Friday, March 28, 2008

While We Squawk About OUR Health Care...

In case anyone is wondering what I've been up to, take a look at this article from the New York Times. I haven't been around the patients they talk about, but it's a good write-up of the kind of attitude doctors take to health care around here.

It ranges from pushing someone out the door if you can't help with a Panadol prescription, to acting like the country's about to collapse.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Car Trouble

You may or may not know that as part of our internships, Heather and I were given a car. Owning a vehicle is the only way to get around here; hitchhiking isn't easy, nor is it exactly safe. I've only done it once and Heather refuses to, as she probably should. Lynn understood this, and she was kind enough to get us the sickest ride I've driven around here (or, probably, ever), pictured above. Normally I'm too eco-prejudiced to feel good with SUVs, but you can't do much better than a big, invincible truck out here.

For our car fans, that is a 2007 Toyota Hilux Raider. No four-wheel drive, but it does have diff lock, a sweet set of tires, room for six or seven passengers, and a stereo system that I ought to be engaged to. That's not us in there; weirdly we have no pictures of our car. I don't know why; it's been our best friend out here in the boonies.

And as of today, we've taken this car into a repairman twice in the last two weeks. We've gotten in no accidents, per se; Heather and I haven't gotten that Big Man rush and started crashing into holidaymakers. In fact, nothing that's happened has been our fault. But still we're shelling out cash to keep this beast alive.

What wild stories are we telling, you ask? Here's the point-by-point:

1. First crash: the beast rear-ends a smaller car at a busy intersection. It was being driven by a fellow employee, whom Heather was teaching to drive. Our right fender was dented, the headlight in pieces. Even though we're insured, we couldn't find the insurance papers and wound up signing an affidavit promising to shell out 1,000 rand for the other car. No one's fault, sure. These things happen.

2. Second crash: taking the car in to be serviced, I park in town to get directions. Backing out of a parking lot, I overlook the poles that, by law, have to flank driveways in this country. Possibly didn't see because they look exactly like flimsy road markers from the States. My damaged fender found out they're actually made of steel. No worries, no extra damage, and the building's owner was glad, because he'd always been afraid of hitting it himself.

3. Third stupid incident: A slow-moving car full of holidayers, weaving across the road as we try to pass, runs partially off the pavement and hits a stick. They're unharmed, but the stick flips up from their tire and spins, like a knife, up toward the windshield. For a split second I almost ducked, but the stick drops low and sticks into our grill, quivering. It stays in until we pull it out on the roadside. Thirty minutes later, Heather drives into the busiest intersection of the local township. She pulls up at the stopline and, under the hood, the radiator explodes, billowing smoke and splattering red coolant everywhere.

Now the car is in service again, and it looks even more expensive than last time -- at least R5,000. Who those drunk holidayers were, I don't know. It didn't seem serious at the time. It was actually pretty funny at the time, passing trucks and tractors with a stick hanging there in our grill. If I could find those partiers now, I would be playing a different effing tune.

More news to follow. As of yesterday, I've reached the halfway point in my trip. I have four weeks of internship and research. Following that, I'm travelling for two weeks around South Africa. My plan for now is to bike into Lesotho and maybe catch a ride to Botswana the first week, then spend my five days in Capetown. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anthropologists Dream Exotic

It's been a while. It's hard to pack everything I've been doing into a short post. Most of it's been networking anyway. There are a lot of people up here with really cool ideas for improving the communities. One woman I know is finishing up her Hydrology degree, and she wants to start a fish farm that recycles its water into a commercial garden. Another wants to start a farming program that teaches villagers to farm with organic seed, so they don't have to buy other people's seed every year.

Lynn said when she first came to my class to pitch Africa to us 76 students, "more than anything, Africa is really like the Wild West." I heard that and knew where I wanted to travel. And — this surprises me more than anything — she was right. It's just like the Wild West. Roads are wide and dusty, weapons are cheap, the law's arm is long enough to scratch his armpit. And an entrepreneur can carve out a paradise for himself, or for lots of other people.

Anyway. In real news: winter's pretty much here, which means sun and chilliness. I started working on my paper and I like how it's shaping up. I helped fixed my house's solar panels last week with this guy:

Introducing Hlo, a nephew of Sofi and the only fellow teenager in the Ntshalintshali household. He's going to college in Pietermaritzberg for a degree in pro chefery. For the last couple weeks he's been away at school, but the Easter holiday lasts almost a month here, so in a couple days he'll be back pretty much to stay, as far as my sense of time is concerned. It's been a while since I seriously examined what I'll be doing next month.

