Videos update

Here’s a video I made from our time in South Africa!



The lovely Erin Williams made this video, it’s two seconds (or a little more) from every day this year!



Also wonderful Hannah Brenner made a (mostly) GoPro video from this year too!

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I’m home!

It’s a little strange to be in a familiar place again. I got so used to being around people I had only known for a few months, being in completely new places, figuring out directions by asking strangers, and constantly doing knew things, that I got used to the unknown. And now being in a place that I do know is kind of strange, and kind of scary. It’s like nothing has changed, but so much has changed. I’m not really sure if I’ll ever get back into my “normal life” again, but eventually this will feel like my routine again.

We got back to the US three weeks ago. The first week we met with different organizations in DC, including the World Bank, NRDC, United Nations Foundation, and Peace Corps. It was really interesting to learn about the same issues we’ve been discussing all year from a much higher up point of view. So then there’s the question, what work is more effective? Bureaucratic foreign aid or grassroots projects? How can they most effectively work together?

Then we were in Westmoreland State Park in Virginia, where we stayed in cabins on the water for two weeks. It was a cozy two weeks with lots of self-reflection, home-cooked food, hikes and journaling.

Our last weekend in DC I presented my Presentation of Learning, called “This I Believe.” I wrote my POL while we were in the cabins, but it’s a culmination of (almost) everything I’ve learned this year.

It really was an awesome year and I learned much more than I could’ve imagined. I met some amazing people, went to some incredible places, and made memories to last me a lifetime. Technically, this is the end of my “adventure”, but I know there’s still a lot more to come. I have a couple more things that I want to write and post in the next few weeks, so I’ll keep you updated!

Here’s my project, and if you want to see some of the projects that my friends made too, you can find them here.

“Hi, I’m Zuzu. A name I’ve always thought fits who I am pretty well—fun, quirky, and original.

But over the course of this year, my name, like the rest of my identity, has changed over and over. In Ecuador, I was Susu, because that was easier for my host family to pronounce. However, as the kids in our neighborhood liked to remind me, it sounded a lot like “chu-chu”, the word for dog in Tsa’fiki, the indigenous language. In Thailand again I was Susu. But I soon found out that “su-su” [peace signs] was slang for “don’t give up”. This became a mantra in itself, especially with the inevitable homesickness of being halfway around the world on Thanksgiving. When we got to India, I became Juju—thankfully, because I learned that in Hindi “susu” means pee. And when we were in South Africa, I tried to go by “susu” once again, but that was too similar to “sho-sho”, meaning good-bye in Xhosa, to be a name. I became Zuzu again, though not without frequent questioning as to why a white girl had such a Xhosa name.

I learned to adjust my name, and who I was, depending on which community I was living in, and learned to embrace each new identity.

Continue reading ““Home””

Animal Planet

Our last week in South Africa we were in the Addo Elephant National Park, where we stayed in cabins. We went to a cheetah sanctuary/breeding center, where cheetah’s and other big cats are kept in cages in order to protect them from hunters and to re-establish a  varied gene pool of cheetah’s in South Africa to conserve the species. We also went to the sand dunes in the national park, which were huge and looked like a small desert right next to the ocean. We went sandboarding/sledding which was really cool and we boogie boarded down a ski-slope sized hill, over a small beach and then 50 ft across the river. Terrifying but so so much fun. Missed out on snow this winter, but we still got to go sledding!

We also went on a full-day safari in the National Park, which is 200,000 hectares in total (770 square miles) and strives to conserve the area’s natural ecosystems, so all the animals and plants in the park are native (so no giraffes or hippos but that’s okay). On our drive we saw zebra’s, buffalo, kudus and other antelope, warthogs + their babies, ostriches, tons and tons of elephants, some vervet monkeys, a flightless dung beetle, and a lot of cool birds. It was really amazing to see and learn that dedicating that much land to the preservation of wildlife is still possible, even though humans have taken up so much space and are so destructive to the environment. It was also kind of strange to realize that the main incentive for the conservation of those animals is tourism, since there has to be a profit to sustain and encourage the industry. Even though these animals have lived on this land for hundreds of thousands of years, the main reason why humans still want them to be around is for money (as a business owner) or for looking at them (as a tourist). Do these creatures not deserve a place on earth for their own worth?

Five Stories from Kwanokuthula

For the past four weeks, my friend Erin and I lived in the Kwanokuthula township outside of Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. We worked in the clinic there and shadowed a community health worker Sandra visiting patients at their homes with the PlettAid organization. Most of Sandra’s patients have chronic illnesses, like HIV, TB, diabetes, arthritis, and others. We got to know these patients, and wanted to hear more about the stories of their lives, and the people behind just their illnesses. We learned a lot about how much social stigma can harm individuals, but also how impactful the community health workers can be and how much support comes from the Kwano community. We decided to make them into a short film so we could give them a space to share their resilient and inspiring stories.



