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Entry # 29 B – Second week with the Penguins
Monday, October 2 – Week two with the penguins
Much better day today than Friday. Amazing what two days of down time and lots of resting and sleep can do for your outlook on life.
Little 305 did not make it through the weekend.
I was in Pen 2 again with 16 birds and Jennie as lead volunteer. She had lovely calm energy that helped tremendously. Still feeling nervous as I handle the birds, but know that I will get better each day.
Carole, the volunteer coordinator, caught me midtask and said that she had heard about my Friday. We talked and she agreed to ask the staff to only use English in the pens so that everyone can understand what is going on with the birds. She indicated that they would always be in crisis mode and that flexibility is key. I indicated that while I understood that, I was having a hard time figuring out the normal sequence of events that occur in pen 2. She said that can depend on the daily supervisor and that I should check in with them during both the am and pm shift to get a feel for the day.
Regarding the death of the #415, I told her that while I was ready to begin the feeding and tubing, that I would not be comfortable for a while and would like more supervision. She again said that I should speak up under those circumstances and tell the supervisor of my concerns. She said that some supervisors go to do other duties when they feel that the volunteers have the pen under control. I will speak up daily from now on.
I went into the home pen today and worked a little bit with Charlie (blind juvenile penguin) and Midget, a diminutive penguin. Both very sweet and easy to work with without gloves. I watched Lana (pronounced LAWNA as in Lana Turner) who normally works with this pen. She is lovely with them and gives Charlie little pets and special attention. She was the first person that I saw really take time to give them special cuddling, not that the rest of the staff is uncaring, they just don’t seem to work with the same birds on a consistent basis. As I realize that birds in this pen are probably the most used to people, I may want to spend some time in there to just get used to being with them and enjoying them.
Penguins, very cute in their tuxedos, are amazing to watch in the water. They use their flippers on either side of the bodies as their main propulsion mechanism. They can float for hours without wasting any energy and it looks very comfortable. Their back feet are webbed and they have three primary toes, and a fourth on the inside of their leg, rather like a dog’s dewclaw. These penguins have almost dark brown eyes and a very small pupil and a nictitating membrane that cleans the eye even when the lid is open. As I mentioned before, they have barbs on their tongues and on the roof of their mouths, making it dangerous to pull anything out of their mouth. They can regurgitate, and they do a lot, sometimes an entire days fish feed all at once. Very messy and smelly.
They have two common postures, standing erect, and laying on their stomachs with their head up. When they are calm and resting, they stand with their eyes shut. When I see them opening their mouths regularly, it means that they are either stressed or hot. Funny birds, they are standing right next to the entrance to the pool and yet letting me know that they are hot. GET IN THE POOL!
I work tomorrow and then I have Wednesday off. Not sure what I will be doing, but something fun I am sure.
Tomorrow Nicole, a zookeeper from Perth who is also staying at Elements, will begin work. It will be nice to have someone to walk with and maybe do dinner with sometimes.
Took my new Sonia book to bed with me and read about asking my guides. What would you do if you were not afraid?
WHAT I KNOW NOW – When I travel and do volunteer work again, I will always make sure that I have at least 5 days between placements. I realize that I started the penguins physically and mentally bankrupt and needed more than 2 days between the baboons and the penguins. Both are much more physical than other placements I had done this year and that takes a toll, especially as we had no days off at the baboons.
Item to bring with me next time – a box to hold bath soap and a way to transport items from my bedroom to the bathroom down the hall. I ended up having to buy both of these in South Africa. I will most likely keep these in my luggage so that I can be ready at a moments notice.
Tuesday, October 3 – I turned a corner today.
The first two hours were still stressful, but suddenly by around 11am, I was calm and not anxious about what would be happening next. Penguin bites, while not fun, are not that bad, but I still have a healthy respect for those little beaks. I think the turning point for me was when Gay was watching me struggle with a penguin during a treatment, she reminded me that I could use both hands to get a the mouth open in order to insert the tube or the fish. EUREKA! It suddenly seemed doable and I had the ability to double-check myself safely for the proper placement. Thank you Gay!
