Saturday, May 14, 2011

May Musings

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5/12/11 It’s fall in South Africa, but the days have been beautiful with sunny, blue skies and pleasant temperatures. Most days a t-shirt is enough, but a light jacket feels good in the morning and at night. Weird to have leaves falling, when in my mind it’s spring and the trees should be budding and spring flowers should be plentiful.

As you know I had knee surgery on that torn meniscus on April 8th. While in there he also shaved off arthritic spurs from the inside of the knee cap. I’ve been seeing an physiotherapist named Adrien, several times a week. The actual meniscus repair has gone well. Biggest issues we are dealing with now is the damage to the ligaments and tendons and the bursitis and osteoarthritis that the knee also suffers from. Adrien has been using electrode and ultrasound therapy and dry needles (kind of like acupuncture). Obviously I’ve been given a bunch of exercises to do several times a day too. I’ve made great progress we think, but as she says the knee is being very stubborn and it is not pain-free at this time. I’ve expressed to her that I am concerned most about the long-term health of my knee, since I have so many places yet to go….. If returning to my site in Morocco stops or slows down the progress I’ve made so far, then maybe this is not where I should go. I am relying heavily on her opinion as to what I should do since I feel she knows my knee better than anyone else at this time. If I were returning to a desk job or a terrain that was not hilly with gravel/rocky roads to traverse, there wouldn’t be a problem. On Friday, May 13th, she will give me her recommendation as to where I should next go and I’ve decided I will abide by that. I will update this blog after I know what is happening and add a paragraph at the end letting you know what I’m doing. You will also note that I am adding a lot of pictures to this blog basically because it is easier to do so while here. When I am at my site, it can take me 3 hours+ to upload ten pictures and I can grow quite frustrated.

I have been more than pleased with the care I have received in South Africa. The doctors and staffs I have been dealing with have been extraordinary I feel. I have also been staying at a lovely guest house that has provided me with comfortable accommodations and a lovely atmosphere to rehabilitate and rejuvenate. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and make new PCV friends from all over the African continent too. I can feel guilty at times that my days here have been so pleasant – almost like being on holiday! Obviously, I’ve had a lot of down-time since physical therapy has been basically every-other day and felt it would be a shame if I didn’t see some of South Africa while I had this opportunity, so I have done just that. I couldn’t travel far, but I have visited a few attractions that are within an easy drive from Pretoria. There are driving services you can hire by the hour/mile and we have utilized them. We couldn’t rent a car since PCVs are not allowed to drive a motorized vehicle while in service. Let me tell you about some of my adventures.

Mari is a PCV from Uganda that was also in Pretoria for medical reasons. We both had mobility issues, but decided we could manage a “ride & see” one-day safari quite well. With the help of KG, our driver and tour guide, we enjoyed a wonderful day riding through the Pilanesburg National Park. This park located about two hours of Pretoria and it is huge (550,000 hectares or 1.35 million acres). Obviously, we didn’t see the whole park in one day!! And, unfortunately, rainy weather preceded us, thus washing out many roads, so some were closed. We were not allowed to get out of our vehicle for any reason, other than when we stopped for lunch at the lodge. Truly, some animals came very close to our vehicle. The park ranger told us that many animals have retreated to higher elevations and are up in the trees to get out of the rainy weather . He also reminded us that we are going into winter here and many animals are in search of warmer areas to spend the winter. But, nevertheless, we saw lots of animals in their natural habitats. Some of the animals we saw were: herds of wildebeests, a/k/a gnu’s. Many different kinds of antelopes including the tssessesebe (fastest antelope in SA), the hartabeast, impalas (nicknamed McDonalds since they are seen everywhere and have a big M on their butts); spring bok (distinctive white face & belly), eland (largest antelope in SA) and the water bok (which has a big circle on the butt). Elephants, giraffes, zebras, wart hogs, ostriches, New Guinea fowls, and baboons are just some of the other animals we saw. Supposedly, we just missed seeing a leopard. An interesting tidbit re the elephants - there is a particularly large one in the park that KG has nicknamed “Steroid”. KG saw this elephant put his tusks under a car one day and flip it over. Needless to say, KG is scared of “Steroid” and I think elephants in general. We did see “Steroid”, but we kept our distance from him. If you remember from my trip to Zimbabwe last September, I mentioned the Big Five of South Africa consisting of the lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard and named as such as they are said to be the most dangerous of all animals when they are hunted. Of them, the buffalo is said to be the most dangerous since he can slow his heart rate and you think he is dying, but in the meantime, he is circling around to get you. Supposedly all of these animals are in this park, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any of them except for the elephant. We had a wonderful day nevertheless and we were both so glad that we had a chance to do this.

