Alexis Sweeney
Alexis Sweeney
South Africa, 2021
My name is Lexi Sweeney, and I am so excited for this 5 month journey in Cape Town, South Africa! I will be a social work intern at School of Hope, a school for vulnerable youth where I will help facilitate group therapy, individual therapeutic sessions, and social/emotional educational sessions.

The Beautiful Bridge the Lumos is.

Before I came to South Africa, I understood that Lumos is supposed to be the bridge between who one is now and who their future self will be, but here I am, 6 months later, and I understand now that what lies on that bridge is what is most important.

Cape Point, one of my happy places.

Transitioning back into American culture has been harder than I expected. I knew about reverse culture shock, and I had experienced it after the first time I went to South Africa and Tanzania for study abroad. So, the month leading up to my departure from SA I made sure to begin preparing myself for my return to the States. I made sure my housing in the States was set up, I had a planned a “rest schedule” for the first two weeks when I returned, I arranged who was picking me up from the airport, I visited all my favorite places in Cape Town “one last time,” I took time to reflect on my life in South Africa, I said all my goodbyes, and I took time to sit and feel the pain of leaving such an incredible place. I thought because I did all of that, that there was no way my transition was going to be too difficult. However, I was wrong.

 

The view of the sunrise just before landing in the United States...

It is just hard. It is hard to go from living in a different country, a different culture, to living in a completely different one. Specifically, it’s hard going from a culture that values relationships, empathy, and authenticity, to a culture that values success, money, and tangible achievements. Ubuntu culture is so closely aligned with my own personal morals and values, that I felt so peaceful, at home in South Africa. When I got back to the States, it looked like a place I had lived before, but it felt as if I had no idea how to interact with people or with society. Things seemed and looked normal, but nothing felt normal. Still, nothing feels normal, and it is hard. 

It’s almost like doing a puzzle. One of those 1000 piece puzzles. You’ve worked on the puzzle for a while so you pretty much got the whole thing put together. You’re on your last piece of the puzzle. You know what the puzzle piece your missing is because it’s the only one left. You grab it. When you go to put the piece in that perfectly carved out spot for it, and it doesn’t fit. You’re confused. You have done this puzzle before, you know this piece fits right there. Yet, it doesn’t, it is shaped just ever so slightly differently, and it no longer fits into the puzzle. Your choice is to either try and cram it into the open spot by folding it and scrunching it, or you can just leave it out.

If you can’t tell, in that metaphor I am the puzzle piece. I left the States as this piece in an incredible life filled with wonderful people, a great job, and fun times. I came back to the States as still the same person, but as someone who has grown tremendously both personally and professionally. The way I see and interact with the world around me is different. So, when I came back, the puzzle was still laid out, and everyone, including myself, tried to fit me in that last open spot. Yet, I am no longer that same shape I was when I left. So what do I do now? Where do I belong now? In a whole new puzzle box? Or do I need to learn how to reshape back into this puzzle?

While life is not really a 1000 piece puzzle, it does ring true that I am not the same person that left in January, and I don’t want to be that same person either. I have grown, I have changed, and I have become a better version of myself in order to serve others to the best of my ability. So even though most people won’t understand why I don’t fit in the puzzle anymore, or maybe they’ll feel awkward because I don’t fully fit in the puzzle, I am truly glad that I have come back as different shaped piece.

After spending time ignoring difficult feelings, I finally recognized that I need to take time to feel the difficult feelings. I need to let myself grieve the ending of my Lumos journey, I need to accept that the close friendships I had made might change and shift as now I live far away, and I need to let myself redefine what it means to me to live and be a social worker in America. But I know I want to keep who I grew to be in South Africa still alive. The question is, what new parts of me do I want to make sure I continue to bring to my life in the States? And how will I do so?

 

I want to continue:

-To be my complete authentic self in every situation, no matter who is around.

-To extend a helping hand to someone in need, even when it might cause me be late to my plans.

-To dance like no one is watching in all places, in my house, at the grocery store, anywhere, because I find endless joy in it.

-To ask intentional questions to give people space to tell part of their story. Not just to friends, but each and every person I talk to.

-To put less emphasis on the outcome, and put more emphasis on finding creative ways to work.

-To eat lots and lots of curry.

-To seek out communities filled with people who are different from me in a multitude of ways.

-To smile at least 10 times a day, even if I have to find a reason to.

-To intentionally plan after work activities because that is how we refuel in order to serve deeply.

