• 15Dec

    Funder Visit Part Three – The Stories

    This post is the last of three describing a visit we made to a drop in center. Part One, Part Two.

    The Village Health Workers
    There were about five village health workers (VHWs) there. They told us how their training has changed their lives – for example the social work training showed them the need to care for everyone in their community, not just their family members.

    Doris told how she lives with six orphans and cooks for many more. Her permaculture garden is thriving and she has five HIV+ patients who are all on anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).

    Two Village Health Workers

    Two Village Health Workers

    Beatrice has helped the child-headed families and orphans in her area to get the social grants they are entitled to.

    Another VHW cooks for 15 orphans and vulnerable children at the local preschool and another nine older children in the area. I’ve met her before – she lives with five young grandchildren in a cramped mud-brick home, yet she still finds the time and energy to help others.

    The People Living With AIDS
    One man, who looked around 35 or so, stood to say he is sick (HIV+) and Leticia has helped him by taking him to the clinic and providing him with food from her garden. He was grateful for all the help she gives him.

    Another man stood to say he could barely talk about his situation, but Leticia’s health care was very important to him. Tears welled as he told us he was sick – we learned as he sat down that he has only just learned he is HIV positive. We told him that with good nutrition and health care, and with proper use of ARVs, he would be able to live a long life. We told the men that many people in the US and UK are living with AIDS and that they are not getting sick thanks to ARVs. Often people here are surprised to learn that people in developed countries have HIV/AIDS and we always try to explain that it is a disease like many others and needs to be treated not stigmatized.

    A young woman told us outright that she is HIV+. She was being very brave – most people here will not admit their status like that. She told us how she had gone to the clinic with Leticia, but her CD4 count was too high (at 54) to qualify for ARV treatment at the time. Leticia has been providing her with vegetables and she is helping in the garden and with cooking for the children. Thanks to the improvement in nutrition and general welfare her CD4 count is now over 200 and she feels fit and strong. She said that if not for Leticia, she would be in the ground by now.

    The Children and Elderly
    A boy of 16 from a child-headed family told us about how Leticia has helped him with food parcels and vegetables from her garden. He has been helping her in the garden and was so inspired that he started his own. Hlomelikusasa has provided him with a fence, some tools, and soon he will receive full permaculture training from us. He told us later that he wants to become a pilot.

    Child-Headed Family Garden

    Child-Headed Family Garden

    One girl came to thank us for the nutrition and help with her school uniform. She reminded us that she will need a new uniform next year when she starts high school! She had written a touching note to Priscilla and showed us the memory box she has with photos of her parents inside.

    Another girl thanked us for the nutrition and care she receives at Leticia’s, and also mentioned having enjoyed the art workshop Alex and I did with her last month.

    One woman stood to thank Leticia for her help with the elderly. She broke down as she described her elderly mother, who is often left alone at home. She said she sees Leticia visiting her mother and taking vegetables to her, even though she was never asked to do so. She was overcome with tears. I felt emotional myself, looking around at the inspiring and friendly faces. I started to feel a pang that I’m going to leave this behind next year when we go home. It feels a lot like how we felt when we left New York in July.

    Heres a gogo who came around to see what all the fuss was about

    Here's a gogo who came around to see what all the fuss was about

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  • 13Dec

    Incredible Mount Frere sunset

    Last night I looked out the window and I thought someone was holding a sheet of orange construction paper to the window or something. I couldn’t believe that was the actual color of the sky! Andy and I took a walk in the rain, marveling at the breathtakingly surreal sight. The pictures barely do it justice. Tonight there was a crazy insane rainstorm, but we didn’t get any good pics. The lightning & thunder were fantastic, though.

    Across the street from our flat.

    Across the street from our flat.

    View from our kitchen window.

    View from our kitchen window.

    And last but not least, the latest addition to our bug-spotting obsession. We found a praying mantis on the kitchen counter the other day. How cool is that!

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  • 12Dec

    Sports day with S.C.O.R.E!

    There’s a Norwegian girl named Ina who is here in MF with a program called S.C.O.R.E., which is a South African NGO doing community development through sports, specifically soccer. I think sometimes it’s a little hard for her to make any headway because people can be so disorganized. She’s been stuck trying to “make it happen” at the same school that we had the most trouble. The principal and his head deputy are quite useless and Ina was getting as frustrated as we were, so a few weekends ago we decided to take matters into our own hands! Fikiswa and I organized a ‘Play Day’ with several OVC in a village near Mount Frere and we headed out early Saturday morning with Ina’s soccer, foot, tennis, and hand balls (I brought art supplies, but never ended up taking them out of the truck).

