Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Help Needed

Dear friends,

Voting starts on August 1!
One of the photos taken by the American Foundation for Children with AIDS (AFCA) has been selected as a finalist in a contest hosted by Global Giving!

Here is the link where you will vote: http://www.globalgiving.org/poll/vote/?pollOptionId=21.  I took this photo while in Zimbabwe during a goat distribution to grandmothers who are raising AIDS orphans. 

The photo which receives the most votes by noon on August 15th will win $1000 for the organization, plus, $3000 from matching grants, AND it will be highlighted on the Global Giving home page, which opens us up to many more donations.  Voting starts at noon on August 1, so we please be ready to vote and to ask others to vote as well. 

Only one vote will be accepted per email address, so voting more than once from the same email address does not count. 

We ask you to please vote and to ask your friends, family and colleagues to vote for our photo, too.  Emails, facebook, twitter, list serves - all these are ways you can get the word out.

Think creatively, too.  You can take your laptop to a cafĂ© and you can ask people to vote for us right then and there.  Or, take your smartphone to work and ask all of your colleagues to vote.

On behalf of the kids,


Friday, July 27, 2012

Vet Kits and Redistribution News

July 25, 2012 - Mayeze, Mapane, and somewhere or the other, Zimbabwe

Coordinator with Q
Today we distribute veterinary kits to communities where para-vets have been trained and where orphaned families have also learned about husbandry and basic veterinary skills.  Q reviews what is in each kit and it is plain to see the pride in the faces of the coordinators who receive the homemade, wooden kits.

AFCA provides these kits to the communities with refills for the first year of a program.  As families earn money from the sales of milk, manure and veggies from gardens, the community must cover the costs for the refilling of kits after the first year.

Just last week, we had 15 goats get sick with pneumonia.  As families noticed that their goats were not doing well, they ran to tell the para-vet, who checked them out.  Soon, medicine was dispensed to the owners of the goats and in no time, the animals were receiving antibiotics and now, they are doing well.  I was happy to be here to witness how the community worked together to put to use the available medicines and how quickly they were in touch with Q to keep him informed of the going ons and how they cared for their animals.  Every one of the families has told me how well they have been trained and how nice it is to be able to care for their animals as they are able to.

July 26, 2012 - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Juju going to school - in uniform

July 27, 2012 - Ntepe, Zimbabwe

Q and I hit the road again, this time heading south, towards South Africa.  We are going to the first area where AFCA/ZOE distributed goats.  It is time to visit the families with a spot check.  They don't expect us, so we feel we'll get a good read at how things are going.

It is a gorgeous day, with blue skies that make me want to reach out to see if it is real.  While needed, rain is not even a possibility today and the day feels perfect.  We arrive at the coordinator's house and Q hands me the truck keys, as four of us won't fit in the cab.  He and a beneficiary sit in the back while the coordinator and I sit in the cab, with him giving me directions and me driving over bumps, rocks, bits of wood, holes, and sand.  We arrive at the first house and meet with a grandma who just this morning lost her daughter and was put in charge of her grandson. 

This boy and his mother had received goats three years ago because she was very ill and we needed to help the boy become able to care for himself at her demise.  He is still young and grandma will take care of him now.  Their goats have gone from 3 pregnant ones to 23!!!  Their flock is amazing and they are all healthy goats.  Since three years have passed, it is time to redistribute and to bless another orphan family with three goats.  The redistribution celebration will happen in November and I couldn't be happier.  There will be 15 goats redistributed in total this year!  Seems like a small number, but this is a sure sign that what we've begun here is working. 

Since there has been a death in the community, most of the families are making their way to the church and we aren't able to meet too many families.  We met with one woman who has raised 3 children and has one more at home.  They've had goats for two years and their flock now totals 8, due to the death of two kids (drought).  Another family lost two goats to cobra snake bites.  One other family, represented by a 13 year old boy, has 9 goats, with another kid ready to be born any day now.  This boy was so sweet and made my day by smiling as he talked to us.  It is so hopeful to see these families and to have them tell us about the program and how they attend trainings and to hear how the flocks are growing.  To everyone who has donated towards this work - well done and thank you!