KG was also an interesting young man. We had great discussions during our day with him re life and attitudes in South Africa. He says the best part of his job is meeting people who accept without prejudging based on stereotypes and prejudices. I’ve made the broad generalization that South Africa can be compared to the 60’s in the states.

Mari and I also took the opportunity to visit an elephant sanctuary that is located about an hour north of Pretoria. We hired KG again as our driver and tour guide through the Backpacker organization. The Elephant Sanctuary provides a “halfway house” for young African elephants in need of a temporary home. It is the only operation in South Africa that provides for elephants in this way. It is their vision to release all the elephants into an environment where they can be more independent once they are older.

The Elephant Sanctuary hosts a unique and fully guided educational program that sets itself apart from anything else that South Africa has to offer in terms of elephant interaction and touching elephants. Visitors can learn more about elephant habits, behavior, different personalities and anatomy through up-close and personal interaction. We had the opportunity to touch, feed and even walk trunk-in-hand with these magnificent animals. The main focus of The Elephant Sanctuary is to educate people about all aspects of elephants and elephant husbandry. If the elephant’s ear was discussed, for example, we had the opportunity to actually touch one and to get a closer look at the smoothness of the skin on the back of the ear compared to the rough skin on the outside.

We were each allowed to have one-on-one time with an elephant. Obviously the elephant’s trainer stayed near in case of problems. My elephant was named Mvusu and he was a twelve year old male. Mvusu was referred to as a typical male teen-ager and he is known to be mischievous. One of his trainers stayed on his back at all times – just in case he should decide to show off. Mvusu is trained to give a kiss on command. Wow, kind of like holding the vacuum hose on your cheek – he has a powerful suck!!! Not very romantic, but oh so fun…… I really wanted to ride Myusu, but because of my lame knee, they wouldn’t let me – darn!

Here are a few fun facts re elephants that you might not know: The elephant’s foot is constructed in such a way that the animal is virtually walking on tip toe, with a tough, fatty pad of connective tissue forming the sole. Elephants tusks are overgrown incisors protruding from the upper jaw. They grow at a rate of 15–18cm a year, depending on their diet. The skeletal frame of an elephant allows the animal to stand upright on its hind legs. Elephants wear down 6 sets of molars in a lifetime. Elephant herds consist of females, who are usually related, calves and young bull calves. The eldest female, called the Matriarch, most often leads the herd. Bull calves get kicked out of the herd when they reach about 12 years of age to join the bull “bachelor” herds or to become a solitary bull. Bull herds will only join a female herd when it is mating season, or at a waterhole. Elephants are known to display a deep sensitivity and awareness of death and will return repeatedly to carcasses and skeletons of deceased herd members, running their trunks gently over their remains as though paying their respects. Elephants spend as many as 18–20 hours a day feeding and drinking. Like man, elephants are usually left or right “handed” and will use one tusk almost exclusively. Elephants have a highly developed social structure, with family bonds, love, loyalty and intelligence. Elephants use a wide range of sounds to express their moods and feelings. The gestation period in female elephants is 22 months. The bone structure of an elephant is similar to that of human beings, for example they too have a wrist joint in the front legs as well as knee caps and ankles in the back legs. Even the shoulder blades are positioned in the same place as in humans. The elephant’s memory surpasses that of humans.

