Friday, March 31, 2006

A Year in Private

I have been explaining this enough to the Rotarians, I might as well put it in my blog.

After three years of government service, and growing tired with the way bureaucracy stifles innovation, I decided to see how the private sector deals with public issues.

In that vein, I am currently on my trip to South Africa with Rotary International to witness how the private sector, civic organizations and religious institutions deal with issues of public health and welfare. This relates to the AIDS crisis in South Africa, and overall issues in a transitional civil society.

This summer, I will be working for Seeds of Peace, the camp that brings Israeli and Palestinian kids together, as well as kids from India and Pakistan and other trouble spots around the globe. The purpose of this experience is to see how private organizations and institutions help deal with public conflicts. It is also an attempt to see how private organizations can further pursuits for peace.

Finally, I have applied for a fellowship with the American Jewish Committee to see how the private sector, and specifically NGOs deal with public policy and Jewish public diplomacy. The fellowship would be in Brussels, at the Transatlantic Institute. It is a think-tank, sponsored by the AJC, which deals with policy issues relating to ties between the US and the European Union. It also focuses on relations between the EU and Israel.

Insofar as this year provides direction for my vast imagination, it will be a resounding success. If South Africa provides any indication for the rest of the year, then it will be a truly eye-opening experience.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The elephant in the room

I hate to sound like a social dilettante crashing the AIDS activist party, but the situation here is downright terrifying. I am telling you, the country is literally being decimated. A funeral worker commented that you watch the graveyard swell on a weekly basis, as the graves push closer to the outlying streets. They have multiple funerals because so many die in a week. Friday is known as "Stiff's Day," because they collect the bodies from the week for the militiaperson funerals held on Saturday. For some reason, I had a macabre reminder of the multiple bar mitzvahs held at synagogues with too many children.

The graveyards stay fresh, as the funeral parlor owners get fat from the money they take in, meanwhile the country just withers away. The funeral parlor owners are making a killing (no pun intended) because the culture here is that you must have a lavish funeral for the person. Since it would be a dishonor for the family not to have a lavish funeral, families who can't afford the dying decadence abandon their loved ones. The dying person is left to stay a state hospice, so that they can be given a proper burial in a pauper's graveyard.

At its highest levels, the behavior of the South African government is shocking. President Mbeki and his aides counsel people to take vitamins and eat vegetables as a way of warding off this disease. Meanwhile, the health system can hardly cope. Private organizations, NGOS and church organizations are helping, and doing a more adept job of treatment and prevention, but they are band-aids on punctured arteries. I was in Kingdom of Lesotho today, visiting a Baylor Health clinic. It is a brand-new facility, which receives assistance from the international and NGO community. It also receives some help from the Lesotho government, but the private sector does a much more thorough job of treating patients.

I went to a hospice in a city called Ladybrand. The hospice takes in children whose parents died of AIDS, and also likely have AIDS. They will take the kids to the clinic to be tested, but won't ask the results on account of privacy. Most of the kids there have it. At the hospice, they work on beadery that is sold to support them. The clinic keeps half their funds in bank accounts, and gives them spending money as well. They also receive up to three square meals. I went to another clinic in Lesotho, in a city called Maputsoe. I really lost it there. I was in the maternity ward, just looking at the mothers and babies who have aids. I was sitting outside the room, just listening to babies cry and wondering how long the mothers will be there to comfort them.

There is a dire need for behavioral change, and god knows what else. Lesotho is a primarily Christian country. 80% is Christian, and of that 90% are Catholic. The Catholic church there is working in the fight against AIDS, but of course, is silent on the issue of condoms. They counsel abstinence and being faithful to your partner. They are not working against the supply of condoms, but they sure are not advocating their usage. Imagine the effect if the Catholic church changed its stance on safe sex. It would be a force to stem the tide against the AIDS battle. I'm not holding my breath for that, but I can say this much. If the Catholic church is looking for Jesus, I'm pretty sure they would find him in an AIDS clinic in Lesotho. Healing the sick and feeding the poor. Not at some 30,000-seat megachurch, he would be in Southern Africa.

Lions and Zebras and Rhinos, oh my

We had our mid-program break, which was anything but. We drove off to KwaZulu Natal, to a camping ground and game park. As earlier mentioned, South Africa is experiencing unusually high rain fall, and everything is muddy. After offroading through the mud and past a number of kudus and springboks, we arrived at our campsite.

