Thursday, March 25, 2010

OK I Promise I'm Not Shilling for m2m

OK maybe a little. I can't help it. But this is kind of cool (as is the fact that Elton John is in Cape Town AND I'm seeing him perform tonight at the botanical gardens!). I also think it's sort of adorable that Sir E has a blogspot instead of his own site.

My dad was here last week--and had to extend his stay due to the British Airways strike--so I'll write soon about all of that excitement PLUS some pictures, since I now have a functioning camera! And I've been mulling about doing a thinkpiece about a mid-level band struggling in the harsh face of stardom...OK, actually about the current state of South Africa, with some potential parallels to Zimbabwe, based on some recent news events and things I experienced while my dad was here, including an enlightening visit to Robben Island, where Mandela and other political prisoners were held under Apartheid. Kind of like South Africa's Gitmo. I'll stop now. But before I get writing, I need to do more research because I'm beyond ignorant and a review of the state of South Africa sounds kind of ambitious. I might retract that as a potential post. OK. I'll write something, anyway.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Final Shameless Guilt Trip

I promise this will be the last blog post (for now at least) asking for donations to mothers2mothers for my birthday wish.

A) A huge, huge thanks to those of you who have donated, to those of you who have checked out m2m's website and facebook page, to those of you who have educated yourselves on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) and HIV/AIDS in general, to those readers out there who have stuck with me since September 2008 or started reading since then, and especially to those of you who will continue to read my blog after I've bugged you for three consecutive blog posts about donating to mothers2mothers.

B) My birthday is tomorrow (March 6), so the clock is a-tickin' for donating to m2m as part of my birthday wish, either through facebook or on the m2m website. Please consider giving a gift to m2m.

C) I have a history of having not-so-great birthdays. One year I was sick and and had to lie on a couch while everyone else had a good time with ice cream and cake. My freshman year of college I had mono over my birthday. Last year, all hell broke loose for a variety of reasons in Sierra Leone that I won't go into. The worst and most memorable was the time I got a Raphael Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle piñata for my party and it was dropped on my head mid-way through the first swing.

But the thing is, someone always did something really wonderful for me that made these crappy birthdays better: That first sick birthday my family and friends put on a play of the Pied Piper, which was just as fun to watch as it was to participate in. When I had mono, my friends all surprised me with hot chocolate and presents. In Sierra Leone, the volunteers held a surprise party up at our local watering hole, Georgetown, with the most ridiculous cake I have ever seen. And after I was betrayed and grievously injured by Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a favorite student (for those of you who don't know I grew up on a boarding school campus as a faculty kid) beat the crap out of it and I got first pick of the candy.

So here's my (slighly/incredibly selfish) thinking: you giving to m2m will make my 24th birthday rock no matter what, since your gift will mitigate the potential weird/unfun factor that could occur this time around. And as a bonus, you will be able to help a mother living with HIV stay healthy, keep her baby from contracting HIV, and promote empowerment of women marginalized by gender and their serostatus, just by giving a couple of bucks to mothers2mothers. And that's a whole extra layer of feeling-goodness and positive karma rays that's going to make you feel good too. So, please consider a donation to mothers2mothers, either through my birthday wish on facebook or through the m2m home page. To sum up: good for me, good for the mothers and babies, good for you too.

Many thanks,


Update 3.15pm: Many thanks and a big shout out to Cait, who just donated to m2m! Thank you!!!

Update 3/6 at 10:55am: Thank you to Katherine, for giving to mothers2mothers (among many other things)!!!

Update 3/7 at 10:20am: A final big thanks to Derick and Helen for donating! And thank you again to all of you for your donations and your birthday wishes, for continuing to read here, and for your support.

I'll Admit that I Hate Fundraising...

...but I'm going to bug you anyway.

If you've been reading since yesterday, you'll know that for my birthday, I'd like to raise some money for mothers2mothers. I've set up a way to do so on facebook. Please consider donating to m2m. I can say with confidence, as someone who's on the front lines (and obviously not at all biased) that mothers2mothers is an excellent organization doing great work for mothers and babies, and we need all the support we can get!

My birthday is this Saturday, March 6, so we're approaching the deadline for donations!

And I just want to take the time here to give a big shoutout to Heather, who is the first--and as of writing, the only--person who's donated through facebook towards my birthday wish! All together now: THANK YOU HEATHER!!!

And many thanks to all of you still reading out there,


Update at 5pm: One of my dearest friends, Sabrina, the queen of the slo-mo lax shot (among other illustrious titles), has also donated to mothers2mothers for my birthday wish. THANK YOU SLEE!!!

Update at 5.15pm: Heather has put together albums from an incredible photo project conducted by m2m across all of our countries. The pictures do a great job of telling the story of mothers2mothers and the women who work for m2m and who come to m2m for support. You can view it through facebook (and then you can click and say that you've "Read" it, which bumps our numbers on facebook) or you can directly access it here. The pictures are well worth a look!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It's Almost My Birthday... please consider donating to mothers2mothers. We are currently reaching almost 300,000 clients (pregnant women and new mothers living with HIV) every year, and with an estimated 1.5 million women living with HIV giving birth every year, that's 20% of the global disease burden. Our clients receive counseling and education from our Mentor Mothers--mothers living with HIV, just like them--who support them to live healthy and positive lives, prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and be empowered and fight stigma in their communities.

I cannot say enough good things about m2m and about the incredible women I've met who were supported by, and now work for, the organization. Their positivity and their strength is obviously their own, but the way in which mothers2mothers has supported them to become role models for other mothers living with HIV and for their communities is nothing short of inspiring.

If you'd like to give a gift to mothers2mothers, please consider donating through my "Birthday Wish" on Facebook, since I'm trying to raise at least $240 there, or directly through the mothers2mothers website.

If you are unable to donate, please find ways to support HIV prevention, to fight stigma, and to promote healthy and positive living for people living with HIV. Please help make a difference in the life of a mother and child.

Many, many thanks,


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

From Chuck Taylors to Charles Taylor

I think part of the reason I've had trouble blogging, apart from not having a ton of time, is that even though I like doing updates of my travels around South Africa, I’m sort of more interested in something else—in writing down my impressions of the experiences I've had living in three African countries and my views on sociopolitical events and patterns in these places and in my life as an American. I think in this I’d like to change the nature of this blog, even though I’d like to continue with updates about my life every so often. I’d like to put in more of what I’m passionate about—comparisons and discovering patterns between cultures, forming my opinion on various topics that pique my interest, and generally trying to stop forcing myself to write a travel blog, as this was originally intended to be. So, I’m going to try out this approach and see if it works.

So, without further ado…This is something that’s been rattling around in my brain for a while. This title.

The first Chuck Taylor Converses I put on were my friend’s American flag high tops, two sizes too small, for the first “protest” I ever participated in—five high school students (it might have been three) on the main strip in the small town of Ojai. The cops did get called, though it was because some less-than-well-wisher called and said we were running around in the road. We weren't. A few people honked for peace for us. It was not even months after the US invaded Iraq. I was in DC when Bush invaded, and I’ll never be able to forget the absolute feeling of outrage I had watching—“shock and awe” has become somewhat of a cliché, but I still remember exactly how I felt when I heard the term for the first time.

I've been to a lot of protests, and even organized a few, since then and worn many pairs of Chucks (good for protecting the toes in big crowds) and gone from idealism and anger to apathy and disillusionment for various reasons, from getting burned through political wheelings and dealings, to watching fellow activists get sent away from college for making stupid decisions they thought were justified at the time, to getting stonewalled and ignored by various levels of authority, who attempted to appease with piecemeal responses, if any. For a while I felt useless, and sometimes I still feel betrayed. I’m not very good at politics, I’m afraid.

Then I went to Senegal, and everything was given a chance to change. I managed to extricate myself from the aspirant politicians and the professional protesters, and I took a step back. I saw things I’d never imagined, and poverty was only a part of that. I lived with a Senegalese family, ate Senegalese food, and spoke Wolof. I stayed in villages and rode around in cars rapides and dilapidated taxis and went to clubs populated by locals, not expats. This was the only time I was really able to do this.

I took African history classes throughout college, from my freshman year onward. Senegal was the first time I got to live something I’d learned (I've learned something I’d lived—art history and French classes after living in France—but that was different). And it was radically different from what I’d thought and completely transformative for me. I almost had to be dragged home.

Then I went to Sierra Leone and worked in a hospital for nine months. And it was hell a lot of the time. But also an experience I wouldn't give up for anything. I went through experiences I won’t talk about here, and I saw things I don’t share with many people—no fun to be the downer in the room (I do that enough as it is). I sat with patients every day and worked with and managed staff. I got into arguments and committed a lot of cultural and political faux pas. I paid out a lot of money for things and sometimes was thanked and sometimes was scorned. I was happy sometimes but mostly frustrated and angry. Mostly tired and disillusioned, and confused as to how to change anything in a country that was so far gone. I learned how difficult it is to help when you don’t know much about the culture you’re in and when you’re not from the culture you’re in. How important it is to work within communities. And how important and complex things are that seem easily addressed—fixing roads, or giving out malaria nets, or buying uniforms for the nurses, or even motivating people to fight a fire that was threatening to destroy their homes. Note: I’m going to merge my “Making Do with Soda Soap” blog with this one, so you can read about it in the archives if you haven’t already.

And then I left and I’m here now in Cape Town. And this might be the most complex it’s ever been—because the race and ethnicity issues are so pronounced and so visible. Because even though the slums have electricity and sometimes clean water, they’re less than twenty minutes from luxury hotels, office buildings, vineyards, and tourists planning expensive trips to paraglide or watch animals or, in some cases, to drive through the townships in air conditioned buses. But it’s also the easiest because I love what I’m doing and feel like I’m making a difference, even if I’m in an office and not a medical tent, and driving a BMW (1993!) and not being driven around in a Land Cruiser, and living in an apartment with electricity and running water and a bed and not in a hut.

Part of this, then, is about my academic and real life experiences in Senegal, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. About the reality of life for many people that are often overlooked (I won’t pretend to know much about this), about how I think about current events and things that happening across the continent (though my understanding mostly lies in West African events), and about how much a history that is largely unknown to people from my home country, though distinctly intertwined in their history as well, continues to rear up in the present. Charles Taylor is facet of the present/recent past of much of the African continent and only a part of a much larger historical narrative of slavery and colonialism, the thirst for resources and power, and anger over ethnic divides exacerbated and even created by colonial powers. Charles Taylor is, perhaps too simplistically put, a product of an environment shaped by a complex and exploited past.

From Chuck Taylors to Charles Taylor.