Thursday, November 30, 2006

World AIDS Day and VCT. What are you doing where you are to fight this pandemic?

Tomorrow I will be going with Ben, Douglas and an outside counselor to do VCT (volunteer, counseling and testing) with a government department in Pretoria as the start of a week long VCT campaign kickoff on the 25th World AIDS Day. I will not be counseling but rather helping the other three with logistics and ensuring that the process runs smoothly. We will be using a test that doesn’t require drawing blood (unless one tests positive for HIV) but instead requires putting a testing device with a swab on the end in your mouth to get saliva which can be tested for HIV. If one is unfortunate to test positive then we use a disposable needle to prick the finger and a confirmatory test to see if they are really positive. If it comes up negative we do a third test and if this is inconclusive we let them know where they can find a clinic to be tested. The tests are supposed to be basically full proof so the results should be correct.

We will only have each person use the swab to test their saliva after someone who is positive gives a talk about “living positively” and Douglas follows this with the beginnings of a counseling session. This will be to a group of upwards of 200 people if possible. The larger the group the better (as more people can choose to know their status) but we will only be able to see about 30 people total tomorrow as counseling can take up to 45 minutes per person if not more if they are positive or require more attention. Then this coming week Doug, Linzi and Ben will be going back to Pretoria to continue counseling the people who will do VCT tomorrow and others who will come to do it. They don’t get their results until they have been counseled and often the counseling that comes after finding out of they are positive or negative is the most important. Positive people need to know how to continue to live a long and healthy life, not infect others and disclose (if they chose to) to their families, friends, partners, etc. Negative people need to know how to stay negative and not get the idea that they are invincible but must practice safe sex or better yet abstain as it is the best way to remain negative.

It will be an interesting way to pass the celebration of a quarter century of HIV/AIDS. I guess that sounds a bit strange but what people need to come to realize is that World AIDS Day is everyday as everyday thousands of people around the world die from AIDS related diseases and thousands more get infected or infect others. Here in South Africa between 900 and 1,000 mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, etc. die from AIDS related diseases. We must not just try to plug up the dykes keeping HIV from infecting or affecting all persons but really react quickly, comprehensively and smartly to this pandemic. Please join me today, tomorrow and until we defeat AIDS to do what you can where you are to combat this ferocious enemy. If we are not part of the solution then we are part of the problem.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Will the US Government's disrespect for the planet over these past six years going to finally catch up with them? The Supreme Court can decide.

This article from Tuesday's New York Times laid out the stakes of the Supreme Court trial that began today. For the latest news check out today's article. I sure hope this coalition of States and other institutions can show the federal government that they can't run rampant with the economy, environment, etc. in detriment to the people, animals and planet.

"November 28, 2006

New York Times Editorial

Global Warming Goes to Court

The Bush administration has been on a six-year campaign to expand its powers, often beyond what the Constitution allows. So it is odd to hear it claim that it lacks the power to slow global warming by limiting the emission of harmful gases. But that is just what it will argue to the Supreme Court tomorrow, in what may be the most important environmental case in many years.

A group of 12 states, including New York and Massachusetts, is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to properly do its job. These states, backed by environmental groups and scientists, say that the Clean Air Act requires the E.P.A. to impose limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by new cars. These gases are a major contributor to the "greenhouse effect" that is dangerously heating up the planet.

The Bush administration insists that the E.P.A. does not have the power to limit these gases. It argues that they are not "air pollutants" under the Clean Air Act. Alternatively, it contends that the court should dismiss the case because the states do not have "standing," since they cannot show that they will be specifically harmed by the agency's failure to regulate greenhouse gases.

A plain reading of the Clean Air Act shows that the states are right. The act says that the E.P.A. "shall" set standards for "any air pollutant" that in its judgment causes or contributes to air pollution that "may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." The word "welfare," the law says, includes "climate" and "weather." The E.P.A. makes an array of specious arguments about why the act does not mean what it expressly says. But it has no right to refuse to do what Congress said it "shall" do.

Beneath the statutory and standing questions, this is a case about how seriously the government takes global warming. The E.P.A.'s decision was based in part on its poorly reasoned conclusion that there was too much "scientific uncertainty" about global warming to worry about it. The government's claim that the states lack standing also scoffs at global warming, by failing to acknowledge that the states have a strong interest in protecting their land and citizens against coastal flooding and the other kinds of damage that are being projected.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, climate scientists from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Stanford University and other respected institutions warn that "the scientific evidence of the risks, long time lags and irreversibility of climate change argue persuasively for prompt regulatory action." The Supreme Court can strike an important blow in defense of the planet simply by ruling that the E.P.A. must start following the law."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Portland Area Global AIDS Coalition and World AIDS Day.

Hello Readers. I have chosen to send you an email I received last night from friend/colleauge Ann Pickar who is one of the co-chairs of the Portland Area Global AIDS Coalition. I know Ann and her co-chair Cara Pattison, Vice President of Bolo Moyo. I know many of you don't live in Portland but for those interested in knowing about Portland efforts to raise awareness, share information and work towards change around World AIDS Day this Friday, December 1st here is an email from the Portland Area Global AIDS Coalition (PAGAC).

"Hello, Portland Area Global AIDS Coalition members and friends!
As I am sure you know, Friday, December 1st is the 25th Anniversary of World AIDS Day.
Here in Portland we are marking the day on Thursday, November 30.
I hope many of you will attend the Rhythms for Life event put on by Africa AIDS Response. It will take place November 30th at 7:00 PM at the Tiffany Center, SW 14th and Morrison. Tickets are $15.00. Before the AAR event there will be the traditional memorial service for those in Portland who have died of AIDS this year.