The campsite was fantastic, raised tents with pimped-out zebra skins on the floor.

We went for an evening safari, and were crashing through the mud. We saw a group of rhinos, and Johan (one of the Rotarians) motioned for me to come over. We slowly crept up on the rhinos, moving very slowly. They are huge! Apparently, they can reach speeds of 40km/hr, as in faster than my trying to escape. Anyways, we got within 15 ft of them, with nothing in between. I snapped a bunch of pics. The mother rhino gave us a look that said don't come any closer, and we are lekkar (cool). We slowly made our way back to the trucks. When I got back, my team leader Rev. Barb was not happy. She just kept saying "stupid, stupid." Then Johan took the rest of the group to see it, and she joined them. When she got back, I just mimicked her words right back.

It was quickly getting dark, so we started heading back. My team member Sandi and I were in the back of a pick-up truck, and we were whipping through the mud. That was, for my second time since coming to Africa, we got stuck in the mud. The 4x4 couldn't make it up a muddy hill. We tried every angle, for nearly and hour, but we could get past. We were covered in mud, and weren't making any progress, so my 4x4 decided to turn around and try to take the long route back. The other 4x4, which made it up the hill, went back the way we came. Meanwhile, we were whipping through the back roads in the bed of the truck.

We eventually got back to camp. We had a brai (bbq) and taught the South Africans how to play Texas Hold'em. It was a late, long night that left me babalassed (hungover) from what should have been a rest day.

Yesterday, we drove through a place called Golden Gate park. Right on the side of the road were zebras grazing. We got out and watched them eat 3 feet from us. It was lekkar. All of it is lekkar.

Trying to get a handle

I'm quickly learning that to view this place, it cannot be seen as merely black and white. It's all tribal here. The Blacks have their own issues with each other, which I alluded to in an earlier post. Moreover, there are super class issues within the Black communities. The growing Black middle class has a lot of disdain for the poorer blacks. They drive around in their fancy cars, and come home to their fancy houses that are very far away from the townships. They are losing their patience with the current government, insofar as the corruption, graft and instabilty are hindering their ability to make money.

The Whites are no more united than the blacks. Afrikaans and Anglos are very different, as I am finding out. Meanwhile, many are frustrated with the reverse apartheid that take skilled people out of their jobs and puts underqualified blacks in their place. The lack of meritocracy in South Africa in regards to government appointments, many jobs and other facets is a moajor source of frustration. They also gripe about the growing lawlessness, whether perceived or real. My host in Harrismith comlplained that it is the sense that anyone can do whatever they want, and will get away with it.

In the meantime, I found out that the xhosa word for a white person translates to "sea foam." This came about because after shipwrecks, they would find white people washed up on the beach. They thought they came from the white sea foam on the top of the waves. I have also been told that it also is some kind of reference to sea foam being garbage of the seas.

The Coloureds, ie anyone who isn't black and white such as the Indians, Arabs and Malaysians, are also trying to figure out there place in the new South Africa. Everyone is groping around in the dark, and society hurddles itself forward in uncharted territory.

You have to view the situation in South Africa in the context of its entire history, which stretches back hundreds of years. The apartheid period is simply a 4 decade chapter in a very long story. The place is complex, and I can barely get a grip on it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Lesotho Royal Botanical Society

I went to the Kingdom of Lesotho again today, for a magnificent tour of the country. We went to the "roof of Africa," which are heights that tower nearly 3000m above sea level. I was on par with clouds. The mountains had cottony clouds covering them, and I was looking down on eagles flying below me. It was amazing.

Later, we had a little visit to the Kingdom of Lesotho's Royal Botanical Gardens. At the gardens, they grow Lesotho's number one cash crop. Let's just say that the flowers are a rather beautiful variety, growing out in the open. I have run into this variety of plant in many other places in this world, but never growing right in front of me. I was a bit of a kid in the candy store. We drove back through the most magnificent mountains and valleys, and I snapped 512 MB of pics today alone. Words can't describe. I will see if I can post some of them, because it was truly breathtaking.
-The Chief Rabbi of Lesotho

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Saw lions today at a game park. I was literally 3 feet away from them, in their cage. I was informed that lions shag between 30-40 times a day. It's good to be king of the jungle.

Completely unrelated, they have a saying in South Africa that when the Jews (and Greeks) leave your town, you should quickly follow.

