• 16Jun

    Beat It!

    While we were away, ASAP organized a workshop series with a non-profit called Siyayinqoba Beat It! to help our staff and village health workers become qualified HIV/AIDS peer educators. Everyone around here has heard the requisite AIDS awareness speech, but there is a lot of AIDS denial, and some people who still think AIDS is a curse. Siyayinqoba aims to give the scientific information on the virus—where it originates, how it spreads, how treatment works—in a visual way to overcome language and literacy barriers.

    Each participant was given a certificate, and soon Hlomelikusasa will be sent a 21-part DVD series so that our VHW can become peer educators and show the DVDs in their rural location (though not everyone has electricity or DVD players, so I’m not entirly clear on that).  The buzz on the workshop is that it was a huge success, and everyone found it incredibly informative. They’d never thought about the virus in such scientific terms, and it was eye-opening for everyone. I only wish we could have been there to participate!

    Certified and ready to peer-educate!

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  • 11Jun

    We’re back!

    After a lengthy haitus—during which we went to the beautiful, lovely, fun, and unforgettable wedding of Jen & John Hassett…


    What a gorgeous couple!

    …and celebrated Andy’s doctoral degree at Columbia’s commencement ceremonies…

    The Grad

    Doctor O'Neill, at your service

    —we’re finally back in Mount Frere! Freezing, freezing, freezing cold Mount Frere. So far we’re off to a slow start. Having been away for so long, we’re not hip to the current day-to-day activities going on at Hlomelikusasa. We’re still “supposedly” being evicted, though our evictors have promised to find us a new office, so I guess we’re waiting for that. At this rate, I’m not sure we’ll still be in Africa when Hlom. finally gets relocated!

    While we were in New York Andy and I went to visit 2 schools on Long Island who have been raising money for ASAP’s School to School program. I have been trying to jump-start a penpal relationship with the American kids and some of the orphans around Mount Frere. After our nightmare presentation (we’d prepared a somewhat more cerebral discussion than the roomful of 4 year olds could handle) they gave us a big stack of letters to bring back to the OVC here. So, once settled back in Mount Frere, I went to one of our local schools and had the kids read aloud a few of the American letters. It was a blast.


    The kids in the US wrote lovely letters, but they do have a very different lifestyle. It was pretty hard for the Mount Frere youth to wrap their heads around sentences like “I enjoy swimming in my pool and sailing in one of my family’s boats,” or “I have three dogs and my favorite sport is Jujitsu.” But I think they had fun, and I’m going to pick up their response letters tomorrow–here’s hoping they make sense!


    I am hoping to continue the School to School program when we return to the states. If anyone knows of a school (elementary or high school) who might like to become a part of this program, please let me know! The US schools on Long Island have been raising funds through donations, bake sales, lemonade stands etc. to help orphans with school uniforms, learning materials, and also furniture for classrooms. It’s a great project.

    More posts to come. Thanks for tuning in!

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  • 02Jun

    The Hawker

    What do you need?

    Come on, you can tell me.

    What would strike your fancy?

    Could it be … a battery-operated chicken, perched in a nest, that sings “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

    The Hawker and his chickens

    Yes, an electronic chicken—just what I’ve always wanted!

    The hawker aims to please.

    He pushes the chickens pretty hard, but we’ve never caved. (Alhtough we did see one on the mantel of a VHW once, so they’re obviously a market for them.) But electronic chickens aren’t for everyone. We were, however, talked into buying a casette tape. The Mauve-a-tron is old skool, and we like to play tapes when we’re feeling nostalgiac. The Hawker mostly has bad gospel, but one day he flashed The Trojan Hits of Eric Donaldson. We couldn’t resist. (Nokulunga sold us on him by saying she used to groove to his records, and that he’s South African. He’s Jamaican, but its the thought that counts.)

    Eric Donaldson -- reggae master

    Seeing how much we loved that tape, the Hawker tried to tempt us again. He came in one day, very excited, and told us he had something very special, and then whipped out a pristine Dolly Parton tape. What self-respecting umlungu doesn’t like blonde, white chicks singin’ country music? Us, apparently. This made the Hawker very sad. But then we bought a key chain from him, which perked everyone right up.

    We would probably enjoy the Hawker’s random visits a lot more if he didn’t completely reek. He smells like sweat and urine, and the smell lingers long after he’s left the office. I know that’s mean to point out since the guy probably doesn’t have easy access to a shower, but I wanted to give you the complete picture.

    ps-I’m taking chicken orders starting now.

