A social lifestyle experiment

In a few days Sven, my partner, and I will leave Cape Town on a cycling expedition that could last anywhere from a few months to a few years. We will be cycling to some Southern/Eastern African countries, which will include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, … and maybe some others. But this is not just a normal (whatever that is) cycling holiday. It is more like a social experiment… or a lifestyle. We will be living as minimalists and will share ideas like you can cycle around Africa successfully on a plant-fuelled diet. We will experience how some people are living happily without the constraints and luxuries inherent in our western capitalist society. We will discover what we have to offer to others in exchange for what they have to offer to us. We will meet kindness with kindness and dissolve some of the myths about “darkest Africa.” And we will document this experiment on our blogs, with photos, and maybe even with video (if we get sponsored with GoPro cameras). This trip is not about getting to a particular destination in the shortest possible time, it is about a direction. In fact, it might end up being the longest cycle trip through Africa… ever! That’s a record we’d love to break.

In preparation for the trip we decided to get our health checked. Rather than go to my local GP and pay for the privilege, we decided to go to the local free government clinic and to document the experience. After all, this is how the majority of South Africans receive their medical care; they can’t afford expensive GPs and don’t have medical aid. I wasn’t keen to have this experience, being a privileged “whitey” who has only ever known private care. But, in preparation for what might be much worse to come in other African countries, I decided to go along.

Triage… What’s that? We started off at Somerset Hospital in Cape Town. After opening a file for me, I was sent to a nurse who took my blood pressure and various vital signs tests to determine whether I was an emergency case or not. This can take an hour or two, depending how busy the hospital is. It took us about an hour. This is called Triage and I suppose it identifies the emergency cases. I was a routine case, so, paperwork in hand, I walked over to the clinic, a few blocks away.

The clinic… scary! Yes, it really does say “Entry at own risk.” That was a bit daunting. I liked the art deco menthol paintwork though. I took a few photos while I was waiting for my turn with the doc (about 3 hours):

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X-Ray Service. Yep, that’s what it says above the doorway. Inside the door, however, is a tuck shop selling healthy delights like Fritos and Coke. The closest you will come to an x-ray in that room is the microwave on the shelf below the counter! We did get a bit hungry, actually, and we were glad of a vegan snack.

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Pap smear with a fire extinguisher. I kid you not. The mind boggles…

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Ah yes.. that old chestnut, the food pyramid. This, folks, is what you need to be eating to stay healthy: Cow secretions (really?), banana and porridge (ok), beans with some hardened secretions on a white roll (really?).. and then for dinner a dead chicken’s leg with potatoes (or pap) and two veg.  That’ll work to keep people out of the clinic.. surely?

But the greatest mystery of all from that day was this:

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What could it be? A gated cell with razor wire on top of the wall so you can’t climb out.. or in? We found it in the courtyard of the clinic. Apparently a relic of a former time… the result of someone’s brain-fart, or a serious idea? Here’s a close-up of the inside:

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In case you can’t read what it says on the wall, it is Sputum Booth Project Partnership. So I googled it, of course. Clearly it has something to do with TB, a huge problem in SA to this day. However, the workings of it remain a mystery to me. It looks more like an instrument of torture.

In any case, we are both healthy vegans with low blood pressure, normal blood sugar, and good heart and respiration rates. So off we go.. soon 🙂 Watch this space.

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