Tuesday, June 18, 2013

This and That....

June 18, 2013

I am going to quote from an Airline Magazine (Ethiopian Air):  “Closing the Gender Gap:  The next class of African women scientists chosen for the prestigious AWARD (African Women in Agricultural Research and Development) Fellowship will soon begin a two-year career-development program, empowering women to help close the agricultural gender gap.  Representing 11 countries and more than 20 agricultural disciplines, the 70 recipients were chosen based on intellectual merit, leadership strength and the potential for their work to improve the livelihoods of African smallholding farmers.  The fellows’ research will span everything from plant breeding to climate change.”

I have to tell you that I find this utterly fascinating, for two reasons.  1  Most of the world’s farmers are women.  Cultivate is the word used for farming in South Sudan.  Most of the women cultivate crops for their families to consume.  2.  There is something about professionalizing what has traditionally been considered “women’s work, or role” that does create a gender gap.  How many women chefs are there in the world?  The numbers are growing, but who is it that has been primarily responsible for cooking at home at least in the past?  WOMEN.  Men enter the world of farming and it is professionalized and women must do extra work to “help close the agricultural gender gap”.  This reminds me of something I read a few years ago about the feminization of poverty.  Salaries go down when fields open up to women.  Teaching, professional ministry. 

I just find it very fascinating.

Another issue that has become in-my-face-obvious here in South Africa is the issue of language.  I don’t believe that there is a single South African who does not know multiple languages.  Just as in South Sudan there are so many languages that I could not begin to put a name to them.  Fortunately there are likely a lot of cognates that make some of the languages somewhat similar.  Kind of how English relates to Greek and to German.  It makes it easier to learn languages that are in Families, similar roots and similar origins.  Why is it so difficult for us in the United States?  Is it because we are isolated except on our northern and southern borders?  Is it racism?  Is it a lack of good training in English grammar?  Is it a lack of motivation?  Is it that life has become so professionalized and so busy that there isn’t time for good old-fashioned study time anymore, and study time is required to really delve into a subject at the depth that is required for language study?  And some people do have learning challenges.  I am just truly puzzled.  People from the Netherlands have told me that they must learn other languages besides their native Dutch just to survive because their country is so small and it is the only place where Dutch is spoken.  So they know English, German and maybe French.  Arabic and Mandarin Chinese are two languages that are going to be increasingly global.  They are extremely difficult languages for Americans to learn.  Spanish might be a better ally.  I find myself being grateful to the world for learning my own language of English because of how difficult it is for myself and my country to learn their languages.

Finally today I am going to address the issue of heat.  I think I have at last figured out that America may be the only country in the world with central heating.  What the rest of the countries seem to have is a fixture that goes on the wall and usually is created to produce both heat and air conditioning.  I am going to try and get a picture of one to post for y’all to see, anyone who doesn’t know what I am talking about.  I am always shocked to see these air conditioner/heaters and yet it occurred to me today that this is ALL I have seen in other countries.  No heaters, no duct systems, no floor grates. 

June 11, 2013

One of the other things I am noticing is what is considered socially acceptable in terms of “manners” from country to country, culture to culture.  Yesterday someone who was in line behind me was just fine with diving first for help at the store we were in.  I went up and asked if he was a friend of the woman employee because I had been in line before him.  He got up and apologized, and then she ended up going to where he was seated to help him before me anyhow.  I was just rather amazed by the whole incident.

In another store after that had happened I was busy helping get my groceries organized to go into my backpack and when I turned around someone was making a purchase.  I was startled and he said to me that he saw I was busy and so went ahead to the cashier.  I said that it would have been polite for him to ask me, it would have been fine and it would have been polite. 

I tell you, my reality has become that really for a sense of comfort in life, being in one’s indigenous culture is simply the easiest.  Not always possible, but the easiest.

I have also noticed here that there are very few people wearing what I would call indigenous African clothing.  Mostly they are quite Western although there is some creativity in color and how outfits are put together.  A very few of the black African women wear more traditional looking outfits.

June 10, 2013

I had some real sticker shock at drugstores, internet stores and grocery stores today.

Every country is set up so differently.  The Pharmacies here in South Africa have grocery stores in them.  I found Lithium Energizer AAA batteries for about $4.00 although I do have to exchange them because I wanted AA batteries.  I paid well over $10. for the same thing in Juba, South Sudan.

