Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Three Depressing Things and One Ray of Sunshine

Yesterday was one of those news days where everything felt depressing--I heard about the Glenn Beck/Tea Party rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech," which I just found depressing more than anything else. And infuriating. It was one of those moments where, instead of being homesick, I was grateful to be on the other side of the Atlantic, which doesn't happen that often. I fully support free speech and the right of Beck, Palin, and their followers to assemble anywhere, but I have a hard time with their (allegedly inadvertent) symbolism in picking the venue and date for their gathering. I don't have anything specific or particularly articulate to say--Palin, Beck, and the Tea Partiers appeared on the scene after I'd left the US, so I feel far away from it all. But my heart broke a little bit after reading coverage of the rally.

Then I read about the strike lead by Cosatu, the South African trade union federation, which has been going on for several weeks. Just like last year, strikers have shut down public hospitals, which means that patients requiring inpatient care or outpatient prescriptions for TB and HIV/AIDS can't get their medications or help from health care workers unless they spend a lot of money for private hospitals. It's a tricky issue because while no one will dispute that public workers aren't getting paid very much, there are also thousands, and perhaps millions, of people without jobs at all in South Africa who rely on the services that Cosatu is now attempting to shut down, especially those living with HIV/AIDS and/or TB. Personally, I find it morally reprehensible to intimidate people who need medical care and block their access to treatment, regardless of whether or not I agree with the overall strike.

Finally, I saw that the UN will publish a report in the coming month that (allegedly) accuses Rwanda of "crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide" against ethnic Hutus in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1993-2003. If I can get through the 560 pages of the report I'll certainly follow up and write more, but it's not the first time I've heard allegations of this nature in regards to Rwanda's "activities" in the DRC and the repressive nature of the Rwandan government under Paul Kagame. The sorts of figures I've heard, about tens or hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians deliberately killed by Rwandan forces and Congolese/Zairean allies, are shocking.

It is an accepted fact among most human rights groups that Kagame's regime essentially refuses to acknowledge Hutu deaths (both at the hands of Interhamwe militia and other genocidaire forces for being Tutsi "sympathizers" and of Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front forces) in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The UN estimated in 2008 that between 25,000 and 45,000 civilians were killed by the RPF in reprisals against the Hutu-led genocide. Only 36 RPF soldiers have been tried for these crimes. The Rwandan government opposes further prosecutions. The regime also jails and/or "re-educates" anyone insisting on memorializing Hutus or accused of "genocide ideology," a broad term that many have charged is a way of muzzling any kind of opposition to the regime's narrative, which paints the majority Tutsi RPF in the best possible light. I would like to note that it is estimated that 800,000 were killed in the 1994 genocide, and I've heard many say that Rwanda would fall apart without a strong (i.e., repressive) government. I'll come back to this issue at a later date--it feels messy right now.

Anyway, that was my day yesterday. And then, this morning, I loaded up Jimmy Fallon and Friends' Emmy Awards opening, and I felt a bit better about the state of things. Plus, it's got Hurley from Lost AND Jon Hamm AND Tina Fey in it. Call it frivolous, but at least there are people out there trying to bring joy, or at least a smile, to the world.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Open Letter

Dear Whales,

The last time I went to Hermanus, you put on quite a show. This time, not so much. Which was a shame. But we had a great time without you, including:

Wine and dinner (not pictured, but it was delicious, which is why it's not pictured)


Beautiful sand dunes (despite the lovely sandblasting effect from gale force winds--I'm blaming those on you too, Whales)

And nice ocean views.

In summary, Whales of Hermanus, who needs you?

Much love,

Dear City of Cape Town,

I was very excited when I heard that you were going to blow up the old cooling towers.

Especially after the support rings fell off one of them (see right side tower) and your engineers determined that both towers might come down in high winds, which aren't exactly few and far between in Cape Town, a city that may even give Chicago a run for its money on windiness.

A lot of Capetonians were excited too. In fact, there were people crammed into every possible vantage point to watch the towers come down. I'm not sure what we were expecting. Certainly not a small squall, which put a damper on things. But denizens of the Mother City are used to unexpected weather, so we tried to be positive.

In fact, we even played some games.

And then, you blew up the towers four minutes early. We all kind of missed it. But it's OK. We got to go bowling afterward.

Much love,

Monday, August 16, 2010

The New "Morning After" Pill and Some (Shocking) Stats

In keeping with my constant advertising for the New York Times, I wanted to share an article about the new "morning after" pill, which was just approved by the FDA. Unlike Plan B, this pill, Ella, can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. This is great news for many people (or not great news depending on your political/moral/religious leanings). What I found most striking about this article, however, was the throwaway tidbit at the end, brought to my attention by the friend that sent me the article (miss you, Morgan!):

Studies have shown that more than one million women who do not want to get pregnant are estimated to have unprotected sex every night in the United States, and that more than 25,000 become pregnant every year after being sexually assaulted. Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended.

I'm not sure what to make of that, other than that I had no idea those numbers would be so high.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A (Very Quick) History Lesson for Women's Day

August 9th is a national holiday in South Africa. It's meant to commemorate the day South African women of all colors marched in 1956 against the pass laws, which required all non-white South Africans to carry identity documents. The pass laws were one of the defining pieces of legislation of the Apartheid system and relegated non-whites to a space of restricted freedoms and rights. 20,000 women marched in Pretoria. The women sang:

uza kufa

(when you strike a woman / you strike a rock / you will be crushed)

This has become a saying in South Africa to reflect the strength of the women here.

Also, mothers2mothers' Youtube Channel has posted a segment filmed in m2m's site in Likuni Hospital, Lilongwe, Malawi. It features some of m2m's clients, Mentor Mothers, International Director Robin Smalley and Board member Debbie Bickerstaff.