by
on May 23, 2012 on 5/23/12 from ,

Sensory satisfaction and organic intellectuals

The past few days have been a blur of scrumptious food, academic engagement, and salt water ‘splorin. We got seriously spoiled and spent a day at the Hilton for a day of class, where bottomless pitchers of ice water and lime sweated on every table and bowls of mints (those white chewy ones are everywhere in this city… so are milkshakes :)) somehow refilled themselves at every break. Four homestay parents presented a paneland shared their personal illness narratives. One had hodgkin lymphoma and temporary paralysis, another yellow jaundice and type 2 diabetes with a daughter suffering from asthma and eczema, another mother with diabetes who runs the Bo Kaap Seniors Day Care, and one man who was shocked four years ago to be diagnosed with HIV. Their stories recounting the public health care system and their personal struggles within this tight-knit Muslim community were heartbreaking and illuminating, their resilience, positivity and openness remarkable.

Susan Levine returned to us to deliver a second lecture on political economy. Her personal stories, Capetonian lifestyle (and beautiful adopted African children), thick-rimmed glasses, wild sun-kissed hair and general charisma once again captivated us all. How many professors can talk about Karl Marx and apartheid as a form of racial capitalism and keep 30 sleep-deprived college students bright-eyed and attentive? We discussed structural violence as an undetected, state-reproduced, invisible and legal machine embedded in structural inequalities, which we are individually responsible for. I’ll save all my ponderings for my journal, but my question was voiced to Susan: we talk theory (structural violence, agency, overdetermination, etc etc) and complexity all the time– what impact does this have on the world? Moreover, look at these UNICEF/UN employees in NYC earning preposterous salaries and driving luxury cars through rural Ethiopia. HOW are we existing within this system??? Sometimes I feel like instead of giving me answers, IHP is just giving me more questions to grapple with.

April 21

The past few days have been a blur of scrumptious food, academic engagement, and salt water ‘splorin. We got seriously spoiled and spent a day at the Hilton for a day of class, where bottomless pitchers of ice water and lime sweated on every table and bowls of mints (those white chewy ones are everywhere in this city… so are milkshakes  ) somehow refilled themselves at every break. Four homestay parents presented a paneland shared their personal illness narratives. One had hodgkin lymphoma and temporary paralysis, another yellow jaundice and type 2 diabetes with a daughter suffering from asthma and eczema, another mother with diabetes who runs the Bo Kaap Seniors Day Care, and one man who was shocked four years ago to be diagnosed with HIV. Their stories recounting the public health care system and their personal struggles within this tight-knit Muslim community were heartbreaking and illuminating, their resilience, positivity and openness remarkable.

Susan Levine returned to us to deliver a second lecture on political economy. Her personal stories, Capetonian lifestyle (and beautiful adopted African children), thick-rimmed glasses, wild sun-kissed hair and general charisma once again captivated us all. How many professors can talk about Karl Marx and apartheid as a form of racial capitalism and keep 30 sleep-deprived college students bright-eyed and attentive? We discussed structural violence as an undetected, state-reproduced, invisible and legal machine embedded in structural inequalities, which we are individually responsible for. I’ll save all my ponderings for my journal, but my question was voiced to Susan: we talk theory (structural violence, agency, overdetermination, etc etc) and complexity all the time– what impact does this have on the world? Moreover, look at these UNICEF/UN employees in NYC earning preposterous salaries and driving luxury cars through rural Ethiopia. HOW are we existing within this system??? Sometimes I feel like instead of giving me answers, IHP is just giving me more questions to grapple with.

Last Friday we heard from Ikamva Labantu, a non-profit South African NGO providing communities with the tools to sustainably look after themselves. Building community centers, providing food, books, clothing, assisting with legal support and mental/physical health counseling…the list goes on. Their intern (from NYU!) explained their food gardens! And food demos, soap-making lessons, and nutrition education in communities where ecoli contaminates the water and girls have to stay home from school when they’re menstruating because there are too few bathrooms.

Between the personal illness narratives we heard, Susan’s lecture, and talks from multiple NGOs, it was time to SYNTHESIZE. “Synthesis” and “debriefing” have been themes of IHP since New Orleans. I found it really valuable this time— bringing up unanswerable questions… intrusive versus beneficial? witnessing or voyeurism? equity or equality? sensitive? patronizing? aware? politically correct? How cultural relativism and the savior complex play out in our public health investigation as American students.

Ok, enough on the academics. Our afternoons and evenings here are often spent on Long Street poking around antique fairs, sipping ginger iced tea or banana milkshakes, devouring homemade red velvet cupcakes, crowded around injera at the best Ethiopian restaurant, or hanging at Neighborhood Bar– a local spot with a house-party vibe on the second-floor terrace, where we can marvel below at the bleach blonde, dreadlocked, and afro-ed mix of people who call Cape Town home.

A bunch of us headed to Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock on Saturday– an organic farmers market inside an old Victorian warehouse. Farm-fresh produce, organic cheeses, gourmet sandwiches, decadent confections, Parisian crepes and Italian pizzas, Indian curries, Thai dumplings, organic chocolate, fair trade coffee, wine and beer…you name it. Outside are the jewelry stalls, tea wagons, vintage shops, local handcrafted furniture and ceramics. We sampled and indulged and shared and sampled some more. My favorite was the rooibos iced tea- a concoction of wild red bush tea famous to this country, ginger, orange, lemon, mint and cane sugar.

On Sunday, eight of us rode out to Masiphumelele Township to visit the new NGO Waves for Change. We chatted with Tim and the three local coaches, Apish, Bongani and Andile about how they use the power of surfing to create an alternative learning environment for at-risk youth. The program aims to empowers the students to become leading advocates for an HIV-free generation through water activities, classroom workshops and surf sessions all dealing with topics like teenage pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, crime and gang culture and gender-based violence. 

After learning about the organization and prepping to return the next day to participate in a surf session, we passed baboons and zebras on our way to Cape Point– the southwestern tip of Africa in the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park! Rugged cliffs and rocks, lush valleys and bays and beaches… a camera really can’t capture it. 

We stopped at charming ocean-side Simon’s town for lunch and to check out the infamous penguins, then caught the sunset on our ride back.