Day 23

I guess I never really finished up yesterday– Nikki, Maci, and I headed out to Camps Bay for some Tuesday night karaoke at Dizzy’s. We met up with Skylar and Elijah, two of the Mercer interns at the clinic and caught up on what we had missed while shark diving. The answer? Nothing much. We sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads” then Elijah absolutely murdered “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. What a wonderful night!

But TODAY, we finally broke the dry spell at the clinic! After about an hour of paperwork, Nikki, Maci, Skylar, Madison, and I all started shadowing Dr. Prinsloo, the neonatal specialist who comes in every Wednesday. While this was fun, watching her check out all of the preemie babies, we crowded her a little bit so I went to hang with Elijah in the labor ward. Lo and behold, 10 minutes after I arrived, two mothers began pushing (one who was much louder than the other).

One woman (the loud one) didn’t speak any English and barely any Xhosa so we really had a tough time communicating with her. She kept pushing when, in reality, she wasn’t ready push which could’ve been very damaging for the baby. Eventually, the sisters got her to calm down and just lay on her side until the baby was ready to come out.

However, the woman next doorway ready to push and that baby was ready to come out. After a few painful minutes and some coaching from Elijah and me (wow, this really makes me sound so much more qualified than I am?), she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl! We cut her cord, measured her, warmed her up in the incubator, then gave her back to the mother to begin breastfeeding. The only problem was this mother was a first-timer and, unfortunately, had inverted nipples, meaning that the sisters had to use a syringe to pull them out. During this whole process, I was lucky enough to be the designated “baby-holder” (my favorite job) and got to bond with this little bundle of joy. After handing her back to the mother, I decided that this was the perfect way to introduce my new baby hat concept. As a way of thanking the mother for letting students deliver her baby, I gave her a pink baby hat knitted by yours truly. This woman was so grateful and even let me take pictures of the baby with the hat on :’). Those are featured in the gallery.

The rest of the afternoon was relatively slow but that birth made this past 1.5 weeks of waiting all worth it. I returned home for a classic afternoon of going to the gym, calling home, etc. This time, though, I got to talk to my brother, Russell, who just returned from a 2-week wilderness adventure! As fun as SA is, I’m definitely missing my family. On my way home from the gym today, I finally decided to try Nando’s, a large chain restaurant in Europe and South Africa specializing in their roasted chicken. I got a leg/thigh with mild peri-peri sauce and thought it was pretty good! 8/10, convenient and tasty!

I spent the night hanging out with Tess, Morgan, and Sarah, listening to Big Bootie mixes and admiring the beautiful view out of their 13th floor window (we’re only on the 4th floor, facing another building). I’m on this new kick where I’m trying to go to bed earlier so I’m off to the snoozer at approx. 10:30… progress? Xhosa word of the day is “hat”: umnqwazi (there’s a click in this one! and I can do it!)

Day 22

Alright, today was NUTS! Nikki, Maci, and I have been playing with the idea of going shark cage diving with Great Whites for a while now but hadn’t made moves. Unfortunately, they leave this Saturday so time was running out. After texting with a recommended driver from some friends at Connect-123 (the best with suggestions), we had a booked reservation for 6 all day on Tuesday (Nikki, Maci, Tess, Morgan, Sarah, and me). The nurses were jealous that we were missing work to go see the sharks but sent tons of prayers that we’d come home in one piece. Barend, the driver from Great White Shark Tours, picked us up at approx. 6:35 and we set off on our 2.5 hr journey to Gansbaai.

Not gonna lie, I was sketched out about this adventure. Were we going to be in a tiny cage off of some rando’s tug boat? Would we be fed meals? What is Gansbaai anyways? Well, as soon as we arrived (after a long, sleepy ride), all of these questions were answered. Great White Shark Tours is one of many cage diving companies along Gansbaai, one of the few coastal areas in the world where Great Whites naturally come to hunt. In fact, a lot of Shark Week is filmed in Gansbaai!! We arrived to a delicious continental breakfast (featured in the gallery) in a cute little house on the coast, paid for our trip, and met fellow passengers along the “Apex Predator” (their specially engineered boat). We watched a safety/informational briefing then grabbed our supplied waterproof jackets and hopped on the boat.