-To spend less time with technology, and more time in nature and with others.

-To admit when I made a mistake and when I am wrong, and then ask for forgiveness and for help to be better.

-To spend time seeking joy every single day.

-To endlessly love those around me no matter who they are, what their circumstance, what their opinions are, or even if I don’t know them. Love them because they exist.

 

All packed but still not ready to leave SA

How will I continue to do all of these? Frankly, I don’t know. My hope is that they have become natural at this point. I mean, by the time I left South Africa they felt natural? But there is just something about the American culture that creates a barrier to continue to do all these things. However, I am working to become more aware of what those barriers are that exist in my mind that I believe to be specific to American culture. While there is some truth that living in a society which largely values success over relationships does create barriers to continue to be and do all of those things, but I can’t change that. What I can change, is how I dedicate myself to continue to be the person I have grown to be.

Words cannot describe how grateful I am to be a Lumos Traveler. Thank you to everyone who has read, followed along, and supported me through it all. I will never forget my time learning and growing as a social worker and as a person at School of Hope and in my communities in South Africa. I truly do feel like a different person. The same person, but one that views the world from a much wider, more inclusive, and endlessly compassionate place. Thank you Lumos. Thank you for being the bridge from who I was to who I continue to grow to be.

Had to make one final trip up table mountain before I left to reflect on the most incredible journey.

Learning, Realizing, and Continuing to Learn

It has been about a couple weeks since I landed in the States, and what an adjustment it has been. There have been countless welcome home embraces by many friends and family that are already making this transition back full of love and joy. It is a difficult transition though. One of the hardest parts is answering the question, “How was Africa?!” Because frist, I have to explain that I went to the country of South Africa, and every country in Africa is quite different, even though some of our elementary history lessons in school might have led us to think otherwise. And the second, well how in the world does one recap 6 months of living and interning in a developing nation that they love so much? 

The incredible School of Hope, where I spent the majority of my time the last 6 months (don’t mind the construction!)

Today, I want to reflect on my intern journey a little bit. It was hard not being able to share stories from working at the school (due to confidentiality reasons), but I am excited to be able to share some things I have learned, things I have realized, and things I am still learning.

 

Things I have learned

-How to advocate for myself and for social work

-How to be confident in my skills

-The importance of letting yourself be taught, even when you’re “supposed to” be in a teaching role

-Tangible, therapeutic skills within a therapy session

-That you can make any situation an opportunity to learn

-Teenagers are filled with so much more depth than society lets people think

-We as humans are more alike than we know, no matter our background or where we are from

Things I have realized

-Social work is understood very differently by people around the whole world, yet it seems all of the actual social workers I have spoken with around the world, we all understand each other and social work in each other’s countries’ context wonderfully

-Teenagers so desperately want to reach out for help, it’s honestly an instinct to. It’s the way society views mental health and trauma, gender roles, and fear of judgement from others that prevents them from speaking up

-One thing I am good at is work/ life boundaries. Meaning, I am good at not “bringing it home with me” (shout out the Belmont social work faculty for teaching us this in undergrad), which helps prevent burnout and compassion fatigue

-It is important to meet vulnerability with compassion in all situations in order for others to feel seen and heard

Things I am still learning

-Finding the balance between exhausting all resources trying to find a new and creative solution and having to move on because my “hands are tied” /nothing i can do

-How to be okay with colleagues thinking poorly about social work

-Knowing when to speak up and advocate for what I believe is best to authority figures

-How to transition out of old things and into new ones

-How to take all the skills I have learned in the last 6 months and use them here in the States

Captured the perfect rainbow on my last day of post-work surfing. Even when the clouds of a great experience ending come in, there’s always a rainbow of hope to find.

 

Those bullets were just a short list of tangible things I learned while working at School of Hope. If I listed every single thing I learned, it would probably take an hour to read. I am beyond thankful for my experience at School of Hope, and I know it has helped me grow into a better version of myself, both professionally and personally. The weird thing is, so many of the “lessons” I learned I can’t even put into words. I just know I am different; I work differently, I speak differently, and I think differently. However, most people in my life probably can’t even tell the difference. But I can. I can tell I am a better version of myself. I can tell I am a better social worker, better friend, better community member. And I have my learners to thank for that. 

 

The Beginning of the End.

The clock seems to keep ticking, even though I do not want it to. I wish I could spend another 6 months here in the most beautiful city, doing school social work with such an incredible school, exploring this wondrous country, and growing alongside people from all over the world.

