Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sorry Safari

Yesterday I went on a safari. We loaded up into buses and drove to the Schotia Game Reserve, an hour and a half drive from Port Elizabeth.

The safari headquarters were located in a drab white building, a glorified carport for the forest green Land Rovers that were waiting for us.

The seats were located on the roof of the vehicle, with no canopy. I sat in the second row, on the left-hand side. Our incredibly handsome driver introduced himself.

"Hello my name is Justin and I will be your guide today. Do not hesitate to ask me questions. I will be stopping the vehicle at certain locations, and I will get out to talk to you."

And off we went, charging through the parking lot, and down a concrete road until we reached a large gate and barbed wire fence. The gate automatically opened and someone in the back of our vehicle hummed the Jurassic Park theme to himself.

Instantly, there were animals. Everywhere. It was as if the animals had been waiting for us in their places. Springbock deer came springing towards us, giraffes arched their heads and batted their comically large eyelashes. The world of animals was staring at us, a bizzarely large green purring animal with moving humps.

We went up and down hills, around corners, through bushes, and on top of plateaus. Then we reached another, larger gate, and our tour guide hopped off the Range Rover and opened the gate with his hands. We were now in the lions area.

We couldn't see any lions for a long time, and then suddenly there were five of them, and we were staring into their ginormous yawning mouths. Most of the people in my car spent half the time checking their cameras and zoom speeds. "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. It won't zoom right! It's so grainy!" yelped one of the girls in my van for twenty minutes.

The lions stared back at us, lazily. A bunch of people muttered Mufasa to themselves...it's really impossible not to think about the Lion King when you're in Africa staring at lions.

And then we went back to the lodge and ate and ate. It was fantastic, until a colony of ants emerged on my section of the table and I wanted to throw up on myself. Wine was free.

Justin sat with us, and I eye flirted with him. I'm not quite sure what that means, but let's just go with it.

Then we went on a night ride, and it started to rain. I put on a bright yellow poncho, and it whipped the people behind me in their faces. "Sorry, sorry," I said to them, " I'm so so sorry." I tried to pull it over my head, but then I had no arm to hold on to the van, so it continued to whip, splashing rain on everyone. I worried I would get caught in the thorns of the passing Acacia trees, and I'd be yanked off the Range Rover. It didn't happen.

Shauna and I cracked jokes during most of the ride, and we were probably really annoying. So, sorry. Sorry to the wildabeasts for making fun of your sorry name and ugly faces, sorry hippo for making fun of your weight, sorry rabbits for ridiculing your jumping skills, sorry giraffe for scaring you away with our cackling, and sorry, Justin, for hitting on you even though you're obviously straight.

Yesterday I Prayed to God

It was the first time I’ve ever done it.

I was standing inside a woman’s house. She had AIDS, full-blown AIDS, and she was sitting on a chair, with her eyes half-open. Two of her friends were there with her, silent.

“This is Kiselwa”, Natalie, a white Christian South African woman said. “She has been living with AIDS for two years now.”

We'd been spending the day visiting patients of Natalie's Christian NGO, a mess of an organization that sought to fight AIDS "the Christian way," using prayer in lieu of sexual education.

“Please, let us bow our heads and pray for her,” said Natalie

Everyone in the room bowed their heads and I closed my eyes. This is what happened:

“God. Hello. Hi. This feels pretty fucking weird, but yeah…hi. Uhm. What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Why the fuck did you command people to stop having sex before marriage? Do you realize your teachings have been used to further the stigma against HIV? Do you realize they’re teaching abstinence because they think this well end the pandemic? Fuck abstinence. Literally. Let’s all gang bang abstinence up the ass because it’s the stupidest idea for an AIDS program I’ve ever fucking heard."

"Guess what, Christians? The bible doesn’t know shit about AIDS. It doesn’t. AIDS developed thousands of years after the bible. It’s the deadliest pandemic we’ve seen in recent memory, and it’s made all the more deadly because it’s associated with sex, the most fucking taboo thing ever. And you know this! And you know condoms work, and condoms are the most important part of an AIDS prevention campaign, and yet you still teach abstinence. You devote your money to buying mini-bibles filled with fun facts, and hip language and you spend your outreach budget on faith-based initiatives. But you can’t pray the AIDS away. You have to treat it. And you’re not.”

Amen.

The other woman was toothless. We visited her too, and let me tell you she was one of the happiest mother fuckers I’ve ever seen. Happy with all these sores running up and down her arms, as she grabbed us for a hug. Such warmth! Such confidence! Where’d she find it from? Jesus of course. Jesus, INC. He’ll chase your blues away, provided you stop having sex with a condom and being gay. Let’s all sit down and pray the AIDS away. Really. Let’s do it. Let’s all hold hands and talk about Jesus and then maybe we’ll all stop dying.

And the dumbstruck Christian NGO directors, when I asked them a question about condoms, were so fucking dumbstruck I could have dropped an apple down their gaping mouths.

“What would you do if someone, a Christian, told you they didn’t want to stop having sex, because it felt good? What if they told you they wanted to use a condom?”

They wanted to laugh, but I was dead serious.

“Well, we’d tell them to go into the Church and pray about it. Ask God what to do..”

“Okay, and then what?” I wanted to ask, but it was time to go.

Why weren’t we working to create a secular condom-based society? A condomed society covered in latex where nothing can seep through and everything is bottled up where it’s supposed to be. Where no skin touches, no blood drips, no juices spill.

Most tourists don’t know how bad it is, how they’re dying like flies, even when they’re staying in resorts right next to all the death. They’re dying from diarrhea less than a mile away from a posh five star South African game reserve and hotel.

South African tourism will never incorporate an AIDS hospice tour, unless that is you ask for the special Oprah package. And maybe that’s what we should create- an Oprah package for all you thick-skinned, strong-gutted foreigners. You think you can see the real world? Think you can stomach it? Here. Hold my baby. Feel my warts. Smell my garbage.

But then again, you couldn’t see the village we saw, even if you wanted to. Heaps of newspapers, rotten apples, used latex gloves, and burned tires mark the entrance. You have to drive down a tiny dirt road. It’s hidden, and I guess poverty doesn’t really go well with the whole safari theme.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ryan Gosling Made Me Want To Be One Of Those Non-Conformist Teachers

When I first observed a South African classroom, the teacher threatened multiple students with weed work for not complying with her demands, and reprimanded a student for not paying close attention. The students responded with eerie silence, their faces stoic, with only the occasional tremor of masked laughter. This silence was made even more palpable by the fact that I had just seen these same students laughing, talking and making fun of each other very loudly outside the classroom. 

After seeing this classroom, I told myself that my classroom would be different. No no no, I wanted the students in my classroom to respect me because they liked me, not because I was older than them, and certainly not just because I was their teacher.

I suppose, if I excavate my subconscious a bit, I still had some mythologized teacher / student relationship I'd picked up from 'Half Nelson' and 'Sister Act' where the teachers (not always effortlessly) straddled the line between authority figure and friend, helping students with personal issues they wouldn't share with just any teacher, but only a compassionate caring and fun teacher like Whoopi Goldberg or a brooding non-conformist teacher like Ryan Gosling. I wanted to be their Whoopi.

Recently though, I'd been feeling less and less like a celebrity and more and more like an out of touch hippie loser. I'd let the kids get too close to me, and now they were walking all over me.

"Walk us to the gate!" they yelled at me one day after class. "But I'm exhausted," I said to them and shrugged my shoulders. "Do it!" one of the girls yelled at me again, and then said something in Xhosa and laughed. "What did you just say?" I asked her but she wouldn't tell me.

"You are late!" they would yell at me when I arrived five minutes late. "We have been waiting!".... "You did not bring us Valentines Cards!" ......"Where's Melissa!? Where's the nice teacher?!" Such accusations! Such anger! 

I told Sume about the incidents and she shook her head. "They are testing you," she said to me, "because you are younger and you are not a teacher here. Do you want me to come in and say something to them?" She asked me. I thought about it for a moment.  I wanted the students to respect me because I was awesome, not because Sume told them to, but I also wanted the classroom to run smoothly, without having to talk over their laughter constantly. "Fine...I guess," I said to her

Today Sume came into the classroom and sat on one of the desks in the front. Her presence was calm and commanding. She instantly captured the gaze of everyone in the room. She said a few words to the students in Xhosa. I have no idea what, but she repeatedly gestured toward me and said "respect" in English. The students responded defensively. I believe they were saying something about how I'd been unclear, how I'd joked around with them earlier and now I wanted to make the transition to serious teacher without filling them in. 

Then Sume left, and I passed back the student essays, which I'd tried to grade on a friendly scale of 1 to 3 stars depending on clear elements like grammar and number of sentences. I think I mispronounced every single one of their names, but I did not hear a peep of laughter. "Mummm--baa--baa--loo?" I asked the class. They looked at me like I was an alien, but an alien they must treat with respect.

"Yeah, that's me," said Mumbablo, as he grabbed his paper. We then delved into our scene workshop about a character with AIDS (I'll describe this later...) and the kids were totally calm; they didn't start laughing in the middle of the scene, or tease each other, they didn't break character at all. 

Near the middle of the scene workshop, one of the students offstage started laughing. I instantly reprimanded him and sent him outside. The students were shocked. It was the first time I'd ever sent anyone outside but it felt like the right thing to do. 

By the end of the scene workshop, the students were still engaged and listening, even as I packed my bags and said goodbye. "Goodbye," they responded, almost uniformly, like they were soldiers and I was their drill sergeant.

