Cranial reconstruction, Rubber trees, and Witch doctor love potions

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June 16th 2008
Published: June 16th 2008
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Sunday, June 15, 2008, 8:42 AM

Something about this really foggy, rainy Sunday morning put me in the mood to write, so here we go. Hang in there guys, this will be a long one…

This past week (wow, it HAS been a while…) was productive—I worked every morning at the hospital, gave a presentation about my research at the pain management meeting on Tuesday, made a powerpoint for a talk Dr. Albertyn (although we all just call her Rene) is giving on Tuesday, prepared templates, and went to observe a surgery on Thursday. This surgery was especially cool…a cranial reconstruction they called it. The boy’s misshapen skull was putting too much pressure on the brain, so they cut the skull off (so the brain enclosed in the meninges was exposed), inserted a piece of metal to expand the skull, then put the skull back on, sewed it up, and pulled the scalp back over the head. Although it wasn’t actually as quick as I made it seem. Sorry to all of you who hate blood and guts, but it was VERY cool to watch.

I’m also getting to know all my little patients at Sarah Fox where I worked every afternoon this week. All of them have their own personalities—smilers, frowners, good eaters, earring pullers…And we feed them around 4 PM, which is fun, but always a messy ordeal. That’s what our smocks are for ☺

Friday was BEAUTIFUL, so it worked out that Neha, Bill, and I had the afternoon off. I met a few friends (including a fun, new hospital intern, Dee Dee) for lunch at Charly’s Bakery across the street, a venue well known for their “Mucking Afazing” pastries, quiches, decorative sweets, etc. Mal was even able to come…she was sick ALL WEEK with some type of flu, so I’m trying to take extra good care of myself, especially since we live in the same room…

To take advantage of the relatively rare warm weather, Mal, Dee Dee, and I went on a walking tour of the city bowl. We walked through Company’s Gardens, and saw rubber trees, native flowers, HUGE aloe plants, and a cute little café in the middle of it all. The food looked great, the atmosphere ideal, and the prices affordable. We’ll have to go back. Soon.

We ambled down to Green Market Square and St. George’s Mall, both chock full of African craft vendors. We all bought dress scarves (which are quite popular here), and found an African music store with everything from modern African jazz CDs to finger pianos and oil can guitars. There was even a store that exclusively sold items made from ostrich leather (you could even see the little nubs on the purses and shoes where the feathers had been once upon a time). Mallory had to send some postcards, so we found the post office, then explored Long Street in the day time (the street famous for its night life, bars, and restaurants). We snacked at “Fresh Stop” a fast-fresh-food restaurant, where they have a fruit salad bar, with yogurt, smoothies, ice cream, freshly made sandwiches, nuts, etc. etc. AWESOME. I tried some new fruits with some pretty funky names…I wish they had these places in the states.

Again, to soak up the sun while we could, a group of us climbed Lionshead right after we got back. Or almost climbed Lionshead. It was an adventure just to find the trailhead, and then we ended up taking a trail that spiraled and switched back so often that it took us much longer to make vertical progress than it should have. But we made it most of the way up, saw the gorgeous sunset, and got some good exercise and fresh sea breeze in our lungs before we went out for the night. And now we have a great reason to go back ☺

Friday night was SO MUCH FUN. Many of us went to a benefit party that a fellow intern organized for a youth education program. There was champagne, a plethora of gourmet hors d’oeuvres, speeches, speeches, and more speeches, punctuated nicely by local talent—an amazing opera singer (a guy probably in his early 20s with the best voice I’ve heard in my life), poetry reading, skits, etc. Big band era vibes were kindly provided by the DJ, and we danced until we were the last interns there.

At about 11:30, after waiting 20 minutes for a cab (another group snagged the first one we called), we met another group of my friends at Hemisphere, a club on the top floor of the AMSA high-rise. We had a 360-degree view of nighttime Cape Town, a great bar, and fantastic Europe-esque music. The DJ didn’t take requests, but managed to mix all the songs we wanted into the night, which made our sweaty 2 AM dance party a blast. A cab brought us to Long Street, and inevitably overcharged us since we didn’t want to wait for an Excite taxi. Oh well.

I’ve heard people compare Long Street to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and although I’ve never been to Louisiana, I can believe it. EVERYONE was out, walking from bar to bar, even at 3 AM. Street vendors were selling sausages, falafel, and more unidentifiable, super-greasy food fit for the drunken mobs ☺. Got home at 3:30.