We had a high-speed, choppy 15-minute ride to our destination, Shark Alley, then anchored down. Shark Alley is a small area in-between Geyser Island and Dyer Island. Dyer Island is the home to over 400 bird species and Geyser Island is home to over 60,000 seals, making the passage in-between the perfect hunting ground for Great Whites. Shark Alley, specifically, is where some of Shark Week is filmed. When we anchored, one of the seven crew members aboard (for only 26 passengers) gave us a warning about their low sightings of sharks recently. Though the South African winter is their high season, bad weather and natural causes had only brought them into contact with one Great White in the entire month. This wasn’t great news but we were determined to have a fun time anyways.

However, this guy spoke too soon. Almost immediately after our “chum master” started putting bait into the water and creating a chum line towards us, we spotted our first Great White of the day. The crew quickly ushered us all into the cabin to get us outfitted in thick wetsuits for the frigid water and stuck the first eight divers into the cage. Their titanium cage is attached directly to the side of the boat and sits both over and underwater. Essentially, you bob around on the surface until a shark was close, then Happy, the shark handler, would tell you to “go down”. You’d take a big breath, hook your feet under a bar in the cage, and pull yourself underwater for a maximum of 10-15 seconds to see the shark. I’m gonna be honest– the visibility wasn’t great so I had better views of all of the sharks from above water rather than underneath BUT when Nikki, Maci, and Tess were in the cage, a shark came directly for them (jaws out) and they got a phenomenal view underwater.

Eight people would get in the cage and after about 5 minutes, the crew would put eight more in to make sure that everybody got a view of the shark. Our first one stuck around for a little while, swimming back and forth from our boat to another one nearby. We were lucky to have seen one so quickly but expected it to be the last one of the day. But we spoke WAY too soon.

We had a phenomenal day, coming into contact with five different Great White Sharks in just over 3 hours on the water. Each of them swam around for a while giving us almost no downtime. The boat had snacks, drinks, and warm towels so whether we were in the cage (I spent a total of 40 minutes in there) or on the boat, the viewing and conditions were fantastic. At one point in the cage, a shark even stuck his pectoral fin between the cage bars and touched my foot… that was pretty cool. As we were wrapping up and getting ready to head back to shore, the crew told us that this may be their best day all year. I’m not sure how we got so lucky but I sure am glad we did.

After another chilly and rough ride back to the dock, we got out of our wetsuits and returned to the house/office. They had hot showers and more towels for us then served a delicious lunch of chicken pea soup and cheese toasties complete with coffee and tea. As we ate, we watched the film our videographer on board had put together (in maybe fifteen minutes? turnaround time was crazy) and talked dramatically about all of the majestic sharks we had seen.

Around 1:30, we boarded Barend’s van again and headed back to Cape Town for a chill afternoon. I napped for a hot second then went to the gym before heading back home to shower and get ready. Tonight we’re heading to Camps Bay for another round of Tuesday night karaoke to really top off the day.

Overall, today was so crazy and has me thinking about how grateful I am to be in Cape Town. Besides having a great time at my internship, living in an apartment, etc., being able to see somewhere on the literal other side of the world from so many angles (from the township of Khayelitsha to the top of Table Mountain to the neighborhoods of the elite to the wonders of the sea) has been so eye-opening. Xhosa word of the day is “shark”: ukrebe.

Shark video soon to come 🙂

Day 21

I’m not sure what the Mother Nature thinks is so special about June 25, but this morning was the prettiest sunrise I’ve ever seen. Pictures featured in the photo gallery. I spent the drive to Khayelitsha watching the beautiful pink sky and also speaking to our third (yes, THIRD) new driver this morning, Nomalady. This was one of the first times I’ve seen a woman driving a car in South Africa so hooray for gender equality!

Unfortunately, this dry spell at the clinic is really dragging on. We arrived this morning and spent half the day filling out paperwork, you know, the normal grind. But when we took our tea break this morning, we saw that Maci had a new puzzle book filled with crosswords, sudokus, etc. Most of the afternoon (after the paperwork was all done) we spent solving said puzzles as a group of six– an interesting task. Unfortunately, in line with some days last week, today was rather anti-climactic. However, we did spend some time today planning our shark cage diving trip… details will be covered tomorrow!

