Saving Individuals, Not the World: 900 Children of Hangberg

In the community of Hangberg, a part of the greater Cape Town area, the population struggles with drug addiction, mental health problems, crowded living conditions, the influence of gangs, and a lack of job opportunities. Children are raised in a toxic environment where many parents and other adult role models illegally poach abalone and shopkeepers freely sell alcohol and drugs to anyone who will buy (young children included). In a community like this, how does one seek to fix any one public health issue?

In our public health visit to Hangberg, I struggled to grasp the complexity of the community’s situation. On one hand, it seemed impossible to address any of the community’s problems without causing a new one – there were just too many intertwined factors negatively impacting the health of the population. On the other hand, we visited Hout Bay CARES – a drug rehabilitation center  – and the local elementary school, both of which actually seemed to be making an impact.

I was inspired by the school principal and the representatives we spoke to at CARES, but I didn’t understand the true miracle of their success until we took a brief walking tour of Hangberg. Most people appeared to live in tin shacks, put up mere inches from the shack next door. Two homes had recently burned down completely, killing a family of four (, yet locals were already building new shacks on the property, eager to take advantage of the new empty space. It’s hard to put into words the full complexity of the health situation in this community, but it was clearly a poor environment in which to live and attempt to raise children. Even then, families refused to leave.

Hangberg -- the plots of land in the foreground were affected by the fire. News story:

Hangberg — the plots of land in the foreground were affected by the fire.

Though I’m still grappling with what I learned during our visit to Hangberg, it was my favorite excursion for our public health class this quarter. I’ve always wanted to be someone who makes a difference in the world, and I think I’ve gained some degree of clarity about how one can successfully pursue this dream. If Hout Bay CARES and the Hangberg elementary school are the models of success, the key is to work with individuals on a community level. Saving the world in one fell swoop is unfortunately not possible when each community and each individual in the world faces a completely different situation influenced by a complicated assortment of factors. Even the elementary school principal in Hout Bay recognized her limitations: of her 1000 students, she estimated that 100 would likely not escape their circumstances, with or without her help. But because the principal was committed to working within the community and acknowledging the unique situation of Hangberg residents, the other 900 could be saved. So although I don’t yet know how I will accomplish this, I now dream not to change the world but to instead help as many individuals as I can. Thanks to our visit to Hangberg, I have a much better idea of how to pursue this goal.

Girl Meats World

Upon coming to South Africa, the biggest thing that I was most excited and nervous for was the introduction to a new cuisine. Being a self-proclaimed “picky eater” I knew it was going to be difficult for me to dive into trying new foods I was completely unfamiliar with. However, meat is a strong component in food and overall in South African culture and lucky for me: I love meat. Doesn’t matter if you grill it, bake it, fry it, or put sauce on it–I don’t discriminate against my protein. For that reason, I tried to explore as many meat varieties as possible to see what I would like, love, and loathe.


Biltong, a word of Dutch origin (“bil”-rump “tong”-strip or tongue), is used to describe dried, cured meats typically made from raw fillets of meat. Although biltong is primarily made from beef, one can find varieties from different types of livestock, game and sometimes even fish. Traditional beef biltong can be found anywhere-whether in a commercial store, at a local market, sold on the side of the road or in your salad at an upscale restaurant–and I couldn’t have been happier because it’s absolutely delicious. Each individual piece is full of flavor and the freshness is ever so present; as one market woman once told me, “if the biltong was any fresher, than the cow is still walking around”. My favorite part about it was its texture which is much better than the beef jerky I am accustomed to. Rather than fighting against you, good biltong could be described as delicate, while still holding its own–the independent woman of meats.

Although beef biltong was my #1, there were others that also attempted to win my heart over.

saw an Impala on safari, ate the biltong

saw an Impala on safari, ate the biltong

– Imapala Biltong: Compared to beef biltong, impala was a much more tender and lean meat that was spiced with coriander. Definitely made an impression, but I couldn’t see myself finishing a whole bag.

– Kudu Biltong: This was much chewier and tough in texture. What didn’t make it better was the fishy after taste.

-Springbok Biltong: Springbok tasted exactly like a Slim Jim and I honestly still don’t know how I feel about it. It was lean and less fatty than Kudu and had a grainy texture that screamed FRESH.

