Jonathan and I left Johannesburg at 10:50 and, after a
delay at JHB International, we arrived in East London at 12:00pm.
We were greeted at the airport by 3 smiling Department faces and a
formidable looking Nissan 4x4. Major, the director of the Department of
Health in the Eastern Cape, asked us if we had brought lots of warm clothes
with us as we were going up into the mountains. We thought he was kidding!
After giving me a big smile and a hug, he was off back to his office in
Bisho and we were left in the hands of our driver, Ronnie.
Major wasn't joking about the mountains! We drove for hours into the
Drakensburg mountains and at about 19:00 we arrived in Cala (pronounced
Tslala). It was freezing cold and very dark. We met the co-ordinators for
the area who told us what they had planned for us. We were to do 2 school
talks on substance abuse and a professional talk the following day in Cala,
and the same the next day in Elliot, the neighboring town. Our final day,
Friday, was to be spent at a rally and substance abuse awareness day in
We then left for our hotel and arrived at 20:30 - very thankful for the
heaters and electric blankets (we hadn't brought enough warm clothes!).
The next day we left for Cala where Jonathan was to present the professional
talk and I was to go to the schools for the substance abuse talks. When we
arrived at the hall, the co-ordinators told me to stay there as we could do
the school talks later. Unfortunately, by the time the professional talk
was finished and their many questions answered, the learners had left the schools and we
did not get to present our talk to them.
The professional talk in Cala had an excellent turn-out , a combination of Social workers,
Nurses, NGO's, Police station members and was a huge success.
Our thanks to all involved who coordinated it.
We learnt much about the problems facing the area - primarily substance
abuse - and we initiated two support groups in Cala and surrounding
The following day we could sleep in for a bit - ever grateful for our
electric blankets and warm beds. We arrived in Elliot for our professional
talk. Jonathan and I presented the professional talk and discussed Depression and
how to identify suicidal ideation.
The attendance was less that in Cala, but we definitely gained insight into
the area through our audience. After lunch, we headed back to the Mountain
Due to time constraints on the Friday, we were unable to attend the rally.
However, we did meet up with Major, Dr Arosi (Clinical Psychologist) and
other Directorate of Mental Health members. After a luncheon meeting and clothed In
Department of Health T-Shirts by Major and Dr Arosi, we headed back to East
London Airport. Our time in the Eastern Cape was at an end.
It is a pity we weren't able to do more, but the trip was very interesting.
We were surrounded by warm, hospitable, dedicated people and gorgeous
scenery. We certainly learned a lot and perhaps one day we'll return to the
Eastern Cape. We thank all those people who helped make our stay so pleasant
and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for its help and hospitality.