Woke up at 8:30 to go to the gym (I blame it on my relentless circadian rhythm), and then had the opportunity to go on a tour of the neighboring township of Langa. There are many townships surrounding the immediate city of Cape Town, and are basically the equivalent of American suburbs, except much poorer. This was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve experienced so far, so read on…

Our tour guide, MC, “an engineer who realized his real gift was people, not numbers,” gave us an up-close-and-personal look at life outside our “bubble” of the rather glamorous city bowl life. He grew up in Langa, and as he explained at the beginning of the tour, the rather pricey tour fee (R 268) did not go to him—each site we visited was compensated for their time, hospitality, and in some cases, much more. For example, the arts and crafts center provided us with a tour of their ceramics facility, and put on a short play about the first voting day for black South Africans in 1994. A shockingly recent date to me.

We passed by Langa’s enormous sports center which was built in anticipation for the Olympics (specifically as a warm-up complex for the wrestlers, who would have thought!?). But it turned out that Cape Town wasn’t chosen, so the government donated the center to the township. MC said that it has helped the community tremendously, and now serves as a recreational, youth, and town hall facility. Right across the road from the sports center was open land, sporadically covered by bushes. Although it didn’t look like much, MC told us that this area was essential to the township culture, as it provided the seclusion needed for “boys to become men.” According to their culture and tradition, all 18-year-old boys are sent to live in the bushes for a minimum of four weeks, during which time they are circumcised and prepare physically and emotionally for adulthood.

Our walking tour of the township commenced, which was especially memorable because all the residents were outside (it was a sunny Saturday afternoon). Although townships are thought to be dangerous, MC managed to right this misconception. The adults welcomed us, and the children came up, hugged our legs, and walked with us, hand-in-hand. They also loved our cameras ☺, a fact reminiscent of my time in Nicaragua. Although I’m sure that the warm welcome was partially due to the money we were bringing in, the resulting interaction between the two cultures was important, not only on a personal, but on political and social levels as well.

We “toured” MC’s childhood, third-generation house (a small, three room flat in a long row of the same), and then visited what the majority of the people live in—dormitories built years ago for men workers. Each dormitory floor has one kitchen and toilet, four bedrooms, three beds per bedroom, one bed per family, 16ish people per family. You do the math.

A beer house was our next stop, and we were lucky enough to sample some of the traditional beer. I mean lucky in the broadest sense possible—homemade, warm, thick, frothy beer in a metal bucket doesn’t leave the nicest aftertaste, haha. But to make this entry just short of a novel, I’ll wrap up the rest of the tour with some bullets:
-Sheep and goats heads make excellent snacks (no, we didn’t sample this time…)
-Buying your meat is a social affair—after purchasing, it is cooked, or “braaied” for you while you wait, play some pool, and drink a beer.
-There’s so much trash on the ground that it has become part of the “soil.”
-Traditional medicine is big in the townships—think witch doctor hut, with dead things hanging from the ceiling, incense, rattles, and drying herbs. And if you ever have boy problems, don’t worry. The town’s doctor had a medicine to “get you twelve boyfriends,” and in essence had remedies for all types of “fevers, headaches, and heartaches.”
-Meat is the only food group…our lunch consisted of rice and marinated beef and chicken. And some carrots for the vegetarians.

So when I got back, I picked up my laundry from the cute South African laundromat down the street (where they wash, dry, and fold your clothes all for R 32…about 5 dollars), hung out for a while, ate a customarily late dinner at Perseverence Tavern (the oldest in Cape Town!), and retired early. Phew. Props to all of you still reading, and no, I didn’t forget my random fact:

Random Fact(s) of the Day(s): So everyone knows that you drive on the opposite side of the car and road here. But did you also know that you walk (on the sidewalk, stairs, grocery aisles, etc.) on the left side as well?! That was a fact that many of us learned the awkward, “why is everyone bumping into me?” way. I think I’ve mastered it by now…hopefully.

And I remembered the name of those pickled red peppers...peppadews. I know you all were dying to know ☺


17th June 2008

I LOVE PEPPADEWS - i miss you! it sounds like you are having a greaaattt time. i read that whole thing and was hanging on your every word! <3 <3 peppadew date next fall! Schtacey
20th June 2008

send a little help my way...
hey well if you know a witch doctor that can help me in the love department by all means send it my way!!! lol sounds like this trip is just up your alley!!! love and miss ya <333333
25th June 2008

As it turns out, I'm back at camp, hanging out with our camp friends. We have a rather young camp this summer, with Crow lodge consisting of all of the 14 and 15 yr olds. The new boss seems cool, but the slackers aren't making it easy for him. Volleyball, Nature, Wrestling, and Kayaking are no longer their own activities, and since I showed up a few days late, I'm living by myself in Badger, while Ed and Scott Barnes are in lodges. Overall everything feels really odd to me thing summer, but I think it's going to be a good summer. I've noticed that you're "High on Life" so things must be going good over there. Good Luck with the rest of the summer.

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