Mari and I also had the opportunity to visit The Freedom Park in Pretoria with Rob, another PCV, and his South African friend, Arthur. The Park is situated in the capital’s city centre, The Freedom Park stands as a memorial to what South Africa has ach ieved as a nation. The Freedom Park tells the nation’s stories. It honors the efforts of heroes and heroines, that died in the struggles for humanity and freedom. The park is divided into different areas: (1) Isivivane is a spiritual place – a resting place for those who died fighting for freedom and liberation in South Africa. (2) Sikhumbuto is the memorial telling of the most important conflicts in South Africa’s history and honors those who died fighting for humanity and freedom during these conflicts. This memorial consists of several elements consisting of the Wall of Names where names are inscribed who have died fighting for humanity and freedom. The Sanctuary is a quiet place where you can go to think or to pay respect to a loved one that passed on. And, the Eternal Flame is for the heroes and heroines that died without their names being recorded. The flame always burns to remind us that there are names that will never be known.

South Africa really celebrates the Easter holiday. Most businesses were closed from Friday thru Monday for the Easter holiday. And, even though I rarely attend church, it just felt like the thing to do so Gail (another PCV from South Africa) and I went with Mari to St. Wilfrid’s Anglican Church for the Easter service. It was a lovely service actually and the music was most enjoyable. They had a person playing the drums, someone on an electric keyboard, two guitars and two singers leading us in song. The music was very happy and upbeat and you should have seen the priest/minister(?) rockin-on. Walking out of the church into a warm, pleasant morning just felt right! To celebrate the day further, Mari, Gail and Rob and I grilled steaks and enjoyed a nice Easter dinner together. Yes, some of my customary traditions weren’t part of the day, but a good day was had nevertheless.

On Easter Monday, since it was still a holiday, one of the doctors from PC, called us and asked if the four of us would like to go with him to Groenloaf Nature Park. It is on the outskirts of Pretoria and what a beautiful park it is. Lots and lots of bicyclists and people walking the trails. Unfortunately, because of the terrain, I was not able to join the group on the three hour hike, but I walked some of the flat surfaces and saw some beautiful wild flowers. In the meantime, the group saw a herd of zebras that was very close to them, and giraffes, impalas, wildebeest and ??? Oh well, my nap in the sunshine was nice too!!!

Mari and I visited The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg one afternoon. It was really quite spectacular. It is huge, and most of the displays require lots of reading. You really could spend about two days there to fully get through it and appreciate it. After several hours, you are simply exhausted because you feel like you can't read and absorb any more. We stayed about four hours and even though we didn't get through the entire museum in depth, we skimmed everything towards the end. Just a little bit about it. From a brochure it says, "The basic principle behind apartheid was simple - segregate everything. Cut a clean line through a nation to divide black from white and keep them divided. You will come to understand that any form of racial inequality leads to destruction. The award winning and internationally acclaimed museum communicates this by using dark images, sounds and atmosphere prevalent in that troubled era. It attempts to present a balanced account of 20th century South Africa" The museum itself is stark and is supposed to bring to mind images of detention, oppression and division. It begins with segregation, the cornerstone of apartheid and goes through race classification, 150 acts of apartheid, detentions and the oppression of the nationalist regime. There is a small rectangular room which has a ceiling filled with hanging rope nooses depicting political executions and detention without trial in rooms where prisoners were held in solitary confinement. There was a very large Mandela Exhibit where they tell of his life and how he came to follow the path he chose. Although I did not see any signs prohibiting the taking of pictures, and I did take a few pictures, I was told that taking pictures was prohibited, so I had to stop :-( I think you really have to visit it to appreciate it . I am attaching a few pictures since I think you'll like seeing them.

