A Golden Saturday

I woke up and went to the gym, ever so briefly and then went home to prep for a blind date of sorts.  I was looking to make a new friend, but I gathered too late that he wanted a date.  Met him on myspace.  eish.  His site says he is “Andrew the DJ” so I thought he might spin at some cool bars I don’t know about and I might actually get some decent dancing in.  I turns out he neither reads nor writes music.  He can’t spin, and he doesn’t know any real DJs.  He’s the guy who presses play on the CD player at teacher reunions and weddings. 

He doesn’t like Jo’burg and doesn’t like Cape Town and doesn’t like small towns (grew up in one in KwaZulu Natal).  He doesn’t like his job or, as far as I could gather, life.  He is interested in the fact that I snowboard and like the outdoors, but from the looks and sound of things, doesn’t actually do anything active himself.  At all. 

So after some brief references to old relationships (always good on a first date) he asked the religion question.  Right.  I tried to explain where I am in my spiritual journey, but this guy clearly knows next to nothing about real religions or theology and looked sort of glazed over as I gave a half-baked answer.  Apparently he was just waiting to answer his own question.  Classy.

The answer: I believe in extra terrestrials.

Now this alone wouldn’t necessarily phase me.  I’m of the opinion it’s rather narrow-minded of humanity to suppose we are–in the multitude of galaxies–alone.  That’s not really what he meant.

Andrew the DJ thinks Jesus was an alien.  Seriously.  He also supposes the Greek Gods didn’t only only actually walk the earth, but they too were aliens.  Zeus and the thunderbolt? A ET with a taser gun.  (NB: he didn’t actually know the name of the god with the thunderbolt; I filled that in.)  Oh, and his bosses are Free Masons.  That’s how they get all the pharmaceutical contracts. 

That’s what I get for meeting someone online. 

Then I had to go home to get ready for my second date of the day.  This was with a married man.  Abdi is a great friend from OLSET, the NGO I’m working with.  We talk for hours about theology and politics.  He’s one of the coolest people I have ever met, and my personal professor on all things Muslim.  When he asks a favour, I say yes. 
Abdi asked that for his birthday I help him take some friends of his out for the day.  It turns out he has had a refugee family staying with him and his roommate in their tiny flat in Fordsberg (rather dodgy area in town) since February.  He met the dad at mosque and found out he, his wife, and baby had been living outside on someone’s porch.  He simply took them in, rent-free.  Abdi is a volunteer who has left his wife and two small children back in Kenya so he can gain these new skills and help in SA’s fight against HIV.  So not a rich man.  

The dad, Osman, watched his parents get macheted to death in Burundi (beside Rwanda – there has been ongoing conflict there since the ’94 genocide, but in the reverse). So he picked up his very young bride and baby and worked his way south.  There is apparently a perception around Africa that South Africa is the land of milk and honey, so millions swim across the Limpopo or walk down. 

It has not been as easy as he had dreamed.  Osman works hard labour seven days a week; he loads and unloads trucks at construction sites.  He gets paid R35 a day. (God this sounds like a World Vision ad.)  That’s about five bucks.  Abdi is paying his wife to do his laundry; she gets R50 a week to keep things tidy.  It’s generous considering Abdi’s fortunes.   

At any rate, Abdi thought it might be fun to take them somewhere.  So we reasoned, watch your family get hacked to death – go to an amusement park.  The five of us, along with my great French friend Romain, drove to Goldreef City, a smaller mock-up of the gold mining town that founded Jo’burg (I think).  It’s this city’s answer to the PNE and Playland. 

This may sound condescending, but it was SO much fun seeing it through the eyes of people who had never seen such a place. We stumbled onto a cheesy magic show, and you would think the old guy had raised someone from the dead.  Classic.  Abdi offered his finger to be amputated and by coincidence, Osman was chosen to be the chopper.  He was terrified. 

