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Journal 4

South African Dichotomies

The past two weeks have been a study in contrasts. At some points I just felt numb... my constant flipping from wealth to poverty and back again was hard to process.

Kiara and I stayed with Hannes and Zelda Nel, a wealthy Africaaner couple in their home at Table View. The nieghborhood was along the northern coast, with a gorgeous view. We had our own suite, hot showers, a live-in maid who did all the laundry and dishes and cooking, and (blessing above all blessings) a radio. I don't think we turned it off the entire week. :) Our dinners were the most amazing aspect -- we had a lamb roast, white lasagna, lobster, calamari, King Clip fish, ribs, spaghetti, and gourmet pizza. They took us to a mall to see some local TV stars, (the Sout African version of American Idol) to their golf club, and to the beach. Each night before bed we had a "cuppa." We felt like we were in the lap of luxury.

During the day, I drove in to Guguletu, a Xhosa township, and worked at the day clinic which serviced all 200,000 people. I observed the nurses doing their treatments, most of which was dressing burn wounds. The sterilization techniques were sort of apalling -- since there was a lack of latex gloves, the nurses would wash each pair with soap and water and use them multiple times. If the patient had AIDS, they would have to un-bandage and cleanse their own wounds under our supervision. It was heartbreaking to watch people trying to use betadine and cotton swabs to wipe away the bacterica growth, their hands shaking with the pain. There is no pre-medication, and no pain-management. Mothers had to hold down screaming children so the nurses could do their jobs. And burns were just the beginning -- people sat and waited for hours with injuries: a hatchett wound in the knee, an eyelid needing stiches, infected amputations. Meredith and I would watch as long as we could, but usually ended up leaving before lunch. It was hard to witness and be unable to do anything. Very frustrating, very overwhelming.

The other part of our time in the clinic we spent in the dispensary. Organizations from all over the world sent meds and supplies, and they were shelved in little boxes all over the walls. After the patients had seen the doctor or one of the two nurse practioners, they would bring their prescriptions to us; we would gather the meds, and label them with dosages and instructions. When we didn't have Vitamin B 12, we substituted a multivitamin. When we ran out of amoxycillan, we gave another antibiotic. When we ran out of codiene, we gave a double-dose of Ibuprofen. It was pure guess work -- not science at all. Everything for one patient was put in a plastic bag, and then the nurse in charge would call the name out to the waiting room. No one had to pay -- the only cost of coming to the clinic was the wait. People began queing at 4 am.

Those were my two realities last week -- a mansion and a cement clinic. I was relatively comfortable in both places, but couldn't wrap my mind around their co-existence.

The Nels were very liberal in their political and social views -- the maid ate with us, (she had a full lobster just like everyone else) they support a Zulu candidate for the next presidential election, both are fluent in Xhosa, and they send their daughter to an integrated school. At the same time, it was easy for me to be critical. Their lifestyle was so lavish -- and the people they claim solidarity with can't feed themselves adequately or pay for aspirin.

The struggle is not in adapting to one particular environment. It is in switching back and forth so often.

- Kendra Heatwole

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