ALSO: IFARA TV will be taping a series of programs earlier in the day, for airing throughout December. The section on global AIDS, "Portland Goes Global" will feature the work of PAGAC, so I hope many of you will be able to see it. Thanks to Fred Schaich for making all this happen!

Here are the dates and times for the series.

Week !: World AIDS Day Memorial Service.
Sunday, December 3, Channel 23 at 10:00 a.m.
Monday, December 4, Channel 11 at 10:00 p.m.
Friday, December 8, Channel 22 at 9.00 p.m.

Week 2: The global AIDS epidemic: Portland Goes Global.
Same times and channels, that is
Sunday, December 10, Channel 23 at 10:00 a.m.
Monday, December 11, Channel 11 at 10.00 p.m
Friday, December 15, Channel 22 at 9:00 p.m.

Week 3, HIV/AIDS in the Portland community.
Same times and channels on Sunday, December 17, Monday, December 18 and Friday, December 22.

Week 4. Medical advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Same times and channels on Sunday, December 24, Monday, December 25 and Friday, December 29. (but programs this week are subject to "preemption" by Christmas programming.)

And something practical you can help with: in December I hope to deliver to the offices of our local congressional delegation letters asking them to cosponsor the PATHWAY Act, which will rewrite current US AIDS legislation to remove the earmark for abstinence only prevention programs and focus aid more closely on the need to address the impact of AIDS by empowering women. If you are available during the day and would like to help, please let me know.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Another reason to go to Cuba. SUSTAINABILITY! Watch Cuba: The Accidental Revolution if you can.

If my interest in traveling to, learning from and maybe working in Cuba wasn’t peaked before it surely has been now and I am enjoying the shivers going down my spine while reading about Cuba’s “Green Revolution”. Ironically the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and decade’s old US blockade on Cuba may have developed a blueprint for sustainable growth, agriculture and other practices that could go a long way towards reversing the trends of global warming we are experience. That is if the rest of the world takes notice of the great work being done in Cuba, chooses similar methods and takes action. My aunt Sarah sent me an email about a two part documentary on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) “The Nature of Things” which is hosted by Dr. David Suzuki (also see his CBC profile)(one of the people who would save our world from our selfish actions if given more help, money and power). The documentary is called Cuba: The Accidental Revolution and it is a composed of “two one-hour documentaries celebrating the country's success in providing for itself in the face of a massive economic crisis, and how its latest revolutions, an agricultural revolution and a revolution in science and medicine are having repercussions around the world.”

If any of you are in Canada and can record this for me I would be very grateful. I will see if my dad can’t get it from the States but who knows. I have spoken about Cuba in at least two other blog entries and the more I learn about this island nation the more I am impressed with wo/man’s ingenuity when placed in difficult situations and ability to prosper as well as provide a better life for people and the planet. The write up about Cuba: The Accidental Revolution concludes by saying:

“Will Cuba's "Green Revolution" become a blueprint for sustainable agriculture, medicine, and biotechnology, or will it be swept aside by the economic weight of foreign investors? Or will the public clamour for consumer goods from a weary people, fed up with lack of choice, overwhelm contemporary Cuba? Will Cuba's enormous experiment in sustainable development be maintained if the U.S. embargo is lifted and Cuba is exposed to the brutal arena of world trade? Whatever the future of Cuba's accidental revolution, Castro and his country has shown that alternatives do exist.” Watch it if you can and I am sure you will be surprised, inspired and educated.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

While poverty persists, there is no freedom. I wish I had been there to hear this great man speak. Maybe I will meet Mandela one day.

Thanks to Judith (my grandmother) who sent this article to me a few weeks ago. I thought this would be a good occasion to "post" it on my site for your reading pleasure. Madiba really is an amazing person and I feel grateful to have lived in two countries that he calls home, South Africa and Mozambique. He will make/is a great ambassador for Amnesty International.

Millions remain enslaved and in chains at a time of breathtaking advances in technology and wealth

Nelson Mandela
Saturday November 4, 2006
The Guardian

In Johannesburg, this week, in the warm company of friends, like Nadine Gordimer, I became an Amnesty International ambassador of conscience. It was a joy for me to receive this honour from the members of the world's largest human rights movement. It was heartening too that the award was inspired by the great Irish writer Seamus Heaney's poem From the Republic of Conscience, which reminds us all of our duty. continued....

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Africa, one word that says so much yet is so misunderstood, misrepresented, maligned, oversimplified and as old as time itself.

From journalists, to politicians, to academics, to travelers, to aid workers, to everyday people from all over the globe including the continent itself Africa is a place of mystery. The origin of the word Africa is still debatable and a potential future blog entry on its own. I guess it isn’t so surprising that Africa which has been and continues to be referred to as the dark continent continues to mystify people and when our “leadership” such as US President Bush refers to Africa as a country no wonder people remain confused. I am not claiming to be an expert but I think I have made an effort above and beyond that of many to better understand Africa in my travels, work and studies here.

Lets be clear Africa is a large continent home to between 50 and 61 countries (territories in some cases) depending on who you ask. Most seem to put the number at 53 or 54. The US State Department and UN have basically the same lists of 192 (193) countries of the world the only difference being Vatican City which is not part of the UN list. Two other sites to visit are (which has an interactive map) and for more information on the countries in Africa, population of each, languages, history, etc.

