Friday, January 13, 2012

Nov. 15-17: Today signaled the beginning of my much anticipated peer education training. I spent all day yesterday (and most of the night) in last minute preparations most of which were unnecessary as I’ve been preparing for weeks. But it was just as well as I wouldn’t be able to sleep at a reasonable hour anyway. Not only do I love facilitating trainings but I really believe in this program. The three day training went even better than expected. Everyone who committed to come did and all were early (a point I emphasized to show respect towards yours truly). I handed out two playing cards a day to each participant who in turn returned one each time they participated in a session. It was a great way to get everyone involved. One of the most memorable sessions for me was one where I asked them to get into pairs. I then gave each pair three index cards that said no risk, low risk and high risk respectively. I followed that by reading a statement or action and they had to decide the risk of HIV transmission. Because they would turn in their index cards face down I was able to get everyone’s genuine opinion rather than one dominant person confident in their HIV knowledge answering every question. There was not one statement I read that all the pairs answered correctly. It was really quite shocking and sparked many healthy debates. Whether or not you can transmit HIV by means of a toilet seat or kissing were some of the most highly contested. It was so empowering to see the wheels of change in progress and to know I was a part of starting those wheels to turn. I really tried to stress to the participants that they can be in the driver’s seat of their own lives. What so often happens here is a mindset of hopelessness and self-defeat that winds up being a self-fulfilling prophesy. But if you feel like you have the power to make choices about your own life and you take back some small sense of power and control over your future you are more likely to lead a healthy life. To put it even simpler, if you believe you have choices than you’re more likely to make healthy ones. With a culture of fear, silence and stigma surrounding AIDS I needed them to really hear me. I said over and over again, “I am empowering you with facts so that you can pass them along to your friends and family and save their lives. Your former president said many things that counter what I’ve told you and now I’m sure you don’t know who to believe. I’m begging you to choose me. If taking traditional medicine or bathing after sex prevented HIV everyone in the world would be doing it! Everyone.” I could see people start to nod their heads. They were getting it. I’m addicted to that feeling, the feeling of understanding, it’s a high better than any drug. Nov. 20-28: I spent a week in Cape Town of which I spent the majority trying to find a way to stay longer in Cape Town. I absolutely fell in love with that city. Leah and I rented a car and started in Hermanus which is a sleepy coastal town known for whale watching. Hermanus, like Stellenbosch our next stop, looks like you just walked off a movie set it’s so quaint and charming. We found this great local bar our first night with awesome live music and then met up with friends we made the night before to tour a facility whose goal is to curb poaching. Sadly, the Chinese and Japanese are willing to pay South Africans ten times what they would make as day laborers so there is no shortage of interested applicants. We then kayaked with whales and headed over to Stellenbosch where we went on an all day wine tour. We made friends with a wonderful British couple whose contact information I accidentally threw away as they wrote it on my take-away box. We were sad to leave picturesque Stellenbosch but I was determined to go to Seal Island which, you guessed it, is an island full of seals. It was really quite magical. We then took Chapman’s Peak Drive, a beautiful coastal highway, down to the Cape of Good Hope where we woke up early on Thanksgiving morning and hiked around. We somehow beat the crowds and had the trails to ourselves at the southern most point in Africa. Next, we drove to Simon’s Town to see the penguin colony and then it was off to Cape Town proper for a lavish meal and a sunset sailboat cruise. We worked off our un-traditional Thanksgiving feast the next day by hiking Table Mountain and picnicking at the top. We then treated ourselves to a day of gluttonous shopping and more amazing food and live music before our final day which we spent at Robben Island where they kept political prisoners from the apartheid era including Nelson Mandela. Both of our tour guides were former inmates who explained their life in this work camp/prison in a way that is impossible to forget.

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