Friday, September 30, 2005

Internet at home!

We came home today to discover that we had wireless internet AT HOME!! This is the biggest thing to happen to us since like, we arrived. Ok, well that is an exaggeration. But we are terribly excited. This means I can post a lot more often so that all 8 of you who check in regularly will be even more up to date on the boring details of my life.

I already have emule up and running and am about to download Prince's Greatest Hits and the new Coldplay album. Will also be installing skype, a cool internet phone service so that I can call the US more often.

This may more office productivity since I wont be dependent on work internet to email, read the news, etc.

Also have some plans for this weblog. May move it to another server soon and may publicize it a little more. But for now I am just excited to be connected the world, my friends, and my family more easily.

Bad Thing About Living in South Africa #1

Crime is always on your mind.
I thought I would post this in response to Blake's comment about driving safely in South Africa. Crime is a tremendous problem in South Africa. If you travel here and manage to escape without having anything stolen, the omnipresent razor wire fences, security guards, and general paranoia of crime will certainly drive home this message to any American visitor. Having traveled and been robbed in South Africa previously, I have been overly cautious in my time here so far.

Just to give an example, the house we live in is surrounded by 10 foot tall fences with electric wiring along the top (that provide quite a shock to anyone who would touch them). The house itself has an alarm system, but also sports a system of optical beams around the perimeter. These make it essentially impossible to move throughout the yard without setting off an alarm. Despite all this, our landlords discouraged us from keeping our surfboards strapped to our car overnight for fear that they would be stolen.

As for driving around, we typically take these precautions. Never drive any a questionable area of town after dark. This is difficult as sometimes you dont really know what areas are dangerous and which are safe. We always lock our doors, no matter where we go. We always keep ANYTHING in the trunk when we travel. No lunches, CD's, and certainly any bags or electronics are anywhere in the car. The "smash n' grab" is a popular affair here where someone smashes your window and reaches in to steal your bag/t-shirt/ipod/lunch/dirty socks. Finally, to also prevent this, we usually crack the windows just a hair to make it hard to smash. We've been lucky so far, but we also have a rule that if anyone asks us for anything, we'll simply hand it over. No need to risk a life for your wallet or cell phone.

Its obvious that there is a heightened perception of crime in South Africa. Indeed, its one of the first things any local will warn you about when you first arrive. But I wondered if these concerns were warranted. Based strictly on anecdotal evidence, I would tend to agree. So I looked up some statistics on (which bases their crime data on the Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems). I found the following pretty interesting.

In a survey of all UN countries, South Africa ranks:
  • #1 in manslaughters per capita
  • #2 in murders per capita
  • #1 in murders with firearms per capita
  • #1 in rapes per capita
  • #4 in robberies per capita
So it seems that much of the concern over crime is valid. However, I should note that South Africa came in only at 10th behind the USA and the UK in total crimes per capita. Seems somewhat contradictory.

So while crime is a real problem here, all you can do is make efforts to reduce your risk and hope for the best. Kylie and I are extremely careful and do our best not to take any chances (so try not to worry parents).

All the way across

The wine-line now reaches all the way across our top kitchen shelf. 26 bottles in total. Certainly, we have slowed down quite a bit lately in our red wine consumption. Typically only a glass or two each per day. But its been great trying out different South African wines at such amazingly cheap prices (typically $5 a bottle).

So far, our favorite type of wine has been Shiraz. My previous favorite (back in the US) was a pinot noir, largely because of the movie Sideways, just like everyone else. But Shiraz might take the cake now. Our favorite has been the very reasonably priced Lindiwe Shiraz from 2002.

I should add that I know next to nothing about wines, or anything else that I write about for that matter.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Question

We met our new best friend Anand Reddi at Johnie Fox's Pub on a wild and crazy monday night. Anand is a Fullbright Scholar with a well crafted sense of humor and even better crafted teeth (seriously, they are hugeand blindingly white. He and Kylie admire each other's teeth most times that they meet. I am excluded from such pleasantries as my parents never got me braces). Johnnie Fox's is a bar just down the street from us, so Kylie and I walked and met Anand outside.

We had one of those nights that began with "Allright, lets just go out for 2 beers." It was afterall, Monday and we all had work the next day. However, simply saying these words somehow ensures that you will be out late, and inebriated by night's end.

So by beer 4 or 5, we had thoroughly discussed how beautiful Kylie and Anand's teeth were, and needed a new topic. We somehow got on to the topic of Paul Farmer, which morphed the conversation into a favorite among today's overly-educated agnostic: how should one live their life? This is obviously a gross oversimplification on a much more complicated issue, so let me explain.

This question really takes significance among people that are just out of college or deciding their career choice for the first time. We start asking questions like how much money should I make? What should I do with my career? my spare time? This question becomes crucial when we start to consider marriage and settling down. And we all fear not having any answere be the time our as of yet unborn children start to ask why its wrong to steal.

