Tuesday, January 7, 2014


As I left for a quick trip to the US in September, the trees were still bare, as they were barely coming out of their Winter slumber. When I returned 3 weeks later, the Jacarandas were littering the Pretoria landscape with these beautiful purple blossoms.

I was lucky enough to have one of these photos selected for the Travel Issue of the UCSF school newspaper!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Soweto Bike Tour

Tshema, Dan, and I took a bike tour of Soweto, which was a great way to see the community. The tour guide was a young, charismatic man who provided a fascinating historical narrative.

Brief History

Soweto, which is an abbreviation of South Western Township, is a large township right outside Johannesburg. The township started as an informal settlement, as many Africans were recruited to work in the nearby gold mines. Following an outbreak of plague in the early 1900's, the British started moving black Africans out of Johannesburg to "evacuation camps" located in Soweto. The British calimed that the relocation was to "protect" these people, but when they were not allowed to move back into the city and were not given any municipal services, the real reason for the relocation became clear. Not sure if everyone has seen District 9, a great film by South African Director Neill Blomkamp, but the story of the Soweto relocation sounds very similar to the events that happen in that movie.

Nelson Mandela also lived in Soweto for several years before he spent time in prison. Desmond Tutu also lived in Soweto. In fact, Soweto claims to be the only place in the world where two Nobel Prize Winners started on the same street.

Soweto was also the site of massive protests in the late 1970s. The protests were in response to the government enforcing education in Afrikaans rather than English. Several thousand protesters marched to a main square in Soweto, where police opened fire into the crowd. A few hundred protesters died and many more were injured. One of the first to die was a young boy named Hector Pieterson, who is seen being carried in the graphic photo below. The intersection where these protests took place is now the site of a memorial and a museum.

"To honour the youth who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom and democracy"

On a lighter note, one of the other highlights of the bike tour was the chance to taste the local beer, which is brewed in Soweto. It's difficult to describe the taste, but it's slightly sweet, sour, and definitely fermented. It wasn't bad, but as you can see from the before/after pictures, it's not exactly good.

Another fun fact about Soweto, is that the famous song from the Lion King, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was originally written and composed in Soweto in 1939! It was originally called "Mbube" which simply means "lion" in Zulu.

Soweto is also home to the largest soccer stadium in Africa. FNB stadium (usually called Soccer City) can seat 90,000+ fans and hosted the 2010 World Cup Finals (Netherlands vs. Spain). There were a bunch of Dutch tourists on our bike tour and the guide repeatedly, and shamelessly, brought up the fact that Soweto was the site where they lost the World Cup. We didn't actually get to see the stadium, but I'm hoping to see a soccer match there sometime in the future.
Nat Geo photo, not mine...

Here are some other random pics from our tour.

Our guide selling us on the beer.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Camping in Magaliesburg

Jolene, one of my co-workers, invited our group to join her friends on their overnight backpacking trek to Magaliesburg. The mountains of Magaliesburg are located about 90km West of Pretoria. It was early in the morning on a gloomy, rainy Saturday when we left. Thankfully, by the time we arrived at the trailhead, the skies completely cleared up. After meeting the crew, we loaded our packs and headed out. 

There were a few members of the group who are very familiar with this hike and were our unofficial guides the area. They informed us it would be about a 6km (~3.5mile) hike to our camping site. My first thought was that 3.5 miles could barely be considered a hike....
Starting the hike on a rugged dirt road.
However, I quickly realized why they expected the hike to take us so long. It wasn't necessarily the distance, it was the terrain. We climbed down into a incredibly steep canyon, then hiked through rocky creekbeds, and then climbed (or crawled) back out of the canyon on the other side. It was definitely the most technical "hiking" I've done with a backpack. Made me regret bringing those 2 bottles of wine in my pack...
Dan is surveying our route. You can see other climbing down the rocks on the right.
Tshema checking out the view from the top of the canyon.
After making it out of the canyons, the trail flattened out and continued through some incredible rock formations.

The weather changes very quickly out here; it went from this....
....to this, in only minutes
Fortunately, it was a quick rain/wind storm that came after we set up camp. We barely got through one game of cards in the tents.

Then the skies cleared up again and we got to see an incredible sunset, while enjoying wine, cheese, and crackers on the top of a huge boulder.

It was incredible to see how many stars were visible out there. This is my first night shot using my cheap tripod. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pretoria Life: August

I will try to keep the blog updated with a few of my pictures and experiences while spending this year in Pretoria. This post is already a bit dated, but I'll try to keep up...

Hazelwood Market

A fun little Saturday market that just so happens to be right in my neighborhood. The market is filled with food, coffee, and produce vendors, along with some arts and crafts vendors as well. Even though the people complain about it being cold, the weather was gorgeous, especially for being "winter."

