Saturday, July 29, 2006

Football (soccer), sun and the competitive spirit...2010 here we come!

The top photo is of an amateur South African soccer (I would say football but here in South Africa they call it soccer) team on which three people I know play. Ben, my co-worker from ETC is in the top row and is located at the third from the right. In the bottom row the second from the left is John and his brother Thomas is to his right. John and Thomas are the son's of Christina who is the domestic worker here at the Smith's home. Watched them play two games last Sunday (July 23) the first which they lost and the second was a 2-2 tie. Thomas was glad that they had lost as they normally dominate and now most teams are too intimidated to play them so this way there might be more willingness amongst the other teams to play them. Logic works for me. Also, I was propositioned by their team and one other wearing Argentinean jerseys to be their sponsors, kind of like a soccer "sugar daddy" fronting money for the team to play, uniforms, etc.

Moçambique is in the house!

Marcilio, my best friend from Mozambique and my photography assistant on The World Through My Eyes, who has been in South Africa for over a year at a college in Randfontein came to visit me in Sandringham at the Smith's home/ETC offices. He came on Friday with his friend Alex who is also from Mozambique and also doing his studies at Western College in Randfontein. Alex is from Xai-Xai which is in Gaza Province the same province as Chókwè where Marcilio is from and I served in the Peace Corps.

It was only a short visit to see each other, catch up and for Marcilio to know how to get to my house. I had not seen Marcilio since January of 2005 when I was last in Mozambique. It was great to see him and know that he is really not that far away and I look forward to seeing him more times over my stay here. It was also great to get to speak in Portuguese for a more extended time than when talking on the phone and especially speaking in Portuguese with Mozambicans again!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The wonders of the internet…

How do I spend my free time you ask? Well as I don’t have my own car so I sometimes ask for a ride to run errands but really going out on my own is tough even with an international driver’s license seeing as how South Africans drive on the wrong side (j/k) of the road you know the left side and I have to get used to driving on that side of the road. Well you say but Blake “You lived in Mozambique for over 2 ½ years and they like South African drive on the left side of the road so why can’t you?” To which I have to answer I was never the driver in Mozambique as Peace Corps didn’t allow it and even when I was there outside of Peace Corps the only thing I usually wanted to do was act like an ostrich while driving so as not to see the wild driving that often occurred by the chapa/mini-bus/taxi drivers I road with, not Annie and Charles of course, or the other drivers on the road. It really is different not taking any public transport here and being driven around by Linzi, Douglas, Jared or Ben. I am doing my best to keep my eyes open while we are going around to learn where shops, offices and other places are located to hopefully get up the courage one day to be the driver. I think my using public transport in Mozambique the great majority of the time kept me from hearing drivers in their own cars from commenting on the terrible driving by the chapa/mini-bus/taxi drivers or maybe these drivers in Mozambique weren’t nearly as bad as the reputation that they have here.

Enough for now about drivers and driving and on to the title of this blog entry which you were probably beginning to think was written and then forgotten about. No worries I did want to tell you one more reason why I think the internet is amazing (I have a long list of reasons I think it or its use rather by certain individuals, organizations or governments is terrible). I spent about two hours this past weekend on Saturday or Sunday night fixated on Google’s satellite maps at I spent some time finding my parent’s home in Portland, the ETC offices/my room here in South Africa but the majority of my time was spent locating Chókwè, Lionde, Conhane, Xai-Xai, Macia, Maputo, Matola, Boane and other locations in Mozambique. It was fascinating getting a birds eye satellite view of the country where I spent 30 plus months living, working and traveling. I was amazed at how close I could get to my houses in Chókwè (one for Peace Corps and the other for The World Through My Eyes), Escóla Agrária (the agrarian school) where I taught, the home in Boane where I had my home stay during training and much more. I will not bore you with all the details although I am sure that Tober, Aimee, Nanosh, John, Orlando, Rebecca, Jimmy, Nimi and others can relate to finding a lot of enjoyment in something like this especially in a place where so much time, sweat and patience was expended.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Myths, beliefs and stigma.

This is in follow up to my last posting where I started to tell about HIV Committee Development Programme training that Linzi led last week and I participated in and as well as giving feedback and ideas to Linzi. I mentioned attitudes, perceptions, questions and ideas from the group of 11 participants and I want to share some of these with you. Before reading further you should know that some of these descriptions are quite graphic and unpleasant, but also necessary and education, so read at your own risk.

Many of the ideas that came up were similar to ones I had heard in Mozambique while I lived there from friends, colleagues and my students. Ideas such as when you use a condom you get HIV because it is being put in condoms to infect Africans, HIV is a punishment from God to sinners (yes, to these people, this does include babies, people who receive blood transfusions, as they are getting it because of “sins of the father” or something like that) and you can cure yourself of HIV if you sleep with a virgin or young child/infant. Yes, these are ideas that some (not all) of the participants either believed in or had heard, these “old wives tales” and many more where shared during the two-day training These are the backwards, contradictory and controversial beliefs that we are facing in this work and part of the reason that HIV is spreading so quickly and easily throughout much of Africa and the rest of the world.