The question has a lot of significance for me as I start to pick my medical career. I am lucky to have a wide range of choices in front of me. I will relate two extremes. I could spend my life treating the poor, the sick, those with HIV in developing countries. Kind of the mother Teresa route. I would spend my life trying my hardest to make a real difference in the lives of the neglected and impoverished. I would likely live in a rural community, running a primary care clinic for those who would otherwise have no medical care. My community would love me and part of me would be truly fulfilled. However, with this option ubdoubtedly also comes a harder life. A life living in poor, dangerous places. A life with a very low income. I would be separated from my friends and family in America. If I could convince a woman to join me in this envutre, our kids would grow up essentially in the 3rd world. Their education and social development might suffer. And suprisingly, a this career choice would would demand very little respect in the medical field as I would be a lowly family practice doctor in a poor community, somewhere in some place no one has heard of.

Or, I could take a different route. I could settle down in a huge mansion on Lake Travis in the beloved city of Austin, Texas. I could be an orthopedic surgeon with a booming private practice. My patients would all be wealthy lawyers who needed their hips replaced and would talk about my surgical prowess with their families at the dinner table. I know this because my dad had recently had his hips replaced, and is a lawyer, and still talks about how great his orthopedic surgeon is. I would be loaded. I would have a boat and 4 jet skiis. My children would grow up on a dock, would be strong swimmers with blonded hair. They would be well adjusted and have stable friends from childhood in their hometowns. They would attend private schools and ivy league colleges. I would be well respected among my medical peers and people would be envious of the wonderful life of Dr. Wiseman.

Which one is right? Which one is ethical? Its hard to criticize either one. But in my eyes, they are radically different. The life on Lake Travis would neglect an entire population of people that suffer and die everyday. Yet, I would sacrifice so much of my life to take the more honorable route. I can argue myself in circles about this, and typically do. But it really boils down to this: how do you determine what is right? No answer seems to be correct. Just following your heart seems to say that anyone can just do what they feel. One could argue that Hitlar followed his heart as he organized the slaughter of thousands of Jews. Religon doesnt really give you a good answer, no where in the Bible, the Koran, etc, does it say how to resolve these issues.

So I am rambling on and on, and could talk and write for hours about this. But this drunken conversation with Anand and Kylie awakened a conflict within me that I had been neglecting during my time here in Africa. Its a conflict I will have to resolve to some extent in the next year or two as I decide my medical specialty. I invite anyone's comments. But really, I just wanted to share what has gone on in the back of my mind for sometime.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Kylie strolls toward the Sterkhorn.

This grass was quite perplexing. There was a very clear border between teh green and the brown.

Big grasshopper in the grass. Maybe this was what we heard outside our tent?

Keepin warm on our tiny stove.

Crazy knotted roots in Karkloof Forrest.

Monk's Cowl

This past weekend, Kylie and I headed north into the Drakensberg Mountains to camp at Monk's Cowl. We were reluctant to leave as one of the biggest hurricanes was headed straight for Galveston (at least this was the case a the time), but I am really glad we left.

The Central Drakensberg is only about 3 hours away from Durban. So we arrived Friday night just before dark. We set up our tent, our camping table and new camping chairs and made a great dinner of pasta and guacamole. Just as we headed to sleep, it started raining. This was fine because we were warm and dry in my tent.

I'll take this opportunity to thank L2 (lifelong friend and fellow tent enthusiast) for convincing me to purchase this tent. I was on my way to investing in a cheap tent, but he convinced me to go for the 3-4 season Mountain Hardware shelter. He said the last thing you want when you are camping is to find your tent leaking and wet. I went a head and bought the nice tent, and I am SO GLAD I DID. Its kept me dry and warm in Guatemala, Texas, Colorado, and now Africa. So I pass this advice along to you. Even if your only a casual camper, invest in a good tent. You'll thank yourself later.

We woke early Saturday morning to eat breakfast, and set out on our hike. We decided to hike up to Blindman's Corner. It was about a 12 km hike that was supposed to take 6 hours, but we figured we could handle it in at least 5. We passed a waterfall called crystal falls. Here we filled our water bottles with fresh mountain water and DIDNT USE ANY IODINE! That's right, this is one of the few places on the planet where the water is pure enough to drink right out of the ground. The water was cold and tasted good. There werent even any floaty things in it!

Then up to the plateu where we hiked just under the Sterkhorn, a massive peak that was just at 3000 m (10,000 feet or so). This is the peak on the right. The one on the left is Cathkin Peak (3377 m). It was a long way up, but the real challenge was going back down. We seemed to descend for hours. But it was a sunny, warm day, and there were nice views all around us, so we didnt mind too much. We plan on returning and hiking to the base of the Sterkhorn later this summer to camp for the night, and hopefully summit the peak the following morning.

We ambled back to the campsite making the round trip in only 4.5 hours (yes, we are tough). Ate lunch, had a well deserved nap in the shade, and then went to some a few miles up the road. Good dinner of Mputu, beans, and Choc-Kits for desert.

