Support Derek and GRS

Friday, September 16, 2011

VCT Zambia

            The trusty interns were called into a meeting recently to review details of an agreement Doc and the big boss Mo had recently completed with the Bulawayo City Council (BCC). The city council maintains youth centers all over Bulawayo and sponsors programming and recreation at the centers, including the opportunity to undergo comprehensive vocational training. GRS recently formed an important agreement with the BCC to allow us access to every single youth center in the city during our VCT campaign this year. This crucial permission will allow GRS to bring HIV prevention programming to a sector of the youth population in Bulawayo that it does not currently reach through school-based interventions.
            We also discussed “legacy pitches” we are responsible for restoring this year. One of our grants includes money to improve three soccer pitches around the city and put up GRS signage along with the signage of the sponsor. The pitches will then be open for the entire community to use, and we hope to build them in particularly disadvantaged neighborhoods around Bulawayo to help revive some struggling communities. We’re aiming to get our first Legacy Pitch opened up by December so hopefully we’ll have some awesome pictures to post!
            In other news, our VCT count for this quarter has increased from 1 to 4 so we’re hoping to test up to 1,000 people for HIV by December. Here’s a great article about the VCT program in Zambia which illustrates what we’ll be trying to replicate here in Zimbabwe:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Z'thin' (what's up?)

If I perish in Bulawayo this year it will be because I looked left first when crossing the street and then got creamed from the right. They drive on the wrong side of the road over here and I just can’t seem to get used to it. I still see cars driving themselves down the street with someone sitting happily in the passenger seat, and when I drove the ancient, rusty GRS (lefty) stick-shift pickup the other day, I drove on the right side of the road until a near head-on woke me up.
            Pedestrians here have a serious fear of bicycles. Every single day on my way home from work I weave around pedestrians who are simultaneously scrambling frantically out of the way. Sometimes we both go the same way – great. See, in Zimbabwe, cars, bicycles, vegetable carts, anything wheeled, horses (actually there seem to be no horses – lots of goats and cattle though); basically anything not ambulating on two feet has the right of way. Pedestrians are very flighty and it’s hilarious watching people of all ages dash around downtown Bulawayo…until you see a car come too close. Therefore their fear of my bicycle is perfectly understandable. It’s still hard not to laugh when I come upon pedestrians at dusk and they turn and stare at me as soon as they hear the rattle of my cheap red fenders behind them. Most stop and stand stock still until I pass them, ready to dive out of the way in case I decide to rush them. Meanwhile, I’m swinging much wider than necessary, giving them a good four feet of leeway and still mumbling excuse me. They definitely aren’t used to that.  
            I met our neighbors tonight. Frisch and I recently moved into a house down the street from the office. It’s a good location in the northend, the real Bulawayo. You’d be surprised how quickly you get used to 6 hour power outages every single night, and I love the smell of trash fires in the morning. Really gets your nose running. Anyways, I was biking out to the main road in the dark, blinding everyone I passed and looking awesome in my headlamp, when I passed a family of around six people (no power…it was really dark) trying to push a car. At least three were small kids just along for the ride in the back seat.  I stopped, asking if they needed help, and the heavy-set mother almost collapsed with relief. The father, an adolescent son, and I pushed the car into the driveway and mom said she had been about to faint, good thing I’d come along. I introduced myself as their new neighbor and warned them about my shady roommate. She introduced herself as Ms. Roberts and invited me to tea. Awesome.
            Tea is another thing I don’t quite get. I like tea. I’ve been drinking a cup at “tea time” almost every day at the office. But tea time is a funny thing; the actual time is very fluid, though you can count on it to occur some time between breakfast and lunch and usually before noon. It consists of sitting in the kitchen and trying to follow Ndebele conversations while munching on white bread spread with margarine. I started bringing my own snack after three days. I can’t sit there and eat 3 pieces of white bread with margarine every single day. Our co-workers are awesome though, and they don’t actually ignore us during tea time…they just switch to Ndebele when they want to make fun of us. They speak a lot of Ndelebe during tea.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Local News

