Thursday, June 30, 2011


Today's my last full day in Cape Town. I'm not sure how I feel. It's been a wonderful two years, but I've missed the US. And as much as I've loved the life I've made for myself here, it's never quite felt like home. I'm sad to leave and happy to go. As I'm writing this, I'm half-packed. Which feels appropriate somehow.

I'm starting to think that I might continue blogging here once I return stateside--watch this space as I figure it out. That might just be an excuse to avoid the wrap-up post. But I don't feel ready for a post on leaving. So, instead I'll continue with my dastardly plan to put up music instead of actually reflecting on how I feel. In times of change and upheaval, I always turn to Joni Mitchell. The following two songs from her album Blue, released in 1971, echo my current mood. Two for the road.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Homecoming Music #5

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros performing "Home," The Troubadour, 2007. The sound and video quality are total crap, but the joy and love in this performance made it too good to pass up.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Homecoming Music #4

Paul Simon performing "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," 1992. This one is in honor of my dearly beloved car, Rosie, the Queen of Crayola.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Homecoming Music #3

Led Zeppelin performing "Going to California" at Earls Court, 1975. The song was written for Joni Mitchell.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Homecoming Music #2

In a continuing trend...

Simon & Garfunkel performing "Homeward Bound" at Monterey Pop, 1967.

Also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CAT!!! Can't wait to celebrate with you at home.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Homecoming Music #1

I've been listening to a certain genre of music lately. Homecoming music. Here's one.

Fleet Foxes performing "Ragged Wood" at Glastonbury, 2009.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

For What It's Worth

More wonderful photos on the Vancouver riot and aftermath here, courtesy of Alan Taylor's In Focus photo blog at The Atlantic. Original photo here, taken by Guilhem Vellut/CC BY.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lazy Laze.

Today I thought I'd write a rant about this article, but I got too pissed off to finish it and couldn't tell if it would still make me angry by the end. Halfway through, I couldn't decide whether I was actually angry or defensive--one of those "I'm allowed to criticize because I'm there, but you aren't a part of this world, so you can't" kind of things. Then I kind of lost steam. So, this is my post for the day. A short piece claiming that I almost worked myself up enough to write something but then got too lazy. Or whatever. Draw your own conclusions from the article. See? Lazy.

I saw a documentary on Sierra Leone (and other on a couple living with HIV in Botswana) this evening, and I'll post about them tomorrow. Need a little more distance on the whole thing. But both films were wonderful.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reading on Africa

I'd like to share three pieces today.

The first, a short bit (with lots of links) from Africa Is A Country on who's buying up large tracts of land in various African countries and displacing/evicting local people: your university may be to blame. I tell you, you don't keep an eye on academia, and they're all saying one thing and doing another. It's like Columbia's Manhattanville expansion on a larger scale with fewer legal protections--at least that one went through the courts before eminent domain.

And a really nice, moving Op-Ed from Winstone Zulu on how people with disabilities are often overlooked when it comes to sex ed--resulting in that group having an HIV prevalence rate up to three times higher than the general population (I'm not sure where those stats are from--Zulu is from Zambia). In Sierra Leone, we worked with a pregnant woman who had a severe disability from polio--legs that literally bent backwards--and health workers and others at the hospital would express surprise when she came in with her round belly. As if people of all shapes, sizes, cultures, abilities, etc. don't have sex. I always found that expression of surprise weird.

Finally, FINALLY the UN has endorsed human rights for the LGBTQI community. FINALLY. The resolution was put forward by South Africa, which has been legislatively, if not culturally, (to the Wikipedia!) at the forefront of gay rights since the introduction of the new constitution in 1994. Unsurprisingly but disappointingly, Nigeria (along with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others) voted against the resolution, which passed 23-19 (Burkina Faso and Zambia abstained, as did China). Gay rights are going to be an uphill battle in many (most?) African countries, I'm afraid. On the bright side, as much as the Obama administration is sketching me out with its unprecedented crackdown on leakers, it's doing a good job on the gay rights front. Apart from the marriage thing. Oh well.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Adultery Fridays

New post up on Global Health about lead poisoning in China. Do you like all my uplifting posts about sunshine and rainbows, which I find set the tone nicely for the weekend?

This is my two-week mark. I leave in exactly two weeks. In fact, in about two weeks from this precise moment, I'll be headed for the airport. That's all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Youth Day: Commemorating the Soweto Uprising

Sam Nzima's photo, above, of Mabuyisa Makhubo carrying the body of twelve-year old Hector Pieterson as his sister Antoinette Sithole weeps beside them, is the most iconic image of the Soweto uprisings.