Internet on the other hand…..is very very expensive here.  Especially when a person comes from countries that have wireless internet for, frankly, cheap.  I will not go into details with y’all, suffice it to say that I discovered that doing Software Updates on my computer eats a lot of mgs and costs a lot of money.  Sometimes learning can be expensive.

Now, on the other hand, the grocery stores can be cheaper than other countries.  A large jar of Nutella (350 grams, whatever that might be in pounds and ounces) for $3.20 a jar??????  I bought two to take back to Malakal with me.  I may get more as it doesn’t expire until 2014.  A decent size jar of honey is about $2.50.  I hope this doesn’t mean I am eating on the backs of underpaid farm workers.

I am concerned about what is going to happen when I enter a Costco store again in the United States.  The Checkers grocery store here in Pretoria today frankly overwhelmed me.  I found myself wondering how any store could have so many choices.  And…why does any store need so many choices?  How many kinds of shampoo and conditioner does the world need to be producing?  How many kinds of instant coffee?  This time there was even a label by Nestle that used the word GREEN!  There were some green beans in the mix with the ripe beans and apparently this is good for the environment.  It is scary how far behind being in the know I am.

Oh yeah, toilet paper, 40 cents a roll.

There was an NGO (Non Governmental Organization) Doctors Without Borders, at the shopping center.  The people that were representing the NGO were raising money for the efforts at working with tuberculosis.  TB is a particular killer in many countries that rely on donors to provide the regime of medications that are necessary in order to cure TB.  Often adequate resources are not available and as a result the TB is not fully cured and reappears.  The forms in which it reappears are resistant to any kind of further treatment.  It is a health threat that is much more cheaply dealt with the first time with the appropriate medication.  What I found today that is new to me is that it is often children who experience the devastating effects of not having adequate medicine to cure the TB the first time.  I imagine that the repeated episodes of TB weaken their immune systems and their little bodies and that there is a high rate of death among the least powerful and the least able to resist.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ruminating...reflecting...thinking by writing....sharing with all of you.

On-going Blog

June 9, 2013

I am in South Africa, in Pretoria.  I have been here for a week now having arrived in the late afternoon of last Sunday.

I have met both of my Promoters, the two women who have been assigned to shepherd me through the Research Proposal process and into the thesis process when that time comes.  I have been to the Pretoria University of South Africa (UNISA) campus now.  It is gigantic.  There are about 350,000 students globally.  Because this is an Open Distance Learning (ODL) University there are not generally a lot of students physically present on the campus.  This would take a lot of effort for me to get used to and grasp. 

I have learned that the library here at the UNISA Pretoria campus is the largest in all of Africa.  It is many floors high, some of them underground, and one of the things that I like most is that the Masters and Doctoral (M & D) students have a study are with wireless internet.  I am hoping to use that for doing things like Software Updates and downloading tv shows from iTunes.  Yes, I am totally about scholarly pursuits, am I not?  NOT!!!

I am at this moment drinking a cup of Roobios Tea that is a specialty of South Africa.  I am rather pleasantly surprised, as it is quite good.  Since it is quite reasonably priced here, in my own opinion, I may stock up on some to take back to South Sudan for myself and perhaps as an indigenous gift for people as well. 

I am having a time of puzzlement here in Pretoria.  This is a country unlike any other that I have visited in Africa.  Pretoria, or at least what I have seen of it so far, is quite modern.  I do understand that I must get out of Pretoria and see some other areas of the country during my stay here in order to see some of the other realities of South Africa.  Such as the poverty. 

Some of the prices here are very good.  What I found out yesterday in trying to pursue the idea of getting a new battery for my Apple computer is that technology costs a great deal more here than it does in the United States.  Someone said that the US is the least pricey, followed by Hong Kong.  It just so happens that six years ago, or so, I bought my first Apple computer in Hong Kong and indeed I think that the price I paid for that computer was somewhat comparable to the price in the United States.  So perhaps this is correct information.

There are many things which are just plain easier to get ones hands on in the United States, and much more affordable.  I plan to be in the states next summer and may have to hold off on some items until I am there.  For a new cell phone here in South Africa the stores desire a proof of residency, which clearly I do not have.  I can’t recall if that was a requirement in China where I bought my current, and very dated, cell phone.  However I did have proof of residency in China and that may be why I don’t remember, it wasn’t an issue at that time.

