Monday, October 27, 2014

Africa Mercy - Cape Town: One Nurse's Journey

What a breath of fresh air Cape Town appears to be. Marilyn's observations about the end of apartheid in the area are really encouraging. Sharon

(This is a running email post written by a volunteer nurse serving on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels the African coast).

Cape Town
4 Oct 2014 Saturday

The rolling seas of my last email are now an ancient memory. We arrived in Cape Town last Monday; it was exciting to see land again...but tantalizing, at first. Due to immigration issues, we weren't allowed off the ship for almost 24 hours after arrival. I heard a rumor--I think it's probably true--that at one point they threatened to put all 350 of us in jail because we moved the ship from the immigration dock to our appointed berth when they quit work for the day on Monday, even though we were all still quarantined on board awaiting their pleasure.

Ah, well, that would have made a news splash, wouldn't it?

On the other hand, the government and the port authorities are certainly rolling out the red carpet for us. The berth they gave us is right on the waterfront, the tourist center of the town. A huge shopping mall, as nice as any mall I've ever seen, is practically on our doorstep.

Outside, there is a beautiful, clean, well-lit promenade all along the waterfront, with little shops and restaurants, street musicians, a ferrous wheel, and crowds of tourists just strolling along. It feels like a carnival, and it's safe enough to wander at will, day or evening.

Plenty of pickpockets, of course, so normal prudence is required. I can certainly see why this is a favored vacation spot for the rich and famous...and for much of Europe, too.

It feels like we are on vacation, but in fact, we are still working as much as ever. I did my last two days in the dining room on Wednesday and Thursday--exhausting, as always. I have the weekend off, and then rejoin the eye team on Monday. I'm not sure what all we will find to do, but I have a feeling that we will stay busy planning the details of the impending outreach in Madagascar and developing the training program for the day crew. At least it will be sit-down work for a while.

Meanwhile, folks higher up in administration have done a terrific job in organizing a whole bevy of tours to increase our footprint in South Africa. For the first several days, we have had invitational tours--one for 150 local pastors, one for Mercy Ship alumni, one for donors who attended a $1000/plate fundraiser luncheon, one for government officials, and some for groups I don't know who they were. Next weekend we will have three days of public tours on a first come, first served basis. They expect a crowd of thousands. There is a lot of publicity and a lot of interest. Everywhere we go, people stop us to ask about Mercy Ships. Is this what it's like to be famous???

Yesterday I had a real vacation day. A friend and I took a bus tour of Cape Town and the surrounding countryside. The buses run on a regular schedule, and you can hop off at any stop, look around, and hop back on the next bus. We spent a couple of hours in the botanical garden, one of the more magnificent gardens of the world. This region has had its own indigenous ecosystem, plants not found anywhere else in the world.

Much of it has been lost through lumbering, but now they are making a concerted effort to preserve and restore. At another stop, we watched seals swimming in the harbor. The bus drove quite a distance along the coast--spectacular beaches and ocean views. The rich and famous live there...

The most interesting and heart-warming stop, though, was to take a walking tour through the Township of Imizamo Yethu, one of the slum settlements that sprang up during apartheid as black people tried to live as close as possible to their jobs in the white community. I think the guide said that 20,000 people live there now. In some ways, it is like West African slums, with crowded ramshackle dwellings, high unemployment, and little material wealth. What is exciting, though, is what has been happening over the last twenty years, since the end of apartheid. This community, made up of multiple tribes, has learned to pull together to improve their lot. The streets are free of rubbish and of the smell of urine. Many houses have running water and electricity, even if the whole house is about the size of a large bathroom at home.

One house he showed us was a very nice home built by a volunteer group from Ireland, I think it was, in 2005. It had tile floors, a refrigerator, it's own bathroom, a TV, a kitchen. What stunned me was this: It had been nine years, and it hadn't been trashed. The guide showed us a school built by some German volunteers. The playground was clean, the equipment was functional. We saw a small library with clean floors, books carefully cataloged and available, children reading.

Again and again, I saw evidence that the people were taking good care of what they had been given. The churches in the community had banded together to build a community center. All sorts of ministry went on there: counseling, drug rehab, sewing projects, micro-business enterprises, job training. In the hour or so of walking through the community, not one person approached us to beg (unless you count the wee girl who asked for a sweetie...). People smiled and met our gaze. You could feel the sense of pride they had in their community--and well they should be proud of the progress they've made!

There is still a huge gap between the very wealthy and the extremely poor people, and their neighborhoods are in close proximity. Of course there are problems with crime. We are advised not to travel anywhere in Cape Town outside the tourist waterfront, except in groups. What is so encouraging, though, is that the country seems to be making a frontal assault on corruption. There are signs everywhere asking people to report it when they see it, and officials aren't asking us for bribes.

It seems to me that if a country can keep from civil war, have their tribes learn to live together in peace (which takes even-handed justice), and stamp out corruption, progress like I saw in Imizamo Yethu can happen, and the nation will be transformed. (There, that's my philosophy for today.)

Time for dinner. More another day.

Blessings, Marilyn

[Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.]

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sharon and Marilyn ... Kirstenbosch is amazing isn't it - such stunning views from up there amongst the flora and fauna - I always visit, when I get to CT. The Victoria and Alfred waterfront I haven't been too .. it appeared after I left SA. What excellent news re the township Imizamo Yethu ... I hadn't heard of that one ... but it's good to know things are progressing ...

    And you are helping so many ... fascinating to read - thank you - Hilary


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