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  • 10May

    Helpful People

    It’s time for us to take a brief hiatus while we go to the UK for Jen’s wedding (yay!!!!!!!) and then to New York for Andy’s graduation (yay!!!!!). We’re going to leave you with a belated post of Thank Yous to the many helpful people we’ve met along the way.

    Helpful people in Cape Town

    We had to write a post to mention the wonderful people at KV Art in Cape Town. We called them to see if they could cut us a deal on paint/pencils/paper/glue etc for the art projects we are hoping to run with the children in Mount Frere and they said we could get a 10% discount from wholesale prices since we were a non-profit organization. When we got up there, they took us through to the warehouse and showed us a huge pile of soiled/returned paint and things, saying “take your pick.” We ended up with boxes and boxes of paint, which would have been far too expensive for us to buy out of our own pockets. In return the people at KV never asked for a thing, not even a receipt for a tax write-off. So thank-you again KV Art / Dala Paint in Cape Town. The orphans and vulnerable children have got a lot out of the paint, although the mauve-a-tron’s suspension will never be the same since we loaded her up with 40 litres of paint and went off-roading.

    Helpful people in East London

    As we were heading to East London airport to meet ASAP’s Priscilla, a white guy in an SUV pulled up next to us. He motioned for me to wind down the window, and told us our brake lights didn’t work. Not surprising considering the beating that the M-o-T had just taken on our cross-country trip. Apparently, pulling people over to say that their brake lights don’t work is also a classic carjacking ruse here, but in this case the helpful stranger was correct. A goose-chase ensued around East London as were tried to find a place who could fix the lights (and quickly – we still had a four hour drive ahead of us and it was 2pm already. Did we mention that it’s strongly recommended not to drive at night in the Eastern Cape?) Eventually we were directed to MD Enterprises, which seemed to be a high-end car audio and alarm workshop. A guy looked at our car, checked the fuses then noticed that the brake-light-switch was disconnected (or something… why would they put removable connections on that?). He had us back on the road in about 4 minutes flat, and charged us zero Rand (that’s $0 or £0 to you first-worlders). So thank you very very much MD Enterprises of East London (and the helpful stranger too!)

    Helpful people in Matatiele
    More car trouble? Yep! We’ve already posted about our trip to Matatiele and the car trouble, but special thanks to Outsurance and Matat Towing Service. Good people, and very efficient! Getting stuck on an empty country road after sunset could have had a very different outcome, so thanks guys!

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  • 24Apr

    Trip to Matat


    View of Lesotho from Mamohau

    We spent Easter weekend staying in Matatiele, and visiting one of ASAP’s newest CBO’s: Mamohau. It’s in a very remote village 1.5 hrs from Matatiele. As of now they have about 60 OVC, which is an alarming rise since ASAP came in, when they only had about 15 orphans. The funding brought more OVC out of the woodwork, which is probably both good and bad. ASAP’s social worker has already been there a few times to do assessments and help get the kids on government grants for support.


    Rosemary, project manager of Mamohau

    While we were there, we did an interview with the project manager and some of the Mamohau officials. We ended up shooting over 3 hours of footage and we got some great stuff.
    IMG_8626_800 Mamohau is a breathtaking area. We’d already been there once in October (posted about it, I think) so we were a bit more used to the area. It is so rural. In fact, when we showed up on the second day, Andy had to get out and grab a sample of land to take back to Scilla, and while he was getting it EVERY single child in the area came over to the car and poked their heads in. They all wanted candy, but I didn’t have any. So then they asked to hear the radio, so I kicked out the jams for a bit. They were adorable, but the horror-movie-maker in me sort of wished they’d turn into zombies and roll the car over and attack! But that didn’t happen. Probably just as well.


    Mobbed by kids in Masupha!

    We were invited back on Sunday for their big Easter feast. Andy and I were both scared it was going to be a major bible bashing event, but there was only about a 1/2 hr of “bible sharing” which was all in seSotho anyway, so we just let our eyes glaze over. The singing was the best part, as usual. Those Mamohau mamas sure do like to sing! And one of them even ululated a bunch which was wicked cool. The whole day was great, but as usual, very delayed. Rosemary asked us to get there at 11, so we showed up at 10:30, and we didn’t get started until after 2 o’clock. As per! But we were made to feel really special, and it was a great honor to be included in the festivities.