Many of the current problems across Africa date back to the Berlin Conference that took place over a year’s time between November 15, 1884 and February 26, 1885. This meeting of 14 countries mainly from Europe as well as the US and Turkey came up with arbitrary borders of the 2nd largest continent in the world based more on resources, natural boundaries such as mountains and rivers and strategic access to rivers, beaches and roads than the plethora of independent African nations, cultures, languages, religions, etc. that existed. It is no wonder that even today Africans are conflicted between loyalty to their country and their tribe/people. For more on the conference you can visit or

From my experiences mainly in Mozambique and South Africa and brief trips to Swaziland and Lesotho I find Africa to be complex, controversial, creative and colorful. It is a place I love, yearn to better understand and which can frustrate and confound me all at the same time. Not only is Africa abused, misunderstood, etc. by those who have never been here, or come as visitors but also by Africans themselves black, white, colored, Indian, etc. Often the biggest excuse for corruption, poverty, lack of education, corruption, pace of life and more that I have heard during my time in southern Africa has been “it is Africa get used to it”. This sentiment and other similar ones don’t just come from people of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

I am not one who likes to generalize or stereotype although it is often hard to avoid doing this at times. So it bothers me when people in South Africa talk about Nigerians, a group that seems to have made a bad reputation for itself here in South Africa. I find it hard to believe that all Nigerians are bad, in fact I know some Nigerians and consider them friends. Yet, the actions of a few or many Nigerians here in South Africa has made people say that all Nigerians are criminals/tsotsis, drug dealers, etc. Another problem I have when generalizing is when people say “I am going to Africa” or “I have a friend from Africa” or something similar even though this person is visiting Kenya or has a friend from Ghana. Ignorance, laziness and lack of respect seems to make people over generalize Africa and this can be very detrimental. I admit at times I say Africa when I want/can be more specific but it is usually determined by who I am talking to and the purpose of the conversation. Yet, with my up coming travels to Brasil I won’t say I am going to South America but rather Brasil. I guess this is in part because more people know Brasil then they know the Gambia, Central African Republic or Djibouti.

I want to leave you with an example of the complexity of life here in South Africa that is representative of much of the continent. If you take a group like the Zulus and spend time with them, learn about their culture, history, etc. you realize that even within this group there are subgroups. So even the mighty Zulu who defeated the Afrikaners and others and dominated this part of the world for many years have divisions. This is one reason that people say that problems are on the horizon for South Africa when within ethnic groups you still find people who can’t get along. I hope this will not be the case and that South Africa doesn’t go the way of Zimbabwe.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Missing Mozambique and feeling more at home in South Africa.

I am back! I am tired! I need a vacation! That is right I got back this afternoon and although this is one of my final weekends I don’t think I will do much more than sleep, write tons of emails, prepare for Kenya and go to church. I will explain more about this past week in the coming days but can say for now that I had a good time even though things didn’t go quite as planned but one can always find gems even when facing adversity. Not that I really faced adverse situations but just had to roll with the punches. I found that I really miss the communal, relaxed, laid back feeling I experienced and usually enjoyed in Mozambique and found a bit of this in the small town of Orkney where I spent the week. It was nice to be able to sit out side at night, walk around with safety, see the communal atmosphere where most everybody knew everybody and get out of the big city. I did get a few chances to speak Portuguese with some Mozambicans, see the mines from a distance, participate in the training and make some new friends. I will share more stories later as I now need to rest and get some good sleep to catch up from a busy week.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

First extended trip out of Joburg. Heading to the mines to do Peer Education, hang out with Ben and hopefully meet some Mozambicans!

In a few hours Ben will come pick me up to drive about two hours to the town of Orkney which is in the heart of a big mining operation in the North West Province. I was in Orkney with Ben a little over two weeks ago when we went to do the “CD4 Game” and have a booth at a mining exposition. I wrote a bit about the experience at the expo on Friday November 3rd. Ben has been going to Orkney for almost two years now to train and this will be his final trip for the year. Going to a mine to do training in HIV/AIDS has been own of my wishes with this practicum since before I came to South Africa. When Linzi told me about how ETC does training in mines, mainly training HIV/AIDS Peer Educators I was very interested and thus it is excited that in my final few weeks here I will get to spend time at one of the mines. I will do my best to run in to some Mozambicans to speak some Portuguese or Shangaana. I will definitely have many photos to share and stories to tell when I return late Friday. I might sneak into an internet café during the week to post one or two entries but if that is not the case you will just have to wait till next Friday for more thoughts on my time here in South Africa.

Lest I forget, Freshly Ground put on a good show at the Bassline last night and I have many witnesses to testify to the fact that I did dance. Considering the fact that I don’t drink and thus don’t get rid of my inhibitions through alcohol and don’t come from a family of dancers I think I held my own and had fun regardless. There is another concert coming next weekend that I will try and go to if I can just find out the details of when and where.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Zapatistas coming to New England area. I wish I could be there.

I got this email from my good friend Corry who is a fellow student at SIT and doing her practicum with the Mexico Solidarity Network. Please read her message and if you have any ideas for her feel free to email her at

“The Mexico Solidarity Network presents its speaking tour Communities Confronting Globalization with the Zapatista Human Rights organization, Red de Defensores from Chiapas, Mexico. We are going to be at SIT this month, but we are coming back to the New England area late Feb. early March. I'm looking for any contacts for school/church/community/ University Groups who might be interested in hosting an event in MA, VT, NH, ME and Montreal. Please let me know if you or anyone you know might be interested in hosting an event.

Thank you,

Corry Banton

Communities Confronting Globalization

New England and Eastern Canada: February 26- March 9, 2007

Since the Zapatista uprising began on January 1, 1994, (the first day NAFTA went into effect) the Mexican military and paramilitaries have waged a counter insurgency war against Zapatista communities. Thirteen years after the uprising, human rights abuses continue and the entire state of Chiapas is heavily militarized. The Mexico Solidarity Network presents a speaker from the Red de Defensores Comunitarios por los Derechos Humanos (Community Human Rights Defenders Network) to discuss the impact of this “low-intensity” warfare, and what is being done on the ground to resist.

