Monday, November 30, 2015

Yop! - Carver

Our final Yop!

We are soon leaving. And the tradition started when we cleaned and sold our house in Lancaster. We Yop!ed every room when we emptied it. And then the whole house. We will soon go to the airport with Uber, a taxi service to pick up our car. Then we will either go to PicknPay or back home depending on how long it takes. We will meet someone to leave the house at noon. When we return here, we will finish packing, Yop! a couple more rooms, and then Yop! the whole house. And then we drive on to Namibia.

I can now post our address. It is 293 Main Road, Kenilworth, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. However Google Maps will not find the right place. The maps that come with Apple Devices work.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Namibia - Syarra

Tomorrow starts the big trip in Namibia. We get the 4x4 and drive off. Tomorrow we leave South Africa. Now that means again we have no house. But that is better than a plane. I feel like we still have lots to do in South Africa but we will do it with a car. So that will wait. In Namibia, the sand dunes are waiting. In the airport, the 4x4 is waiting. And me, I am waiting for the experience of a lifetime.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Petty Crimes on the Sands of the Seas - Carver

Sea=False Bay and by extension the Atlantic (It turns out L’Aguilhas is the Southern tip of Africa and the dividing point.)

Sand=Crushed Quartz (Silicon Dioxide)

Petty Crime=Backpack Theft

My last post was about disappointments. This was a major disappointment. My last post was about minor disappointments so this has nothing to do with that post. Well, maybe a little. I suppose it has everything to do with the last post. It was packed with many minor disappointments.

We were renting surfboards this time at Muizenberg and while we were in the water, someone stole our backpack with our clothes and more important things. In there was a wallet with credit cards and a driver’s license. A cellphone. And my favorite polyester clothing. I find many clothings uncomfortable and so we brought comfortable clothing. My favorite is polyester clothing. We replaced the shirt with a bright orange polyester shirt but we haven’t seen the same polyester shorts I owned. We got a new phone. Telkom gave us a new SIM card with the same amount of data on it because the old one was in the phone. We got many people’s clothing replaced and most of the issues are solved. But a couple remain.

These are minor disappointments. I loved my clothing that got stolen. We are getting new credit cards shipped to us. And the impact could be minimized. But I had a bad attitude about it all because we were all freaked out. I had great expectations for the shorts and shirt that I lost. So, very hard to avoid in this situation.

Remember the t-chart.

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Idea Concerning the Refugee Crisis and the USA – Erich

You really will have to read the idea all the way through. If you stop in the middle, you will probably think I am a juvenile idealist. I suppose once you get to the end, you may still think that. But hopefully less so.

I propose that the USA sail a bunch of naval ships over to Europe and Turkey. We load up one million Syrian refugees and bring them back to the United States.

But what do we do with them then?

Note: Some of the ideas I am proposing should not only apply to the refugees, but should also be made available to the currently unemployed in our country who have been unable to find work.

Housing: The government works with banks. Currently banks own a ton of foreclosed properties on which they are losing money. The government, along with some NGOs, works out a rent structure. Basically the refugee (or unemployed) family is placed in the house for a reasonable rent that doesn't make a profit for the bank but eliminates their losses. The government is paying this rent.

Food/clothing/life: In addition to the rent, the government is providing each family in the program with a stipend. The total value of the stipend (with the rent included as part of the total) should be about a gross of $800/week. Of course income taxes are taken out of this amount. (I know, the government taking taxes on money from the government? But that's the way it works now, so it should for these families as well.) The amount should be adjusted though depending on how many adults in the family are working in one of the programs below.

English: Every refugee is required to attend rigorous courses in English as a second language. The government will work with NGOs, universities, and colleges who already have such programs to get the refugees enrolled. By August/September 2016, every school age child who comes over on this program needs to have enough English ability to attend public school. The adults may take longer. But I believe that in two years, they could have enough ability in English to function well without translation assistance.