When we returned home, I hit the gym, talked to my mom on the phone for a while, and went grocery shopping with Morganne– also rather anti-climactic. BUT after this grocery shopping, Morganne took me into what may very well be the cutest stationery shop I’ve ever seen called Fabricate. Thank goodness I had my hands full of groceries because otherwise, my wallet would’ve been in trouble. Big time. Before we left, I headed down to Pick n Pay (imagine Kroger vs. Whole Foods (Woolworths)) to purchase one of those puzzle books for myself… I was missing my sudoku fix.

I returned home, whipped up some cauliflower noodle and veggie stir fry, hung out with Austin, Charlie, Morgan, Sarah, Morganne, and Tess, and am now headed off to bed for tomorrow morning, we have a 6am wake up call for shark diving. Xhosa word of the day is “sister” (or daughter, little girl, etc.): sisi.

Day 20

Woof, I slept well last night. That wine tour really did me dirty. This morning, for the first time in about two weeks (thanks, Safari), I was able to sleep in! After a slow wake-up (something you take for granted until you don’t have it… ever), I went with Tess, Morgan (not Morganne), Sarah, Sophia, and Georgia (all Connectors from various places) to brunch at Tashas to celebrate Sophia’s birthday! Tashas is on the V&A Waterfront and has a delicious Spanish-inspired brunch menu. Their old school omelet was yum and their fruit platter was stunning: guava, banana, mango, kiwi, dragon fruit, etc.

After a hearty breakfast, Tess and I went to see Ocean’s 8 and, man, that was a badass movie filled with a lot of badass actresses. Big fan. If you’re into crime/heist/action movies or just love to watch some famous women tear it up, I’d definitely recommend it. Sandra Bullock is an absolute queen.

On our way out of the V&A mall, we ventured into their Steve Madden store to check out their winter styles. Surprisingly, not unlike literally everything else here, the shoes were SO inexpensive! Some were on sale for R 399 which translates to $29.75 and I don’t think a single pair cost over $150 USD! I don’t really understand the world economy except I did benefit from it, scoring some cute shoes for cheap.

For dinner tonight, I met up with Nanki, Roxy, and Lauren, three girls from UVA all working on a public health projection Khayelitsha. My cousin actually worked on this same project two years ago, so hearing what they were up to after she’s gone was really cool! They’re basically conducting interviews and helping with support groups/an eventual community center in Town Two, a neighborhood of Khayelitsha. We went to Asoka, one of my favorites, for their delicious tapas and live music on Sunday nights. All three of them were so interested in everything I’m doing and me in their projects. We ended up staying for three hour talking all about experiences in Khayelitsha and how our fields overlapped. It was also nice to be surrounded by UVA students for the first time in a while because we could use the same lingo, talk about school life and studies, have a lot of the same friends, etc.

Anyways, after a lovely day filled with incredible food, it’s time for Grey’s Anatomy and some sleep. Goodnight to all and the Xhosa word of the day is “town”: dolophu.

Day 19

Boy, oh boy, today was a long one. As one of their sponsored events, Connect-123 took everybody in the program (all ~50 of us) on a wine tour. Only downside is the fact that wine country (Stellenbosch, in particular) is about an hour away so we were up and at ’em on the van at 9am– pretty early for a Saturday. If you add a morning workout on top of that, I had a wakeup time of 6:30. No *clap emoji* days *clap emoji* off *clap emoji*.

We started off the day with a trip to Fairview, one of the most popular wine-tasting destinations where they pair sips with different cheeses from cream cheese to gorgonzola to brie. I’m not even a cheese person but, holy heck, these were pretty good. A bonus feature of Fairview was that they had a pen of goats out front. Not sure how this related to their vineyard/brand/mission at all but I was a big fan. As I sang “The Lonely Goatherd” from “The Sound of Music” they came running my way, so I’d consider that a win.