Now this is what we’re here for. Two days in a row now, Methembe, the executive director of GRS Zimbabwe, has come in and put newspaper articles on our desk and asked “how can we contribute?” The Chronicle is a daily newspaper in Bulawayo and the first article covered increased uptake of medical male circumcision (MMC) procedures for the prevention of HIV transmission. Studies have shown that circumcision can reduce the risk of contracting (not spreading) the virus by up to 60%. The Bulawayo Eye Clinic (ah, the irony) is offering the procedure for free at clinics downtown. Although the article focused on MMC, the author exhorted readers to gather information about how to protect themselves from HIV with an emphasis on testing and treatment for children. In Zimbabwe, only 33,000 kids are on anti-retro viral treatment out of an estimated 90,000 who are HIV+. GRS will contribute directly to promoting both MMC and HIV testing for children in Bulawayo through the VCT (voluntary counseling and testing tournaments) we’re starting this year. The Chronicle article pleaded with parents: “Children need to be tested for HIV and AIDS so that precautionary measures are taken. Our child is our posterity and the future needs to be invested in them…more and more medical specialists need to be trained. Families and individuals need to be armed with more information so as to make informed decisions and accurate actions. Governments in Africa must continue to allocate more resources to fund education campaigns on prevention as well as minimizing the spread of the AIDS scourge.” GRS contributes on all the issues I’ve highlighted and it’s invigorating to read a newspaper article published this morning and look back at your proposal to a tournament partner and think, how can we capitalize on this? We plan to target young males with advertising during our VCT tournament, linking them to partners like PSI who offer MMC and pre- and post-procedure counseling. As far as HIV testing for children, the situation is much graver, unfortunately.
            Today’s article was entitled, “7,000 Children Die of HIV-related Illness,” and it was inspired by remarks made by Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF’s country representative for Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is currently hosting its second annual National HIV and AIDS Conference. Speaking in front of various stakeholders in Harare, Dr. Salama asserted that approximately 7,000 children die each year of HIV-related illness in Zimbabwe, and that most of them have not accessed pediatric anti-retro viral treatment (ARV). 50% of HIV+ children not tested will not reach the age of two. The most appalling information revealed Zimbabwe’s record on pediatric ART: last year, Zimbabwe only provided 30% ART universal access to children – well less than regional average. Botswana, Namibia, and Swaziland provided 90, 89, and 70 percent respectively last year. When Mo asked how we can contribute on this one, we started brainstorming ways to market our events to pregnant women and young mothers. The Generation SKILLZ curriculum we’re linking to the VCTs events already deals with the issue of PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission), so girls aged 15-19 will be empowered with the knowledge of where to seek help in the event that they are HIV+ and become pregnant. In many cases HIV services are available, even for free, but it is a matter of reducing stigma around issues of HIV and increasing demand for the services. We’re aiming to do just this during our tournaments and given what we’ve learned over the past few days about the burden on children and mothers of Bulawayo, how could we not be even more motivated to target these most at-risk populations? Thanks for the support!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

