Sheepishly I begin this blog post. It has been a long time, too long since I’ve let you all know my whereabouts. Sheepishly I begin this blog post. I had told many of you before leaving that I would write at least twice a month, and now I believe I haven’t written in two months! Sigh…
I’ve fallen in love with South Africa. It’s like I’m seeing the ocean and the mountains here for the first time or perhaps with an appreciation I did not have before. Perhaps this is because I came on the heels of India. I’m staying in an apartment that overlooks the bay that spills into the Indian Ocean and the Titsikama Mountain range that runs from the north and seem to fall right into the ocean on the horizon. Every morning, every evening, this is what I get to look at. As one of my students Karl always likes to say, “I win.”
Ever since I arrived in South Africa three weeks ago I can’t stop walking. I let Vanessa and Nora take the car and spend half an hour walking to the beach and another 45 minutes back up the hill home. Sometimes I’ll do this twice in one day. India confined me in so many ways that all I want is clean air, open quiet spaces and lots of room to move. I didn’t spend much time outside while in Jaipur, which goes against everything that makes me me. My cells, composed of fresh air and clean water, my muscles of old mountain passes, my joints of river bends. But there it was- loud, dusty, too much for my senses. I’m sensitive, I can’t help this aspect of my constitution, so in India, or at least in Jaipur, I went outside simply to get from point a to b.
The sky in Jaipur is perpetually hazy, a mix of fog in the morning with dust from the desert and pollution from the cars. It smells like a mix of burning garbage (inhaled it burns the lungs) and of spices frying over open flames. And this sort of encapsulates how I feel about India. Immediate shock and wanting to hide coupled with a curiosity and interest in everything I see. I could ride around in tuk tuks all day just taking in the random sights along the streets – the camels, the men getting a shave in shacks along the roadside, the random wedding party on horses at night…I’m glad to be gone, although no matter how difficult it was, I’m appreciative for the opportunity to have experienced it again, especially in light of what it means to be a woman in this world.
Four days before we arrived in India (December 16) a 23 year old medical student was brutally raped on a bus in Delhi and left on the side of the road in a pool of her own blood. Two weeks later, she died in a Singaporean hospital where even the best doctors could not save her.
Coming to Jaipur on the heels of this tragedy, when the entire country was in an uproar, men and women taking to the streets in mass protests in almost every major Indian city for days to demand justice for women in a country heavily weighed down by sexism, my students were on edge. We, the program leaders, were on edge too. Nora was hit on the back by a man on a motorcycle passing her at dusk as she was walking from our apartment to the hotel. We were not only stared at, but glared at, almost in disgust. What did we represent to these men? I’m reluctant to say all this because I don’t want to paint a picture that is all negative, a picture that posits men vs women on every street corner. I worked with some very sweet men there. Still, every morning when I read the Times of India while waiting for our tuk tuk more than half the front page was covered with stories of women and girls being raped and abused. One couldn’t help but move with trepidation among the streets.
And then as I was drinking tea one evening watching the news (another story about the raped medical student) I remembered a women who lived in the apartment next to mine as college sophomores in Wisconsin. I remember it was May and it was the middle of the night when the phone woke me out of sleep. I remember it was raining. Her voice shaking and small. She had been raped, her car stolen, her body dropped in a suburban neighborhood, naked. Violence against women does not just happen in other places. It happens in our backyards. It happens to those we know and love. We have come a long way but are not immune to the affects of our own culture. A culture that continues to objectify women, a culture that glorifies violence. We can’t put band-aids on societal weaknesses and hope they just get better We can’t brush such incidents under the rug and hope the room stays clean.
On another note, We studied education while in India where the students worked with kids in slums, teaching English, math, basic life skills. Here is a link to one of the media projects written by three of my students regarding their experiences – I Am No Bird
Unfortunately, the last two weeks of my time in India were a blur due to the e.coli that ravaged my gut. 2 rounds of antibiotics later and now 3 weeks into South Africa my stomach is still not right…not because of the e.coli but the side affects of taking too many antibiotics – BEWARE! It immediately makes me think about the superbugs that are forming in our fields as a direct affect of too many pesticides! I feel good though (running on the beach in the morning and doing yoga) so don’t worry about me.
Here in South Africa: Our work with care givers in surrounding townships and focused study on HIV and public health has many of us talking about healthcare as a human right and grappling with why it is not looked as such in the U.S. We are all enjoying the freedom of Plett and our thoughts are definitely starting to turn toward home. For me, with a bit of trepidation, so uncertain is my future, but that is the beautiful thing about life. All the changes and the faith that things always work out.
I hope to write more before I return home, but no promises. If you’ve made it this far into my post, thank you for reading! Thinking of you
all as I watch a full orange moon rise over the Indian Ocean, as I walk the long stretches of sandy beach collecting the shells of abalone and sea urchins…