I did one last adventure with Nicki (Madagascar) just this past week. We visited Ukutula, a privately owned lion reserve about an hour’s ride away from Pretoria. We were lucky, and KG was again our driver. They have about 100 lions on this reserve and the object is to one day turn them out into a wild game reserve. They are currently working with the University of Pretoria and a veterinary university (sorry can’t remember the name) on a research project involving the white lion. We had a young woman as our guide while there who was very informative and helpful. She definitely loves her job and is working on her qualification as a certified field guide. Ultimately, she hopes to teach animal husbandry for wild animals at the university level. While there we got to play with the three month old lion cubs, who were every bit as playful and mischievous as playing with a kitten in your home, albeit they were just a tad bigger!! We then got to bottle feed the seven week old cubs. OMG – what fun!!! We had personal contact with a one year old cheetah, who purred unbelievably loud. We then observed many other lions, both brown and white ranging in age up to ten years, plus a couple of tigers. All were absolutely beautiful animals – definitely a highlight of my stay here. Here are a few lion facts you may not know. A few months ago, 80% of the lions in Kruger National Park and Kenya were infected with tuberculosis. Today 90% are infected. At this rate, they will be extinct in these areas in ten years. Research is being conducted as to why TB is so growing so fast and how to save the lion. All lions in Ukutula are TB free. In the wild, a male lion lives to about the age of 9-10 years since it is then when a younger male forces him out of the pride. In the reserve, the male will live until 15 or so. Lions sleep approximately 20 hours per day. In the reserve, the adult lions are fed red meat once a week or if they are fed chickens, four chickens per lion are fed , twice a week. A male lion devotes himself to one female when she is ripe for breeding for 2-5 days. They will mate every 20 minutes during this 5 day period with the hopes of impregnating the female. The gestation period for a lion is 3-1/2 months. Typically 4-6 cats are born in a litter. The cub is blind for the first four weeks after birth. Females are the primary hunters, although the male gets to eat first. Lions stealth and ambush. Their preferred method of killing their prey is with a powerful bite delivered to the base of the skull, which breaks the neck of the prey. Tigers are solitary hunters between sunset and dawn and they bring down their prey by going for the throat and/or windpipe. The cheetah hunts in the early morning or at dusk. The cheetah is the fastest cat and can run at the speed of 60-70 miles per hour, but for only a sprint. He uses the momentum of his speed to knock down his prey and then usually tries to suffocate his prey by going for the windpipe. The visit to Ukutula was even better than expected.

As I said, I left spring in Morocco and I’m now back to fall since I am south of the equator and in a different hemisphere. I ate my dinner on the back patio last night and it was strange indeed to see leaves falling. Even smells like fall and the air is crisp and cool too. The area I’m staying in is beautifully landscaped and some of the high walls surrounding homes are impressive (see attached picture). Perhaps this is an “old” neighborhood, but I have yet to hear a child playing or in fact, even adult voices on my walk abouts. Everyone seems to stay within the confines of their homes. The locked, remote controlled gate is opened, the car parks in the garage, doors are closed and no one is seen again until they once again leave. Twenty percent of the South African population controls the economics of the country. There is a very large gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” it seems.

Some words/expressions/observations I’ve heard/seen here that I have found interesting:
It’s my pleasure -- rather than saying “you’re welcome”
Come back -- “repeat please” or “excuse me”
Calming area -- a street sign meaning “slow down”
Eish - describes disgust, surprise, or frustration.
Braai – barbeque
No complaints – response to the question of “how are you”, rather than our typical “fine”
Geyser (pronounced geezer) – electric hot water heater, up on the roof
Kombi – a van – frequently used as a taxi service
GoGo -- what they call the grandmothers (I love it, don’t you - I think I want to be called this one day)
I saw this sign -- breasts, hips & bum enlargement – not often do we see this wish do we?
Most homes in the rural areas have the main house, a small building in the yard and an outhouse. When asked why,
I was told that the small building is usually rented out to either supplement the income or is sometimes the main
source of income for the family