Thursday, July 26, 2012


There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the origins of HIV. Where did it come from? How did it enter the human population? Why has HIV/AIDS surfaced in humans only within the last 30 years? And why is Africa so disproportionately affected? I have heard the racist claim, put forth only partly as a joke, that HIV first entered the human population through sex with chimpanzees in Africa. I have also heard the declaration, not at all a joke, that the US government intentionally developed HIV as a biological weapon, intending to wipe out homosexuals and control black population growth. There is much misunderstanding and unjustified speculation where the origins of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic are concerned.
So how did AIDS begin?
As it turns out, according to the leading theory, HIV did come from chimpanzees—through the ingestion of their meat. A virus very similar to Human Immunodeficiency Virus, called Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, infects chimpanzees the same way HIV affected humans. Both viruses are part of a group of microbes called lentiviruses, or ‘slow viruses,’ all of which do not cause health problems until well after the host organism’s initial infection. In some areas of Africa, SIV infects chimps, and African bushmen hunt chimps for food. Through digestion, the SIV virus entered the bloodstream of these hunters and their families. Because human DNA is very similar to chimpanzee DNA and because these lentiviruses are so adaptable, SIV survived in its new host species, evolving ever so slightly to defend itself against the human immune system. That multiple strains of HIV appeared in humans seemingly independently of each other supports this theory. In each new host, the virus would evolve differently in order to best ensure survival. Since African health care is poor in quality, it makes sense that the US, with better medical care, first identified AIDS as a new disease. It also makes sense that AIDS appeared on both sides of the country, because the US was not the point of origin. Admittedly, it is puzzling that HIV had not appeared in humans until the 20th century. More research has yet to determine exactly how, where, and when the first transfers took place, if this information can be ascertained at all.
The man-eat-chimp theory is the scientific consensus, but there are others, some bordering on plausible and some almost comical. For instance, many Americans do believe in a US government conspiracy, a systematic attempt to control gay and black populations through the release of AIDS.  Another theory is that HIV began with contaminated polio vaccinations, though how they would have been contaminated is uncertain—perhaps through the use of needles in both chimps and humans. A third possible culprit, a few scholars assert, is European colonialism in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 2000, James Moore claimed that the terrible living conditions of African labor camps in the Belgian and British Empires drove African workers to consume infected animals. Given that much of Africa is and always has been very poor, and perhaps therefore liable to eat infected animals anyway, blaming colonialism may be inappropriate.
It seems as though a lot of people, professionally and informally, have inserted their biases into their theories about HIV’s origins. This is dangerous. Speculation about the origin of AIDS can fuel racism, for there are those who want to show that Africans have degenerate sexual practices, and that HIV is a punishment for sin. Similarly, blaming colonialism for AIDS may unduly add to the already heavy judgment many historians have laid upon European imperialists. It is important to search for the origin of HIV as objectively as possible, with the goal of adding to current knowledge of the virus, not of reinforcing one’s own beliefs or prejudices.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Elephants, Lions and Tigers, oh my!!

Aiden says "I even painted my arm pits!"
Juju getting her braids taken out
Last week was splendid!  We went on a family vacation and visited Hwange National Park for two nights and Victoria Falls for two nights.  It was so fun to drive off after packing a friend's truck (she is so brave to let two americans drive it, as it is a standard car, driven on the opposite side of the road) and to head out with no computers in tow.

We pack food, blankets, towels, clothes, and huge smiles as we get in the truck and pull out of the Stambolie's house for the first non-working vacation I can remember in a long, long time.  No houses to build, no repairs to be made to day care centers, no repairs to roofs.  No...we were going on a VACATION!

Four hours and lots of snacks after leaving, we arrive at the park and unpack our belongings in a lodge we rented for the two nights.  As we walked around, taking in our surroundings, I hear Eric muttering that one of the doors doesn't lock and that during the day, we'll have to lock everything into a bedroom.  I go to the kitchen to put away the food and notice that the refrigerator door is held to the fridge with a coat hanger.  As I take the coat hanger off, the door falls.  We get so excited about heating up some water for tea only to find out that the electric burner takes 45 minutes to do its job.  We roll our eyes, but take it in stride, as we are on VA-CA-TION and nothing is going to dampen our spirits!

Once settled, we head out to do a quick drive before dinner time and we see a honey badger! This is an animal that is not usually seen in the day time and it is something Juju has learned lots about.  She is so excited and tells us all about the animal.  Next, we spy elephants and kudu and impala and we decide that this is going to be the best trip ever.  We vow to get up at 6:00 so we can be at the park gate the minute they open up.  With bellies full of ramen noodles (took an hour to get that darn supper cooked), clean from warm baths, and full of excitement, we all hit the sack.