Work: We are not giving all of this away for free. And remember, this part applies to Americans who are unemployed as well. Depending on aptitude, physical ability, and years left in the workforce, those enrolled in my proposed program will be split into different tasks.

Many will be required to work on infrastructure projects. The United States has crumbling infrastructure. Our bridges are becoming unsafe. Our water mains are old and bursting in many cities. We need to lay fiber optics throughout the nation. I'm sure you can find plenty of infrastructure projects in your own community that desperately need work. My program will provide the labor for these projects. Yes, we will need many translators in the first year, but a ready supply of unskilled labor is being provided to municipalities, states, and the federal executive branch. It's time for a comprehensive update of our infrastructure, with the labor costs managed ahead of time. This will make it more affordable for various governments to move forward with these needed repairs.

Others, who have the aptitude and interest, are going to be enrolled in nursing schools. We have a critical shortage of nurses already. And as the Baby Boomers reach the ages where more and more medical care will be necessary, an already strained system is going to be overloaded. We will provide unemployed Americans and new refugees with the educations needed to obtain BSN degrees. We're not guaranteeing anyone a job at the end of it, but getting the degree without debt will at least not put them into a disadvantageous position. And given the many dire projections about our health care workforce, there should be jobs for them when they finish. Also, by that point, their language skills should pose no barriers.

I realize that I am not giving every individual every possible alternative they might prefer. But if someone has the skills to get a different job and make the money themselves that they were getting in the stipend, great! They can continue to contribute to the economy and work their way to becoming citizens. And while not every option is available, this is an option by which people can move to a place where they are safe from war and bombings and provide food and shelter for their families.

After four or five years, I hope this program will come to a natural end. Hopefully we have addressed the many infrastructure problems we have. And by that time, those in the program will have new work skills or degrees and be able to find other work and other accommodations. Maybe some of them can even buy the homes they were living in from the banks.

Okay, so obviously, there are some major objections to this proposal. Let me deal with those now. And I think you are going to gasp at #1.

  1. Erich, this is going to cost a lot! Yes, you are correct. But I have an idea to pay for it. First, Congress needs to pass a comprehensive infrastructure bill. This is true whether or not my program goes into effect. But second, before we put the plan into action we are going to make a deal with the European Union. Currently, they have way more refugees than they know what to do with. We are going to offer to take these one million refugees. We are even going to send our own ships over to Europe to get them. All the European nations need to do is to get the refugees to the ports. And in exchange, the European Union is going to pay the United States 100 billion dollars. (This number could change, but it covers the salaries being paid assuming about one quarter of the refugees are the working adults, the education costs, plus costs for transportation and other logistics.) Would the EU balk at that amount? I'm not sure they would. It is only $10,000 per person. And their current costs must easily be that.
  2. Erich, this will take a lot of resources. True, but the government would have to work together with NGOs, universities/colleges, and with private industries. Sometimes those partnerships haven't been perfect in the past. But in this case, it's win/win. The NGOs get to fulfill their missions with much of the cost being paid from the government. The universities and colleges are making money educating the refugees. And the private industries, like the construction industry, are getting lots of work.
  3. Erich, this seems politically unattainable in our current environment. Sadly, I don't know the way around that. We are in a shockingly xenophobic state at present. And our politicians are either falling into fear unbecoming of Americans, or they are pandering to pressures of prejudice among voters. They need to have the courage of their convictions, and I haven't yet figured out how to help them to do that. But maybe my plan has enough positive consequences that they can move past that.

So please, tell me, what are the other major objections to this idea? Or, if you like it, how do I move it forward? Do I write to congressmen? Do I start a petition? Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tell the Teacher I'm Surfin', Surfin' in ZA – Erich

Note: In the title, that is Surfin' in Zed A, if you want to say it like a local.

While our main objective for the trip is to learn about cultures and people, sometimes we like to learn new skills too. Or you could say, sometimes home school needs a field trip specifically dedicated to physical education.