There was one massively oiled penguin in and the team cleaned him up. I took some photos but they are mostly action shots, correction action blurs, where I can describe what was happening, but you won’t be able to see it. I am sure, unfortunately, that I will have another opportunity for more photos during another washing session and therefore, possibly some better photography.
Today, 17 of our penguins were released from a boat near Robben Island. I am scheduled to do one of these releases during my 5th week at the Center. With that number gone, we are down to about 21 penguins in the center. At this point, we now have 1 foreign volunteer for every 5 birds. I am sure this will change on a daily basis. If the center gets too low, I guess we may get additional days off. Time will tell.
Plans are a foot for dinner at the Ocean Basket this weekend with Ditte, Nicole and I and another new volunteer who starts on Thursday.
Ditte and I both have tomorrow off and we are planning to go on a township tour. While it may sound like voyeurism, my understanding is that the tours are lead by people who live in the township and that the community welcomes visitors coming to see them and to understand their situation. I will keep you posted.
Wednesday, October 4 – DAY OFF
Up at 5:00 am for a phone call to Karen to confirm some logistics on the house and mailings. Then, as I was meeting Ditte at her backpackers, 45 minutes away, I started out at 5:45 go be there at 6:30. Made it in plenty of time. Meghan picked us up from Avivia Volunteers, the agency that placed Ditte at SANCCOB. We drove about 40 minutes into Cape Town, my actual first view of the city itself.
Very sprawling and lots of intertwining highways. We were so busy talking that I didn’t get a good look around, but now that I have been in and have seen a little bit more, I am anxious to come back on another day off and take the double decker bus tour to see more. The Aviva House, a backpackers location downtown, is where most of the volunteers stay and are picked up to be transported to their work locations. Aviva has a combination of different type of placements including conservation, animals, scuba school, orphanage, and elementary school to name a few. I met other volunteers who seem to be younger and mainly from Europe. They have invited me to join them for their next braai and I will see if I can work it out to attend.
Godfrey, Sam’s assistant, picked us up for our cultural tour of the townships. He was born and raised in the Langa Township that we would be visiting. I asked him what the people in the township hoped that we as visitors would take away with us from our tour. He said for us to understand about why the townships evolved, the history of events within all of South Africa that shaped them, how they are structured and currently run and to met some actual people within the township. He taught us some San words (the language with lots of clicks in it, but I am not sure how much I will retrain.)
Our first stop would be the District 6 Museum. We would visit, or drive past 3 distinct townships, all within about 15 km from the center of Cape Town. We would visit a Shebeen (illegal pub named for the same entity in Ireland) and see the four types of dwellings typical to the townships (first phase, hostel, informal developments (shantytowns) and the Beverly Hills models (set aside for civil servants). Then we would visit a native herbalists store, go to a nursery school, the world’s smallest hotel, and end up at a nutrition project/women’s education center.
I tried to take notes during our tour, but may not have all the spelling correctly or the dates right. Currently, the largest townships in South Africa in descending order are Soweto (near Joburg) with 4 million inhabitants, Uncantani (sp?) somewhere in the countryside with 2 million, and Khalatshi (in Cape Town) with 1 million inhabitants. In all the townships in Cape Town, there are approximately 2.4 million people living. Current statistic is that 43% of the population within the township is unemployed (almost entirely in the black community), which means approximately 1 million black people are without jobs.
The District 6 Museum – This is a section of Cape Town that had up until 1966 had been a multi racial area where blacks, whites and coloreds had lived since the early 1900’s.