    It got a bit repetitive playing catch for 3 hours straight, but the kids loved it.

    Andy got a soccer game going, and made a lot of friends every time he headbutted the soccer ball. A couple of the kids were really good, including one boy who totally schooled everyone else w/ no shoes on!

    Most of the girls played handball, and the younger kids stuck to playing catch.

    Even the village health workers got into it! They were wrapped in blankets because it was a cold day, but they hiked their blankets up and tossed the ball around like pros.

    Toward the end, a couple of drunks showed up (that happens almost every time we go on a location visit) and stole one of Ina’s soccer balls, which was a bit of a buzz kill. Didn’t they have anything better to do than hang around the school playground on a Saturday morning? Apparently not, considering they were smashed by 11AM. Unfortunately we see that a lot.

    After a few hours everyone was exhausted. We all had a few spins on the roundabout,

    and then we finished the day with a song that Ina taught us. Repeat after me (sung to the tune of ‘frere jaque’):

    Ina leading the group in the Fruit Salad song.

    “Wa-ter-me-lon” (wave your arms in a 1/2 circle)

    “Pine-ap-ple” (pat your hands around the shape of a giant pineapple)

    “Ba-na-na Ba-nana” (kick your feet in front of you)

    “Fruit Sa-lad, Fruit Sa-lad” (hands on hips, shake your hips)

    Not only did everyone LOVE the warm-up / cool-down dance, but there was one village health worker, Nomsa, who thought it was so funny that now she does the “Wa-ter-mel-on” dance every time I see her! She doesn’t speak much English, so that has become our form of communication. It’s hilarious.

    Viva Sports Day!!!!!!

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  • 03Dec

    Funder Visit Part Two: Elation

    This is part two of a three-part post. Part One, Part Three

    On Saturday, having triple-confirmed the visit, we drove out to Njijini to visit Leticia’s drop-in centre. That’s the same place Alex and I went to a month ago to do art with the children (a post about that is pending!). Leticia is on the executive committee of Hlomelikusasa and has one of the finest gardens around. Her drop-in center feeds about twenty orphans and vulnerable children; she also provides health services to elderly and HIV+ people in her area; and takes Hlomelikusasa food parcels to child-headed families. She has just finished building (with her own labour and money) a new dining room for the children to be able to sit at a table and eat (until now they have sat on the kitchen floor, which is the same of most drop-in centres.)

    A sangoma singing and dancing

    A sangoma singing and dancing

    As we arrived, we could tell that the day was going to be very different: we were greeted by Beatrice, a village health worker from near by, rushing down the track and ululating loudly! Behind Beatrice came children, more VHWs and three sangomas – local traditional healers (some would say witch doctor, although the sangomas are more into herbalism and Xhosa culture than magic). Immediately, the sangomas were singing and dancing. Everyone came to welcome each of us individually – lots of hand shaking and asking “njani?”… it was bewildering and joyful.

    We moved into Leticia’s living room – somehow about twenty-five adults found seats – and introductions were made. I was thrilled to be non-introduced, since most of the VHWs already know us. I was mentioned as “Andy, he stays with us,” meaning “lives with us.” Formalities over, we heard the stories of almost everyone there.

    Boniswa, the founder of Hlomelikusasa, with sangomas

    Boniswa (in purple), the founder of Hlomelikusasa, with sangomas

    In between each story, the whole room was filled with singing and clapping. Usually this starts with the next person to speak, who launches into song as they stand up. Everyone else joins them for the second line as they make their way to the front. On two occasions the meeting was suspended as the sangomas sang and danced for a few minutes. At one point Leticia brought in a big drum to accompany them.

    The new dining room / drop-in center. Its made out of mud bricks.

    The new dining room / drop-in centre. It's made out of mud bricks.

    After the stories, we broke for lunch (samp and beans, of course) since the children were getting restless outside. I spoke to many people and watched more singing and dancing.

    I danced with the sangomas. They have soooo much energy! (I think its the tea they drink all the time)

    I danced with the sangomas. They have soooo much energy! (I think it's the 'tea' they drink all the time)

    Leticia with some of the people who benefit from her drop-in centre.

    Leticia with some of the people who benefit from her drop-in centre.