Then we went to the kids area and to the smaller roller coaster.  There is a camera set up that takes photos of people as they go past.  The one of Abdi and I was, as expected, funny.  I look like I’m trying to stop the thing by pushing against the air, and Abdi has both hands reaching for Allah.  The photo of Osman was something else.  He went alone, and his photo showed his back as he lay face-down hugging the seat! His eyes were firmly shut the whole time. 

Abdi wrote this morning thanking me for the photos: “Osman believes he is lucky to be alive after taking the ride . . . ha ha ha! He made us laugh the whole night relating how he clutched on and asked for God’s forgiveness – it was more sincere than when he prayed in the Mosque!!”  He sincerely thought he was going to die and took consolation in the fact that his family had not come along for the ride, as it were.

The daughter’s name is Aishi, which means hope.  It’s a very common thing in Africa to name your child after the circumstances in which they were born.  The helper (cleaner) at work is named Happy.  Anyway, Aishi was wearing a new red dress Abdi’s roommate brought back from India the night before  She was so amazed by the colour and treats in the place, but most of all by the number of little people.  She spends her days in the flat with her mom.  We’ve given her pencil crayons and there are some Indian children in the next flat, but they are older and boys and tell her to go away.  She has learned to say “shoes,” “go away,” and “no.”  She walked around dazed at first and then really got into it.  I bought her a new teddy bear and Romain gave her a huge balloon-type ball with beads in it, so it made a noise when she bounced it. Very cute.

Osman speaks french, so he and Romain chatted.  Abdi speaks Swahili, so he translated the English for the women (the wife is now 19).  We didn’t really need to talk very much as we were laughing most of the time. 

We dropped them off and I went back to my awesome cottage, had dinner with my landlords and read some of the mindless Grisham I’m currently devouring.

That was my Saturday.

On Sunday I went to work. 

(pictures are on ringo.com – search Suzannah Kelly)


Not my words… these I couldn’t top

SA’s Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala Msimang, an a radio interview: Transcript of interview with John Robbie on 702

Robbie: You have said that the policy of the ministry is well known. Do you accept that HIV causes Aids?

Tshabalala-Msimang: Why do you ask me that question today? I have answered that question umpteen times.

R: Yes, and the answer is?

T-M: Umpteen times I have answered that question. My whole track record of having worked at the area of HIV and Aids for the last 20 years is testimony. Why should you ask me that question today?

R: You haven’t answered the question, Manto.

T-M: Why should you ask me that question?

R: To avoid confusion.

 T-M: I have never said anything contrary to what you want me to say today.

R: So, therefore, you accept that HIV causes Aids.

T-M: You are not going to put words into my mouth.

R: I am not putting words into your mouth. I am asking you a question.

T-M: Yes you are.

 R: I am asking you a straight – now hold on a second – I am asking you a straight question, the minister of health of South Africa, I am asking you a question: does HIV cause Aids?

T-M: I have been party to developing a strategic framework and that strategy testifies what my policy understandings of the HIV epidemic are. If you haven’t read that, please go and read it. And then you will understand where I depart from.

R: Manto, Manto. A simple yes or no is the answer I am looking for.

T-M: You will not force me into a corner into saying yes or no.

R: I am not forcing you into a corner, I am asking you a straight question – I find your reaction bizarre.

T-M: I would advise you to read the strategic framework. You have to analyse it. It is important for the media to inform the public about the positions of government … It is time that when you interview people, not on yes or no, but on the tenets of the framework.

R: Manto, we have gone as far as we can go. I find your reaction to that question absolutely bizarre and that is my final word on it.

T-M: I am not Manto to you. Let me tell you I am not Manto to you.

R: What are you?

T-M: I am the minister of health and I don’t even know you.

R: So, what must I address you as, Miss Minister or Ms Minister or Mrs Minister?

T-M: I don’t know whatever you address me, but I am not a friend.

R: How must I address you?

T-M: I don’t know – but you have to read the strategic framework.