That night, we heard a four legged animal creeping outside our tent. First we heard one animal, then there were 2-3 all around us. They were close enough that their tails brushed up against the tent while we waited nervously for them to leave. Its always scary to hear something outside your tent, especially in an unfamiliar campsite. The animals eventually left after a few minutes, and we eventually went outside to make sure all was well. We're still not sure who the culprit was, but we think a pack of dogs or perhaps some jackals are the leadning suspects.

The next day we hiked to Stirkspruit falls, and then to some nice pools. The water was freezing, but the sun was warm, so we went for a swim. Was painful gettting in, but was nice to warm up in the sun afterwards. We hiked back, packed, up and drove to Karkloof for a zipline canopy tour. We zipped down 180 m wires while attached to these harnesses. It was lots of fun and in a beautiful forrest.

We made it back to Durban around 3:30 PM. The surf was up and the wind was right, so we immediately threw the boards on the car and went to Dairy Pier for a quick surf before dark. As if the weekend of hiking and ziplining wasnt enough. Needless to say, we slept well Sunday night.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Weekend in Texas

I was glad to come home from camping this weekend to find out that Galveston suffered only minor damage from Rita. I am still not sure exactly what was damaged and what was not, but it sounds like many of the historic buildings downtown took a beating. Most tragically, it sounds like Yaga's was destroyed by wind, rain, and maybe fire? It looks like the brickwall that faces the square next to the building collapsed exposing the interrior. Found this sad picture of the Texas flag in front of the ruined Yaga's Cafe (see images below). Very sad. I do hope (and doubt) that anyone was inside when it collapsed. What bar will I attend when I come back for my 4th year?

Perhaps I can stick with an old favorite, the Poop Deck. Apparently, people stayed at this ocean side bar throughout the hurricane! This is hard to believe. You can throw a rock into the ocean from this bar. Its one of my favorites in town, and I spent my last 4th of July here. Several patrons apparently remained behind and rode out the hurricane while drinking Budweiser and cold Coors light. Sounds fun, but not likely the place I would have chosen for safety. I wonder if the drunk maintennance guy from UTMB was there?

Also, the Fraternal Order of Eagles apparently burned down. This was an old lodge akin to the Mason's (or Stonecutter's, if you are a Simpson's fan) that was turned into an art gallery. I actually attended a few parties here before it became a gallery.

Finally, it looks as though ACL was a huge success this year. I have been perusing the pictures, and it has been painful to see what I missed. Performances by Wilco, Coldplay, and a long, long set by Widespread Panic with Robert Randolph. Would have been great.

Regardless, I had an amazing weekend here in South Africa. Camping, hiking, night time frisbee, forrest canopy ziplines, and surfing were among the highlights. Will write more about it soon.

Here is a better image of what happened to Yaga's.

Widespread Panic and Robert Randolph. Wish I could have been there.

Coldplay at ACL.

Hardcore Galvestonians ride out the storm at the Poop Deck.

I think this one is from the side. It looks like the entire wall collapsed onto the sqaure.

Sad picture of what looks like the front of Yaga's Cafe.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Drink one for me this weekend...

Rita, ACL, Lone Star

After much thought, Kylie and I decided to head to the Drakensberg Mountains to camp. We stayed up getting the tent together, preparing good camping food, and packing up some warm clothes. The weather is supposed to be nice and warm there this weekend, so we thought we'd take advantage of a nice weekend. We'll be at Monk's Cowl. We'll be busy cooking, hiking, and playing glow in the dark frisbee.

As for Texas, Galveston, UTMB, Houston, friends, family and anyone else that will be effected by Rita, our thoughts will be with you. Again, I feel like I am missing one of the major events in US and Texas history, but we wouldnt have much access to coverage here anyway, and I really dont feel like staring at the internet reading weather reports all weekend. I hope everyone stays safe and comfortable as Rita passes over the Texas gulf coast.

Apparently Austin City Limits will still go on as the weather is not supposed to be too bad in central Texas. Another event I wish I could be in Texas for. Only contributes to my Texas nostalgia and longing for a cold Lone Star in a hot Zilker park, standing with my friends, watching Jack Johnson, Wilco, or Widespread Panic. But, I have alot to do and be excited about here, and I'll continue to write and share it all with you back home.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Katrina raised a lot of issues pertaining to race and economic privilege in America, even here on this weblog. I must say I originally thought that race was not an issue in the Katrina evacuation, but am not so certain any more. I kind of had a chane of heart after giving it some consideration. How can you tell a city that large and that poor that they must evacuate and not offer some sort of transportation? Who was left behind to fin for themselves in the Superdome? It is certainly not deliberate racism, as the mayor of New Orleans is himself a black democrat. But its the kind of modern day negligence that certainly makes one wonder how progressive we really are.

I received this email from a UTMB classmate who will remain anonymous (unless she decides to identify herself as). I thought it was an insightful observation.

