Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gulf Coast Update

 While there is much that has been rebuilt along the coast, including antebellum style houses, there is much that is still boarded up and many, many vacant lots facing the beach.
 A common site was pools that have been filled in, with nothing but the former rails for steps, or perhaps a diving board base, still visible.
 Although there are many foundations and steps still among the ruins, these steps to a former house had been incorporated into the yard art...sitting next to a tiny travel trailer.  I wondered if these people had no intention of trying to rebuild--after all, in the next evacuation, they could just hook up the trailer and drive away.
 They are also constructing a new seawall by OldTown Bay St. Louis.
 There are still many businesses operating out of the trailers set up by FEMA, including the Hancock County Government offices.
 Their new facility has been constructed and they are in the process of completion and readying for occupation.

 Second Street Elementary School, Bay St. Louis

 Main Street Methodist Church, Bay St. Louis.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Happiness Survey

Back in 2004 while I was doing research in Khayelitsha, I often had the opportunity to talk with women.  I found that for many of them, life was not all that much better.

While I was there, an article came out in the paper about the results of the "happiness survey."  It indicated that white males were the happiest and African women the unhappiest.  They had asked women living in the squatter camps: the informal shanties with no access to water, electricity, or services of any kind.  In their conclusions, the authors had indicated the results of the survey disproved the "whining whites" theory.  I don't know where the authors learned their research methods, but I learned you don't prove or disprove with research: you can infer meaning from the results.  Since I don't have the full report in front of me, I can't really say how they interpreted their results, but I am fairly confident that just because whites rated their happiness higher (based on factors like income, satisfaction with work, etc.) that does not mean they don't whine.

I looked up the happiness survey, and indeed found that immediately after the democratic elections in South Africa, the happiness quotient for Africans was quite high.  Ten years later, in 2004, it was the lowest of any of the racial groups in South Africa, not surprising to me.  That's the thing with sudden democracy, according to Naomi Klein.  People have an expectation that life will get better, and then when that does not happen,  how does a fledgling democracy handle that growing frustration of the have nots?

One thing I did observe on the recent trip last month is a growing dissatisfaction with the government.  I recall a colleague telling me back in 2002 "It's one thing to fight the freedom fight, and quite another to govern."  There was a general consensus among many that the ANC had failed to deliver: promises had been made and not kept, government officials had prospered and the majority of the people had not, and there was a desire to see change economically as well as socially.  Reminded me of the US.  I'll follow up with "The Toilet Wars" next.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Moyo: Swahili for "soul"

 I first attended Moyo in 2004.  They had just started the venue at Spier Farm, near Stellenbosch.  Lira had told me about it, so one day on our way home from Cape Town, we stopped to check it out.  It was like a little fantasy land!
 There were tree houses, with tables and lounges.  One could have lunch, or a drink, or just sit and enjoy the view.
 There were elaborate fountains, and barrels for making a fire when the evening grew cooler.

 That first year, they had a variety of entertainment including Zulu singers and some more traditional African dancing and singing.  I have noted on the last 2 visits, that they have had a more "expected" type of dancing and singing.

Although I did not find it as good as it used to be, with not the variety and quality of food in the past, the students really seemed to enjoy it and said it is definitely a "must keep" in the trip.  Perhaps that is the trick: to keep trying to see something through the eyes of those who have never seen it before.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Felix's Kittens: Available for Adoption

 Amazingly, the kittens are easily socialized.  Though they seem to be skittish here, they have allowed me to pick them up and pet them with no issues.  They are also playing with J as he inserts toys into the kennel.

Have kittens, will deliver!  A brief home study (after all, I am a social worker) and a little darling is yours.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Felix is not the only one with a post script: Suzassippi's animal park and wildlife safari

I was feeding the birds yesterday evening and walked past the front porch and did a double-take.  In one of the kitty houses was a little bundle of yellow and black kittens.  Now I must confess, I was doubly irritated at Mamacat for selecting that location, and forcing poor Felix to an abandoned mailbox on the roadside, which no doubt contributed to her demise.