Yesterday Carver, Syarra, and I took surfing lessons at Muizenberg Beach. We had a great time. Our instructor, Gabriel, was upbeat and encouraging and taught us a great deal about the sport.

The first step was to put on the wet suits. This may, in fact, have been the most difficult part of the process. (Though taking them off isn't exactly simple.) But then it was carrying the boards out to the beach. There, we began with a jog through the sand to warm up the blood, or so Gabriel claimed. While we jogged, Gabriel told us about the shark spotters on Muizenberg Mountain, he said that Muizenberg Beach is listed in the top five places to learn to surf, and warned us that there are many mussel shells along the beach, so tread lightly.

After our jog, we learned the parts of our board, the nose (front), the tail (back), the top deck (part where we stand or lay), the bottom deck (part that is in the water), the fins (like little keels that stick out of the bottom deck near the tail), and the rails (the edges of the board). We worked in the sand on how to paddle, push up with our hands, and use our legs to stand once the wave had us.

Then it was out to the water. First, let me assure you that Gabriel need not worry that I am about to replace him at his job. I didn't exactly master it first time out. (Also, whenever one said “Thank you” to Gabriel, his reply was “One hundred percent.” He's the first person here I have noted using this substitution for “You're welcome.”)

Even without mastery, surfing was a great deal of fun. But I did have a difficult time getting into a standing position and staying there for more than a millisecond or two. Luckily, Alrica did manage to get a few pictures that even look like I made it.

Carver seemed to be the best at standing, though Syarra was super enthusiastic and she could certainly ride a long way on her board. Both kids loved it and asked if we can go again and rent boards and try to improve. I think that's a possibility on another warm beach day.

I will admit that an hour and a half of surfing and trying to rise up on the board (or trying to right myself after I plunged into the ocean) did get tiring. Maybe it would be better to say exhausting. My muscles were all up in my face (if muscles could position themselves that way) saying, “Erich, we are so done with you!” In fact, I didn't blog about it yesterday because after we got home and had dinner (Alrica made butter chicken from scratch! Delicious!) I was out. I was asleep even before the kids had their bedtime.

And today, I will admit that my shoulders are still a bit sore. But I think I could be ready for another go at it. I am going to own those waves! They will be mine!

That being said, Alrica tells me in Namibia, along the Skeleton Coast, the waves are so much higher that you ride inside the tubes rather than along the crest. Yeah, I think I'm not quite ready for that. I imagine those waves would own me. The good news: It isn't called the Skeleton Coast because of all the dead surfers, but rather because of all the shipwrecks. Still that doesn't give me quite enough confidence to say, “Ah, what could go wrong?”

If only back when I was in school gym class had been as fun. (Though I lived in Iowa, so the waves were much smaller.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fear - Alrica

Here in South Africa, we live on the fourth floor of a concrete apartment building surrounded by razor wire and electric fences. To be fair, most of South Africa lives behind similar fences and it is unusual to see a home not heavily protected. Since arriving six weeks ago, we have witnessed crushing poverty and oppression, have been approached by beggars many times, and been crammed onto the third class cars in trains with little room to breath, and yet we have not experienced crime. We have not seen any reason for the fear that must clearly exist for people to go to such extreme lengths to protect themselves. When we ask the residents here about it, most of them talk of a history of violence, and take steps to protect themselves such as placing their purses at their feet as they drive, but we don’t hear of recent issues. It is hard to erase fear from our memories though.

With recent terrorism attacks in Paris, we found ourselves talking about 9/11. About the fear of not knowing what would happen and whether we were safe. And of the support of friends and strangers as we went through that terrible time in NYC.

As we travel around the world, we hope to make smart choices about where to stop. We check the US State Dept. website for visitor warnings and give their recommendations due consideration,  and follow a variety of news sources, but we decided early on that we were not going to make our decisions based on fear. After Namibia, our next stop will be Morocco, an Islamic country. We are preparing for the visit by learning Arabic and French so that we can communicate in their languages. We will try to be respectful of their beliefs and will try to see the world through their eyes.