For those who do not have transportation, there were rows and rows of yellow school buses, some already filled with people, ready to ship out to Huntsville. Sometimes when I read your commentaries about the poverty, racism, and inequalities that the South Africans face, I wonder if America is that much more progressive. Looking at the people on the bus, all the faces that looked back were African Americans. The poorest of the poor. As everyone else is leaving in their cars with their precious possessions piled in, they're sitting in these hot, yellow buses, windows down as far as they can go, waiting for their turns to leave.

Regardless, I am glad that Galveston is at least offering evacuation and public transportation off the island rather than simply opening up a sports arena for shelter.


Good Ole Buoy 42001 is reading wave heights of 35 feet, and its just in front of the hurricane. Its hard to imagine this thing being tossed around in waves that are taller than a 3 story building.

Just for laughs, here is a picture of me tring to clean all the sand out of our surboard bag.

Picture of an ominously clear Texas coastline. Rita swirls in the bottom right corner.

To camp or not to camp

So Kylie and I have been planning a camping trip in the Drakensberg Mountains, near Monk's Cowl. I lugged my trusty camping tent all the way from the states, and we've rounded up a stove, some sleeping bags, and all the other necessities needed to car camp. We would leave Friday afternoon and return Sunday afternoon.

All the while, a category 5 hurricane would ravage the Texas coastline. It just doesnt seem right. I had written before about feeling disconnected when major events like this occur. This one is happening to my home away from home and I would be even more isolated than if I were in Durban near a computer. As wierd as it sounds, we are thinking of staying in Durban and trying to get a hold of CNN or at least a fast computer to stay up to date on whats happening in Texas. Not sure what we'll decide, but I imagine it will be a snap decision.

UTMB Evacuated, W.W.C.D.

According to the UTMB website, they have totally evacuated the entire hospital. This is hard to believe, but is apparently true. I think of what a strange site it must be to wander around the empty wards, normally filled with busy nureses and anxious medical students. The nursery that previoulsy held close to 100 screaming babies, is now totally silent and empty. I am quite impressed that UTMB pulled this off. I wish I could have been around to help, or at least witness it.

So I think if I had been in Galveston during this time, I would have first bought enoughfood, water, and candles to last me a month. Then my parents and friends would have forced me to evacuate. I would tell them I want to be around for the biggest storm since the 1900 hurricane. Then I would have realized how dumb that sounds, and would have likely reconsidered. But first, I would have begged UTMB to let me stick around and help with any medical emergencies that might arise during the storm. Sure, they would have laughed at me and said no (and they would have been right to do so, I would undoubtedly have gotten in the way). Even if they said yes, I again, would have realized how dumb this sounds, and would have made the journey up I-45.

In the end, I would probably have headed to Austin for Austin City Limits (I would have had a ticket anyway had I been around). I would have tried to take everything of value with me, but would likely have been forced to leave a lot behind. The fact that ACL will be amazing this year, would have likely placated my intense hurricane/emergency curiosity.

But instead, I am here. Trying to read articles about patients with low CD4 counts, checking the NHC every 10 minutes to see if Forcaster Bevin has anything new to say.

Galveston vs Rita

Well, Rita has broken my silence. Sorry for not writing for a few days, surfing in the morning has taken priority of the time I usually set aside to post here. I dont have time today, but I cant really think or read about much else other than this immense hurricane headed for my little island home.

So Rita is now a category 5 hurricane, making it the 3rd strongest (in regards to barometric pressure) hurricane in the Atlantic. Winds of over 160 mph and expected storm surge of 25 - 30 feet. This is a huge beast of a storm and its heading (at least right now) straight for Galveston. 3 weeks ago, I really thought it was Katrina that would strike Texas, but it curved wrecklessly into Louisiana like so many gulf hurricanes do.

Its a very strange feeling to be sitting here in my cubicle, in Durban watching history occur from thousands of miles away. I check the National Hurricane Center religiously. I feel I have forged relationships with Forcaster Stuart and Forecaster Bevin, who give me the lastest information on Rita's strength, size, and path.

I remember becoming obsessed with hurricanes when I first moved to Galveston over 3 years ago. I read voraciously about how they developed, the various prediction models, and how they monitor them with plans, satelites, and radar. But it felt so different when I was actually on the island, wondering if I would have to evacuate (I never did).

I think most all of my friends at UTMB have evacuated the island. I emailed a handful just to get an idea of what is happening there. Oddly, the current weather in Galveston is eerily clear and calm. Just hot like it always is. But people have told me about the mass exodus of the island and of Houston. I have seen pictures of I-45 backed up bumper to bumper. I also heard that many gas stations have run dry or shut down. Thanks to those of you who were able to write me back.

I also think of my house that lies only half a mile from the beach. A couple live there now, and have put up the storm shutters and sealed down the others. The husband works for the coast guard, and I think he cannot leave. I do hope the wife is able to make it out. I also wonder what will be left of that house in 3 days time.

Have so much more to say and wonder about. Will write again soon.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Dude, check out this millipede!

Its like, REALLY big!

Great Thing about Living in South Africa #2

They drive on the other side of the road. Now, you may be saying, "Isnt that a bad thing? Doesnt that cause you to drive down the wrong side of the road?" The answer is yes, for 2-3 days this is a problem, and I have had a few near misses.