    Mamas dancing at the Easter feast

    Our other day in Matatiele was a free day, and so we drove into Lesotho! God, it was beautiful. The drive up to the border was somewhat painful for the Mauve-a-tron but we finally made it. The passport check was harmless but time consuming, and then we realized we didn’t actually have any Lesotho money (whoops!) but they take Rand.


    Village along the road in Lesotho

    We didn’t have much time to spent there, and so we just drove and drove … and then turned back. Had a quick bite of lunch in Quacha’s Neck, on the border of Lesotho and South Africa — not a restaurant I’d recommend. It was a great mini-excursion, and left us yearning to explore Lesotho in greater detail. However, I don’t think our car wants to go back EVER.
    Speaking of the Mauve-a-tron: All the dirt, gravelly roads really wore down the car, and after the Easter feast, we started to head back toward Matatiele and on to Mount Frere. It was getting dark and we had a few hours driving ahead of us still. We’re not car people so I had no clue what the problem was, but as we drove down a tiny dirt road there was a loud screetch and then a hefty clank, and we were afraid to drive any further. We stopped and randomly looked under the hood, etc. Within minutes a nice guy called Moses had stopped behind the Mauve to see what was the matter. “If it was just a flat, I would be happy to help,” he told us kindly. But he wasn’t really equipped to help with our problem — ‘something’ underneath the front left wheel had broken off. We didnt’ know what that ‘something’ was, but it was obviously detached when you compared it to the other wheels. Moses offered to stop by a tow-truck shop in Matatiele and send them out if we weren’t able to reach our insurance, and as he drove away, he added, “You might want to put the hood down and sit in the car. It’s not that safe around here.” …uh, thanks Moses, for scaring the crap out of us!!! We got through to our insurance co, they told us it’d be 49 minutes until a tow-truck arrived, and so we waited, despondantly, for aid.
    Anytime another car drove past, we’d put on our best I’m-sitting-here-on-purpose looks and hope they’d just keep driving. They all did. As the sun disappeared behind the mountains, our tow truck arrived. The less-than-talkative mechanic took the car back to his shop and told us it was the stabilizer link. “You don’t really need that. You can drive without it,” he told us. It’s kind of sketchy when the guy just removes a piece of your car and tells you to keep driving … but who were we to argue! To his credit, the car drove fine after that, and Andy went to Kokstad a few days later to get a new stabilizer link put on. They even fixed our handbrake, which made The Mauve very happy.

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  • 18Apr

    Dealin’ electric

    Once a month we track down Nomvano, our ‘super’, to buy electricity. Not something I’m used to, bein’ an American gal. And it’s always more complicated than it needs to be … much like everything else in Mount Frere.

    First we have to call Nomvano. Sounds easy, right? Nomvano speaks pretty good English, but hot-damn is she hard to understand on the phone! Once we’ve been cut-off a few times and have all become extremely frustrated, we decide on a meeting spot for the ‘transaction’. Sometimes we meet outside the bank, sometimes in the parking lot of our building, or the taxi rank, or down a back road we didn’t even know existed.

    Andy buying electricity from Nomvano.

    The buy.

    Nomvano carries the electricity either in her bra or up her shirt sleeves, and if you’re lucky, she’ll ask you to fish it out for her when her hands are full! Electricity costs R50 for 80 kilowatt hours. Pretty fair deal, and we go through about 5 units per month. Therefore, we always try to buy extra — maybe 6, maybe 8, depending on how many she’s got. That is always a huge surprise to her. Most people buy them one at a time. Even phone cards are sold in R5 increments. Can you imagine filling up your cell phone with .50 cents-worth? That’s how they roll in the Frere.

    Then we take our little paper electricity cards back to the flat and punch them into the electricity box on the wall. It’s actually great for energy conservation because I’m more likely to turn off lights and appliances when I see the numbers on the electricity box going down, down, down.

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  • 08Apr

    Art Visit from hell …to heaven!