DJ Cleo

Playing for Bantu Rovers has certainly been an adventure thus far. Bantu plays in Zimbabwe’s Division 1 pro league, one tier below the Zimbabwean Premier League. We’re fighting for promotion to the premier league, but only the top finisher in Division 1 gets promoted each year. We currently sit in 3rd place with 5 games to go and it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to catch the leader before the end of the season. Our 0-0 draw away to Mpumalanga on Saturday afternoon didn’t help, but the trip was one to remember.
            Frisch and I hauled ourselves out of bed at 5:15am on Saturday morning and over to the GRS office (so far away - right next door) to meet the team bus. We were expecting some sort of coach bus arrangement to transport the 18 players, 2 coaches, manager, trainer (they call him our physio) and our head of security, Ndu, who apparently travels with us (a bug dude, he could use two seats). However, the bus that pulled up was the larger African cousin of a 15-passenger van in the states. It had a higher ceiling and a slightly larger seating capacity, but boy was it cramped. Frisch and I piled in on the forward-most bench seat and turned to mumble sleepy hello’s to our teammates who were packed like sardines behind us. As an aside, our GRS hosts told us we’re the only non-Africans playing professional soccer in the whole country at the moment, so you can imagine the stares we got at rest stops (what are those guys doing on that bus?).
            Ndu rolled the door shut and we were off with our number one supporter (official title), Coxy (who apparently gets to travel with the team for being the number one supporter), passed out on the floor between the seats. Famous (infamous) for his obnoxious cries of BAAAAANNNNTUUUUUUUUUUUU, Coxy was already drunk (or had just come straight from the bar where he’d finished his Friday night), so he was probably more comfortable on the floor anyways.
            Approximately two minutes into the ride, our teammates decided that the music wasn’t loud enough and also requested that a specific CD be inserted – DJ Cleo, an artist from South Africa, whose musical stylings can only be described as African House music. Basically hiphop/R&B over techno with a lot of bass. As our driver maxed the bus’s surprisingly competent subwoofers to the shattering volume they would maintain for the next 4 hours, I noticed that the bus’s speedometer was broken.
            We hit the highway heading north by 6:30am and the roads were in surprisingly good shape. The landscape whizzing by at 120km/hr (estimated landspeed, obviously) was red and dusty for the better part of the trip. It really is incredible to think that Zimbabwe was once considered the jewel of Sub-Saharan Africa, with incredibly productive farms. The landscape we witnessed was one of poverty and for lack of a better word, regression. As one of our Zimbabwean acquaintances was quoted as saying, “Zimbabwe is regressing. We are not progressing. There is too much corruption.” The cattle farmers inhabiting the parched land between Bulawayo and Hwange, our destination, live in mud huts with thatched roofs and many of their big-eared African cattle moved with ribs we could count from the bus and boney hips jutting with each step.     I learned from reading about Paul Farmer’s experience in Haiti, which he writes about in Infections and Inequalities, that poverty leads to the spread of HIV from urban to rural centers when rural inhabitants are forced to seek temporary employment in the city as migrant or domestic workers. In the rural setting, many cases of HIV go undiagnosed but the disease can spread just as rapidly and is accompanied by deadly diarrhea in infants and Tuberculosis for many afflicted adults. I wondered how HIV had affected these seemingly remote communities inextricably linked to Bulawayo by the human traffic bringing produce and livestock to market or making daily journeys to provide cheap labor.
            As we neared Hwange our surroundings began to look greener. Hwange is located about 320 km northwest of Bulwayo in a region of Zimbabwe that produces coal. It is also on the northern border of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest, which borders Botswana and is roughly the size of Belgium. The park is home to the big 5 (elephant, lion, jaguar, wildebeest, and rhino. The pictures of lions and giraffes I posted are from a visit Frisch and I took to the fringe of Hwange National Park on the way home from the game Sunday.) Hwange is the largest town in the area, and we rolled to a stop near a soccer pitch that looked nice and green. Only problem was that we had arrived almost 5 hours before game time. The guys were happy enough for a while performing what I imagine is an away-game ritual: they pumped the volume of the music up even louder and many sat inside the bus to escape the oppressive heat and danced to the African House music. I caught on video the tail end of some pregame dancing that had the bus bouncing up and down to the lyrics of DJ Cleo's song facebook: “I don’t want yo numba, I’ll find you on the facebook.” If I had been successful finding the track or a link to it on the internet I obviously would have posted it here. I will be looking high and low and will post it the minute I find it. Quality song.
            Also the source of a great conversation with assistant coach Dube – he nodded towards the bus and said, “The boys, they love that House music. These boys, they can dance.” I was forced to reply, “I’m sure they can. I cannot. You don’t want to see us dance (pointing to Ale and I).” Dube burst out laughing and agreed. Coach Dube had made the trip to Hwange despite the fact that his wife was due to deliver their third child, a boy, that day or the next. She was home and arrangements with a private hospital had been made, but he said she’d better not have the kid because there was no one home to drive her to the hospital. Luckily she didn’t, and we learned at practice today that a healthy boy, Romeo, was born yesterday.
