Wednesday, October 31, 2012

One Month in South Africa

Wow, a whole month in South Africa has passed. Craziness. It’s weird because even after a month I sometimes have to stop and remind myself that “OhEmGee I am actually living on my own as a fellow in South Africa.” I have to remind myself for two reasons. The first is that part of me still cannot believe what I am experiencing. The other part of me feels like life is pretty normal. As I settle into a daily routine I realize that even though everything is totally different than it was a month ago, things are also pretty manageable. Another thing I find I am often reminding myself is that the sun does actually exist. Thirty days in South Africa—I have seen the sun 3 times. Hopefully soon I’ll be whining about the unbearable dry heat.  Until then, I am just getting pastier by the minute (and I don’t need any help on that front).

 Last time I wrote, I had a weekend trip to Durban and a weekend trip to Johannesburg planned. Durban was a blast. On Saturday night we went to a big party at a pub called Waxy’s. It ended up being a late night to say the least. Sunday, we got breakfast and spent some time on the beach.  Predictably a rainstorm cut our seaside relaxation short.

Joburg, sadly did not happen. I was actually out of commission this weekend as I think I caught a little bit of some kind of flu—honestly I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. So I spent the weekend inside being pretty lame and bored. The silver lining is that the weather was overcast and rainy (imagine that) so I didn’t miss any fun in the sun at least. While we’re on the topic of weather, last night as a loud and windy storm passed through PMB I couldn’t stop thinking about all my friends and family on the east coast in the states. Hope everyone is safe and the damage is minimal!

My South African coworkers were also following Hurricane Sandy with a close eye but for a different reason than I was. The CAP008 trial that I am working on, that was set to start in October, was pushed back because of issues with shipping the necessary products from the US. Lucky for us, the shipment made it to South Africa the day before Sandy shut down the east coast! So screening and enrolment for the trial are set to start on Wednesday and things have been a little hectic around here!

Anyway, I was hoping to have some cool updates from my trip to Joburg over the weekend but as I said, that didn’t happen. Next time I post I want to upload a video of a typical Monday morning meeting at site. Sounds dreadfully boring, I promise it’s not.  You’re in for a treat. So stay tuned!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

First FULL Week of Work Completed!!

Next week I'll post a little more on my actual research. But for this week I'll spare you and just show you some pretty pictures of the scenery that I take in on my ride to Vulindlela! 

This is where I start my journey. The Corner of New Scotland and College Rd--My street!

 Just some of the neighbors that work next door!

 Entrance at Vulindlela 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rain, Rain Go Away...

This is how you know it's the first sunny day Kwazulu-Natal has seen in over 10 days...
Taking advantage of the weather

 And it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

View from my bedroom window

Unfortunately this only lasted a day. Back to rain the forecast for the next week! More substantial post to come after this weekend! I'm off to Durban for Saturday and Sunday!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sleepy Hollow

Pietermaritzburg is the capital of Kwazulu-Natal. Still, it’s a small city and the locals call it sleepy hollow. Definitely not like bustling Durban and the town has a much more middle class feel to it (I would say that PMB is Richmond,VA if Durban is Washington, DC). That’s fine by me as it means I can go on runs and walk to the stores without problem. Want to see where I live?

My flat is in a neighborhood called Pelham. It’s unpretentious, and feels quite comfortable. It’s about 2km from what South Africans call “The Varsity” otherwise known as the university. I live with my lovely flatmate Shantel. She’s 24, from Maritzburg and works for an office of finance. 

In my last post I told you a little bit about where I work, but you know what they say…pictures are worth a thousand words.

View from my office

Also the view from my office—only an hour later.

So as you can see, the weather in Vulindlela is quite changeable. But I promise I don’t just spend my days snapping pics of the nearby hills. At the moment I am working on collecting and compiling data related to MMC (Male medical circumcision). Did you know that when a man is circumcised it can help reduce the risk of transmission of HIV? Yup it’s true. And of course, reduction in transmission  is always a good thing—especially in a community where HIV rates are high. But what happens if people start believing circumcision will PROTECT them from HIV? It can negate the beneficial effects.  Anyway, I know for most of you this is a little too nerdy so in a nutshell, for the first month of work I will be trying to answer questions related to the behavioral patterns of adolescent males in V. 

Oh and Sabs, this is for YOU!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pietermaritzburg and Vulindlela

I have arrived in Pietermaritzburg! My internet access at the moment isn't super consistent. Hoping to have it figured out by the end of the week, which will mean more frequent updates and posts with more pictures! In the meantime...

I have been at work a few days now and I'm sure you're all dying to know what a typical day is like for me so far.