    I haven’t done many art workshops at drop-in centers lately because school registration uses the bakkie, but Fikiswa helped me find a location that we might be able to drive to in the Mauve-A-Tron. So I gathered all my supplies and we headed out to Njijini to visit a VHW named Cecelia. We drove out there without a real clear idea of where we were going and had to pull over a few times to ask for directions (something that happens a lot. Everyone knows everyone in the rural areas). Finally a young boy jumped in the backseat to show us the way. He told me to turn down a tiny dirt road, which I was skeptical of, but thought I’d give it a try. We stopped in front of one house, but it was the wrong one, and when I tried to drive forward again, the car got stuck! The wheel went in a ditch, and when I hit the gas it just spun in the air.


    Uh-oh. Poor Mauve-A-Tron!

    Several kids came over to see what was going on, but they were all about 5 years old and too small to help. They ran off to get help, and a two teenage boys eventually came to assist. Yes, it was a little embarrassing. The car didn’t need to be pushed, it needed to be lifted up off the ground while I drove in reverse to get the tire back on the road. Shu! I would have offered to help with the lifting, but I was the only one around who knew how to drive a car.

    Once the car was out and back on the main dirt road, I refused to do any more off-roading. That meant we had to find somewhere to park the car before walking the rest of the way to Cecelia’s house. We pulled though a random person’s gate and parked in a field. Then we knocked on their rondaval door to ask if we could leave the car for a few hours. You should have seen the looks on the woman’s face when an umlungu walked in. Her eyes almost popped out of their sockets, wondering what a white person was doing at her house in the middle of nowhere. She let us leave the car there, but all was not well: as we were leaving, I bent down to pat their dog — bad idea. He bit my arm! The bite barely tore through the skin, and I have a big purply bruise now (not so bad), but Andy’s going to keep an eye on me to make sure I don’t start showing signs of Rabies. Fingers crossed!

    Finally we got to Cecelia’s. We were there in time for nutrition, which is always fun. I got some great photos, and also some video footage which I’ll edit into the VHW video piece I’m working on. They were eating semp & beans, spinach, and soup (they use dried soup and make it really thick so it’s more of a gravy for the semp).


    Kids eating semp & beans with yummy veg from Cecelia's garden.

    After nutrition we got to do a fun art project! We made masks, cutting eye-holes out of paper plates and then painting them; and then I got out a big bag of beads (to a crescendo of ooohs and aaahs) and elastic string so we could make a strap for the masks.


    Such adorable, creative kids!


    Badass in a painted mask.

    As usual, they all seemed a bit tentative at first — nobody wants to be the first one to start — but by the end they were practically devouring the supplies. Everyone looked very fabulous in their masks, and looooooved having their photos taken, as usual.


    13 masked OVC, plus Cecelia and two of her kids

    ps — Oh, I almost forgot the last bit: After we were done, we went to pick up our car. It was still there, to our immense relief. A boy took us to a different rondaval on the property so we could say thank you, and Fikiswa knocked on the door then went in. It was bath time! The lady of the house (a rather large mama) was standing in the middle of the room, completely butt naked, and washing herself with a cloth. She wasn’t the least bit embarrassed that I was standing there, trying not to stare at her ginormo boobs. I didn’t take a picture, but I’ll leave it to your creative imaginations. teeheehee.

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  • 03Apr

    Mini-break to Cape Town

    Our friends Amanda and Jeff — friends from Columbia who are both from South Africa — invited us to their wedding in Cape Town and we had a blast!

    We stayed with our fantabulous friends Alex & Kristen and were busy busy busy the whole time. Jeff has just convereted to Judaism, so there were many traditions upheld. Saturday morning was shull, which was an odd experience for an athiest/feminist like me. The women sit seperately from the men, for instance. That was not something I was expecting, and felt even more out-of-sorts when we were ‘shooshed’ from time to time by the men on the other side of the partitian. But that’s the way they do things, so I went with the flow. We were given a copy of the Temple’s newsletter for women called ‘The Princess Diaries’ which was full of all sorts of info on how to be a good Jewish wife. Lots of tips on how to tame bratty children, plus some confusing stuff about turning on the stove for your maid. There are so many rules in Judaism, I can’t keep up!

    Later that day we went to Chapman’s Peak to do a little sightseeing. It was so beautiful! Cape Town really is gorgeous.

    Andy at Chapmans Peak

    Andy at Chapman's Peak

    Then we went to a fish market in Hout Bay and bought a massive piece of Yellow Tail fish and went back to Alex’s for a braai. And yes, we braai’d hard! It was a blast, not to mention we also got to see our friend Chrissy from NYC and her really great boyfriend Steffen. It was like old times, hanging out with the Columbia crew and having drinks.