-Ostrich Biltong: YUCK! I didn’t think I could feel as offended as I did after consuming this. It was salty and tangy in all the worst ways. I would not recommend it to a friend.

-Tuna Biltong: This was definitely a dark horse which was surprisingly tasty. I didn’t know what to expect but Nemo definitely held his own alongside the big boys.


Never been happier than with a boerwors roll at 9am

Never been happier than with a boerwors roll at 9am

Boerwors translates from Afrikaans to mean “farmers sausage”. Commonly made from beef, boerwors is eaten at all times in the day and is primarily consumed at braais.  Braais is the South African equivalent of a good ole American BBQ; the thing that distinguishes it however is its versatility and the huge social and cultural importance of the event.

(Fun Fact: South Africa has 11 national languages and braai means the same thing in every single one of them). Boerwors is soo tasty and it’s one of those meats that is impossible to mess up as long as you cook it properly. I think we could all use a little more boerwors in our lives.


Bobotie was one of my favorite traditional South African cuisines that we had. The dish is made of spiced mince (translation: seasoned ground beef) and coated with an egg based topping. Bobotie is often made with raisins and chutney which balances out the strength of the spices and gives it a sweet after taste. With a nice piece of bobotie over rice, I will always be reminded of my time in South Africa.

Honorable Mention: VENISON

Venison was a finger licking tasty meat that we consumed in one meal but it made enough of an impression that I had to mention it.

Crown Jewel: OSTRICH


Me vs. Ostrich

OH MY GOD. Never in my life have I ever tasted a more divine piece of meat in my whole life. Cooked to be tender and juicy and flavorful ostrich took the crown for my favorite game in the land. Moreover, it’s also a lean red meat so it’s more healthy to eat than other meats. Even though I had bad experiences with ostriches in person, I am not afraid to say they taste absolutely DELICIOUS.

Using this as a platform, I plan to continue to try the meats of the world because so far the journey has been a deliciously memorable one.

Oh the Places You’ll Go: Backpackers Edition

Sedgefield Beach, mountains, Indian Ocean, paradise

Sedgefield Beach, Mountains, Indian Ocean, Paradise

Before coming to South Africa, all of my associations with the word hostel triggered one of three thoughts:

1. A dark, scary place where you get to stay for cheap while traveling abroad; while there you are constantly worrying about all your belongings being stolen.

2. An ideal setting for a horror film.

3. A place that houses sex workers.*

Either way you put it, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy the first time I found out we we would be staying in hostels during our trip. However, after having the opportunity to stay in numerous different hostels, I now have a new found appreciation for them.

The hostels which we stayed in while in South Africa were all known as “backpackers” yet no two backpackers were alike. Each one has its own theme, its own vibe, and most importantly its own story which made the experience even more special. Listed below are a couple of backpackers we got to explore while traveling around the Western Cape:

Carnival Court was a popular backpacker recommended by students who were on the program in prior years. Located in the middle of Long Street and in the center of Cape Town. Carnival court was a central location to access all parts of night life, as well as street markets and restaurants; this made Carnival Court the ideal place to stay in order to truly experience what Cape Town had to offer. The highlights of Carnival Court included the trance bar/club located below our rooms and the ability to wake up at 6 in the morning on a Sunday to noises of people still out in the town from the night before. #gohardorgohome

Plattenberg Bay at Sunset

Plattenberg Bay at Sunset

Afrovibe was nestled right along the beach in a town called Sedgefield.The staff consisting of a young diverse batch of individuals whose attitudes and energy were infectious from the start. We learned that most of the staff were young people “finding themselves” and “seeing what the world had to offer”. Although their spontaneity gave me anxiety, hearing their stories of where they were from and where they plan to go was truly admirable. #goodvibes all around

African Array was the most unexpected backpacker of all of the ones we encountered. Located in Plattenberg Bay and with a home style set up, we were greeted by a husband and wife who welcomed us with open arms into their “home”. Unlike the other locations this duo ran the whole show including managing business operations and preparing all meals for guests–every meal being absolutely delicious and better than the one before. One highlight included meeting Jimmy, the traveling Rastafarian singer who was embarking on a three year journey walking, 25km a day at a time, from Cape Town all the way up to Cairo while selling his records and collaborating with musicians along the way. #hustling

The final shout out goes to Backpackers Paradise which was truly a paradise in every way. Not only was this place filled with beautiful flowers and palm trees, but they were also known for their nightly ostrich braais. Gathering around the fire we got to watch the ostrich be prepared to produce the most divine piece of meat I have ever consumed (refer to “Girl Meats World”). It was at this place that we were not only blessed with ostrich boerwors and kebabs but also Pierre. The oldest man with the most expensive taste for the finest things…a man who can pull off a scarf, pipe, and probably a monocle if he wanted. He talked to us about life and gave us advice on life, liberty, and the importance of well-fitted quality clothing.