The Red de Defensores is a network of indigenous human rights observers from Zapatista communities in Chiapas, Mexico. The Red, founded in May 2000, is a non-governmental organization dedicated to the promotion and defense of human rights. The Red developed an alternative model of human rights work in which community members who suffer human rights abuses at the hands of the army, paramilitaries, and the federal government assume control of their own defense. Self-determination and autonomy are the guiding principles of the Red de Defensores. The Red is currently made up of 25 community indigenous defenders from eight regions. In each case, the community chose their representative to the Red in a traditional process that assigns “cargos” (tasks) to highly respected members of the community. All of the defensores live in threatened communities that have a history of suffering from human rights abuses.

The representative from the Red de Defensores will:

- Discuss threats to indigenous communities, such as NAFTA, Plan Puebla Panama, and the agricultural crisis in Mexico.

- Discuss human rights abuses in Mexico, their relationship to globalization, and how indigenous communities are working to end the abuses and impunity.

-Promote a sustainable model of international trade based on economic justice.

- Discuss the leadership of women in fair trade cooperatives.”

Friday, November 17, 2006

Time to step up Portland. If Boulder can do it so can we. Lets keep up w/ progessive thinking needed to save the planet. We need a carbon tax too!

Again thanks to my dad I am sharing an article from the New York Times with you and again I am going to post it in full so that you can read it whenever and don't have to sign up with NYTimes to read it. My challenge is to my town, Portland, to follow in the footsteps of Boulder who has taken another step in protecting the planet by a recent vote to tax carbon emissions. They are trying to follow the Kyoto Protocol which Portland has also been doing well with these past few years. I hope that this model cities will really influence others throughout the States because truth be told if the US isn't at the forefront against global warming I fear that not much will be done. We need to follow others that are leading and become leaders ourselves or else the planet that we call home will not be able to sustain our impact. Don't do it for me but do it for your children.

City Approves 'Carbon Tax' in Effort to Reduce Gas Emissions

BOULDER, Colo., Nov. 14 — Voters in this liberal college town have approved what environmentalists say may be the nation's first "carbon tax," intended to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases.

The tax, to take effect on April 1, will be based on the number of kilowatt-hours used. Officials say it will add $16 a year to an average homeowner's electricity bill and $46 for businesses.

City officials said the revenue from the tax — an estimated $6.7 million by 2012, when the goal is to have reduced carbon emissions by 350,000 metric tons — would be collected by the main gas and electric utility, Xcel Energy, and funneled through the city's Office of Environmental Affairs .

The tax is to pay for the "climate action plan," efforts to "increase energy efficiency in homes and buildings, switch to renewable energy and reduce vehicle miles traveled," the city's environmental affairs manager, Jonathan Koehn, said.

The goal is to reduce the carbon levels to 7 percent less than those in 1990, which amounts to a 24 percent reduction from current levels, Mr. Koehn said.

"The climate action plan serves as the roadmap to meet our reduction goal," he said.

The tax grew out of efforts by a committee of residents and members of the City Council and Chamber of Commerce to try to enable Boulder to reach goals set by the United Nations Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to curb global warming.

The protocol requires 35 developing nations to reduce their emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. The world's top two polluters, the United States and China, have not signed the pact.

The Boulder environmental sustainability coordinator, Sarah Van Pelt, said residents who used alternative sources of electricity like wind power would receive a discount on the tax based on the amount of the alternative power used.

A total of 5,600 residents and 210 businesses use wind power, Ms. Van Pelt said.

A program similar to Boulder's began in Oregon in 2001. There, a 3 percent fee is assessed on electricity bills by the two largest investor-owned utilities, said Michael Armstrong, a policy analyst in the Portland Office of Sustainable Development.

The tens of millions of dollars is transferred to the Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit organization, rather than the state government. The trust distributes cash incentives to businesses and residents for using alternative sources like solar and wind power, biomass energy and structural improvements to improve efficiency.

Mr. Armstrong said that although Portland had several programs for "sustainable living," it had not enacted a carbon tax and that he knew of no other American city with one.

"We are interested to see how it plays out and see what we can learn from that," he said of the Boulder tax. "We certainly follow other local governments, and there are lots of innovative initiatives all over the country. It's a great exchange among local communities."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Freshly Ground. No silly I don't drink coffee but I do love live music and I can't wait for this Saturday!

Marcilio, Miki and I will be going to the Bassline again to see another concert and this time we will see South Africa’s very own hit band “Freshly Ground”. I only first heard of Freshly Ground on the airplane over from the States in July but immediately liked their music and have been hoping to see them since then. Needless to say I am excited! What a blessing to be here in Joburg which despite its drawbacks (crime, terrible infrastructure, pollution, etc.) has been an advantageous place to hear great live music. Freshly Ground is a "mix" composed of South Africans, Zimbabweans and Mozambicans and a good sign for how Africans of different nationalities and races can work together. Let's just hope they remain fresh!

Freshly Ground seems to be getting a larger international following since it won the regional award for “Best African Act” at the MTV Europe Music Awards this year. This was a great thing for them and thrust them into the international spotlight. This will be there first concert in SA since they won the award on November 2nd and when I am driving in the car I often hear their songs being played and praises being sung. The issue I take with the whole thing though is that if you go to Wikipedia’s coverage of the MTV Europe Music Awards you will see that 17 “regions” were given awards ranging from German, to Italian to Adriatic to Africa. Now I might be stupid but first German is not a region but rather a language and second Germany is not a region either but a country and while Africa is a region it sure is a lot bigger, more diverse and populated than France, the UK or Norway, so what gives? I don’t mean to imply that these awards were racist, narrow minded, short sighted, arrogant or pointless or maybe I do. I guess I should be happy that the MTV awards in Europe even included Africa but who knows maybe it is neocolonialism in the musical sense. I honestly haven’t watched MTV in over ten years and from what I understand I am not sure that the whole music part of the name applies anymore but that is for another blog which I won’t even bother writing as it wouldn’t be worth the time. Anyway once again the West/northern countries has given an improper projection that the south is small and insignificant or at least that is my take.