Basically, in the early 1900’s, the white government in South Africa wanted to organize the cities in such a way to dictate where blacks and coloreds could live. Coloreds are different from blacks in that they are either interracial couples or people of Indian or Malay descent. While still segregated, they were given better privileges than the blacks. The supposed reason for the first segregation early in the 1900’s was that there had been an outbreak of plague and they said that the blacks were carriers. At this time, they developed a town ship that was 10km outside of the city center of Cape town and was called Langa (which means Sun).
After the world war, men came in from the countryside for work and at that time they were put into hostels (rooms with three beds for three men) that were laborers in the city. Families were not allowed at this time.
In the 1940-50’s, the government instituted a dom pass (meaning dumb pass) or ID card system that classified all the different races that every one had to carry, whites, coloreds and blacks. All the races’ cards indicated that the people were citizens of South Africa except for the blacks. If you were traveling anywhere even within your district, you had to show your dom pass. If you were in an area where you were not supposed to be, the black men could be imprisoned. There was a card of Muslim man on the wall, and Godfrey said that the man who was working in the museum bookshop was the same man.
In the 1960’s, again the white government of the time had decided that the land where District 6 would be a prime location for the development of a commercial center close to the center of town. They forcible evicted the residents and raised the community, leaving all the churches and houses of religion standing and some of the best housing or business buildings in place. All the residents were moved to a township that was 15 km from the city center. That was the excuse for moving everyone out, but they never developed the land. Most of it still sits empty today.
The museum was once a Methodist Church and in 1994, it became a monument to the former neighborhoods. They displays are full of pictures and artifacts from businesses from all the different races who used to live side by side in peace in the district. Very moving and touching. Apparently, they have allowed the elderly who used to live in the district to buy apartments back in the area. The apartments cost more than most of the pensioners can afford as they are living on fixed incomes. Many have moved back to the country and moved on with their lives. But still, they are encouraged to come back and leave memories of their time that are embroidered on a large white cloth.
Photo – statements from former residents.
I went to the bookstore and bought several books, including the one written by the Muslim man. We would have spent a lot more time in the museum but we pressed on.
On the way to the first township, Godfry gave us Xhosa language lessons. As we would mainly be meeting people in groups, the group greeting for hello is Molweni. The group word for thank you is Enkosi. (Both of these words had clicks and pops in them from the Bushman (San) language but I did not catch them).
We drove and saw the four types of housing. The first phase housing went up in the 1920 and looked like modest 4 room houses made out of cinderblocks. The hostels were two level units that maybe had 4 rooms on each floor and an outside staircase to go upstairs. Most of them were placed in blocks of 4-6 with washing lines in the middle courtyards. The informal developments were as you would expect, tin shacks and communal taps for water. The Beverly Hills development looked like small modest houses, possibly with a fence around the yard and maybe even a carport. The cost of the Beverly Hills houses is 150,000 rand and area available to civil servants who usually make 6000 rand per month. Hmmmmmm? All four of the housing communities had electricity and some type of water service.
Before we got to the Sheeben pub, we were treated to a discussion on purchasing sheep’s heads and how they were prepared for the people to buy as they return from work at the end of the day. 25 Rand for a whole one (a little over $3), 12.5 for a half. They had two piles, white sheep’s heads and black sheep’s heads. The sheep head purveyor had to buy from the supplier early in order to make sure that they still had their tongues, a delicacy to the people. First the head was put into the fire quickly to burn off the wool, then washed and clean, split and the brain removed, then put into a large pot with only salt and cooked. Most of the people in the township seem to prefer the white sheep head and the pile of those was 3 times the size of the black ones. The woman who was going to be doing the cooking was very engaging and happy to have her picture taken and had her hair in a bandana and white lotion all over her face. She said it was calamine lotion as she would be working over open flames and over hot iron drums and she had to protect her skin. Too bad the sheep’s heads were not ready for sampling. Godfrey said he really enjoys them providing they are fresh and he prefers the white ones.