Long story short, hostels have shown me the extremely unique and diverse sides of the cape and what the people here have to offer.

Backpacker Love

Backpacker Love


**It has been clarified that this is in fact called a brothel….glad that’s been cleared up for me.

Life Is Short, Eat Dessert First

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a pretty bad sweet tooth. When I was a kid, I used to tell my parents that I had a separate stomach for dessert, so I always had room for dessert no matter how much food I’d already eaten. Given my love for dessert and all things sweet, I’ve had a pretty great time in South Africa exploring new desserts. This past week, for our Culture, Language, and Identity course, two other NU students and I gave a presentation on South African desserts. So, working with the knowledge from that presentation as well as my own first hand experience with South African desserts, I present to you:


Dessert #1: Koeksisters (7/10)

Koeksisters are basically a South African donut. They’re a kind of chewy-crunchy hybrid that I can’t really compare to any other food I’ve had. They’re deep-fried then immediately dipped into a sweet, sugary syrup. So basically, a crunchy donut, dripping with a syrup that tastes somewhere between honey and pure sugar. They’re pretty good, but you can only eat so many before it’s just too sweet. Fun fact: there’s a two-meter tall statue of a koeksister in a town called Orania.

Dessert #2: Malva Pudding (8.5/10)
Malva pudding, while hard to make (even using a box mix) is delicious. This is the one dessert that we actually made for our class presentation instead of buying it from the grocery store. We used a box mix, and it seemed easy, but this is the “kitchen” we have to work with in our dorm rooms: IMG_2188
However, the end result was surprisingly good, despite being burned on top and underbaked in the middle. Probably because of the entire stick of butter that made its way in there. Anyway, malva pudding is a cake-like pudding made with apricot jam that’s often served with custard or ice cream. It’s very delicious, and even Oprah has a recipe!

Dessert #3: Milk Tart (9.5/10)
Milk tart is my new favorite dessert, and I’m really looking forward to trying to make it when I get back home. However, I told a South African that milk tart was my favorite South African dessert, and looking confused, he said, “Well milk tart’s not really dessert… Desserts are desserts and tarts are tarts.” Regardless of the status of milk tart in South African cuisine, it’s delicious. It consists of a pastry crust filled with a creamy custard and topped with a dusting of cinnamon. There’s even a National Milk Tart Day on February 27th, which I will most definitely be celebrating in 2016.

In conclusion, South African dessert (and South African cuisine in general) is pretty amazing. Koeksisters seem a little difficult to make, but malva pudding and milk tart are totally worth a try. There are tons of recipes for all three of these desserts online. Time has flown by and we have less than two weeks left in South Africa, so I’m making an effort to get as many of these desserts as I can while I’m still here. I know my homemade versions back home won’t be as good, but at least I’ll be able to take a bit of the culture back with me!

“Winter” Is Coming?

So the other day, I was talking to a few other people in the program about our upcoming trip to the Garden Route (along the southern coast of the country). We were wondering about the weather in that area, and I found myself saying pretty naturally, “Well it’s south of here, so it’s probably a bit colder.” Immediately after saying that, of course, I realized how backwards that is from what we’re used to in the US. But even so, I hardly had to think to switch around the whole Northern/Southern Hemisphere thing. I was pretty proud of adjusting to this small part of everyday life, and it’s gotten me thinking about what else I’ve adjusted to in the past six weeks. So here’s a list!

1. Apparently, the fact that north is warmer and south is colder.
2. The weather. Honestly, not too hard to adjust to the gorgeous sunny-with-a-light-breeze days. Although now that it’s becoming “winter” (60-75 degrees during the day, sometimes with rain), we see a lot of students walking around in heavy coats and boots, which is hilarious. Yesterday I saw a girl wearing mittens.

