Tuesday, February 17, 2009
My visit to Mthatha began with a very exciting 3 hour mini bus ride from East London. Jesse gave me very clear directions on how to get a cab from the airport to the taxi rank - who to ask what questions, what to expect, how much to pay, so on and so forth.
No problem. I'm in the mini bus, smooshed 3 people to a two person seat and completely blocked in by the seat in front of us. The country side was more beautiful then I ever could have imagined. Rolling green hills, brightly colored houses, curving train tracks. The women sitting beside me fell asleep on my shoulder. The women on the other side of her spoke English and was about my age. We talked a little and she offered to ask the driver to stop where I needed to be let off. She feel asleep on shoulder of the women between us after we talked. Only 1/2 hour into the trip before I had lost all feeling in my legs "This is so sweet and great" I thought to myself. "Everyone is napping together - how peaceful"
Quite out of the blue the women napping on my shoulder grabbed my arm very tightly. She began gasping for breath and sat straight up, she turned and faced the women on the other side (now very awake) and grasping her own throat. She was making all sorts of noise - so she wasn't choking. The women on the other side looked at me and yelled "hold her!" -like I was crazy for not thinking of this on my own. I obeyed. The women was having a seizure. The driver was still driving - taking really no notice of the situation.
Taking control - the women on the other side put a hand on the women's head and started praying in what can only be described as a yell - when one hand wasn't doing it she threw another one on there. The three women sitting in front of us all had at least one hand on her chest and were working their way through prayers. I'm still holding the women to my chest and we're still driving.
We eventually stopped. I drag the women out side - I thought I we were all taking a breather - no sir - just changing seating arrangements. And away we went. She came back around before we reached Mthatha.
Jesse picked me up at the gas station I had been dropped at and we jumped right in to old camp gossip and any new gossip we could come up with. It was wonderful to be in the company of an old friend. We went to dinner with Jesse's co-workers that night and they were actually asking for more camp stories just to see us crack up.
Jesse is a Missionary with the Episcopal Church. He works with the African Medical Mission in a clinic and community center in a small village called Itipini.
The community center has a preschool, a clinic, an after school program, and a number of other programs for the very very poor people who live in the village.
I went to work with Jesse each day and volunteered in the clinic. I watched my friend give pep- talks in Xosha (a language involving 3 different clicks) to patients very near death with HIV, as well as 4 year olds who had scraped up their knees. In the time I was in Mthatha I met two different people who have since died. I met a little boy who had been on the hospital for 97 days after burning 20% of his body with boiling water and only had his 15 year old sister to look after him (she also has a child of her own). In the high school English class Jesse teaches one of his students shared her chair with her pre-k son who sat more or less quietly for the hour.
I've attached a link to Jesse's blog if you are interested in reading his incredible stories from the past year and half and seeing his many many pictures.
On the weekends we got the chance to visit some places Jesse had not been yet. We hiked to 3 different waterfalls in the Hogsback Mountains and drove down to the Indian Ocean the next weekend.
When we weren't in Itipini or seeing the sights we spent our time singing camp songs, playing speed scrabble and watching Paul Newman/Robert Redford movies. It was a wonderful visit. Now I'm on my way to New Zealand. I'm hoping to see another camp friend there - however he is currently visiting the US. We shall see.