No one needs to be woken up the next morning and we are at the gate entry at 6:30 sharp.  No one else is there and we have park to ourselves.  We drive for a couple of hours and see 40 elephants crossing the road right in front of us.  They were very, very close and it was exciting.  Then, giraffe and zebra and warthogs and impala and birds of all kinds make their presence known.  We try to convince Morgan to strap on a piece of meat on each side of her and to run through the savana so that we'll all get to see lions, but she just won't do it.  So, no cats are seen by this crew, but we are all happy anyway.  Another drive during the late evening hours and at sunset allow us to see tons and tons of animals at a watering hole, soaking up the last rays of the sun.  What a sight!

We arrive back to our lodge with a plan: Eric will get the kids in the bath while I get food going.  Morgan will help Eric and in no time, we'll all be fed and happy.  We don't count on the fact that there is no electricity and that we have no wood to make a fire.  I march on down to the office just in time to see the worker locking up the office.  Long story short - customer service is not quite what it should be and we didn't get vouchers to eat at the park restaurant.  Instead, we get to wait for someone to bring wood.  Of course, the lady who brings the wood and is supposed to start a fire, doesn't have matches.  And she needs a ride home.  Really?

As the moon rises over the fire, the stars come out in droves.  I am dizzy looking at them, there are so many.  They sing songs of ages past.  They swirl and dance above us and remind us of how small we really are.  Of how amazing creation is and of how big our Creator is.   Even Aiden is rendered silent as he looks up and simply sighs "ohhhhh", as though his breath is taken from him.  It is magical, standing in what seems to be the center of grandeur and I find myself echoing Aiden.

Sunset on the Zambezi
After another day and night at Hwange, we head up to Victoria Falls, where we are met with more awesomeness.  The roaring of the falls is heard at our lodge and in my dreams, I think it is the air conditioning going on.  We walk around the falls, getting wet in the mist and pointing out the wonders in front of us. 

As a surprise to the kids, we book at cruise on the Zambezi River from where we watch the sun set over Zambia and Zimbabwe, one country on either side of us.  Hippos rise out of the water for air, crocodiles sun on the banks and birds swoop and dance in the distance.  We eat warthog, crocodile, fish, and kudu for dinner and it is all delicious.  Perfect night.  Perfect way to see a bit of this lovely country we have all grown to love. 

Before returning to our cottage in Bulawayo, we must stop of HairMart.  It just sounds too interesting to pass up, so the kids and I head that way.  In no time at all, wigs are being tried on and we have a Fabio on our hands.  When the fun is over, we head back to the truck and start the trek back to Bulawayo.  The kids sleep in the back and I am lazy in the front seat while Eric drives the first part of the trip. 

We talk.  We laugh. 

This has been good.

Friday, July 20, 2012


It is fairly easy to slip into the belief that because the virus that causes AIDS is transmitted through sexual relations, acquiring AIDS is primarily the result of choice. AIDS victims chose to engage in unnecessarily risky behavior. Sometimes, that’s true. Oftentimes, however, the factors contributing to that risky decision are much more complex than a disinterested observer might at first assume. For millions of HIV victims around the world, and for HIV+ women in particular, putting oneself at risk is anything but voluntary.
Even if HIV were harmless, women’s lack of cultural power throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV+ population density is far higher than anywhere else in the world, is troubling. Men are given extensive cultural dominance over women. By and large, men reserve household decision-making power for themselves—women’s personal autonomy only extends as far as their partners will allow it. By extension, men control how they exercise their sexuality, and women largely do not. If a man wants sex from his wife, or mistress, he has the physical and cultural power to obtain it. No one will deny it to him, and you can imagine how badly he might desire it at any unpredictable moment. You can also imagine the consequences that brave women suffer when they object to sex demands—and, conversely, you can understand the strong pressure to comply.
Add HIV into this women’s rights nightmare. The obvious, and highly commonplace, scenario is one in which a man has contracted HIV through an earlier partner, demands sex of his current one, and gets it. Maybe the new girlfriend would have consented anyway, but maybe she would not have. Maybe she doesn’t even like this man, she’s just acquiescing quietly because she feels threatened. Or maybe, at first, she thought she wanted relations with him, but as she realized her impotence, she began to regret her irreversible decision. Most likely, she’s one of millions of African teenagers who feel obligated to sleep with men more than fifteen years older than they are. Maybe she even worries about HIV, but knowing that the damage of AIDS occurs years after infection, she yields to protect herself from domestic abuse in the here-and-now. Whatever the specifics, and each of the aforementioned possibilities happens all the time, the woman now probably carries HIV.
Since it is common to maintain more than one partner in sub-Saharan Africa, especially for men, the cycle of transmission through sexual relations, whether coerced or voluntary, can be pernicious. A HIV+ man with many partners can be especially dangerous both because he can force sex and because it is easier for men to infect women than vice versa; the female genital tract retains the virus more easily after intercourse.
Well, can’t the woman just use protection then? Doesn’t that solve the problem? They can, but in general, it’s highly culturally discouraged. In innumerable communities throughout Africa, particularly rural and isolated ones, men and more than a few women view condoms as a kind of dishonorable barrier that taints the value of the sexual experience, even as a Western imposition on a particularly community’s indigenous way of life, not as a life-saving preventative measure. For these men, using condoms often means you lose face in front of your buddies, no matter how many lives you endanger. As a result, even if a woman would want to use protection, she may feel unable to suggest it, much less to demand it, for fear of angering the man. Were women more powerful relative to men, there is no question that the incidence rate of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa would go down.
For this reason, HIV is intricately tied to women’s rights, and a large part of preventing the spread of HIV is empowering women throughout Africa and around the world to resist the domestic and cultural pressure to engage in unwanted sexual relations. Women need to feel able to say ‘no’ when it is right to do so, both for their own sake and for the sake of their children, who may end up carrying HIV through them. So often overlooked, women’s empowerment is part of the cultural battle than must be waged against AIDS.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Special Challenges for Children