 And, for the first time in ever, it felt OK to be the sergeant of the classroom. 

Imagining AIDS

Today I asked one of the students in my class to direct a play about HIV. I didn't give him any guidelines, but I told him I'd like the play to be entertaining, and educational; two Lifetime Entertainment words I never thought I'd hear come out of my mouth in the same sentence. 

The play moved quickly. In the first scene, the girl  found out about her virus, and by the second scene she was already lying in a hospital bed. 

This seemed unrealistic to me; most studies have shown you can live a seemingly healthy life for many years before you show any signs that might require hospitalization. 

I asked the class when the girl was infected, and they said they hadn't thought about that yet. "But she's sick now?" I verified. "Yes," the student director responded. 

"You know that she wouldn't be in a hospital if she was just diagnosed, unless she's had the virus for many years before her diagnosis?" 

The student director responded blankly. I'm not sure he'd thought about how long the character had the disease, or how sick she was, to him, HIV meant sickness, visible sickness characterized by a stay in a hospital.

At other points in the play, it seemed as if the students were acting out scenes they'd never actually seen. When one of the students acted out a doctor in an AIDS clinic, it seemed clear that the actor had never seen someone drawing blood. He attempted to pantomime the process, but he stuck a pen next to the boys finger, instead of the veins in the fold of the boy's arm.

In another instance, two of the girls in the group teased the HIV positive girl. They came to her hospital bed, specifically to hurl insults at her. This seemed especially cruel, and I felt like, as an audience member, I didn't believe the character's motivations.

"Why is your character here?" I asked one of the actors. "Because we want to hurt the girl's self-esteem," she responded. "Why?" "Because we are rude girls."

While there is still a huge stigma attached to HIV in the states, I couldn't imagine classmates visiting a child with HIV just to tease him or her. Was I naive to the HIV stigma in South Africa, or was this scene an over-dramatized or imagined relationship? 

After a while, I began to realize that the play that was emerging was illuminating not the truth of what it meant to be HIV positive in South Africa, but an imagination of what would happen if someone in the class disclosed his or her status as HIV positive.

I thought about correcting the students, and telling them I didn't believe this is how the community would react to someone revealing their status, but then I realized that to intervene would be to create a play even farther removed from any South African truth.

If the point of a play is to reveal some sort of truth to the audience, did it matter which truth was exposed; the truth of the stigma or the true perception of the stigma? 

It was the imagined over-reaction to status disclosure that the students were dramatizing, and even though it did not correspond with any AIDS narrative I'd ever seen (even the movies I'd seen of family members disowning children with HIV were not as cruel as my student's taunts), the play pointed out all the barriers stacked against someone who wants to disclose their status.

In an atmosphere of taunting, of disrespect, and fear, it would take someone with mega amounts of courage to ever disclose they were HIV positive. 

Monday, February 18, 2008

More Pictures

Lectures with Lunga. I look constipated.
How do you spell pandamonium? Seriously. I just spelled it wrong.
Maddie, ghostly.
Johnny checks out the way he just looked when he was photographed. And smiles. 
Dez looks like a rapper. 
This is a dolphin jumping. This is General H. Steven Blum, the shithead who shares my name, and dominates google when you search "Steven Blum." You smile now, General, but just you wait. Just you fucking wait till I knock you off google. Jackass.

The kids acting out a dentist's office.

Excuse Me While I Continue To Write About Bungee Jumping

But seriously though, can you believe I did it? Can ya? Huh huh huh?

Great Things To Write On Your Friend's Facebook Walls Pt.I

"Hi. You're pregnant."

I'm Sorry I Stole Your New Yorker

Dear Melissa,

I’m sorry I stole your New Yorker. It was sitting on the ground by the door and it just looked so lovely and interesting, and you cut out a part of the cover so I thought maybe you were “over” this particular edition.

I know you don’t like it when I touch your stuff, and I don’t blame you. I am a grabby son of a bitch- I’m working on that. But this New Yorker...this magazine will provide me with a day’s worth of entertainment. Let’s see, we’ve got politics, we’ve got art, we’ve got listings of gallery openings in Chelsea I will never visit, Flamenco performances I’ll never see, New York inside jokes I’ll never understand. We’ve got a whole feature devoted to Google and how it’s taking over the motherfucking world. Such juicy tidbits, such wry humor, such spot-on quotes. I could spend a day just reading this magazine that’s been sitting on your floor.

Oh New Yorker. I’d like to have the wherewithal to write a story for you. I swear to god I’ve come up with similar epiphanies. God! Why don’t I write that shit down more often! OHHHHH painful. I don’t even like New York, but when I read the New Yorker, I long to once again walk down its congested streets. “New York is like crack,” Maddie says, “You don’t like it, but you want to do it over and over again.” I’d have to agree. Every time I visit New York, I feel like I’m on some sort of drug. First I get really really excited by all the buildings, and the noises, and the people everywhere. Then, I get a little bit overwhelmed. Then I get a lot overwhelmed and start feeling anxious. Jews! Everywhere! Except here the Jews aren’t wearing hippie shmatas, they’re wearing Coach and Donna Karan, and they’re talking loudly in a New Joysey accent into their Razor cell phones. And every corner you turn, you’re not sure if it’s going to smell like rotting garbage. And no one looks you in the face…no one.

But then you go to Central Park, or you eat at some amazing restaurant, or you get lost in pedestrian-watching, or you watch some amazing experimental theatre, and you fall in love, and promise to yourself that, one day, you’ll live in the Lower East Side.

Reading the New Yorker brings back all the joy and all the pain associated with thinking about New York, a place I totally love and totally can’t stand.

ShitFuckCockroaches!

As I was just about to write a long apology to my mother for using her writing on my blog without her permission, a giant cockroach crawled up next to my chair. I screamed like a school girl, and ran toward Melissa. "AAAAAHHHH! COCKROACH COCKROACH COCKROACH!!!" It was a sorry sight, and one I wish would never be spoken of again.

It gets worse. Instead of killing it myself like a real man, I walk up to one of the cocktail waiters behind me.

"Uhmm. Excuse me. There's this cockroach next to my table and..."

One of the men looks up, exhausted (it's 11pm here).

"Okay," he says to me, and looks back down at his paper.

I walk back to my table. I stare at the cockroach and it stares back at me. It's still, the way creepy insects always are before they're about to move and jump and frighten us poor poor humans.

I pick up my laptop and move tables. Smash a bug? Solve the problem? No thanks I'd rather just avoid the problem and wait until another cockroach disturbs my peace.

A man dressed in all black arrives, and starts staring at the chair I was sitting in.

"Where is it?"

"There! There! You see! It's moving now!"

The man takes off his shoe and starts beating the cockroach. Fwoop! Fwoop! Shoop! goes his shoe (or whatever the sound is that shoes make when they miss, and then hit cockroaches).

I feel completely emasculated.

"Good job!" I say, but I desperately want to say Mazal Tov or something equally out of place.

The man sort of chuckles to himself, and smiles at me.

I'm now sitting at a new table, checking the contours of the seat, looking for movement in any form, looking for small shadows, checking my neck and then realizing I actually want to scratch my hair...then scratching my hair...then checking the seat again.

I suppose I'll continue this stupid dance until another cockroach arrives, then freak a shit all over again.

Bungee Jumping: A Guided Tour



See here, this is right before I made the jump. The guy wanted to take a picture with me. That smile is fake. If you ever see me smiling like that, know that I am hiding terror with a smile.



Those are my legs. When you bungee jump, they tie your legs together with some sort of cushion, and then they tie straps around the cushion. The man said something to me about how that rope was so strong it could lift a truck, or something. Again, I’m not quite sure what he was saying because all I could think about was what would happen if I shat my pants mid flight. Can poop fly? This is a question I’m honestly asking myself..



This is me being held back, about to jump off the highest bridge in Africa. I’m saying something along the lines of “there is no fucking way I’m jumping off the highest bridge in Africa.”



This is me jumping. This is all wrong. You’re supposed to dive head-first, not hop off the bridge. I hopped.



Plummeting.



Hello nature. I am looking at you from upside down. You are calm, I am not.



This part is really quite beautiful, except for the fact that you think you’re going to slip through the harness and die.



“Herro?”



Afterwards, you feel like the greatest person on earth.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Re: Bungee Jumping

Subject: Don't Go Bungee Jumping
BeverlyBlum@aol.com

You are my only kid. Don't go bungee jumping. Don't do anything unsafe. puhleeze.

Mom


Subject: Re: Don't Go Bungee Jumping
stevenb@gwu.edu

fuck.


Subject: Re:Re: Don't Go Bungee Jumping
Dear Steven,

Well, heck, what do you expect me to say?. Alright, just be careful. NO. DON'T GO.

Mom


Sorry...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Please Shoot Me If My Travel Blog Ever Sounds Like...

...this teen hipster's blog, the son of a Guardian editor on a trip to India.

The comments on his blog were so vicious the Guardian had to ban new ones from appearing.

Via Gawker.

I've Memorized The Order of Every Shitty Song That Plays In This Shitty, Shitty Hotel

I'm guessing people on the internets who are reading this blog have had at least two shitty jobs in the food, hospitality management or hotel industry.

So you know about muzak... the mix of mild and inoffensive songs, some old, some new, hastily thrown together and played in a space to improve the overall atmosphere.

I've experienced muzak in supermarkets, cafes, elevators, lobbies, everywhere. But never, ever have I stayed long enough in any of those places to memorize the order of every shitty shitty song that plays.

That is, until now.