Adventures in Kwano (plus pictures)

The past five weeks in South Africa were amazing. Our host mom, Sindi, worked as a clerk in the town clinic in Plett. It was really cool to talk to her about her role in the healthcare system, especially since my roommate Erin and I each spent a week doing similar organizational work in the clinic in our township. All the patients have physical files in the clinic’s office, but they get misplaced or disorganized very easily, which causes the bureaucratic systems in the clinics to be even less efficient than beyond just the understaffed doctors and lack of proper medication. Our host sister Iphe (Ip-eh) was four years old and spoke perfect English and Xhosa (thanks to her private English immersion school in Plett), and loved to Whip and Nae Nae. She also watched Sesame Street every morning, which repeated episodes and was in a new language everyday (English, Afrikaans and Xhosa) and had a pink puppet character named Zuzu.

Like most places we’ve lived this year, there were cows, chickens, goats and many many dogs that lived in the streets of our township, but unlike India the cows ate grass and were very plump. On a public taxi it was super easy to go into Plett from Kwano—for 9 rand (60 cents) and 15 minutes in a VW van with 15 others plus groceries/chickens. 

We went to Cape Town for one weekend, and took the eight hour drive along the Garden Route to get there. We went to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, and got a tour of the prison from another former prisoner. The tour was super moving and I’m also so impressed by that man and the fact that after 12 years of abuse and being held captive on the island, he now comes back every day to give tours to visitors. We also hiked the three hour climb up Table Mountain, and could see the entire city and the Atlantic ocean from the top, which was pretty great. That night we went to the Ultra Music Festival South Africa, which was a super fun concert 30 kilometers outside of the city on an ostrich farm.




Life in South Africa

For the past few weeks I’ve been living with a host family in a township outside of Plettenberg Bay. My roommate Erin and I, plus Eli and Shawn living a couple blocks over, are the only four white people living in our township, despite the wealthy white suburbs and beach-front mansions 10 minutes away in Plett. Even over twenty years after apartheid ended, the area is still extremely segregated into the townships created for the concentration of black and colored communities that were forcibly moved out of the city.  Most of our community, including our host family, speaks Xhosa, but almost everyone speaks English as a second language. Here we’re working with an NGO connected to the clinics and community health workers in each of the townships we’re living in. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve learned a lot about HIV and other infections (like TB) that often come with it, and how central these diseases are in people’s daily lives, and how treatment can often be so much more complicated than taking a prescription for ARV’s and other medications. Maybe a patient doesn’t have a car to go pick up the medicine, or can’t pay for the medicine itself. Maybe the doctor doesn’t speak the same language as you, so can’t explain your illness or medication, or missing work to wait in long lines at the clinic will result in not enough dinner to feed everyone that night. Maybe you don’t have enough food to take your expensive medicine with, or maybe you’d rather spend your paycheck or disability grant on food for your family than on medicine. Maybe your test results were lost in the clinic, or there’s only four doctors in your clinic serving 25,000 people, or as an orphaned minor you can’t pick up your own prescription even if you did manage to get there and pay for it, or maybe wealthier people from the suburbs are coming into your clinic for cheaper healthcare and to avoid the stigmatized where people know them. All of these are realities in the communities we’re living in.

But why don’t you just take the medicine?

We’re working with an organization called PlettAid, where for the first week I was filing test results into patient’s files in our township’s clinic. We’ve also been working with the wellness center, where we work with nurses and other staff in testing and screening people around our neighborhoods or at their workplaces (like hotels, a brick factory, a soap factory) for free. I’ve been taking notes and filling out forms for the staff I’ve been working with. With all the staff I’ve been working with I’ve noticed how easy it is for them to switch between English, Afrikaans and Xhosa depending on what kind of patient they’re talking to. Now I’m working with a community health worker named Sandra on her rounds to patients at home. Sandra also lives in the township herself, and has personal relationships with all of her patients. The community health workers with PlettAid will deliver medications to patients, make appointments for them at the clinic, redo bandages and clean wounds, purchase and deliver food parcels, check in if their patients are taking their medication and how it’s working, and how their patients’ lives are going otherwise (socially, emotionally, financially…). They also give their patients rides to the clinic, the social security grant office, the grocery store or to school, and help in any other way they can.

I’m looking forward to our work the next couple weeks, and to learning even more about the public health system. I haven’t been able to take many pictures so far, but more updates to follow!