As we travel through Europe this spring, we hope to visit with our friends in Paris, and make new friends in other countries, and not be afraid of what might happen. Our friends in the States read of rioting in Cape Town and are afraid for us (we found out about the rioting from the same media sources that they did). We read of reports of civil unrest in Greece, and yet still want to see that beautiful country.

Terror attacks are intended to make us afraid and if we let that happen, they have won. Nearly every country in the world has been touched by terrorism and we hope that by spreading understanding and acceptance, and teaching this to our children, we can change the future. How has fear shaped your choices?

Unavoidable Disappointments - Carver

Disappointments are unavoidable. Disappointments can be reduced with good attitudes and low expectations and wanted things. But there are disappointments that even someone with a super good attitude and incredibly low expectations cannot avoid. For example:

Suppose you were someone who enjoys exploring old buildings. You get to a castle and it is under construction. That is what happened at the Castle of Good Hope.

Suppose you love the drinks of a certain soft drink company. But the 2-liter bottles cannot be opened without literally cutting up the cap. This is the problem with Jive.

I can relate this whole topic to two of my subjects that I am learning. The second I can only slightly relate.

I am doing a poem every week and this week I did one called Eternity by William Blake.

He who binds himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

This basically means that if you only find joy in a single thing, you will be unhappy. But if you find joy in everything, you will be happy.

The second thing I can relate it to (I think of weird things so it might just be related through my imagination) is the t-distribution. If you know statistics, you will understand this. Otherwise, you might be able to follow along. The t-distribution curve is a little bit shorter and wider than the normal curve. The more degrees of freedom, the closer the t-graph is to the normal curve. Only at an infinite number of degrees of freedom are they the same. Assuming that the normal curve represents no disappointments ever and degrees of freedom represents the good attitude where one is the worst attitude as one is the lowest degree of freedom possible, then an infinitely good attitude would be required to reach no disappointments. You can do the same with expectations except that the lower the expectations, the higher degrees of freedom that represent it. Again you would need no expectations to have no disappointment.

So, disappointments are unavoidable but good attitude and low expectations can reduce it.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reactions to Reactions to the Attacks in Paris – Erich

Like everyone, I am horrified to learn of the attacks that occurred in Paris yesterday. And, I'm sure I am not alone in that these attacks make me reflect on September 11, 2001. More so because my friends Bryan and Ami and their two girls are living in Paris at the moment. On September 11, Alrica and I could not get back to our home in Jersey City. The trains were not running and we were stuck in Manhattan. Ami opened up her home to us, and we walked 80 blocks uptown to stay at her place that night. Bryan was out of town, and I'm sure Ami didn't mind the company. But she was so generous to take us in. I'm thankful now that their family is safe in Paris. And I'm sad for the people of Paris who were hurt or killed. But there's more.

I've been watching the reactions to this attack. I don't mean the reactions by governments or even media. But the reactions of some of my connections in social media. There is a lot of sympathy. Some natural human anger and desire to act and not just watch. But there is also some terrifying rhetoric going on.

ISIL has now taken credit for the attack and there is an outpouring of hatred for this group. But where it upsets me is when the hatred of extremists becomes a hatred of all Muslims or all inhabitants of the Middle East.

Do Americans (even some that I know) honestly believe all Muslims want only jihad and death? Do Americans honestly believe that the Koran tells them to kill Christians and Jews? Have any of them read the Koran? Because I would like to know where that passage is. In fact, Muhammad called Christians and Jews fellow people of the book, because they worshiped the same god as he did. The problems between Islam and Judaism developed in the 20th century, more or less along with the development of Israel as a country.

One post I saw on Facebook showed a map of Asia Minor with a huge circle of ocean where Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia should be. In the middle it read “Ground Zero”. And the caption read “Problem solved.” Really? Who would propose killing millions of completely innocent civilians as fair recompense for the work of extremists? Wouldn't that make us just as vicious a group of killers of innocent people as them?