            So we hung around with DJ Cleo until the pregame meal, provided by the hosting team, and then reboarded the bus for the field which was 10 minutes away. After a small altercation (into which Ndu felt the need to insert himself, which was funny) about counting players at the stadium gate involving a Zim police officer, the bus was allowed to pass through and view the gorgeous, dusty field. Not a single blade of grass. Welcome to Africa. (See picture posted on Sunday – a view overlooking the field and the teams playing before our game). We all wanted to go back to the pitch near where we’d eaten lunch but it apparently belongs to a division 2 team in the area. The guys on the team quickly informed us that there are so many teams near Hwange, there aren’t enough good fields to go around. The pitch was certainly tough to play on and may have been to blame for our failure to convert several first half chances, but no excuses. I made my debut for Bantu at holding midfield in the second half. We carried play and generated better opportunities than Mpumalanga, but weren’t able to come away with the 3 points. It had been a trip for the ages regardless of the score, and the African House music was bumping all the way home. What a weekend.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Today was a day of running around. This morning we went to the immigration office to try to get our applications approved for work permits. Without them they’ll eventually kick us out (if they ever get around to it). The immigration office is an interesting place. We spent about 20 minutes arguing with the lady behind the desk only to be turned away, told that we needed to have our diplomas translated into English (they’re in Latin) and then notarized. We told her there was absolutely no way to make this happen since we’re already here, and she shrugged so we left in frustration. As we were heading to our car, a truck pulled in the parking lot and Shep, our friend from GRS, started yelling at the driver. Turns out it was his friend, another (higher-up) immigration officer. His friend took us back into the building, marched us straight past the lady who had just turned us away, and approved all our documents. Only problem was that we needed three copies of everything, not two, and we needed one additional letter. So we headed back to the GRS office, mildly discouraged, but willing to try again the next day. Welcome to Zim.
            The rest of the day went quickly as we worked on setting up our quarterly plan for the Health and Local Relations department, and we had training ahead of our match in Hwange this weekend. The real adventures started as soon as we got back to the lodge. Esneth, the lady who keeps house at the lodge we’ve been staying at, has been cooking delicious Zimbabwean meals for us with beef, covo, soya, and sadza. It seems that today she had wandered over to the GRS offices on other business but got to talking to our GRS administrator, Rose, who is about our age and sits at the front desk. Esneth told Rose that Ale and I were great eaters and very adventurous about food. Well, Rose decided it would be funny to suggest that Esneth cook us macimbi. I won’t tell you what macibmi is (are) yet. All of this planning earlier in the day was unbeknownst to Ale and I, who had now just returned from practice, sweaty and hungry. We met Esneth at the gate on the way in and she said, “oh I’ve cooked you my macimbi and you’re going to love it.” We said great, we couldn’t wait to try, and went upstairs hoping there would be running water so we could shower. I came down to dinner after Ale because I was making a phone call and when I sat down at the table he was giving me a funny look. I saw a small plate of about 20 crispy, blackened, oblong objects and I said oh, what’s that, leaning closer and frowning. Ale saw my expression and said, “They’re exactly what you think they are.”
            And thus we were introduced to our first Zimbabwean delicacy of what will probably be many more: the larvae of an endemic leaf-eating tree slug. Not only did they taste terrible, they looked the part – bug eyes, segmented bodies and all. Each larva was about an inch long and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Ale and I bucked up and tried to stomach them. We traded larvae one for one (although Ale later pointed out that he’d had to politely eat two before I arrived) until we hit five each and decided we’d done our duty. I drew the line when my last one exploded in my mouth (most weren’t this juicy). The taste is hard to describe. It’s faintly meaty but a bit moldy and salty too and the texture is by far the worst part. Esneth and our security guard Mattias, who eat with us every night, were laughing throughout the entire dinner and snacking happily on their own plate of macimbi. By the way, the “c” in macimbi is pronounced with a click of the tongue so it’s very hard to say – kind of like making a tsk sound where the c should be.
            After dinner the night was still young so there was plenty of time left for more insect adventures. During dinner Mattias told us he had found a bee hive behind the fence out back and that tonight we were going to raid it for honey. So while Esneth did the dishes, Mattias put on his hooded sweatshirt and pulled the hood tight around his face, tucked his pants into the top of his boots, and gathered supplies for a fire. He jumped the wall topped with barbed wire and headed over to the hive, which was, surprisingly, in a hole in the ground. Mattias started a fire a foot from where he knew the first layer of honeycomb lay under a piece of concrete (Ale and I could see nothing at this point and were dubious that a hive existed at all). He built the fire not with wood but with plastic bottles and brush. Once the fire was lively, he used a stick to sweep it progressively closer to the hive before overturning the concrete. Bees began pouring out of the hole. Ale and I were perched on top of a barrel so we could see over the wall. We both had our cameras out and were attempting to take videos in the twilight, which wasn’t working very well. The bees got more and more furious and the buzzing was really loud at this point. Mattias calmly stayed near the hole and brushed the fire closer and closer to smoke the bees out. I had both arms draped over the barbed wire attempting to film with one hand and hold a flashlight for Mattias with the other. A few bees then decided to kamaikazi my face and I got stung right above the left eye. Only problem was that I flailed so badly as another bee flew into my hood and got stuck there that I fell off the barrel I was standing on and dropped the flashlight, breaking it. Ale, Mattias, and Esneth, who had now come to watch but was staying a good 20 yards from the wall, all laughed. When I had regained my composure but not my dignity, I clambered atop the barrel again and watched the rest of the proceedings. Mattias was now reaching into the hive with nothing more than a plastic bread bag on his hand and pulling out dripping chunks of honeycomb. He is a champion and thanks to him we enjoyed fresh honey for a delicious dessert.
            We’re heading to Hwange this weekend for a match against Mpumalanga and Ale and I are hoping to stay an extra night to check out a game preserve nearby. I’m hoping to post some pictures soon once we sort out our wireless problems. Internet and other utility woes have continued. Nothing is consistent –it’s an utter failure of infrastructure and government. I will post more after the weekend. Thank you for the support!