“Make no mistake: South Africa is exhausting.”
The title of this blog is a quote from South African author, Bongani Madondo (who this year published “Sigh, the Beloved Country”, a collection of essays, memoirs, travelogues and political epistles). It could very well have been the utterance of any of my Project Afrigen team-mates after a rigorous and eventful 36 hour journey from Cape Town to Seattle and a new temporary life here!
As much as we were exhausted from 10 days of On-boarding and then Afrigen related business meetings in Johannesburg and Cape Town before our flight to the USA, we were also feeling highly motivated to get stuck into our project and make a difference to people in South Africa; people whose normal every day existence is not only exhausting, but because of the impact of infectious diseases like HIV and TB, a life often filled with misery, grief and suffering.
I cannot begin to imagine a life like that, but I know what it feels like to have hope and dreams for the future, to achieve success (however you define that) and the thrill of passing on life stories to the next generation.
By working on Project Afrigen, which is focussed on building a long-term, sustainable business centred around bio-therapies that address not only infectious diseases but also the impact of rapidly growing metabolic disease incidence, our Fellowship team have a chance to see the Afrigen vision of “In Africa, For Africa” realised. By completing a comprehensive business plan that steps out the roadmap for Afrigen to build a state-of-the-art bio-therapies manufacturing plant and create a South African base of scientific excellence, we in effect will play our part in building skills, jobs, hopes and futures for the people of South Africa and eventually throughout Sub-Saharan Africa too.
Living in Seattle may not present some of the challenges of living in a very different environment like most of the 30 Fellows of 2016 are facing in Africa and Peru, but even in a first world country as rich and powerful as America, signs of disadvantage and misery and exhaustion can be seen as soon as you walk out of our apartment building. Too many people here are homeless, without visible support or love…how can this be in one of the world’s super-nations? Along with putting our energies into Project Afrigen, there is a growing desire to use our free time here helping however we can, address some of the societal issues we see…more on that in a later blog!
Bongani goes on to say, “What we never say enough, though, is that South Africa is also enchanting, complex, beautiful, confident, unsure, insecure and spirit roiling. It is both a magical and crippling country. That my friend is my South Africa. A country through which, with which, and in which we live, sometimes with our hearts in our hands”. I reckon Bongani is really an optimist and so are we as we strive to do good for “In Africa, For Africa” (and in Seattle too).