A couple of days ago, similar attacks were carried out in Beirut. Why didn't that attack get as much press? Why didn't I see any similar reactions on social media? Is it because the victims of those attacks were brown, or because they were Muslims, or most likely, both?

What about the millions of Muslims and others who have been forced out of their homes in Syria and the nearby region? They are making dangerous journeys to get away from extremism. They are sleeping in tents, if they're lucky enough to have tents. They are walking away from everything they had to find a safer life for themselves and their families. Are they to blame? Or aren't they victims just like those in Paris?

I don't believe that all Muslims want our way of life to end. I don't believe that any broad group of people is evil or inherently bad. Our family is traveling the world for the next two years exactly for this reason, so that we can learn about other cultures, see how they live, understand their way of life. Because it is just as wrong for us to to want their way of life to end as it would be for them to feel that way.

Muslims are just like you and me. They want to leave a better world for their children than they had themselves. They want to be able to go to and from work and worship and leisure in safety. They want to be able to practice their religion with the same freedom that the rest of us enjoy.

Yes, there are extremists. And they do hideous things. There are Muslim extremists. There are Christian extremists. There are Jewish extremists. There are even extremists who have no religious affiliation at all. And extremists are dangerous. Let's fight the conditions that foment extremism. And when we have to, let's fight the already existing extremists. But let's not apply that wrath to entire groups based on their color, religion, or geographical location.

Not even in our rhetoric.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Robben Island and First Solution – Erich

The other day, after touring the Slave Lodge, I posted some thoughts on Black Lives Matter which I called Free Lives Matter. At the time, I promised to think about solutions to some of the problems that the USA faces, and I asked others to do the same. Well, I have been thinking and I would like to propose one possible idea here. It goes along with our excursion of Wednesday.

We visited Robben Island. The name comes from the Dutch word for seal, for when the Dutch first found the island it had thousands of seals on it. These days, the seals don't use it anymore. But boy, the humans certainly have.

Out of Cape Town Harbor you enter Table Bay. And in Table Bay you find Robben Island. It has been used for many things including a hospital, an asylum, a leper colony, a place of banishment and exile, and most famously, a prison.

Robben Island's prisons did hold criminals who had broken the regular civil laws of South Africa. But it is more well know for holding political prisoners, those who fought against apartheid and the government who supported it. The most famous Robben Island prisoner was Nelson Mandela who wrote his Long Road to Freedom while incarcerated on the island. He hid the manuscript in a small garden he tended by burying it every night. He, and other leaders of the political movement, each lived in a small cell that gave them one mat on which to sleep (on the floor), a basin, and a bucket. You were able to leave your cell and go into the yard or to the bathroom from 7:00 to 3:30 (or 7h00 to 15h30 as they might write it here). Outside of those times, you were locked in the cell. You went to the bathroom in your bucket and then at 7:00, when you were allowed out again, carried your bucket to the toilets to empty and clean it.

Apartheid extended to the prisons as well. Robben Island was only the home of the non-white male political prisoners. If you were white or a woman, you were kept at different prisons on the mainland.

One of the issues that I considered in my previous post was that of our own prisons, filled with thousands upon thousands of people whose crime is drug possession. They haven't been convicted of any violent crime, but still they spend years incarcerated. And taxes pay for this, imprisoning people with the disease of addiction rather than treating them.

I have given it some thought and I have a proposal to make.

First, the federal and state governments work together to investigate alternatives to traditional incarceration for addicts who have not committed violent crimes. These alternatives should involve some sort of rehabilitation, programs that help to break the addiction, and let people get on with their lives in a healthy and positive way.

One such program is the Adult Drug Court program run in various states. Here are a couple of links about the program.

Significantly, some of the findings when Adult Drug Courts are evaluated are very positive. Here is a quote from the Bureau of Justice Assistance: “Evaluation studies consistently show that while offenders are participating in adult drug courts, they are less likely to commit crime, and, consequently, states and localities save money on criminal justice system costs.”

