I cannot believe how quickly my ten weeks in Africa has been, in less than one week I will get on a plane headed towards home. I know I will miss this gorgeous country and the culture I have been immersed in. However, the only thing the settles me is knowing that my time in Africa is not over, I will come back to this wild and free place again. In fact I plan to in the next five years as part of my Peace Corps requirement, if everything goes as planned.
In the last few weeks I have experienced more than I thought I ever would. I have traveled up to the Eastern Cape to swim with whales, dolphins and sharks. I have eaten traditional Xhosa meals and seen traditional African dance. I have explored the rural and very poor communities of Port St. Johns and Coffee Bay. I have fallen even more in love with this culture and the land.
At work, I have had the opportunity to visit SACLA (South African Christian Leadership Assembly), which is a home based healthcare organization. Working with these Carers has been an incredible experience and I have learned a great deal in only the week and a half that I have been there. Everyone is so friendly and willing to teach me about their work and the clients they see. This organization runs alongside the hospitals and treats clients who are class three, meaning that they are either bed ridden or cannot get to the hospital for some reason. The Carers at SACLA visit these clients and deliver their medication, administer check ups, and facilitate support groups for ARV treatment. Their success is due to the networks they have within their own communities on a personal and professional level. It is so empowering to see how well received this organization is in the community and the connections they make.
In my days working with these Carers I went on home visits around Site B, Khayelitsha to meet with five different clients and give them health checkups while delivering their medication. I also visited a sort of Wellness center in which elders from the community gather at during the day for social reasons as well as healthcare reasons and the security of having someone else take care of them rather than being alone. SACLA comes once or twice a week and gives them exercises to do, however this is hard in the winter due to the weather and its complications with arthritis. However, simply having the resource of health professionals who visit is a great opportunity to these elders to ask questions about their health and how to be healthier.
I have seen that through these informal educational sessions, the most that Carers focus on relates to debunking myths around diseases and other health problems. I have learned that someone has been telling people in the community wrongs about diabetes, ulcers, and other diseases. They had thought that if you have diabetes you can never eat sugar again, or that if you have relations with someone who is diabetic you can get diabetes, or that if you pee in a pineapple the woods you will be cured. I also had questions asked about ulcers such to the point that they had been told that if you decrease fiber intake you will decrease chance of ulcers, which is actually not true about ulcers either.
I have gained so much insight into the healthcare problems in South Africa from these past ten weeks that I wish I could stay longer. But I know that I will be back in Africa again and experiencing more of this amazing land and intriguing culture.
The past month in Finland has been basically filled with caterpillars. Every day I go to Oulu University and check on different caterpillar species. They line trays upon trays in their little cup homes. What I have to do is check and see if any of the caterpillars have pupated, if they have I date them and if they haven’t I change their leaves, dirt and water. It was fairly busy at the beginning I would be working with these caterpillars for eight hours usually but sometimes the hours stretched to twelve. Now, however, the hours have cut down to a range of one to three hours since they are almost all pupated.
The light has followed this pattern it was like the day at midnight at the beginning of the summer. It has now started to darken. The dark has become a weird thought to me. But I will have to get used to it again quickly as I leave for a trip to Germany with one of my flat-mates. We will be spending a couple of days in Stuttgart with one of her parent’s friends. It should be a lot of fun especially since we’re running out of time to explore. We leave for the next course on August 4th and that will last until the time we leave. All and all Finland has been a fun experience thus far, can’t wait to see Germany.
My time in Denmark has come to a close…I’m now back in the States and already missing the home I made Aarhus. How strange to feel homesick for the people and place I have only known for 5 months. It doesn’t really feel as if I studied abroad, but rather just moved somewhere new to give myself a fresh start. Aside from school I had a job, favorite coffee shops and art galleries, and found a beautiful little anarchist/vegan/art community house to live at when things got too damn expensive to stay in my apartment. Never did I expect to so quickly find a niche. It would have been easy to just stay and live there, but I guess it would be just as easy to go back. A tip to all travelers, Denmark is a friendly place for absolutely everyone..and the summertime is filled with art and music festivals (and you get awesome perks if you volunteer for them).
What I liked most about Denmark, though, is that it is nothing like the States. I thought, before coming, that it may not be so culturally different as I had wanted and maybe Spain or Eastern Europe would have given me a better experience. Yes, it is a highly modern, Western country, but aside from that there are many aspects of American culture that Danes just can’t wrap their heads around. Like not knowing what a healthy diet is. Most Danes are very health-conscious and active. Or having to pay for healthcare and school. Marriage has been a right for EVERYONE since 2012–before that, same-sex couples could get registered partnerships. Most of the country is Atheist, but if you want to practice your religion, hell, go ahead as long as you don’t push it on anyone else or bring it into government. Most people take 1-4 years off and travel before going to University. Family and close friendships are highly valued as well as self-care and ensuring your own personal happiness. When the clock hits 5, you are done with work and no one would expect or demand you work longer. Never once while working at the bar did I hear someone complain about working. Bosses and employees, students and teachers, are all equals. In fact, it is highly looked down upon for anyone to think or act as if they are better than anyone else. There are no box stores or large shopping malls. And although things are expensive, people don’t buy a lot of things. They spend money once on something nice and useful and take care of it long-term. You can take a bus or train almost anywhere, no matter how rural, but hitch-hiking is safe and relatively easy. And you can drink openly on the streets.
That was kind of a hodgepodge of information, but you get the idea. And it’s not just policies and lifestyles that make it different, the entire mindset is radically different from that in the States. It’s really something you have to experience to understand and even in the end I was finding something new about the Danes most every day.
They definitely fare well in the welfare state. I don’t think it’s the place I would want to spend the rest of my life…but if you are looking for some peace of mind and a place where you can just be, Denmark will give you just that.
Vi ses to all I left behind, see you someday soon.