A real welcome to SA

I lost my title yesterday of the only Jew around, as I had a shabbat dinner with a lovely, if eccentric Jewish family in Ficksburg. Ficksburg has 6 Jews, 4,000 whites, and 80,000 blacks. Beyond being around my peeps, I had a crazy experience at a township bar (For those who don't know, townships are where the black people live).

The mother of the Jewish family, Sandra, works a lot with the Black community, so when I told her about my dreams of finding a Jewish xhosa girl, she wanted to take me to a club called "Meshengu." The only problem was that we needed a ride, because her husband was too tired to take me. After dinner, we went to the local pub (which was dead) and had practically given up on the night. That's when we ran into her old friend Freddy. Freddy seemed like he was a few sheets to the wind, but both he and Sandra assured me he was okay to get us to this club. We piled into the front of Freddy's truck (called a buckee here), and headed over to the bar.

At the bar, we were like three little snowflakes on a tar road. Personally, I was in heaven. While I am having an absolutely wonderful time with the Rotarians, it is white-bread world; this was what I came to Africa for. Meshengu was a trip. They didn't sell mixed drinks, you had to buy a bottle. We got a bottle of whiskey, which Sandra promptly dropped, so I bought another. I was having a fantastic time dancing and talking with the locals. They were amazed that a white Jewish American felt comfortable at "their" bar. To be sure, the place was a little shady, but I was keeping myself sharp.

Outside the main bar, but still inside the club compound, I was talking to a policeman, teacher and a prostitute about South Africa and its race problems between blacks. The different tribes hate each other, and the only thing that kept them united was, ironically, the apartheid system. Now, it seems all bets are off. The Zulus are the best warriors. They beat the British badly during the British-Zulu wars, and they are always looking to dominate the region. Meanwhile, the xhosa are very much in control of the country. They are known as the diplomats, and from the tribe include Mandela and the current President Mbeki. They are considered the entrepreneurs, and make up a large portion of the country. Apparently, the Zulus consider the Besotho "rats" because so many of them work in the mines. Meanwhile, they consider the Xhosa to be "cowardly dogs" who would rather talk than fight. A civil war may some day be on the horizon, i need to investigate attitudes more.

Back to the situation at hand. Freddy is acting rather belligerent, dancing wildly and being loud, while (much to my chagrin) Sandra the wasted mom (not a MILF) is practically hitting on me, while the Africans are trying to convince me that old ladies are much better. Freddy disappears back into the bar, and is with someone he just met. For some reason, he leaves the bar compound, and walks into an ambush. Freddy promptly gets jumped by a group of 5 tsotsis (thugs), who throw him to the ground and steal his wallet. They get his credit cards, id and 800 Rand (about $135). When Sandra realizes what has happened, she runs over to security and is screaming wildly and the situation becomes chaotic. She is screaming at everyone, as is Freddy. I'm just confused, and trying to figure out what I should be doing.

First off, I don't know where the host family I am staying with lives, their last names, their phone number, the phone number for my program director, or any other relevant information. The cop and teacher are over with security, trying to figure out what is happening. I'm still sitting at the bench I was at, trying to figure out what the hell I am going to do. The prostitute is both yelling at me for not keeping a better eye on my friend, while she keeps telling me that everything will be okay, because I can stay with her, to which I keep having to politely decline. I was to, to say the least, getting disturbed by the entire situation.

To make a long story short, we are basically told that we need to leave the bar, but that it isn't safe for us to leave because the tsotsis are waiting outside for us. I convince the cop, teacher and prostitute to walk us to Freddy's truck, so we can make our break to safety. We all do so, and we quickly get to Freddy's truck. The police officer tells us to get out quickly, before anything else worse happens. He also instructs us to turn around because the tsotsis are waiting for us down the street. We did just that, and escaped back to safe, friendly white-bread world. Needless to say, it was intense.

My take on all of it: Freddy deserved what he got coming to him, because you don't act like a drunken fool when you are far away from your element. If I were a thug planning on robbing someone, I would have been thanking Saint Tupac for this lovely offering. When I am out of my element, I am extra vigilant in the surroundings. Freddy wasn't, and paid the price. End of the day, Freddy got beat up a little and lost his wallet, but didn't have any extra unwanted holes added to his body. Those tsotsis don't mess around, and things could have been much worse. Credit cards can be canceled, and lost money can be re-earned, but Freddy very easily could have sustained some brutal injuries.