I'm sitting in Garden Court, a nice hotel in Port Elizabeth, checking email and trying to think of things to write on here. And the music just keeps coming. It's like a relentless stream of shit.

"Sweet Escape" by Gwen Stefani

"Talk to me" by some beezee, not sure who, and now I know the song that comes next will be....

"Body is a Wonderland" by John Mayer

It's like being trapped in a romantic comedy, except no one is laughing and everyone is crying.

Bungee Jumping

A bunch of people in my program want to go bungee jumping. They want to strap an elastic cord to their feet and jump off a bridge. They're not concerned about brain damage, or rocks, or snapping. They don't want to hear about it from me. Every time I say something, they say "Stop being a Jewish mother. Just come and do it with us. Don't be a puss. Puss 'n boots!"

I can now totally see myself standing on the bridge, and being pushed off. I can feel the wind. I can feel the rush of scenery. The idea of doing it is absolutely terrifying to me, but I can see myself doing it.

I Just Had An Intimate Moment With A Paper Towel Despenser

You know those paper towel despensers that can like sense your hand? I just noticed one in the bathroom of the hotel where I gets my internets. But it wouldn't dispense the towels unless I placed my finger over the censor.

So I did that.

About one inch of paper towel emerged.

I placed my finger over the sensor again and tapped on it. No inches of paper emerged. I held my finger over the sensor and pressed down. Nothing.

Finally, I started gently caressing the censor with my fingers. Lightly.

Inch by inch, the paper emerged. The more I caressed, the more paper came out. I had to caress the towel dispenser for a good two minutes before enough paper emerged to dry my hands.

I feel exhausted, and slightly aroused.

This Is What Happens When You've Absorbed Too Much American Apparel Advertising...

You want to take every picture like this....

Welcome to Gay South Africa, Now Please Fuck Off

Happy Late Valentines Day everybodyyy.

Last night I went to a lame sports bar because that's what people here do. I did find two gays though. At first, I didn't want to talk to them.

"Maddie, I'm intimidated," I said. "They look so coy, standing there, judging everyone. I don't want to be judged by them."

"Steven, just talk to them. You're on vaca. You're never going to see these people again."

I walked into the dance club and stood there, next to them, for a moment, sipping my beer, and looking absolutely fucking awkward.

Then I walked back into the room where all of my fellow students were sitting.

"Scared. Can't." I said to Maddie.

She shook her head. "Just say something to them, anything."

"What, like 'hi I'm a gay? Are you a gay?'"

"That works."

I sighed, and went back into the dancing area and sipped my beer again. I made eye contact with one of the men.

Shit. No going back now.

"I see you have a broken arm," I said to the man.

"Yes, I fell of a horse."

"Oh. Are you gay?"

"Yup."

"Cool. Are there any other gay people here?"

"Yeah. My boyfriend."

Shot down! Shot down!

"So it's just the three of us. What about that guy?"

I pointed at an effeminate young guy wearing an Abercrombie shirt and gesturing with his wrists.

"He could be, right?"

"I suppose" the man said, and took another sip of beer.

"Hmadndjfjdsfgfd" I said. "Gfaedjdfkdslfmd"

There really is nothing to say, when someone is that aloof. He was impenetrable. I could have tap danced on the table and flung sequences toward him and painted his face. Nothing would crack that smile.

"So where do gay people here go?" I said,

"I don't know."

"Are you from here?"

"Yeah."

"Are you going to Cape Town for pride?"

"Yeah."

"Nice. Me too."

Nothing.

I walk back toward my group.

Welcome to gay South Africa, now please fuck off.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A "Safe" Space

Today I did some improv exercises with the kids again. One of them involved eye contact. I selected a group of students to stand in the middle of the circle, facing outward toward everyone in the outside circle. I told the students to stand and quietly stare into their partners eyes, without laughing, until I told them to move.

I stood in front of Rumela, and I stared into her eyes. She moved her eyes a bit around the room behind me, before she finally rested her gaze on my forehead. Still, I stared at her.

"Next!"

I repeated the exercise with every kid in the center circle. Unlike Ramela, most of the students looked straight into my eyes, and they didn't laugh or anything. Finally, when we were done, I told everyone to sit down in the chairs. That's when I noticed that a few of the students in the group were crying.

"So, I can see that this exercise has brought up some emotions. You may feel saddened after looking into eachother's eyes, or maybe you feel overwhelmed, or just irritated by the whole exercise. Feel free to say whatever is on your mind."

Silence.

"Now I don't know what kind of social dynamic is going on this room, and I don't pretend to know. But you have my assurance that no comment is too big to bring up here. And if someone makes fun of you, I'll kick them out. I promise."

Still, silence. I stared into the dark sunglasses of one of the girls with an afro. "You can tell me," I said to her.

"I just keep on thinking about my father who died," she said to me.

I thanked her, but I did not press on. Instead, I addressed the rest of the group.

"How did it feel to look into eachother's eyes? Did it feel weird? Scary?" I asked the class. One of the boys was crying, and he put sunglasses on to hide his face.

"You don't have to tell me, and I'll admit I have no idea what kind of social relationships in this classroom have developed. I don't know if y'all are friends, or if you even feel comfortable being yourself in this room. But I want you to be able to express yourself, including the side of yourself you feel embaressed or uncomfortable with."

No one felt comfortable responding. The exercise was too honest, too western, too something, and it had opened them up a little bit too much. I thought this was what I wanted, but when it finally happened, I wished we could all just go back to being kids again, and joke around and do our best impressions of a cab cab. I felt like I'd exposed the little adults in these children, who were dealing with issues way out of their age range.

Stumbling, mumbling, I moved on to the scene workshops, knowing in the back of my mind the entire dynamic in the classroom had changed, perhaps for good.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Other People

Soon, other people will post on this blog. It was my initial thought that many many people would contribute to the blog, and the collection of our voices would reflect the varied ways this program has changed us all.

Soon, Maddie will back up her 'Oprah Has Done Nothing for Africa' comment with a full-fledged post analyzing Oprah and black feminism.

And more! Much much more! Stay tuned...

I'm Not Having the Cliche Abroad Experience!

Oh lord. What am I to do? I haven't done or felt anything cliche today!

I did not experience a 'disconnect from my culture.' I did not spend hours talking to local people. I did not eat meat from an animal that had been slaughtered in front of me. I did not denounce American culture. I did not have one thought about how 'money does not bring happiness.' None of this. Nada. Zilch.

What does this mean? What does this mean? What does this mean?

Open Letter to the Teachers at Charles Duna Elementary School

I'm sorry. I do not know how to use a computer. I made up our lesson plans today. Made 'em up literally, as we were working. I told you all how to center your words in Microsoft Word, and how to do bold and italics, but I had no idea that I would be teaching you that five seconds before you heard the instructions spewing out of my mouth.

I don't blame you for being nervous around computers. I don't even like computers. I'm teaching Computer Training, a skill I don't even respect.

Who needs computers? You don't need computers! Computers will make your life miserable. They're just one of the many things the western world has used to remain irritated and depressed. I'm telling you this, as I'm typing on one. Yes, it is an addiction.

You were nervous around using the cursors for a reason. This reason was that tiny voice in your head that said 'I wonder if this really is a good idea.' No it was not a good idea.

Have you ever seen the movie '2001: A Space Odyssey?' No? Rent it.

Oh sure, it'll be easier to teach the kids in the townships how to type resumes, and draw, and write up reports...but why must you learn how to do these things just so you can be "successful?" That's fucked up. Fuck computers.

But if you really really really want to learn, I guess I have no choice but to teach you.

Ripped From the Homepage of McSweeney's

You'll like this, mom:

- - - -

MY ANCESTRY
ASSIGNMENT.


BY ADAM SACHS

- - - -

Shtetl Living:
The Shtetl Life of Avram Bronfman
By Jacob Bronfman
Ms. McNair's Class
February 12, 2008


Introduction

For my ancestry assignment, I decided to profile my great-grandfather Avram Bronfman. The assignment said we should use primary sources, but my primary source is dead, so I used two secondary sources: my grandmother Judy Bronfman and the Wikipedia entry for "shtetl."


Dedication

This paper is dedicated to Avram Bronfman, without whom I would have had to profile Judy Bronfman.


Annotated Bibliography

1. Judy Bronfman: Judy Bronfman is a very good resource for information on Avram Bronfman. She is knowledgeable and very kind. She also helped me with some of the writing. (But it is definitely my own work. She just helped me with the wording of a few sentences.) She is also quite stunningly attractive, and has the skin of a 45-year-old woman; she could easily be mistaken for a young Ava Gardner. I would definitely recommend Judy Bronfman to anyone else who is doing a report on Avram Bronfman, even though she often falls asleep while you're using her. If you type hunched over, she will help you sit up straight, while, at the same time, giving you more information on Avram Bronfman.

2. Wikipedia entry for "shtetl": This was a very helpful source of information about shtetls. There were many maps and interesting pictures. The worst part about this source was that it referred to the Yiddish language, which made Judy Bronfman give me extraneous information about why Zachary Bronfman and Natalie Goodwin Bronfman never sent me to Hebrew school and why that was a big mistake. The other worst part about this source was that it had a picture of an old Jewish cemetery in the shtetl of Medzhybizh, which caused Judy Bronfman to ask me if I would visit her when she was under one of those stones, and when I said yes, she said, "No, I know you won't," and started laughing even though it wasn't funny. The best part about this source was the links to specific shtetls.


