Thursday, August 31, 2006

Some thoughts on inculturation and AIDS

So the other day I wrote some incomplete thoughts on the issue of AIDS. I don’t know if any of you out there heard about the AIDS conference in Canada. South Africa has repeatedly been criticized for its response to the crisis. At their table at the conference in Canada, their table had on it garlic and lemons, which represent one of the indigenous responses to AIDS. Later during the conference ARVs were added to the table. The director of health in South Africa (Manto) has constantly been criticized as well. Stephen Lewis of the UN stated that her views were “more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state.” (From the mail and guardian, I do think that Manto might have a point, just as my friend did when he said that stress caused you to get sick. Manto is claiming that we have to look at issues of malnutrition and poverty. Yet the government has really been lacking in issues of public health and in particular to the response to AIDS. I was reading in the paper the other day that the government was being held in contempt of court for not providing ARVs to certain men in prisons. Hospitals are understaffed because of the decision to shut down nursing schools 10 yrs ago in order to save money…

All in all though, there is a disjoint even between the head leader of health in the government and the biomedical approach. Who can blame people the people suffering from this disease for not having faith in the biomedical response? Most of them have not even had a decent chance to use the ARVs that the biomedical solution proposes.

I wrote the other day about rethinking this in terms of the African Worldview. In effect, our understanding of AIDS has to be inculturated. It is easy to forget that our science, our biomedical solution itself is embedded in a culture. Our view of the human person is that of the individual. Within the traditional African viewpoint (a generalization of course) the individual exist in relation with those around him or her. In one of the examples that I read, a man stopped taking ARVs because if he did, then people would see that he was ill. Not only would this cause grief among his family, but also should others find out from the community, the household would be shunned. So how does one inculturate our understanding of AIDS.

The traditional African worldview (which does not seem as universally present here in south Africa as it might be in other countries that I will be visiting) is often governed by strict rules or taboos. These taboos would, as I understand them, govern the relationships between people and try to keep a village or clan in a state of harmony. One of these was a strong taboo against premarital relations. I expressed a concern the other day about rethinking the issue of AIDS into the wrong area of African traditional thought, because in my mind it has the potential to perpetuate some of the unjust taboos that used to rule and oppress. The problem with inculturation our understanding of HIV-AIDS through the vehicle of taboos is that it creates a community ethic that is imposed on others. Thus a shame driven ethic could lead to the exclusion of others who violate taboos. They could become stigmatized. I think we saw this in the states with the early conception of AIDS as being the “gay plague.” Rev. Falwell preached that it was God’s judgment coming down on sinners. Granted, he is an extremist, but one can see how in our own society the imposition of an external ethic on people lead to the conclusion that people merited this disease who suffered from it, because they violated our own taboos.

So what can one do? The article I was reading actually took the approach of the witch. Sounds impossible huh? Well, let me explain a little better. Often the traditional viewpoint in Africa is suffused with ideas of external causation. This is often from either spirits or curses from witches or what not. One would then go to a diviner (a sangoma here the Zulu tradition in South Africa) who would either determine the cause from some spirit or would sniff out the witch. This can actually be quite horrendous in practice, since a person could be falsely accused of causing someone’s misfortune or illness. There is attached to this notion the idea that each person has the potential to be a witch.

One might relate this to the Middle Eastern idea of the evil eye. Within the ancient Middle East they believed that just as sound comes out of the mouth, light came out of the eyes. This light, however, had the ability to effect others. If one had an envious heart than one could cause misfortune for others by just looking at them.

So, the author states that if we could spread the notion that, through our actions, we would in effect, be witching ourselves, we could spread the notion that through a behavior change one could keep oneself from contracting HIV. Now that clearly is not a comprehensive solution to the AIDS issue, but it will help people to begin to face in some respects the actions that can lead to AIDS. If I can find the name of the author I will put it up here.
Well, that was quite a long blog and my description of the author’s solution was probably inadequate.