R: Bizarre.

T-M: And I …

R: Oh go away!

T-M: And I am …

R: I cannot take that rubbish any longer. Can you believe it? I have never in my life heard rubbish.Here we have a situation where the minister of health sends out a document, amongst others, that is Looney tunes, that suggests that the Illuminati have conspired with the aliens to bring about Aids to reduce the African population. Now you get the minister on [radio] to explain this and see what happens. “Given that the president has led, not just in South Africa, but a complete world controversy, where many people think this country has been held up to ridicule at an international conference over this issue and given the proximity of the two, I thought it would be a good idea to get the minister in on this issue … “… the fact that she would not answer that question leads me to be very, very worried indeed. I find that bizarre. Anyway, I won’t call her Manto again”.

More Manto Quotes:

“When I saw a report saying I had been silenced, I thought, ‘Oh my God, maybe I am living on another planet'” iol.co.za – 8/10/06 Finally we are in agreement…. Ed (TAC)

“I can’t stop working. The health of the nation depends on it,” iol.co.za – 8/10/06

“I think the TAC (treatement action campaign) was just a disgrace, a disgrace not only to the [health] department but a disgrace to the whole country. But I think, as South Africa, we really demonstrated that we are doing pretty well.” Manto After the AIDS conference in Toronto 2006 News24.co.za – 28/08/06

“beetroot, garlic, lemon … and buy a bottle of olive oil. All these things are very critical.” mg.co.za – 8/6/05

“Dr Rath’s work complies with and complements our programmes.” mask.org.za – 10/5/05

“I don’t know how many [South Africans] with HIV would want to take anti-retrovirals.” mg.co.za – 10/5/05

“I don’t remember saying I endorse the Matthias Rath foundation …” mg.co.za – 5/5/05

“Raw garlic and a skin of the lemon — not only do they give you a beautiful face and skin but they also protect you from disease.” mg.co.za – 5/5/05

“We will announce a date when we are ready.” … To roll out ARV treatment Iafrica.com – 10/2/04

“It is very sad how the media handles this issue. I think garlic is absolutely critical. Lemon is absolutely critical to boost the immune system. Olive oil is absolutely critical … just one teaspoon, it will last the whole month.” mg.co.za – 9/2/04

(Aids)… “could also be a God-given opportunity for moral and spiritual growth, a time to review our assumptions about sin and morality”. mg.co.za – 1/4/03

“Look at what Bush is doing. He could invade.” … Manto on why money needs to be spent on defence rather than treating AIDS Sapa – 19/12/02

“Some are going to be disappointed that we are not going to give the ARVs [antiretrovirals] tomorrow, but it is this message which does not get through – that people are getting treatment even if there are no ARVs.” … mg.co.za – 14/5/01

“Today I want to dispel this myth, because it is absolutely not true .[ that ARV’s work ] The pharmaceutical industry and those who have a vested interest in the drug industry fuels this propaganda.” SAPA – 7/11/00

“We (the ANC government) have no plans to introduce the wholesale administration of these drugs in the public sector. ARVs are not a cure for Aids.” Speaking at Health Budget Vote in National Assembly hst.org.za – 8/11/00 Minister, nobody has EVER said that ARV’s cure Aids! Ed (treatement action campaign).

“We have in addition to all the transformational work that we have been doing been working extremely hard to make the Epidemic (sic) in every way we can, carefully following WHO and UNAids guidelines.” mg.co.za – 21/7/00 … say what?

 The above was taken off http://www.sackmanto.co.za/index.php

There are some golden cartoons on the site – worth a visit. 

The Pedicure

Warning: Rated PG13 – If the idea of a bikini wax makes you uncomfortable, perhaps you might want to skip this particular entry; but as I’ve already said it and you’ve already thought about it, you may as well keep reading.   