    Pictures courtesy of Priscilla Higham, since Alex had our camera with her in Cape Town.

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  • 01Dec

    Funder Visit Part One: Disappointment

    This week we had a visit from the Monument Trust, one of ASAP’s biggest funders at the moment. On Friday we made some disappointing visits. First, to a local school, where the deputy principal was drunk (at 10am!), the kids weren’t in classes and the principal told us he wants to put weedkiller on the permaculture garden.

    School garden at work

    School garden at work

    We then trucked out on a dirt road for over an hour. We visited a village health worker’s (VHW’s) garden which was doing rather well – she has an amazing view over the flattest soccer pitch I’ve seen here onto rolling green mountains. My favourite sight was watching her pig wallow in the puddle beneath her water tank, but there were also plenty of vegetables and potatoes in the garden.

    Our final stop for the day was even further away from town, at a drop-in centre and garden run by Princess. Unfortunately, just as we were leaving the dirt road and bouncing along a muddy track to her house, we received a call from the office in Mount Frere telling us that Princess was there, and had come to confirm the visit was happening the following day. It stemmed from a significant miscommunication, I presume, and everyone was gutted to hear it. We glanced around her garden but since there were no children being cooked for or other people to speak to, we rode back to town in disillusionment.

    Princess' garden

    Deep permaculture ditches, or 'swales,' in Princess' garden.

    Part Two, Part Three.

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  • 25Nov

    We need your help!

    Hi Everyone,

    We’re facing a small problem (actually two small, cute, furry problems). Our current cat-sitting arrangement has to end in the spring for various reasons, and now we need a Plan B starting in May (or sooner, if possible). If we can’t find somewhere for Penny & Kung Fu to live, we might have to cut short our volunteer work–and that would suck!

    SO: would you (or a responsible friend) be willing to take one or both of our cats any time between January – May until mid-September 2009? We can cover vets bills (generally zilch, they’re young and healthy!), food bills (around $25/month for both of them), etc.

    About the cats:
    Penny is a fluffy calico, a bit overweight, who like to sleep on the end of your bed, eat when no one’s looking, and have her tummy rubbed.

    Pennys got a soft tummy!

    Penny's got a soft tummy!

    Kung Fu is a handsome tuxedo who loves to stretch, cuddle, and has an alarming fetish for feathery cat toys.

    Kung Fu stuck in some pants.

    Kung Fu stuck in some pants.

    They’re both huge Obama fans, both spayed/neutered, healthy, and happily house trained. They eat dry cat food and have a water fountain that keeps them going for a few days at a time. All it would take to look after them is:

    1. A place to keep a litter tray (not so gross!) and time to clean it every few days (or weeks).
    2. A friend/neighbor who can stop by and feed them every day or two if you go away.
    3. Food once or twice a day, plus extra water every few days (be prepared to get some lovin’ in return!).
    P & KF loungin on the sofa

    P & KF loungin' on the sofa

    This is what they looked like when they were teeny tiny babies!

    Happy Thanksgiving! And we’ll have another Africa related blog post soon.

    Love, Alex & Andy

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  • 22Nov

    Art workshop in Cape Town

    Group pic w/ Nyanga gogos

    Group pic w/ Nyanga gogos

    Priscilla hired this woman named Gloria Simoneaux, who’s working/living in Nairobi on a Fullbright scholarship, to come to Cape Town and do several art projects with the gogos in Nyanga and Kayalitcha. It was exhausting and frustrating at times, but ultimately incredible. I got lost every single day, drumming in the fact that I have the worlds most terrible sense of direction (yes, we were going to and from the same exact place every time). The gogos were too old and feeble for some of the projects we had them doing, so there was a lot of trial and error and on-the-fly thinking. Even though the space was way too small, and the gogos weren’t always physically capable of doing every activity, we had such a blast! I learned so much cool stuff that I can’t wait to take back to Mount Frere with me. Gloria has a great repertoire of fun, relaxing, self-exploration projects, and I even got to throw in some of my own ideas. We were a pretty good team, I think!

    One of our most rewarding projects was “Body Mapping.” Basically, you lie on a big sheet of paper, trace your body, and then fill in bits and pieces with different things, like: what is your strongest place (ie, your heart, arms, brain, eyes…); outline your body using your favorite color; write the names of people who have helped you in your life, etc. Anyway, it was incredible, especially to see the looks on their faces when they saw what they had created! They were all so self conscious at first, and insisted they were terrible artists, but they were all fantastic. Some of them seemed SO stubborn at first, grumpy and refusing to paint—but by the end of the workshop they had totally opened up and were smiling, laughing, crying. It was tumultuous and unforgettable.