Camels & Temples

This past week we’ve been in Pushkar and Udaipur! We visited a bunch of Hindu religious sites and palaces which were so beautiful. We went to a Sikh temple, the holy Pushkar Lake, and the only temple for Brahma in the world. Also we camel trekked into the Pushkar desert (connected to the Great Indian Desert so that was pretty cool) and “camped” there overnight (the “tents” had tile floors and electricity and the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in in 2 months). The camels picked us up at the hotel in Pushkar and then we rode down the road there towards the edge of the desert. We each had a guide/driver on our camel with us….mine was a 12 year old boy named Bapu but he was super fun and knew what he was doing so it was okay (also one of the other guides just lifted him up onto the camel with me so that was easy). The desert was so beautiful and we actually passed a lot of farms on the way in which was super impressive. I wish we had ridden the camels longer, but my legs were completely numb by the time we got there so it was okay. We had dinner around a campfire that night and then the next morning we drove 8 1/2 hours to Udaipur. Here, we went to the City Palace (which was so so beautiful and it’s been added to my list of dream wedding locations (it’s only $100,000 just to rent it as a venue!!!) (lol)) and went on a boat tour of one of the three lakes in the city which were each created by kings 500 years ago. Also we saw the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel screened in a super cute restaurant in one of the cities it was filmed in!! It’s a really good movie and everyone should see it and it’s basically exactly what Jaipur looks like except not really and it has more animals and more people and it’s less clean and not as many people speak English and life in general just isn’t quite that easy but it’s still a super good movie! Lots of parts weirdly close to home and it was super cool to see the city I had just lived in for a month in the movie since I’ve been to most of the places it was shot.

Other than that I have some more updates to follow that include videos BUT internet is still super limited so I’m not making any promises on timeliness for those. We’re flying to South Africa on Wednesday and I can’t wait!!

Indian Incidents

The Taj Mahal was, as expected, also very World Wonderous. I decided it’s the most beautiful manmade thing I’ve ever seen (most beautiful non-manmade were the Andes mountains & glaciers). It (apparently) looks exactly the same as when it was first built 400 years ago, and the white marble looked so amazing in real life and also reflected in the pool in front of it. All the colorful designs in the walls were made of real gem stones, and are opaque when light is shone on them. Also we watched the sunset over the Taj and the whole thing turned from white to gold as the sun was setting.

The kite festival was awesome! Mara and I flew some kites on the roof of our house with our host brother Tanu (well, he let us hold his kite for like 30 seconds before it got cut down and after that we just watched him fly kites and that was cool too). He had bought 40 kites for the two day festival, so that was pretty crazy. The Kite Festival is basically a game that the whole city plays together, where you try to cut down other kites in order to make yours the highest in the sky. Your neighbors are (usually) your allies so they won’t cut down your kite but other that than it’s kind of a random fight. Kite battles got super intense, and the strings are made with glass shards, so it was easy for kites to be cut down once the strings came in contact. We went to another rooftop in the middle of the city where kites filled the whole sky, and (unsuccessfully) tried to fly our own kites, but it’s really hard to get them up into the air with barely any wind and no space to run to get it to fly. We tried throwing each other’s kites up into the air and over the side of buildings (Mara’s kite hit me in the face and gave me a black eye…) and tugging on the strings, but it’s a super complicated process that takes years to figure out (or maybe we were just really bad at it). The kite battles were also so amazing since the lines you’re fighting with are basically invisible in the air, but people learn to tell where a kite is coming from by its angle and the wind and basically magic. Also after sunset there were tons and tons of lanterns that were sent up from houses all around the city and fireworks all over so that was fun too!

We also had a sari workshop. Two of the translators that work in the schools with us brought some of their own sari’s into the volunteer office where we have seminars every afternoon, and we got dressed up for the afternoon. It’s amazing how complex the act of putting on a sari is and how much effort the everyday outfit requires. Many women that I’ve met and seen in India wear a sari most days, but a lot of women also are now wearing tunics and pajama pants  (that’s their actual name) that are also super colorful (I own a pair and they’re blue and they feel like you’re wearing a cloud). Also I dyed my hair with henna and it turned out strawberry blonde-ish for all of four days but it was fun while it lasted.

We have another week of teaching and we’re also working on Media Projects for India. Mara, Kristen and I are interviewing some of the girls living in our house and other women we’ve met in India, and we’re making a video about what it’s like to grow up as a girl in India that we’re calling Girlhood.

It’s kind of surreal that we’re leaving Jaipur in 6 days, but I’m excited to camel trek in the desert!

