Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How I spent my 22nd birthday

First off I just want to say thanks again to everyone who wished me a happy birthday.  It was just another reminder of the overwhelming support that I have enjoyed even from over thousands of miles away.  If you communicated via Facebook, I apologize that I didn’t open up my wall.  It’s just that while I’m on this internship that I like to keep it pretty empty on purpose so that my professors can easily find my links to my blog.  But most people just sent me a message, something I expected a few people to do.  I had no idea that so many people would go ahead and send me a message, it meant a lot to me so thank you very much!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Safari, Cell Phones and Photos

First of all, I want to say Happy Birthday to my dad Larry, who is now the healthiest 70 (10/12) year old man on the planet and my sister Gerri who turned 34 today.  She will kill me when I get home for that!

Well I guess I should probably write an update.  I just arrived back in Cape Town on the 13th.  Once again it was cold and rainy.  If all I had of Cape Town was 10 minute snapshots of when I first flew in I would hate the place.  The weather is more befitting of England than Africa.  Anyway, I am spending my last week at a travel lodge, the Ashanti.  Who cares, right? 

What matters is that my safari was awesome.  There were 26 of us and they were a fantastic group of people.  The diversity added to the chaos.  We had 5 Americans, 6 Aussies, 2 Dutch, 1 Greek, 1 German, 2 Koreans (South), a Namibian cook, a Zimbabwean driver, South African trip leader (a communist [inside joke]), 2 Lithuanians, 1 Danish, 2 Israelis, and a Namibian cheetah farmer.  What a ride.  After two weeks with these people I have dirt on just about everyone it was an amazing time.

So I feel like I should explain the South African communist joke before anyone gets the wrong idea.  Our trip leader was a white South African, Nic (my younger by 8 months).  When we camped in the Okavango Delta one of the meals our wonderful chef (Sofia) fixed us was hotdogs.  She boiled them in a pan that she heated next to the campfire.  I made a casual remark that the best hotdog is one on a stick, a thin black crust on the edge, enjoyed with friends and a little bit of ash on it doesn’t hurt either (it’s impossible to get that nice black burn when you boil a dog, they just split everyone knows that).  Well let me tell you what, apparently that is the perfect way to ruin a hotdog.  What commenced was a literally 30 minute shouting match between Nic and I on how to correctly cook a good dog.  Things went to the next level when I called Nic a communist.  I felt it was the only rational course the argument could take.  I told him that I at least tried his hotdog before I said which I preferred.  He told me that he would never try my way of eating a hotdog because it sounded disgusting.  That sounds to me just like a communist to diss something before even trying it while trying to force your views on others.  Maybe it was a stretch.  He then proceeded to call me a fascist and I told him that he was just jealous that we (America) mastered democracy before his country did.  Haha that set him off.  It was all in good fun of course, we actually became pretty good friends.  Good enough that we have actually planned a roadtrip down Route 66 to Vegas and then to LA where we meet up with another member of our trip, John, who lives there.  Important to note that this was decided once I showed him my pictures of home and he saw my car. 

I think that my favorite part of the trip was probably the Okavango Delta.  It is the world’s largest inland water delta.  We camped for two days and three nights.  Our mode of transport was a mokoro and the locals not only were our pilots but also camped with us and took us on walks through the delta.  I got my chance to pilot one, and definitely tipped it over.  I was by myself when I did that and only after I got back to camp did I think there might have been crocs to worry about.  Oh well, TIA!  On these walks we saw zebra, elephant, hippo, wildebeest etc.  There were no toilets, no running water, no electricity, nothing.  Plenty of mosquitos though.  You really felt like you were camping in Africa. 

Our “informal” last night we had a trashbag party.  It is a tradition of the groups that Nic takes on that on our 2nd to last night that we nominate a party prince and princess.  One responsible and one irresponsible.  Both were Aussies; Tony being the responsible prince and Teaghan being the irresponsible princess.  It was a total hit.  Everyone was really creative and even aged travelers joined in on the fun.  I thought I was pretty creative considering that I don’t consider myself that creative.  One should easily be able to guess who I was.  We had an award ceremony later and I won the award for sweetest tan line, you’ll be able to catch that easily enough.  ‘merika!