What else have I been doing? Well, yesterday I drove a health worker to Pietermaritzberg to pick up a deaf kid for the holidays. On the way back, over a mid-trip dinner of burgers and shakes (their McDonald's here is called "Wimpy's") I mentioned that I'd like to find time soon to talk to a Sangoma — the Zulu name for a local shaman-healer. For a caste who supposedly serve the Zulu community, it's disconcerting how much everyone fears them; they have a reputation for making people who don't like them die or disappear, and extracting incredible payments from people who want their services.

I figure not everyone gets to wander around a country where shamanism is still practiced. In fact, it's an anthropologist's wet dream. Why not take the opportunity to meet one?

Well, that comment was a mistake. That health worker I was driving halfway to the Indian Ocean turned out to be born-again. For almost forty minutes she warned me to stay away, or at least please be very careful around them, because of course you should never fear them because I can tell Jesus Christ is with you, but if you aren't quite clever one of the dead spirits in a Sangoma's house might attach itself to you.

She never told me what happens if I wind up with a spirit following me around, but I'd imagine she didn't look on it as pleasant. And here I was just planning to find a medicine man who was out to make a buck.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

If It Feels Good, Do It?

I spent today in and out of schools. I met a principal who's terrified that if his school shows students how to use condoms, they will start having sex with everyone they can find. Then he complained to me about teen pregnancy rates.

Schools here would get more done if the teachers demonstrated how to unroll a condom and the nurses treated everyone's syphilis. Teen pregnancy and transmission of HIV would both drop. There. Now everyone knows my politics.

It just occurred to me that I've chosen the least sexy way to study sex. Alfred Kinsey was one lucky mother.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Local Creepy Crawlies

Lately I've started to find small, toothy-mawed worms in my bathtub right as I'm about to step in for a shower. I'm beginning to suspect these things are leeches. Everyone I mention it to says they probably aren't, but come on: they're small, gross, striped, and they're all tipped with those little circular parasite-mouths. That fits my criteria for leeches. It's happened four times now; they must be getting washed into the farm's water source (which is usually quite clean) by all the rain we've gotten. The ones I find are all dead so far, but I'm getting more squeamish about the bugs around here because of them.

So I thought I'd make you guys squeamish too! Here are all the bugs I've found living around the house:

Earwigs. I used to think these guys were gross as hell. Just their name is bad enough. But I've gotten a lot more used to them lately. When I showed up at Cosmos Farm, Betsy told me that they'd infested the dried-grass thatch in the roof. I quickly discovered that almost every night, a few of the buggers fell out of the thatch and wound up squirming around our food supply by morning. I tell myself you're always going to eat a bug or two in your life as I munch on the fruits and veggies we leave out on the counter. What's the point of worrying about how many insects have touched your food before it got to you?

Earwigs are mostly annoying 'cause they're almost as tough to squash as roaches. I don't bother killing them. But they're not nearly as gross as the

Houseflies. They're everywhere here! It must be the season for them, because at any one point there'll be eight flies buzzing around the kitchen, watching for the golden moments when I leave my food untended. They've hatched eggs in our outhouse, too. Science tells us they carry more diseases than roaches. I certainly hope not, because they are fearless about landing on us humans and drinking some of our sweat.

Grasshoppers. These are the weirdest. They've infested our bathroom — but I don't know why they'd want to. I've found them crawling up doorjambs and clinging to the shower curtain. I think they're starving to death in there. They're freaky just because they're big (almost as long as a pencil) but otherwise they don't do much.

Mosquitos. No trip to Africa would feel complete without them. They probably carry the deadliest diseases out there. Malaria is the most notorious one; luckily for me it's rare in these parts. But the bites are still painful at times. We all sleep with nets over us out here.

Daddy Long-Legs. You hear all kinds of things about these enigmatic li'l guys. Supposedly they aren't really spiders; supposedly, too, they're more poisonous than any spider in the world, but their fangs are too small to pierce human flesh. Back in the States it was a fun little fact to give out because they looked almost clownishly harmless. Here they are sizeable and striped along their legs. They're also everywhere, and I try not to touch them. I don't bother them, though, because they're great at killing the flies and earwigs. My room is kind of a living collection of these spider-like things, with their leftover dinners dangling from webs.