Jaipur Jungle

The last couple weeks in India have been a whole new adventure. We started off in the volunteer house of the organization we’re working with for the first few days, with an orientation to Indian culture, Hindi language classes and an explanation of the work we’d be doing for the next month.

We celebrated Christmas all together, with a mini plastic tree, Secret Santa gifts, a bunch of Christmas movies projected onto the wall (that we watched with all 19 of us cuddled up into two beds), and a midnight mass that was entirely in Hindi in a church covered in balloons. Christmas day we went to the Jaipur City Palace, which is in the old city where all of the buildings are pink. The old city also has tons of markets and shops that have been super fun to visit too.

After that we moved in with our host families, which involved three hours of confused driving around the city in our van and a minor motorcycle accident but ended up alright. Mara and I are living with a super sweet Auntie and Uncle (basically an affectionate term for any adult in India) and two host siblings named Tanu and Neha. Our Uncle used to be a policer officer and worked as a Peacekeeper in Sudan, but now is a lawyer. Our Auntie runs a dorm house in the top three floors of our house for twenty girls from around Rajasthan who have come to Jaipur to go to finish high school or to go to university. The majority of the girls are med school students, but some are studying engineering or management which is so cool. Most of them speak English pretty well and it’s been super fun to have twenty sisters/friends living with us! We all have dinner together around our living room every night and they’re very into an Hindi soap opera about women who turn into snakes and also there’s a dramatic love triangle but that’s all that I can understand.

Mara and I are teaching a fourth grade class together in one of the public elementary schools in Jaipur, along with four other TBB friends in other classrooms. We’re teaching math and english, which has been a great experience because the kids are super fun and eager to learn, but we also feel weird about it because we’re taking over a classroom with no teaching qualifications and a very limited Hindi vocabulary. The permanent local teachers aren’t teaching in their classrooms anymore and also have no input in what is being taught while they aren’t there, since we get no real instruction what or how to teach. I can’t help but feel like we’re consciously or subconsciously imposing our own values and methods of a western education system in these classrooms, which is so dismissive of local culture and methods, but we have no way of learning about them except through the kids we’re working with. Each day we split the class of 16 in half for math class, where Mara is now teaching her kids about fractions and I’m working on a range of levels in basic multiplication to long division with my students. English class has been different each day, but we’re teaching the kids about opposites, pronouns, and general adjectives through games and stories that we’ve come up with ourselves. The workbooks the students have for math and English also have examples of these, but a lot of them aren’t necessarily correct or have complicated explanations and stories that are very hard for the kids to understand. With the vocab words that we’re teaching, we write the on the blackboard with a little picture next to each, and try to learn each of the Hindi words from the students along with them. Since the school we’re teaching in is public, all of its funding comes from an NGO (aka western money) which has certain expectations for its education methods and standards of English classes, even though that’s not what the teachers have training in, if they’ve had training at all. Many of the “permanent” teachers at our school are 18-20 years old and this is their side job in order to pay their own way through university, but most have no interest in teaching later on. It’s been a great learning experience for me and I’ve gained a lot of perspective on how oppressive western aided development can be. It’s become much more clear how intricate the Indian education system is and how connected it’s issues are to deeper complexities of society, and I realized how completely unqualified I am to even think that one month of teaching in a classroom of 16 has helped in any way.

There’s no chickens or roosters outside our window like in Ecuador and Thailand, but the streets are full of cows (and goats and dogs and pigs and horses and camels and monkeys). I know you probably know that cows are sacred in Hinduism, but they’re literally everywhere. Taking a nap in people’s front yards, hanging out on the side of the road, stepping out right in front of tuktuks, causing traffic jams and accidents because they casually decided to cross the highway… Also each time a batch of chapatis is made, the first one is put out on a plate in front of the house for a cow to eat. And I’ve seen people selling vegetables at markets/on the side of the road feeding like half of their produce to cows nearby. The cows also are owned by families but they live freely around the city and are fed by randos and come to sleep at home at night (also it’s one of the greatest sins if a cow happens to die on your property, and you have to visit all of the holy cities in India if that happens).

The food has been spicy even when it’s not spicy, but I’m learning. Mara and I realized that basically all we’ve eaten for the past three weeks has been like 50 different kinds of (vegetarian) stews. And every meal consists entirely of mini sandwiches, since each bite is a piece of chapati (or naan or parahta) with a little bit of the stew. Also chai three times a day and pomegranate in everything has been absolutely wonderful (also rice pudding and fruit raita and paneer).

Altogether India has been a super overwhelming but also amazing experience so far, and I’m excited for the next few weeks. More updates to follow!