So I was looking for my American phone today to grab my sister’s number so that I could call her and wish her a Happy Birthday.  I never found it.  Apparently some customs guy in either Zimbabwe or Johannesburg took a real liking to it.  That said I now have no cell phone.  So when I get home you can expect one of those Facebook messages asking for your number.  Unless I don’t want your number, haha.  Only kidding – kind of.  I feel a teeny tiny bit better knowing AT&T locks their phones for only their sim cards.  If that wasn’t the case I would have been using the phone.  So if the thief isn’t smart enough to google an unlock code then he’ll have a tough time selling it.  Serves him right.  Oh well, such is life.  Turn the other cheek right?

So I have some new information on Gwennie (I’ve picked this spelling for her name from now on, it’s official).  Turns out that while I was gone that she was able to get to a doctor.  The doctor cleared her to play and now it is up to the sports school to accept her.  Originally the coach told me that any doctor would do.  Then I was told that it had to be a specialist.  Then it could be any doctor.  So I’m thoroughly confused.  Here’s what I do know for fact. 1. The school term starts at the beginning of January so it is pretty late to be accepting kids.  2. Even if she isn’t accepted for this first term, I am told that she can join the school in the 2nd term which is in March.  The only downside to that isn’t just that she will have to go to Hout Bay but that she will also have to by uniforms and such for two different schools.  No big deal, we’ve come this far something like stupid uniforms shouldn’t keep her from school.  I will go back to the township on Monday and will be able to see Gwennie and her family, probably for the last time, and we can get everything straightened out then.  By then it should all be sorted out, one way or the other.

I plan on blogging some more since there is nothing for me to do.  I’m really bored.  I’ve done about everything you can do in Cape Town and don’t feel like spending money.  So now I’m just counting down the days.  My next post(s) will pertain to my experiences in general and particular ways.  I’m leaving it pretty wide open so I have some flexibility.

Thanks to my new friend Tony Meredith, policy advisor for a politician in Australia, I have some really awesome pictures.  The pictures between the two of us that made the final count number over 1000.  That doesn’t include video.  I’m not going to spend days in an internet cafĂ© so I can load them up.  Ya’ll will have to wait until I get home where I can leave my computer up all day to upload everything I want.  There is A LOT of stuff so don’t give up on me just yet. 

To end on a happy note, I finished making my movie.  I’m not sure if I had told anyone but I started with about 3 hours of video and compressed it to a nice, compact 13:20 video that I am pleasantly surprised with.  It is simple, and I’m no Mark Zuckerburg when it comes to computers but it’s not too shabby if I say so myself.  It’s GB’s big so obviously you will have to wait about a week for that one.  I’ll put everything on Youtube so that you don’t have to be a friend on Facebook to see them.

Here is a sample of the pictures from my safari, enjoy!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Safely in Swakopmund

So as these past three months have gone on, I do realize that I have posted less and less regularly.  Some of you probably haven't noticed but for those who have, I apologize for my laziness.  These past few weeks have been great and I loved every moment of my time in Cape Town. 

Just some quick updates on everything going on now

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gwenny and Nikki

So Gwenny is probably the coolest kid I know.  She is also the best friend I have made since I got here.  Most of the stereotypes that I assumed were true about 14 year old girls I developed as a PE aid in my senior year at high school are fading faster than the Royals in mid-season.  And that’s saying something.

I haven’t posted anything in a while and I have been encouraged to write about her so I will.  I think I have wrote about her a little before but just some background..  I was nervous when I got here and expectations for me among the kids were raised when they found out that I was an American.  They expected that since I was from there that I had met Eminem, Lil Wayne, Beyonce, Kanye, Jay-Z etc.  To be honest at first I thought she was a boy.  Even after I saw that she had pink socks on I was asking myself why a boy that age would succumb himself to the inevitable teasing that came with wearing pink socks.  It made much more sense when I found out “he” was a girl.  That leads me to the next reason that I like her, she doesn’t act like a boy.  If you look tomboy up in the dictionary then there should be a picture of her face. 



Monday, October 24, 2011

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi: Murdered martyr or just a swap of the bullet for the ballot box?

So in the aftermath of the death of one of the world’s most controversial, flamboyant and often idiosyncratic leaders, we find ourselves asking the same questions we do when similar leaders around the world experience their inevitable fall from power. What direction does the country head now?  How will South Africa (a staunch supporter of Gaddafi) react to his execution?  What happens to the global interests in Libya, an OPEC member? 