In South Africa 8:00AM is the new 9:00AM. Days start early for me. I wake up around 6:00 to get to the central pickup for CAPRISA transportation by 7:00. We drive about 45 minutes to the rural Vulindlela site. The views on the way to the site are simultaneously stunning and heartbreaking. The landscape is green-green and the hills roll as far as you can see. In the morning, when we climb in altitude we are surrounded by mist and sometimes cows and horses. Still, as to be expected, the scenes of poverty are nearly unimaginable.

I have been introduced to the lovely staff at V and walked through the basic ins and outs of the site. I want to save the post on what my role at the clinic is for when I have more time and have been working longer.
That said, if anyone knows a quick and dirty way to become fluent in Zulu, holla atcha' girl ASAP!

For now I will tell you that South Africans, if nothing else, are lovely people through and through. Yesterday, my new colleague Dr. Sarah invited me and my boss Nelly for dinner with her family at her house in PMB. We talked family, culture, politics, work and traded stories. This is going to sound absolutely 100% hokey but sitting in the living room after our meal I thought to myself, "this is why I came to South Africa." I don't mean having dinner at a doctors house, of course. I know I could quite easily do that anywhere and obviously that is far from the reason I came. What I mean is the conversation, the daily interactions, the connections with people who have lived a life that is quite different from the one I have lived. That is the real experience and luckily for me it doesn't seem too hard to form these bonds with the locals.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Durbs: Bru's, Bugs, Biltong, Beaches, Barcelona, BunnyChow

So, I'm leaving Durban today to move into the apartment I will be staying in for the next six months. It's in Pietermaritzburg (known as PMB or Maritzburg, as well) which is the capital of the province of Kwazulu-Natal and is located about 60 km north of Durbs.

Due to what I can only imagine is a combination of the wonderfully hospitable nature of Durbanites and sheer luck, I managed to convince some locals to show me a little local flavor. So I got to tag along to a local pub to have a few beers with the brus and watch the Barcelona v. RMA match. My new friends, were even nice enough to recommend some "must-do's and must-see's" and invit me along for some future adventures like a weekend trip to Jozi and a trek to the Oribi Gorge Wild Swing (hmmmm, this bungee jumping thing is starting to seem like a trend..)

I'll be going back and forth between PMB and Durban periodically and I have hardly gotten a full taste of this colorful and diverse city but I thought I'd share a a little snapshot of the things that I HAVE learned about Durban so far.

Those who know me well, know I have a love for all things related to slang, so much so that I sometimes make up my own. Mostly, I think I look pretty cool dropping some authentic jargon. Somehow it usually doesn't actually make me cooler. Nonetheless, I've done a bit of field research, if you will, with regard to how to sound super "lekker" in Durbs.

Brus: Pronounced like brews, is a Durbanites version of bro or dude.

Biltong: Beef jerky. Apparently it's kind of a big deal. While we're on the topic of food...

Maybe some of you would be surprised to know that Durban has the largest Indian population outside of India. This means curry is a very popular dish enjoyed by all. In Durbs, they're served in hollowed out bread bowls and called bunny chow. I can tell you first hand that it is delish.

Delicious Monday Lunch

Amy T. I know you're disappointed there are no pictures from my evening out last night, but I kind of thought taking pictures of regular old people hanging out wouldn't help me blend in. I will tell you this happened though. 

The zulu word for this guy is "shogololo"--This is a small one.

More this week on PMB and actually going to work! 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Few Scenes from my Afternoon Cruising Around and OVER Durbz

It's the rainy season in Durban, so it's been a bit overcast these past few days. No downpours yet, though. That said, I was lucky enough to have an afternoon where the sun peaked out and I got to cruise around style.
My ride for the afternoon. Pretty cool right?

Wanna know what other kind of ride I took? Oh just a SkyCar ride, no big deal. Let me explain. Below is Moses Mabhida Stadium. Soccer fans may recognize it from the last World Cup. Please take note of the arch that stretches across the structure...

Moses Mabhida Stadium (not my picture)

The stadium offers SkyCar rides, which essentially take you to the top of the stadium where you can stand on a platform and look out over the city and onto the Indian Ocean. 

SkyCar--you can also bungee jump, from the top--I passed on that!

When you get to the top you see views that look a little something like this:

Only the real thing is way better and also I was using my iPhone and despite my artistic lineage, my photography skills are kind of crappy. 

I was told by Durbanites that on a clear day the horizon looks even more expansive. It was a pretty cool way to take in my first viewing of the Indian Ocean. Upon return to sea level, I got to go down to the beach and actually touch the Indian Ocean for the first time. 

So all that was definitely very cool, but earlier today I also learned that I don't even have to leave my bedroom to see some impressive sites! Check it out!