    The workshop was split into 2 groups. The first 2 days were the gogos from Kayalitcha, and the last 2 days were the gogos from Nyanga. I only have pics of Nyanga gogos right now, but will get more pics from Gloria later. We had a great time. I think it was a real learning experience for everyone!

    Im trying to help this gogo think of something she loves about herself.

    I'm trying to help this gogo think of something she loves about herself.

    Gloria helped this ancient blind gogo paint, a picture of her happy place.

    Gloria helped this ancient blind gogo draw a picture of her "happy place." (Her church, of course!)

    I absolutely loved this woman, Elizabeth. She was the leader, I think, and led the group in some singing and dancing whey they were getting a bit tired. At the end of the workshop she said, I feel so healthy. I am alive again. Breaks my heart!

    I absolutely loved this woman, Elizabeth. She was the leader, I think, and on the first day she got the group to do some singing and dancing when they were getting a bit tired. It was beautiful. At the end of the workshop she said, "I feel so healthy. I am alive again!" Breaks your heart!

    Everyone is hard at work, exploring their creativity!

    Everyone is hard at work, exploring their creativity!

    HUGE thanks to Priscilla, Gloria, and everyone at Baphumelele for letting me be a part of such an awesome workshop!

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  • 06Nov

    Nutrition day at Hlom. And cake night for A&A!

    Village health workers waiting to get their nutrition parcels outside the Hlomelikusasa container.

    Village health workers waiting to get their nutrition parcels outside the Hlomelikusasa container.

    Nutrition day at Hlomelikusasa happens once a month. Here’s how it goes: Nokulunga goes into town and buys the nutrition which consists of dried beans, mealie meal, sugar, semp, dried soy mince, and oil. Handing out nutrition is a two day process with a line out the door, waiting to talk to Nokulunga and tell her how many orphans & vulnerable children (OVC) they are cooking for, or how many Child Headed Families (CHF) they have (the child headed families are kids being looked after by an older sibling, & in addition to food, they also get soap, candles, and matches). Each Village Health Worker (VHW) cooks for anywhere from 5-50 kids, so the nutrition is distributed accordingly. And then they have to carry it back to whatever bus or taxi they are taking to get home—and home could be up to 60km away. If they can, they get someone from home to help them carry everything, and whatever they can’t carry they balance on top of their heads! The nutrition they are given is supposed to last for 1 month, but we have heard many accounts of it only lasting 3 weeks. There are a lot of stories of “extra kids” coming to eat the nutrition so it doesn’t stretch the month. The meals are always the same, but they are very hearty, and mixed with vegetables, if the village health workers have their own gardens, which many of them do.

    …. And speaking of nutrition… Last night I decided to make a celebratory Obama cake. Here’s the recipe, for those interested:

    First of all, look around the kitchen. What do you have? Not much? Perfect!

    I melted a candy bar w/ a tablespoon of low-fat margarine; separated 2 eggs and beat the whites until I got bored (about 45 seconds); mixed the egg yolks with some sugar, and hey, why not a little diet coke, too?; some flour (even though I decided to make a flourless cake, it seemed wrong not to put flour in); a splash of Amarulah; a pinch of ginger; and some coffee. Mix it all together, bake it just shy of smelling burnt candy throughout the house (about 45 minutes at 190c), and then voila!

    Celebratory Obama cake. Mmmm... tastes like CHANGE!

    Celebratory Obama cake. Mmmm... tastes like CHANGE!

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  • 04Nov

    Feeling especially homesick today!

    GO OBAMA!!!!!

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  • 31Oct

    Happy Halloween!!!

    Trick or Treat!!!

    We tried explaining Halloween to Fikiswa… and the concept was a bit murky, but we decided that we could celebrate Halloween on our blog. Here are our costumes:

    Boo! Spooky 1/2 Portrait Alex!

    Boo! Spooky 1/2 Portrait Alex!

    Aaarrrgghghghg! Scary 1/2 Portrait Andy!

    Aaarrrgghghghg! Scary 1/2 Portrait Andy!

    We have a Dario Argento movie stored on the computer, so I think we’ll watch it tonight and try to scare eachother to death—muahahaha!!!!!!!!!!

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