A brief overview for those who may not be caught up on the Libyan revolution:  Gaddafi has long been seen as a dictator, perhaps even a tyrant, to the Libyan people.  A revolution started over the internet, Facebook of all places, in February.  Since then, Gaddafi and loyal supporters have been battling the rebel insurgence.  On 20 October 2011, a military chief for the rebel army informed Al-Jazeera that they had killed Muammar Gaddafi.  Three months ago, the Gaddafi government was officially overthrown and a week ago rebels declared victory in Gaddafi’s hometown, the coastal city of Sirte.  NATO warplanes had devastated the city and Gaddafi had no choice but to flee.  It was the last holdout of loyal supporters to Gaddafi and what ensued after its capture has made headlines all across the world.

The manner in which Gaddafi died reminds me of the way U.S. soldiers were killed and dragged through the streets in Mogadishu, Somalia in the early 1990s.  Anyone can go to YouTube and look at a video of Gaddafi’s corpse being treated similarly to the way our troops were treated.  What is interesting is that, even in death, Gaddafi is drawing sympathies from many around the world for how he was treated in his last moments alive.  Human rights organizations have even given statements expressing disappointment in his death.  My question is this: How many human rights must one take away before we take away their human rights?  Now let me say that I think that is an impossible question to answer.  I tend to believe that when discussing the legality of these often brutal revolutions that there are no right or wrong answers.  It’s just a matter of perspective.  I just want to say my piece about this and be done with it.  All I want to know is where these groups championing human rights were when Gaddafi was ruthlessly running his government and executing innocent civilians or anyone who might oppose him.  Is the issue really whether Gaddafi should have been killed, or do we just want to nitpick at how he died?  Is there really a right way to die at all?  If so, who gets to make the call?  Some guy sitting in an office thousands of miles away from the trouble?  Or the guy whose daughter was raped and killed?  I bet they both have different ideas.

The impact of Gaddafi’s death extends to South Africa.  Indeed South Africa and other countries in the world supported the Gaddafi regime, and it makes economic sense.  Libya is a member of OPEC and through its resources of valuable oil it is a priority to the rest of the world.  Therefore, stability is priority numero uno for the western world.  If you are a head of state you don’t want to go to bed at night not knowing who is going to be in control of a country, especially one that is a member of OPEC.  Now we raise another ethical question.  Is it ok for a country to overlook human abuses in a country if it means stability and therefore an assurance that you will continue to receive a steady stream of oil?  If you argue for intervention, I just want to remind you of a country in the Middle East that goes by the name Iraq.  I think we tried something like intervention once (and I don’t care what you say – it was for oil, there were no WMDs).  Whether you think we should have been there or not can you understand our reluctance to get involved in an identical situation after we are coming out of Iraq? 

Another challenge for the new Libyan government: Who gets power?  Indeed you can bet that many will be jockeying for positions of influence while they have the chance.  Right now it is paramount for the country to extinguish any pro-Gaddafi forces that still remain.  If any small flames of the old regime are allowed to smolder and gather support they could turn into a full blown wildfire, with the martyrdom of Gaddafi as its rally cry.  Now that the rebels control the country you can expect assistance from the rest of the world.  Again it is not so much who is in power but that the country is stabilized.  Gaddafi has been in power for 42 years, so I can see why familiarity was a comfort to countries like the US.  I do not envy the new government.  The euphoria that is sure to infect the country of six million after the toppling of the government will carry along with it high expectations.  It’s like winning the AFC/NFC Championship or Game 7 of the semi-finals in the NBA or MLB, it’s a great feeling but you still have work to do.  It is important for the Libyan people to keep their expectations for this new government realistic and in perspective.  Take a look at Iraq and Afghanistan; we all know their democracies weren’t built in a day.

This challenging task has fallen to the National Transitional Council (NTC) for ensuring that there is equal representation in the new Libya.  But even that may be hard.  Because there are pro-Gaddafi supporters laying low for the short time, we can probably expect them to eventually try to undermine the legitimacy of the NTC in time.  Probably through the fact that NATO warplanes helped devastate Sirte and pro-Gaddafi forces will seek to paint the NTC as an extension of NATO who they will then try to portray as an alliance driven by Western thinking.  The NTC will form the transitional government in about one month and a constitutional assembly can be expected to be elected within 8 months – it will be the first time the people of Libya have had a free democratic vote in 42 years. 