There is a limit to one's ability to mingle in the natural animal world I suppose, and when it comes to feral cats, you can't really say "play nice or go home."  They stake out their territory, and there was not much I could do other than try to make sure there was food in a couple of locations so that Felix could get her share.

Meanwhile, I have 3 kittens in a kennel on the screened porch, and 5 kittens in a kitty house on the front porch.  Great.  Now what am I going to do?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kitty Update

The kittens are doing well, eating, drinking, and pooping.  I guess that is what kittens do.  Two of them will let me pick them up and hold them, and pet them, without hissing or spitting.  One (the white one--first captured alone) is still really wary, and so far, the best I can do with it is to reach my hand (ensconced in gloves) into the kennel and try to stroke it a bit.

A storm is brewing, so we will see how they handle that, though they obviously survived the last one in an old mailbox on the side of the road.

All I have to say after this week is thank goodness tomorrow is Friday!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Felix's Post Script

 Randy came in from getting the mail this morning and announced he knew why Felix was on the side of the road.  Three kittens were by the mailbox and scampered into what he thought was a cardboard box.  He said they looked to be 5-6 weeks old, and wondering where Mama was.
This evening, we went down and put the puppy kennel around the "house" which turned out to be an old mailbox (you think Rando needs new glasses?).  We were able to get the one kitty right off, but the other two escaped.  However, we waited an hour, went back down, and they both ran into the mailbox.  Up went the puppy kennel and we had the other two.  I don't know how long they could have/would have survived in the heat without food and water.

So, we now have 3 kitties on the back porch so they can be protected from outside predators.  They are all bob-tails--the white one who looks rather Siamese, a black one, and a brindle.  I put some water in the kennel, and some cat food softened with warm water, and they have eaten a bit.  We put a cardboard box in for them to be able to get shelter and privacy, and so far, so good.  I'd like to try to socialize them a bit if possible and get them on kitty food before trying to place them.

Somehow, it makes Felix's loss a little more palatable.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rest in Peace, Felix

Felix was the kitty we saved in the winter of 2010.  She and Oscar were great buds in the beginning, though Felix had not been around during the time I was in South Africa.  I went out last Monday morning to go to work and she was over in the woods, though, so I fed her.  She looked pretty skinny at the time, and I had not seen her since.

We found her last night at the bottom of the driveway.  It was not possible to know if it was due to being hit by a car, having died a natural death, or at the hands of a predator.  Given the risks of feline leukemia in outdoor feral cats, I thought it the more likely verdict, but there is no way to know, nor does it really matter in the outcome.

It was sad--it always is to me--and you would think I would be used to the comings and goings of stray cats and dogs since my hill seems to be a favorite dumping ground for unwanted animals.  I am not used to it, though, and always feel a great burden for not having done more.  I feed them, try to seduce them to allow human interaction, but once they are older and have not been socialized to humans, it is pretty much a task beyond my skills apparently.  All I know is that they can eat regularly, have fresh water, shelter from the rain and cold, and not be in danger from the humans and animals who occupy this hill.

I have been sick for 3 weeks now: the final two weeks of my South Africa trip and the week since I have been home.  It makes me feel more despondent than I might otherwise.  There is always the toll that international travel takes on the body, and when I am in South Africa--in spite of the many wonderful experiences and the love and joy I experience there--there is an emotional toll as well.  I simply cannot look at the vast need there and not experience a sense of overwhelming emotion--not so much because the need is there, but because humans have intentionally created it and many seem oblivious to its presence or feel any sense of responsibility that it is there.