The Report

Avram Bronfman was born in the shtetl of Horodenka in Ukraine in 1894. A shtetl was a kind of town that was small enough so that Jewish grandmothers got to see their Jewish grandchildren all the time, and not just when they took them to Best Buy to buy them computer and video games. In a shtetl, grandchildren actually enjoyed seeing their grandmothers and did it because they wanted to.

Avram Bronfman's parents were Eliyahu and Esther Bronfman. Like many Jewish last names, "Bronfman" refers to an occupation. It means "one who produces bronfs." (Personal Communication, Zachary Bronfman. Please note that Zachary Bronfman was working on an important business proposal at the time and it is not clear if he was paying attention. When asked what a bronf was, he said, "Uh huh," and when asked if he was listening, he said, "Yuh huh.")

Avram had a younger sister, Freyde. Freyde's great-niece lives in Santa Monica and is fat and has never come to a single family reunion. Freyde's grandson lives in Omaha and married what seemed like a delightful Jewish girl named Leah who in fact has given him nothing but grief. Still, it's nice that he married a Jewish girl in the first place. It shows a certain measure of respect for one's parents. On the other hand, Judy Bronfman sometimes says inappropriate things that are better ignored, because in her heart of hearts she doesn't mean them. (Personal Communication, Natalie Goodwin Bronfman.)

From 5 years old until he was 14, Avram went to school at whatever the Yiddish word for school is. He was a wonderful student. Whenever he finished his lessons, he ran straight home to complete his homework, stopping only to visit his grandmother for several hours, and he did it because he wanted to, not because his parents told him he had to. That's a big difference.

In 1908, the Bronfman family had financial difficulties, so Avram left school to help out at his father's bronf factory (Personal Communication, Zachary Bronfman). When he was 19, Avram had the good sense to marry a young Jewish girl from his town. He didn't need to find himself, he didn't need to see what was out there, he didn't need the freedom to make his own way (emphasis is Judy Bronfman's). They bore a single child, Judy, who, through a rigorous regimen of cleansers and common sense, would keep her skin looking young well into her 80s. And they built a house, inside of which you can be goddamn sure no Christmas tree would ever find itself, that's for goddamn sure. (Please note: I here lost access to my first source, Judy Bronfman, due to Natalie Goodwin Bronfman's request for a word with her. The remainder of the assignment was completed using only the Wikipedia entry for "shtetl.")

The concept of shtetl culture is used as a complex metaphor for the traditional way of life of 19th-century Eastern European Jews.

The End

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Violence of Waves

I desperately want to go to bayworld. This is bayworld. There are dolphins and other things there that jump in the air. That's all I really care about in life; animals jumping in the air. I don't really care what kind of animal it is, as long as it's in the air. Dolphins. Tigers. Pigeons. I'm easily impressed by flight.

But fucking (anonymous group member) failed to tell me they were going to Bayworld last weekend.

"Oh, we thought you were asleep" said anonymous person.

"Well. I wasn't asleep. And if I was, you should have woken me up. God, do you even know who I am?"

I'd put Bayworld on a pinnacle for a while. It's really the only tourist attraction in all of Port Elizabeth; the only place where you can see the fun, fresh, flirty, aquatic side of Port Elizabeth (unless you wanted to surf....yawn). Bayworld Bayworld Bayworld! I'd had dreams about it. It sounded like Baywatch!

I hadn't had very good experiences with the water in PE, and Bayworld sounded like the antitode. The beaches in PE are lovely, they really are, I mean they're sandy and everything, but the waves are just too much.

I remember when I first came here, and everyone piled into the sea. We were all just so happy to be away from Seattle weather, and the water looked so beautiful, so inviting. I ventured out a good 50 feet from the shore with them.

Then, just as I'm enjoying the beautiful beautiful scenery...crash! Boom! Gurgle! I'm under a wave, in the water, staring at someone's feet.

"Shannon!" I scream.

"Hi, Steven." She's standing right next to me, drenched and smiling, holding her boyfriend Luke in her arms.

"What the fuck was that?"

"A wave."

"Yes, I know. I understand. Duh. Are your ears ringing? I don't think I can see through my own eyes."

"I feel fine," she said, and then looked into Luke's eyes. They were having a moment. Uch.

Overdramatic? Yes, but my head hurt. My body hurt. My blood hurt.

I put my sunglasses back over my eyes, and trudged through the water as fast as I could, afraid I'd get submerged again. Water poured down the inside of my sunglasses and stung my eyes more. I closed them. When the water became shallower, I started running...blind. I could have hit a pole, or a rock. Chas Vechalila I didn't (that's yiddish...suck it).

So, I still want to experience the joy of water, and all of those wonderful animals that live in it. I'd just like to be sitting down and watching other people falling into water, crashing into water, getting salt water in their ears...because it's not exactly my idea of fun.

Fag Gag

A couple nights ago, the girls in our group dragged me out to a straight bar called Toby Joe's.

"More like Toby Hoes," one of the girl's quipped about the club, but I didn't think it was my place to judge...yet.

I stumbled with them toward the club on Friday night. I was excited to see the graphic t-shirts so many of the british boys here wear. So hip! So with-it!

Toby Joe's was a teeming mass of college-aged students, and reminded me of Laguna Beach, that godawful OC ripoff with the brain-dead kids that like to pause five fucking minutes between every painfully obtuse and evasive sentance.

"Yeah. He's just being so...."

"Yeah. I know."

"It's just..."

"Mm hmmm...a bitch."

"Total."

I guess rich white kids don't have to say as much to get their points across. The clothes and bling say much more intelligent things, things about Dior and Marc Jacobs. You don't have to say much when Marc Jacobs is in the room.

Okay okay. Toby Hoe's wasn't that bad...the kids weren't that dumb. It was just boring. That was, until, I met a girl named Beverly Elizabeth.

"Ohmygawd" she wandered up to me and said, head flailing back, and then coming to rest on her busom, "Are you an American?"

"Yes I'm an American!" I yelled.

"Ahaaaa. That is so cool." She said.

"Hey. Can you do me a favor?" I asked her. "Do you know where all the gays are?"

"The gays! Ahhhhhh!! You're gayyyyy!! Aahhhhhhh!! Ohmygod we must talk about fashion. Justasecond."

Then Beverly handed me her drink and told me she needed to go to the bathroom. Five minutes passed. Then ten. Beverly had told me to watch over her drink to make sure no one slipped ecstacy in it.

I waited a bit longer for her.

Longer.

Then I took a sip of her beer. Then another sip. The beer tasted so good. It tasted like victory. It tasted like retribution for every instance I'd been labeled the stereotypical gay by stupid drunk females. Beverly may have just been one girl, but in my mind she was millions of girls I'd met, every single one of whom totally overreacted to me coming out to them, then assumed I would be able to help them with something gays are supposed to help girls with. Things like purses, hair, shoes...all the stupid fucking things I don't know jack shit about. What about love, Beverly? Why not ask to talk about love. I left her drink sitting on the table.

"I want to leave," I told my friend Melissa, but she was too busy engaged in a conversation with some really friendly looking South Africans. I tried to join the conversation but I couldn't hear what they were saying and I kept on asking people "whaa??" and getting blank stares. So I gave up. I don't like being the deaf one.

I wandered back into the center of the club, where members of my study abroad group were dancing on the stage with their shirts off.

"USA! USA! USA!" one of them was chanting ironically. Girls were fauning over them, because they are big African Americans and look different from everyone else in South Africa. "Can I take a picture with you?" one of them asked Zach. I bet he's annoyed by this question by now.

"Zach, I want to leave," I said to him.

"Steve. This place is fucked up. Someone just said 'can I take a picture with you, my nigga?"

"What?!?! That's outrageous, Zach. Did you beat him up?"

"No, but I wanted to."

"I'm leaving." I told him. I feel like I'm always announcing my departure. Goodbye. I don't like it here. I'm gone.

And then, exasperated, I left.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Depressing Frantz Fanon Quote of the Day

“Looking at the immediacies of the colonial context, it becomes clear that what divides the world is first and foremost what species, what race you belong to. In the colonies, the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is the effect: you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.”

Internalizing the Pain of Being Tyra Banks

Thabang. Tha bang. Thabang is the name of our South African artist…the man we speak to when we want to go do some sort of artistic thing.. Today Thabang invited our group into the New Brighton township to go to an arts festival of some nature.

A few of the more outgoing girls organized the group and we stood around outside our hotel, waiting for Thabang to send a cab to come and pick us up. I was hoping he would send the cab called ‘Seduction’ because I love driving around in a car that reminds me of Snoopy Doggy or whatever his name is.

Something that irritates me: whenever my group is talking with Africans I feel like we’re boring ass neurotic people with nothing of substance to contribute. When Thabang arrived in his taxi, we all stood around with him, and complained to him about how hungry we felt. He just smiled. None of us told him how beautiful we thought it was outside, or how excited we were to come and see the arts festival he had created. We just told him we were tired and hungry…something boring white people talk about constantly.

But really, I was excited to go do something artistic. I’d come to South Africa to experience the arts, and my favorite thing about being here was leading a drama class.

The kids in my class were so uninhibited, so natural at acting. They didn’t think first about how the class would respond, or how I would respond, they just committed themselves to an action and followed through with it.

One time, on a drive back from class, I sat next to a young African guy in the cab and talked to him about the arts in South Africa.

“In America, you have Hollywood. You have money to harness the talent. Here we do not have the money, but we have so much talent,” he said to me.