Politics aside I can’t wait to hear Freshly Ground (Wikipedia) and if you want to see/hear a bit of their music check out this short clip off of their song “Doo Be Doo” which is a fun and inspiring song in many ways the opposite of the colder, harsher, ruder gangsta rap that is popular here similar to that heard in the Tsotsi album which I do own and enjoy, within reason. I should say that all of the Tsotsi soundtrack is not kwaito, rap, etc. but rather a good compilation including Zola, Vusi Mahlasela and Mafikizolo. The show should be great and sure enough I will be dancing the night away. I’m gonna miss this place but then again Brasil has some great music as well so stay tuned for a future entry about music there!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The gays have it. The right to same-sex marriage in South Africa.

I don't usually like to publish stories in their entirety, especially as I don't want to infringe on the rights of newspapers, etc. but the New York Times likes to make it hard to access its stories after about a day unless you sign up with them. I think it is free but I don't want to make you all go through the hassle of this so here is a story from yesterday. I have pasted the link for this story and basically the same one that they put up today. You might recall an entry I posted early last month called "being gay in South Africa" to which this entry is a follow up. Thanks to my father for sending me this article. I guess South Africa is continuing full steam ahead with being one of the most progressive countries in the world.

From NYTimes

November 14, 2006

South African Parliament Approves Gay Marriages


JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 14 — South Africa's Parliament overwhelmingly voted today to legalize same-sex marriages, making the nation the first in Africa and the fifth in the world to remove legal barriers to gay and lesbian unions, according to activists.

The legislature voted after the nation's highest court ruled that South Africa's marriages statutes violated the constitution's guarantee of equal rights. The court gave the government a year to amend the legal definition of marriage. That deadline expires in two weeks.

Melanie Judge, program manager for OUT, a gay rights advocacy group, noted that the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada were the only other countries to allow same-sex marriages nationwide. In most African nations, she said, homosexuality is still treated as a crime. Some penalties are stiffer than those for rape or murder..

Ms. Judge credited South Africa's liberal constitution with forcing change.

"This has been a litmus test of our constitutional values," she said in a telephone interview. "What does equality really mean? What does it look like? Equality does not exist on a sliding scale."

Religious groups and traditional leaders strenuously opposed the measure, arguing that if necessary the constitution should be amended to outlaw same-sex unions. But the ruling African National Congress virtually demanded that lawmakers support the bill.

Despite deep divisions within the party, the measure passed 230 to 41. It must now be approved by the Council of Provinces, a quasi-federal chamber, and be signed the president to become law.

Vytjie Mentor, the party's caucus chairman, told the South African newspaper The Sunday Independent earlier this month that he expected legislators belonging to the African National Congress to vote for the measure, regardless of their personal views.

There is "no such thing as a free vote or a vote of conscience," he said. "How do you give someone permission to discriminate in the name of the A.N.C.? How do you allow for someone to vote against the constitution and the policies of the A.N.C., which is antidiscrimination?"

The new law allows both heterosexual and same-sex couples to register their unions either as marriages or civil partnerships. But in a concession to critics, it also allows civil officers to refuse to marry same-sex couples on the basis on conscience. Ms. Judge, the gay rights advocate, predicted that provision will be challenged in court.

"We can't be in the situation where civil officers can decide who they want to marry and who they don't want to marry," she said. "They aren't able to refuse to marry a black person and a white person. This is unconstitutional."

To read this story visit:

or for a similar story published today go to:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How can the continent that produces the least amount of the green house gases that cause climate change be feeling the effects of this change already?

An article from the Christian Science Monitor written on last week helps make an interesting link between my life and work in Africa and my upcoming time in South America. Thanks to my aunt Sarah for alerting me to this article. I have only written briefly about climate change before and encouraged you to see Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and maybe with the recent changes in Washington, D.C. the US can actually begin being part of the solution and not just the driving force behind the problem. I hope that my work in Brasil will allow me to see the effects of global warming up close in another context and allow me to see some tangible means being used to convince people of the realities of climate change and the ways in which we can work together to combat the reasons it is happening. We must all choose to help or hurt each other.

Here is a brief section of the article which I recommend reading in its entirety.

Africans are already facing climate change

Is Darfur the first climate-change conflict? In Kenya, a UN meeting begins Monday to set new fossil-fuel emissions targets.

| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

As delegates gather Monday in Kenya for a United Nations conference to set new targets to reduce fossil-fuel emissions after 2012, climate change is a present reality for many Africans.

In Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Chad, people are already seeing the repercussions - including war. The conflict between herders and farmers in Sudan's Darfur region, where farm and grazing lands are being lost to desert, may be a harbinger of the future conflicts.

"You have climate change and reduced rainfall and shrinking areas of arable land; and then you add population growth and you have the elements of an explosion," says Francis Kornegay, a senior analyst at the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Brasil bound. Saving the world one person, animal and forest at a time.