Thumbs up in the SOH social work office!

People seem to always ask themselves, “What is my purpose in life?” It seems to be a question that stresses everyone out and forces people to quantify the reason they do each and every thing they do. Personally, I believe the purpose of life is to be in community with others. To share joy, pain, sorrow, happiness, uncertainty, and contentment with those around us. To constantly learn and grow from each other, in order to be better for each other. So the hardest things for me as I near the end of this journey in Cape Town, are the goodbyes. Saying goodbye to colleagues, clients, friends, housemates, Denis from the shop down the road, Ndubela from my favorite fruit stand- that is something that is glooming over me as I count down the days.

 

One of the many incredible quotes written in SOH

In social work, endings are a big thing for us, we call it “termination.” Now, that word seems a little bit harsh, but it is used to explain the need to terminate therapeutic relationships in order for healthy transitions. When leading group therapy, having individual sessions, and leading mentoring programs here, it is impossible to just say goodbye one day. It is a process. So, for the past week I have begun the termination process. It is hard, but it is necessary. 

 

One of my therapy groups that has been difficult to terminate is our young mothers group. These young women are filled with endless courage, strength, and tenacity. Each week they show up with an open heart, empathy, and grace. As I began to tell them a couple weeks ago when my departure date is and how we will transition for that last couple of weeks, the girls were a little resistant, maybe even in denial that I would actually not be there one day. So each week I would remind them, and slowly we all started realizing how quickly the last days were coming. For our final goodbye, for our closure, we had a little celebration for how far the girls have come in these 6 months. There were treats, reflective questions, and many kind words shared by everyone. These women inspired me each and every day. It is hard to leave them, but I just know they will do some incredible things in this world and positively impact every person they meet.

 

Just a few of the staff that has become family

It is also time for me to begin saying goodbye to all of the staff at School of Hope. Now that is a difficult transition for me. The social worker I work with daily has become one of my closest friends, the aunties who keep our school nice and clean have truly become my aunties, and the staff as a whole has become a family to me. Yesterday, I realized I focused so much on having healthy, proper goodbyes with all of my clients, I forgot to prepare myself for all of my own goodbyes with colleagues. As I soon say goodbye to School of Hope, there are countless lessons I have learned, many ways I have grown, and countless joy I have experienced. But I’ll save that reflection (and those tears) until my last day and my next blog post.

 

It is strange to think about living elsewhere now. Not just physically living in a different house, city, country, or even continent, but it is strange to think about having a different way of living. I have gotten used to African time, load shedding, going somewhere “just now,” tea breaks, after-work adventures, walking to everything, and long conversations with shop owners. Ubuntu culture is not talked about here as frequently as I thought it would, but I can most definitely see how deeply rooted Ubuntu is in South African culture. I witness this Ubuntu culture everyday as I watch someone interact with the person who made their coffee, I see it in the way people talk about their communities, and I see it in how every South African I have met has welcomed me with open arms. It is so wonderfully strange how everything is so normal to me here. 6 months ago I was extremely excited to begin this journey, I knew I would grow and change throughout the process, but I could never have imagined how beautifully hard some of that growth would be. I love living here in South Africa. I love my community, I love my internship, I love this way of living. So it is strange to think about living elsewhere, but I am thankful for how this journey has helped prepare me for my next chapter of life.

Thankful to have the best social worker to learn from

Something New

Somehow, just like that, I have one month left in this amazing place.

My original plan for my internship was to work at School of Hope and at a home for women who have aged out of foster care. However, it turned out I was unable to work at the women’s home. At first, I was a little upset because of how passionate I am about transitional care and women empowerment, and how excited I was to learn and grow in that placement. Little did I know how true the saying, “When one door closes, another one opens” really is. Through a lot of trials and much time, while I no longer have a second internship, I have gotten to spend more time working at School of Hope which has been incredible in so many ways. I have also started working with the Roxy Davis Foundation doing ocean based therapy and surf therapy research.

Experiential therapy is something I am very passionate about, and wow oh wow how wonderful it is to be learning new modes of experiential therapy. The surf therapy we provide uses programmes and practices from ocean based therapy research in order to provide meaningful, dynamic intervention for individuals with disabilities. I absolutely love the way surf therapy is being executed around the world, and being a part of such an incredible organization that provides surf therapy has created this drive in me that I didn’t know existed.

 

Until I moved here, I had never surfed in my life. After just one group lesson, I fell in love with surfing, and it quickly became one of my constant stress relievers and joy curators. So when I heard about surf therapy, I instantly got excited. Little did I know that this excitement to get involved with experiential therapy would open up a deep passion I have yet to explore. 

Honestly, I don’t know if I could even explain it. It’s the feeling I get when I see our surfers fall (literally and metaphorically) over and over again, yet get back up by leaning on others for help, every single time. It’s the feeling I get when I see the families of our surfers celebrate their loved one and their growth. It’s the feeling I get when I watch our surfers grow, gain more confidence, and talk more deeply about their feelings and experiences each week. It’s a feeling I cannot explain. A feeling in which I know I am doing what I am meant to do. A feeling where I have realized that I have finally found the intersection of my talents/ abilities, what I enjoy doing, and being of service to others. 

I could talk about the benefits of ocean based therapy and experiential therapy for days, and I could give you a step by step of everything we do each week. However, what this blog post is really about is how when one door closes, another truly does open, even when you least expect it to. Seeing the intersection of my talents/ abilities, what I enjoy doing, and being of service to others come to life has been absolutely incredible. So even when we think we have a plan of what will be the best for ourselves and our future, somehow, someway, we will find ourselves walking down a path, not that we consciously chose to walk down, but that was meant for us to walk down.

 

Love Always,

Lexi Sweeney

Fighting Period Poverty

What an Exciting Day!

Wow oh wow how many wonderful things have been happening here in SA. I have already experienced so much personal and professional growth, and I just wish I could share every moment with you all. 

Last week there was one BIG thing that happened at work that was a huge step for global women’s health, and I am incredibly thankful to have been a part of it. 

Thanks to the partnership of two wonderful organizations, MENstruation Foundation and O’Graceland, our school received the first ever sanitary product vending machine(s) in Africa. There were two different vending machines installed into our women’s restroom; one for pads, and one for menstrual cups. Each month, every girl will get one token (for free) to use in the machines, and from those they will get a week’s supply of sanitary products. These machines are environmentally friendly with compostable products, function with zero electricity (which is also necessary in SA because of loadshedding), and are manufactured by local women. The MENstruation Foundation and O’Graceland seek to put these machines in every school in South Africa in order to help fight period poverty with a sustainable solution.

What is period poverty? I’ll start with some stats: 

35% of girls and women in South Africa cannot afford any type of sanitary products. 

5 million girls in South Africa miss school 5-7 days each month.

 

Period poverty is a global issue affecting women and girls who do not have access to safe, hygienic sanitary products and/or are unable to manage their periods with dignity due to societal/ cultural stigmas and sanction. In South Africa, many women have to choose each month between buying 2 loaves of bread for their family or a week’s worth of sanitary products. Girls and women are missing school and work because they do not have access and/or cannot afford sanitary products. Siv Ngesi, co-founder of the MENstruation Foundation, said something very powerful to us, he said, “If men bled once a month, sanitary products would be free. Condoms are free and sanitary products are not, it is a failure of justice.” 

 

Last week there was an assembly held at our school where we got to hear the founders/ directors of MENstruation Foundation speak with many sponsors, influencers, and community members there to help us celebrate the first sanitary product vending machines being installed. The Springbok women’s rugby captain, Babalwa Latsha spoke, there was a performance by a local woman rapper, and demonstrations on how the vending machines work by one of the women who helped manufacture it. Overall, the afternoon was spent with many wonderful people, all celebrating women and celebrating this monumental step to fight period poverty in a sustainable way. The MENstruation Foundation aims to have the sanitary product vending machines in rural areas and in all schools in South Africa, and they plan to have the machines installed in over 100 schools by 2022.

 

Period poverty is a global issue, not just an African issue. When speaking with some people from the States, I heard comments about how thankful they were that period poverty is not a thing in the States. However, it absolutely is still an issue in the States. While it might look different, period poverty still exists in America and in countless other countries as well. These sanitary product vending machines, that are FREE, are the first of their kind in the entire world. History was made at School of Hope last week, and the whole world should know about it and reflect on what sustainably fighting period poverty could look like in their home countries and local communities. Period poverty is not just a small issue for women in Africa, it is a GLOBAL issue for ALL genders.

 

If anyone wants more information, I have linked a couple articles reviewing the instalization day, as well as I have put a link to the MENstruation Foundation’s social media page.

https://mg.co.za/health/2021-04-14-first-sanitary-pad-vending-machine-in-africa-aims-to-end-period-poverty/

https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/feel-good-npos-collaborate-to-launch-sas-first-ever-sanitary-pad-vending-machine-20210414

https://www.instagram.com/menstruationfoundationza/

 

 

Love Always,

Lexi Sweeney

The Halfway Mark

Well mates, somehow we have reached the halfway mark of this journey. Actually, somehow I missed it. Somehow 3 months have come and gone already, and I didn’t even notice. Okay it hasn’t actually “come and gone,” but I am just shocked that I somehow didn’t realize I only have 2 ½ months left!

This place has become home. Somehow in just 3 short months I have become attached to Obs (my neighborhood) and fallen in love with the community in my friendships here. The learners at my internship mean so much to me and the staff are the best, I cannot even begin to think about how my time with them is already halfway over.

I have had countless adventures with friends that I hold dear to my heart. We have hiked, camped, surfed, rock climbed, golfed, had beach days, explored, and hiked some more. I have heard from some people back home that it looks like I am “on vacation,” but to me this is how life should be. It is how I have always lived my life. Even back in Nashville, outside of work hours I spent my time connecting with friends, exploring nature, and searching for new adventures.

The difference is that it’s harder for me to talk about the difficult and sad things with people back at home while I am here, so everyone basically sees a highlight real. Because if I were to tell everyone back home how lonely days can be, how mentally exhausting my internship is, how frustrated I get, how scared I am sometimes, how much I am debating my purpose in life, and how anxious I am- well then people would be wondering why I am even here.

But the truth is that no matter where we go in life, things will be hard, they will be difficult. Life is meant to have ups and downs, it simply helps us grow. One lesson that I have learned here that continually rings true: we must always seek joy and share love, and when it is hard to do so is when it is the most necessary. 

This past month has been particularly hard for me. With grieving a lost loved one back at home, being worried about the future, and dealing with my own insecurities- my anxiety has been almost constant. It is hard being in a space that feels like home, yet is not always grounding. Yet during this month of lows, I have purposely taken time to seek joy and share love, even though it might feel hard to do. Connecting with people and with nature is what brings me joy, so I am always sure to make time for an adventure in nature with friends. And sure, it might look like a vacation to some, but to me this is what my life genuinely looks like. What I think life should look like in general. Seeking joy, having fun, and spreading love, all to help process personal struggles, work stress, and everything else. 

I feel like movies, social media, and propaganda articles make living a life of service seem like it is 100% work and no fun, all while living in difficult conditions. However, I am here to challenge that idea. To me, living a life of service means you are dedicating your time to serve others in the ways they determine they need help. That doesn’t mean you can’t also have free time to do things you enjoy. It also doesn’t mean you always have to give up all of your physical possessions to be of service to others. A life of service looks different for every person and every situation. At the end of the day, no one can pour from an empty cup. So, if a person wants to serve others in the best way they can, they must also make time to fill their own cup. They must make time to seek joy and share love. Then, their service will be genuine and full of compassion as opposed to it being forced and tiresome acts. 

So that is what I am trying to do. On great days and on hard days, I am hoping to live a life of service by seeking joy and sharing love.

 

Love Always,

Lexi Sweeney

A Different Type of Blog

Confidentiality is key in social work. No matter what country one is practicing social work, the number one thing discussed is confidentiality. In a therapeutic setting, that confidentiality is defined as: Anything said will not be repeated or shared with anyone else unless the client intends to hurt themselves, the client intends to hurt someone, someone intends to hurt the client, or if the client gives specific permission as to what may be shared to whom.

Me and the school social worker preparing for a day full of group work. I work with the best people!

As you may remember from previous posts, here in Cape Town, I have a social work internship. I am working side by side with our school social worker, and we work together to best serve our learners by supporting and counseling them in a multitude of ways. I would love nothing more than to share stories from my internship to show you how I have been growing and processing alongside hearing powerful stories from incredible young individuals who exude endless resiliency and compassion, but the reality is that as a social worker I must maintain confidentiality. Even leaving names out of stories and examples would still not follow confidentiality protocol. Therefore, this blog will continue to highlight a different side of life here.

I know it might be strange reading a travel blog from someone who went abroad to do service, but yet none of their posts are really about that service. However, I believe there is a deeper concept to be understood here.

Service is not about being able to tell stories of the “good” you are doing. Donating is not about feeling good because you see a sad child being cared for by someone you donated to. Interning is not about telling everything you know to an organization who needs help and telling them what they need to do to be better. 

