Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm back home in NY!

I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted! I've been waiting for the time to sit down and write some poignant summary of my experiences in Africa but, as I scramble to get Medical School applications in, that time has yet to come. I'm home safe -- just very busy! I'll post more video as well as a conclusion asap.
Thanks for all your love and support!
Much love,

Monday, May 4, 2009

Elephant Sanctuary

Tsitsikamma Zip Line Tour


Jeffrey's Bay


Very cute little surf town. Like Santa Cruz with Afrikaans.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Performance Pics!

Day 26 - Human Pathogenesis Project

Day 26

Thanks to Dr. Norris in San Francisco, today I was able to tour the Doris Duke Foundation Laboratory ( at the Nelson Mandela Medical School. I was met by Marianne, a post-doc from Kenya, who showed me around the facility and told me about some of the research herself and the rest of the Human Pathogenisis Project team are working on. She is mainly focusing on innate immunity and its applications in developing a HIV vaccine. The research facility is a joint effort with Harvard and Oxford with many of the researcher having done work at one of the others. Other faculty travel between two or all three of them. It was a very nice facility and everyone I met was very nice and welcoming. Marianne kept telling people that she was trying to sell me on working at the lab – apparently she doesn’t realize that is something I aspire to do and they’re not exactly knocking my door down to get me in there. There is some fascinating research going on there, I need to do some of my own research and learn more about it. I really like the lab environment. My lab experience is fairly minimal but I really enjoyed my time at the Blood Systems Research Institute in SF – I love the innovation and constant detailed problem solving. I’m fascinated by immunology and infectious disease and am really looking forward to learning more and getting my hands dirty (so to speak) the lab again.

Dr. Marcus Altfeld, Dr. Norris’s colleague and a researcher based out of Harvard/Massachusetts General took us to lunch at a lovely gallery/restaurant. Once again, just discovering places and people I would love to spend more time with right as I’m about to leave.

Dr. Altfeld told me about some of the research fellowship exchange programs the Doris Duke Foundation offers, a great opportunity for someone like me who wants to go into research but doesn’t have much experience. Keep your fingers crossed for me in the upcoming years!

Tonight Nicole and I are putting on a performance for the neighborhood -- a traditional Zulu dance that our sisters taught us. We have outfits and everything! The moves are a little rough but the girls just told us to shake everything as much as we can -- that’s apparently how you make the chief choose you as one of his wives. Luckily there’s no chief here in the suburbs, and I have a great guy at home, so I don’t have too much to stress about. I’ll try to post a video, should be hilarious!

Day 24 -- Final Weekend in Durban

Day 24

Tonight ends my last weekend in Durban. Hard to believe. Early Friday morning Mina and I will fly to Port Elizabeth where we’ll rent a car and drive, via the Garden Route, to Cape Town.

Had a relaxed weekend seeing Durban’s sights. Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day. Mine and Nicole’s family took us to a market area near the city center in order to buy the traditional Zulu clothes we need to perform the dance the girls are teaching us. People didn’t hesitate in the least to point in the car and shout “Umlungu!” (white person) as we passed. Anele, our 16 year-old sister, explained that it wasn’t because we weren’t welcome but that they were just surprised. After we bought our short, intricately beaded skirts and necklaces Nicole and I took Anele to North Beach. We spent the rest of the afternoon laying on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and perusing the souvenir stands that line the beachfront. Anele is at that funny age where she talks and talks like she knows everything there is to know but her eyes give away her constant need for approval.

Headed back to Woodlands (the suburb we live in) to go Sean’s family’s house – his brothers Quiniso and Makabongwe were throwing a surprise birthday party for their Mom, Zodwa. It was so cute! Two teenage boys who had spent all day frantically gathering supplies for their mother’s surprise braai (barbeque) including decorating the house with peach streamers and ordering a cake decorated to say “You Are The Best Mom.” Zodwa was surprised and jokingly chastised her boys for being so naughty and saying if they are old enough to pull this off then they were too old to give her any more trouble. She gave a touching speech about losing their father when the boys were young and how proud she is of both of them. Quiniso gave a speech and little Makabongwe read a poem he had written. It’s funny how the boys here don’t seem to wear the same tough-guy mask that most teenage boys back home wear – they’re quick to talk about how much they love their mom’s and pray, sing, or dance in front of strangers at mom’s urging. It was very sweet and very touching. We were served plates piled with barbequed meat and pap (a cornmeal based side, similar to polenta) followed by the most interesting desert – a bowl of lime jello, strawberry ice cream, yogurt, and topped with a slice of chocolate cake. The music came on and everyone danced while Nicole and I helped a few of the other girls do the dishes.

Sunday was grey and rainy – a perfect day to catch up on some sightseeing. Our first stop was the KwaMuhle museum in Durban’s city center where we learned about how Durban’s colonial authorities formulated the structures of urban racial segregation (the “Durban System”) which ended up being the blueprints for South Africa’s apartheid policies. I really liked the statement on the museum’s dedication plaque: “This is a museum about power and powerlessness and the struggle for dignity by ordinary people, let this never be forgotten. Let us be mindful of the abuses of the past and celebrate the human capacity, in all its diversity and richness to overcome.”

Our next stop was the BAT Centre, a colorful bohemian arts center housing arts and craft shops, galleries, artists’ studios and a restaurant overlooking the harbour. After lunch we checked out the current gallery exhibit, a powerful display of works by female artists based on violence against women and children. There seems to be a strong activist/artist community in Durban – I feel that I’m just starting to discover this city right as I’m about to leave.

Today was Nicole’s birthday. We started out our day taking a Contemporary African Dance class led by Adedayo Liadi, the founder of the Ijodee Dance Centre in Lagos, Nigeria. It was so fun – he was an amazing teacher! It was a difficult, high-paced class with all levels (including members of Durban’s Flatfoot Dance Company) but Adedayo made everyone feel welcome. His taught exactly how I feel movement should be taught – with the emphasis on interpreting the moves how your own body dictates, moving from the core in order to give the movement depth, and enjoying feeling your body move rather than worrying about getting it exactly right. Adedayo’s philosophy about dance is that every movement should be communicating something and that, even when we speak different languages, we can communicate through dance. Learning dance with the people of a country is something I always try to do when I travel – for that very reason. One of my fondest memories of my time in Granada, Spain is being at a little old Spanish woman’s apartment laughing hysterically with girls from all over the world while she taught us flamenco. For my going-away night on Thursday, some of us are going to wee his company perform as part of the Jomba! Contemporary Dance Festival. I’m really looking forward to it!

Afterwards Nicole and I splurged and got pedicures at a spa. It was a lovely and relaxing change of pace from the grittiness of the city. And they even served us coffee and fruit – both things we’ve been dying for but aren’t that popular here. A refreshing change from our home diet of KFC and mayonnaise based “salads”.

I forgot to mention one of the things I noticed during our visit with Vusi at Marianhill. As you can see in the picture, Vusi’s toilet is in a detached outhouse in front of the home which is shared by the surrounding homes. This is the set up in most of the townships. I’ve been thinking about how that must be for a man with no use of his legs and the people we met in the community who can barely make it of bed. I keep being reminded of how fortunate I am and am so appreciative of my health.