It always is hard to re-adjust to being back home again, and things seem a little dimmer at times those first few days back in the routine.  Couple that with illness that just doesn't seem to get better, and then finding Felix, and it makes for a sense of helplessness that I know only a few more days will heal.  I think what hits me at times like this is that sense of mortality: that there are finite limits to what I or we can do, and that all of our days are numbered.  I know it will pass, and soon I will be back standing in the possibilities that are all around us.  But for today, I mourn.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cape of Good Hope

 Even though it was cloudy and overcast, everyone decided Cape Point with limited visibility was better than no Cape Point at all.  Courtney drove us all down in the Quantum, and we made a quick photo stop in Simonstown, a resort town on the coast road.
 Wendy pointed out this quirky chimney on one of the houses.
 Wade single-handedly tried to save South Africa's economy.  Everywhere we went, he found something to buy.  He was a lot of fun on the trip, good-natured, humorous, and flexible, and I enjoyed seeing this different side of him.  However, as one of my colleagues used to say, "You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube."  Enough said.
 Even on an overcast day, it is incredible to see the Atlantic and Indian Oceans merge at the point.  We stopped at the entrance to the park to use the facilities and a woman saw my Ole Miss sweatshirt and said her husband was from Jackson, Mississippi.  She took me in to meet him and we talked a bit: he is a missionary, married to a South African.  He was the second person from Mississippi we met while there--the first was a student on top of Table Mountain.  I spotted her Ole Miss sweatshirt.  She was there on a study abroad trip with a different university.
 Babboons have become a major problem in many parts of South Africa.  They have even opened doors and walked into houses to scavenge for food.  Even though tourists are warned repeatedly not to feed them, they do, which encourages their aggressive behavior.  One walked into the shop right in front of me and stole a bag of chips, and one tried to rip the chips out of the hand of one of the students.  Tourists saw it as a photo opportunity, not realizing the danger it poses.  There was a entire troop of them running along side the van as we were driving away, but I was never in position to get a clear shot of them.

 Courtney, Lira, and Joshua: Our hosts who went to extreme lengths to make this a memorable trip for the students.  Courtney spent many hours driving, arranging e-mail access in his office, and running errands.  Lira always outdoes herself in setting up field visits and new contacts for me.  I am so blessed to have them in my life for these last 10 years.  It is not what they do for me, but who they are, that makes them such a blessing.
The student crew:  It was a fun and memorable trip for me, and I hope it was for them.  We made a stop at Penguin Island and then had a late lunch in Simonstown.  There was a small market in the plaza, and we had to do some more shopping.  I found the most intriguing jewelry in an unusual design made by the woman's sister and bought several pieces.  I will do a "market post" later of all the unique new things I found on this trip!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Day in Eersterivier

 Aunty Goliath prepared tea for us for the morning visit to the Kleinflei community, and as always, invited the police to stop by.  In addition to the officers (who provided our escort to the station to see the trauma room where they interview and assist victims of violence), one of the detectives spent some time discussing the various community issues with which they deal.
 Jacques, in the Family Preservation Program at Marsh Memorial, was our driver for the day.  Because we had a lot of driving to do that day, Marsh Memorial was generous enough to provide Jacques and the Quantum for transportation.  Many thanks to MM, and especially to Jacques, who still had his casework to do after spending a long day with us.
After our morning at the community health center, community garden, and police station, we had lunch at the hospital while we waited for our afternoon presentation by the Allied Health Staff--the chaplain, dietician, physiotherapist, and social worker.  They staffed 3 cases for us, explaining how they worked together and the issues with which they deal.

Afterward, Dr. Tim Visser, the CEO of the hospital, talked to us about his vision for the hospital and community, and took us on a tour of the hospital.  ERH is a publicly funded hospital, operated by the Department of Health.  It was a beautiful facility, with art and cultural decorations--all part of the vision of the hospital and their holistic care.  We saw the Kangaroo Mother's program for premature and low birthrate babies, which is based on the idea of skin-to-skin contact.  There has been significant research about its effectiveness.

They gave us each a gift of a bag (and I got extra, because I was the professor--my own mug and towel!) made by a local group from recycled materials.  Dr. Visser made the analogy about recycling--using things that have been thrown away to make something new and beautiful.  I think Dr. Visser really "got" social work, and the holistic approach to care, and his staff clearly respect him and he respects them.  I must say, I loved my bag, and it was perfect for carrying my money and passport and keys.  I especially loved it on my flight over to Port Elizabeth the following week.

We did a dusk walk-through of the African township of Mfueleni.  Dr. Visser wanted the team to see the environmental context in which many of their patients are released.  As we walked through a community that had no sidewalks, he asked us to imagine someone trying to navigate the narrow and rocky paths in a wheelchair.  There was no water other than a tap every several blocks, and he asked us to think about someone who has to keep a wound clean and re-bandaged without ready access to water.

I have always felt welcomed into the communities in which I visit--primarily because I am with people who have "sanction" to be there--and this was no different.  People in doorways smiled, spoke with us, and in general, our presence did not seem unusual to them.  One amusing moment came as we were walking a narrow pathway between several shanties and the doctor said to move a little faster.  He spoke several languages, and overheard residents saying, "The whites have arrived."

We completed the evening at the Pomegranate Restaurant at Vergenoegd Wine Estate (Dutch for "satisfaction has been acheived") with a delicious dinner prepared by Chef Mike Israel--whose descriptions of the food were almost as wonderful as the food itself.  I had a lovely tomato tart for starter, followed with game, and a decadent chocolate crepe with brandy sauce for desert.  It was quite late when we finished, and we were all tired, but none more so than our driver Jacques, who still had to drive 30 minutes back to his home after he dropped us back at Marsh.

Dr. Visser said he thought it important for us to reflect on the day and its many contrasts, which was why he picked the wine farm to complete the day's events.  As we were driving out, he asked if anyone had noted the slave bell, and how the entire farm was built to focus attention on the manor house (where we had dinner) and away from the lives of the laborers.
This slave bell is on Spier Farm, and was my first introduction (in 2003) to the method of calling laborers to work on the farms.  I shared my thoughts on the originally-planned Civil Rights Monument at Ole Miss--which distinctly resembled the slave bell in its form--and my thoughts about re-interpreting it to mean calling scholars to learn rather than laborers to work.  We had a subsequent discussion about whether or not symbols of oppression can be re-invented.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Eagles Rising, locked in the laundry room, and other lessons learned

 Eagles Rising is a small organization in Somerset West that serves as a 'bridging' program--bridging the gap between third world and first world--both of which are present in South Africa.  The students apply and are accepted for a 2 year program.  Most come from area townships, but there were several students from George, which is closer to Port Elizabeth.
 They sang for us, and the videos I took did not turn out for some reason, which was quite disappointing to me.  These young people have incredible talent, and singing is such a part of their lives.
 I wrote earlier about the killer trees--the blue gum and eucalyptus trees that they are in the process of cutting.  It has been 18 days now since they first made me sick, and at times, I think I am still no better.  Although yesterday was a fairly good day, the night and so far this morning has been miserable and all I want is to finish class and come home and go back to bed.  My head feels like one of these logs--and I have coughed until I actually have bruises on my abdomen!
 The trees sit at the base of the water shed for this valley so as the water comes down the mountain, the trees are sucking it out of the water table and preventing it from reaching the other areas needed.  This is a good lesson of what happens when colonization occurs: colonists bring things that are not indigenous to the area, and the outcome is never good when it is not part of the ecosystem.  I was explaining "kudzu" to our South African friends as one example.  Believe it or not, one of the Mississippi students even said, "Kudzu?  What's that?"
 The students are doing tunnel gardening, and growing vegetables both for their own use on the farm and to be able to sell some.  Due to the wind, insects, and other risks, gardens need to be enclosed.

 Last year, just as the crop was maturing, the neighbor's cows knocked down the fence, came in and trampled all the tunnels and ruined the crop.  The students are slowly rebuilding the tunnels, and had quite a few beds of vegetables doing well.

The following day, I was quite sick and it was cold and raining again as we headed over to Philani in Khayelitsha.  I had gotten locked in the laundry room at Court and Lira's, and had a lot of time to think while waiting for rescue.  Court and Lira's house is an older Cape Dutch style home, and the laundry room and shower are in an addition on the back of the house.  Court had locked the back door without realizing I was in the shower, so when I came out of the shower, I could not get back in the house and they were gone to work.