Chatting to some girlfriends about general bikini / summer prep, it was decided a pedicure was definitely in order for my scary feet.  My friend Heather suggested I go to her salon near Fourways.  I thought, however, that as that area is pretty far north of where I live and the salon is less than a bargain, I could do most of the  procedures myself.  Then yesterday as I went for a walk around the block at lunch I noticed a new salon has opened up across the road from work.  Cheap and cheerful – perfect.  I thought, “go for the pedicure and see how you feel before booking any waxings.”

Good idea: if that woman does to my nether region what she did to my toes, I may never wear a bathing suit of any sort again.

I left work at 11:45 to grab some cash from the ATM, which is always a relatively nerve-testing affair in Braamfontein.  A security guard with about three guns strapped to his bullet-proof vest came in and stood there in an intimidating sort of way.  It was then I realized there was an armoured vehicle with more security guards on walkie talkies right out front.  “Super,” I thought, “this’ll be the second cash-in-transit heist in the city today and it’s not even lunch.”  AND there was only one ATM working so I had to wait there.  Luckily no gunshots or muggings actually went down (though as a sidebar, pretty sure I heard my first gunshot yesterday afternoon – don’t worry mom, it was probably a car backfiring). 

I made it to the salon for my noon apt.  I booked the R90 (about $15) pedicure yesterday and checked it would take about half an hour.  The woman was busy so it was not until at least ten minutes or so later that I was soaking my feet… I did so four at least 20 minutes as she faffed around doing something-or-other.  Then the tools came out.  I saw her put disinfectant in the water, but I didn’t actually see anything cleaned and the nail files have definitely seen several hundred feet.  I concede that in some ways the violent scrubbing and tugging and shaving and chipping of my ticklish and sensitive feet was a good thing – first pedi of the season and all that, but the vigorous effort was taken too far with the filing.   She seriously over-did my nails, which are now so short the look like I bite them.

Then came the polish.

Wow – a selection of five shades of iridescent pink.  ew.  So I looked in the manicure basket and picked a shimmery deep burgundy-red.  Apparently lots of other people have chosen it too, and it’s been there a while.  It was thick and goopy and had to be mixed with clear polish for the second foot as there wasn’t enough.  More polish got on the surrounding skin than the nails; so, i found it intriguing that she actually didn’t cover the whole nail with polish on my big toe, the result of which is a deformed-looking toenail.  Then the lady who had been waiting for her apt to start (very late) spilled a glass of water on herself, so my “esthetician” go up to blow dry her pants.  I grabbed the bottle and wood pick thing and tried to fix some of the damage.

I was there for two and a half hours. On a work day.

And the price magically went up over night to R120.

I tipped her R20 – which confused her greatly and caused much bragging in the “salon”.

I’m looking forward to the inevitable questioning from my boss about where I was for my very very long lunch.

I’m coming in late tomorrow because of my hair cut.

But my feet are much softer than they were this morning.

All is not lost.

Lesson learned: next time go for the clear polish.

Not a Bad Start to the Weekend


Lindsay:  New girlfriend – Scottish and Super, engaged to a lovely Irish-born South African rugby player

Jason:     The lovely Irish-born South African rugby player.

Billy O’Brien:   Jason’s dad.  A lovely, if ever so slightly lecherous, Irishman.

Heather:  Lindsay’s friend (and mine, now) – a crazy fabulous Capetonian who does event planning for Rand Merchant Bank

To remain tactfully nameless:  The yummy rugby-playing engineer. 

Dale:   Yeah – not actually his name, but we’ll go with that.  Drunker that average rugby player.


Linds and I were supposed to hook up for drinks after work, likely free ones at one of the show opening at the Alliance Francaise.  She, however, managed to ditch work at noon to join Billy on the trip to Pretoria to watch the finals.  Jason’s team had been playing a tournament all week and were in the final that afternoon.  Important stuff, they tell me.