Enjoy. And if any part of your body starts to tickle or itch, SLAP IT BEFORE IT BITES YOU.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Modest Retraction

So it was just pointed out to me that the link I posted to my academic blog was broken. Oops. Here's the real thing. It has all five of us posting to it, not just me, so you can see what the rest of the team is up to.

Oh, and I just posted my mid-project review over there. If you had any questions at all as to what I was doing for school down here, that monster ought to both inform and depress you. Or maybe it will spur you into compassionate action! That would be a lot cooler. If you wind up so moved that you hop the next plane to SA, let me know. I've got all the contacts now to hook you up with a sweet vacation, followed by years of commitment to hellish social justice work.

Oh, and I posted some thoughts on my project and the evangelicals, too. Check it out! I'm kinda fond of that one.

Also, in case you passed over it, I just jazzed up the blog with a new navigation bar. It's just under the title picture. I made it so that newcomers to the blog (what's up, D Dorm!) don't get bogged down by the unwieldy premise of this trip. You can check out the posts where I lay out the whole trip, the people who came here, the internship, and the class project respectively. It also has a link to my academic blog so no one has to dig for it. Last but not least, I dug up the link to Greener in the Bush's RSS Feed! It's the last link in the navbar. Subscribing to that bugger involves clicking the link and bookmarking the page in your browser; that way you'll know when I make another shotgunish round of posts.

I don't have anything else to say. Ciao? Have a good night (morning)?


Sunday, March 9, 2008

He's Such an Englishman Sofi's Daughter Called Him "Daddy" and He Blushed

Here at Cosmos Farm my bosses hold a Bible Study every Friday. I'm not always comfortable sitting in — most of the members are very conservative. And I haven't considered my own spirituality since I moved away for college; appreciating what some call Creation is hard enough when you're running on deadline after deadline, gulping coffee like a fish (or burning through half a pack a day, like some of my friends). But I keep joining in around the edges. It's the only time during the week the whole white community gets together here. They're a very diverse group: some are quiet seekers of God, some are friendly missionaries working in local schools, some are loud, fire-and-brimstone evangelists.

But one guy in particular stood out when I met him. Andy is from England, and like me, he's working on a thesis for school here. In his case he's working on his PhD. Also like me, he's been trying out and scrapping subjects for his academic Magnum Opus.

Right before I met him, I settled on a subject for my school project that turned out similar to his. That's right! I finally know for sure what I have to do to graduate this year. Here's a sketchy version of the proposal:

Topic: the Zulu perspective of the AIDS pandemic ravaging their community.

Framing Questions:

- Why, after almost twenty years of AIDS education, have the numbers of infected spiked in this area of KwaZulu-Natal?

- The Zulu community of KwaZulu-Natal has responded to the AIDS epidemic with a remarkably fatalistic attitude. Is the atmosphere a reflection of the Zulus' situation with the disease, or does it also reflect pre-existing values in their culture?

- What obstacles face the AIDS patients of KwaZulu-Natal? Can they be surmounted without outside help?

- Are NGOs really helping AIDS patients get treatment and manage the stigma of their disease?

Living in what's called the AIDS capitol of the world, I'm well-placed for the job.

The research has been going well so far, except that I've done a terrible job documenting it. I have an Academic Blog where I keep readers up to date with the gritty details of my research. I'm working a lot of catch-up right now to finish the couple of entries I missed. (But by the time you read this, they'll be up. I update my academic blog every Sunday, so keep checking back if that interests you.)

Basically, that's all I know about my own subject. I've got a few leads -- people to discuss my project with who might point me toward something interesting.

Andy is the first of those leads. For his doctorate, he's designing a new kind of education program. It's supposed to be more effective at deterring the spread of AIDS. The program is called "Crossroads," and I don't know much about it except that it sprung out of a research paper on the Christian Church's AIDS education. Like a true Greener, as soon as I heard the word "Church" I caught a whiff of a possible train wreck, especially since it's also supposed to "teach Zulus modern values and responsibility." But it should be interesting. And Andy is a quietly married Englishman. He seems too gentle to be wrapped up in weird, sexually frustrated Jesus Camp doctrine.

I'm working on getting to sit in on a Crossroads lesson, and I'll do a full write-up of it once I get myself in there. For three weeks now I've been reading about AIDS and the Zulus, and I've been working with AIDS patients. I've seen enough sick people for a crack team of medical anthropologists.