However, what I have still not gotten used to, is where the driver side door is. Thus, I frequently walk to the passenger side, unlock the door, and open it only to find no steering wheel. This around the time that Kylie smiles at me, and says "Oh, you opened the door for me! Thanks!" I realize my error, but simply smile, and say "Your welcome!" and shut the door for her. Thus, my forgetfulness is miraculously transformed into a gentlemenly gesture that I would never have remembered to do in the first place. One of the rare instances where my absentmindedness actually pays off. I love this place!

Great Thing About Living in South Africa #1

The wine here is intoxicatingly cheap. Your standard bottle of wine in the states is around a $8-10 cost. And this is usually for awful wine (pretty much any wine sold at Arlan's, for those of you in Galveston). A good bottle (such as one purchased at Kroger) usually costs around $15-50.

Now, the bottom of the line wine is about R21 ($3.40). But, I have had a bottle or two at this price, and its not even that bad. The standard price is around R35 ($5.60) and we have found several good bottles at this price. But if you feel like splurging on an expensive bottle, you can always upgrade to a R60 selection. Keep in mind this still costs less than $10. I have yet to see a bottle for more than R100 ($16) and would never dare spend that much on just one bottle, when I know it could buy me 3 bottles the cheap stuff!

The Good and the Bad of Living in South Africa

There are obviously a lot of differences between living in America and in South Africa. Obviousl things like driving on the left side of the road and not so obvious things like what you have to do to get your car registered are just a few examples. Some of these differences are really great and helpful, others are remarkably annoying, even scary at times. So, I have decided to post great and not-so-great things about living in South Africa as I come across them. They wont be in any particular order, just the order that I think of them and as they occur.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Since I've made this weblog public 2 weeks ago, over 1,000 people have stopped in to take a look. This isnt unique visitors, and its likely that several of them are my own visits, but thats not too shabby for a guy who can barely spell.

I love getting comments and emails from all of you, keep stopping by and saying hello.


Yesterday, I met a patient who worked as a security guard inDurban. He was friendly and willing to talk about his life, so I asked him a lot of questions. He was HIV positive and came to us with a very low CD4 count. He had been on antiretroviral therapy for 9 months now, and his last CD4 was still low, but markedly improved. He had 3 children that lived in the Eastern Cape (about 4-5 hours away) but he lived in Durban with his sister. I asked him how much he made as a security guard. He made only about R2,000 ($320) a month. He said he sent most of it home, which prompted me to ask how much his rent was. I was shocked to hear him say that he pays R50 ($8) a month in rent for a two bedroom apartment. I laughed and told him that I should move there (we pay about 70 times that amount per month, and our rent is relatively cheap by American standards). He seemed confused, and said it wouldnt be safe for me there. He basically described it as a township where it was very unsafe. He started to say its a place where "only the black people" live, but caught himself and just said I shouldnt go there.

I imagine it wouldnt be safe for us there. When your laptop is equivalent to an 6 months of work, its no wonder things get stolen so often in this town. Makes me wonder how I can justify spending so much when other people have so little. But its what we are used to I suppose. Someone who makes $100,000 a year wouldnt want to live on a salary of $30,000 just as someone who makes $3,000 a year couldnt imagine living on only $500, the way most people in rural Africa do.

Now feeling curious, if not guilty about what my patients made, I asked my next patient what his income was. He sold newspapers on the street, and made R600 (less than $100) per month. He smiled widely and said he was just happy to be making anything at all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Happy Birthday Mom!!

Today is my mom's birthday. I wont say how old she will be today, as she probably would rather not be reminded that she is even having a birthday. But I will relate that she is still in excellent shape, still reads a big novel about every week, and still works full time in an area of government that has always been important to her. More importantly, she is still just cool and down to earth and an overall good person. She also raised me and my brother, and still puts up with my dad, none of which is an easy thing to do.

To honor her on her big day, I convinced these Zulu maidens to get together for picture. I told them it was for my mom, and they thought that was so sweet and nice. They wished her well, and sung an ancient Zulu hymn to honor her. Actually I am lying again. I told them I was a producer in the states and that I was casting the remake of the 1980's TV miniseries Shaka Zulu. I told them if they were lucky, this picture would land them the part of Zulu Maiden #184.
Ok, that was also a lie. The real truth is that they had no idea what I was saying. I just grouped them together and handed them the sign. I tried to explain what it meant, but they really didnt understand. They just stared at me with a confused look in their eyes. A group of English guys saw me and pointed and laughed. So, at worst, this picture cost some young Zulu girls a little confusion and I got made fun of by some Brits. Thus, it was well worth it.

Happy Birthday Mom!!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Poor Rick's

I had to post this picture of a damaged Rick's Cabararet, if nothing else for my pledge class and fraternity brothers that will likely shed a tear at the site of it. My fraternity has held a formal in New Orleans every spring for years. I myself took a bus, drove, or flew their several times during my time at Vanderbilt. Kind of one of those dumb things you did in college that you arent exactly proud of now, but are glad they happened. I have a lot of good memories of that city, and its sad to see it in such ruin today.