“I know. There are all these amazing stories to tell about township life, about Apartheid, and racism, and you’re stuck watching Oprah and Jerry Springer on TV; American media personalities who have no relevance to your lives.”

“Yes. The Americans have a cultural monopoly over our airwaves, and thus our brains.”

Through teaching drama class all day with 7th graders, I’d learned a lot about how American mythologies are re-interpreted and internalized by South African youth. The children liked to perform cowboy and Indian skits for me, they liked re-enacting America’s Next Top Model, and Days of Our Lives.

It was bizarre to see the children internalizing and espousing the narratives of American personalities they had no relation to, like Tyra Banks and John Wayne. Tyra, while she may be viewed by a select minority of gay men and unemployed housewives as a strong African American woman, is a fucking freakshow, and not someone I would encourage a child to emulate. John Wayne is the prototypical gun-slinging cowboy; the conqeurer and colonist. For obvious reasons, it is completely bizarre to see African children emulating John Wayne.

South African youth do not internalize the narratives of Oprah and Tyra Banks and Jerry Springer because any of these television personalities have anything profound to tell them. Hell, these people don’t have anything profound to say to Americans either.

So why are they on television here? My guess is that the South African Broadcasting Company pays for American reruns because it is cheaper than producing original shows. There isn’t enough funding to create original South African shows 24 hours a day.

“What’s the solution to the American mass-mediated monopoly?” I asked the boy in the car.

“We have to create our own shows. We need investors,” he responded.

Fuck Homosocial

On my third day in Port Elizabeth, a woman on our program told me she met a hot gay hairdresser at a hair salon called ‘Shocking Waves.’

“Oooh. But was he older?” I asked her.
“Not old. Just like late twenties,” she told me.
“I don’t like the older.” I said.
“Okay Steven, that’s okay. He wasn’t that old.”

I wanted to go to Shocking Waves, the center of the gay scene in Port Elizabeth. I wondered if my future husband might end up cutting my hair.

I went to the hair salon and talked to one of the guys there about gay culture in Port Elizabeth.

"Yeah, it's like totally dead here," he told me. "All we have is this one gay club called Aqua and it can be dodgy."

Dodgy. I liked the way he said that. Did you mean to say it can be "black"? Huh? Is that what you meant mister hairdresser, I wanted to ask. But I didn't..I just asked for number two on the sides and clipper on top and left it at that.

And for a while after that experience with the one gay hairdresser, I thought Aqua was it. That was all the gay Port Elizabeth had. A single solitary gay bar.

Then, stuff started happening to me.

Men started uhmmmmmmmm,....touching me.

Example: The art teacher at this one school.

"Steven, we're so glad you're here," he said to me outside the classroom on my first day at school. Then he reached in to shake my hand. I shook it, but instead of letting go he held on.

We held hands, and walked to the classroom together.

"Awww. Well I'm glad to be here, too," I responded like a giddy schoolgirl.

"I want to show you this picture in my classroom"

"Yeah, I bet you do"

I was so excited! An African man! Expressing interest in me!

Then...


....nothing.


He didn't ask me what I was doing later in the evening or invite me out for pesto pasta. He didn't ask me if I wanted to go watch Must Love Dogs on primetime or anything.

"What happened?" I asked my friend Maddie in the playing field of the school, surrounded by screaming children. "He seemed so interested in me....holding my hand and everything."
"Oh, Steven....that's just what the men do here. They hold eachother's hand....he wasn't interested in you. He was just being homosocial."

"Homosocial? What is that some sort of grand dinner party?" I asked

"No." she responded and then she explained homosociality to me.

I'm just going to skip over her explanation and give you my own interpretation:

Homosociality is the irritating but persistent straight-identified male-on-male social contact gays can't initiate in America lest it be seen as a "come-on."

I'm talking about straight men slapping eachother's asses, and twisting eachother's nipples...usually in the locker room (a place I've only read and dreamed about).

But here in Africa, homosocial behavior is not just confined to the locker room. It is everywhere. It is an epidemic.

"So he doesn't like me." I turned the thought over in my head, while dodging the basketballs.

"No," Maddie said firmly.

"Well then, he shouldn't hold my fucking hand! It's misleading!" I said.

"So tell him," Maddie said.

Of course I wasn't going to tell him. It was embaresssinggggg. I'd been confused.

"Nothankyou," I said.

Fuck Homosocial. It confuses me.

Cell Phone Ringtones

Right now, mine is a woman singing “can you hear me when I sayyyyy…I’m waiiiiting….can you answer myyyy call?” Pause. “Can you hear me when I sayyyyyy…I’m waaaiting….can you answer my call?”

“What the hell is that?” people respond when they hear my cell phone ring.

Most ring tones I’ve heard in life attempt to recreate a song, or a soothing natural sound, or, maybe, an older kind of phone. I appreciate a cell phone ring tone that attempts to speak through the caller, to me.

Our cab driver, Sukwini, has a cell phone ring that sounds, at first, like a baby crying, and then the baby’s cry turns into a song. For the first 1.2 milliseconds of the cell phone ring, everyone in the cab thinks that a crying baby somehow appeared in the passenger seat, and we all must have just missed it when we first stepped in the door. Then, the look of surprise morphs into realization of the cell phone, which morphs into a judgement about the cell phone ring tone. Some are disturbed, others, amused.

Most people just say “what the fuck?”

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Ghost of Steve Biko

Today my group drove to King William's Town to visit Steve Biko's grave. Biko was an anti-apartheid revolutionary who died at the hands of the apartheid government. More about him here....

We paid a taxi cab driver to drive us three hours from Port Elizabeth to King William's Town, where Steve Biko grew up and died. Our cab van had a flast screen TV, and for the two hours of the ride, we watched this film called Apocolypse about a bunch of strippers getting attacked by zombies. People laughed but the movie wasn't bad in a funny way, so I'm not quite sure why they laughed...

The road from Port Elizabeth to King William's Town is a twisty, turny 2-lane mess of a highway and people drive 100mph right past each other. Since today we were traveling as a large group (the Cape Town study abroad group was here to study with us for a few days), we had to take four buses. The buses traded turns leading, some of our group members stuck their arms and asses out of the window, and our program director rightfully freaked a shit.

Steve Biko (who you really should go ahead and read about here ...I know you didn't read about it the first time around because it links to a wikipedia entry and wikipedia entries are sometimes a jumbled mess of over-thesearesed cliff notes, and yeah, the entry I referred you to probably does not actually capture the essense of Steve Biko but then again maybe you'll end up getting hooked by the story of his life and buy his book which actually is very interesting, especially if you enjoy Frantz Fanon....) was buried in a cemetery a couple minutes away from the house where he grew up. Here the bodies were laid on top of the earth and then covered with dirt. Surrounding the bodily mounds were cages that looked liked ghostly baby cribs, engraved with the names of the deceased. We walked down a path through the cemetary before we reached Steve Biko's memorial, which was covered with plastic flowers. I was hoping to have one of those "history coming alive" moments where I suddenly knew more about this famous figure by following his heritage trail but I was too distracted by hunger and constipation to have any moments where I felt his energy.

We talked with the foundation director for a bit; an intimidatingly intellectual african man who asked us whether we were going to vote for Obama or Hillary in the coming election. A few people in our group raised their hands and talked about how black people felt like they had to vote for Obama because he was black, while women felt like they had to vote for Hillary because she was a woman. The man asked us if we were hopeful that Obama would be able to transend race and truly unite our country. An Ethiopian girl from our group raised her hand and said, "I think if we've learned anything from reading Biko it is that race matters to people and you cannot change the system from the inside. You have to dismantle the system."

'System' talk sometimes sound like catchy college classroom mumbo jumbo to me, but I've been thinking more and more about how the system is set up in both America and South Africa to eradicate minority voices, disempowers the poor and make it hard to pass policy that actually helps the disadvantaged.

I caught up with the director after the Hillary Obama talk and asked him if he felt a progressive tax, like the tax in Denmark and Sweden, might spread more money around the country. He kind of chuckled at me and said, "I've never thought about that, but I don't think it would work."

An extreme progressive tax would force the rich to dole out thousands for a speeding ticket, while only charging the poor a few rand. In this country, where 13% of the population controls 87% of the wealth, a progressive tax would make it harder for the rich to stay rich. The money taken from the rich could then be funneled into, say, education, clean drinking water, housing, bajillions of condoms...

But the nordic states have racially homogenous populations (although more immigrants have recently come) and it's easier to convince people to share their wealth when they're not giving that money to a population that has been 'otherized' so viciously, so I can see why the Biko Foundation director would chuckle at the idea of white rich South Africans paying for township textbooks and water well projects.

Still- it is impossible to look at the differences between the advantaged and the disadvantaged and not be compelled into action

The rich in South Africa send their children to schools with flat screen TVs, spanking new science lab equipment, and teacher ratios of 15 to 1. The poor in South Africa send their children to schools were there is no clean drinking water, or air conditioning, or electricty. Here, one teacher teaches a classroom of fifty students (all of whom hope to grow up to be pilots, scientists, politicians and lawyers). The classroom is hot, it is dark, the textbooks are falling apart, there aren't enough chairs, and yet still the students have a desire to learn...

During the ride back home we watched the movie '300' which was gory, and oddly transfixing...but I don't think I really experienced the movie in full. I need cinema-quality silence to really absorb a movie. I kept on getting distracted by the glow of my iPod as it turned on and rubbed against my thigh when our van went over bumps. "Must find a song to capture the way I am feeling..."