A person is not supposed to take two computers into Ethiopia.  This makes it difficult for those of us that live in places like South Sudan where it is not possible to buy a computer should the only computer that a person has crash.  This means that because my path frequently goes through Ethiopia I should not think of having two computers in order to have a back up for my first (and only) computer.  Yes, I back up data on an external hard drive.  Yes, I have replaced the charger that was failing.  Yes, I am trying to get the battery replaced so that I won’t have quite as much concern as I do right now before getting to the states next year.  But what do I do if my current, first, and only, computer should crash?  How would I access internet or word processing?  These are questions that missionaries in particular have to answer.  Business people who have access to unlimited funds may not have such a puzzle to work on.

I also had quite the adventure with the modems and SIM cards for internet yesterday.  I believe that I have three different operating systems for wireless and/or SIM cards running around inside of my Apple computer now.  I just hope that I didn’t accidently remove the one for Ethiopia a couple of days ago, and I may well have done so.  So now I understand that just having a modem and a SIM card is not enough.  The operating system for the particular SIM card must also be installed.  Any missionary novices out there listen up!  This information is for you! 

As long as a person has an unlocked modem it appears that any SIM card can be used in the modem.  The modem is just a vessel, it is not the system.  But the SIM card will not work properly without the individual system being installed.  As the man at South Africa Vodacom installed the Vodacom system yesterday I pried him with questions.  One cannot be charged roaming fees if one is using the SIM card indigenous to the country of the SIM card while in that country.  Even if a different operating system worked for using it.  In otherwords, I was using an operating system for Zain in South Sudan with the Vodacom SIM card for South Africa.  Because I was using South Africa Vodacom in South Africa, even though I was using the Zain system I was not charged roaming fees.  This was a relief.

By the time I retire someday in the misty future I shall hope to know enough to write a book on:  What Every Missionary Should Know and Had no Idea Who to Ask.

Now, on to the confusion I am experiencing here in Pretoria.  I believe that most of the countries in Africa, with the exceptions of Ethiopia and Liberia (someone else told me this so if it is wrong I am not responsible), were colonized.  It seems to me that in the case of most of the countries the colonizers vacated the country.  This is not so in South Africa.  Nor does it appear to be so in, say, Sudan.  In Sudan (in the north) the Arabs from the Middle East colonized the country and have remained so that in reality Sudan is an Arabic speaking Arab country and no longer African as I assume it was before it was conquered and colonized.  Most of the original population of black Africans would have intermarried until the original populations are no longer original, or have fled to South Sudan. 

In South Africa it was, I believe, the Dutch from the Netherlands, that colonized the country.  At some point in something called the Boer War, I believe that the English fought a war with the Dutch over the country and the Dutch won.  Cry the Beloved Country and Cry Freedom, two excellent movies on South Africa, helped me understand some of this more and I am still unsure of my historical footing here.  At any rate, the country definitely has both black and white (European ancestry) Africans; although apparently it is not normal for the white citizens to be called white Africans. 

From what I have observed so far there still seems to me to be a great separation in the lives of the blacks and the whites here.  Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest in the United States (the Seattle area) I have not spent much time in the American South to know if this may still be the case there or not.  In my mind I guess that the American South is what I perceive as being the closest to my experience here in South Africa of black and white. 

I am hoping for more clarity on this in the coming days, weeks and months.  This also has some ramifications for my thoughts on the United States.  The Europeans were the original colonizers of the part of North America that became, over time, the USA.  “We” did not leave.  So in a sense “we” are something like the Dutch in South Africa.  It absolutely dumbfounds and amazes me how history books are written from the perspective of the “winner”.  I do not remember learning anything about how the Europeans colonized the Native Americans, the indigenous people, and did not become good neighbors but instead put the indigenous people into little pieces of land and took over their homeland.  Hmmm, sounds a little bit like Israel and Palestine too, doesn’t it?  And, come to think of it, this is only about the indigenous people issue in the United States.  We also have the African American issue that includes the Civil Rights Movement and the history of the slave trade that involved many countries and much injustice, heart break and terrible brokenness.  All of these things are a part of American history.  It is not just the red, white and blue.

Anyhow, these are issues I am grappling with along with the Research Proposal.