It was just as well for me, as I have been laid down with a bug for a couple of weeks, and went home to bed. 

           sms (text message) from Linds mid afternoon:   they’re losing. 😦 not sure when will be back. not looking good 4 the boys right now!

           billy talking about the game later that night: they played like a bunch of pansy school boys.  pitiful.

           sms almost sent by Lindsay with about ten seconds to go in the game: boys lost 17-13 (or some such score?)

That’s when someone scored a try (a score of three points earned by advancing the ball to or beyond the opponents’ goal line… I’m learning).  Then the clock ran out.  But in rugby, if you get a try, you also get to try to kick the ball through the goal posts.  Nice rule, if you ask me.  It was, I’m told, an impossible kick.  In an athletic move of legendary proportions, they made it for the two points needed to win the game and the title.  Dad – this is the stuff an SI writer could make poetry out of! 

          sms from Lindsay a few moments later: They won!!!!!

So when that lot was done jumping on eachother’s bruised and broken bodies, showering and having the obligatory drink on the patio, they drove back to Jo’burg, specifically to a dodgy-by-Canadian-standards-pub called “The Colony.”  A colony of what, I’m not quite sure.  It’s the type of place only frequented by the under-aged, the elderly-and-alcoholic, and rugby teams.  Classy.   

I dragged myself out of bed and threw on the outfit I had put together thinking we were going to somewhere that serves martinis.  My hair was curled and I had black jeans, black boots, and a black and turquoise tank-top on.  Rather hot considering how lethargic I felt, I’d say.  I drove myself to the Colony in my clean and very white car.  (It has leather seats and CD player.  Love her.)

As I walked in about five rugby boys (they’re all built like bricks and were wearing team shirts) asked about my accent as one tried to put his arm around me.  “You’re in trouble, tonight” one of them said.  “Yeah, I gather.”

Thankfully, Lindsay and Billy weren’t difficult to locate – standing with drinks in hand (for Billy anyway) guarding the trophy.  Like shade in the dessert, it’s nice to find refuge.  Linds filled me in on the game and Billy declared it a bloody miracle. I said hello to a few people I had met previously and Billy offered me a drink.  He’s been very nice to me since he discovered I can cook (made roast chicken the other night) and play golf. 

The table we were standing at was on the terrace, against a large beam and near some tables.  I thought I’d extricate myself from my spot between the post and a group of large and increasingly loud men, so I turned around and bumped into a very good-looking man with an apologetic but come-hither look on his fit face. 

 (Tactfully skipping that conversation and a few later… I will say this, however: the boy can dance.  I mean really dance.)

As the evening wore on and the team got drunker, the show got more amusing.  Now, as a rule, I don’t drink anything that’s either creamy or bright green.  They were drinking pints of something called John Deere: it’s like bug juice from camp with subtle undertones of mouth wash.  After trying the obligatory sip I was generously presented with a shot of something called a Springbok.  It has two layers: bright green and creamy.  Strangely yummy.  Thank God for the car keys. 

Now the culture here is somewhat different to the one I grew up in: Dusty’s and Felicita’s.  Pubbing and socializing in BC lacks a certain gender divide.  Here, the boys stand around in one circle talking about sports and the girls stand around in another talking about the how silly the boys get (and work and other grown-up sort of things).  At first this was strange and annoying.  It was not until the men-folk started jumping up and down and chanting and then proceeded to drop their pants that the benefits of the arrangement became clear to me. 

That was the warm up.  There is that point in the night that rugby girlfriends can sense like a deep-sea fisherman can sense a coming storm.  I was the tourist on the boat: it caught me right off guard.  I think it was about 15 minutes after they started chugging a mix of beer, John Deeres and cider out of the trophy.  I was sitting at a picnic table with a few of the girls when Lindsay gave one of them the “here-it-comes” look.  It’s an unspoken looks that galvanizes the forces into action: we have to get them into a car before something very nasty happens.  Just then Jason and a handful of his mates started scrumming at the entrance. 

Divide and conquer.  I had already agreed to drive one of them home (the yummy one, by sheer coincidence, of course).   He then turned to talk to ‘Dale’ to ask if he had a safe way home.  In SA that has an entirely different meaning, so I was not about to leave the poor boy on the patio in that state.  The three of us got in the car, and thankfully the windows got rolled down.

My car is not as white and clean as it was before the trip.  It’s also rather stinky.  So as one of them is hanging half-way out of the car, the other is saying, “Oh, you don’t have to slow down.  He’ll be fine.”  We did get him to his gate safely, however, where he sort of got out /  fell out of the car.  He didn’t have his keys.  This isn’t a place where you can climb through the kitchen window.  There are 12-foot walls in the way.  So his friend decides to help: he grabbed the bars of the gate and started tugging.  Very funny: one huge guy stumbling down the street as the other attempts to pull the electronic and barbed security gates open.  In the end we did find the keys and wished him good luck.

The other one got home safely as well.


The next morning I went for a lekker (that’s ‘great’) breakfast and then over to Jason and Lindsay’s where we baked by the pool: boys defenitely worse off then the girls. Then a group of us went to a braai (BBQ with real wood and basically just meat on the menu) at another friend’s house.  More lounging with feet in the pool.  I also watched half my first rugby game.  It was actually pretty interesting in parts.  This is a good thing, as I don’t intend to sit out of the sports talk for much longer. 

That night I had braaied meat again, with red wine and great conversation.

Not a bad start to my weekend. 

The story of Sunday will come later.  That part of the story is where we meet Heather; it involves a cheesy Italian crooner and Pimms. 

Crime is Decreasing…

 Here’s s snipet of one of the articles out this week about crime stats in this city:

 “Johannesburg – Murder, which is considered to be the most reliable indication of crime trends, has only decreased by two percent in the last financial year, said a police report on crime statistics, which was released on Wednesday.

According to the report there were 18 528 murders during the 2005/2006 financial year, which is 2% less than the previous year, but short of the 7 – 10% reduction target set by government for contact crimes.

Rapes decreased with only one percent, with 54 926 incidents being reported.

Indecent assault decreased by 3.7% with 9805 incidents being reported.”

They break down murders, rapes and aggrivated / violent robberies by neighbourhood.  In the list of the top-ten most dangerous suburbs is Sandton, the rich northern suburb where I spent my first couple of months.  The good news, according to the spokesman for the crime statistics agency, is this: most of those 18, 528 murders committed in this one city were committed by people who know the victims, so it’s not really as bad as people say when it comes to random murders.   I feel much better. 

As for the rapes – keep in mind those are the ones that get reported…

Oh, and not listed above is the increase in cash-in-transit heists (organized crime): up by 74%.  That’s growth.  It’s all about having a solid business plan and reliable partners (security guards and police officers you can buy off).  If that fails and you get caught, there’s always the hope you’ll find a court magistrate with a braai (BBQ) to get to.  A few weeks ago a court magistrate decided that as she didn’t want to work past 4pm, she’d simply strike the cases of the waiting 14 defendants off the record and tell them to go home.  One of those gems is charged with child rape.  Ah – South Africa.

But I still love it here.

Pretty Pictures

I realize this blog is sorely lacking in photos, but I can’t seem to get them to post from my virus-ridden computer.  That said, I’m posting heaps onto another site. Got to Ringo.com and search me: suzannahkelly@gmail.com or Suzannah Kelly.I like pretty pictures.

One More….

One more sign, also thanks to Abdi…

On the door of a monestary in Thailand:

“You are not allowed to enter a woman here, even if dressed like a man.”

African Signs

I get endless pleasure from English signs here, like the one at the lion and rhino park regarding the brown hyaena that reads “Mainly active at knight.” 