This is always a hopeless situation in South Africa. Alas, my I-Pod is chock full of great indie music that sounds unbelievably out of place here. "Excuse me while I put on Belle and Sebastian as we drive by this township..."

Looking out at South African scenery and people demands a steady stream of real African music and all I have on my Pod is "Shoshalosa" by Lady Black Mumbaza.....

But what scenery! The ride is truly beautiful. The hills are green, the pastures, rolling, the cows, mooing somewhere in the distance. The scenery feels peaceful and serene while the road feels hectic and potentially murderous.

At our rest stop, there were images of a windshield splattered with blood underneath the words "Arrive Alive." Seeing the poster both made me glad that the South African government was taking steps to warn people about the dangers of reckless driving, and also scared that the issue of reckless driving was worthy of a poster with a blood-splattered windshield.

Anthony Kelley, one of the program directors, sensed my fear of death as we went through hairpin turns and up cliffs, and passed by slower cars, and he laughed at my terrified expression. Someone from the Cape Town group even took a picture of me.

This is funny to me because I was not trying to be dramatic at all. My expressions were a natural reaction to the situation at hand, and I was shocked that my expression was not plastered over the faces of everyone in the van. We were driving 80mph on cliffs! We were passing slower cars by driving on the wrong side of the road!

"Just close your eyes and go to sleep," Anthony said to me. "Are you crazy?"
"You'll die in your sleep. That's the most peaceful way to go."
"Who's going to yell at Sukwini (our driver)?"
"Don't worry about it. Stop stressing out."

Stressed out, stressed out. I'm always labeled as "stressed out" when I try to preserve my life. My beating heart. My soft fragile bones. One day, I'm convinced my nearly constant state of panic on the road will save my life. Then everyone will regret labeling me as "stressed out."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Can we just be sensible for a moment?

Oy vey. Now that the last piece I wrote is up on the Slog, I'm already having nightmares that people will use my writing as a reason not to travel anywhere in Africa.

If people decide to augment their study abroad plans and not go to South Africa because of something I write on the Slog, then those people are fucking retarded (scuse my french) for taking a (slightly) humorous first-person narrative piece from a satirical alt-weekly and using that writing to not do something.

The point of art is to expose a society to itself, not to sugar coat things, not to placate and soothe scared people. If this kind of writing provokes people, perhaps they should understand the difficult emotions that rise to the surface when they read this and look at themselves with compassion rather than blame or shame the message sender. That is just stupid. Puh-lease. You’re reading the Slog, not a South African guidebook. Get over yourself.

I hope that the people who read my writing will come here, experience the country for themselves, and decide what they think....

Look Away, Nothing to See Here....

I have nothing interesting to say to you. Zero, Nada, Zilch. Some interesting shit went down today, but I am too lazy to recount it. My apologies. I love you all.

Please Don't Bite My Crotch Right Now

Today I went to Walmer High School hoping to work with some of the students on their English compositions. By the time I arrived, it was late in the day, and hot in the classrooms, and none of the students were down with sitting and talking about their writing. I contemplated going home, but decided I would accompany Anthony, one of the program directors, to the Walmer basketball courts, which were located near a small jungle gym down the street from Walmer High School.

I followed the mass of black and white uniforms down the street and to the court. I was excited to see Anthony coach a basketball league, as he had bragged to me that it was on the court where he let his real side out; the manly Anthony who hurled insults at people, and frowned a lot. This was the Anthony that Anthony was most proud of.

Zach, a tall African American football player, accompanied Anthony to the court. He split the group into rows and forced them to do jumping jacks. Then they did layups and threw the ball to each other before attempting to throw the ball in the hoop.

Throughout the whole practice, Zach was yelling at the players, telling them to stop smiling and goofing off and get back to the serious business of basketball. The yelling reminded me a bit of an episode of Maury I’d seen where a drill sergeant went off on a bunch of 13 year old strippers. Both were horrifying to watch, as an observer.

Fifteen minutes into the game, a 5 year old girl grabbed my arm. She smiled up at me and played with my arm hair, rubbing her skin against mine. I thought it was cute, and a little weird.

“My hairy arms must look silly to you,” I said to her, but she didn’t understand English. Then another boy came and started pulling on my leg. Cute, I thought. They like me. I smiled down at them. “I am a mountain,” I thought to myself, “You can play on me, you can pull my hair, you can drool on me, but I’m staying put. I am a calm peaceful mountain.”

Then the five year old girl started biting my crotch.

Ok, not my actual penis but the cloth surrounding it. “Ack!” I yelled. “Can someone err help me?” I looked up but everyone was super absorbed by the basketball practice. “Quick, how do I say stop it in Xhosa?” I asked a boy standing next to me. “Sizwe!” he said. Then he looked down at the girl who’s teeth were wrapped around my crotch fabric and glared at her. He said something in Xhosa, and began to unbutton his belt. “Wait, what are you doing?” I asked him. “I’m threatening her,” he said. “Oh.” I said. The girl screamed and let go of my crotch and ran away, smiling.

I imagine her internal monologue was something along the lines of “oh you think you can fuck with me? Hahaha I laugh in your face. You’re going to get that 12 year old to fuck with me? You don’t got shit. I’m gonna fuck you up. Just you wait.”

I am scared. I am under attack by violent and insane 5 year olds and everyone is laughing like this is something adorable.

A young boy wanders up to me and grabs for my sunglasses. I let him try them on, because I am a complete moron. Within five minutes, there is a ginormous crowd of 4,5,6, and 7 year olds reaching for my sunglasses. I wonder to myself if 5 year olds ever abduct 21 year olds and bite them to death.

I run away. This was the second tactic I’d been considering; running for my life. They chase me and scream. I turn around and growl as loud as I can. A few run away screaming. They think this is just a game.

Of course not everyone runs away when I roar. I am not a very intimidating person, even with a roar. A few stick around and try and punch me. “Ahhhh! Why won’t you leave me alone!” I yell. More smiles. “Please please please, stop it.” I try and pick one of the girls up on my shoulders, the way I’d seen Anthony do it, but the girl kicks and punches me in the face, so I let go of her. She goes flying into the dirt. I could be arrested for this shit in America.

Now I am all out of tactics; I’ve tried calm, aggressive, playful, stoic, and talkative. I can’t throw children around, because that’s “illegal” but nothing is working. I can’t get the goddammn children away from me.

“Oh hello,” the first five year old is now standing under my shorts and peering up them. “Please don’t…that is disrespectful” I say to her. “Oohhh!” she says.

I walk away from her and stand next to the same eight year old who had translated the Xhosa for me. I now considered him my bodyguard. “Please help me,” I say to him. “I don’t like children anymore.”

The boy says something else in Xhosa, and then the girl says something and then there is silence for about three seconds. “Uh. The girl says she wants us to kiss, and she also says you’re not wearing any underwear.” “Well, I am wearing underwear,” I say to the boy. “Tell her that.” More Xhosa. “She says she wants us to kiss.”

Okay hold up what in the world is going on here? Did I find a gay?

“Ha ha very funny,” I say, and kick the dust with my sandals. The boy smiles at me and I replay an episode of Law and Order in my brain. What if this boy kisses me? He’s eight! Imagine the lawsuits.

The little girl continues to peer up my shorts and I try to shoo her away. Then she sticks up her middle finger and shakes it at me. “Fuckyoooo” she says. It’s the first time I’ve heard her speak in English. I gasp.

Just then, a few of the girls from our program arrive at the basketball courts. They’d been leading a class on Women’s Issues. One of them, Melanie, is attacked by the same children who’d attacked me, but she is serenely calm about it all. She picks up the children and plops on each shoulder. They coo and play with her blonde hair. Melanie looks supremely calm and unaffected. One of the other students from the study abroad program begins snapping photos of her with the children.

Oh just you wait, I think to myself. Wait till one of them tries to bite you in the crotch, or rub snot all over your hair.

But nothing bad happens. In fact, nothing happens at all. Melanie takes some more Princess Di pictures with the children, pictures that will look excellent as facebook profile pictures, because of how perfect the lighting is and how perfect Melanie's hair is, and how perfectly everyone is smiling. Clouds part and the smoke from a distant widfire sneaks into the frame, perfectly.

I sit down in the grass, mutter to myself and wait for our group to leave.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A travel grant worth 20,000

I am so excited about the Bonderman Honors Travel Fellowship, that it borders on ridiculous.

You are given 20,000 dollars to travel the world, and you are not allowed to...well...here I'll just paste the whole unbelievable truth from the University of Washington website:

By accepting the award Fellows must commit to travel independently for eight or more months, exploring six or more countries in two or more major regions of the world...because Bonderman Fellowships are intended to foster independence, Fellows may not participate in a program, organization, or formal study at a foreign university. Bonderman Fellowships are intended to introduce students to cultures, peoples, and areas of the world with which they are not familiar, consequently, family heritage proposals (i.e. for travel to countries of origin) will not be considered. For similar reasons, in most cases proposals for travel in Western Europe and Australia/New Zealand will be less competitive.


Traveling alone! No studying/ working / Europe allowed! Holy shit! This is by far the most hopeful thing I've ever read on a university website.

Now, do I have to have a 4.0?

When I come back to Seattle weather...

I'm going to need to meet a bunch of friendly, outgoing and happy seattleites, cluster all of us inside of a bedroom, hang UV Seasonal Affective Disorder Lights on the ceiling, and play really bad techno music.

I really don't know how else I'm going to make the transition work.

Dear South Africa,

I think I'm in love with you.


