By Charlotte Libeer
To tell you about the arrival, I must first talk about the goodbye. It was way harder than I expected. Lieselot was staying in Cape Town to continue the WP 2.2 program (educating the children on healthy lifestyle), Jana and I were leaving for George to start a new program – WP 2.3, doing research in the hospital on hand hygiene.
For our last evening, we had some girly quality time, doing facemasks and watching Netflix together. The next morning the two of us left with two other Dutch social work students (Terri and Max), leaving everyone else behind.
The journey itself took about 4 hours. No time to sleep while driving through this amazing country. Every 5 minutes it looked completely different, going from endless looking open fields to wild bushes and mountains. We even saw some elephants!
When we arrived to George I immediately noticed the difference with Cape Town. George is a small town, very country-side-like athmosphere. First impression: Beautiful, quiet and way less stressful than Cape Town.
Esmarie, our “supervisor” and one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, was waiting for us. She showed us our apartment (finally my own personal room!!) and took us to the supermarket.
The First Week
The following days we got shown around by Esmarie. We got an introduction to the hospital, met lots of new people and got to install ourselves in our new home. We met Celesté, a very nice lady and one of the heads of the hospital.
We went to visit Thembalethu Clinic and got in touch with an organisation called “Itemba Lobomi”. They organize house screenings in vulnerable areas in George. We managed to get a week of practical internships in both places, so I am really looking forward to it.
At the end of the week, I got my schedule and placement in the hospital. I was very excited to hear that I would be in paediatrics for the first two weeks! We went to buy a new uniform (the one I brought was fine but different from the ones they wear here, so they advised me to buy a new one so I wouldn’t feel excluded) and prepared ourselves for the following week.
The first introduction with paediatrics was very… impressive. I immediately noticed the difference between Belgian hospitals.
It was a very loud, chaotic ground. There were children running everywhere. I presented myself to the staff and explained that I was a Belgian student who came to work there for 2 weeks. I was very motivated to start, but I quickly got very intimidated. Every room had 6 to 10 patients, which I already found strange. The handover was very unorganized so I couldn’t follow, which means I had no clue what was going on in the ward.
I got a room of 10 children to do. I had no idea where to start, what to do and who to ask. The first 30 minutes or so, people remembered I was a European student, but I think they forgot. Everyone spoke Afrikaans or Xhosa. I have never felt more like an outsider – which I obviously am, but it’s not a nice feeling. I couldn’t communicate with my patients or their parents, and the staff barely bothered to try.
The cultural differences were very noticeable (at least, that’s how I felt), and even though you could see they really loved and cared for their children, they were so harsh. I can imagine it only seemed like that because I didn’t understand.
I felt very, very unhappy and alone. I was disappointed in myself, because I had always thought peadiatrics would be one of the things I’d love the most, and now it wasn’t. I had a big cultural shock, on a moment I didn’t expect it.
Esmarie came to the ward, just to check on her students and when she asked me how I was, I answered very stressed and emotional that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected. She immediatly talked to Celesté (one of the head’s of the hospital) and I moved to another ward the next day.
Now I am on NICU (with the tiny little babies). I was a little bit anxious at first because I have never really taken care of a baby, but the team welcomed me from the start. They are very patient explaining everything but let me do my own thing. I will be there for the next 2 weeks.
I would like to add that I don’t mean to offend anyone. This is just the way I felt. The feeling might have been a little bit overwhelming due to homesickness and my little dramatic personality ;).
The Fun Things We Did 2.0
Of course it wasn’t all bad. I don’t want to end on a negative note, so here is a brief summary of the other activities we did in this beautiful little town:
Thembalethu Clinic: We went to visit a clinic in one of the more vulnerable areas of George. It was a very interesting tour and we actually managed to be placed there for a week for practicals! I am very excited to go there!
Itemba Lobomi: We met with some NGO’s who organize different kinds of housescreenings in the poorer areas of the town, so they can refer the people to clinics, social, workers, … if needed. I will also be able to join them for a week!
We got invited to another braai (aka bbq) by Esmarie. We discovered her husband is a very good braaier and an excellent maker of gin & tonic!
We rented a car! Now we don’t depend on others when we have to go somewhere. Freedoooommm!!
Farmers Market: A very hipstery little market where they sell local products, going from delicious strawberries to indigenous masks.
While trying to explore the lovely coastline, we accidently broke our rental car (after 3 days, uhu). Luckily nobody got hurt, and when we got over the shock of riding into a wall backwards, we could all laugh with it. (After all, the damage wasn’t too bad)
Mosselbaai: We wanted to have a beach day, but it was raining A LOT. Instead we climbed a little hill (and almost fell in the mud) to enjoy the view of the sea.
Captain Marvel: To get through the rain, we went to see a movie.
The Fat Fish: We went to have dinner with Georgine, a very nice girl from the UK who is also doing some project in South Africa. We drank THE BEST Gin & Tonic and had some amazing fish.
Botanical Garden Run: I don’t know how I got it in my head that I wanted to do a 5km run on a saturday morning, since I hate running, but I did it! It was a beautiful park and I did a good job for someone who has never ran before ( I think). I didn’t like it while I was running, but I felt really proud afterwards.
Horseback Riding in Wildernis: Jana talked us into a horseback riding trip. Since I have nothing with horses, I wasn’t too sure at first, but I REALLY enjoyed it! It was very beautiful. My legs are sore and blue but I am very glad we did it!
That’s it for this week. I am trying to update every week, but since we are in stage 4 of loadshedding (the government closes all the electricity about 3 times a day) and we don’t have internet in our residence, it’s hard to keep in touch.