Meanwhile, I had my best welcome to South Africa, and loved almost every minute of it.

about me in the newspaper

A column about me by Bill O'Brien of the Edmund Sun. I think he is a terrific writer (although at this point, I am biased), and one of the more knowlegable and well-versed individuals I know.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


and the police. So I stayed in a city called Grahamstown with a lovely family named the Greens, George and Suzette. George is a chief detective, and is in-charge of numerous police districts in his area.

George had a very interesting perspective on the role of police in the new South Africa. He has been on the force for two decades, during apartheid and after its end. George stated that while during apartheid, the police simply policed. They tried to maintain the law, and did so in an autocratic fashion. They would either raid the townships, or didn't enter them at all. Now, the police force has changed. On the force are blacks and colored (Non-black minorities). They are seen as a service that works with all the population, not simply a tool of the regime.

George noted that it has taken hard work and retraining for the police to change their focus and directives, but it sounds as if progress is indeed being made. I hope so; it takes lots of time for oppressed communities to gain trust in a service that actively worked against their interests.

However, his perspective gave me some hope that there can be institutional shifts that can better society's stability. South Africa has numerous issues with crime and punishment, and it remains to be seen if it can turn the corner to maintain both order and justice.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

fifth-corner perspective

"Oh lord, your sea is so vast, and my ship is so small."
-Prayer of an unknown fisherman.

As I travel throughout the world, I see so much that reminds me of places formerly visited. It’s not to slough off the burden of nostalgia that I go so far away, but instead to encounter it. It is the same sounds, smells and tastes that remind me of places visited. In my trips to the townships, I am reminded of the favelas and barrios. Poverty is poverty, the world over. Yet so much poverty without misery.

In my stay with host families, I am reminded that family is family. Mothers want to feed you. Fathers want to make sure you are safe, but more importantly that you are having a time that lets them vicariously live out past days.

People are always the same. They are smiling faces that love it when you stumble over their language. They are compassionate, merciful and charitable. Yet they are scornful, petulant and greedy. They are always big thumbs up, and scowls facing down. They are the countless beautiful girls encountered the world over. They are the same smiling little children who crowd around for candy. They are the same old faces lined in both wisdom and pain. People never cease to amaze me in their infinite ability to display the goodness that is so inherent to our nature.

"Kol Haolam kulo gesher tsar meod, vehaikkar lo lefached klal"

-"All the world is a narrow bridge. The main thing is not to fear."

An addendum

So, shortly after my last post, I found my host father and his son going over the child's sotho homework. Sotho is the language of the Besotho people, the main tribe in the region. This lilly white kid who resembles Hans from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is learning to speak an African language. As are many of the children of this land. They, and more importantly, their parents, know that they must be part of SA society. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the hope for the younger generations here. Their parents readily admit that they are not encumbered with the racial burdens that they themselves carry. The children of this country are as colorblind as any children of this world, and they are remarkable in their desire to be part of a multiracial society.

Chuck Norris in South Africa

Chuck Norris freed Nelson Mandela from Robbens Island, and ended apartheid with a roundhouse kick.

Stranded in the mud

Yesterday I got stranded in a gamepark, stuck in the mud. I was driving a beautiful white mercedes through the park, next to the place I was staying on the Orange River. The Orange River gets its name from the distinctly orange color that it has from the silt and sediment in it.

We were on some free time before our presentation to the local rotary club, and so I went to the gamepark close by, along with Sandi (the UT Health worker) and Carol (the epidemiologist) and an old South African couple. Beyond getting used to driving on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, everything was going fine. We had seen some interesting animals, and were beginning to make our way home.

A note: South Africa has been having record rainfall, and the roads were somewhat muddy.

So we get to a fork in the road, and we decide to go towards the left. As I am driving, we get to a drainpipe with, literally, a crater in front of it. We get up real close, and decide that it will hurt this beautiful mercedes if I try to drive over it. We begin backing up, and decide its best to simply turn around. I promptly get stuck while trying to turn, so we all get out to push, while Carol drives and turns us. It works, and we get out, no problem. We arrived back at the fork in the road, and went the other direction.

For the record, I did say that I thought it would be best to simply go back the way I came. I learned a lesson in the Western Sahara that if you find yourself wading shoelaces deep in a pool of crap, sometimes it is better to cut your losses and turn around, rather than keep on trekking. No one currently was with me then, so my advice went unheeded.