That is right my friends I am going to be in 5 countries over the next 4 months. On December 14th I am leaving South Africa to travel for 2 ½ weeks to Mozambique to see friends, catch up, hear some music and enjoy the holidays. Then on the 5th of January I will travel to Kenya where I will stay for just over three weeks. I already have been generously offered places to stay in Nairobi and Mgori and if you have any thoughts on other places to stay and visit they are most welcome. My main reason for going to Kenya is to attend the World Social Forum as well as seeing friends and making new ones. I will be coming back to South Africa on the 27th of January and flying back to the States on the 29th. I will get home to Portland on the 30th and be home till the 8th of February when I will fly to Rio de Janeiro in Brasil.

In Brasil I will be volunteering for Iracambi,, at Fazenda (farm/ranch) Iracambi for 6 months till early August. Iracambi is located in the province of Minas Gerais. At the Iracambi site you can see maps of where I will be staying. I will be the program coordinator taking over the position held these past 6 months by my friend Rebecca from SIT. During my 6 months I will complete the 2nd half of my 6 month practicum/internship for SIT and work on my capstone (research/thesis paper) for SIT.

I will surely write more about Iracambi in the coming months, especially when I am there. It will be my first time to Brasil and I am very exited about this. I am also thrilled to get to speak Portuguese again on a daily basis and will enjoy hearing and learning different accents, slang, etc. Most of all the idea of getting out of the city and being in a rural nature area again is really exciting. I look forward to long hikes, learning about the forest, wildlife, people, etc. and sharing it all with you. To give you a better sense of what Iracambi was created to do I have cut and pasted text from the entry page to their website.

“Volunteers and Researchers from all over the world come to Iracambi to help us fulfil our mission to make conservation of the rainforest more attractive to our community than its destruction. We live on a working farm in the Atlantic Rainforest, where we daily face the same issues as our neighbors: how can we make a living from the land, whilst also preserving the biodiversity of the area?

The Atlantic Rainforest has been identified as one of the world's most globally important biodiversity hotspots, but this has not prevented it from being reduced to only eight fragmented per cent of its former size. The attack on the forest started when the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil 500 years ago, and continues today. Iracambi is working to reverse this trend. We believe that it is only by helping to find a future for the people who live and work in the forest, that we can provide a future for the forest itself.

To help Iracambi achieve its mission we have programs for volunteers and researchers. There are other ways to get involved in our project too. There is also information available on our project for teachers and children. To find more about our projects: either contact us, or click here to e-mail us.”

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My 15 seconds. The only thing I had to fear was dendrophobia itself. That and a slight case of glossophobia and it was for 101 seconds.

Tonight, I joined Ben, Douglas, Linzi and about 25 others at the Bedfordview Toastmaster’s monthly club meeting. The one and only other time I went to visit was in late August for the humorous speech competition. I had planned to go on the day when I was battling to regain control of my accounts but chose not to as I was worried the would be hacker might try and withdraw more money and thus went last night as my second and last time. I went due to the fact that I am leaving in a little over a month to travel in Mozambique and Kenya and then head home and also because Ben was giving a speech and Linzi was “Toastmaster of the evening”. You might be wondering what I would want to go to a meeting of “toastmasters” for as toasts usually involve alcohol and I don’t drink. The answer is simple, Toastmasters, is not about drinking but rather speaking, evaluating and performing various duties.

As a guest attending my second meeting at Bedfordview I didn’t expect to be given a task to do but I was asked at the last minute to be the sergeant at arms (SAA). This name might also sound strange for me as I have never served in the military or had the interest and to be quite honest would sooner relocate myself to Canada than be forced to fight for any country/cause. My duty as SAA (not to be confused with South African Airways) was to set up the room, make sure everything was in order, open the meeting and start it after breaks by banging the gavel on the lectern and passing it over to the chairperson. This task was just a warm-up for the chance to be one of the “table topic” speakers, the 7th out of 8 to be exact in the impromptu speaking session that followed the prepared speakers.

Before I get to the impromptu I just want to say that Ben did an excellent job with his speech which was open, revealing, brave and moving. He told a heartbreaking story about how his was treated as a boy by his uncle’s wife (as he chose to say it) in which he was treated very poorly more like a servant than family and eventually beaten for a crime he didn’t commit. Ben’s speech along with many other throughout the evening were very personal, moving and disturbing.

After the prepared speech came the “table topics” segment of the evening. As Doug likes to put it when he is training we are all impromptu speakers. We get chances each day of our lives at the store, at work, answering the phone, etc. to begin talking or responding to people and having to “think on our feet”. The way the impromptu session works is that the person whose duty it is to choose the topics that will be spoken on gives envelopes to each of the people who will speak. The speakers don’t know before part way through the meeting that they will be speaking. Then when the speaker before each of us was to go we were allowed to open our envelopes and in the 2 minutes or so they took to give their impromptu we could look at the topic and prepare for ours. As I said before I was the 7th of 8 speakers and so when the 6th speaker began I opened my envelope and found that I was supposed to speak about dendrophobia. But before I could speak about this phobia which I was not sure what it meant I had to get over my glossophobia. In our trainings we tell people that glossophobia is the biggest fear in the world. I am not sure if this is scientifically proven but we are really just trying to make a point when teaching a module to our trainees on public speaking. Glossophobia* simply means the “fear of public speaking” and it seems to be a fear that is shared by many. I didn’t really have to get over my glossophobia as it really isn’t a problem for me these days but I did have to think of a creative way in just a few minutes to come up with an interesting, humorous and credible explanation for the meaning of dendrophobia. I had no idea what the definition of this word was and tried to think of another similar word I knew and what I came up with was rhododendrons. As it was my time to start I knew I would talk about Rhodies, my “fear” of them, how they are sticky when you are pruning them and how I can no longer go into gardens. I spoke for 1:41 seconds on rhododendrons and dendrophobia, got a few laughs (not as many as Nate and 5DaysShy) and at the end of the night was chosen winner for the impromptu speeches. Not bad considering I went up against some very accomplished Toastmasters. It was fun to do and be recognized but unfortunately they decided not to pay for my plane ticket back home which would have been a nice gesture.