I found this image on an amazing site with about 197 photos of Hurricane Katrina taken by a local hotel employee. Check it out if the site is still up and running (no promises). He stayed behind in the French Quarter and took pictures everyday. He barely escaped when the flood waters started to rise on day 4 or 5. Really gave me a much clearer image of what happened and when. Something I think I missed by following the story from a time zone 8 hours ahead of central time.

The Reed dance was a great weekend. An enormous Zulu cultural event. Was really fun and interesting. Will post pictures soon.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Weekend in Zululand

We are heading out to a town in Zululand today called Eshowe to watch the Reed dance. Its an annual Zulu ceremony where thousands of Zulu women come to honor the Zulu King. I again find myself as the only guy amidst 4 girls (Kylie and the other 2 fellows are all female). It wont help that there will be also be thousands of bare-breasted Zulu women in the area. It should be an estrogen filled weekend. I will not be painting my toenails or anything, but will probably yearning for some male camraderie before the weekend is over. Maybe I can find a guy to high five and butt heads with while I am away. Will give a full report when we come back on Sunday.

Rough Morning

Yesterday I woke up at the usual time of 5:30 am and strapped the surfboard to the hood of our Ford Sapphire. This morning was a little different, because for the first time it was not overcast and grey. It was still dark, but the sky was deep blue with a few stars visible. Today the sun would come up, and I would actually be able to see it. I thought this might be an indicator of a good day of surfing, but I was very wrong.

It was a big day on North Beach, and not a lot of people were out. Only about 3-4. The waves were being stood up high by a strong offshore wind, but were not breaking down a line. Rather they were dumping all at once. Tall, peaking waves breaking that doubled over simultaneously amidst an explosion of white foam. Can be a little dangerous for a novice like myself. I have to note that waves here are very different from those in Galveston. Very rarely do G-town waves get overyour head. And when they do, they rarely break in such an simultaneous and powerful manner. For some reason the ocean seems so much more powerful here. This is real surfing, and all the dangers that come with.

Anyway, I was out past the jetty when large set came in. We paddled out hard to try and avoid the wave breaking on us, but not all of us made it over the crest. I saw another surfer get tossed into the break. I intentionally fell off my board at the peak in an effort to keep my body behind the wave, rather than being dumped over to the turbulent side. I made it over the peak, my board did not. Everything was calm for a moment on the safe side of the break. Then I felt a strong pull on my leg, and then a snap. My board was thrust forward by the wave and my leash had broken. I was no longer connected to my surfboard. I turned to see my board sailing away from me. I found myself treading water in the middle of the ocean with large waves breaking all around me.

I was a little confused at this point. Well, actually I was terrified. I had seen this happen before to people at North Beach. The poor surfers were forced to swim all the way back in and collect their board. Not fun or easy to do. Plus, I was right in the impact zone and the waves were breaking consistently. I also had a good distance to swim, even if the sea was calm. I instinctively started paddling toward the shore with one eye behind me to check for breaking waves.

At first, I moved toward the shore slolwly, but surely. I held my breath as each wave turbulently broke around me. I tried hard to remain calm as breaking waves shook and spun my body underwater. But it was getting harder and harder. The more I swam and the less I breathed, the more tired and more frightened I became.

I think at times in the past, I would have really panicked here. But I had been swimming more lately, specifically working on swimming underwater with out much oxygen. I am glad I did all that. I think if nothing else, it added a shred of confidence to this most humbling situation. I just kept pressing forward, trying to get air when I could. I never felt that I wasnt going to make it or that I needed any help, but I dont think I have ever wanted to be on the shore so badly in my life. I kept pushing forward despite a hint of panic in my strokes, repeating the cycle of swim and submerge. My feet eventually touched the sand, and I couldnt have been more relieved. I waded up to the shore, and found my board on the sand. I coughed up salt water that I had inhlaed along the way. I was exhausted, but safe.

So what did I learn from this potentially dangerous event. 1) Stay calm. Panic costs you a lot of oxygen. Relax and get yourself to safety. 2) Better to stay on your board and get dumped by a wave than bail and risk snapping your leash. 3) Buy a higher quality leash next time. 4) Keep training. Surfing is a dangerous sport at times. Swimming and training can keep you confident in an emergency and maybe even save your life. 5) Maybe we'll stick to the milder breaks in Durban when North Beach is big and scary. Maybe we'll avoid large swells alltogether. 6) Finally, respect the ocean. I have found myself at nature's mercy in the past, and its often frightening to do so. We live in a world where we desperately try to control or avoid nature's threats. We often cannot, as evidenced by the most recent hurricane that has all but destroyed the gulf coast. Whether hiking several days from food and water or hunkering down in a tent beneath a powerful storm, nature can be a powerful beast at times, and one that demands resepect and caution.