The next stop was at Spice Route. Besides a spot for wine tasting, they had a variety of other interesting areas: beer tasting, chocolate tasting, restaurant, pizzeria, gin tasting, etc. I went with some Connectors to the chocolate tastings where they let you try cocoa beans and small nibs of different flavored chocolate bars which was very interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t like much besides some ~classic~ milk chocolate so I didn’t participate too much but according to my roommates, it was fantastic. We were treated to mushroom/chicken/beef burgers at Spice Route (incredible) and then went outside for a literal PHOTOSHOOT. Check out the photo gallery to see the plethora of pics that were taken.

Lastly, we headed to Morgenhof for the final tasting. Upon walking into this beautiful Italian countryside-esque vineyard, we saw their pen of P E A C O C K S. Half of me said this small of a pen was animal cruelty but the other said they’re too beautiful, it doesn’t matter! oops. We kept our tasting here pretty short because lots of participants were really ~feeling it~ if you catch my drift.

The 1.5 hrs home was rainy and pretty quiet as almost everybody took a snooze aside from a few students from London in the back who had a karaoke party. We returned home around 5 and took naps until coming to our senses around 8. Currently, Tess, Morganne, and I are cooking up some pasta and soup to warm up after a cold, cold day in the Stellenbosch mountains. Xhosa word of the day is “wine”: iwayini.

Day 18

Not sure what’s been up with the birthing population this week, but today was another slow and rainy day. We started doing our usual paperwork but soon enough, the nurses found themselves with nothing to do and wanted to help us. The usual system was a bit thrown off but we worked quickly, chatting with the nurses Toto and Maseko in-between babies.

When we took our tea break around 10:30 (as per usual every day), I grabbed my typical snack of hummus with carrots, cucumbers, and celery. Today, however, the nurses/sisters/administrative ladies were particularly interested in what I was eating. First, they asked if it was liver then proceeded to ask what the heck “hummus” was. I ate about half of my portion in the tea room then brought the rest back to the maternity ladies for them to try. They always eat such exotic food that I thought they’d love the hummus but they weren’t pleased. One woman said she was “okay” with it but the rest were not fans. I pled my case about hummus being the nectar (paste?) of the gods but oh well.

After our half-day (a new Friday tradition), Nikki, Maci, and I headed back to the CBD and to Truth for lunch. Their porridge, eggs, bacon, avocado toast, etc. was out of this world as per usual. We headed back to our apartments to change/hit the gym/watch Netflix/chill out for the rest of the night.

Morganne and I ordered some incredible Chinese food (thx you Monks) and snuggled up to watch “Sing”, one of the most iconic animated films of 2016, save Finding Dory. After an emotional but triumphant rollercoaster, here we are, another day into my South African adventure ready to sign off. Xhosa word of the day is “pregnant” to mourn the drought of new babies: ukhulelwe.

Day 17

Blame it on the tardy driver, the slow days in the clinic, or the rain, but today we took a day off. The morning began with a luxurious wakeup at 8:30 (smh internal alarm clock) and brunch at a nearby restaurant, The Raptor Room. They have one of the coolest atmospheres I’ve ever seen complete with ivy on the roof, Millennial Pink all around, a Dinosaur logo, and “Proud Mary” blaring during our breakfast.

After some poached eggs and spinach-corn fritters, Nikki and Maci headed back to the apartment and I headed to Truth (former #1 coffee shop in the world, in case you forgot) to write postcards, catch up on blog posts, and take a minute to myself. About three hours in, a clingy waiter chatted me up and asked me on a date to which I said “no thanks” and proceeded to escape the premises. Oops.

As some of you may know, I am a very avid knitter. Scarves, sweaters, hats, blankets I do it all. One of my favorite things to knit is infant hats. A few days ago, I saw a big bucket of knitted garments in the clinic and figured that I could spend my down time knitting for all of these babies! It’d be my gift to the mothers that let me deliver their little ones to give them one of my hats. I brought some yarn with me from the US of A but needed the right needles, so I headed out to a local knitting store. Orion Wool and Crafts had a great reputation online but inside it was even better. The man and woman who run the small shop were so sweet, walking me around and asking all about knitting in the states. I told them all about the drastic price difference between South African yarn (generally $5-15) and American yarn (from $8 to $60). Once again, I hit a great bargain on some needles (R 40 or $2.98) and headed back home.