There haven't yet been many long term studies of Adult Drug Court participants, but they are still relatively young. Hopefully, the long term evaluations also show positive results. If not, other models must be tried and evaluated.

Second, states and the federal government need to shift the criminal codes so that more people can be placed into programs like Adult Drug Court rather than into prison. Mandatory minimums sound hard-line, but the evidence shows that they have not reduced the number of people addicted to drugs. And they are costing taxpayers so much money!

Third, new drug offenses need to be tried and handled with the alternatives chosen in step one above. This probably means more Adult Drug Courts (or other alternatives) must be established. But the savings in the costs of imprisonment will more than cover these costs.

Finally, fourth, and this one would take some real political courage, the governors and president need to pardon thousands of people who are serving terms for non-violent drug offenses. If these people commit another such crime, they should be dealt with in the new courts established in step three.

Will it work? I don't know for sure, and I can't know before it is tried. But we do already know that what we are doing at present isn't working. And thousands of people are losing their lives (not death, but complete loss of freedom) over the sickness of addiction.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this plan. If you see holes in it, let me know and I can think of possible solutions. If you think it would work, help me brainstorm how to make it a reality. Because for too many people, the lack of free lives is already their reality.

Table Mountain as seen from Robben Island.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Girl Guides - Syarra

One of the things I look forward to each week here in Cape Town is Girl Scout Meetings. I love being at girl scouts in South Africa. Back in the States I was working on my bronze award as a Junior Girl Scout and I wanted to finish on our trip around the world, so luckily there are Girl Scouts in South Africa (called Girl Guides). After a bit of research, we met them at an annual meeting that they call Guide Sunday, where they talked about different religions. This gave me a good chance to finish my bronze award as our project was about spreading religious understanding and tolerance. On Guide Sunday, we had leaders from many religions come work with us to learn more about their religion. We also made friends with one of the leaders of a Rondebosch Guide and Rangers troops who invited us to attend one of her weekly meetings. That turned into a weekly thing that I really enjoy going to.

I find there are a few similarities and differences. It is similar because they sing songs, though they are not ones I know, but what do I know, so we learned them. They also do art projects, like last week I began working on sewing a bag with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts logo painted on it. We also play games such as Snoopy (that involves hand-eye coordination).

In some ways though, they are very different. Girl Guides are ranked according to age, not grade. They start with Teddies for 4.5-7 year olds, then Brownies for 7-10.5, Guides are 10.5-14, and Rangers are 14-18. The troop we visit are actually for older girls but they have been very nice and get to do much more than Brownies. The girls wear very different uniforms (which come complete with scarves, skirts, shirts, and even socks) though they don’t wear them to regular meetings.

For fundraising they have to plan events to earn money since they do not do cookie sales like we do. They plan events like trivia night and car washes. They also are allowed to do really cool things like building rafts out in the ocean and racing them. There are not as many rules about what troops can do.

This is how they are different than us, and the same. I like girl scouts and hope I can do it more in other countries to see the differences between them.
Syarra with Rangers and Guider at regular South Africa Guide Meeting

Robben Island Day - Carver

Today we visited Robben Island. I will go through Robben Island briefly. Enjoy the Poem! Well, not exactly a poem.

It was early. We got up. We ate and left for the Kenilworth Station. We took it all the way to Cape Town. And from there. At Thibault Square. We went on a bus to the waterfront. The waterfront stretched along Table Bay. To a ferry. Is where we walked. It took us out of Table Bay. All the way to Robben Island. At the island. Another bus. It drove around the island for a while. Discussing and stopping at important things. The famous prison. Is where we stopped. Someone who once lived there. Showed us all around. 200 meters. To the ferry we walked. We got to the waterfront. And then we walked to the bus. Thibault once again. Though different now. We walked to a lunch place in Greenmarket Square. Ethiopian food was what we ate. And we walked back. To the train station. And rode it back to Kenilworth. And we came home and the poem is done.