My mom might be reading this right now, worried about me all the way around the world in South Africa. Not to worry Mom. While I am always careful out there, I will certainly be more cautious in the future. I dont think I did anything wrong necessarily, but I was reminded how powerful the ocean can be and will keep it in mind everytime I head out to surf.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Substitute Picture

Spent the day in Vulindlela again. Its the rural site about an hour away from Durban. They were very short staffed on a very cold and wet day. In American clinics, rain tends to keep patients away and shut down the clinic for the day. But today it seemed to drive them into the heated waiting room. We saw tons of patients, all on or starting anti-retroviral therapy.

Anyway, thats why I didnt have time to put anything together for today except this picture of the crazy plant/beast that grows in our backyard. Its a big blooming thing with pink and white stripes (note: they may not be pink, I am red green color blind). It would be a pretty cool photo if my damn feet werent in the picutre. So, hope to have some more time tomorrow to post. And yes, I still own those same brown shoes.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Surfing is hard, so is life

I dragged myself out of bed at 5:45 am despite grey skies and cold rain, and took my new surfboard to North Beach. This is one of the best city breaks in Durban, and thus is frequently occupied by some of the best surfers in South Africa.

Its a short drive to this beach from our little apartment in Morningside. On the way, I passed a group of street kids huddled in blankets under an awning. They too were just waking up for the day, though I suppose not to go surf or even to go to work. There were about 6-7 of them huddled in a nest of dirty blankets and soggy cardboard. Several of them carried plastic bottles that they frequently brought to their mouths as they stood around, rummaging through a trash can. I knew from experiences with street kids in Guatemala that they were inhaling glue fumes. This was a way to get high, avoid the cold, and probably to blunt the harsh reality around them. Unfortunately, the glue was also very toxic and very addicitve. I had seen it fry too many young boy's brains on the streets of Quetzaltenango.

I thought about how little they had. Nothing they possessed was of any worth at all. They themselves must feel quite worthless with no parents, no job or money. I wondered what it must be like to wake up every morning and re-realize that you lived one of the most undesirable lives on the planet. And its not like there are only a few of them. These kids lived in cities all over the developing world. Inhalation of glue seemed to be a common thread among them.

And I thought to myself that I shouldnt even bother with surfing. Here I was, about to do something so meaningless, so self-indulgent. Sometimes it doesnt feel right to relax when the world is as unfair and just plain shitty for so many people.

But, I knew nothing I could do right then and there would really ameliorate the situation. I doubted that these kids would listen, or even understand anything I had to say to them. So I pulled up, put on my wetsuit and walked out into the blue grey ocean breaking bright foam under a grey white white sky. Little rain drops drizzled all around me. It was cold.

To my suprise, North Beach was already populated with surfers and fisherman. The pier on North beach serves as a barrier to the breaking waves, and I used it to paddle out, under the lines and nets of bundled up fisherman. I paddled clear around the locals that all but owned the break next to the pier. I set up and waited for waves of water to roll in and take me somewhere.

I dont know if it had anything to do with the group of boys I had passed on the way, but I surfed pretty poorly this morning. I had a hard time catching the tall but poorly formed waves that rolled in. When I did catch one, It was too steep and I peeled down the face and an angle that sent my plunging down into the foam and turbulent water. Surfing is hard. Its really hard. I am amazed on a daily basis how bad I am compared to the locals here. They catch waves on tiny boards and weave and turn and spin with seemingly no effort at all.

The only upside to all this, was that I still have a lot of time here. Just its hard to make any sort of difference in this unjust world we live in, its hard to be a great surfer. But I have to remind myself that I have time on my side. I may be here until June, July. Several more months to catch waves, to see patients, to try and put together some sort of project that is worthwhile. If I am lucky, maybe I will succeed at both.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Just as I did on September 11, 2001, I find myself in South Africa while one of the most tragic events in US history unfolds several thousand miles away from me. Its very strange to follow a story like this from a foreign country. I would have to imagine that Katrina has been a regular topic of conversation among most of you in the states. While I have followed it closely via internet news, other people's blogs, and by comments and stories emailed to me, I still feel like I am missing critical pieces of this event. First and foremost, I wish I could do something. I think when terrible events like this unfold, people instincitvely want to offer assistance (especially the all to0 altruistic medical student). Were I in Galveston, I would absolutely have been able to do so. I believe I would have made the short trip to the Astrodome and utilized what little medicine I know at this point in my career. While I think I would have genuinely enjoyed the experience, it sounded like they were initially underhanded up there (lisen to me refer to "up there" as if I were still in Galveston!). I feel rather helpless to do much when I am far, far away in South Africa (where they do have a few problems of their own).

But there is a disconnect in respect to understanding how these events fit into people's lives and personal view of the world. I was living in a small, rural community outside Durban when two planes flew into the World Trade Center. I will never forget trying to explain the magnitude of what happened to one of my South African friends. I tried to tell him that 200 soccer fields filled with people had crashed to the ground. This, all to a guy who had never been on a plane before or been to the top of a tall office building. So while I did have some additional perspective, I found myself wondering how my friends and family were reacting to this. Were they crying or just upset? Did they know anyone that had died? How did they fell about it all?