We promptly found ourselves heading down a road of mud, but the group thought we could make it if we maintained a constant speed. This quickly proved to be a bad idea, as we got stuck. I hopped out, and we all pushed the car backwards to dry land. We kept getting so close, only to get stuck in the mud just before our desired spot.

Sandi spied dry land directly parallel, and had the bright idea that if we could get the car up on that land, we would be home free. Carol got back in the car, and we tried pushing. We pushed, and we pushed. Two wheels up on dry ground. So close...

Then we got stuck. Bad. We couldn't push the car because we had no traction whatsoever. To make matters worse, on the horizon, lightning cracking as a storm was rolling in. By this point, we were covered in mud. I was in African mud war paint, with my face covered and my chest muddy. We rolled up our sleeves, and tried as to move this car before the rains came.

Meanwhile, time was beginning to be in short supply as we were supposed to be getting ready for our big presentation. At some point, Robin the old South African called Barb (our group leader), and she wanted us to abandon the car to try to get a ride. We said no way were we abandoning a mercedes in the bush. Nor was Robin having any luck with the park service. They were offering to pick us up in an airfield that was 3 km away; otherwise, he wished us good luck. Robin and his wife were sick, and the path was through deep mud, so they were opposed to walking.

Finally, I got on the phone to try to reason with Yazoo the park ranger. I explained our predicament, and how easily it would be to extricate us from it. He was persuaded, and gave me the number directly to the tow truck. Next, I had to reason with Hans the tow truck driver. I cajoled and pleaded, and was able to convince him to rescue us. Half an hour, he promised.

Meanwhile, our group leader is, as they say, having kittens. She is somewhere between furious and scared. More importantly, we are going to be very late for our presentation.

Back to the car. We are huddled inside, shivering and trying to stay warm. The lions are growling, and the monkeys are jumping on the roof of the car. The elephants have come over and smushed us much further in the mud. The zebras are just laughing. As am I, back to reality.

Finally, the cavalry arrives. Hans and his team come just in time to save us. They pull us out of the mud in exactly thirty seconds, as I had told him. We thank him profusely, reward him handsomely, and get quickly on our way back to the lodge and on to the presentation. The moral of our story: "Don't go off-roading in Africa in a mercedes that drives on the wrong side." Otherwise, it was an unforgettable adventure in the bush.

The only Jew in the Karoo

Oh, where to begin? I haven't written in a few days because I was in the Karoo. Let's see. I last left off was in a place called Graaf-Reinet. It is a small town in the Karoo. They apparently have a belief in this country that if you shag a Jew, you get 7 years good luck. That led to my utter harassment by half the bar. I have never been groped so much in my life, I felt like a piece of kosher meat.

I went to a game park where I got to see ostriches, kudus, springboks and other assorted African wildlife. I also went to a place called Neiu-Bethesda to visit a place called Owl House. The artist who created it used to grind up glass and use it as wallpaper and for sculptures. Strange woman. She killed herself by drinking liquid drano. There is also a lovely little brewery there that serves great beer and goat cheese. All homemade, and you enjoy it under a tree with nice breezes and goats passing by, while the Portuguese lyrics of Cesaria Evora fill the air. It was, in a word, paradise.

I was staying in Graff-Reinet with an old German family, Lutz and Karin. Lutz is one of those grizzled old white Africans who spends weeks at a time in the bush. He was a fascinating person, who had a rather unique perspective. There seems to be a common perspective of resentment within white South African society of the direction their country is going. They all abhor the crime, and resent the corruption that has become endemic. Lutz left Jo-burg 4 years ago, after getting held up at gun point on three separate occasions.

I have heard from many whites, who echo similar sentiment about the current situation. They don't feel safe in the big towns, and dislike the affirmative action-style programs that put blacks (who they feel are unqualified) in charge. Yet, it was the apartheid system that destroyed any previous artisan and business classes in black society. The apartheid system arrested black development, now they seem resentful that blacks aren't more civilized and developed.

Meanwhile, the country is undergoing tremendous economic gains, stemming from the burgeoning black middle class. There is foreign direct investment that enters the new South Africa, and the new Black and Colored business classes are flooding the markets with purchases of new homes, cars and goods. The country is prospering on their backs, and through their integration into the new South African society.

It is amazing to see the society transform itself. I am reminded of my times in the Czech Republic and Central and Eastern Europe. Societies that discard their old social models and are jettisoning forward at a new, faster pace. There is a major difference here. In the old Communist countries, there was an atomization of society brought on by the totalitarian nature of the communist regimes. People were unable to trust anyone, because you never knew who was an informer or working for the secret police.