Let's run away together. I promise I'll leave America for you. America sucks. It was a forced marriage, I had no say. We weren't really together, it was just a temporary thing. It was because of money. I know that sounds shallow, but America has more money than you. But I'm over America. Really, I am. American treated me like shit, but I put up with it for the money. I thought maybe if I made enough of it, I'd be happy. I was wrong.

But you, South Africa, I mean you're really something else. I feel like I can really be myself around you and open up. You're so warm, friendly, inviting. And hot. You are smoking hot.

I feel like you really listen to me, South Africa. When I talk, you never tune me out, or check your cell phone. America does. Again, I don't know what I was thinking. But I'm over America, I swear. I'll never go back. America has problems. America is fake.

America never wanted to marry me, because he was too ashamed. But you, South Africa....you aren't ashamed. Or at least you haven't been ashamed since 2006. But I forgive you. You got over yourself. 2 years of tolerance is a good start.

I guess what I'm trying to say is...pick me. Be with me.

I'm just a boy, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love him.

Blogging Abroad

Blogs are ephemeral beings you feed with a steady stream of quotes, analyses, pictures and stories. They operate in their own time and space, and offer a place for independent and honest introspection. Hopefully, the sum of the blog is greater than the parts.

Study abroad programs are also ephemeral and operate in their own time and space, separate from the rest of one’s life. They also offer a place for independent and honest introspection. Freed from most academic and financial responsibilities, the study abroad student is able to set aside more time to understand his or her self in relation to the rest of the frikkin world. Study abroad memories are made up of a sum of vastly different experiences, hopefully forming a patchwork of ideas, places, and people that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The bigass conclusions and insights one draws from a study abroad experience are as different as they are the same. Oh and they’re often cliché. You know the conclusions I’m talking about: wow, time just feels so different here, people are so much friendlier, people know how to have a good time, people don’t just work, they actually socialize, they are more trusting, less isolated....

If the person is from the Northwest, the conclusions are the same but amplified; WOW! Look how sunny it is here, omg people actually get up off their computers to talk to you, wow people go out at night! They don’t just stay home and read!

Then, the thoughts inevitably become 'how the hell am I going to integrate this experience into my life at home?'

I blog because I hope to one day be able to answer the questions studying abroad force us to ask.

When Improv Turns Ugly

Today I went to an elementary school and led another drama workshop for 5th graders. I taught the kids how to play “freeze,” an improv game where two children stand before a crowd, act out a scene until someone yells freeze, then the person who yelled ‘freeze’ jumps up and resumes the scene in the same position as the actor he’s replacing.

I decided I’d be a part of the first freeze game, so I got up on to our makeshift stage, grabbed a small boy and asked the crowd what location we should be in.

“The forest!” Someone yelled. I nodded my head and searched the room as if I was lost in the forest. The boy next to me was quiet and I wondered if he understood English. “I think we’re lost!” I said to him, and pretended to unfurl a map. Still, the boy was quiet. “Look, a river!” I said to the boy, and made a big exaggerated step over the concrete. “Let’s cross it!”

Nothing.

“Does someone else want to jump in now?” I asked the class. A short girl with dimples and slicked black hair shot her hand into the air. “Me me me me me me!” she said. “You don’t have to respond,” I explained to her, “Just tap me on the shoulder and take my place.” The girl sighed, got up from her chair, and tapped me on my shoulder.

“What are you looking at!” she yelled at the boy. “I did NOT come all the way to this forest just to be bugged by you!” The young boy just stared at her. Then, the girl undid the tie on her school uniform and started beating the young boy. “I said stop looking at me!” she yelled.

“Woah Woah,” I said. “What! I’m acting!” she responded. “Well. Uhm. Okay, but no hitting,” I said. The class laughed, and she continued hitting the boy.

Then the students told me they wanted to perform their own skits for me. First up, a singing competition. I was told to sit in a chair and be one of the judges. The contestants stood to my right and waited for their turn to sing. I pretended to be Paula Abdul. “You’re all so wonderful! So wonderful!” I said to the children, after they sang, and tried to act drunk. The students looked at me with awe.

“What are you doing?” the girl next to me whispered into my ear.
“Oh, I’m acting!”
“Are you sad?”
“No, I’m Paula Abdul.”

Silence.

Next, the students pretended to be a part of a local soap opera called Generations. The abusive loud girl took this opportunity to play an abusive loud mother. A larger girl with braided hair grabbed my sunglasses and played the social worker. “What are you doing? You can’t take my child away from me!” The abusive girl yelled. “Oh yes we can!” the social worker said, and she pulled the young girl away from her. “It’s the law!”

The courtroom scene came next. A loud effeminate boy played the judge. “Get this witch out of my courtroom!” he yelled at the girl. “I can’t handle this fucking monster!”

“Woah,” I said. “No swearing. And let’s try to get some other people acting. How about you?” I pointed to a short boy with enormous cheeks. “Get on up there! Be the security guard!” The boy shook his head no.

“It’s okay,” the judge said. “Some people don’t want to act.” And the play resumed with yelling, so much yelling. Children from neighboring classrooms peeked into the windows to try to get a view of what was going down.

“I want order in my court!” screamed the judge. “No! I do what I want! You can’t have my child!” screamed the girl, and grabbed her daughter’s hand. “She says that you abuse her!” screamed the judge. “Are you talking about my wife!?” screamed the husband.

“Hold up,” I said to the husband. “Why are you with this woman? She’s abusive to you, she’s abusive to your daughter…”

“Because I love her,” said the boy.

“Why?”

The boy shrugged, and the fighting and arguing continued. Finally, I became exhausted and told the class it was over. Everyone quickly became quiet, and totally respectful. “See you soon teacher Steven!” they said to me and waved and smiled.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Steve Biko

Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression - the blackness of their skin - and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.


-I Write What I Like

And While We're Talking About Mr. Sullivan...

This reaction to Ann Coulter and her use of the word faggot is good reading, too, even if it may be old news to most tech-savvy gay men.

The Politics of Homosexuality

Over the last four years I have been sent letters from strangers caught in doomed, desperate marriages because of repressed homosexuality and witnessed several thousand virtually naked, muscle-bound men dance for hours in the middle of New York City, in the middle of the day. I have lain down on top of a dying friend to restrain his hundred-pound body as it violently shook with the death-throes of AIDS and listened to soldiers equate the existence of homosexuals in the military with the dissolution of the meaning of the United States. I have openly discussed my sexuality on a television talk show and sat on the porch of an apartment building in downtown D.C. with an arm around a male friend and watched as a dozen cars in a half hour slowed to hurl abuse. I have seen mass advertising explicitly cater to an openly gay audience and watched my own father break down and weep at the declaration of his son's sexuality.

These different experiences of homosexuality are not new, of course. But that they can now be experienced within one life (and that you are now reading about them) is new. The cultural categories and social departments into which we once successfully consigned sexuality - departments that helped us avoid the anger and honesty with which we are now confronted - have begun to collapse. Where once there were patterns of discreet and discrete behavior to follow, there is now only an unnerving confusion of roles and identities. Where once there was only the unmentionable, there are now only the unavoidable: gays, "queers", homosexuals, closet cases, bisexuals, the "out" and the "in", paraded for every heterosexual to see. As the straight world has been confronted with this, it has found itself reaching for a response: embarrassment, tolerance, fear, violence, oversensitivity, recognition. When Sam Nunn conducts hearings, he knows there is no common discourse in which he can now speak, that even the words he uses will betray worlds of conflicting experience and anxieties. Yet speak he must. In place of the silence that once encased the lives of homosexuals, there is now a loud argument. And there is no easy going back.


Andrew Sullivan's essay was compelling in 1993, but it is just as relavent and interesting today.

Required reading for anyone; gay, straight, whatever.

Obama and the Jews

First, a quote from Obama on Hamas:

"We have to make sure that Abbas and Fayad and those that are controlling the West Bank still actually start delivering something tangible that is benefiting the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, that they are ridding [their party] Fatah of the corruption that has been endemic and are put in a stronger position politically so Hamas is not dictating the terms of Palestinian negotiations but the moderates in the Palestinian camp are dictating what the Palestinian people are willing to go along with."


And, the editor of the New Republic's response:

Obama's points, which he has made many times, should reassure anyone who is concerned about what his presidency would mean for the security of Israel.

I Almost Met Mike Tyson

Mike, I can't believe I missed you.

SA Education Crisis

During the past two years, the South African education system ejected 535 000 people from school without any passing certificate and a very uncertain future.


From Mail and Guardian Online

Obama's Closing In

The Gallup's latest:

The Stranger

I love this cover art, from their most recent issue. I think it does a great job mocking the confusion of being a liberal right now.

Lolcats




Lord. This is what it's come to. I'm posting my favorite lolcats pictures because I'm just that bored.

Enjoy.

Why Are You Writing On A Sunny Day? WTF?

Why? Why? Why am I in a hotel lobby writing? Why am I not out enjoying myself? Because...you see...my friend, there is nothing to do outside. It's windy as all hell and I can't walk around alone here because it's not "safe." So unless I'm out and about with my group on organized trips, or I've managed to convince someone to go with me somewhere, I'm stuck. Fucking stuck.

Is it annoying? Is that even a question? Of course it's annoying! I'm going fucking insane. I lonnnggg to be alone, to go out alone, to go sit by the beach alone but I can't because it's not "safe."

But instead of complaining about it, I'm trying to write about things like KFC and Coca Cola to pass the time. This is my coping mechanism. At least I'm not doing meth.

Read, Comment, Argue!

Just a reminder- if you don't agree with something I write, let me know and I'll explain myself. Don't be shy.