On a side note, there is also the very important idea of interculturation. Inculturation can mean how can we reinterpret an idea within a different cultural framework. Interculturation would imply that this process of inculturation is actually a dynamic and mutual exchange. It would not be a translation of our notion of AIDS for example into the traditional worldview of Africa, but we would in fact have something to learn. I think that this is true. A prime example of this would be the understanding that illness is not merely an individual phenomenon, but also a community phenomenon. While we have fragments of this notion in our society, in my mind it has not deeply impacted our medicinal practices. It’s funny, when we do see people addressing illness in a social manner, it is often a remnant or a reinterpretation of a pre-enlightenment practice. Take for example faith healings, which claim their foundations in the post-Pentecost church. Look at the anointing of the sick, in which a priest anoints a person with blessed oils. He is both a representative of God as well as a representative of the church community. This is not really present however in our medical practices. As Christians, it is because of this social element, because of this sense of a human community and thus an obligation to the sick, the poor and the needy that Catholic charities do indeed create hospitals to nurse others back to health. Churches then become refuge of healing and friendship. In the medical world, illness only effects the individual. In my mind this is just one way in which the western view could learn from the African traditional view.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Yesterday I was volunteering at the Saint Vincent De Paul soup kitchen that happens in the church courtyard every Monday night. I was surprised and shocked to hear what one of the students cleaning dishes with me was saying. In effect, he was telling me that HIV/AIDS was caused by stress. This stress is caused when you get tested and someone says you are positive and you stop eating. Now there is a bit of common sense to his argument. Stress can probably make you more susceptible to the illnesses that characterize AIDS, but to hear that a pandemic plague that has caused millions of deaths was just stress was incredulous! So why is it then that the biomedical picture isn’t been believed or understood here? What is needed? More education? Perhaps I am looking at this situation wrong though. There is some sort of gap between the bio-medical solution and the people here being affected by the illness. I recently read an article that stated that we must take the African traditional worldview seriously when trying to address the issue. I don’t know how one can do that without furthering other negative attitudes (an increase in taboos for example).

Anyways, I found this message below on the AIDS page for the archdiocese.

For I was
and you
gave me
food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you made me welcome,
lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and
you visited
me, in prison
and you came
to see me.
In so far
as you did
this to
one of the
least of
my family
you did it
for me.

Matthew 25:35-40

PS: in other great news, the LRA has signed a truce with Uganda. There has been a civil war going on in the north of Uganda for the past 20 years. Joseph Kolbe who was in charge of the rebels is wanted by the ICC for rape, murder and forcing children to fight in his rebel army. Find out more at

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Back in Jo-burg

Back in Jo-burg

Well, I am back in Jo-burg now and doing my fair share of running around. I challenged one of the locals here, a great girl named Samm, to show me that Jo-burg is better than Cape town, and she has done a wonderful job so far. We visited the Africa museum a few days ago before grabbing a bite to eat for lunch. The first exhibit displayed portrait photographs of the some hundreds of men and women who were put on trial for treason. This is because they acted in opposition of apartheid. There was also an exhibit on women miners, which was real interesting.

The following day Samm and I went to constitution hill. This is the location of the constitutional court. South Africans are quite proud of their constitution and it seems everywhere you can find little pamphlets with the constitution on them. Constitution hill is located right next to number 4, which was an old jo-burg prison where they held murders, thieves, rapist and political prisoners. As you walked through you got to see the difference between the prison for the whites and the prison for any other race. Most disturbing was probably seeing the isolation cells, where one person was held for over a year. There also was an ancient rack where upon which they would strap certain men and whip them in front of the other prisoners. I saw the cell where a young nelson Mandela was held. It was quite striking to see the new foundation of the government and the safeguard of human rights placed right next to the older institution of oppression.
I have volunteered in prisons for over 2 years now and have definitely gained a heart for the plight of the prisoner. I have never really seen the conditions beyond the chapel however for prisoners in the states. While the state of prisons is certainly not what it was during apartheid, it is still a death sentence for anyone going there. South Africa has (to my surprise and joy) gotten rid of the death penalty, but with the spread of aids, being sent to prison can almost guarantee infection.