In South Africa, society was able to stay somewhat more intact on a macro level, while fighting for freedoms on the micro level. It was whole racial groups that were in the throes of struggle, therefore were somewhat able to band together against the threats to the destroy their "way of life." For whites, that meant keeping the blacks in their place as they maintained their privileged existence. For Blacks, that meant trying to gain a place in society, in their struggle for human rights.

Today, there is an internalization of human right that is impressive. Yesterday was a national holiday celebrating human rights, and human rights decrees are present on the walls of schools and universities.

I think the most common thing that I have heard from white South Africans is that things have just moved too fast. They could accept evolution, but not revolution. They don't long for the apartheid system, but miss the order. People, who fought against apartheid, now are finding themselves becoming increasingly racist. There is still a lot of racism boiling here. At least they are somewhat dealing with it. South Africa knows it has problems with race and class, I think we Americans are have it more kept under the rug.

Friday, March 17, 2006


So I finally arrived in South Africa, after my passport issues were finally resolved. I still had minor issues getting on the flight, but it got resolved. The flight was rather uneventful. Thankfully it was not a full flight, so I had a whole row to myself. I stretched out and slept semicomfortably. We stopped in Accra, Ghana to refuel. In rather bizaare fashion, as we closed the doors and took off, the flight attendants walked through the cabin spraying some aerosole cans of disinfectant. Apparently South African healthcodes. My row was joined by a South African mining tech named George. We discussed African politics, his service in the South African army fighting in Namibia and Angola, and other issues.

I finally arrived to Jo-burg, and breezed through customs. I'm not sure if it actually would have been an issue with the passport, the girl barely looked at mine. Furthermore, the stamp absolutely would have fit on a previous page. While waiting at the airport, I had a bloody mary at an Irish pub, and started meeting the locals. South Africans are so friendly, the guys behind the bar wanted to show me around Jo-burg when I return.

I caught my flight to East London, and sat next to Cela. He is xhosa, and spoke a clicking language. He taught me a few clicking words, it is rather fun to say. I arrived to East London amid the pouring rain, and was promptly shuttled through a brief tour of the town. Apparently, East London is going the way of Bombay, insofar as the name is changing. It will now be Buffalo City. Nice name, hope it works out for ya.

After the brief run-through, I went to a Lion park. I got to play with baby lions, which are absolutely soo cute. They are like little puppies, that are just a tad more aggressive. I also got to feed cheetahs with dead chickens I hurled over the fence. Sure not in Kansas anymore.

Xhosa for hangover

Oy, I'm in poor form. Out till about 4am last night. SA is fantastic so far. Yesterday I had a very interesting day. I started the morning by visiting a school for street children. These kids were often drug addicts, and either runaways or abandoned. We were warned that they have severe issues, but they were just kids. We also visited a school for disabled children, and a preschool. The preschool was the cutest thing on Earth. It was an entire class of little Black babies, singing to us and dancing for us. I seriously considered stealing as many as I could, they don't get any cuter.

Later we had a tour with an award-winning tour guide. We went up to the top of a place called Signal Hill, and he gave us an interesting overview of the history.

We had our second presentation to the Rotary clubs (my first), and it went well. Dinner and drinks, and Jerry and I decided to go out after. Jerry is the AIDS case worker. He is gay, and his partner is my friend Matt's boss. We ccouldn't convince anyone else to go out, perhaps they all had more sense. We went to the local student pub, as the city is a college town. My host father George, who is a police detective, dropped us off around 11pm, with the intention to pick us up at midnight. We promptly started drinking tequila and meeting the locals. We met some girl named Cela, who introduced us to a drink called Cane and Coke. Sure is. Cane is like rum, only less refined. Closer to Cishasa in Brazil. In any case, we promptly realized that we weren't going to be done in an hour, and met the ride to say we would be out late. We went to another club with Cela and her friends, and proceeded to party it up till 4am. Ouch. I met a nice SA girl named Sarah, who liked my accent. Lotsa fun, terrible hangover when I had to wake up 3 hrs later for a vocational day meeting with the media.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Off to an auspicious start!

So I'm not exactly in South Africa, although I should be. I had what I thought to be a pretty successful opening Friday night at the Art Car Museum for my photography. More than 400 people visited the museum, along with a number of friends who will not be getting coal in their stockings this Christmas.