Tomorrow, June 16, is a South African public holiday to commemorate the students who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976. They were protesting a recently-enforced government requirement that instruction take place in Afrikaans. The Bantu Education System, installed under Apartheid, intentionally provided an unequal education to blacks and prepared them for lower-tier jobs in the homelands or laboring for a white grootbaas ("big boss" in Afrikaans). Following an economic recession in 1975, the Apartheid government was spending R644 per white student and R42 per black student. That year, it was announced that half of all instruction would be taught in Afrikaans (the other half was to be in English), despite the fact that many students and teachers did not speak the language. Afrikaans was also considered the language of the oppressor.

Students were increasingly politicized following the foundation of the African Students' Movement in 1968, which became the South African Students' Movement (SASM) in 1972, and students in Soweto, a township in Johannesburg, organized to boycott and march on June 16, 1976, in protest of the Afrikaans requirement. The South African police barricaded the students' marching route and ordered them to disperse, throwing tear gas canisters. The students refused, and police then began shooting into the crowd. In the riots and chaos that ensued, anywhere from 200-500 were killed (or more...the record isn't clear), buildings associated with the Apartheid government were burned and otherwise defaced, and riots spread across the country. Students from the white University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg marched to protest the government's killing of children. The Soweto Uprising was one of the watershed moments of the anti-Apartheid struggle, cemented the role of students in the fight for freedom, and put further international pressure on the Apartheid government. It's pretty amazing, when you think about it, that a bunch of children were able to influence the course of history and willing to put their bodies in the way to stop an oppressive regime.

More here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Music Day

It's gorgeous out today. So gorgeous that I needed to put my AC on in the car this afternoon. You get your share of icky, damp, howling days in Cape Town, but one beautiful day like this makes it worth it (and let's be real, there's no snow, so why should I ever complain?). But I've been listening to Adele a lot recently (I realize she's been a big deal for a while now, but I'm a martian at this point, let's let it go). And Adele is a wintry artist--perfect to listen to in front of a roaring fire with a cuppa or to get you all steamed up before you head out into the cold. Whatever your definition of "cold" may be. So, here's the video for her mind-blowing "Rolling in the Deep."

The NYT Bonnaroo coverage this year really made me want to go. And I've already asked around about this, but why do you think Lil Wayne was wearing that backpack on stage? I love the rest of that slideshow--the people in the illuminated costumes reminded me a bit of Afrika Burn and the awesome glow stick outfits some Burners were wearing.

Also, Ozomatli played at Thacher's reunion this year--my sister's 5-year and a member of Ozomatli's 25-year. That's kind of bomb.

Finally, President Obama has taken away the .gov-domain website of the Fiddlin' Foresters--the folk (bluegrass?) band of the US Forest Service--in an effort to cut government waste. Although one can't help but applaud the President's goal, this seems like pretty small potatoes. Plus, how cool is this song? Or the one below (and shades of Joan Baez, anyone)? That harmonica bit that goes into "Oh, Shenandoah?" Fantastic. Music with a nice message about conservation. Oh well. I guess we have to cut the lefty stuff to cut the righty stuff. Compromise shmompromise.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Walking the Bo-Kapp

Two weekends ago, a couple of friends and I did a walking tour through the Bo-Kapp, the brightly-painted, traditionally-Muslim community that sits between the City Bowl and Signal Hill. Mostly comprised of descendants of the "Cape Malay," or slaves brought to work the gardens in the old Cape Colony (which was a re-stocking point for the Dutch East India Company on its trading routes to the East), the neighborhood is closely knit and steeped in its unique traditions. While visiting the kramats, or shrines, and cemetery in Bo-Kapp, a very nice man gave us a brief history of the Muslim saints buried there. He'd come to pay his respects with his son. You can hear the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer when hiking Lion's Head. The area is most famous for its brightly-colored houses. It can be a bit dodgy in some areas, and I've heard that strangers are not always welcome (an understandable reaction to gentrification), but overall, I found the people to be welcoming, which is surprising and commendable in any neighborhood that gets overrun with photo-snapping tourists. Above, the oldest mosque in Cape Town.

The oldest house in the Bo-Kapp.

Chiappini Street

View of the city from the Bo-Kapp cemetery

Friday, June 10, 2011

Global Plan to Eliminate MTCT Launched!

This is very, very exciting news. UNAIDS, in concert with 25 countries and 30 organizations/corporations (including mothers2mothers), has launched a global plan, Countdown to Zero, to reduce new infections of HIV among children (mother-to-child transmission, MTCT) by 90% and AIDS-related maternal deaths by 50% by 2015. The plan calls for countries to strengthen community involvement, such as a "mentor mother" model for PMTCT. A mentor mother, according to the report, is "a mother living with HIV who is trained and employed as part of a medical team to support, educate and empower pregnant women and new mothers about their health and their babies’ health." So great to hear.

