so many ways that I, of course, have been very happy here. But to say that everyone in Denmark is “happier” would be an oversimplification of how it got that reputation in the first place.

It seems that every Dane is eager to talk about how I perceive them. Every conversation—and I mean EVERY conversation—I have had with a Danish person( which is a lot) we always get around to why Denmark is so different. Honestly, the reasons are quite obvious.

  1. There is a standard level of equality for everyone. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  2. Education is free for everyone. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  3. Health care is free for everyone. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  4. It is, for the most part, completely safe (parents just leave their babies in strollers outside coffee shops…)
  5. There is a strong amount of pride in being Danish

Of course, the country has its issues, but as a whole, it is an extremely livable place. And paying almost half your income in taxes? No biggie. Because taxes go back to the people and the welfare state will take care of you.

So it really depends on how happiness is measured. I would say that Denmark is one of the most content and peaceful places in the world. Prescription drug usage is a semi-big problem here and a lot of people I know are not what most people deem as “happy”. There’s a lot of cultural and societal reasons to this that we could talk hours about–the psychology of Scandinavian culture as a whole is extremely interesting and worth experiencing. But at the end of the day, Denmark is a comfortable, hygge place to live.

Aarhus, the city I live in and the second largest in Denmark, is always alive with art openings and music festivals. Never a shortage of cool things to do here! One of my favorite experiences has been volunteering at a non-profit bar downtown called Fairbar. Lots of local beers to taste and Danish people to meet. The Danes are a unique kind who have a reputation for seeming stand-offish, but are very kind and super awesome once they get comfortable with you! (or drunk…)

There’s so so much more to talk about but then I would be writing forever. It will be sad to leave this cozy little place. Next two posts will be about a sustainable living community I have been visiting and something called Folkekøkken (folke-kooken…?).

it's like a postcard...

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Hope all you GLI-ers are having a happy summer!