The Hazelwood Market

Not cool. Especially when you don't even have a Mexican making your "Mexican" food.
Frozen kiwis + a sausage making machine = An incredibly delicious and nutritious snack

Hot and buttery breakfast sandwiches


Share on Facebook

Saturday, August 21, 2010

PINCC Training

Prevention Inernational: No Cervical Cancer is a US-based non-profit group whose focus is to improve cervical cancer screening and treatment in low-resource settings. They conduct trainings for healthcare providers on simple, effective, low-cost, and sustainable methods for screening and treatment.

Dr. Vijaya Srinivas, one of the physicians at PHRII, has been planning this training for many months. From developing the training manual, securing a clinical site, to recruiting physicians to be trained and patients to be seen, it has been a busy couple of months. All that planning paid off, as everything went without any problems!

Day 1 consisted of a presentation at PHRII by PINCC’s Dr. Rhoda. She presented a basic overview of the epidemiology of cervical cancer, as well as the screening and treatment methods being utilized during the training.

The presentation was open to the public and there were a few big names from Mysore in the audience, like the head of Mysore Medical College seen here.

Dr. Anjali Arun also made an appearance.

After the presentation there was some good dialogue about the state of cervical cancer in clinics throughout Mysore.

Day 2 was spent organizing the staff and setting up the clinic at St. Joseph’s Hospital, one of the newest hospitals in Mysore. Day 3, 4, and 5 were spent seeing patients and conducting the training.

The process was pretty complex. We had previously recruited patients from all over Mysore city, including Ekalavyanagar, the slum community we sponsored in 2008. We had to get all of these women to the clinic, so all three drivers were kept very busy shuttling patients to and from the clinic. Second, the patients had to be registered and then given a detailed explanation about the screening and examination procedures.

Next, the patients met with a counselor to fill out a basic clinical information sheet and to provide consent to participate in the program.

Finally, the patients were able to see the clinicians. Any women who did not meet the criteria to have the visual inspection done received a PAP, which was sent out to the pathology department at Vikram Hospital. Most women were found to have a healthy cervix. For the women with pre-cancerous lesions, the team was able to provide same-day treatment and obtain a biopsy for further testing. The team also identified other gynecological problems, including a few prolapsed uteruses.

Here's a pic of Dr. Vijaya and her new headlamp!

Women were typically nervous in the beginning, as this was the first pelvic exam for most of them! However, when the patients came out of the exam room with smiles on their faces, all the other patients were able to relax. The women were also able to comfort each other in groups before and after seeing the clinicians. Here are some satisfied patients who have already seen the clinicians.

All in all, the program was a great success! In 2.5 clinic days, we screened 139 women. This included 43 PAP smears, 15 biopsies, and 2 LEEP procedures (same-day treatment for pre-cancerous lesions).

We have plans to do another PINCC training in early December. There was also interest in starting a community referral network for cervical cancer screening amongst clinics and physicians in Mysore. Exciting news!


Hampi is a famous historical site in Southern India. The site consists of ruins from Vijayanagara, the powerful Hindu Empire that ruled much of Southern India from the 13th – 16th centuries. Muslim armies fought and destroyed the Vijayanagara empire, along with many of its ancient temples. Most of the temples in Hampi have been restored to their original state.

Everyone who has visited has said the same thing to me: The overnight bus ride really sucks, but it’s totally worth it.

The main temple in Hampi is one of the larger ones at the site. It’s also the only active temple in town.

While it may not be as old as some of the other temples, it does have a resident temple elephant!

After dropping a Ruppee in her trunk, she hands it to her trainer, then blesses you on the head with her trunk. She’s very well-trained!

Walking about 10 minutes East of the city center,you come across a large Krishna temple and a 30-foot monolithic Ganesha, my favorite Hindu god.

We spent one afternoon walking along the riverbank to one of the oldest temples in India, Virupaksha. There are many old ruins that are scattered among the massive boulders that define the hillsides here. Here’s a small temple structure with a long staircase.

One of the most famous structures in Hampi, the Stone Chariot, is located inside the walls of the Virupaksha temple (built in the 7th Century!)

There is also a nice bath area just down the road.

The view from the top of Hemakuta Hill was amazing. Didn’t quite make it for sunrise like I had wanted, but it was probably for the better anyway, since the trail may have been a bit tricky to navigate in the dark, with sandals. The day view was still pretty good…..

An underground temple:

A structure at the royal palace grounds called Lotus Mahal. Great architecture!

Twelve stables for the Queen’s royal elephants.

We came across some guys who were carving various structures out of stone and selling them on the street. I don’t usually buy these things, as they seem too manufactured, but it was really fun watching the guys make the structures out of plain stone. After some haggling, I decided to buy a stone Ganesh. I was in a hurry to get some pictures of them, so I shoved the newspaper-wrapped Ganesh into my pocket and grabbed my camera. As I started to walk away, the Ganesh fell out of my pocket and onto the pavement. Whoooops. I opened it up and saw that the stone was pretty banged up on the part that hit the ground. Fortunately the guys were nice enough to smooth out all the chips and dents, but they didn’t think it was too funny. They wrapped it up in approximately 10 full newspapers and then handed it to Neesha to put into her purse. My bad, but at least I have a story….