    Guttin the Yellow Tail

    Guttin' the Yellow Tail

    The wedding was a beautiful, magical event. Amanda looked like a super-duper princess, and Jeff looked like the happiest guy on the planet! The ceremony was traditional. They were under the huppa; Jeff crushed a glass; Amanda circled Jeff 7 times (quite a feat in that dress!); Jeff was the only one who had to say the ‘I Do’ stuff, but I think the 7-circles counted as Amana’s ‘I Do’.

    Ceremony at Boulders Beach

    Ceremony at Boulder's Beach

    The Israeli dancing was a blast. Very energetic and confusing. And all the speeches were lovely. Both of Amanda’s parents have passed away so her older brother gave a speech, and it was great. I nearly cried!

    Chair dance!

    Chair dance!

    And, of course, I closed the party down, requesting pop songs and having a blast with both old and new friends. Quite a fun weekend!

    Alex, Kristen, Andy, Alex, Chrissy, Steffen.

    Alex, Kristen, Andy, Alex, Chrissy, Steffen.

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  • 01Apr

    Frankenstein in the Eastern Cape?

    Andy and I heard this story on the news this morning: A taxi driver in Ngqeleni (near Mthatha) who was shot to death in 2001 has come back from the dead! Dun-dun-duunn!!! Here are a few exerpts from the article:

    The man, identified as Nkosinathi Ntente, who could no longer recall his own age, told his family that he was kidnapped by witches. He had been living in a local forest for the past eight years.

    The guy was shot in the chest during a taxi altercation in the Eastern Cape. He was issued a death certificate after his family identified the body. However, he claims that he attended his own funeral!

    “He [Ntente] told us that he saw something like a picture of himself being shot and suddenly there was blood in the car. He says he lost his mind shortly afterwards.

    Ntente told his family that while driving a taxi on the day of his “death”, he came across two women chasing someone that looked like him and hitting him. He said the women then also hit him with “something” and took him to a forest in Mqanguli.

    “I lived in a Mqanguli forest all along with a shadow. We drank people’s blood because we did not eat food. Now that I am back I cannot eat food but I can only drink water,” Ntente said during a brief interview.

    Now the family is starting to wonder who — or what — they buried.

    We also heard on the radio that the man claims that the witches finally decided to let him go because he was too powerful, and they wouldn’t be able to get him to do evil deeds for them. Fikiswa thinks they returned him because his family must have prayed very hard, and that we must all pray very hard to avoid situations like this.


    ps-April fools! (I think…)

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  • 27Mar

    What would you do with 500 chickens?

    Give them to Village Health Workers, that’s what!!!

    Yesterday, a truck full of 500 fully grown chickens was delivered (from funds raised by ASAP) to be distributed among 33 VHWs. That’s 15 chickens a piece! The chickens went to some of our most dedicated VHWs (and a few VHW who maybe didn’t deserve it, but they always get preferential treatment). The idea was to give chickens to those VHWs who are cooking for orphans and have prosperous gardens with good permaculture technique. These are indigenous laying hens, and the eggs will be a welcome source of protein for the orphans.

    There are 13 other chickens in that box!

    There are 13 other chickens in that box!

    Like everything else here, it was chaotic. We had specifically asked Nokulunga (the head of permaculture) and her assistant to collect boxes all over town for the VHWs to put their chickens in. Guess how many boxes they collected — NONE! We’ve learned not to be surprised when stuff like that happens (ALL THE TIME). The project manager told the VHWs to bring their own boxes. Apparently, she (and our new youth coordinator) think we coddle our VHWs too much and they need to get their shit together and fend for themselves! Tough crowd! So, not everyone brought boxes (again, no big surprise) and we were then scrambling around to get boxes. While they waited for boxes, Nokulunga and a few VHWs stuffed chickens into an abandoned truck. They were really crammed in, and sadly, a few of ‘em died from suffocation. Only three. Three of out 500 ain’t bad!

    VHWs with their chickens

    VHWs with their chickens

    It was an exciting day and everyone seemed soooo pleased to have chickens! The hope is that they will breed the chickens and it can become a mode of income generation. They’ll have chickens to sell, chickens to keep, and eggs to eat!

    Happy Chicken Day!

    Exec Committee member picking up her chickens

    Exec Committee member picking up her chickens

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