For more than 30 million adults around the world, carrying HIV is an onerous burden. Maybe they know that inside them there is something lethal lying dormant, waiting—and maybe they don’t. But when HIV manifests as AIDS, half of these victims won’t have access to the proper treatment for it, and they will probably die. The economic, physical, and emotional strain of living with AIDS is incredibly wearing, and adults around the world suffer under that burden.
But for a lot of unfair reasons, the plight of children with AIDS is worse. First of all, many of them are born straight into treatment. If the pregnant mother has not been taking antiretroviral pills (which is true of about half of all HIV+ mothers—more than half in remote, resource-poor settings), the at-risk child enters the world greeted by a week’s worth of nevirapine injections, which has approximately a 50% of preventing mother-to-child transmission of virus. These injections are used most often if the mother failed to come forward for antiretroviral treatment earlier in the pregnancy, not because she did not have access, because, again, in resource-poor settings, both ARV AND nevirapine may not be available.
Diagnosing HIV/AIDS in children is more expensive and complicated that diagnosing adults. This is because through breastfeeding, whether or not the child truly becomes infected, the mother transfers HIV antibodies into the child’s bloodstream. These may cause the HIV tests to come back falsely positive, so to properly test the child, physicians must use a more expensive and rarer test, called the polymerase chain reaction. Since this test is not available in poor, rural areas, it is often impossible to test at-risk children for HIV.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that children succumb more quickly to AIDS than adults do. Their immune systems are easier for the HIV virus to break down, so when a child is born HIV+, it’s really bad news. Whereas an adult will typically remain outwardly health for 6-8 years after their initial infection, children can become sickly and die within a year. And while antiretroviral medication is now much more available than it was even a decade ago, the vast majority of anti-AIDS drug combinations were designed with adults in mind. There are no directions for children! Fortunately, a few studies and the experiences of children who have taken adult medication by necessity show that smaller doses of adult ARV are generally effective at keeping AIDS at bay in children, but nevertheless, the lack of knowledge of how children’s bodies react to ARV keeps their guardians in the dark should a rogue side effect occur.
Finally, on top of all of that, all children with AIDS have HIV+ mothers—that’s more or less the only way they can get it. This means that the children’s mothers and often fathers as well are at risk of dying at a time when the children are both young and suffering. Most children with AIDS have lost at least one parent to the disease, and many are orphans. Luckily, most cultures in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease is most prevalent, emphasize close extended families, such that most orphans are taken in by relatives. The loss of a working parent still a crushing blow, however, draining the resources available to the child’s new caretaker.
For all of these reasons, the AFCA has chosen to focus on helping children with AIDS and their families survive and live healthy and productive lives with a decent level of comfort. Browse our main site to learn how you can help children with AIDS see a brighter future!

Sunday, July 15, 2012


July 13, 2012 –Coronation, Zimbabwe

They gave me this mat
Eight hours of driving.
Two hours of workshops.
Two large cabbages.
Eight kilos of chicken.
Two kilos of tomatoes.
Two kilos of onions.
Six kilos of rice.
One mat.
Twenty grandmothers and grandfathers.
Eleven songs.
A million smiles.

