"I just Zumba'd to a 'Let it Go' remix and I'm honestly not mad about it"

Hi everyone! I must apologize for the delay in my post- life can be pretty overwhelming in a new country (in a good way)! I found that there was SO SO much to share with you that I didn’t even know where to begin. So… I didn’t begin. I’ve journaled every day, but I let my insights pile up without blogging about them . Everyone who knows me well knows I’m a master procrastinator and a perfectionist, so the combo doesn’t serve well for routine blog writing. But today was too momentous of an occasion to not write, so here we are.

I’VE BEEN HERE 3 MONTHS!!! I arrived in this beautiful country on Sept 4 and WOW have I had a worthwhile experience. I need to start off by saying I am so incredibly thankful for this opportunity to work at a health clinic in South Africa. Every single day has been growing experience, a trial, a blessing, a reminder that this life is worth living to the fullest. I really feel like I fit in now! I reached that point about 3 weeks ago. I’m used to the lay of the land and I have friends! (You don’t realize how much you miss social interaction until you lose it and then gain it back). I remember calling my mom in early November saying, “I have enough friends to make plans with each of them on the weekends and it will last me til the end of the year! That’s like 7 whole friends!!” And even since then that number has grown. I really really love it here and am thriving!

This wouldn’t be a good blog if I only talked about how great everything is. It wasn’t all happiness and rainbows I must say…the first 2 months were pretty hard. At first EVERYTHING was foreign and I didn’t realize how exhausting that can be. Imagine having to explain your life story to every person you meet. While that can be fun and exciting, it was always new and I was finding myself coming home from work and being so exhausted from new experiences that day that I would just sit and do nothing (which I realized is needed sometimes too). At my one month point I thought “I should be doing more!” but then realized I needed more time to adjust and that’s ok! And if I need to have a Netflix night that’s ok! We don’t talk about self care enough. We’re not all Superwoman (heck, even Superwoman needs a day off every once in a while).

Ok time for a non-emotional life update. Remember the microwave? aka my little red car? Well, it’s dead. Not battery dead, engine dead. In my last post I said the darn thing always passes inspection and is still goin strong. That is, until the end of September. I was driving on the highway and smelled smoke and then realized the smell was coming from MY car so I tried to get to the gas station to figure out what’s wrong but I didn’t even make it 1 more kilometer when the car just stopped accelerating. I pulled over on the side of the highway and all this smoke was coming from under the hood and I didn’t know what to do, or whether the car was going to explode. I called my host family and thankfully they were home and offered to come get me! We left the car on the side of the road, it was towed later that day, and we got the quote a week later that it’ll cost 34,000 ZAR (South African rand) to fix. Well, the car was only worth 30,000 ZAR at that point so you can see it wasn’t worth keeping. I then had to go car hunting, which I had absolutely no experience doing, let alone doing it in another country. Shout out to my host dad Trevor who was an amazing help with car searches.

In the meantime, how do you suppose I got to work?? There were no other clinic owned automatic cars (90% of cars are manual). So…I said teach me to drive a manual. And I DID IT. It was honestly really difficult and I would stall at least 5 times a day but I got the hang of it after a few weeks. Actually right as I got comfortable with it, I got a new automatic. RIP my stick shift skills, October-October 2019. Now I can impress all my friends back home because I know how to drive a manual car. On the other side of the road. In traffic, uphill both ways (seriously though, it’s a road that dips so I literally drive uphill both ways to work). The new car is a beautiful little automatic Nissan Tiida and man it’s nice not having to drive with 2 hands and 2 feet.

In other news, I have found GREEK PEOPLE. Turns out there’s a pretty big pop of Greeks and Cypriots in SA. I went to church a few weeks into being here and tried to scope out the nicest looking person to chat with after church was over. And sure enough, the woman I identified was SO nice and welcoming and we even went out to lunch together that day. I also started going to greek dance practice!!! It’s for 20-35 yr olds. I’ve Greek danced my whole life, but had a 4 year college hiatus, and am loving that I can return to it. I’m making so many friends at practice and it’s made so happy here, a little piece of home!