Skipping back in time! Oh, and you can see how my poem was not really a real poem.

Alrica, Carver, and Syarra at the V&A Waterfront in front of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa
Erich, Carver, and Syarra at the V&A Waterfront in front of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa
Ethiopian food! I am skipping (entirely) Robben Island. I’m sure someone will find something incredibly deep-thinking to say but I enjoy the, well, mundane details.

It is interesting. The way you eat is similar to Indian food. They have spongy breads (which I didn’t like) that you pick up food with. It also contains of lots of sauces. There is a handwashing ceremony where they bring a teapot-looking thing and pour warm water on your hands over a drainage pot. They dump out a big platter of food on a plate covered in the bread. You really have to try it. The table is wicker and is shaped like a bowl sitting on a cone. The drinks all came with lime slices which is ironic because I got lemonade (not limeade). Lemonade here is carbonated and clear. The food was good and we got lots of different things to share. The food was okay but the culture was very interesting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mundane Details – Erich

Nothing groundbreaking in today's post. Today, I got a haircut. I know, mundane, right? But for anyone else who wants to travel for long periods of time like we are, such tedious details come up. So if any of the readers are ever getting a haircut in South Africa, here are the things you need to know:

First, they call it a haircut, same as we do in the states. I like to have the back and sides of my hair cut with the number three clippers. Again, good news, in South Africa they call those the number three clippers.

Stylists here, much like those at home, can be chatty. That's no problem except when the clippers are on and my stylist, Molly, is speaking, I have no idea what she is saying. Even when the clippers are off, I often had a hard time understanding. I tried to figure out why I have a tough time, and I realized it is often about the letter r. The South Africans barely pronounce the letter r in various words, if they pronounce it at all. For example, I have a mark on my ear. Molly asked if my ear was “saw”. I was trying to figure out what she meant by saw. Saw? Salt? It took me a bit to realize she was saying “sore”. (Good news, it is not.)

The radio was playing at the shop and music must be somewhat global. I noted three songs. The first was a song I am not familiar with, though it was in the same pop music style as those at home. But the singer was not American and I did have a difficult time understanding some of the lyrics. The other two songs were American classics that I would have likely heard at home on a classic rock station, “Ain't No Mountain High Enough” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Also, like at home, the morning DJs were a pair, one man, one woman, who bantered with each other like even cloud formations were funny.

The cost of the haircut was 120 rand, which is a between 8 and 9 dollars. With tip, I maybe spent $10. A bargain! (Not as inexpensive as that barber school in Manhattan where I used to get my hair done when I was at NYU, but then sometimes there were spots on my head where the barber-in-training had shaved off all the hair accidentally. Once, I remember my friend Donna, who was one of those always positive people, trying to compliment me on my horrible haircut. Her phrase, “Well, it'll grow back.”) Here I got a very nice haircut for a good price. So if you are looking to save some money, just fly to South Africa every time you need a trim. All right, the flight would probably break the bank. But don't focus on the obstacles. Just tell yourself, “there ain't no mountain high enough.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Free Lives Matter – Erich

Today we visited a museum in Cape Town called the Slave Lodge. In the time when the Dutch West Indies Company controlled the cape, this was literally a slave lodge. All the slaves owned by the company were locked up here each night in a big courtyard with no windows by which they could even see the outside. Some of the slaves were from other parts in Africa, some from India and Sri Lanka, and many from Indonesia.

Since that time, the building has been a variety of governmental buildings including the Supreme Court for the Cape area. But now it is a museum that has exhibits related to slavery and also apartheid. The exhibit got me thinking a great deal, as good exhibits should. And my thoughts turned to the United States and some of the issues facing our country today.

You know the Black Lives Matter movement? I think that people only understand half of what that phrase means. Yes, it absolutely does mean that black people should not be indiscriminately killed for minor infractions of the law (and certainly not for no infraction of the law which also occurs.) But there is another part of it, and this part affects a lot more people every single day. It's not about life vs. death, but about life, meaning you are free to live your life as you would have it lived.

