Friday, October 23, 2009

Custody battle over East London dodo egg

Each morning, intriguing headlines from East London's newspaper, The Daily Dispatch, are plastered on telephone and lamp posts all the way to town. It's kind of hard to see Germans order flak jackets and Condoms make Tutu blush and not buy a paper (or check out the web site).

This morning's headline: Court battle over dodo egg.  

I had read that the East London Museum was home to what is believed to the the world's only dodo egg. It was brought to the museum by Dr. Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, a naturalist who was the museum's curator from sometime in the 1950's to 1971.  After she died at age 97 in 2004, the niece who inherited her estate initiated proceedings to reclaim the egg (and sell it on eBay?).

Knowing that the egg might disappear back into the family vault (or a private collection), the idea of going to take a peek piqued our interest so we made a trip over to the museum.  We arrived at 3:50 to learn that they were shutting down for the day.  Lights were being turned off and the staff was shuffling toward the door.  Thankfully, our request to see the egg was granted and we spent a few minutes in the gallery:

This is the dodo display - the egg is in the nest.

Upon closer inspection, we learned that this is actually a REPLICA of the egg. The real egg is stored elsewhere in the museum.

The case will be heard on Tuesday - stay tuned.

By the way, Dr. Coutenay-Latimer is best known for her discovery of the preheistoric coelacanth fish in 1938.  There is a sculpture of the fish outside of the museum:

Plans for the weekend: Karaoke at the Fig Tree tonight, Hiking on the Wild Coast tomorrow, and shopping, beach and possibly a boat ride on Sunday.  Our last weekend in Gonubie!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Screams in the night

I met a woman today who can’t leave her house after dark – especially on the weekends – for fear of being raped.  In her neighborhood there are 9 shebeens – or pubs; popular places for men and women to drink.

She told us, “The weekends are a mess.  If there are women at the shebeens with the men, they will most certainly be raped.  I hear screams of women in the night from all over the neighborhood.”

Her name is Sweetness.  In 2006 she founded Ubuntu Ma-Afrika, a non-profit organization that provides home-based care and education for people with HIV & AIDS, diabetes, depression, sexually transmitted infections, and victims of abuse and violence.  She does this because her beloved aunt died of AIDS.  Her aunt was embarrassed and afraid to tell people about her condition.  Without medication, it wasn’t long before she passed away.  With tears in her eyes, Sweetness told us that she believes her aunt would still be alive if she had accepted her condition and sought treatment.  Sweetness couldn’t stand by and watch others suffer; she needed to do something to help.

Her neighborhood is in a township outside of East London.  There are approximately 9,000 people in the township, many of whom are uneducated (there is only one school up to level 5), unemployed and poverty-stricken.  From 2 small rented rooms, she and the other leaders train volunteers to care for homebound patients, run awareness campaigns and educate, educate, educate.

In the room with us today were 3 other women.  I asked them why they volunteer.  The first began volunteering after she learned she was HIV positive.  The second, a retired nurse, just looked at us and said, “I hope now that you know about us you will help us.”  The third was very shy but let us know she’s been volunteering for 2 years.  A larger group of volunteers of all ages came through the cramped room to greet us.

Although the organization receives funding from the government, it’s never enough (and sometimes doesn’t come at all).  Their monthly rent is R500 (approx. $60 USD).  They lack the computers they need to keep proper records.  Because of their limited funding, they can’t do as many awareness campaigns as they would like.  Once or twice a month, a mobile clinic comes to the community.  That’s when the team springs to action.  As the 60-70 people wait in line for their turn at the mobile clinic, the Ubuntu Ma-Afrika volunteers are there to meet them, hand out literature, and talk about the many topics that make up their platform.

When I asked what the organization needed and how people could help, Sweetness shared this wish list: a decommissioned shipping container to convert into office space, clothes, food, medicine and, of course, money.  As I write this, Immi and I are brainstorming about how to launch a campaign to help.  If the organization can get a shipping container or a prefab building (which would be a luxury), the government would grant them a piece of land where they could set up permanent offices – rent free.

I am humbled and inspired by the strength and resilience of Sweetness and the many other South African women I’ve met on this journey.  I can only imagine how they may have suffered – as a society bound in the past by apartheid or as individuals still at risk for rape, abuse and violence.  I admire their ability to overcome obstacles, follow their passion and put whatever resources come their way to use in their community – and get by even when there are none.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Food, glorious food!

I am really enjoying our team dinners.  It's been a fantastic way to get to know everyone, discuss our projects and personal interests, and plan our sightseeing activities here in South Africa.

There are several people who enjoy cooking and have taken turns preparing feasts in the evening. Anil has made dal, Sharon has made ziti, Priya has made spectacular rice dishes that I wish I knew the name of and had the recipes for :-), and tonight Immi and Steffen made german potato salad, sausages, pasta and green salad:

Immi and Steffen

 Close-up of our feast:

 I had an apple pie workshop for Anna and together we created a masterpiece:

I've been trying to get Immi to "de-shine" my photos, but no luck, so here I am, with Anna, in my shiny glory:

Everyone enjoyed the pie, especially Tak:

And we had an unexpected guest at dinner: Smokey, our housecat:

Tonight we decided that we would go to Port Elizabeth on Saturday morning, spend the day exploring that city, and stay overnight in a hostel that Steffen has booked for us.  We'll get up before dawn on Sunday and head to Addo Elephant Park for a 6 am sunrise game tour and then wind our way back to East London.  Sounds like it will be a fantastic weekend!