If I had to state my day in numbers, the above would be the sum of it.  Ncube, Q and I head out of Bulawayo at 6:00am and stop in Masvingo to purchase food for our workshop before driving the last 20k to Coronation.  This is where we delivered sixty goats a few weeks ago and I am excited to be back.  When we finished giving out goats last time around, an older lady who was selected by the others approached me and asked if I would consider giving them seeds for a community garden.  She assured me that “we will all work on it and it will provide food for the children until we can use the goats for meat and we’ll make sure we work hard and we’ll use conservation farming so that vegetables will grow even during the dry seasons and we’ll save seeds for next year and you won’t be sorry because we are very serious with the donations and will you please help us with seeds?”

All this came out breathlessly, quickly.  As though afraid that she’d lose her nerve if she didn’t get it all out at once.  It was easy to say that I’d think about it because this is the type of project AFCA wants to do since it can be a first step in keeping people out of a system where they expect to receive gifts year after year.  This is the type of thing that can help them become self-sufficient, so I told her I’ll think about it and will get back to them with an answer.  I don’t know if they believed me, but they thanked me and we said goodbye.

church in coronation
Now, I am traveling back to Coronation, a tiny enclave of houses sitting on some of the driest land I’ve seen in this country.  The ladies wait for us at the same church where we first met, thinking that all we will be doing today is a workshop about goats.  They take out their paper and pens and are ready to take notes about goat care when I surprise them by announcing that they have been selected to be part of a pilot project for personal gardens and that AFCA will provide seed for them if they want to participate in the trial.   

They will receive training on how to use conservation farming to keep the soil humid even during times of drought, they will learn how to compost, how to fence, how to grow new veggies, and how to save seeds for next year.  In fact, drought resistant, non GMO seeds are on their way to ZOE’s offices.  Once the dancing and singing dies down, they all register for the trial, excited that their voices were heard and that they will get to share what they learn with other groups.  Together, it is decided that we’ll do personal gardens and that an award (three packets of seeds) will be given to the person with the largest harvest.

We start the pilot project with a lesson on composting.  Ncube translates my words into Shona and the training time goes by quickly.  They take notes, they ask questions.  You can feel the excitement through the tiny room and Q is a bundle of smiles as he takes it in.  Ncube hands everyone a schedule with deadlines for fencing, plot readiness, composting, when seedlings will be planted, etc.  It is so amazing to hear them participate and to know, to just KNOW that this is going to be a great project.  These women and men are so ready to do this!  They are taking a small gift and are going to turn it into something wonderful for their families. 

Someone's kitchen
Together, we all walk to their homes to give ideas of where they could have a garden.  Some have small plots going, with spinach and greens growing.  Some have nothing.  Some have a dream, but need help in making it a reality.  We talk, we plan, we dream with the.  In all the houses, we see their healthy goats roaming around eating anything they can get their teeth on.  Each guardian has built a nice hut for their goats and they boast at how the milk is good for the children and they show them to us proudly.  Q takes this time to start up with his workshop, using live goats as models for his trainings.  An old man, leaning on his cane, looks carefully into the eyes of a goat and tells us that the goat is healthy.  Q looks, too, and patting the man on the back, lets him know that he answered well.

They cooked
Bringing food from kitchen to church
Back at the church, Q continues with his workshop.  Ncube has to translate for him, too, so they hand me the truck keys and ask me to bring the prepared lunch to the church.  HA!  Silly men!  Don’t they know I’ll never find my way to the hut and back?  Thankfully, a woman comes with me and we drive out together into the sand and dry.  We arrive at the small round hut where three women have been cooking the chicken, rice and veggies we brought for the training.  They hug me and seem surprised that I am willing to carry pots, plates and water to the truck.  They clamber into the back of the truck with the food and off we go, under the gnarled tree, past the swaying fence, over some scattered rocks, by the skinny dog who breaks my heart, and to the church.

We eat the delicious food they’ve prepared and as the time approaches for us to leave, they sing one last song:

Every day
Every hour
He is faithful
To us

Every day
Every hour
He is with us
Oh, Lord

To be taught a lesson about God’s faithfulness by a group of people with nothing more than three goats, the clothes on their back, some basic cooking utensils, orphans to look after, and a small hut to call home is a lesson, indeed.  I’ve been worrying about the $100-$150k I need to raise by the end of this year, yet the lesson I hear today is clear  – don’t worry.  Just do your job, do it well, do it to the best of your ability.  The rest is up to God because He is faithful. 