Service is about being humble and learning how to compassionately help. Donating is about supporting someone you believe is doing good work and financially assisting them in their personal and professional growth. Interning is about using your gifts and talents to be of service to others and grow while intentionally learning from a different perspective.

2 current Lumos Travelers and 1 past Lumos Traveler. Oh how thankful I am for them!

So the rest of this blog might not be what you expect from a service travel blog, but it will still be filled with stories and reflection. I hope to be able to show you more of what life is like here, being an international woman living alongside people from all over the world, learning a new way of life in a new, incredible culture.

 

Love Always,

Lexi Sweeney

Learning through pain

Oh how quickly the days are going, and how not quickly I have been posting. My apologies for the late blog posts, but this time there is most definitely a reason (and of course a good story to follow).

Windmill Beach

Not too long ago, President Ramaphosa reopened the beaches, and boy was I excited. That weekend a couple friends and I headed to a beach called Windmill in Simon’s Town, hoping to be far away for the popular beaches that most would go to. We were having a wonderful time with the warm sun on our faces, the cold water rushing against us, and laughs filling the air. That all unfortunately came to an end when I somehow ended up stepping on a bunch of sea urchins, resulting in me having countless stings in my feet. I will save you the long version of the story but here’s the basics: We were out swimming in the ocean when we heard a huge scream from kids on the shore. It took us a minute, but we realized they were screaming because the wind had picked up their ball and the ball was now far into the ocean where they would not be able to go. So, I decided to swim as fast as I could to go get the ball, ended up stumbling upon a group of rocks that laid just below the surface, and ran across them to fetch the ball. I was able to return the ball to the kids and everyone was happy. At least until I realized my feet felt like they were stinging in a way I had never known before. I thought the rocks I stepped on simply had a sharp surface and my feet were sore from that. Little did I know I stepped on a multitude of sea urchins, leaving my foot to slowly begin to hurt and sting- pain growing minute by minute. Once we figured out that I had sea urchins in my feet, we quickly packed up and went back to my friend’s house. There, we followed the guidance of the internet on what to do to get sea urchins out, but someone finally made the call that we needed to go to the hospital.

The first attempt at taking some of the sea urchins out. So thankful for these friends’ help that day.

Now this is where the real story and reflection comes because this experience at the hospital was something very new and different for me. We went to a private hospital, and only one friend was allowed to come in with me due to COVID restrictions. So, my friend who is a native South African came inside with me. Checking into the ER was similar to the US, just with a little less paperwork, and honestly my friend did most of it for me since I was in so much pain. I got taken to the back alone (due to COVID restrictions), and when the doctor arrived he asked about what happened, took a couple pictures of the bottoms of my feet, and walked away. I was very confused because there was not much communication as to what he was thinking or as to what the treatment plan was yet. Eventually the doctor came back and said that when he tried to count them, stopped counting at 70 in just one foot because there were just too many and that there were easily over 100 in that foot. Then, he said that there was basically nothing he could do and that my body would just dissolve them. Now, imagine hearing that news while in an intense amount of pain, cannot walk, scared because a friend who is a doctor told us we needed to go to the hospital, and now there is nothing this doctor can do. Unsure of what to do, I said ok to the doctor, asked about the pain, and texted my friend who was in the waiting room.  

A wonderful selfie straight from the ER

 

Out of nowhere I hear my friend’s voice forcefully asking to speak to the doctor. I was so confused how he got to the back there and almost nervous about what he was doing (now remember, my friend is South African). He was then let into where I was and basically explained to me that sometimes as a foreigner in South Africa, you need a South African to vouch for you. Meaning, there will be times that things I say and do as a foreigner will not be taken as seriously as when a local says them, specifically in the health care setting. Along with that, the fact of the matter is that there are times in South Africa that you simply have to push a little bit to get what you need. My friend then strongly requested for the doctor to look again and see what he could do about taking out the sea urchins, along with explaining the need for something to help with the pain. Finally, the doctor took a lot of the big ones out, gave me advice on what to do moving forward, and some medication for pain. I hobbled out of the hospital in even more pain from him taking them out, but I left there with appreciation for my friend and many reflective thoughts on the experience.

 

These wonderful friends worked on getting the sea urchins out almost every day.