It was one of those "Kodak moments."  I knew eventually that the housekeeper would come, or that when I did not show up to get the students someone would walk over to find out why.  I just wrapped up in my towels, sat down on the chair in the laundry room, and tried to take in the words of the Sunday sermon: rest, relax, and go slow.  I did not really have a choice, but it also seemed like a good time to reflect on things.

I did realize that it would be important for future trips to interview students about how they handle disappointment, group living, lack of convenience, not always being able to have one's own way, nor the convenience of being at home when it comes to things like Internet, telephone, laundry, and transportation.  Those were all significant issues, and things I seldom think about after having traveled to South Africa so many times and am just used to as "it is what it is."

I also knew that no matter what, you cannot make everyone happy.  There are some people who can be happy in almost any situation, and some people who can not.  I feel fortunate and blessed that in general, my nature is one of just take what comes, try to see the humor in it, and don't let things over which I have no control rob my joy of experiences.  Kind of like getting locked in the laundry room. :)  Okay, I am here, what can I now do while I am here?  It was pretty funny when Juanita came in, and heard me calling.  She first went up stairs, thinking perhaps I had fallen.  She could not help herself at laughing when she found me in the laundry room, and had to call Court and Lira to tell them.  I did ask Court that night to do me a favor the next morning, and not lock me out of the house. :)

Next up, an incredible visit to Eersterivier, Aunty Goliath, the hospital, and Mfueleni.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Blue Tour Bus Day

 The second day of the CityTour provided much history of the colonization of the area, apartheid, and the current history.  Above is Rhodes Memorial, named after the British Cecil Rhodes, and for whom the former Rhodesia was named.
 Also at the base of Table Mountain is the University of Cape Town, which was also home to many demonstrations during the years of disrupting apartheid.
 This Dutch windmill was restored to be a working windmill, and the Cape Doctor winds keeps it moving.
Groot Constancia, the oldest winery in the Southern hemisphere.
The Constancia (Groot means "big") dates back over 300 years, and made the brandy that Napoleon drank during his exile.  Several years ago, they reintroduced that line.
 This was the first wine tasting for most of the students, and most of them professed that they had either not drank wine, or did not like it.  We did have to do a bit of cultural training about being sensitive to the environment, and that just as they would not go into a township and shout "this is horrible" neither should one go into a wine establishment and proclaim "this is horrible."  The protocol is spit, and pour it out, and while one is free to say I don't like this one, or I don't care for this one, it's rather like sitting down to dinner in someone's house and looking at the food and saying, "This is horrible" to be so blunt in expressing one's dislike for something.  It rather took our somalier aback at first, but being on the tour route, he had to be used to it.

 There were aspects of the wine that I enjoyed, though there are certainly several other wineries in the area that I definitely prefer, and I assured them we would make a few of them to give them greater variety.
 Further up the peninsula road, we arrived in Hout Bay.  The township of Imizale Yethu--like all of them--is on the outskirts of the town, stacked up the hillside.  Imizale Yethu is home to the factory for The Original T-Bag Designs, an innovative women's project.  I met the founder of T-Bags back in 2004, and have been fascinated by their work, and purchased much of it over the years.
 There is a new housing initiative in Imizale Yethu which has resulted in massive improvement in housing.  It is a private initiative, and has yielded some astonishing results for the community.
 Hout Bay actually established itself as an independent part of South Africa at one point and though I don't recall the exact details of that, they have remained a someone independent part of the province.  One reason might be there is only one way in and out of the community.  Here on the hillside, a resident was building his castle for his kingdom.
For my Unalaska friends, the local fish processing plant in Hout Bay: Oceana Brands.  Fishing is a large part of the economic development not only in Hout Bay, but in all the cities and towns along the coast here.  Fish is always on the menu!

And yes, soccer is the game in South Africa!  Everywhere we went, someone was playing soccer.