If you have read this far, which means I should really consider buying you a plane ticket, then you deserve to know what dendrophobia means. According to “victims of dendrophobia believe that trees can turn into flesh-craving monsters when they are not looking at them.” It goes on to say “They can also imagine elfin creatures taking residence in every tree.” I am a bit surprised by this phobia being assigned to me because if Treebeard showed up at my door and began talking to me as I was backing through a forest I would be very excited and maybe consider creating a whole new blog dedicated to him

*For the record I chose to site Wikipedia not because they pay me for this but because out of the first page worth of hits in Google, Wiki was the only one with an actual definition. All of the others were trying to sell various remedies for overcoming this phobia.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Prouder to be an American and one step closer to being home for the 2008 elections. Might we get our “checks and balances” back in order?

I want to keep my blog today short and sweet just like the still to be determined races in Virginia and Montana should be. We don’t need a repeat of the joke elections of 2000 and 2004 where many days and much money was spent to determine the winners and even then the results were and still are in question. It sure looks like the Democrats should win both of these races and there is no reason to drag out the inevitable so I hope that dirty tricks are left aside and the voter’s wishes are heeded. Being seven hours from the East Coast of the US and ten from my Portland it was weird to go to bed last night before much was known in the elections. It was great to wake up this morning and see that the Dems were projected to take the House but since I was gone all day I had no idea that the Senate race was so close. I am sure that many in the US were glad to wake up today and see that the world was still alive and November 8th didn’t bring the apocalypse down upon them. For some the results of these elections might seem like the devastating end of the world but for me they signal a hopeful beginning.

In 2000 I was saved some of the pain of the elections as I was in Saltsburg, Austria with a little less than a month to go on a 3 ½ month trip around Europe. I just hope that now will be different than then in that I don’t wake up tomorrow to find out the results have been reversed and then go through a ground hog’s day scenario for the next few weeks with the outcome going endlessly back and forth. After that trip when I came home after going to a few more countries had I known the way things would have worked themselves out I might have stayed traveling forever. In 2002, I was in Mozambique about to start my second year of the Peace Corps and at that point had no real interest in coming home and actually felt much safer in Moz than most people in the States were feeling. This only increased a few months later when Iraq was invaded. Then it went from the sympathy we had gotten upon arrival just six weeks after 9/11 to a bit of nervousness about how we would be treated as Americans. This was the time when traveling with a Canadian flag started to sound like a particularly good idea. In 2004 I was in San Diego ready to jump the border for Mexico at a moment’s notice. After the results were in the Daily Show and Air America were about my only respite from the harsh reality brought about by the elections. Now, in 2006, I can begin to think about one day saying again “I am proud to be an American*” and I can certainly walk taller and say at least my country has made a significant step in the right direction. I don’t know that I will be singing the national anthem anytime soon or putting an American flag on my car but right now as we sit on the cusp of a potentially great moment poised to reverse the problems the American government had been creating at home and around the world I can revel in today’s victory and pray for tomorrow’s success

.*I want to clarify that when I say American I mean a citizen of the United States of America. Many in the US and around the world seem to confuse being an American that is being from North or South America and identifying yourself as an American because you are from one of two continents and being a citizen of the United States of America.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rock me Oliver. I am a dancing machine just ask Marcilio and hundreds of music fans at the Bassline tonight/last night.

I found out last night that I prefer dancing in beer to Coke although I don’t drink or support either. At least beer is not as sticky when people are spilling it on the floor and thus doesn’t inhibit your feet from moving like Coke. Then again people don’t get drunk and act out of control and stupid by drinking Coke. So besides the sticky floors and inebriated people around me it was a great time tonight/last night.

For sure many if not most of the audience was from Zimbabwe as many knew the words to the songs, singing along and dancing with pride for music from their fellow countrymen. It was mainly a black crowd, more than the other concert I saw there three months back, but there were a few white, colored, Indian, etc. faces in the crowd as well. Like most things around here it started late, by about 20 minutes, starting at 9:20 and going to midnight with a 20 minute intermission. It is sometimes fun to have an opening act but in this case it was great to just have Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits. The band consisted of a drummer with a drum set, a keyboardist, bassist/bass player, guitarist, two female vocalists/dancers, one male vocalist/dancer and Oliver, guitarist, singer, songwriter, dancer and creative powerhouse. I must admit most of my favorite lead singers don’t just sing but they also play an instrument and when possible dance. I love multitalented musicians who can do a bit of each and really know how to entertain just like Oliver and his crew did last night or is it tonight still?

Oliver has released over 44 albums since his career began in the late 70’s of which I only have three but still I knew over half the songs last night and was pleasantly surprised by those I didn’t know. I didn’t say much about the sound, style and inspiration behind Oliver’s music in my entry on Wednesday so here is a paragraph I found at World which talks about this.

“Mtukudzi’s style, known as Tuku music, is a unique combination of several elements: South Africa’s hard-driving mbaqanga rhythm, jit—a fast percussive Zimbabwean dance beat—and the gentler, repetitive mbira rhythms of Zimbabwe's Shona people. In addition to creating a unique musical sound, he has won praise for his power as a lyricist. His precisely worded narratives, with their sense of humor about daily life, stand as metaphors for the social and economic ills that bedevil his country.”

I hope to get to see another concert or two in my time here before I head off to Mozambique to see old friends and to Kenya to make new ones plus see some from SIT or Principia plus those others who I have been communicating with via email. Once again it was great to be here and see a concert surrounding by many talented people who being dancing and singing at such a young age and to whom this all comes so naturally.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The language of love. Semantics in South Africa.