If you know me, you know I am no stranger to getting injured. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I am really good at getting injured. So even though I didn’t want to go, going to a doctor was not too big of a deal for me. However, the experience as an American in a South African hospital was interesting. I think sometimes I forget that South Africa is a developing country and what it means day by day to live in a developing country. Cape Town is pretty westernized and where I live is not necessarily like the majority of South Africa. While I know that South Africa is a developing country, I think sometimes my expectations might fall more into the mindset of living in a developed country because of living in Cape Town. So, when I experience something like having to rely on a native friend to forcefully ask for rightful care at the hospital, I am reminded of the fact that I cannot have the same expectations for things here as I do in some place like the States. My experience is not abnormal either. When talking with my friend again as well as other South Africans, everyone kind of just nodded their head, chuckled, and said “Welcome to South Africa.”

 

This injury definitely put me down for some time, both physically and mentally. I was stuck on my couch unable to walk or go to work for about 4 days. Each night for 2 weeks I had to have a friend use a needle and tweezers to dig out countless urchins (and I am still digging some out to this day). But in the end, I am thankful for this experience because I got the chance to continue to gain a deeper understanding of South Africa and what life is really like here. Along with that, I realized how loved and supported I am here. The friends I have made here all checked in on me and helped me in their own ways. A friend worked form home one day to keep me company as I was couch ridden, another friend made dinner for me many many nights, another sent me funny videos and pictures, one drove me to see the sunset a couple times so I didn’t feel trapped inside, and many people here and from back home called, texted, and video chatted to check in on me. I truly am lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people here, and I definitely am not taking that for granted. This experience gave me the opportunity to learn through pain, and I am weirdly thankful for it.

Love Always,

Lexi Sweeney

Time

African Time

I love walking the promenade from Sea Point to Camps Bay to see wonderful landscapes like this.

Growing up in America, I learned that time means money. Work hard, at all times, to get the job done so that you can move onto the next thing. Then, do it all over again. However, as a kid I was unaware that my thoughts and actions were being formed in that way; it was just natural. Society, culture, and trends in the US impacted how I grew up in a way that made me hold importance in working my absolute hardest to get the outcome I wanted. Weather that was in school, in sports, at work, in relationships- work as hard as you can, as fast as you can. Now, I thought I finally challenged that thought process and way of living in university. Especially after my study abroad trip, I was certain I had finally settled into this way of working hard with both validity and compassion. I began taking breaks when I needed to, recognizing when I needed to ask for help, and let go of being outcome driven and shift to being driven by the growth in the process. I was excited by my new way of living and felt at peace with it.

Well, then I started living and interning in Cape Town. Before I came, I learned what “African Time” was, and I actually loved the idea of it. The idea of going about life in a more holistic, natural, and empathetic way was inviting. African time can best be described in examples: Church may be set to start at 9am, but it may actually start at 9am, 9:30am, or even 10:30am. The reason it might start late? Because maybe the pastor was running late after helping his neighbor, or maybe the congregation were all connecting on a deep level and it would be best to not be interrupted, or maybe they needed more time to set up to make the service more special. Whatever the reason is, everyone understands that it is starting late for a good reason. 

Learning about African time was eye opening, and it excited me because of how empathy is deeply rooted in it. Living in and experiencing African time though, that was what was truly eye opening. Again, I thought I had gone through this big change of lifestyle in university once I recognized how to challenge the lifestyle I learned growing up in the US. But little did I know that I needed to continue to challenge my thought processes and way of living in regards to “working hard.”

One of my favorite sunset views from the side of Signal Hill.

My first day of interning I spent the day helping the staff deep clean the school. Due to COVID, the government pushed back learners’ return to school until Feb 15th. While I was cleaning I felt I was back to the days when I worked at a summer camp. So I went into auto pilot; cleaning as fast as I could, making sure I cleaned everything to its fullest extent, and asked for the next task that needed to be done the moment I stopped. The staff was very thankful for the work I was doing and kept telling me to take a break and to rest. To which I would respond, “No it is ok, what else can I do?” Until eventually they practically forced me to rest. At first, I felt useless. Maybe I wasn’t doing a good job and that’s why I was being forced to rest?