Yesterday I took a trip through the college campus to the origins museum. What I thought would just be a way to wile away the Saturday afternoon, turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about one of the traditional groups indigenous to south Africa. This was the san tribe, often refered to as bushmen. People related to this tribe were highlighted in the film, the god’s must be crazy. I had a few hours and a guide all to myself, so I learned all about the religious practices of the San and their sacred animal, the elund. It was a fascinating exhibit.

On another note:
It is interesting to notice the difference between the student masses at Cape Town and the parish mass here. The student mass at Cape Town was sung in at least 5 different languages. Our last service there was filled with the sounds of shakers and now and again students would start a song that indeed was not in the handbook. This impromptu singing, while leaving me in the dust, told you that it was indeed the students in charge of this worship service. Sitting here writing this bog, I can here the organ playing from across the churchyard. The mass is sung and many parts are in Latin. Now this is just one of many services, each with their own flavor, but there is a world of difference between the masses in these two different communities. I was talking to a student yesterday who used to be in charge of the national association of catholic tertiary students, and he has told me how inculturation is indeed happening in student services across the country. Man, what I wouldn’t give to just have a car. Today there is a cultural service at the university church in Bloemfontein (4hrs away) where they incorporate parts of traditional practices into the mass. With students you have a more homogenous group to please and that probably makes it easier to conduct such changes.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Crash course in Stick Driving and hiking up Table Mountain

The three of us three thousand feet up

Bruce and Nick at the beginning of our hike up skelaton gorge

Here I am enjoying a respite after hiking up lions head.

Table mountain from Lions head

A view of the lions head from minor peak

The rhodes memorial

A view from the window as we drive to Capetown

I tell you, there is no better crash course in driving stick than a 15 hr drive. Yesterday I made the long drive between Cape Town and Jo-burg with Bruce. Driving across these vast lands of emptiness was quite striking. The Karoo, which is the large empty province in the middle of South Africa, has a harsh beauty that was reminiscent of driving through Nevada. There were long stretches of brush and then later of amber waves of grain.

It has been a great stay in Cape Town. I became a regular at one of the local cafes. They had filter coffee! Everything seems to be Nescafe around here, so it was nice having a decent cup of coffee. Waking up to Table mountian in my Backyard everyday was spectacular. Meeting Bruce’s friends and family was also quite splendid.

Our last Sunday in Cape Town we went to the student service at Kolbe. The music was excellent. Once again, this is a church service that is often sung in at least 5 different languages. I, loving to sing, give my try at pronouncing each of these languages. It is difficult, but I hope I get an A for effort. Bruce met a German Law student on cultural exchange here. Nick only has 2 lectures a week, so we spent the whole next day hiking Table Mountain. We set foot on the trail at 9:30 am with great anticipation for the long and difficult hike ahead of us. This was one of the most amazing hikes I have ever been on in my life. Table Mountain is located right next to Cape Town. From the top you can see the sprawl of humanity in one direct and the open ocean in the other. There is a cable car that reaches to the top from Cape Town. The ice cream that I ate at the top was amazing. To justify our difficult ascent we talked amongst ourselves about how much better it was hiking than taking the cable car. We had ascended essentially 3000 feet. At one point hiking up skeleton gorge we were only hiking up a stream. At the top it was barren, but beautiful.
We had slightly misjudged the amount of time it would take to complete the hike. Bruce and I had a coffee meeting with a friend of his at five and Nick had lectures at the same time. Rather than hike to where we parked on the far side of the mountain, we decided to wander down platerklop gorge and hike around the contour of the mountain until we reached our residence where we could pick up Bruce’s car. Well, we arrived at 4:30 and all was well.
I can tell you, my legs are only now relaxing. On our 3000-foot descent my knees definitely started feeling the hike. I found out that if I ran down the hills and stone boulder stairs Well, I could tell you that only now, three days later have my legs begun to feel normal again. That may sound a bit dramatic, but I felt like my muscles were pulling away from my bones any time I walked up or down stairs.