There were at least six of them just hanging out, getting into trouble this morning.

That's about it for today, all you readers should come visit and see for yourself! 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Day 1 of the Reason I am Here

Durban has magnificent hills. When you're driving along you find yourself climbing to a peak, getting a quick glimpse of all the lush green that envelops the city and then almost as quickly you're met with a steep slope down into the valley. It's pretty cool. And makes for some awesome views. Keep in mind that all of this is driving is taking place on the opposite side of the road--although today I managed to get in on the correct side of the car. MAJOR VICTORY! Anyway, Hoping to snap a few pics before my stay here is done. In the meantime here's a photo taken from a patio at UKZN medical school--which is where the CAPRISA headquarters are located. It's no where near the most beautiful view, but thought maybe some of you (at least one of you--meems, I'm talking to you!--for sure) would be interested in taking a gander at what my eyes are seeing.
View from patio at HQ--the weather has been rainy but the temperatures have been perfect

So that brings me to my morning. Which, full disclosure, I almost missed. Because, even though I'm a total morning person, waking up has been the hardest part of the time change adjustment. It was so hard to get out of bed at 9:00 AM (also known as 3:00 AM in the US) this morning to meet my ride to CAPRISA. But I managed and was driven to the medical school where I met the CAPRISA staff including my lovely advisor, Leila. It was great to finally meet all of the people whom I have been corresponding with via email for nearly a year. It was made even better by how kind, welcoming and diverse everyone in the office is. The research being carried out is also incredibly varied which is quite exciting for me as a global health nerd. Today's orientation, headquarter tour and initial introductions were pretty much exactly the same here as they would be in the United States. I got to learn about what my day to day job will be like at the rural clinical site in Vulindlela (I heard people referring to it simply as "V" which i truly hope is okay because I'm still not exactly sure of the correct pronunciation) and it seems like it will be a great experience. I'll write more about that once I've actually visited the site. I came away with some reading material that will bring me up to speed and my very own medical school ID, which will give me access to all kinds of labs and libraries. 

ID--Exciting I know. Please excuse everything about the photo of me (told you I was in a hurry this morning)

This post is pretty dry, I know. My apologies. Tomorrow I have a full day of Durban exploration planned which I'm hoping will give me some more riveting stories to write about and some more scenic photos to post. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sawubona from South Africa, Lekker, Ja?!

Picture taken about 120 km outside of JoBurg

Sawubona, I am told, is a universal South African greeting. Lekker pronounced "lekka" is slang for "cool."

Perhaps now is the time to tell you all about how I decided to accept a ride from a complete stranger within hours of arriving in South Africa. I'm pretty sure that this is the first thing people tell you NOT to do when abroad.  The stranger, told me that it may be a little weird but I'd probably be safer taking a ride from him than trying to get a (pricey) cab late at night. I think he was probably right and look I'm here to tell the story so calm yourselves. In fact, I managed to make my first friend before even touching down in Durban and have gotten myself invited to a real-life Durban beach front par-tayyy on Saturday afternoon (not that I plan to make a habit of this little adventure).

Outside my window in Durban

I was actually in flight for a total of around 20 hours. I landed in Durban at 22:00 South African time, which would be 4:00 PM EST. I had to make a mad dash in Atlanta's huge airport. However, all that aside, the most challenging part of my journey was probably getting from the airport to where I am staying...and I had a local on my side! But I made it, not before trying to get into the car on the wrong side of the vehicle of course (dumb American). Tomorrow I'll go to my orientation at the CAPRISA headquarters and Monday it's off to Pietermaritzburg to visit the clinic site, which is about 45 minutes from Durbs.

Thanks again to all my well wishers. Your support is great. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Are You Gonna' Blog?"

Yesterday I probably spent half of my waking hours on the phone with friends and family calling to share their love and support as I take off on this adventure. I'm pretty sure almost everyone asked if I was planning on blogging while in South Africa. So here it is.

Today is the day! It's almost unbelievable that after 11 months of planning, I am setting off to see a part of the world that I'm sure will be unlike anything I've experienced. I'm feeling pretty damn lucky that I have this opportunity and I really can't wait to explore. Last year in September, if someone had told me this would be my life, I'm not sure I would have believed it. 

I'm also feeling pretty damn lucky that I have such a supportive group of friends and family rallying behind me and urging me to enrich my thinking and broaden my experiences. For sure wouldn't be here without all of you. Missing you all already. STAY CONNECTED TO ME! I mean it. 

That's all for now. I'm willing to bet  the posts that follow will be slightly more interesting, so bare with me and stay tuned.

In the meantime if you're curious about the program I am working with you should read this article! African Studies Give Women Hope in H.I.V. Fight