My afternoon consisted of a trip to the gym, knitting, sudoku, and more knitting before going with Morganne to see the Incredibles 2. Predictably, it was incredible. Edna Mode, Elastigirl, and Jack-Jack deserve Oscars– if those exist in the animated world. And that brings today to a close! Xhosa word of the day is “boy/child”: bhuti.

Day 16

Yesterday, I failed to mention that we were surprised in the morning with a new driver. I’d like to give a sizeable shout out to our OG driver, Luvo, for his positivity, punctuality, and 10/10 driving skills. This morning, our new driver showed up 50 minutes late (imagine the extra sleep!!!!). So late, in fact, that I told myself if he didn’t arrive by 8, I. was going to take the day off. Well, this man rolled up at exactly 7:59 so I guess that was my bad karma for the day.

Similar to yesterday, today was also pretty standard. The four interns did lots of the paperwork but some of the nurses on the non-paperwork-friendly staff were watching over our shoulders looking for any mistakes. They ended up sitting with us and watching our every move but were “too tired to write”. This suited me just fine because we got to talk to and hang out with them. Their favorite activity was getting us to call out the folder names for new mothers, trying to pronounce them correctly. Most of the time, we absolutely butchered the Mbuntus, Fundiswas, and Nkululekos but finessed the occasional Amanda or Olivia. One of the nurses took the opportunity to let me know that her middle name is Grace but she absolutely hates it, asking her mother to give her a different name instead. Now she just refers to me as “my name”: “My name, are you going to tea?” or “Good morning, my name!”

As if the 50 minutes this morning wasn’t enough, driver #2 showed up 30 minutes late to pick us up from the clinic this afternoon. Yikes. Once we got back, Maci, Nikki, and I decided on a sunset cruise at the Waterfront. Instead of Ubering, I decided to walk the 2.5 miles through downtown Cape Town and that was, indeed, an endeavor. Lots of checking behind my shoulders and walking at a brisk pace.

We arrived at 4:59 and ran onto the dock to be met with many sales reps trying to get us to go on their boat. We jumped on the first one we saw (only R 300 or $22.37) and set out for the Atlantic. We were aboard a huge catamaran with only one other family. The crew guided us out to the trampolines in the front of the boat and we stretched out, blankets and cider (included) in hand. As the sun began to set, the crew came around with champagne (also included) and we watched the sunset over the horizon in style.

Upon return to the waterfront (~90 minutes later), we ate at Servuga, a taste of international cuisine right on the water. Since we came before 7, all of their sushi was half off, so we ordered a few table-size platters to share for only about $9 each. I’ll never stop being astonished at the low prices we’ve found here. Same as literally every other restaurant I’ve been to, 10/10 would recommend if you’re down at the V&A Waterfront.

A few hours later and it’s now time to “cruise for a snooze” as my roommate, Tess, would say. Xhosa word of the day is “sunset”: kwelanga.

Day 15

It’s crazy that I’ve been here long enough to say this, but today was a pretty normal day in the clinic. Since mothers are required to bring their babies in every other day until they are over 2.5 kg, their cord is off, and they’re over 5 days old, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are very busy. Tuesdays and Thursdays are slower, especiallywhen it’s raining so today was pretty empty. In the meantime, Nikki and Maci did a lot of reading and I wrote a lot of postcards. As a side note, I have SO MANY postcards if you would like one please let me know and I’ll send one. Warning: takes 10 business days to get to the USA so no return letter needed.

We took our lunch break around noon and ended up having a 2-hour conversation about sororities at each of our respective schools (Skylar and Madison: Mercer, Nikki: UT Austin, Maci: Oklahoma State, Me: UVA). Interesting content. We returned to the labor ward desperately hoping for a birth but, alas, there were no mothers ready to push.

Upon return from work, the afternoon was pretty standard: gym, hanging out with roommates, etc. For dinner, I went to The Codfather in Camps Bay with some friends. This place not only has a sushi conveyor belt that you can choose from but also has a huge case of fish where you choose your cut, how it’s cooked, sides, etc. We all split some edamame, tuna rolls, seared tuna, and kingklip and WOW it was all fantastic! This is a pretty notable restaurant in all of Cape Town so I don’t need to promote it too much but would definitely recommend that any seafood fan check this place out.