Monkeys and Bad Techno Music

Yesterday, my friends and I met up with some of the college kids at Nelson Mandela University. We talked about politics, about Jacob Zuma and Thambo Mbeki, and then we ate hot dogs and danced in a field.

The field stretched between the two campuses of Nelson Mandela University, near a wild habitat where monkeys are regularly spotted. The monkeys are apparently safe, as long as you don't fuck with them. They are the South African equivient to our squirrels, except our squirrels don't climb into our windows and eat our food and poke us on the back when we're sleeping (this happened to one of the students I spoke with). Also- we aren't closely related to squirrels.

Let me tell you: to dance in a field, to bad techno music, with tons of people you don't know, in the middle of the day, is totally sublime.

I tried to ironically whip out some interpretive dancing to liven things up. As usual, people thought I was insane.

Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coca-Cola

Everywhere you go in black South Africa, you are inundated with ads from Coca Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Coca-cola is advertised alongside school signs, at bus stops, on television, in mini-marts, printed on shopping bags, embroidered into football jerseys, and taped behind DJ booths.

Whereas in America, Coca-Cola competes with Unilever, General Electric, Nike, Procter and Gamble, Pepsi Cola, and other mega corporations, here it maintains a monopoly over most other companies, South African or American. There is no Pepsi Cola to compete with, no fancy-shmancy bottled water companies to fight with for shelve space. Coca-cola reigns supreme.

Coca-cola advertisements in townships usually feature pictures of black people, but with lighter skin than most black people. It's hard to tell whether coca-cola set out a casting call for lighter-skinned black people or if they went ahead and photoshopped the blackness out of dark-skinned black people.

Coca-cola also owns bottled water companies here, as well as the fruity Fanta sodas, and Sprite. So if you're drinking processed anything here, you're likely shelling out cash to Coca-Cola.

KFC is advertised on enormous billboards, at airports, and on street signs. In the townships, KFC is the only American restaurant, and the only sign of American influence (besides Coca Cola) for miles and miles. Their parking lots are often clogged with cars, and their stores filled with dozens of hungry people.

KFC restaurants are double the size of KFC restaurants in America, because they include a building for take-away and a building for sit-down. They occupy double lots in most black areas.

Right now, as I am writing these words, there is a brown paper KFC bag floating on the surface of the small swimming pool outside my window. Colonel Sander's head is submerged upside-down, and I can just barely make out the words "finger lickin' good." The bag was probably blown into the pool by the wind today, and the jets in the swimming pool are carrying the Colonel back and forth from one end of the pool to the other. I swear to god, the bag wasn't there when I started this post.

Synchronicity. It's some scary shit.

The Wind

In Port Elizabeth, the wind is usually relentless. But today, it's insane! The sea is speckled white with waves, the palm trees are billowing, doors are mysteriously opening and closing in my flat, and leaves and dirt are flying past my window.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Housekeeping



...oh. hi. I just wanted to see if I could still upload pictures on my blog.

Yup, looks like it's still workin'.

Long Posts

I have to write long posts sometimes.

The Obligatory First AIDS Post

A week or so ago, my study abroad group hosted a bunch of local poets in our backyard and had a big blowout barbeque with every chicken part imaginable.

As it got later in the evening, a few of the poets came up to share their poetry with us on a makeshift stage. Many of the poems were about black consiousness, a movement of black self-love constructed by anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.

One of the last poems was spoken by a short boy with dreadlocks and a spray-painted t-shirt. The poem started out about television and how it was killing South African culture, turning the population into mindless recipients. Passive. Mass mediated. Blah blah blah. Just another example of the kind of ideas that seem cliche to the American liberal mind, for whatever reason. Then the poem switched gears and became a call to arms against poverty. The boy with the spray-painted shirt ended the poem with the line, "the only thing positive about life is my status."

Although our study abroad group had ventured into many areas decimated by HIV, this was the first time I had ever heard someone proclaim their status to us. I was deeply moved by the boy's courage, and I wanted to talk to him after the show, and ask him about his life, about what it was like to 'live positively' in South Africa. I caught up with him just as he was getting his backpack to leave.

"So, are you receiving medication?" I asked him.

I wanted to know if this poet was one of the few HIV positive people in South Africa receiving anti-retrovirals from the government for free. A little while ago, George Bush established a program called PEPFAR that was supposed to provide free anti-retrovirals to people living with AIDS in "developing" countries. The program was criticized by the American left for it's emphasis on faith-based abstinence programs, but even its harshest critics agreed the program was doing a good job distributing the pills....basically the only positive global legacy in the eight years George Bush has been in office.
.
Just a side note- pharamaceutical companies argue if they donate their pills to people in the developing world who don't understand when to take them, AIDS could mutate at a faster rate. But AIDS activists point to studies that show that poor people (obviously) know when to take their pills and how many to take, and say that pharmaceutical companies are not giving away their pills because they are afraid it's going to affect their bottom line. The companies are soulless, money-grubbing, government-aided monsters, the AIDS activists say, and I happened to agree with them at the time I was a youngin' at George Washington University. So my bias is against pharmaceutical companies

But that's neither here nor there. I am standing in a dimly-lit hallway basically asking this man if he's going to be alive in five years. I'm terrified of the response I'm going to get. I'm worried he's going to tell me he doesn't get the HIV medication for free, and on and on and I'm looking into his bloodshot eyes expecting to have one of those Big Study Abroad Moments where one sees the world in all its cruelty and sadness.

But wait, why is he smiling?

"No no no," he says, "That was just part of the song. I meant that the only thing positive about 'people in the townships' is their status. Because of AIDS. But, I wasn't talking about me."

"Okay, so you're tested and negative and everything," I say. I'm expecting him to be like "oh of course, I get tested every couple months" because that's usually what people, both gay and straight, say when I ask them in the states. And besides, this guy is in college and is thus comparatively richer than most of the people who live in Port Elizabeth, which is in the poorest provence of South Africa. He must get tested. How could you not get tested when you live in South Africa, home to more HIV positive people than anywhere in the world?

"No," he responds, "I'll get tested when I'm 50 or so and I already know I'm going to die."

I take a step back and breathe. Woah. Okay.

I knew there was a strong South African stigma against wearing a condom (I'd heard someone in a club say, in reference to wearing a condom; "why would I enjoy a candy with the wrapper on it?") but I did not know there was also such a stigma against getting tested. The first thing I think about is myself; I'm flabberghasted that he doesn't know his status, and doesn't want to know. I swear off sex altogether in South Africa, condom or no condom.

I am visibly shocked.

"Ohhhhh. Okayyyy." I say. "Well, that's one way to do it. But don't you think you should get tested, anyway, just to know?"

I look back into his eyes and suddenly realize why he doesn't want to get tested. Of course he doesn't want to know his status...if he finds out, there are no medications waiting for him; just a slow death, and shit loads of social stigma. I finally get why AIDS is spreading so fast in South Africa: without hope of survival, there's no point in getting tested. And if you don't get tested, you don't know your status, and if you don't know your status, you might have HIV and unknowingly infect people. Countless people.

When I get tested in the states, I know that if I am infected, it's going to suck, but I'm going to have access to medication. Yes, the medication will make me feel nauseous, and I'll probably get explosive diarrhea all over my bathroom floor, and it'll be harder to meet people who don't care that I have HIV, and yes, probably even in liberal liberal seattle I'll still experience some stigma (covert, blatant, whatever). Oh and my mother will have a kinipshin. BUT (and this is one big ass booty but) I'll have access to medication. It may be expensive, but it will keep me alive. So I get tested, knowing I'll have medication if I have AIDS, and knowing I can stay alive potentially for decades on medication.

But if I'm poor and broke and living in a country where HIV medication isn't readily available....I can understand why someone in those shoes wouldn't want to know their status. Still, I resolve to convince this boy to get tested.

"Come on," I say to him. " You just performed a poem about AIDS and you're not going to get tested? I just don't get it."

"No, man. I don't want to know," he says, as he's picking up his backpack. I shake his hand weakly, and he heads for the door to catch up with the rest of his group.

That's the end of the interaction.

Hopefully the next time he's thinking about how much he doesn't want to get tested, he'll see my horrified expression in his brain and think, "maybe it's better to know my AIDS status because this short jewish American boy freaked a shit when I told him I didn't know." I hope he'll think about that. I hope I can change the world, one pained expression at a time.

Other than this experience with this boy, I haven't really talked too much with people about their personal beliefs about AIDS. I get the sense it's not really something that people talk about, and I'm not working directly with people with AIDS so it doesn't come up all that often. Study abroad students are not allowed to work in health clinics, for obvious reasons, so that's a no....

But as an American, I have a lot of cultural clout, and I'm just starting to realize that I have the power and agency to talk about these things with people, and try to affect change.

I hope to lead a discussion about sexual health in the elementary school where I am working. I'm pretty sure the students already receive a sex-ed class led by the principal, but she told me she instructs the girls to "just close their gosh darn legs!" She's a nice Christian principal, and I'm not sure if she feels completely comfortable talking about sex juices and anal insertions and all that great stuff. But I have no problem talking about any of that shit, or putting a condom on a banana or whatever it is that sex ed teachers do. So yeah, I'll definitely show the kids how to put a condom on a banana and tell them, seriously, with my scared face, that they absolutely, positively must get tested. Fear; I can project that. No problem. I'm Jewish; it comes pretty naturally.

Sorry, Mom.

This was the obligatory first AIDS post. I'll be posting more about AIDS here in the future.