The shebeen was down an alley with elderly men playing checkers or sitting on benches. There were several small businesses that we passed along the way, predominantly run by women. They were little caravans, without water in them, that might be offering staples like rice and flour, or bags of oranges and some canned goods. There were also caravans at multiple locations from the phone company to allow people to pay to use the phones. I also saw the occasional pay phone as we drove around.
As we entered the pub, there was a woman and her not-so-happy-to-see us toddler. Along the wall was a bench for us to sit and watch the festivities and on the other wall was a group of elderly men waiting to taste the local beer. The woman was the beer queen and fermented the beer from corn and wheat. (We had been advised by Meghan to pretend to drink, as it was not very good). Godfrey explained that women in their culture were not supposed to drink, so the woman would only be allowed to sample the beer in order to be able to advise her customers. The beer is used at all social and cultural occasions and costs the men 5-7rand per day. They poured a large container of beer with a considerable head of foam on it. I would say the bucket probably held 2-3 quarts of beer. Godfrey said that the last person in our line had to drain the bucket (that as Ditte who does not drink beer) and that the more we drank, the better our clicks would be. I was third in the line and it wasn’t bad, but I would not go very far to drink some more. Ditte did not have to finish off the beer and by the time the bucket made it back in front of me, having gone down the line of men, it was only 1/3 full. Lee who was had the bucket before me, took her sip and then got up to wretch in the corner. (She admitted that they had a big drinking evening the night before). We took some pictures of the adorable baby and down the street we went.
Godfrey said it was time for us to walk to the next location and warned us that we were not to give any money or anything to the kids in the street. We walked less than a block to the hostel lodging. Inside, we saw the common area where there was running water, the narrow room that had a Bunsen burner for a stove and two the rooms with three beds, and the small number of garments for the men. Today, there is a program of renovation going on in most of the townships to convert the once hostels, into apartments suitable for families and small businesses. Each man pays 20rand per day rent on his bed.
Our next stop was the herbalist/pharmacist’s shop. It was dark in the shop and there were chairs and a few couches with some clients curled up and sleeping. Inside the shop hanging from the rafters were various dried skins, skulls, antlers and other things that the herbalist would use. On the shelves and floor were piles of roots, plants, bark and other things that I could not identify and I saw things like rattles, noisemakers and items such as a baby pacifier that I assume was used in rituals. Apparently you can go to see him for not only physical ailments, but also spiritual or metaphysical problems, bad dreams, good luck, bad luck, love potions and love poisons. Based on your symptoms or condition, he prescribes and makes you the remedy. If your condition is something that he can’t fix, he refers you to other doctors in the area. Godfrey said that you have to believe in the man and the remedy for it to work. He said that he used this man himself and received a white powder from him to basically help him with his joints and flexibility. We took a few pictures and then moved on.
PHOTO – Local pharmacist
We went past our second township called Guguletchu (meaning Our Pride). This township was the source of 7 deaths in 1986 when young men (freedom fighters against Apartheid) were gunned down by the police.
In the same township in 1993 an white US woman who was a student at the Western Cape University who was very interested in helping the black people understand and participate in the first free elections, was stoned to death in the township. Two men were found guilty and sentences to life in prison. They were part of the Abla party –Pan African Congress who do not have any power in the current government. In 1996, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was instrumental in getting amnesty for all the political prisoners. The white government at the time would not make a determination on the two men. Tutu got amnesty for them and they are out of prison. One is now employed for the Mandela Foundation who is working to improve the townships.
Next we stopped at a kindergarten with darling, well-behaved children under 5 sang us songs and were basically enchanting. Parents pay 5r per day per child and they get breakfast, lunch and a snack just before they go home at 5:00 pm. They were right next to the world’s smallest hotel (a b&b with only two rooms) that has been written up in the local tourism magazines and newspapers. The proprietress was lovely and welcoming, shook everyone’s hand and made us feel welcome.