Well… That seems like a fairly worded update. I will try to get some photos up now. Friends and family, I miss you all.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

this just in from capetown

Well it’s been some time since I have blogged here. I have had an excellent week in capetown. Just yesterday Bruce and I climbed up lions head, which is a small mountain in the middle of capetown. It was quick upward climb and we chose the riskier path via “the chains.” The views of the city and of table mountain from the top were spectacular, Table mountain, which is the mountain that backdrops capetown had a lovely tablecloth of clouds covering it. It is a most beauteous site to see these clouds crawl over the top and sink into the valleys on the Cape Town side. Later that day bruce and I walked along the waterfront. I honestly cannot think of a more picturesque location for a city. With the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other I think this might be the most beautiful city in the world. Well, Portland still has better beers. As I walked along the ocean, I was shocked to see how many shells there were lying on the beach. It was not that they were merely spread throughout the beach, but at some points the beach was literally made of them. It is an odd sensation walking along and by no other choice actually crushing shells beneath your feet as you walk. I have never seen a more choice selection either. I have taken my token handful to carry Cape Town with me.
This past week I have also gone to the national gallery. (I would very much like to visit the gallery in Jo-burg, but it is in the middle of Joubert park, a place prone to stabbings and muggings). There was an exhibit there in honor of national women’s day. There were some striking pieces there, but the most impressive was a 24-paneled piece that had the faces of people in an aids clinic. The portraits were detailed and crisp. They were not made with paint or photos however, but with the smoke from a candle. Each of the images looked like they were about to be blown away.
How could I visit south Africa without visiting the wineries here. Bruce and I, on our way to cape point where the Indian and the atlantic ocean meet, just by chance stopped in at the Groot Constatia Winery. These wines were superb! Our guide, Jaques, toured us through 15 different wines. He was a most friendly and generous host. The other day we also toured over to stellenbasch where we sampled one other set of wines. While adequate, these did not meet the standard set by Groot. Stellenbasch is an old Afrikaans community also set against the mountains. It is quite beautiful and also quite wealthy. Driving between Capetown and Stellenbasch you can’t help but notice the kilometers of informal shack communities along the highway. There must have been near a thousand shacks set up. About half of them seemed to have electricy running to them. Living next to the universities I have not really had to confront the reality of poverty here.

Well it seems that all I am describing to you are the fringe benefits of the Watson fellowship. To be honest a large part of my work here in South Africa has been on the theoretical side of inculturation. There is a vast amount of literature available here. I have also met up with Jim Cochrane, one of Doug’s old University Chicago friends. We had an excellent conversation. While origionally schooled in theology, his own speciality these days is religion and public health. Here is one of his organizations websites: . I am excited for my trip north of the limpopo river for a more physical study of inculturation. Well, I hope I haven’t bored you all to tears. Friends and family, I miss you and love you all.

PS- I promise photos by the end of the week

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hiking Minor Peak in Capetown

Sawubona all! (zulu for hello)
I am writing this blog entry from Cape Town where I will be till the 23rd with my good Jesuit friend Bruce. We are staying at a Jesuit residence where the catholic chaplain for the University of Cape town lives. It was a gorgeous 15hr drive here. Driving across the free states one could look for Kilometers across flat lands. The landscape was spotted with rolling hills pushing out of the ground. It was very reminiscent of my drive to Ft. McDermitt Nevada with TAB 4 years ago. I woke up yesterday, clouds cleared, to see mountains out of my bedroom window. Devil’s peak is greeting me as I wake. Yesterday, I hiked up to the Rhodes memorial (Cecil Rhodes was quite important in early colonial days. He also is the namesake for the Rhodes scholarship) and on to the block house, an old fort. From there I began to meander towards the Cape-town side of the mountain. My teleological side suddenly overtook me and I wanted to turn around once I touched the cliff face of the mountain. One thing led to another and 4 hours later I found myself at the top of minor peak. Well, at that point I thought it best to turn around (a thought I had already had many times throughout the hike). All this was much to the worry of my hosts. I seem to be putting my foot in the wrong places here. Perhaps it would be best to get a cell phone. Course, the catch 22 is that cell phone's make you a more likely canidate of getting mugged.

