Friday, April 15, 2011

April in South Africa

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4/15/11 Tax time folks – that glorious time of the year!!! Hope your taxes are filed and that you are getting a whopping big refund!! Lucky for me, since I am working out of country, I am granted an automatic extension to June 15th so mine will be filed in a few months.

Some of you know this, but my plans changed dramatically. Since the US government budget issues lingered on and on (and maybe are still lingering??? – I’m really out of the news loop), rather than having me continue to sit on “stand by”, I was offered the opportunity to travel to our regional medical location in South Africa for surgery on that torn knee meniscus. Since all this waiting to see what tomorrow might bring was making me a bit crazy, I decided – why not? South Africa is purported to have a top-notch medical care system. I left Morocco on April 3rd and flew to Johannesburg, South Africa via Cairo, Egypt. I had a three-hour layover in Cairo, and all was quiet (I could picture a few worried faces when I reported this.) Upon my arrival, I was met by a shuttle service and brought to a lovely guest house in Pretoria which will be my home away from home for a while. There are other volunteers from all over the African continent (Zambia, Yuganda, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and the country of South Africa, itself) staying here while they seek treatment for and recover from medical problems. I am the first volunteer from Morocco to visit. We have private rooms, most have private baths, complete with televisions, and breakfast is provided to us. Nice breakfasts too -- I think I’ve eaten bacon (kind of a Canadian bacon/ham type) for breakfast every day since arriving. But please remember, Morocco is a Muslin country and we don’t have pork products in the country per se, so this is a real treat. We also have kitchen privileges here at the guest house where we can prepare our own lunch and dinner. And, we may use their washer and dryer for our clothes – such luxuries! The house itself looks like an English Inn and the garden surrounding it is well landscaped and full of flowers. I’ve attached a few pictures of the guest house and staff. Gosh I particularly like this bathroom -- note the western toilet -- ahhhhh!!!! The doctor in charge of this program said he wanted a place for volunteers to stay that was conducive to good healing for both the body and soul and restful . He found it!! I went to the grocery store upon my arrival and saw many products that looked familiar to me. I’ve fixed myself pork chops, baked potatoes, corn, beans & franks, kettle corn popcorn, spinach salads with feta cheese and a variety of fruit. I even bought ice cream so that I can have it whenever I want it. I will put that weight back on if I don’t watch it 

I had surgery on Friday, April 8th and it went very well. The knee surgeon cut out the tear on the meniscus and shaved arthritic spurs off the bones. He said structurally, my knee looks great and it should feel much better than it did before. Actually, it feels better already!! The physical therapist came in Friday night and had me actually walk a short bit for her. She then returned on Saturday morning and gave me some simple exercises to do. They initially had a tube in the knee for drainage, but removed it before I left the hospital on Saturday. My knee is wrapped, but I am walking (slowly) on it without crutches. I am supposed to rest it, elevate it and keep it iced for now. I am to continue these simple exercises for 7-10 days. I have an appointment on April 19th to see the surgeon and physical therapist. I suspect that this is when the real physical therapy will begin.. At this point in time, I don't have a clue what physical therapy will entail or how long I will stay here. I was told that there were about five issues involved with my knee (ligaments, tendons, etc.) but only the meniscus required surgical procedures, and I guess the arthritic spurs once they were in there. They are still saying that it could take up to six months for the tendon to heal entirely, but uncertain if that would keep me from returning to Morocco? No one is really saying where I will go from here and my guess is that they might not know yet since it will depend on how physical therapy goes. In the meantime, I am sleeping when tired, reading and giving my knee the rest it needs at this point in time. I’m also becoming better acquainted with the volunteers staying here and you all know how I like to talk!!

I must make a couple of comments regarding my hospital stay. It was a private hospital and looked very similar to the hospitals we are accustomed to. I was in a six-bed ward, but only my bed and another were occupied. My roomie was named Estelle. Estelle is an attorney and a divorced mother of three children. I had the good fortune of meeting two of them. (Side note re Estelle’s sons. Both worked in Maine one summer at a golf camp and later sold encyclopedia’s in Texas, near the Mexican border. Not their favorite job and both hope to never do something like that again, although returning to the states is something they would like to do). The operating rooms are called “theatres”. I asked Estelle if she knew why they were called this, but she didn’t. I’m thinking most patients are not likely that entertaining, but maybe the doctors/staff are??? Nurses are called “Sisters”. At first I thought we were talking about Catholic Sisters, but later learned the real meaning of the word. I wasn’t given a “call button” and wondered just how I was supposed to get their attention should I need it – hmm, South Africa is different! Estelle and I later learned that there were indeed “call buttons”, we just didn’t receive them. Perhaps we looked problematic?? A few interesting staff names were -- Surprise, Patience, Norah, Lizelle and unfortunately I just can’t remember all the others. Most were kind, attentive and helpful. I learned that I should have brought my own towel and washcloth to the hospital with me, but they did find one for me to use. Hospital food really doesn’t taste that good, regardless of the country you may be in. On the whole my experience was good and I was well taken care of.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’ve seen much of South Africa. From what I’ve seen here, it is very similar to the surroundings we are familiar with, but I know that the remote areas are not as fortunate. Peace Corps has volunteers in rural areas, and the conditions sound challenging. I’ve seen beautiful homes here in the city, all surrounded by high walls, and topped with electric fencing. Security systems seem to be the norm not the exception. I heard the ice cream truck in the neighborhood. Unfortunately I couldn’t run fast enough to catch it! Since we are located south of the Ecuador, it is fall here and we are heading into winter. The days have been partially cloudy and probably around 70 degrees. I’ve had the windows open at night in my room, but the locals think it has been chilly at night. (Ummm, they should have visited me a couple of months ago.) I’m told their winter days are frequently around 32 degrees, with occasional black ice, but rarely snow. June is typically their coldest month. Depending on my mobility as time goes along, it would be great if I could see a bit of not only this city, but of the country itself. There are some one-day safari treks and it would be fun if I could do one of these while here. I’m told it is mostly a ride and see trip, so it wouldn’t be hard on my knee I’m told. I’ve also just learned of an elephant sanctuary that is nearby. I recently read “Water for Elephants”, and I have a new-found fascination for these large, sensitive, gentle animals and I would love to visit this sanctuary if possible.

I mentioned in my last blog writing that I was working on a graphic/visual cheese cookbook for the ladies of the association I work with in Morocco since they are illiterate and unable to read the written version. I completed this before I left and gave it to my counterpart. I used the colored measuring spoons Elaine brought me as the devices to measure and I downloaded pictures of mint, olives, almonds, etc., and pasted these pictures near the appropriate spoons so that they would know the ingredients. Not that the picture I’ve attached is great, but I think it gives you an idea of what I’ve done and it is self-explanatory don’t you think? Lately, my counterpart has showed more interest in flavoring cheese and I hope this is helpful to her and the association. What I’d really like to see happen is to incorporate it into the restaurant, if we ever have a going restaurant business. I visualize the restaurant as being a showcase for the products of our association. We could have a small herb garden off to the side near the entrance to the restaurant. We could sell the customer plain cheese and ask them if they would like to add some seasonings. They could then pick out the fresh herb(s), or other makings. We could give everything a whirrrrr in the blender, and the customer themselves could do the mixing at their table to enjoy it as an appetizer as they are waiting for their tajine. We have a few carpets that the ladies have made and I think we could drape them over curtain rods where they could be seen and hopefully sold. The carpets would also provide colorful art for the walls of the dining room. As it is now, they are in the back room and if asked for, they are shown, but who would think to ask? We also do some embroidery and sewing that could be displayed and hopefully sold. There are so many possibilities to pursue, but uncertain if anything will ever materialize. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut!

It is customary to have henna applied before any trip or big event in Morocco. My leaving was just such an occasion. Khadeja decorated me the day before I left my site. I gave her a pretty free rein and told her to do anything she’d like to do. What do you think? I, of course, visited with my host family and their nearby neighbors before I left and they loved the henna. I told them that I hoped it would make the surgeon operating on my knee go “ooooh la la” and the ladies particularly liked this idea. I’m not sure the surgeon was impressed though  , but the physical therapist did notice and she loved it!