In closing, I’ve added a new segment I like to call: 12 fun facts from a gen 12 fellow

  1. When it rains it pours (I bless the rains down in AAAFRICAAAA)
  2. Africa time is worse than Greek time
  3. Being trilingual is just another day in the office (there are 11 official languages and 95% of the pop is bilingual at the very least).
  4. People say I sound like Siri with my American accent and I will yell directions like “in 200 meters, turn left” in the car to mess with them
  5. Ketchup is called tomato sauce
  6. A South African glass of wine is way more volume than an American glass of wine
  7. I have been 10 ft from a zebra (while running a 5k on a game reserve)
  8. Mosquitos are the WORST
  9. Joburg traffic is sooo hectic but my commute is only 8 mins (7 mins on a good day)
  10. On Heritage day everyone wore elaborate traditional outfits to work and I decided to wear a Union College shirt, Gamma Phi Beta sorority sweatshirt, and a red white and blue headpiece cause that was about as American as I could think of. People asked me why I wasn’t wearing a costume and I was like America has no culture what do you want me to do…
  11. South African accents sound really cool to Americans so I wonder am I cool to them or am I just American?? 
  12. Lastly, the fact that explains the title, I started attending Zumba classes at the local gym! I’m having a blast and love that I can continue my dancing here. Might even come back to the US Zumba certified!

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving! My host family and I had a mini celebration together with ham, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, cran sauce, and homemade apple pie (sadly no turkey, it basically doesn’t exist here). Miss you all!! Shoutout to the old lady at my mom’s gym who asks about me. 

Next blog coming v soon I promise I won’t procrastinate this one!

Starting off on the wrong foot…or shoe

Wow wow WOW have I had myself a week. I have so much to share that I’m splitting it into two posts. This one is about my first few days, initial thoughts and feelings, etc. and the next one is everything since then, coming soon to a computer near you!

I arrived in Johannesburg after 2 red eye flights and basically no sleep. I landed at 8 am and had to stay awake the whole day. Luckily, I managed to do it but my body was all sorts of confused. I thought I would have a day or two before I went to work but Ashley (Witkoppen’s COO) dropped me off at my house and said “see you tomorrow!” In hindsight it was good because it gave me something to do right away. I had a memorable first day at work because….I WORE 2 DIFFERENT SHOES. Yep. Jet lag is a killer. I knew I put on 2 different shoes in the morning, so I could see which one was more comfortable to wear, then I got distracted and left my house with 2 different shoes on. They were both black but it was still pretty noticeable. The guy who led my training at work looked down and goes “uh…did you do that on purpose?” I made some friends though because two other women who work there pointed at my shoes and chuckled and they thought it was hiLARious that I accidentally wore different shoes. What a way to start off a new job!

I am living with Trevor and Lila Keip who rent out a flat (one room cottage + bathroom) that all the previous Minerva Fellows have stayed in. It is a bit small, but it has a bed and a kitchen and a bathroom so I can’t complain at all! It’s quaint and has a bench outside where I’m writing this right now. The Keips are amazing and so welcoming. I have been going on walks around the neighborhood with Trevor the past few days which has been lovely. I’m living in a gated community and use my fingerprint to scan in which is pretty cool. It’s completely safe for me to walk around, during the day and at night. 

Weather time: It’s winter here right now but it’s pretty mild. The highs are in the 70s and the lows are in the 40s. In the US there’s usually a 20 degree difference between the high and lo but here it’s close to 30 degrees. I go to work feeling cold with a jacket and within 2 hours I’ve lost the jacket and need to change pants to shorts! The sun is very strong here and apparently 30 minutes in the South African sun can cure anything! It’s very dry here in Johannesburg, since they’re at a high elevation. My throat has been bothering me and I’ve been sneezing and I thought I was getting sick but it turns out it’s allergies with the change of seasons plus the dry heat :/

For those who know, the microwave is doing well. That’s the nickname for my car. It’s the same car that the past few fellows have used and the air conditioning is broken and it’s basically the size of a microwave. It’s actually smart car size but it’s not smart in the slightest. This car has been on its last leg for quite a while, yet manages to pass inspection every year. Luckily, it’s an automatic, so that wasn’t too big of a change, but I’m driving on the LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD. That certainly took  some time to get used to. It’s like learning how to drive all over again. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car and I’ve had too many embarrassing moments walking to the wrong side of the car to enter. The roads are demarcated pretty well with arrows so I’m reminded to stay on the left, but I’m still not used to crossing traffic when I turn right. They LOVE their roundabouts and sometimes the traffic lights are out so it’s basically a free for all. By the way, traffic lights are called robots here. (Robots are also called robots.) I only live 5 minutes from work which is nice.

Witkoppen Health and Welfare Centre is amazing. I love where I work! It’s a non profit health clinic that does SO much for the community, and really focuses on comprehensive care. Public government clinics many times don’t even have doctors and the service is terribly slow, but Witkoppen has an HIV clinic, TB clinic, pharmacy, dietician, emergency room, general hospital, social services, and a psychologist (I’m probably forgetting some). There’s also a mobile clinic that goes out to the townships every day to encourage patients to get tested for HIV or anything else they might need. All things Witkoppen Clinic is going to get its own post soon, I promise!

