“How is South Africa?”
My initial response to this question asked frequently by friends and family would be to go on and on about the amazing time I am having, the great friends I am making, and the places I am seeing and experiencing. Up until the third week, however, I have found that this response doesn’t reflect on my entire experience. It fails to take into account the realities of South Africa that don’t reveal themselves in Cape Town brochures, or even on my own Instagram account. This is not to say that those experiences are not still exciting and fulfilling - the ice cream I had at the V&A waterfront was still mouth wateringly tasty, the sunset as seen from Signal Hill last Sunday was still magical to witness, and the night life, market places, and central city vibrancy is still entertaining upon every encounter. However, these experiences contrast greatly to the realities of South Africa that overwhelm the country and make elephant riding, restaurant hopping, and cable-car journeying seem devastatingly trivial to me.
I was only able to fully grasp this realization and put it into words as I entered my fourth week in Cape Town. The mixture of lecture material last week, and the introduction to hospital service learning at the Lotus River Community Day Center allowed for the reality to hit me. And it hit me hard.
I was directly confronted with the fact that health is something I have taken for granted my entire life. That may sound cliché, but the disparity between learning second-hand that there are suffering communities and actually witnessing the contrast of beautiful Camps Bay apartments overlooking the water to the dilapidated, cramped townships scattered around the city is great. There is a difference between hearing about the lack of doctors in South Africa, and actually witnessing the clinic waiting room, crowded with sick people – some who have walked for miles through the dark early morning hours in the hopes that they will arrive in time to obtain medical attention.
For communities that are still living the legacy of the Apartheid, they lack proper resources to maintain the standards of healthy living that I have maintained for nineteen years without second thought. Our course lectures on Community and Health Development in South Africa addressed the fact that communities living just minutes away from me are suffering from the HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis pandemics that are plaguing this country as a consequence of insufficient education, poor housing, lack of funding, and gender inequalities and sexual violence. In addition to the prevalence of these diseases, clinics such as Lotus River CDC are full of patients who have non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension that stem from many of the same social issues. And while the country has focused heavily on developing their primary health care system, it is still deficient in health care professionals, adequate funding, and feasible implementation and organization to attend to those that need it most.
So when asked, “How is South Africa?” I hesitate to sit and rave about the sunsets I’ve watched, the delicious food I’ve eaten, or the amazing animals I’ve encountered, because South Africa, with all its beauty and diversity, is suffering the consequences of a deeply rooted, racially divided system in which people are denied access to the most basic human resources for their own survival.
I hesitate again, however, to end on a note that conveys such helplessness and pessimism. Through all that I have witnessed in the clinics, walking through the townships, or simply passing through Cape Town’s busy streets, I have also seen the power of human resilience reveal itself in the most inspiring ways. These past weeks have shown me that, despite the consistent hardships faced, people are still able to dance and sing with each other in the waiting room of the clinic, their living rooms, the street; to find compassion among each other; to appreciate what they do have. For me, that remains one of the most important aspects of what I have learned here so far.
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<p>My name is Evie and I am currently finishing up my freshman year at Princeton University. I am thinking about studying public and international policy, and have a special interest in health policy and public health. When I'm not studying, I like exploring new restaurants with my friends, singing with my a cappella group, going on runs, taking pictures, and napping. I love to travel, and am so excited to explore Cape Town and its surroundings and experience a summer I won't forget!</p>