Of course there are things to be concerned about. The current funding environment is volatile, to say the least. These goals will require a massive coordination of efforts at the local, country, and global levels from a multitude of actors who haven't always played nice in the past. And the plan, of course, could go further. But this is the UN (plus 25 countries and 30 NGOs, foundations, civil society orgs, and private sector companies) we're talking about. In those terms, this is pretty bold.

For more reading, see the m2m press release. Full report here (it's a PDF).

Adultery Fridays

I copped out a bit and did another link post over at Global Health. Whatevs. It's got some good stuff in there, though. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


That's something I'll miss--that South African expression. Eesh. Anyway, I'm short on inspiration, so I thought I'd try something new. Here's a poem I wrote back in November 2009 that's been rolling around in a folder in my computer.

Devil's Peak

We were walking
Out on the mountain slopes
Before the ground became too steep and rocky
And the old burns were there
Twisted blackened limbs
Trunks cracked and broken like dry skin
Pines and stands of eucalyptus, whispering.
We ducked under barbed wire to watch the quarry
Pied crows collared white, small birds chattering but unseen.
The grass was tall and still wet, old ruins creaking on the mountainside.
Lilies of some kind
All in a bunch.
I pointed over the bay to the grey spots
Where the clouds had blocked out sky from water.
You said that was not right,
But I didn't care.
I liked my way better.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

At a loss...

...for what to write today. I'm trying to post on each weekday of this month, theoretically the last month I'll have this blog. Or not. Haven't decided. Anyway, I thought I'd send out a little links post because, well, that's all I got. Without further ado...

Lady Gaga accidentally called Anna Wintour a bitch, thinking the "Anna" texting her was a friend. That's kind of funny. As is Ms. Wintour's cold response. It reminds me of what my first grade teacher said in response to something very inappropriate being shown or told during Show and Tell (I can't for the life of me remember what it was, though): Thank you for sharing. Via The NYT.

Two great pieces on "Weinergate" with a splash of "Not Blake Lively" (H/T to Dlisted for that clever nickname): one from The NYT (duh) and the other from Pajiba. FYI, I'd call both Dlisted and Pajiba semi-NSFW (not safe for work), the former much more than the latter.

Very, very exciting news that the UN now recognizes that Internet access is a human right! Yay!

In a much weirder vein, someone is imitating (quite well, I might add), my dear friend James Allen Sligh on Twitter. The real Jim Sligh and the impostor. Or was it the other way around? Is this all a Banksy-style hoax? For you to decide. I just wish I'd come up with it first.

Absolutely wonderful piece from Jhumpa Lahiri on writing in The New Yorker. I'm not worthy.

I've been listening to this song. A lot.

This is old, but gosh darn is it hilarious. Reminds me of a simpler time when I was sitting on a lawn in NYC listening to a dictator say there were no gay people in his country. Except this is much funnier. Sorry it's flipped...but I don't get Hulu here, so sometimes we have to go outside of the law.

That's it. Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Especially as a (former?) historian...

...this is very concerning to me. A prime example of why Wikipedia is not a great source. And why Sarah Palin scares the crap out of me--this reaches a Dan Quayle level of worrying. At least The New Yorker is having some snarky fun with it. At least we can still laugh. Because sometimes I think it's too deadly serious.

Monday, June 6, 2011

And then, sometimes, I remember that home isn't much better.

It looks like the The New York Times went out of its way to have the most depressing articles ever over the weekend--first, the one on the mob killing of a Zimbabwean man, which I posted about on Friday, and now there's this piece of investigatory journalism on New York state institutions for the developmentally disabled and the horrible abuse by staff that go on at some of them. The opening is heartbreaking, as it details the death of Jonathan Carey, a 13-year-old boy with autism, at the hands of one of his caretakers, as another staff member watched, and then it just gets worse. It's depressing and infuriating to read and difficult to accept that any institution, and especially one that offers care to the developmentally disabled, could allow abuse like this to occur. And especially so in the US, where we theoretically have the resources to provide expert care to all people. A reminder that while things might be easier for me back in the US, it's a far from perfect society, and there are so many things that Americans should be aware of, as citizens and strive to change. I'm not a voter in New York State, but I'm wondering how other states are faring. I'm tired of seeing the most vulnerable in our society continually kicked to the ground.

And so you don't think it's all doom and gloom, here's a great little video by Jessi Arrington at TED talking about how all she packed for the TED conference was 7 days' worth of underwear and then bought everything at thrift stores. Eco-friendly, charitable, and fun. Just a little ray of sunshine from a very happy person.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Adultery Fridays

The new post is up on Global Health. Enjoy!

Things I Won't Miss

Despite the charmed life that I live here, South Africa is a difficult place. Although the media panic (mostly from UK rags) leading up to the World Cup was ridiculously over-exaggerated--the whole stab-proof vest debacle comes to mind--safety and crime are real and pervasive issues here. And mostly, the victims are poor and, given the strong racial-economic divide in this country, black.

