30 October 2007
It’s hard for me to believe this is my last week in Mthatha. I suppose it is to be expected at this point that I would try to analyze what I’ve been observing and I find myself doing exactly that. At times, I don’t feel like I’m in Africa since it hasn’t been the exotic place that I’ve always pictured it to be. Africa was supposed to be so different. Maybe that will hit me when we become real tourists in the wild animal parks next week. The raucous birds in the morning, the new faces and unfamiliar language do remind me I am in a different place but the people are as alike to “my people” as they are different. I have not had a comprehensive view since I was only out of the Eastern Cape province once and I haven’t been to any of the large cities. There are certainly daily reminders that I am not at home. The roadsides are almost constantly busy with people walking both short and long distances. This is a society that moves by foot primarily and I continue to notice the number of people on the roads because it is so different from home. It’s not that there aren’t lots of cars but that there are so many people on foot as well.
The animals roam freely in town as well as the more rural areas. I’ve heard the locals jokingly refer to the big five as the cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and dogs that are a real road hazard because of their numbers and free roaming practice. (The big five usually refers to the big game animals in the wild animal preserves) The problem with garbage being dumped anywhere and everywhere is a sad but constant reminder I am not at home. The unusual clothes and colorful headscarves have become barely noticeable to me as I have become accustomed to them now. I like the lack of uniformity and conformity here. Anything is accepted although there are still stigmas against some of the styles for women that are considered immodest. Those clothes are worn here but I have seen them very infrequently although the Islamic influence here is minimal compared to the European and East Indian.
After I have been away from here for a while, I think I will make my conclusions about the medical system here. They are already quite different than the first week I was here. It seems to take time to interpret what I see. It also depends on the context of location. I think it may be different when I consider it again from Minnesota. I’m not sure. I wonder what effect it will have when I try to explain it to those who haven’t been here. I expect there will be questions and opinions voiced about society and medicine here that I haven’t considered. It is a luxury to be able to think for awhile about what I experience without the influence of the opinions of others. The volunteers certainly discuss this and it is not as uniform a response as one might think. We all come with our prejudices, experiences, personalities and politics. I know there isn’t a “right answer” to solve Mthatha’s problems any more than there is a “right answer” to America’s problems. (I can already hear those of you who think you have the right answer ready to disagree with me on that!) These are better questions for philosophers, sociologists and politicians to spend their time debating. I’d prefer to use my time to deliver the needed health care but it is the other disciplines that seem to hold the power so I hope they get it figured out. That’s enough editorial for today as I need to spend time getting ready to leave. This will be the last post, at least for now. I don’t believe I will have internet access again until I am home. I am looking forward to seeing everyone again soon.