We next went to the township of Khaletshi, which is so large, it has 6 specific sections. It is here we visited the Phimela nutrition project. It began as a project to improve the nutrition of the babies in the township and has added on a kindergarten and women’s education center for weaving and painting. Now at least 40 women produce products for the shop with 65% of the sale of their item going to the woman and 35% to the center. We all found something in the shop to take away with us. The weavings were of simple designs and were made of discarded fabrics that had been dyed. The pattern hung behind the strands and the woman would sit on a stool in front of the loom. On the painting project, women were working to paint in between the lines of stamped fabric and many of the items were lying on the grass to dry as we went by.
As we finished the tour, Godfrey told us that the schools in the townships are compulsory for students between 6-18, the students were uniforms and that most of the kids attend. There are local fire brigades and governments elected in each and they work with the governmental representative for their area. Godfrey said that there are many housing improvement plans in place and everyone is supposed to be in better housing by 2014 (striving for 2010 when Cape Town hosts the World Soccer Cup), but that they will see. They feel that the government is a government of promises not a government of completion. The hope is there and time will tell.
It was a fantastic experience and one that I would encourage everyone to see. I came away with a clearer understanding on how the townships evolved and a feeling that these were people who were getting on with life and making opportunities for themselves and not waiting for handouts. True most of them are waiting for more appropriate housing with better services. It looked to me that people were making lots of lemonade and doing all they could with a less than optimal situation.
Ditte and I were dropped off at waterfront that is a huge commercial tourist area with shops, restaurants, cinema’s, the ferry to Robben Island, aquarium and lots of street bands and musicians around. We had a lovely seafood lunch and did lots of shopping, eating and walking around. My backpack was already loaded with items from the tour and by the end of the day, my back was hurting. I must call for that massage. I will definitely return for a more leisurely day to possibly include a movie and a trip to Robben Island.
We caught a cab home, for $30 but it was worth it for expediency, safety and convenience with all of our parcels.
I asked for and had a marvelous day.
Thursday, October 5
Today I begin 5 days of work in a row. New for today was Pen 10 with Lana, We only had 8 birds in the am, but gained 7 more for the afternoon. Pen 10 is the last pen the birds are in at the center before they are released, so these are the strongest, biggest, healthiest and hungriest birds. You only catch them twice a day and both times, it is to feed them fish. They seem to know that they are leaving soon and run away from you even more than in pen 2.
We also had home pen (for the birds that cannot be released) where I did Zen gardening and weed picking. There are many planter areas in this pen with plants for shade and landscaping. In order to get around all the planters, I had a little tiny, narrow rake (a Barbie Rake) and dust pan. As the ground is sand with some shells, I was making little tracks in the sand, just like a tabletop Japanese Garden (i.e. Zen Gardening)
As I had not been food shopping in a while, I walked to the shops after work and bought 2 additional work t-shirts, treated myself to a dinner and coffee, food shopped and then walked home.
Early to bed.
Friday, October 6 – Beginning Month 9 away and I am ready for my close up Mr. DeMille!
Pen 10 again today. With so few birds at the center and so many volunteers, we are hard pressed to stay busy and are doing lots of cleaning around the center. Not too bad, but a little boring and most of it could be done with less people. If this continues into next week, I may suggest to Carole that we either have longer lunches or get a few more days off or at least afternoons off as this situation will only increase as we have another volunteer arriving next week.
We had to prepare 12 of the birds of photographs today as they are being released next week. This involved setting up a little blue backdrop on a frame, a yellow section of mat and a system whereby two of us caught and shuffled the birds into and then out of the photo area. The photographer was lying down to get the photos and in addition to trying to position the birds, we had to make sure that they did not get away from us and go and attack him. I got another good nip on the hand that will end bruising but no skin break. Why do those end up hurting worse than the others? Some of the subjects were determined not to photographed and kept their back to the camera, which simply prolonged the experience instead of shortening it. We finally got very good at holding the subject in the approximate position with our two boots forming a wall and them taking out feet away as the photographer snapped away. We had begun the procedure with towels that formed a perfect wall but invariably, were in the photographer’s way. AH, the price we pay for fame!