Crossroads is definitely my next step. Maybe it'll turn out to be exactly what this place needs. I can hope so, anyway.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Introducing... Our Cast

Well, I realize I’ve been talking a lot about people you’ve probably never heard of before. Hopefully this will clear up some of your confusion. Feel free to point and exclaim if you recognize these people from a blog post.
I realize I should have done this sooner. I just had to dig up some good pictures. Of course, they're all copyrighted to David Sosnow, 2008, all rights reserved.

The Team


A transfer student to Evergreen from some university in Walla Walla. Emerged from a hazy church background. Went to Kenya a couple years ago and now she's back for more, albeit with more reliable plumbing. Only one of the team with previous Africa experience. We used to call her "Mom" with joking affection, but when she started dating our buddy Evan, we decided that would be weird and promptly began treating her like a teenage sister. I tease her a lot because she's there. Takes life and work very seriously, never laughs, and is a finalist for a prestigious scholarship in Oxford as a result. She has no nickname currently; instead, we say her given name as weirdly as possible. She is interning with a local MICROFINANCE effort and living with Paul on Cosmos Farm.


Our intrepid hero. Good at talking to little kids and authority figures. Brought far too few clothes to Africa. Named the chillest member of the team because of his long silences all through the first week. Unfortunately, his chillness early on was mostly jetlag, and he may prove to just be the weirdest. Spent his early adolescence homeschooled and then enrolled in the Running Start program, which makes him, at 19, the youngest in the group. Interning with a local ADVOCACY program, badgering local government into giving its citizens welfare checks, IDs and medical attention. Nicknames include "PG-13" and sometimes "Parental Advisory Warning." Lives with Heather on Cosmos Farm.


A rugged, handsome outlaw. Honest by nature. Popped out of two relatively mellow parents, speculated to be pretty well-off with the moolah. Became a relatively mellow dude. Now he is going to Africa to see new and fascinating sights. He is interning with HUMANA and CLAW in Johannesburg, doing gardening and caring for pets. Was going to live in The Joburg Pad with McCully and David, but he is currently staying in a hostel owned by two aging hippies who hold down a band. Has proven resistant to nicknames. His last name is weird enough for us.

(No picture, she hates it
when we take them)
Truly the chillest of the chill. McCully entered the team wrapped in a gauze of tie-died nirvana, and has proven adept at rising above the stress of travelling and working with a semi-psychotic supervisor. Oldest member of the team at 31. Somewhat of an enigma. She is interning with CLAW, an animal care center in Joburg, doing kickass stuff like nursing an emaciated greyhound's muscles back to life. Must be called McCully, lest she be confused with our other Heather. Lives with David at The Joburg Pad.

Came late to the team, but came with a video camera in tow, so it's all good with us. Recently returned to Evergreen after a long hiatus of working freelance on video and graphics design. Decided to shoot a film documentary for his trip abroad. Always dresses classily, and did not bring shorts to Africa. Convinced the class faculty to let him in a quarter late, so we didn't meet him until four weeks before we left. Has travelled extensively in the past. He is interning with CLAW and shooting a documentary about them for his project. Lives with McCully at The Joburg Pad.

Living Place

Nestled in the hills of KwaZulu-Natal at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains. Owned by a middleaged Englishwoman named Sofi and her partner (in crime) Betsy. The two run a hospice/welfare/home-based care/informal taxi organization known only as the AIDS Hospice, although it covers much more than just AIDS patients. In fact, Sofi and Betsy are known for their service to the entire community. The farm is home to the two social entrepreneurs, five small children, and our interns Paul and Heather. The farm runs on solar power. Its residents run on six hours of sleep, max.
Still a place of mystery to us in the Berg. Apparently it's fully furnished, and includes a TV. It has no internet access, which disappoints David and McCully. (What I would kill for good running water.) Still, the place is classy and should provide a good launch-spot for many adventures on the streets of Johannesburg.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

News from the Township

I hate to post so sporadically — it bumps the pretty photos down. If you haven't seen the second batch of Durban pictures (or the ones of my house-sitting), check 'em out below!

I wrote this letter to a friend about driving in Durban:

"Oh, and I took to left-side driving like a catfish to cooking oil -- it's been a delicious time. It took me half an hour to adjust, and I'm good at navigating the cities without getting nervous -- people here drive like bipolar thespians on the run from body image disorders. The police do nothing unless they think you'll give them money. Right-of-way in this country is legally whichever car is bigger. It's SO MUCH FUN."