"Winter," brought to you by The Weather Channel

“Winter,” brought to you by The Weather Channel

3. Walking on the left side of the sidewalk (finally got it!).
4. Casual conversations about race, gender, and politics. One of the coolest things about South African culture is how open and knowledgeable people are about political issues.
5. Taking my time with just about everything. Going out to dinner consistently takes two or three hours. There’s hardly any fast-casual dining – even a lot of coffee shops are basically sit-down restaurants. So the pace of life is much more relaxed, which is actually kind of nice!
6. Load Shedding. It’s complicated, but the national provider of electricity is unable to meet the demand for electricity. So they’ve instituted rolling blackouts, where the power will shut off for 2.5 hours at different times in different parts of the country. It’s not a huge deal, but it definitely takes getting used to. It’s crazy how much we need power for – cooking, using the internet, doing anything at night, etc. Our blackouts are often from 6-8:30pm, so it’s too dark to do much. We usually play cards, sleep, or watch TV that someone has saved to their computer ahead of time.

1.This gorgeous view I walk out to every morning:

These are all pretty small parts of everyday life, but I think it’s these little things that make up part of the culture of a place (although some of the things on my list are probably more important culturally than others). On the surface, Stellenbosch looks a lot like any American college town, but there are definitely differences here that I’m getting a feel for. And a lot of these little differences will probably change how I view life in America – politics might be treasured a bit more, life won’t be so rushed, and consistent electricity will never be taken for granted. But one thing hasn’t changed: the word “winter” will always be reserved for days much colder than 60 degrees.

Lights Out…Indefinitely

Setting the scene: I’m sitting there with my roommate, we’re making dinner, enjoying our meal, laughing, enjoying life until all of a sudden the power goes out. No electricity is working in our rooms or the rooms of anyone else–and the only thing that we can use to get around are the flashlights on our phones. At first we thought, “Oh this must just be a blackout, the power should come back on any minute now, right?”


What we had just experienced in that episode was our first encounter with load-shedding. What is load-shedding you may ask? I will tell you dear friend:

Load-shedding [noun]: The process in which the primary provider of electricity in South Africa systematically shuts off all power in a timely, organized process as a result of overwhelming demand for the supply of electricity. When load-shedding occurs the power goes out for 2 and a half hours and may happen more than once a day over the course of weeks or months. Decoding the Madness

Used in sentence: “Once you load-shed you never go back because you honestly have no choice but accept it unless you want to buy a generator”

Common side effects during an episode of load-shedding include but are not limited to:

Inability to be productive in any capacity


Perpetual Confusion

Boredom with mild bouts of helplessness

When we were finally informed on what was going on and that load-shedding was in our lives for good it was up to us to get crafty in finding ways to pass the time in the dark. The first time we decided to lay out on the grass and enjoy the view of the stars and constellations while discussing the time-space continuum, our existential existence, and aliens. When it became too nerdy intense to talk about those topics on a daily basis, we began to expand our load-shedding interests to include playing “Heads Up”.

Even though the lights come back on eventually and the loss of time can be an inconvenience– especially when you’ve made plans for super productivity (i.e. washing laundry, doing homework, making dinner etc.)– load-shedding has taught me a valuable lesson. I have learned that every day needs a little time taken aside where you have the opportunity to truly do absolutely nothing, and be completely free of the distractions from the outside world, computers, cellphones, or Wifi. In this time, I have found new appreciation in the simple things in life and have officially gotten over my fear of the dark–by force, not choice.

*Night vision is not actually a side-effect, but it would be SO useful if it were

Goeie Dag, Molweni, Hello

I think I’ve always taken language for granted, living in a country and a community where pretty much everyone I’ve ever needed to communicate with speaks English. I studied French in junior high and high school, but the possibility of ever needing to use French to communicate seemed so distant. In South Africa, though, the language you speak is so important.

I took this picture because I thought the sign was funny, but it’s a good example of the multilingual nature of South African society. The languages on the sign are English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa.

South Africa has 11 official languages, which I have trouble wrapping my mind around. Even more amazing is that most people speak between two and five of these languages relatively fluently. Luckily, everyone I’ve met so far is pretty fluent in English, so communicating hasn’t been difficult. However, language drives many of the problems in healthcare and education that South Africa is currently facing, and that’s been interesting to learn about.