This is too complex to lay out fully in a blog post, but xenophobia is also a huge issue. Other Africans, particularly Zimbabweans, pursuing the idea of a better life in South Africa are discriminated against, blamed for crimes, and sometimes attacked or killed (more on the state's terrible and potentially unlawful treatment of Zimbabwean asylum-seekers here). The New York Times put up a video today about an innocent Zimbabwean man who was beaten to death by a mob in an informal settlement outside of Johannesburg. Warning: it shows actual footage of him being beaten.

Barry Bearak's accompanying article (for the NYT Magazine), lays out the issues. Millions of people live in poverty in townships and informal settlements, often without running water, electricity, adequate food, or the glimmer of hope for a job. The huge wealth disparity here is deplorable: there's nothing like driving past the townships from the airport and seeing a Maserati dealership on the way into town. The police are often ineffective or just non-existent, especially in townships where they don't have back up. Two policemen were killed the other week in Cape Town, and it's a somewhat regular occurrence. Violence and crime and anger are widespread, but there are no easy answers for any of this. Mr. Bearak writes:

South Africa, a nation of 50 million, is the richest country on the continent but has one of the world’s lowest levels of employment. Most of the jobless have never worked, and a third of the employed earn less than $150 a month. Whites, who make up 9 percent of the population, have an average income seven times that of blacks. But poverty is not necessarily a predictor of crime, and while apartheid was horrific, other nations have suffered long histories of oppression, writes the South African criminologist Antony Altbeker, whose book “A Country at War With Itself” examines the common explanations for the nation’s violent bent and finds most of them pertinent but none entirely adequate. However you weigh the impact of apartheid, he asserts, violent behavior has somehow become a “cultural phenomenon” for a significant minority of young men, “an expression of their selfhood.” Violence now feeds off its own energy.

To protect themselves, wealthy South Africans compete in an arms race with their neighbors, the elevated walls of one leading to even higher walls next door. One in 14 newly created jobs is for a security guard.

But it is the impoverished who are most vulnerable to crime, poor people living in the midst of poor criminals. Under apartheid, the police were enforcers of state repression, and they are yet to be fully trusted as protectors. Mob justice is most likely to occur in the nation’s informal settlements. In Diepsloot, where a sea of shanties covers much of the expanse, police officers are often derided as bunglers at best and crooks at worst. Courthouses are a journey away, and the due process of law seems an impractical ideal. Many of the poor, living without electricity and using communal taps and toilets, feel the necessity — the burden — to police themselves. I was commonly told: The more horrible the death of a criminal, the better it deters the rest.

I don't know to write about this. I don't feel right doing it, as a foreigner who's been here a measly two years and hasn't integrated well into South African society, as a white person, as someone with a job and some money. I've stopped and started and deleted and re-written a version of this post many times. And never hit the "publish" button. It never feels comprehensive enough, or clear enough, or correct enough. I don't know what to think. It's easy to say it's one thing, or it's another. It's easy to say all of this is overblown, or, you know what, maybe we should all have guns. That violence has become a national identity, or that this is all about Apartheid, or that this is the fault of the state to provide support and housing and good police. That media coverage of this nature perpetuates South Africa's reputation in the world as a crime-filled, scary place, or perpetuates the idea of Africa as a violent, fly-and-disease-ridden continent. It's all true. It's all false. I don't know. There's no answer.

All I can say is, I'm not going to miss this aspect of South Africa. I know that the US is far from perfect, and has wealth disparity and violence and other problems of its own, but I'm not going to miss this. I love so much of South Africa, the warm and wonderful people I have met, South Africans and expats alike; the breathtaking natural beauty of this country; the life I have made for myself here, but I'm still not going to miss this. As my friends and I were leaving Bulungula, a paradise on earth in many ways (and home to many, many people living in abject poverty), the driver turned to me, as we discussed the upcoming local elections, and told me that without the lodge, he would have no job. That there were no jobs. That he would never again support the ANC, the majority party, the party of Nelson Mandela and of the anti-Apartheid struggle for freedom. South Africa, the land of broken promise, he said.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks.

It's freezing outside and inside, since Capetonians don't appear able (or willing) to accept that winter actually happens here--Los Angeles, you ain't--and most of us are spending time huddled around a fire, a space heater, or an oven (or are resorting to taking long baths at night). It's grey out, the wind has been ripping off the mountain, and the rain alternates between spitting and pouring. There's no other way to describe it--it's just raw out. Last year, we had the World Cup to distract us. This year, there's little respite. But here's a brief one: Sam Rockwell dancing.

H/T Pajiba. You guys really are the best.

Virtual cookies for the nerds who know from when the title originates. Googling is grounds for disqualification.