After dinner, we met up with some of the UVA people here with iXperience (all staying in Camps Bay) to attend a Tuesday karaoke night. We watched some older men (minority demographic) conquer Ice Ice Baby, Total Eclipse of the Heart, and Country Roads before deciding it was time to head out. Tired and ready for sleep, I now sit here writing this post! Xhosa word of the day is “postcard”: lokuposa.

Day 14

Today was the definition of “hurry up and wait”. The maternity staff always rotates and one staff works Monday, Tuesday, Friday while the other does Wednesday and Thursday. Today, we had the staff who lets us do all the deliveries but not much of the paperwork. Unfortunately, nobody was in labor so it ended up being a pretty slow day. This would’ve been fine if I had a book or something but my silly self brought a book where I only had 20 pages left and finished it during the ride to the clinic. Side note– the book was “Sorority” by Genevieve Sly Crane… there wasn’t really a plot it was more of a fictional exposé so it was fun to read and felt low-key trashy but the quality writing was incredible? 7/10, would still recommend. Anyways, I was left to my thoughts and my Candy Crush but it was a wonderful day nonetheless. One of the Mercer interns left last week for a family emergency and another one arrived today so we had fun getting to know her and just hang out together.

However, after a very slow morning we decided we needed to do something. I ended up heading over to the dentistry unit to see if they’d let me observe. Luckily, a (particularly beautiful) dentist let me watch him do lots of tooth extractions. Though I’m fine with blood/other medical procedures, something about cracking teeth and dental tools has always given me a fright. I stayed for about an hour, watching children and adults alike with tooth pain get numbing shots then having every painful tooth removed. He said about 95% of patients come here for extractions with the other 5% being “patches” (cavity fillings) and cleanings (rare). As interesting as this process was, I scooted out after about an hour.

After we returned for lunch, a mother went into serious labor around 1:30. This woman had been sitting on a bed for a while but, as she told me, “I’m trying to push but only the poo poo is coming out!” Disclaimer for anybody who has not yet given birth/is nervous about it: 90% of women poop in labor so when it happens to you, know you are NOT alone (in fact, you’re normal). This same woman kept wanting me to clean it up for her but didn’t know my name so she continually shouted “White Woman!” every five minutes for an hour. It has become my new identity within the clinic. She begged me for an “operation” saying that she didn’t want to push anymore but, unfortunately, that’s not an option at our clinic.

After some more consoling and even more “White Woman” calls, she was ready to push and I could feel the baby’s head. However, she was only about 5cm dilated and the possibility of a baby coming out seemed nearly impossible from an outsider’s perspective. The sister-on-staff told us to go for it and get her pushing so we set up around her: Nikki lifting the head and shoulders, Skylar on the abdomen pressure to push the baby down, and me on the pulling/catching side with Madison (new intern) watching from the sideline. After a few pushes and a lot of stretching, the baby was out and breathing (and mama only needed 1 stitch!). It cried for about 10 seconds before going silent which meant we had to start hitting/flicking it to keep it crying (and, therefore, alive). This baby was alert, looking around, and clearly breathing, but it just didn’t need to cry. It was precious. After cleaning him off and weighing him, I got to hold him for 15 minutes while the others dealt with the mother/cord/placenta. Highlight of the day, for sure– he was biting his fingers, staring at me, and sticking his tongue out like a pro.

We headed out to the parking lot as soon as we got ourselves cleaned up (baby fluid/blood literally goes everywhere) and hopped onto our shuttle where the driver, Luvo, immediately asked “how many babies?” He’s the best. I headed home, hit the gym, then went out to dinner with some new friends from the Safari before jumping into my glorious bed. Tess (roommate) is living out in Franschhoek in her boss’ guest house so that they can work every day for a week (it takes him an hour to really get into Cape Town so they don’t get to work much) and I’m a little bit lonely but it’s nice to have some space for the first time in a while. One Mad Men episode in and I can already feel myself fading so it’s time to peace out. The Xhosa word of the day is “remove” as in a tooth: khupha.