Since arriving last Wednesday, my first few days were really overwhelming and overstimulating. It was nice to get into things right away but when the first Saturday came and I had some downtime, it hit me that I was really here. 8,000 miles from home. I was dreading the moment when this would happen, because when I studied in Brazil, it hit me hard and it took me days to get out of my “I want to go home” slump. But surprisingly enough, the sinking feeling came and went pretty quickly. It’s because that feeling is one of doubt, that I won’t be able to get through this. In Brazil, it was the first time I ever was far away from home and while I knew that I would physically get through my term abroad, I wasn’t sure if emotionally I could handle it. But. I. did. Brazil is a huge success story for me and if I did it then, I sure as heck can do it again. I no longer have that feeling of doubt that I can’t get through this, because I know I will. Simple as that. 

Now is just your chance to fly higher

Glory to God for All Things…. Keep reading, this isn’t a religious education post. I felt the need to start like this because this is how every reflective moment begins for me. How every day begins for me. It keeps me humble and grateful that every day is a blessing, a new opportunity. Glory to God for All Things. This is exactly how I’m feeling as I’m sitting in the airport waiting to board my flight to Johannesburg. Nerves are HIGH. But it’s nervousness mingled with excitement, with the knowledge that I’m looking over a precipice, and something new is about to begin. It’s compelling and terrifying and rewarding. It’s a whole lot of potential energy yearning to become kinetic.

I was drawn to the Minerva Fellowship for many reasons. We all are called to do something in this life- I don’t know what my calling is, but I do know I can’t find it standing still. I have to keep moving. Exploring. After studying abroad in Brazil, which provided me an invaluable learning experience, I knew I wanted more, that my yearning for cultural understanding and immersion would never quite be satisfied. I want to engage with the people, to live among them and learn from them, and in turn share some of my own knowledge, as a Gender studies major, as a woman, as an American, and as a human.

I loved Union, so much, and all my thoughts and feelings towards this amazing institution will be saved for a different post. For now, I’ll say this. Union gave me the foundation I needed to always look outward, to always seek to better the world I live in. A thirst for knowledge, for justice, and for love. The words of my own graduation speech come to mind– “This isn’t a leave the nest spread your wings and fly type moment. You’re. already. flying. Union gave you the opportunities to do that, and now is just your chance to fly higher.” I’m taking what I know, what I love, what I’m passionate about, and using it to do big things in the big world, one step at a time.

S.1 E.1 Pilot

Sometimes, beginnings don’t start out quite the way you planned. I didn’t plan to start my fellowship 6 weeks late but here we are. Pro tip: if you need a South African visa, allow yourself 6 months to 20 years to receive one. The system is terribly inefficient and I never got the answers I needed. My application exists in the void that is South Africa. *To hear the full extent of my visa troubles, ask me about it* I’m sparing you all the details for now. So, after many weeks of waiting and waiting and waiting for a visitor’s visa from the South African consulate, which would grant me permission to stay in SA for 9 months, we decided I couldn’t wait anymore! Plan B is a go.

Plan B is to go without a visa, as a tourist. The hold up- I can only go for 90 days. I’ll work on extending the visa once I arrive in South Africa. Not ideal, but not the end of the world. So finally, after many weeks of anticipation and being fully packed to leave at a moment’s notice, I set forth on my journey as a generation 12 Minerva Fellow from Union College. Join me as a document the highs and the lows, and everything in between. This, is Journeys in Joburg.

Why South Africa?

Hi everyone! Thanks for visiting. If you’ve navigated to this page, then you probably have the general knowledge that I received a fellowship and traveled to South Africa. Let me give you the lo down and then you’ll know all about what the heck I’m doing at the southern tip of a continent 8,000 miles from home.

Union College is what made this fellowship possible. They have a fellowship program called the Minerva Fellowship, which selects graduating seniors to spend nine months abroad, doing sustainable development, humanitarian aid, education, health care, etc. I am part of the 12th generation of Minerva Fellows, which began in 2008. This is also the year that the total number of fellows reached 100. Any one of the 6 of us could be that lucky 100th person. No one really knows, so let’s make it me. Woohoo I’m the 100th Minerva Fellow!

Thanks to the wonderful donors to this program, I am the Lauren Greene Cohen ’78 Minerva Fellow going to Johannesburg, South Africa and working at Witkoppen Health and Welfare Center. I am the only fellow (out of 6) traveling to South Africa. The rest are in Kenya, Uganda, and Cambodia. I’ll be helping the clinic with daily needs and serve as the liaison for The Gift of Hope, a non profit Lauren Cohen started which serves to financially support the women and children at Witkoppen with and affected by HIV. I had the most interest in this placement to learn more about urban health care and the general desire to do this fellowship to serve others and explore the world.

This blog is my thoughts, experiences, adventures, and everything in between. Enjoy!

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