What I soon realized was that no, I was not useless, I was just working in an American, capitalist mindset. At the school, they recognize hard work and believe one should take time to rest to be able to get more, quality, work done later. Along with that, it is important to connect with each other while working and help others out with their task, not just focus on your own. Once I finally took a step back and noticed this, I realized I needed to let go of my past thoughts on work ethic and adapt African time. Because at the end of the day, it is best to help another fully fulfill their task and then tomorrow they may even help you with yours. It is best to take rest, to take things as they come, and to live in the moment. It’s beautiful. African time is something that might have taken a moment to get used to, but I deeply appreciate it. You can see African time in conversations; the way each person is truly present, and how they take time to connect. You see it in the way people make plans; leaving space for things to start whenever everyone is ready as opposed to at the specifically set, rigid time. 

I might be thinking “too deeply” into a simple, everyday thing, but I truly have found beauty in this commonality. It makes me realize how many of my conversations with people in the US have been transactional. Yes, conversations with my friends and family have always been authentic and intentional, but my conversations with cashiers at the store, with a coworker during lunch break, with acquaintances at an event- they tend to be rooted in, what can I do for you and you do for me? Most of the time, I wouldn’t even notice that being the root of the conversation, it was just natural. I have noticed that many of my relationships in the States tended to be transactional, even if the transaction was love or kindness. We in the States are simply accustomed to it. But here in South Africa, it’s different. Almost every single person I speak to, shares love and community without expecting it in return. They give you their time, without expecting it in return. Of course, everyone hopes to get what they put out returned to them, but the difference, in my experience, is that here in South Africa people don’t innately expect it from you.

To make a long, drowned out thought short- be kind, be empathetic, be understanding. African time has taught me to slow down, and make time for what is really important: connection with people. And from now on I will continue to challenge my go-go-go and outcome based attitude. I will refocus my purpose and thoughts on time. I will center my time around what I truly love, connecting with people.

Another one of my favorite sunset spots, looking over Lion’s Head.

Love Always,

Lexi Sweeney

Welcome to my House in Cape Town!

I officially made it to Cape Town, South Africa without any major hiccups in traveling, and I am so excited for this journey to begin! But man, was I overwhelmed the first day.

To be honest, I think I came into this a little ignorant when it comes to how I would adjust. I thought, because I had been to Cape Town before and did not experience any culture shock and was never overwhelmed when I studied abroad here, that it would be the same this time. However, that was not the case. The entire first day I was very overwhelmed and felt slightly uncomfortable, but I could not explain why. I love this city, I am truly excited to be here, and so far everything is going great- so why do I feel strange? Once I finally tuned into my feelings I realized I just needed time to adjust and get used to actually living in Cape Town. I don’t have a guide planning my days for me, my days are not filled with back to back tours and activities, I don’t have professors to help me process everything- I just have myself. Once I was able to recognize that and give myself grace with everything, I automatically felt better. I am so lucky to be here and I am thankful that this experience is so different from the last time I was in Cape Town because this time I am actually living here and this place will soon become my home.

My house!! So here are some pictures of my house:

 

I am sure you noticed the big fence/gate with wires on top, and while that might look strange to anyone from the States, it is the norm here. For safety reasons, everyone has a big gate like that one and then normally 2 doors to get right now it is me and 3 guys, and more should be here by the end of the month. My housemates have been extremely nice and

welcoming. They have showed me around the neighborhood inside the house. My house has 2 full bathrooms with showers, a great kitchen, and a fun common area/ living room. We also have a nice patio in the back along with a pool. My house holds 7 people, but right now it is me and 3 guys, and more should be here by the end of the month. My housemates have been extremely nice and welcoming. They have showed me around the neighborhood, chatted and played games with me, let me know all the “need to knows” about living in South Africa, and overall are just kind people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My neighborhood is so fun and full of character!

Just a 2 minute walk from me is Lower Main where all of the shops, restaurants, book store, and more are at. There are a multitude of coffee shops on that street, and I may have already found my favorite- it’s called Dolce Bakery. They have gluten free items, as well as a breakfast special where you can get any tea/ coffee with any bagel and cream cheese for just R45, which is only 3USD!! So far, I have only tried two other restaurants, but I am hoping to try more soon!

Dolce Bakery

 

Right now I am still adjusting to life here and slowly doing more things. The first day I unpacked, ate dinner, and basically went straight to bed. In these last two days I have gone to the grocery store, got my SA SIM card to work (that took way longer than it was supposed to), hung out with my housemates, and explored the neighborhood a little. I don’t start my internship until the 25th so I am hoping to do some sight seeing and/or hiking this week, too! So far, I have had a lot of fun and am beginning to see how this place will become my home so soon.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this, and you are welcome to comment on any thoughts or questions you have!

 

Love Always,

Lexi Sweeney