I'm white. If I walk down a street in the United States and I am in no way breaking the law, I can pretty much count on the fact that the police aren't going to shoot me, stop me, or probably even give me a second glance. I'm free to do what I want to do, of course, within the scope of the law. And the authorities are not going to be scrutinizing my every move.

But if someone is black, do you think this is their everyday existence? When they walk down the street, doing nothing wrong, do they get second glances? I bet they do. Do they get extra scrutiny? I bet they do. And do they have a higher chance of being accused of something or interrogated, hurt, or possibly even killed by the police than a white person does? I bet they do. (By the way, when I say, “I bet they do” I'm really saying yes.)

Some might argue that at times even white people are wrongly killed by authorities. True. But it is incredibly rare. And when it happens, you can bet there will be a real investigation, a real grand jury trial (if not just an indictment), and a real trial. But for blacks, it is neither so rare, nor can they expect the same sort of follow up and justice.

Now I'm getting back into the life vs. death part of it. Think about the other part. My life matters and as part of that life, I want freedom to pursue happiness, to make a difference, to go about whatever it is I want to go about doing. Shouldn't that same opportunity be available for all our citizens, regardless of the color of their skin? Black Lives Matter is not just saying stop the killing. It is saying stop the restriction of their freedoms. Free Lives Matter!

Part of the exhibit today focused on people who stood up against apartheid, including white people. They were labeled as communists. They were accused of treason. They were imprisoned. And their families were threatened. There was the story of one man who argued against apartheid who spent eight years in prison. And there are many who spent longer.

Think about this. Can you imagine if you were put into prison for eight years? What would that be like? You can't do what you want to do. You can't speak to who you want to speak to. Your letters are censored. Your visits are restricted. And you can't accomplish what you want to accomplish. For years at a time!

In the United States, we have thousands and thousands of people in prison, more people per capita than any other country – by far more than any other country. And many of these are in prison for drug possession. With mandatory minimums, we have people locked up for years of their lives. And why? Did they hurt someone? No. Why? Because they have a sickness, an addiction. And rather than treat them, we imprison them. We are taking away their freedoms! If we took people convicted of drug possession and forced them into treatment instead of into prison, it wouldn't cost more. It would restrict their freedom, but for a shorter amount of time. And when they were done with treatment, they would have freedom again, the ability to accomplish things. How can we make this happen?

I know what you are thinking and you are right. You're saying, “Erich, it isn't good enough to just point out problems. You need solutions!” Okay, I'm going to think about solutions. And I hope you will help me to think about solutions and not just tell me that there are no solutions, or that the current system is the best that it can be. Because I can't believe the system is at its best if so many people are unable to have the same freedoms that I enjoy.

Free lives matter.

The very important person who I can never respect again because the first time I saw him, he had a pigeon on his head – Carver


This is probably one of my longest blog titles. The next headings of this post will all be annoying, giving you no clues.

Kenya is the lock of Africa

This is probably very useless and it sounds like a metaphor but it is not. We were looking through Greenmarket Square and there were lots of Africa -shaped boxes. It was always Kenya that held them shut.

Earth is a web of connections, South Africa is on Mars

Another good useless metaphor. Another post about the Internet here. I just spoiled what this one was about. The Internet here is terrible. I'm not wasting more of the post to retell the story again. So,we ran out of Internet. But at Telkom, they said that we apparently need proof of address to get Internet which you need a utilities bill to get. We are renting and don't get those bills, though. A different Telkom let us get Internet.

The very important person who I can never respect again because the first time I saw him, he had a pigeon on his head

My last piece. This is a terrible metaphor. But I suppose you are wondering what it means. There was a statue in Church Square of a very important person. But the first time I saw him there was a pigeon sitting on his head. So how could I respect him after that? We came back later to take a picture and learn his name for this post. His name is Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr.