Happy 2010! Last year, I gave a little foreshadowing of the possibility of our living in Africa and now I'm writing from South Africa. It still seems hard to believe that Stephen and I are living in an African country.
So we are back in Tugela Ferry after a two week holiday, a road trip across South Africa. We left the third world (sort of) and spent time in the first world (sort of). Although, the faulty plumbing in half of the hotels we stayed in reminded us that we hadn't really escaped the third world after all. But it was still a nice break. And we saw lots of new landscape, traveling through five of the nine provinces and putting 4370 kilometers on our car. That's about 2700 miles which is like traveling from Seattle to Miami by air.
Our first stop was the Oribi Gorge where we watched guys bungee jump and walked on the swinging bridge. Also at one of the view points, Stephen spotted a bright green snake and he called me over to look at it too. Later, I consulted our wildlife of South Africa guidebook and discovered it must have been a Green Mamba. "Rarely bites but venom can cause death by paralysis"! On the other hand, it says they are "shy and rarely seen" so Stephen got to see a rare sight.
From the Oribi Gorge we drove through the Eastern Cape toward the Garden Route along the southern coast. The beaches of South Africa are just gorgeous. We walked on several during our trip. On the beach in Plettenberg Bay there were tons of jellyfish washed ashore and shellfish were evidently making a meal of them. The sand was fine and soft so we walked, well Stephen ran some of the time :), for an hour or more, carefully avoiding the jellyfish.
After the Garden Route we drove to Wine Country, staying several nights including Christmas in Stellenbosch. We did some wine tasting at Neethlingshof Estates and enjoyed some good food and coffee at various restaurants. While staying in Stellenbosch we drove into Cape Town for the day. The tours to Robben Island were totally booked so we didn't get to visit the prison where Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner for 27 years. (We have been to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, though. And last year in February there was an excellent Nelson Mandela exhibit.) We also did not take the cable car up to Table Mountain because of the huge cloud, called the "Tablecloth", which would have blocked the view of the city anyway. Obviously we aren't big on tourist sites. :)
We did visit several of the National Parks however. We saw penguins at Boulder Beach then drove further down the coast to The Cape of Good Hope. Baboon warnings are everywhere. They have learned to associate people with food and as a result are more dangerous. They have fangs after all. I've seen them, up close and personal, when one jumped into our safari truck through the open window while in Tanzania. So I roll up my windows when we passed them on the roadways, content to view them from a distance.
For two nights we stayed at a Rest Camp in the Karoo National Park, northeast of Cape Town but still in the Western Cape province. On our drive, despite it being midday when the animals are generally resting, we spotted several animals we had not seen on our other safaris in South Africa. We saw two species of zebra, for example, and learned that there are at least 5 different species throughout Africa! The Burchell's Zebra has no stripes on it's legs while the Mountain Zebra does. Interesting no? We also had to slow down for a large tortoise crossing the road.
When we weren't out enjoying the wildlife and natural beauty of South Africa, Stephen and I were reading about the current conditions for people in this country. During our holiday, I read an excellent book, published in 2009, called "After Mandela" by Alec Russell. I appreciated the author's multi-perspective reporting and sophisticated analysis of the numerous issues facing this country just 15 years out from Apartheid. Stephen read two books of commentary. One of the books was a collection of articles including an article about the song we all know as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" which was composed by a man from the Msinga district. Tugela Ferry is in the Msinga district. His second book addressed the situation white South Africans face post-apartheid. Many have chosen to leave. This book was about those who have stayed.
Stephen is now back at work. And that work is research on multi-drug resistant (MDR) and and extensively drug resistant (XDR) tuberculosis. What this means is that regular tuberculosis has mutated to resist normal treatment. This can happen in a patient who doesn't have the adequate support to complete the drug treatment or some other mismanagement or misuse of the drugs. But once TB has mutated it can be transmitted in its mutated form, which is how most people are getting MDR or XDR here now. Treatment for MDR and XDR is a two year course of drugs instead of the normal 6-8 month treatment. The side effects are more severe and the drugs are more expensive. All barriers to effective treatment. The transmission of these strains was happening in the hospital. With this knowledge Stephen and the team of researchers he's working with are conducting studies in more effective treatment options. For example treating patients in their homes in the community rather than having them come to the hospital. Sending injection nurses out to patients helps prevent further spread of infection and also helps to prevent patients from defaulting on their course of treatment.
The schools are on summer holiday until late January, so I am not working yet. The summer break has actually been shortened this year and the winter break lengthened because of the 2010 Soccer World Cup that South Africa is hosting June 11-July 11.
Our holiday was an excellent break. I'm happy to report that my Lupus symptoms have calmed down some. From our holiday reading, both Stephen and I gained some insight and perspective that will help us approach the challenges here appropriately. And just the rest itself was nice. So it's a brand new year; for Stephen and me, 2010 will be a year like no other.