Having stayed up all night to get to the airport at the butt-crack o'dawn (i.e. 4:30am), I arrived at Bush Airport and thought to be on my way. I was the first one there, and was a little worried that I was at the wrong place since I was all alone. Eventually I got through the line, and waited at the gate for the rest of the group. My Group Study Exchange (GSE) team took a hit, as Sandi (the UT Health person) overslept a little and arrived with only half-an-hour prior to departure. The flight was overbooked, and she was removed from the flight. One down.

We arrived in Atlanta, and made our way to the ticket counter. I was already checked through to Jo-Burg, but Rev. Barb, our group leader, told us to see about getting ticketing to East London. When I showed my ticket and passport to the woman behind the counter, she promptly stated there was a problem with my passport and took away my boarding pass.

Apparently, South Africa requires an entire blank page for its Visa, and will not stamp it on a page that has been defiled by another country's stamp. Although I had plenty of room in my passport, some overzealous border guards in the Republic o' Nowheristan had stamped just enough places that there wasn't an entirely blank page that fit South Africa's liking.

So I was stricken from the flight list, and forced to experience the sadistic torture of watching my flight take off without me. I had never been penalized for traveling too much, this was a first. My group had now lost two members, and they hadn't even left the country. The scary thing is that, apparently if this had gone undetected, and I had arrived in Jo-Burg, they would not have let me in the country and promptly sent me back to America. I would have been forced to fly BACK 18 hours, just to get some extra pages. Or I would have turned into the "Terminal man," being forced to stay in the airport for some unknown period of time.

Now, I am required to get extra pages added to my passport at an office that won't open until Monday. Delta took care of, most likely because they screwed up in Houston and never should have ticketed me to Jo-Burg. They put me on a flight to Washington. To add insult to injury, as I furiously trudged to the new gate, the song "Africa" by Toto played over the loudspeakers in the airport. I furiously shook my fist at the Gods of airline travel. I am home now, trying to get this, shall we say, hicccup to my travels properly resolved. My father commented that perhaps it is the South African government's way of extracting revenge for the 17-0 beating that the US baseball team handed down to them. Regardless, all of this reminds me of the old Russian proverb, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." My Aunt Phyliss quoted John Lennon, who similarly stated, "Life is what happens in between your plans."

Meanwhile, my luggage is also nowhere to be found. The Delta people assured me that my stuff wouldn't be sent to SA, but rather to Washington with me. When I arrived in Washington, the baggage didn't. As I was discussing with the baggage people about my travails and lost stuff, the baggage lady said, "oh yeah, South Africa is really strict about it, they want their own page for entry, and also for exit." Thanks ma'am, I'm glad everyone knows this but me. In any case, I am currently waiting in DC for my stuff and for a few extra pages for my passport before I am off to Mother Africa.

Operation Tree of Knowledge

As I thumbed my recently purchased Apple I-Pod on my
flight down to Florida, it dawned on me that this little device
could be the best weapon to undermine the Cuban
government's control over its populace. The video and
podcast capabilities are the digital age's answer to
the Voice of America campaign that was so deftly used
to bolster dissent in the areas behind the Iron

For the new millennium, new tactics must be used to
promote freedom against repression. The new paradigm,
call it "Operation Tree of Knowledge," is as follows:
drop thousands upon thousands of Apple I-Pods over
Cuba. Carpet bomb Havana in information with fully
loaded I-Pods to offer the Cuban people a glimpse at
the world surrounding them.

We have tried invasions, blockades and embargoes, yet
the repressive regime remains in place. Why not try
to empower the Cuban people with the golden light of
knowledge found in I-Pods connecting them to the
outside world? In the "War of Ideas", the I-Pod can
be the newest form of ammo. Information and knowledge are
weapons to empower the Cuban people against their
repression, and through the Apple I-Pod, it can be
delivered one gigabyte at a time.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Generational trends

Apparently, my wanderlust and peripatetic desires are connected to some generational urges. I guess I'm not as original as I thought. Check out the following article about how we millennials are going abroad in droves:

Terra Incognita

I will be having a photo exhibit in conjunction with Fotofest. 
The exhibit, called "Terre Incognito" will be on display at the Art Car Museum.
The exhibit will be up from Friday March 10 until the end of April.
The opening is Friday March 10th 7 - 10 pm.
The Museum is open Wed. - Sun. 11am - 6pm.
The Art Car Museum is located at 140 Heights Blvd.
More details available at