Bad news from work the other day. One of our people is dead. Sofi and I called an ambulance for the woman as soon as we found her lying in her bed. It was my first day of work, February 18th. She had all the symptoms of menengitis. I didn't know much about it at the time, just that Sofi had left a note for the meds asking for a Lumberg Puncture to test.

By the way — ever heard of a Lumberg Puncture? If you've ever watched House, probably. All I knew about it was the massive needle they stick into people's spinal columns to drain fluid. But as it turns out, the fluid they take tests for many things (and Lupis is only one disease among 'em). One of them is menengitis. It's supposed to take half an hour to test the fluid once it's out of the spine.

Well, in the US it takes half an hour. This is South Africa; and the local hospital she was taken to is among the worst. It took them two tests and nine days to get any results, and then the nurses tending her didn't bother to check them. They put her on anti-retrovirals (for her late-stage AIDS), which took two days of training before they could treat her. The first day of training went fine; the second, they complained that she was "too sick to train" and sent her back to her bed. So after ten days, she died in hospital of menengitis and AIDS. We just found out Monday.

The news hit Sofi hard. She knew the woman; I didn't. I'd barely seen her. But Sofi railed for hours. In the States, negligence like this would be impossible, but here they probably won't even investigate it.

That doesn't, of course, mean we're going to try. Sofi and I are writing a case study now; we'll send it to the government, and if they don't do something promptly, we've been talking about sending it to the newspapers.

But it's hard to write about; we're still too much in shock to remember dates and facts. It's really too twisted.

Swankier Sides of Africa

I spent last weekend house-sitting for a hippie/evangelical Christian couple. (It seems like everyone here is an evangelical Christian. I really have to watch what I say -- I'm afraid I take religion with a little too big a grain of salt for them. What's a sense of humor, after all, if you can't apply it to your deepest beliefs?)

Anyway, their house is nice and very peaceful, and I enjoyed being able to charge my laptop without having the lights flicker. So I took the chance to work on my camera mojo.

Fiddled with the camera's timer a bit.
These are my new, classier clothes from Durban.

The dining room.
No one's getting in that window.

Chickens and I watching a sunset:

Sunday, March 2, 2008


I've got updates! First of all, I am alive. I consider that important. Also, nothing has threatened my life lately. Although I did smash my toe under a couple of loose windowpanes. But nothing serious, I'll live!
I am realizing my true lack of cooking practice. Everything here is made with corn, beans and potatoes. But I am an Italian-style culinary dabbler. I must adapt quickly! Quick: everyone post back with recipes for mashed potatoes (and pancakes too, I've been drawing a blank on that recipe). You'll be my hero.
Now the real news: a couple of days ago, Sofi and I gunned the car back to the farm at 130K. We'd gotten a call that there was a man who had wandered up there and was harrassing the nanny and the kids, and Sofi was freaked. Apparently the nanny, Dudu, was in tears; he'd left, but she wasn't sure whether he was hiding nearby.
For the record, this is no fortress we live in. It looks like this:

We have spotty running water, solar electricity, no bars on the windows, and certainly no family gun. I even lost my pocket knife. So I don't know what we were planning to do.

Anyway, we jumped out of the car and the kids ran up to us, totally calm and grinning from ear to ear that we'd come home so early. Dudu was washing clothes in a basin. Sofi set about trying to figure out what had happened. Dudu was stony.

What happened was this, as near as we can figure: a man showed up and started asking questions about who owned the farm and when they'd be back. Supposedly he didn't threaten or touch anyone, or do anything really terrible at all. He could have just been looking for Sofi, wanting a ride to the hospital. But something set Dudu off; we just don't know what.

But now Heather is freaked out about staying here. The other morning, when I walked into the kitchen, she started talking about moving out. "I want to find alternate housing," she started. "I know you won't understand, because you're a guy."

It looks like she's going through with it, too. Right now she's completely moved out and she's staying with a couple from the local Bible study group. Have to admit I don't really like it; we've already had trouble since we only have one car between the two of us. Living across town from each other won't help get things done.

Her rational is that she's not as big a risk-taker than we are. But to me, it doesn't make much difference where you live around here: it's friends that take care of you, and they do it much better than a house.

The Best Durban Photos

More from Durban!

Sam's aura of quiet:

.. And the sweetest of the art we saw:

... And then afterward, our march through Durban back to the car.

A group of ladies running to catch the bus:

And that was it. A great time was had. Durban: ridiculously classy.