My friend, Abdi, went to Mozambique and took a photo of the following sign (I can’t post pictures from this ancient computer onto my blog – but will as soon as I solve the problem):

“THEFT from Chameleon Backpackers hand Guesthouse by our GUESTS has reached epidemic proportions.  In a spate of disappearances we have lost valuable wall hangings, woven baskets, pillows, blankets, towels, cutlery (continuously) and finally the hot water bottle to keep the breakfast eggs warm.

As a result of this we have no option but to increase the proces of our accomodation from 1 August 2006. This distresses us a great deal as we try to maintain our low prices to provide good, clean accommodation at affordable prices.  We want to break this cycle so PLEASE, if you see someone BORROWING something please report it immediately to Reception or Management as the impact affects all our guests.

So next time you wonder why there is no sharp knives in the kitchen, no towel in your room or blanket to keep you warm, it is because someone has decided it was included in the room price.  Let us stamp out theft together to keep ALL our belongings safe.


Jackie, Bossie and team”

Here are a few more:

In a restaurant in
“Open seven days a week and weekends.”

On the grounds of a private school in
South Africa
“No trespassing without permission.”

On a window of a Nigerian shop:
“Why go elsewhere to be cheated when you can come here?”

On a poster in

“Are you an adult who cannot read? If so, we can help.”

In a hotel in
“Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9.00 am and 11.00am

On a river in the Democratic

Republic of
“Take note: When this sign is submerged, the river is impassable.”

In a Zimbabwean restaurant:
“Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.”

A sign seen on a hand dryer in a
public toilet:
“Risk of electric shock – Do not activate with wet hands.”

In a
Botswana jewellery shop
“Ears pierced while you wait.”

On one of the buildings of a
Sierra Leone hospital
“Mental Health Prevention Centre.”

In a maternity ward of a clinic in
“No children allowed!”

In a cemetery in
“Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.”

In a
“It is forbidden to steal towels, please. If you are not a person to do such a thing, please don’t read this notice.”

A sign posted in an Algerian tourist camping park:
“It is strictly forbidden on our camping site that people of different sex, for instance a man and woman, live together in one tent unless they are married to each other for that purpose.”

In a Namibian nightclub:
“Ladies are not allowed to have children in the bar.”

In a graveyard in Mabvuku, Zimbabwe
‘Ane nharo nga’amuke…

Fear and Condoms in Jo’burg

I have been asked to write an article for the next newsletter (that I’m also editing and writing most of).  The idea is that each volunteer should submit a piece about his or her placement.  This is my first draft:

“You should carry around condoms in case you get raped.” 

          I received a lot of advice about coming to Johannesburg to work with an NGO.  Mostly the advice was to miss the plane.  One voice of support came from my sister-in-law who said that as I want to become a foreign correspondent and report from the likes of the West Bank and the Darfur region, that I “should get used to living in places like that.”


Of course Johannesburg and the surrounding region are a far cry from a war zone, but when you hear dozens of horror stories, they start to have an impact.  I did not know what to expect from my internship, but I did know I was supposed to be afraid.  As someone who does not fear easily, I was delighted to discover the perception many North Americans have of South Africa is inaccurate and unfair.


That perception of a hopeless situation goes beyond crime to other fundamental issues such as race, poverty and the future of disadvantaged children.  While I have met a fair few South Africans who also see a dire situation and a country in decline, my time with OLSET has shown me a different and, I submit, more accurate perspective of the country and its future. 


I see a land of hope full of bright and ambitious children who want only to be given the guidance to achieve their impressive goals.  I have interviewed six year-olds who want to become security guards and policemen so they can put an end to the rampant theft.  Their classmates speak of becoming doctors, lawyers and teachers.  Most of these children bus or taxi to school from Soweto and nearby informal settlements.  Of course crime, poverty and racism still permeate the world they live in, but these things seem no longer to be foregone conclusions.  The children I have met want to end those cycles, and from what I have seen, OLSET is helping them to do that. 