While I am in now way trying to compare the two events, I do feel the same now. I dont even have CNN here, and rely only on newpapers published online (and I dont feel like they even have half of the story). More importantly, I would like to hear how my friends feel about all this. Would also be curious to know if anyone made it up to the Astrodome to assist the New Orleans residence that were stationed there (I refuse to call them refugees).

Washington Post

Great article in the Washington Post sent to me by another very wise and very freckled friend of mine. It discusses how Katrina may have unveiled some of the racial inequalities that have existed in New Orleans and the US for decades. Race, New Orleans, and Katrina have become the topic of discussion in reponse to the post about calling Katrina "our Tsunami." Not what I had intended, but still interesting.

Experimental night photography on the porch outside our little apartment. Friends came over for beer, wine, and desset.

Better view of our two new boards. Mine is the handsome yellow one on the left, Kylie's is the red, slightly taller one on the right. I hope no one comes through that door!

Kylie and her 9' 0" boat.

Kevin from 42 Surf waxes up my new board. Its an 8' 0" shaped by Hugh Thompson. Have already taken it out a few times.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


I sat at my cubicle all stinking day working on literature review, background writing, and thinking about serum neopterin in HIV-TB patients. Research is hard and slow sometimes, and I feel like I have little or no guidance at this point. Its just me and my ideas, which dont always get me very far. Big meeting with the boss tomorrow. So maybe that will push things in a particular direction.

In better news, my package finally arrived! I shipped a small box of stuff from the states over 8 weeks ago. It is only a month late, which isnt too bad for South Africa. I dont really even remember what I put in it. But I know my computer speakers are inside. This is good newsfor Kylie and I, and bad news for our neighbors. Note: neighbors = landlords.


Blake sent me this. Frustrating that South Africa still supports a corrupt government that has completely destroyed a country's once successful economy. Robert Mugabe is a lunatic and has led his country into ruins. Click these links for a brief background on Zimbabwa, Mugabe, and the science of rigging democratic elections.

Does anyone read this blog other than Blake? The counter seems to suggest lots of visitors each day, but he is the only one leaving lots of comments. Would love to hear comments from anyone and everyone. Thanks to all the others who have left remarks here.

Classic South Africa

Lisa (one of the other research fellows from the US) had Kylie, Sara (another of said fellows), and myself over for dinner Tuesday night. We all arrived at her house at 6:30 in a nice part of Durban about 2-3 minutes from the medical school. She lives in the guest house behind the home of a family of 4. Like many homes in South Africa, this family lives behind 10 foot walls with electric fencing over the top. These features are requisite barriers if you hope to not be robbed in Durban. We had all parked inside the castle walls originally, but needed to move them out around 7:00 or so to let the father drive his car inside. We decided just to leave the cars outside the gate for the few remaining hours of dinner. Afterall, it was a safe neighborhood and our cars had all the antitheft devices that are fairly common in South Africa. These included a gearlock (basically a locking deadbolt to keep the stick shift in place so that you can never shift out of neutral) and and immobilizer (a second electronic key that is also necessary to start the car). These items are pretty common place here in Durban.

So we sat in Lisa's apartment, drank red wine, ate a wonderful Thai dinner, and continued to drink red wine once all the food was gone. For three medical students and a nurse, this was a welcome lifestyle change. We no longer had to be at the hospital the next morning at 6:30 am.

Just as we were about to head home, Sara received a phone call from the landlord of her apartment down the street. He was telling her not to worry, that the police had found her car. We all thought this was some mistake. Did they have the right Sara? "No, thats not possible, my car is parked outside, I just moved it there..." Sarah replied to the claim that her car was stolen. "I'll go check, but I think there must be some mistake..."

Sure enough, we all went outside to find not 3, but 2 cars parked on the street outside the gate. Somehow, in the 2 hour span of dinner, someone had broken into her car, bypassed the security measures, and drove it away. We were stunned. Many questions came to mind. First, why steal one of our cars? They were all old pieces of crap. I personally drive a 1991 Ford Sapphire. Sara's was like a 1991 Honda Ballad or something. Even in South Africa, these cars wouldnt sell for more than $1-2,000. Second, my car doesnt have a gear lock. Lisa's car has one, but it was not engaged at the time. Why they chose the only car with all the security measures in place, I do not know.

To make a long story short, they had essentially rolled the car less than a mile from where it was parked. Thus, they didnt need to start it or get it out of neutral. The police explained that many car theifs will roll the car to a less conspicuous location where they can then remove the security devices. These guys had tried this, but didnt factor in the combination of gravity and incline and had ditched the car at the bottom of a hill.

The police were tremendously nice and helpful, and seemed to be used to this sort of thing on a daily basis. The car wasnt damaged, and Sara drove it to work the next day. After the shock of the whole incident was over, we found ourselves laughing at the situation.