Thursday, August 27, 2009

Random Catch Up

It's been a while since I posted. Not a lot has happened. I continue to figure out what my job is and spend a lot of time researching things on the internet and editing various drafts of various plans and articles. I also sit in many meetings. It's hard sometimes to relate my work to what m2m actually does--the drawback of working in a head office and not in the field, but m2m is not set up so that I can do fieldwork as I did in Sierra Leone. Which is, of course, one of the biggest reasons why I like it: the program is community based and employs local, HIV+ new mothers as peer educators. But I miss my time "on the ground" in Sierra Leone, where I got to interact with our clients on a daily basis and was closely questioned in Krio if I did not show my face in the ward, even on Sundays: ousai you deh? you no well? why you no deh come yestaday?

It's also a bit weird, as I've written before, to be in a foreign place and yet feel divorced from the unfamiliar parts of it--I fit in, I speak one of the languages, much of the food is the same as at home, and South African poverty (and many black South Africans) are not a part of my everyday experience. If I knew nothing of South Africa and only saw what I experience on most days, it'd be very easy to assume that there is a very large white population in this country, most people are generally well off or at least not living in shacks, and the few homeless or poor that I do see are a part and product of the city life in all countries. But this is not the case, and I know it.

I was sick for a few days last week, luckily not with swine flu, which has swept the nation, if the news reports are to be believed. However, more people are dying of AIDS-related illnesses or TB in South Africa every day.

In other news, there have been continual strikes. The municipal strike I wrote about a few posts ago was not an aberration. In fact, there's a strike going on every day. Since that strike, students have stormed their own classrooms, telecommunications workers have walked off the job, the train workers have stopped the commuter trains, the minibus taxi drivers have stopped driving (and intimidated township workers from using other forms of transportation to get to work), miners didn't mining, and the police have fired rubber bullets at illegally striking SA soldiers, who retaliated by rioting and destroying 25 police cars with Molotov cocktails. This is all normal, apparently. Since it rarely affects me, I generally don't notice, except when m2m workers don't come in because transport has been disrupted by one group or another or all at the same time.

The biggest issue has been Caster Semenya, the 18-year old runner from a township in South Africa who won gold in Berlin at the World Championships and then gained worldwide attention when what supposed to be a confidential inquiry to determine her gender became public. It's all over the news here, though people at the office at least have not been very vocal. Mostly, I feel terrible for her and frustrated that the story became public. And very impressed that she's kept running--apparently there have been investigations in the past that most likely included coaches from other teams inspecting her in the bathroom, and she's always persevered. That's pretty impressive, if you ask me.

I only watch news in the morning before work and mostly for the weather (which is hopelessly wrong--the weather girl says it'll rain, it doesn't, she says it's cold and it's not, etc...I'm not sure if the issue is the weather girl or if it's that Cape Town weather is so unpredictable that no one can get it right. I carry around an umbrella at all times and always have a sweater and a scarf). It's an amusing morning news program, however, because I enjoy watching the anchors scramble to cut off over-talkative interviewees or to kill 2 minutes extra time with strained small talk. The egos and feuds between co-anchors are easy to see. It's great entertainment in the morning. But I'm not as excited about the soaps that run all day and all evening, punctuated by random music videos. The movies all come on at 10pm, when I'm heading for bed.

On the bright side, I've been renting movies from this place called DVD Nouveau, which has a killer selection--the Cape Town equivalent of Kim's Video in NYC (RIP), so not nearly as good but still awesome. Arranged by director, which warms the film nerd cockles of my heart. So, I've discovered The West Wing, which makes me sad that I'm missing Obama in office. I missed all of it--the end of the campaign, the election, the inauguration, getting Bo, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. And yes, I'm still on the planet, and I did watch the inauguration live on TV, in Sierra Leone but it's not the same.

Since things have been pretty low-key in the past couple of weeks, there aren't any exciting photos or stories to share. I was hoping something illuminating would come out of all of this rambling, but I guess I've got things scattered all over the place that I'm mulling over.

I'll end with a list of women's names from South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, etc (basically from the countries in which m2m works), that I've started collecting because I thought they were interesting or unique:

Emmaculate (Emma?)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Knysna: C'est Nice (Quoi)

Last weekend, I went to Knysna (my dad told me that legend says a German and a British explorer/adventurer found the area and the German said "Nice, na?" as they looked over the lagoon and so the name was born. I think it's actually a Khoi word) with the m2m Princeton fellows--Byron, Morgan, and Wenli. Last Monday was Women's Day, and so we got a three-day weekend. Perfect for a road trip through the Little Karoo, wine country, and the Garden Route. On the way, we stopped at an ostrich farm.

Riding an ostrich: somewhat like riding a small pony.
Slightly terrifying: being surrounded by other ostriches, all of which may peck you to death.
Also: dismounting is not so graceful when your foot gets caught under the wing.
Then we got to our chalet, beautifully located overlooking the famous lagoon, which was only stinky at low tide. It was beautiful in the morning before the sun was up, and Guinea fowl liked to race around on the grass in front of our chalet. One night, we took advantage of the kitchen and grill and had ourselves a small braai of chicken, veggies, and boerwoers. I also insisted on eating oysters, for which Knysna is famous. Above, Byron and Morgan in front of our huge chalet--it was unheated but luckily we had electric blankets (I know, they give you brain tumors, I used it, ok?). Below, the lagoon at dawn. The water was like glass it was so still.

The next day, we went on a hike in the forest. Although we did not hope to see the rare Knysna forest elephant, we stayed quiet in case there were monkeys or louries. Unfortunately, this was a bad idea. As we crossed a bridge, surrounded by thick ferns, a rustling sound in the bushes stopped us in our tracks. Then it started grunting/growling. It occurred to me that we were in a country where there are large carnivorous cats, very nasty baboons, and dangerous pigs/warthogs. Furthermore, the forest was so quiet and the ferns so big and dense, that it seemed Prehistoric, almost like we were walking through Jurassic Park. I definitely had a split-second image of us being eaten by a velociraptor--the scene when Muldoon says "Clever girl." Luckily, we did not not get eaten, nor did we even see the mysterious and terrifyingly-unafraid-of-humans beastie, and (un?)wisely, we continued what turned out to be a very enjoyable hike. Although every rustle in the ferns (it was always in the ferns) made us jump and pick up rocks. What was scariest was that we didn't know what was there or what it would do--at least, if I saw a mountain lion, I'd know to be aggressive and scare it away. But what do you do if you see an elephant, hyena, or warthog? Below, Wenli and Byron in the Ferns of Death.
But all good things must come to an end, and we had to drive home to Cape Town. On the way back, we stopped at Mossel Bay for lunch overlooking the ocean, tidepools stocked with urchins and starfish, and several surfers braving the rocks to catch a few not-so-great waves. As we ate our burgers and pizza, a whale surfaced very close to shore. We were the only ones who noticed. Byron and Wenli were very capable and brave drivers, especially with Edna, the Fellows' Toyota Conquest, who likes to shake at higher speeds but did an admirable job of getting us there.

Later, on the drive through a mountain pass, we nearly grazed a troop of baboons on the side of the road--babies, mamas, a very, very large male with a thick blaze of mane. I would never want to mess with a baboon. Soon after, we got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but we were fortunately treated to a stormy view of False Bay. Rainy weather to welcome us back to Cape Town and to work.