            The focus on multilingualism, different cultures, personal rights and responsibilities, safety, and of course, English helps children interact with one another and with the broader curriculum.  Having interviewed teachers and administrators, it is also clear the English in Action program helps students and teachers interact, as well as improving communication between staff members themselves.  Teachers tell me of how the program has helped foster a more caring and effective learning environment.  In doing so, it helps produce more honest police officers, dedicated teachers, and driven lawyers and doctors.  It creates a brighter South Africa.


I concede I am no education specialist; these are merely the observations of a novice journalist and fist-time NGO intern.  My previous job was as a radio reporter for the largest private news station in British Columbia, Canada.  My skills in both radio and television production brought me half-way around the world to help train OLSET staff how to shoot and edit videos. 


The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs sent me through a program called Young Professionals International (YPI).  YPI is “a program designed to help internationally focused young Canadians .. kickstart their careers .. [by providing them] with a first, career-related international work experience.”[1] Basically, the federal government funds implementing organizations to create and supervise internships. Those groups organize placements with host organizations on the ground, in this case, OLSET. 

             My implementing organization is the Commonwealth ofLearning; it encourages the development of open and distance learning (ODL) in Commonwealth countries.  The general idea is that technology can be used to reach far more people in an effective manner than people alone can.  Radio learning fits into this concept perfectly.

Media, be it print journalism or educational radio programming, has immense power.  It is power that is in this case being used for the good of this country and beyond.  As a journalist, I am accustomed to being skeptical and cynical, to looking for the flaws in the system.  I admit, however, I have completely bought into the OLSET agenda.  These are good people and I am proud to count myself among them for these six months. 


Fear and condoms not required.    

[1] Young Professionals International Website www.dfaut-maeci.gc.ca/ypi-jpi/menu-en.asp  September 1, 2006. 

Dr Beetroot

For those of you who followed the recent news of the HIV / AIDS conference in Toronto, and heard about South Africa’s fine display of advanced treatments, this entry is for you. Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in an interview on SABC (South African Broadcasting Corp) upon her arrival back home, slightly paraphrased:

John Pearlman (I think): “What is your response to people who call you a raving lunatic for putting up a display on HIV and AIDS that showed garlic and beetroot as effective treatments for HIV?”

Dr. Beetroot: “South African journalism is so irresponsible. That was taken completely out of context. People did not tell the whole story. There was not just garlic and beetroot on that table…”

[At this point the hopeful listener might expect something along the lines of “there was also extensive information on anti retroviral therapy and voluntary counseling and testing.” Not so much…]

Dr Beetroot: “…there were also potatoes.”

So in honour of the good doctor, here is a recent list of the Minister of Health’s Lexicon of Medical Terms:

Artery: The study of paintings

Bacteria: Back door to the cafeteria

Barium: What you do with dead patients

Caesarean Section: A suburb in Rome

Cat scan: A search for a kitty

D & C: Where Washington is

Dilate: To live longer

Enema: Not your friend

Fester: Quicker

Impotent: Distinguished and well-known

Labour pain: Getting hurt at work

Medical Staff: Doctor’s walking stick

Morbid: Higher offer

Nitrates: Cheaper than day rates

Out Patient: A person who has fainted

Post Operative: A letter courier

Seizure: A Roman Emperor

Terminal Illness: When you get sick at the airport

Tumor: Another couple

Urine: opposite of “you’re out”

Another lovely tidbit about South Africa’s politicians includes the fact that the Minister of Transport failed a recent driving test.

I won’t even go into the hundreds of people who rallied outside the court everyday while Jacob Zuma was being tried for corruption, having recently beaten the infamous rape charge. (He’s the one who said it was alright that he had unprotected sex / rape with someone who is publicly HIV positive because he had a hot shower afterwards.) The court threw out the case this week on some technicalities and a lack of preparedness on the part of the prosecution. Many many people here want to see Zuma as the next president. A lot.

Ah African politics. Nothing will shock me after this. Sponsorship scandal….ha!

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