As we leave, the grandmothers remain at the church voting on committee members for the garden project. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Braided Hair and a Camera

July 11, 2012

Juju has been pretty good at doing summer school work while we are here in Zimbabwe that I told her that I'd treat her to something special if she continued using her best handwriting, not complaining and worked hard at her numbers.  She complied and has been a great student during her homework times (ie when her mother needs a break from the million questions that come out of her mouth). 

When she wakes up today, I tell her that we are going to get her hair braided.  You'd have thought she'd been promised a trip to the moon!  Her smile is huge and all morning long, she keeps checking the time to be sure we won't be late for our appointment.  12:45pm finally rolls around and we make our way to the Hair Dreams, recommended to us by Jean.  Apparently, the stylist, Florence, is familiar with caucasian hair, so she'll take care of us just fine.

After a small trim, Juju is settled into a corner of the salon and a specialist goes to work on her hair.

Meanwhile, in another part of the small, tidy salon I am getting my hair washed in preparation for the requisite foreign trim I get whenever I travel.  Some people collect maps, stamps or coins.  I get haircuts.  Whether I understand the language or the stylist understands me is not as important as the moment of getting the trim.  Sometimes, the results are good.  Mostly, they are not.  So, excited to know the outcome, I let Florence take over.  The only condition I give her is that I DO NOT WANT TO LOOK LIKE A BOY. Believing I am rather clear about this point, I sit back and let the magic happen.

As I relax under some mighty big-sounding snips and cuts, a white towel wrapped around my neck and a blue cape which covers my top and thighs, I subtly look around and find a well-organized working area in a remarkably small space.  In one corner, there stands a full 5-gallon bucket with water being heated by one of those small coil heaters that always makes me think that someone is going to get electrocuted pretty soon. 

To my left are magazines from years past and from which I would not venture to select a cut for fear of looking like something we all shudder about.  Closer to me on the left is a mason jar with combs soaking in water.  Then, the clips, the thinning shears, the razor, and finally, a small jar of talcum powder called Mr. Mountain Man.  I keep a straight face as I keep looking around me. 

To my right is a chair for the next customer and a little further on that side is where one gets their hair washed when you first enter.  Juju is crammed into the only remaining corner and is smiling bravely as braid after braid is made in her hair.  She doesn't complain of pulling or yanking, so I assume the lady is being gentle or that my child is going to be another victim of vanity.  She is looking mighty cute and smiles at me when I catch her eye on the mirror in front of me, as she is behind me, slightly to one side.

Florence cuts and cuts and cuts.  She comments on the many cowlicks I have and seems determined to get rid of them.  I remind her that I do like having a little hair left on the back so I don't look like a boy.  She smiles and tells me that I have terrible cowlicks.  She says the word "terrible" with fierceness and again, I am sure she is going to rid me of them all.  In fact, she has done just that.

Juju and I take a taxi home where Eric greets Juju with a big smile and the camera.  He tells her how cute she looks and how neat her braids are.  He sees me and and the smile sticks a bit.  He tries to work on it but it is impossible for him to muster the words we both won't believe.  So, I laugh and let him off the hook. Maybe I should have chosen a look from the magazines from long ago...

He put the camera away.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sunday and Monday

July 8, 2012

Today we visit Piet and Anike, a couple from Holland who’ve been living in Zimbabwe for 32 years.  They graciously invite us to their house for lunch after church and we arrive excited to make new friends.  Anike is a gracious host, presenting us with a delicious stew and rice meal, salad and a dessert of yogurt and stewed fruit.  It is so nice!  Homemade wine and guava juice completes a delicious meal where conversation flows easily and where the kids don’t feel like they have to sit still the entire time.  After lunch, we talk and the little ones scamper off to play in the sand pile close to the house and to make dolls out of twigs and leaves.  They have the best time! 

M and J with boys in left top
The real treat comes when we go on a hike with their two dogs.  We walk towards some dams that have been built to help with water issues and which has been completely neglected by the government.  Five years ago, Piet and Anike got together with others in the area to clean up the dam and surrounding park.  Today, it is gorgeous!  They’ve worked so hard at clearing paths, at creating spaces for bar-b-q’s and picnics, at planting aloe gardens and magical-looking cacti gardens.  We roam around, enjoying our surroundings and quiet. 

We return to their home for a snack of samosas (I looooove them!) and juice before we head back to our home where pancakes (thin, large pancakes with a drizzle of lemon from the lemon tree out back, cinnamon and sugar) and waiting for us at the Stambolie home.  All 13 of us sit around a makeshift large table and we enjoy more good conversation and food in an easy atmosphere that is welcoming and warm. Ah!!  It’s good to feel at home.

