8-23-2008: Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa

Today is my mother’s birthday so the desire and necessity to make it a memorable 73rd was my focus.

We awoke to cloudy skies. The weather can be fickle in the Western Cape of South Africa and today proved to be no exception. I was happy to see that the flowers, chocolate and small apple pie, complete with single candle brought a smile to my mother’s face.

Trevor was kind enough to cook me and my mother the boerwors (farmer’s sausage in Afrikaans). I do have an affinity for boerwors versus any other sausage I have eaten. The attractive taste, from what I am told, comes from the spices added to the mix. American sausage does not seem to stack up to this southern hemisphere creation. Locals all make it differently but the stuff can be bought at most any local grocer.

My friends of 8 years, Louisa Potter and Ian Alexander, and their children, Juliet (5) and Will (2) arranged to meet us at a local breakfast spot that also housed grounds upon which local artisans created and sold their product. We enjoyed some teas, coffees and cakes and then toured around the area. Of interesting note was a man making marimbas, which are wooden forms of a xylophones. He took the time to make each one by hand, all creating a resonating sound that was worthy of any orchestra. Surrounded by mounds of wood, he took but 3-4 days to create an instrument that offered tones hard to believe came from such a simple man and his shop.

After the children romped around the grounds for a few hours, burning off precious energy, my mother and I drove the few miles to the University of Cape Town (UCT). As is with many prominent old building in Cape Town, UCT sits high atop a sloping mountain, its century old original buildings offering a panoramic view of the Cape Town flats, facing north. I’ve often visited UCT as the views are worth the trip and there is a lesser known eating spot in one of the athletic buildings that serves a smorgasbord of South African dishes for the professors. I stumbled upon the spot by accident some years ago and the kitchen staff has never had a problem with my eating there, as well. After a drive through the campus, I took directions from a local student who guided us to our desired destination of Groote Schuur Hospital.

Groote Schuur means Bug Barn in Afrikaans. The land was a part of Cecil Rhodes estate and he gave it to the city upon his death. Why, do you ask, that my mother and I would be interested in visiting a foreign hospital if we were not sick? Good question.

We both read the book on Christiaan Barnard, One Life, which serves as the story of the surgeon who successfully completed the world’s first heart transplant surgery. Born to a poor family in the Karoo of South Africa, Christiaan Barnard replaced the heart of Louis Washkansky in Cape Town on December 2, 1967. In many ways, this accomplishment can sum up that South Africa has been far more of a first world country than that of its northern neighbors. To have served as the country that was the birthplace and early training ground of the doctor who successfully completed this surgery is a testament to South Africa’s advancement in being a country worthy of its place on the world stage of intellectual pursuit. Few people would imagine that this country would have usurped the Americans or Europeans in such a pursuit. Both the man and country deserve high praise.

Today, heart transplant surgery is expected to succeed. In the 1950’s and 60’s, some people thought it immoral to consider removing the organs of one human being to put into the body of another.

The museum is worth the trip due to Dr. Barnard’s sacrifice and commitment to his work even if the presentation of the information might have been dry. But, not only was the presentation not too technical, it offered a great snapshot into the event as the same rooms where the donor patient was admitted, the surgery was completed and the staff convened and discussed the strategies. Copious pictures, letters and other paraphernalia abound throughout the exhibit and there is an excellent 30 minute film offering a glimpse into Dr. Barnard with interviews shown throughout his life.

After this rewarding experience, my mother and I headed back to the shores of Hout Bay to indulge ourselves in the best calamari in South Africa. It is found at the Chapman’s Peak Hotel.