Along with Easter, we’ve had several holidays while I’ve been here in South Africa. April 27th was Freedom Day and May 1st was Worker’s Day. Most businesses and the schools were closed on these holidays. The guest house has also been quiet and I found myself alone for one weekend, since all other volunteers returned home too. Angie (a staff person) and I were the only ones here. I made guacamole one day and Angie and I enjoyed eating it one afternoon and she talked about her life. She was a nanny for a South African family in the late 90’s. One time she traveled with them to Scotland and commented on how different everything tasted, but how exciting it was for her. Unfortunately they decided to move to England and even though they invited her to move with them, she decided she couldn’t leave her husband and daughter in South Africa. Had she not had these responsibilities, I’m sure she would have gone with them. Another morning Angie talked with me while I drank coffee. I wanted her to join me and have a cup of coffee too, but she declined. Hopefully she truly doesn’t like coffee and didn’t decline the offer because I am a “guest”. This particular morning she talked about her daughter, Mavis, and her granddaughters Kholofelo (meaning “hope”) and Mpho (meaning “small gift”). Mavis did not want English names for her children and instead she chose traditional South African names. Mavis went to the university and is a chemical engineer, although she is a stay-at-home mom now. Mavis’s husband is a manager at the Checker grocery store. One night when it was just the two of us at the House, I had a small knock on my door and in Angie walked with a typical rural South African dinner on a tray for me. It consisted of boerewors (kind of like bratwurst), smothered in a tomato & onion gravy and maze meal (kind of like cream of wheat, cooked dry and solid enough to cut with a knife). How very sweet of her!! Wanting to reciprocate, I cooked dinner for Angie and Martha too. I shared my tales of growing up on a farm in Michigan and told them that the meal I would serve would be like a meal I grew up eating. I made scalloped potatoes, baked beans, meatloaf and fresh homemade applesauce. I made triple chocolate cookies for dessert. I insisted that this meal was my event and that they were not allowed to help cook or clean up and being as bossy as I am, they eventually listened to me. Even though they have cooked similar dishes, my version was different than they were used to. They commented that they always ate the same meal every night and having a change was very nice. I think the biggest surprise for them was that a white woman could cook. The white women they’ve had contact with can barely boil water. They were impressed!!! And, it was great fun for me to share this experience with them. Angie would like to take me home with her to her village in rural South Africa. Unfortunately, I doubt that her days off and the days I have free from physical therapy will coincide and make that possible. I have been helping Maria, another staff person, learn how to maneuver the internet. She sends me many “test” messages to test her skills.

My physiotherapist also had several food suggestions that I really must taste to say that I’ve been in South Africa. She herself baked me rusk (kind of a biscotti sort of thing), that should be dipped in coffee or tea. She also said I must taste koeksusters (really, really sweet pastry, coated in a sticky sweet syrup), melktert (custard like pie), biltong and droe wors (both similar to our jerky). I bought enough to bring back to the guest house to share with the other PCVs that are here, so that they didn’t miss out on the experience either. It was a fun taste testing.

I took walks while in Pretoria and frequently ended up at a shopping center. Now granted I love food and I like to cook, so this isn’t really as weird as you may think, but I frequently wander into a grocery store. In South Africa, the big supermarkets chains are, “Checkers”, “Pick & Pay” and “Spar”. Once there I can walk the aisles, pushing a trolley (shopping cart), puzzle over unfamiliar junk food and focus on the creative labels of items I found. So how does the South African deal with household pests? What flavors of ice cream do they have? And, since all supermarkets are fairly predictable, having aisles, trolleys and checkouts, it is a pretty stress-free walk-about and people just leave you alone to wander and shop. It gives you wonderful insight into the lives and homes of the locals you are visiting. If you’ve never done this before, give it a try….. it’s fun!! Here is a little test for you – can you guess at what food this is -- assorted luncheon loaves, soft citrus, polony, mince, biscuits, orange squash, loaf cake, chocolate slabs.

I visited one morning with another guest here at the House and he told me about the ostrich ranches near his home. You know how you’ve seen herds of cattle grazing in the fields, well he says here in South Africa they have herds of ostriches. He says the ostrich is one of the few birds that almost every part of the bird is used. The meat is eaten, feathers are used for decorations, the hide makes beautiful leather goods and even the toes are used for key chains and gadgets of other sorts.

D (decision) day is here and it has been decided that I will return to Morocco probably on Tuesday of next week (May 16th). No, the knee is not pain free, but soft tissue is so slow to heal, it may be months before it actually feels almost normal. With osteoarthritis, it may never be totally pain free and a knee replacement is probably in the cards down the line. Yes, this may accelerate the need for a replacement some, but we'll never know how much and does it really matter? The PC doctors really seem to want me to return to Morocco and advised me to continue to take it easy for a while. If the knee begins to hurt more, then I will just have them medically separate me from PC at a later time. So, I will return to Morocco, lay low in my apartment for a while and continue to rest the knee and before I know it, it will be November and officially time for me to return to the states. I think I really thought I would return to the States and can't decide if I'm disappointed or excited about this decision, but guess I'm okay with this and just hope the knee continues to improve. I don't think I'll unpack. I'll just sort of live out the remaining time in Morocco in a half-packed mode.

Whew….. this ended up being a really long update. My next note to be written in mid-June will be from Morocco once again. Stay healthy, be happy and take care of yourself and those you love. Hugs, Linda

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