It was spring in my site when I left. Fields were greening up, trees were blossoming and baby animals of all sorts were scampering about. I had the chance to enjoy my morning coffee on my rooftop once again and watch the village wake up. Before I left, Anna and I visited our friend Angelica in her site, which is nearby, but off the beaten track. Angelica lives in a gorgeous valley and even though she is remote, her village is well equipped with everything, much better than mine is. Remember the puppy, Lily, that I babysat late last fall, well this is her home too. The home itself is a bit more rustic than I am accustomed to and I’m grateful for the luxuries I have. Angelica had been telling us about the rodent problem she has been having this winter. Well while we were in the kitchen, something caught my eye. Didn’t see anything at this time, but we heard rustling. Later, a louder noise caught our attention. Now I must tell you, I hate, really hate, mice and rats, I’d rather deal with snakes. Anna retreats to the salon, I’ve left the kitchen and I’m standing in the courtyard watching the kitchen door. Angelica is in the kitchen banging a stick……. We must have been a funny site! Finally a large rodent (rat) about 6-8 inches in length comes out of the kitchen – eeeeck! At this time, I start jumping as best I can since it was trying to decide the direction it should run – please not towards me…… and luckily it does head the opposite direction and goes up and over a nearby wall. Ummm, Lily is nowhere to be found. I presume she was scared to? What a watch dog!

I met up with one of the village teachers in Ouarzazate before I left. I had been given a gift of money to be used for art supplies for the school. Abdajil (the teacher) and I went to a large bookstore and we purchased paints, markers, crayons, paper , etc. and activity workbooks for the younger classes. I visualize happy, busy children creating art masterpieces now. We also investigated photocopiers while there since the school doesn’t have a copy machine and it would be ever so useful. Stipends previously given to me enabled me to give them the funds to purchase a copier for the school too. I later spent the night with a Moroccan friend named Chafia and her family in Ouarzazate. They kept insisting that I eat, eat – I don’t think I look hungry, but they must have thought I was. They had me sleep in the parlor that night and Chafia asked if I would be scared alone and offered to sleep with me. This is just another example of the typical Moroccan’s hospitality. I woke up to the sounds of roosters crowing & chickens clucking, cows mooing and a donkey braying. I’m thinking – what the heck – we’re in a house in the city. I was told that they keep animals on their roof (how did they get them up there?) and that they bring them tuga (grass) from family members’ homes in smaller villages surrounding Ouarzazate.

On my way out of the Morocco, I spent the night in Marrakech and met up with Mary & Gerry, volunteers in the Essaouria area. We explored the Jewish quarters in the afternoon and traveled together as far as Rabat on the following day. Mary & Gerry are “mature” volunteers like myself, married, work in the health sector and have been in-country for about a year. They too have had many memorable experiences. Actually one of their sons has just begun a new job with a NGO here in South Africa and they are traveling to the area next week for a visit and we might meet up again while they are here. Also, while in Rabat, waiting for my Sunday flight, Annie, Donna and Hanna came into the city and we spent Saturday night together. Annie bought a hat in Fes to add to her collection. We all had to try it out – I don’t think I should give up the day job do you? It’s kind of like working a hoola hoop.

Well my friends, this is about all I can think of to write for the moment. Rest assured I am well and on the road to recovery. From where I’ll next write is yet to be determined. Whatever is to be – will be, and I’m okay with that.
Enjoy the spring flowers that must be emerging and Happy Easter to you. Hoppy, Hoppy Spring to all. Hugs, Linda


  1. I'm so glad you're healing well, Linda! What an adventure! Thanks for the great post.

  2. The accommodations look fantastic Linda. I'm glad you are being well taken care of. You sound so optimistic about your journey taking place and I admire it. I hope to see you back here in Morocco but most of all I hope for you to have a complete and full recovery however that may be.