It was clear from early in the training that the participants all had awareness of HIV/AIDS. Awareness in this instance purely meaning that they knew that it existed, created health problems and eventual death for many people and can be spread through sexual activities, blood transfusions, intravenous drug use, breast feeding, etc. Not all of the awareness that they had was correct or up to date but at the very least they had awareness. This means that the newspapers, radio programs, TV, schools, etc. had done their job of bringing awareness of the problem but awareness by itself doesn’t change behavior and lead to the necessary results to move forward and fight this terrible pandemic. Our real challenge as HIV/AIDS Consultants is to increase the knowledge of the participants, help them gain the skills and knowledge to make an informed decision about changing their behavior (and hopefully influence their family, friends, etc. to likewise change their behavior) and give them the incentive to do so. I will return to behavior change in a later email and explain more about how it is absolutely critical that this happens for the battle against HIV to be won.

One final thought to leave you with is about smokers, their reasons for smoking and reasons to not stop. I know many intelligent, well educated and informed people who smoke. These people have most likely read the packaging on cigarettes that says smoking is bad for their health, seen ads on TV and in magazines to quit smoking and lead a healthier life and maybe even known someone that has died of cancer or other smoking related illnesses yet these people continue, why? They are aware and informed but this on its own isn’t always enough to change their behavior and thus later we will return to the topic of behavior change.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

My Job.

Although my job is still being defined and refined I can tell you a bit about the work that I will do in South Africa over the next six months. I am working with Linzi, Douglas and Ben as an HIV/AIDS consultant for ETC, Education, Training and Counselling which means I will be doing work around the office such as marketing and sales calls, grant writing and research and work in the field (factories, mines, government offices) such as training/facilitating HIV/AIDS

Peer Educator Courses, HIV Committee Development Programmes (I will be using British English for certain terms as that is the English primarily used here) and other knowledge, education and prevention trainings on HIV/AIDS.
I have already had a variety of experiences in my first few days including accompanying Doug on a sales call to a brewery looking to do some HIV/AIDS education with its employees and joined Linzi on a two-day HIV Committee Development Programme with 12 participants at a government office in Tshwane (formerly called Pretoria), which is South Africa’s national capitol and is located 63 kilometers (39 miles) from Joburg. Gauteng Province is one of nine provinces in South Africa is the smallest in terms of km²/mi² but has the second largest population with 8,837,172 about 600,000 people behind KwaZulu-Natal with 9,426,018 inhabitants (2001 Census). Gauteng Province is located in the Northeastern Region of RSA (Republic of South Africa) along with the province of Mpumalanga which is the province nearest to Mozambique and one I visited a few times while in Moz when I wanted to have time in RSA. I will share more about the countries geography, history, culture, etc. in later entries and now want to get back to the training.

Since this was my first time attending one of the many trainings that ETC offers I took this first chance to sit in with the participants and follow through the training manual as they were doing, participate in individual, small and large group activities. I also kept notes on Linzi’s facilitating with questions, compliments and suggestions as well as other questions about material covered, statistics, etc. I will leave you with this for now and return to this training at a later point to tell you more about the attitudes, perceptions, questions and ideas that the participants brought to the training and how these were addressed and hopefully corrected or clarified over the two day training.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Johannesburg or bust.

Hello dear readers,
I created this blog over a month ago after coming up with what I thought was a creative name but never really felt prepared to start it until arriving in Sandringham, South Africa. My arrival was scheduled for 12 noon on Thursday the 13 but when we arrived in Dakar, Senegal (flying from Washington, Dulles) we were informed that due to a fuel shortage we had to go to Ilha do Sal in Cabo Verde (backtracking an hour or so) to get fuel to continue our journey. This meant that I arrived in the Johannesburg International Airport after 2:30 PM and spent 45 minutes going through immigration, collecting my bags and clearing customs. I was met at the airport by Jared Smith, the son of Linzi the women I am working for here, and he drove me the 20 or so minutes to their house. I met Christina, the Smith’s domestic servant and her son Thomas and then headed to the office to get moved in. My bed is in the loft in the office overlooking three desks below.

The rest of the afternoon was spent unpacking my stuff, setting up my “room” and getting settled in. Linzi was out working and came back around 5:30 when it was starting to get dark. What a contrast arriving in 60 degree weather in the middle of South Africa’s winter where it starts getting dark around 5 PM having come from the middle of the summer in Portland where it was in the 70s, 80s and 90s and staying light until 9 PM. I made my own dinner as the Smith’s dinner was prepared with meat and me being a vegetarian I am a bit of an oddity here in South Africa. I will be doing primarily all of my cooking on my own. I was tired around 9 and slept in the next morning.

Friday through Sunday I took time to get to know the family meeting Douglas, the father, Roxy, the Smith’s daughter, Stewart another one of their sons and Christina’s other son John. I also went to the grocery store (two to be exact) with Linzi, set up “my” kitchen in the office, watched rugby with Doug and Stewart, watched TV with the Smiths, went for a walk around the neighborhood, played Scrabble with Linzi, Doug and Stewart and got comfy in my new digs. I did a bit of work too reading a 47 page document from Linzi that gave me an overall orientation of ETC's purpose, process and practice.

All in all it was nice to have a few days to settle in, get an overview of the surroundings, practicum (internship) and people I will be living and working with. Tomorrow I start my first full week of my practicum and I will undoubtedly have more stories to tell.