One of the craziest things I’ve learned: In South Africa, mother tongue education is available in all 11 official languages. So a kid can be going to school taught in English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, etc. But then to complete high school and be eligible to go to college, students have to pass the matric exam, which is only offered in English and Afrikaans. Most students study one or both of these languages at some point, but aren’t necessarily taught in these languages for other subjects. So basically, imagine taking the ACT or SAT in the language you studied in high school – it would be impossible! I can’t imagine taking those tests in French instead of English. The inequality this must create for young South Africans is astonishing.

In terms of my experience with language here so far, I’ve tried to learn a few words in Afrikaans, which is the first language of many people at Stellenbosch. We’ve also learned some Xhosa (another common language in our province) in our Culture, Language, and Identity class.

We're having fun too! Here's a group of us who took a surfing lesson -- mid-lesson the shark alarm went off (meaning a shark had been spotted) and we had to get out of the water. Luckily, no one was harmed.

We’re having fun too! Here’s a group of us who took a surfing lesson — mid-lesson the shark alarm went off (meaning a shark had been spotted in the water) and we had to get out and wait for half an hour. Luckily, no one was harmed.

One small language-related blunder: during our first week here, I was at the grocery store with another Northwestern student waiting in line at the check out counter. The cashier put up a sign on the counter that had some Afrikaans written on it, but we obviously had no clue what it meant. Then she started kind of glaring at us and eventually gestured angrily at the sign, so we left the line, super confused. It turns out the sign said, “This lane closed,” so that explains her reaction. But hey, it’s cool that we were mistaken for natives!

The most useful Afrikaans word I’ve learned so far is “jammer” (pronounced ya-muhr), which means “sorry.” This is for when I forget that I’m supposed to be walking on the left side of the sidewalk and accidentally bump into people. At least in this regard, I’m still working on blending into this new culture, but stay tuned for updates!

(If it was not clear, the title of this post is “hello” in Afrikaans, Xhosa, and English)

Anxious Aloof American Abroad

I had always known since I arrived on Northwestern’s campus as a naive freshman with zero knowledge of anything, that my undergraduate career will not be complete unless I studied abroad. Studying abroad was truly an experience that I was looking forward to for so long; having the opportunity to be in another country with its own unique, rich, and complex, culture and history would allow me to learn and grow in new ways I could have never imagined.

In the 9 days I was home and preparing for my departure, it finally began to settle in my reality that my arrival to Stellenbosch was approaching extremely quickly–and I didn’t feel prepared in any way, shape, or form. Despite the months leading up filled with packets, brochures, orientations, and stalking the IPD website, I still didn’t know what to expect. In the car ride on the way to airport, my heart raced and every possible thought went through my head as gave myself a mental pep talk that sounded a bit like this:

“You’re not scared, Iheoma right? You can’t be scared. You’ve got this!  ‘Who gon stop you huh?!’ Nobody that’s right. Did you pack properly? You didn’t forget anything did you? You have your passport right….right?? I wonder what terminal I’m going to? WAIT are my bags under 50 pounds …I’m gonna be so pissed if it’s not under 50 pounds” etc. etc.

On top of that my mind began to recollect the various forms of advice I received from friends and loved ones in the days leading up to departure:

Mom- “Don’t act stupid. Don’t lose your passport” (uhmm alright thanks Mom)

Dad- “Spend our money wisely *he said as he made a futile attempt to stifle the weeping sounds from his wallet*”

My brothers: “Don’t get Ebola” (Why would they even say that??)

When my dad and I finally arrived at the airport and pulled up to the curb for Delta departures, it was as if my mind finally cleared. With two big suitcases, black Jansport on my back, and ladybug pillow pet in tow I finally accepted the magnitude of the journey I was about to embark on. I, Iheoma Nkemere, daughter, junior at Northwestern, global health student, was about to begin writing the newest and most exciting (thus far) chapter in my life.

Goodbye LAX. On to JFK…then AMS….then CPT for the adventure of a lifetime.