July 9, 2012

The kids and I pile into Q’s truck, ready for another goat distribution.  This one is also thanks to One Day’s Wages, who gave us a nice grant.  We pull up to the dry, dry village and there, waiting for us as usual, is a small group of grannies.  They pose for photos while the goats are brought to a small pen where it will be easy to corral them.  Q and I fall into our usual roles and quickly, we are done with vaccinating and tagging the goats.

Morgan falls in love with little one
I look out to see what the kids are doing and there is Morgan, holding a cute little girl.  They, along with Juju, are communicating somehow, even though the little one doesn’t speak English and Morgan and Juju don’t speak N’debele.  They help write some signs I need for a future video and do it together, the four.  The little girl does not let go of Morgan, who is just happy to hold her and make her smile. 

African Boy

Aiden is inside a hut, watching lunch being cooked and chatting away to the lady cooking.  His eyes are watering from all the smoke that can’t escape the round hut, but he refuses to leave.  When the lady leaves to fetch some water, Aiden is right on her heels, asking questions and pointing things out to her.  She answers him in N’debele and they seem to get along really well, even without a common language.

When they are done making lunch, Aiden is happy to play outside with a stick. He is a hero, a champion, a soldier, Lightning MacQueen. 

The girls play with the little one until it is time to eat lunch.  Juju loves the sadzsa and Morgan and I struggle to get the chicken meat off the bone.  We start by gently trying, then we get a bit more forceful.  Soon, it is a challenge and we are not about to give up easily.  We put our plates on our laps and dig our fingers into the place where meat meets bone.  We tug, we pull, we cajole.  We CANNOT free the meat!  It is quite amazing!  When I finally, finally get a bit off, I give it to Aiden, who happily chews on it for 3-4 minutes before it disappears.  By then, I've been able to get some more pieces off.  It is quite comical and Morgan and I laugh at our inability to eat neatly, with one hand, like everyone around us does.

I love how these three kids are getting along out here with everyone.  They are gracious, shaking hands when appropriate, smiling at everyone, eating what is put in front of them, thanking people kindly, and saying goodbye with a big wave.  They make me proud, these three.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Ever wondered just how big the global AIDS problem is? Let’s see if we can give a little quantitative scope to this planet-wide pandemic.
Right now, 34 million people are living with HIV. Most of them—22.9 million—are in Africa, the continent from which the disease originated. 9 African countries suffer from a prevalence rate greater than 10 percent. One in ten carries HIV. Of those 9 countries, 3 are especially devastated. Though South Africa has the greatest total number of victims in the world, with 5.6 million South Africans (17.8%) infected with HIV, 24.8% of Botswana’s population has the virus. Regionally, Southern Africa is the hottest hot spot, Eastern Africa (Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania among others) are moderate by African standards (meaning still bad—6-8%), and West Africa is doing relatively well. However, certain West African countries harbor huge numbers of HIV victims, e.g. Nigeria, whose 3.3 million infectees account for 10% of the global HIV+ population. A final statistic—in Africa, women are disproportionately at risk for HIV—59% of new infections in take hold in females.
Though Africa is by far the hardest hit region of the world, HIV has reached everywhere else as well. The absolute prevalence estimate in Asia is 4.8 million people, half of them in India, and most countries’ prevalence rates are about 1%. In many cases, as in China, the HIV+ population is concentrated within a few provinces of a country. In Eastern Europe, 1.5 million people carry HIV, with Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic States being the worst affected. The Caribbean, whose prevalence rates are higher than anywhere but Africa, averages 2%. Latin American has 1.5 million victims, most of them in Brazil due to that country’s size. Little Belize is a hotspot, with a prevalence rate of 2%. In highly developed countries (the US, Western Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand), a total of 2.2 million people have HIV. In these countries, information about transmission prevention is widely available, leading to generally safer sexual behavior. On the other hand, the dismissive attitude that HIV is a problem only for poorer countries sometimes leads to riskier choices.
Looking at the broader picture, as of 2011, AIDS’s total death toll was 30 million, and as 1.8 million of those casualties were lost in 2010, by now the real number of lives taken has likely grown close to 33 million. The number of HIV+ individuals who die annually is less than the number of new HIV infections yearly—meaning more and more people are living with the virus with time. In 2010, there were 50% more new infections than deaths. 2.7 million people contracted HIV; 1.8 million others died from it.
There were 3.4 million children living with HIV in 2010, and 290,000 became infected that year. Every hour, 30 kids die from AIDS. Nine tenths of them are in Africa.
So, yeah, it’s huge. This is a problem of historic proportions. It will require a concerted, unified movement on the part of societies, their governments, and the international community to defeat the virus and ensure the health of the world’s population. Individually, we cannot do it all. But before we get lost in the numbers, it is important to remember that we can do something that matters to some AIDS victims. We, even individually, can end the threat of HIV for some people, and it’s important that we do so. Find out how you can make a difference by exploring our main website.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Chickens and Tea