I have take advantage of the library here and have been reading about a very interesting occurrence here in South Africa. One article I was reading addressed whether a Sangoma should be able to receive communion or not. A sangoma is a traditional healer or diviner. A member of a catholic congregation could very well feel called to become a Sangoma and then after a period of time of training and experiences would become one. Buti, the local bishop of Johannesburg, says that if they would go to confession and receive absolution of course they could receive communion. He compared this to the apostles approaching Jesus saying that they had found other people casting out demons who were not of them. Jesus responds “Do not prevent him , for whoever is not against you is for you. ( Lk. 9:49-50). I would like to explore more deeply into this issue of Sangomas and of the communities relationship to the ancestors.

I went to the student mass at the university here the other day. They did the liturgical songs of the mass in 4 different languages. South Africa is a pretty unique place. It has 11 different official languages. I really enjoyed all of the music. I wish I could make it up to the DRC where they have the zairian rite. There the mass is 3 hrs long and is completly unique to the region.
Well, that's all for now. Much more to come later.

PS- I've take lots of great photos, but forgot the cord in Jo-burg. Will be many posts in 2 weeks.

Monday, August 07, 2006

So this is a zapiro cartoon poking at Zuma, former deputy president who is on trial for corruption.

avoiding stabbings and shopping for jeans

So I took a friendly walk through town on a roundabout way
to the Jo-burg cathedral. Passing through Braamfotein (a large business
neighborhood) there was not a person in sight. Then I crossed into ellensport
(or some name like that) and all the sudden there were people in the street. It
was a real neighborhood with kids playing soccer in the road to cars being
washed in the street. Walking along I had this strange sensation, and then it
came to me: I am a minority here. I was the only white guy around. I have still
been coming to terms with the whole racial situation here. It was only about
12-13 yrs ago here that apartheid came to an end. I am still trying to put my
mind around that systematic evil and the effects of it. Anyways, I made my way
to the cathedral and then back through joubert park on my way to the church I
am staying at. I only later learn that I had walked through some of the most
dangerous areas around here. One lady told me she personally saw two stabbings
there in the middle of a crowd. (sorry if you are reading this mom and dad.)
Another guy from the DRC told me that walking through that area someone made
him give them his shoes and cellphone. It’s not a race thing, it’s a brand
thing. Thank god I wasn’t wearing my Nikes.  I will be more careful in selecting where I walk next time.
Lesson learned.

Reliving my days in France, I went to go buy the cheapest
pair of jeans that I could. I am convinced that the pants change size the
moment after you leave the fitting room. I made the mistake of buying low-rise
jeans. They fit well. These hip hugging pants, however warm they might make me,
tend to have a revealing factor of 11 whenever I sit down. Yes, these pants
prior vocation were that of a plumber. It’s still cold here but the weather is
beginning to turn. I am heading off to cape town for two weeks on Thursday.
Ciao for now. 

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The internal clock gets revenge.

Well, after all this travel and odd hours I have made my body submit to, it has finally decided to pay me back. That is to say, at three in the morning I popped up wide awake. I tried for about an hour to get back to sleep, but in the end succumb to the morning hours and I read for about 4 hrs. Cities seem to be the same wherever you go. Here I have to be sure to look the opposite direction when crossing the street since they all drive on the left side here. The weather is either slightly warming up or I am getting used to the cold. It is amazing how quickly one adjusts. Today I am heading to Pretoria to get my visa for Uganda. I have also secured housing there! Great news, huh?

I promise to actually take photos soon.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Safe and Sound in South Africa.

I have arrived here in jo-burg to pleasant weather… at first. On my arrival the temperature was around 70 degrees and it was calm outside, although dusty. Later that day it began to pour buckets of rain, much worse than anything I have seen in Oregon recently. At the moment it is just barely snowing outside. I am having a bit of trouble with the accent, but hopefully I will adjust soon enough. I still can’t believe that I am here! I will be spending the next week obtaining visa's for all of my countries and then I will head off to capetown.

travel tip of the day: make trip to DC before you leave the country to get visas. Write down all important numbers (phone as well as pin) in various locations in case your memory fails you.