Three more days of work and then two off. This is my last stretch of 5 days in a row that I am glad of, as the work is tiring and still a little stressful at times.
I have a coaching session with Peter tonight and am very much looking forward to it. I have three months left of this amazing year away and I want to get every last minute of wonderment and excited out of it.
Post session with Peter, I am on the search for how to say “LET ER RIP” in as many languages as possible. Please send any languages that you know with translation of the phrase to my blog reply. Thanks for your assistance!
Saturday, October 7
My first weekend day to work that everyone said would be very relaxing. During the weekends, all you normally do is the pen work and none of the additional projects that the staff always finds when they are in during the week. Ditte, Zita and I were in Pen 10. Zita is still nervous about handling the birds, how well I know that feeling, so she did cleaning and recording for us. Nothing spectacularly different today other than cleaning out the cormorant pen for the first time. This pen has 6 totally black cormorants that are destined for the London Zoo. The only hold up is the avian flu and international movement of birds is severely curtailed until it is determined it is no longer an issue. The birds have been waiting over a year. Not sure when they might see England.
For the second time this week, during my lunch break, I have gone out into the grass area with a towel and my baseball cap, and rested in the sun for a while. Very restful and nice to hear nature and be warm and yet not too warm as a midday break.
Ditte has become our social director and has organized us to go out to dinner at a seafood restaurant called Ocean Basket. It was good, I had sole, one of my favorites, and it was nice to get out and have a good meal. My dinners have been rather uninspiring at home. Bad weather had been predicted to start this evening and continue until tomorrow. Sure enough, just as we left the restaurant a downpour which had us all soaked within 3 minutes. We cabbed home, put all of our wet things up to dry and I went immediately to bed!
Sunday, October 8
Woke to rain this am, but is had appeared to clear by the time I was walking in. I had my rain slicker and my computer as we had discussed looking at photos during the slow parts of Sunday. I hadn’t gone 3 minutes and the downpour started. I spent several minutes under an obliging tree hoping it would pass. It didn’t, so on I went and was absolutely soaked by the time I got to work. Luckily, work has an industrial clothes drier, so I knew that I could at least get my pants dry and wear oilskins until they were ready.
Pen 10 again with Ditte and we took our time feeding today. #401 with a dodgy wing and #408 need to go we told Nola the vet. They are very strong, they are always the last to be fed and are very frustrated with us. I have definitely turned a corner with the birds and am feeling a lot more comfortable with me and with them. I still ask Gabriel to calm me down before I feed, as I went to be effective and as gentle as possible. Monday, there will be evaluated for release so hopefully, most if not all of them in pen 10 will be in the waves on Tuesday. I am off Tuesday and Wednesday, so I will say good-bye on Monday.
Ditte had arranged for us go to McDonalds for lunch today. My one time a year pilgrimage (but in truth, I think I went sometime else this year, I just can’t remember when or where! hmmmmm?) It was fun, I had my usual double cheeseburger, small fry and chocolate shake. It was a vanilla shake, but I was assured it was chocolate. hmmmmm South Africa’s chocolate is a lot lighter than ours in the US.
We went back to the center for a very light afternoon and I got to help with the pelican. We got a pelican in two days ago and it is now in an outside pen with access to the pool for pen 2. It has a hurt foot and is receiving pills and fluids to get it back on its feet. As Lunel holds open it’s amazingly big mouth and throw down 3-4 amoxicillin and I would put in two syringes of Darrows. Today, Lunel came out to the pen exclaiming for joy that the penguin had eaten 7 fish by itself. A good sign, because if it is eating and keeping down the pills and darrows, it has a good chance of being released.
Tonight, Ditte our social director, as coordinated a movie night of the book she just finished, The Devil Wore Prada. Should be interesting.