July 4, 2012

The car horn gets me moving quickly and I grab my water bottle on my way out the door.  Q and I are going a couple of hours away to conduct a chicken training to a group of grandma's who are caring for orphans.  Along the way, we talk about many things: the role of women in Zimbabwean society, life during the colonial days, what sort of foods are eaten here which I haven't had yet (worms, field mice, etc),  Hwange National Park, Victoria Falls, the price of food and how it is changing the face of poverty, Lassie, scary-looking dogs, etc, etc. 

We sit under an avocado tree on hand hewn benches, surrounded by grandmas who are ready to learn about chickens and their care.  While we wait for more grandmas to arrive, I interview the ones there in order to get their stories down.  I meet one grandma whose name is my own grandmother's, the grandma of my heart.  I tell her that my grandma is Josphine, too, but that we pronounce it differently because my grandma is from Colombia.  She tries out my "Josefina" on her tongue and finds it tastes just as good as her "Josphine".  She repeats it to herself a couple of times, as if to remember it for later.

They seem shy but are willing to answer my questions, which helps me understand their lives just a tiny bit.  The daughter who've died, leaving them with grandbabies to raise.  The sons who've pass on.  The husbands who are no more. Somehow, these women have survived tragedy after tragedy, holding on to a thin veil of hope, believing that despite everything, their grandchildren will do better than they did.  I ask them what the gift of five chickens means to them.

School fees.



A future.

A new blanket.

I take them on a journey of possibilites and we work on numbers.  We determine that at the worst case scenario, they will each have 35-40 chickens by the end of the year (after eating some eggs and losing some chicks to predators or illness).  One woman squints her eyes and says in N'debele, "We will be rich".  Her voice is soft, her poise calm, her tone straight forward.  She shows no external excitement.  In fact, she looks a bit wary, a bit careful as she utters those words.  Once translated, I look at her square in the eyes and say "That is the point".  It seems that no translation is necessary because as the words come out of my mouth and I gesture that this is what we want for them, they all break out in smiles and laughter.  It seems that they were afraid to point out what could possibly be true - that in one year, they might be richer than they ever thought they'd be.  That in a year's time, they might have 35 chickens to call their own, some to be sold, some to be eaten and some to be kept as layers.  Once the realization hits that this is where their children's future might lay, they are eager to know what to do, what the contract demands of them and of us, how to build the best house for their chickens, and how to do record keeping.

Once I am done with the contract and record keeping portion of the workshop, my part in the training is done and I head off in search of wood.  A woman joins me and helps me build a small fire on the opposite side of the small, weather beaten church, while two adolescent girls go to a river for water.  The walk is long and in the time they go and come back, the fire is ready, almost out, revived again.  I've managed to make 50+ butter and jam sandwiches while squatting on the hot ground.  They are stacked in tall columns, these sandwiches, as tasty as I could make them with the two ingredients we have.  Q had purchased the bread, butter, jam, tea, milk, and sugar on our way to the training and I was incredulous at the amount of bread.  In his quiet manner, Q tells me that rural Africans eat as much as they can when food is available because they never know when they will eat again.  He assures me the sandwiches will be gone at tea time. 

The workshop ends at the same time as I round the corner of the church building with a pan in one hand and a small pitcher of water in the other.  Old women with beautiful black, wrinkled, hard-working, sometimes arthritic, hands are surprised that a white woman is offering to wash their hands.  They laugh shyly and hold out their hands over the pan as a thin stream of water gets poured on them.  They scrub and I pour a bit more.  Down the line I go until we are done and can go into the church where four more benches, a large pot of tea, and more than fifty sandwiches wait for us.

Q is right.  There is no food left by the time he and I head out the door. 

A pair of those beautiful old hands grabs one of mine as I say good-bye and she kisses it.  I am undone.  I hug her tightly and she says against my neck one, two, three times - "thank you. thank you. thank you". I say "thank you" back because the gift is mine.