Today, I learned a great deal about dating or going out in South Africa and the importance of understanding the meaning behind the word “love” as it is used by many especially the black South Africans.* To me if I tell someone I love them it means that I don’t just like them or in the dating sense that I am interested in them but that I love them as a friend, family member (i.e. loved one) or a significant other (boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, spouse, etc) in a way that I share this love and affection by saying “I love you”. Here (in English) it seems to have different meanings depending on who is saying it, who they are saying it to, etc.

For example, I heard someone saying yesterday “baby I love you” and I came to find out that if this person had been speaking in Zulu, Sotho, Khosa or another one of the many African languages spoken in this part of the world they wouldn’t have said it exactly the same way. Roughly translated from Zulu he might say something like “one day I hope to send people to your home to pay lobola** for you.” If I tell a girl/woman that I love her and it is in a romantic way I would say this after knowing her for some time, going from interest in her to loving her as a potential partner or wife. But here “love” is used by many as a way to begin talking to someone that you have just met or known for sometime but have an interest in dating, with or without the intention to marry them someday. Just like I don’t completely dominate Portuguese there are South African who haven’t yet mastered the English language so as I understand it this plays a large part in their using “love” when others of us would say like or interest. I was told that if I told a girl/woman that I was interested in her or liked her she would ask me what do you find interesting or what do you like, even if my intention was to say that I want to get to know you more and maybe date. But if I told her that I loved her she would interpret this as meaning that if she reciprocated or accepted this we would be boyfriend and girlfriend.

It seems that some people use the word love knowing the various meanings and implications of saying it to someone else only to trick the other person. They do this knowing that the person they are talking to doesn’t realize that while they are being told they are “loved” the person telling them this doesn’t necessarily love them.

I think this is an interesting case where the semantics of different languages is very important to understand. It shows how it can be dangerous to assume that what you are saying or hearing means one thing when the person you are speaking to or being spoken to by means something very different. I am now very interested to talk to Marcilio about what exactly the word “love” means in Mozambique when it is said in English or Portuguese. And if it is used similarly in Mozambique to how it is used here in South Africa.

*I just want to explain that I am speaking in generalities about conversations I had with two men, one Zulu and the other Sotho and thus my research on this topic is not very deep or wide

**For those of you who don’t know what lobola means another name for it is “bride-price” or dowry. Traditionally it has been an agreed upon amount paid by a man’s family to a woman’s family before they can get married. Cattle, cash, alcohol and other gifts are offered in payment for the fiancée’s hand in marriage. For more see these articles or search for “lobola” on the net.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Surprise email from an equally avid music listener and Calabash Music employee.

I was pleasantly surprised to get this email just a short time ago from a guy who works for Calabash and somehow came across my blog just today! It is nice to hear from another fan of my blog and good music. I wish I would have known about Moshito as it would have been interesting to attend. So enjoy the email from my new friend and have a great day.

“Blake -

Thanks for the plug on your blog. And thanks for writing about music!

I've been down to jozi a couple times (most recently for Moshito in September), and had a wonderful time each trip. I hope to make it back in December. It is so important that folks write about SA music so that those outside of SA get a sense of what is going on there musically. Not quite as important as your work with HIV/AIDS, but important. ;) Keep it up, and stay in touch.


I will share more in another entry about how many South Africans (as was my experience in Mozambique to a degree as well) don’t know a lot about their own music but more about American hip-hop, etc.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tuku Music: Oliver I am ready for you to rock this Saturday night. Good to witness a positive influence out of Zimbabwe.

Normally I write about things after they happen but I am (and have been for a few weeks now) so excited about seeing Oliver Mtukudzi and The Black Spirits (link is to Calabash which I have promoted before on this blog) in concert this Saturday that I want to tell you about it before it happens. They will be playing at the Bassline in Newtown Cultural Precinct in downtown Jozi where I went on August 5th to see Busi Mhlongo and Lura. I guess in a way this is my own “Minority Report” on the concert which I am sure will be great.

I am also excited because many of the concerts I have gone to while in SA, I have gone to on my own but this time two friends will be going with me. Marcilio will be staying the weekend again and it will be fun to have him along and then Miki, Christian Science friend who was at Principia prior to me, will be coming to town from Pretoria and the three of us will have a great time together. I have been a fan of Oliver’s since I first heard his music when I was in Mozambique and had various friends in Mozambique who saw him perform in Beira and have really wanted to see him as well. In February or March of 2005 my parents and I saw a great documentary on Oliver called Shanda at the 15th Annual Cascade Festival of African Films in Portland. Interestingly enough Oliver started in 1977 which I am told was a special year to my parents. The first band he played with is called Wagon Wheels which featured Thomas Mapfumo (also Calabash who is another legendary Zimbabwean musician. Coincidentally Mapfumo has been living in Oregon for some years now and I saw him play in concert at the Oregon Zoo in August of 2004 as part of their Summer Concert Series. Mapfumo moved to the States after speaking out and singing disparaging songs about the Mugabe government which got him in to trouble and led to alleged accusations that he was involved in criminal activities.

I also want to wish you a Happy November 1st! I can’t believe October is gone and I really don’t think I ever had a September. Time really has flown since being here in South Africa. Amazingly I have less than seven weeks with my internship/practicum and then as I mentioned on Sunday in my blog where I asked for contacts and ideas about traveling to Kenya, I will be going to Moz for the holidays and then to the World Social Forum in Nairobi, as well as visiting other parts of Kenya. I have spent the past few days sending emails to people that I know who know people in Kenya, people I know in Kenya, etc. and so far have gotten some great responses but if you have more ideas please send them to me!