I read an interesting point this past week.  A write for the Mail & Guardian said he thought that Gaddafi’s “death avoids a potentially embarrassing trial.”  While acrimonious debate has risen over the fact that he was captured alive and then assassinated in “cold blood,” (I disagree – walking into a strangers house and killing them would be cold blooded, not the case here when he has been oppressing his people for 42 years) some argue that it saves face for some of the world’s superpowers; namely, the US.  What if Gaddafi had lived?  Who would try him?  Would he be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC), a court that has been heavily scrutinized?  Would Libya try him herself?  It would be nigh impossible to rush the establishment of a solid constitution and judicial system that would have the capacity to effectively prosecute Gaddafi and handle his appeals.  Rosemary Hollis, head of the Middle East studies program at London’s City University said, “To say that it is better for everyone that he be killed rather than captured is to say that the legal approach has disadvantages, and that is to surrender to cynicism.”  Really?  Wake up lady.  The legal approach does have disadvantages.  In a perfect world, it would definitely work.  But we don’t live in a perfect world or else people like Gaddafi would never have been able to come to power.  I’m not saying that it is better that he was killed, I’m still deciding (I read something about a guy who once said to “love your enemies…”).  I plan to go to law school; I defend the court system and a state’s constitution.  But I am saying that he’s better off dead if you mean that it would’ve been a better situation if he was tried in a Libyan court.  Even if he was tried and a solid legal structure could be constituted quickly, do you suppose he would ever find an honest “jury of his peers?”  We’d have to call up Hitler and Saddam from their graves for that one.  I’m all for optimism in the legal system but it’s statements like that that take away from the people’s faith in the legal system.  The only thing good that could have come from trial in a Libyan court was that if by some miracle the country could try him in legal proceedings that had the capacity to deal with him.  That would have shown the strength and unity of the Libyan people.  But in my opinion the reward is not worth the risk.  I’m not even sure if they are united now that their oppressor is dead.  I would expect numerous factions to spring out of the ground to vie for power.  If that makes me a cynic then I guess I am.  In the meantime you could expect Gaddafi to say/do anything to boost his status with the rest of the world.  Knowing that death or life imprisonment was inevitable, nothing would have stopped him from taking shots at the new Libyan government and revealing possibly awkward secrets about other countries.  Remember Saddam Hussein?  He used his time alive to berate America and refuse to acknowledge our jurisdiction.  A Libyan government still in the state of infancy probably wouldn’t have been able to handle such a farce.  Slobodan Milosevic is another example.  Keeping Gaddafi alive would also probably have drawn protests from those still loyal to Gaddafi which might have been embarrassing to the new government.

Can you imagine the international media clamoring for all of Gaddafi’s juicy secrets?  If he was able to sellout any Western countries you can bet he probably would have jumped on the chance.  He would have known it was his last chance to get back at those who helped with his capture.  Italy, France and Britain are also publicly known to have helped him raise a fortune to build his oil industry.  Solidifying the position of a dictator would have looked very bad on them in retrospect. 

If I had to guess I would say unfortunately that Libya’s troubles are far from over.  There are already reports coming out that Gaddafi’s body was hung in a meat factory where people were allowed to line up and take “trophy” pictures with him.  Besides being grotesque and inhumane, it is violation of Islamic law; a body must be buried with 24 hours of death.  I don’t know a lot but I know one thing for certain, you don’t want to make the Muslim’s mad.  Such inaction from the NTC will not win them any goodwill from those sympathetic to Gaddafi’s death.  It will be interesting to see how this unfolds and whether stability can be brought to the Libyan people.

In an unrelated note: As of today South African President Jacob Zuma axed several members of his cabinet.  What a deal, I’ll have a post on that soon.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tutu's Bday Celebration, Coldplay and more

So I got to do a lot this past weekend that I never thought I would ever do.  The first was this last Wednesday (10/5) when I went to to Cape Town Stadium to watch Coldplay in concert.  I took a bunch of video that I will put up when I get home.  It was a packed house, 60,000 strong in attendance.  They put on a pretty good show and it added to my Cape Town experience.

The following Friday, however, I experienced something far different.  It was Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's 80th Birthday Celebration and I was able to get tickets because the organization I volunteer for has close ties to Tutu.  Reflecting on the 2.5+ hour experience I realize that I felt as alienated from Africa as I had in America, but also the most African I have felt since I have been here.  I didn't feel African in the sense that so many famous people were there.  Bono from U2 and the Deputy President of RSA, Kgalema Motlanthe were just a few of the VIP's who shared in the celebrations.  The Sowetan Gospel Choir and sang and performed various tribal dances to bongo drums as well.  The keynote speaker, I fail to remember his name he was the predecessor to Tutu, was thirty minutes late to when he was supposed to speak.  Typical African time.  

I didn't take my camera so I don't have any pictures to share but we had great seats in the balcony overlooking the altar and it was awesome.  Currently, the government is facing extreme pressure from the people.  It just passed what has popularly been dubbed the "Secrecy Bill."  In this bill it makes it illegal for the media to report on whisteblowers to the public.  Pretty much if you find out about corruption and report it, the government can fine you and throw you in jail for a maximum of five years.  Another key guest that was supposed to be at Tutu's celebration was the Dalai Lama.  He was supposed to give public lectures at venues such as Stellenboch University, receive peace awards, and speak at the Desmond Tutu Center for Peace.  None of this happened because the South African government refused to issue the Dalai Lama a visa.  Someone familiar with international relations can probably guess why; the Dalai Lama represents the thought of independence for the nation of Tibet who is at this moment being grossly prosecuted by China.  Because South Africa relies on economical relations with China, having relations with the Dalai Lama (who represents Tibet) threatens that economic security.  That is a risk that South Africa is not willing to take.  So they delayed the visa and forced him to cancel his visit.

Now I am convinced that as Tutu's body gets weaker, his spirit gets stronger.  He ranted against the government, telling (President) Zuma that the government did not represent him.  Tutu even went against his own political party, the ANC, saying that he prayed for their downfall.  He warned that misrepresenting the interests of the people would not keep them in power for much longer.  Of course the government tried to find rational reasons for the irrational action of refusing a peaceful man entrance into their country.  The government responded to Tutu by making excuses for his old age and that his anger got the best of him.  It is so heartbreaking, even to a foreigner, that a man who did so much for his country is not listened to by his government.  Apparently old age makes men more apt to anger and thus they should not be taken seriously.  The government of South Africa needs prayer because this country is moving backwards.  Tutu even went so far as to say that the ANC government currently in power is worse than the apartheid government.  "At least we knew to expect it from them," he stated.  And it is true, apartheid was terrible but at least the government made what it was doing legal.  They were bold enough to try and justify their actions.  This current government is hiding behind loopholes and pointing fingers rather than trying to take steps forward in this young democracy.  When you refuse someone like the Dalai Lama into your country and make it illegal for journalists to report on corruption in your government it certainly doesn't sound like a country progressing in the advancement of liberties for its peoples that it openly proclaims it protects

All these things considered, the celebration was truly one of unity.  It was moving and there were tears from many natives and a feeling that there is still hope for this country.  The Deputy President and Tutu, who were enemies in the press in the weeks before were able to genuinely smile and laugh with one another.  I believe Tutu has made his point and is willing to humble himself.  I learned a lot from him and it goes back to something I learned from my dad as a kid.  Sometimes even when you're right, you're wrong.  He has done what he can, furthermore he is in the right and he knows it.  But rather than pressing his point (which through all stubbornness the government would allow themselves to be destroyed rather than concede they were wrong) Tutu humbled himself.  He is truly an amazing man and I learned a lot in sharing his birthday with him.  

One last thing that worries me, South Africa needs a hero.  A new one.  Nelson Mandela is 93 years old and suffering from Alzheimer Syndrome.  He can't have a lot of time left.  Desmond Tutu just turned 80 and is in outstanding shape, but his time has passed.  The heroes from the days of apartheid are fading and the country needs a leader that it can stand behind.  Right now there isn't one.  It has been strong men like Chief Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have kept this nation together for the past almost 20 years.  I am afraid that the Secrecy Bill and treatment of the Dalai Lama may just be the continued trend of this country's downward spiral.  I hope not.  But who in this country is going to step up and say enough is enough to the government?  Pray for South Africa.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

God is working in my life

So I haven’t really posted anything about how I have been doing spiritually so I figure it is high time that I let you all know how I’m doing.

A lot of people asked me how I was going to keep from being spiritually dry while I was over here, being away from everything I had ever known and what not.  To be honest I didn’t have a real idea how I was.  I knew that I would try and find a church and continue on the reading plan that the NW BSU is doing but other than that I was just trusting that God would take care of that.  Boy did He ever.