WOW: How I’m Cheating My Pre-Departure Blog Post

Thanks to some technical difficulties back in the States, I am currently writing you all from an internet cafe called WOW in downtown Stellenbosch. I was originally planning on publishing a painfully sentimental blog post prepared on the floor of the terminal in O’Hare, and if you would like to get an idea of the emotional roller coaster I initially wrote, you can visit I’ll also be updating that blog to supplement my posts here.

Instead, I thought I would cheat this pre-departure blogging process a little and share more about myself and the adventure that brought me to this internet cafe at 20:47 on a Monday night.

IMG_2310 resize

I took a break from my mess of packing and had an embarrassing photoshoot by myself. Shoutout to NU for allowing this trip to happen and supporting us while abroad.

My name is Carol, and I’m a junior at Northwestern studying Cognitive Science and Global Health. Outside of classes, my involvement is largely rooted in social justice and community development. Because of this, when I was deciding on where to study abroad, the Public Health and Development program in South Africa was the first link I clicked on when exploring the Study Abroad website as an impressionable freshman.

A professor I really admire at Northwestern once sat down with me and shared her own experiences studying abroad. Something she said really sums up my hopes for my journey now in South Africa: “I understood America much better, seeing America from outside, looking back… I saw how two other societies solved certain problems that seemed to bedevil Americans.”

Especially in regards to health and the structures that inform people’s health access and outcomes, we can really learn so much from communities outside of our borders. As a global community, we are faced with glaring health inequities, and we cannot pretend that we are not faced with similar issues here in the States. Many of the problems we face here are similar to those others experience and sometimes deal with better than we do.

Of course, many of these common problems manifest themselves differently in other communities especially like South Africa, a country with an arguably richer and more nuanced history than ours. I really hope that the experiences and revelations we have here inform us of how we as a society are not just different from South Africa, but similar.

That said, I need to admit that I am woefully unprepared for what is to happen next. The 30+ hour transit period from Chicago to Dubai to Cape Town was laden with self-consciousness and anxiety. I have never traveled alone for such great distances, and I am proud that I have made it safely to my destination and am happily typing away in this internet cafe.

I was met at the airport by a Stellenbosch University graduate student who was an incredible first guide into this new city. (I must apologize ahead of time and say that I am horrible with names. Case in point: I also already forgot my roommate’s name. We will meet again, and then I can properly publicly thank you for your hospitality and guidance.) We had been discussing our studies, music tastes, and annoyance at the United State’s insistence on not converting to the metric system, but when we arrived on campus, he suddenly turned to me and asked, “How’s your Afrikaans?” In response, I just laughed nervously. His response: “Oh, so nonexistent. You will have an interesting time then.”

There is much to learn and adapt to, and I admittedly should have done more research and reading on South African history, politics, language, and culture. But I am here now. And all I can do now is keep my mind open, absorb everything, and reflect. I will end with a sentence I have said so (annoyingly) much while back home and even here, but I mean with it the utmost sincerity: I am excited.

Today Is the Day!

Hi blog readers! My name is Emily Liquin, and I’m a junior at Northwestern. I’ve been preparing for months, but I can’t believe I’m finally leaving for South Africa today. This will be the longest I’ve ever been away from the Chicago area, so I’m pretty nervous. But I’m also incredibly excited – South Africa is such an interesting country (see links to recent news articles at the end of this post), and I can’t wait to learn more about its history and current issues while I’m there. I’m a cognitive science and psychology double major, but I’ve never really done anything in the field of public health. I applied to this program in hopes of branching out, learning more about healthcare in a completely different part of the world, and seeing how I can apply that to my major and my future career. I’m so grateful to IPD for the opportunity to spend the quarter studying public health in Stellenbosch, South Africa and to blog about my experience.

I’ve spent the last few days packing – I think I finally got everything to fit in my bags. I’m a little worried that I overpacked or that I just packed a bunch of things I won’t need, but I guess only time will tell. I’m so nervous that I’m forgetting something important. I’ve looked at all of the study abroad packing lists and “27 Things To Do Before You Study Abroad” articles, so hopefully that means I have everything.

Later today, I take an 8-hour flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, followed by a 3-hour layover and an 11-hour flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town. It’s going to be a long day of travel, and I really don’t like flying. However, assuming I make it through the flights, I’ll then be in South Africa for what promises to be one of the most exciting quarters of my life! Here we go…

Links to some interesting news articles: