Thursday, November 24, 2005

My Thanksgiving dinner

This was my third Thanksgiving out of the country. Once before in New Zealand, and another in Tanzania. There always seems to be a sort of patriotic gathering that occurs amongst Americans abroad on Thanksgiving. Its a holiday totally uncelebrated by the rest of the world, so its kind of our own day that few people really understand. But the ex-pats always seem to find away to get together, and do what Americans do best on Thanksgiving: eat themselves into a stupor.

I met a group of 8 Americans at a great restauraunt called Cafe 1999. Hardly a traditional or homestyle establishment, but ended up being an excellent choice. But it was the amazing mix of people that really made it a great meal. It was one of those situations where I dont think everyone really knew everyone. We all knew someone else there, but most of us were meeting for the first time that evening.

In attendance were:

A Fullbright scholar who just graduated from University of Michigan (Anand)
A pediatric infectious disease fellow
An artist working in Zulu sculpture
A medical student from Texas doing HIV research (this one is me!)
A medical student from New York doing HIV research (Sara, a co-worker)
A beutiful nurse from Texas (her name starts with a K)
A guy who made 18th century brooms for most of his life, but started PA school at age 57
A nurse-practioner/midwife/PA
(the last two were a couple)

The broom maker and the midwife actually took the cake for the most fascinating people at the table. They were both theoretically retired, but had been working on projects all over southern Africa for the past few years. They had done everything from teaching at oprhanages about how to care for HIV infected children to work in prevention of vertical transmission of HIV from mother to child.

But was really fascinating was their "relationship." They had to have been one of the few people on the planet that managed to negotiate a functional open marriage. They each had other partners/lovers that they would see from time to time, with supposedly no jealousy. In fact, the extra partners were often close friends to them both. And usually, the extra partners had 1-2 partners of their own. Once the table discovered this, we were captivated. Questions were fired at them before they could even answer.

Essentially, it seemed that they made it work because they truly beleived they were soul mates. They knew that their spirits had been together in past lives, and that there really was no one else better for them. Sure, they had other partners that were friends, lovers. But nothing came close to the deep connection that they seemed to share. It was interesting to hear about, though not your typical Thanksgiving dinner topic of conversation.

So, all in all it was a great thanksgiving. The food was incredible, one of the best meals I have had in Durban so far. But the company was really a great mix of diverse, fascinating people. For that experience and for the many great experiences I have had already, I am quite thankful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

ID Card

This is the first scanned document sent to by my Nigerian banker friend. Looks legit to me, maybe I should fork over my bank account information. Actually, what I think I will do is see how many scanned, false documents I can get him to send me.

Happy Thanksgiving

It doesnt really feel like Thanksgiving at all here. Kind of strange. I wasnt even sure what day it was. As odd as it is for me, I am sure its equally strange for our families not to have us around. Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving to my friends, family, and anyone else that stops by.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Why are you beautiful?

Standing at the base of the Sterkhorn on my birthday a few days ago, a question hit me that I have been thinking about a lot lately. We were staring at this amazing site. The Sterkhorn and Cathkin peak, shimmering in the early morning sun. It was truly beautiful.

And just with everything else in my life, I had to ask the question: why? Why was this scene so beautiful and pleasing to see? If you think about it, its really, really hard to come up with any answer that makes sense. We obviously tried to think of something, but didnt succeed. Perhaps you can...

First, we thought that perhaps the rarity of the scene makes it beautiful. If we were surrounded by beautiful mountains all the time, perhaps they would lose there aesthetic value. Maybe this mountain scene was beautiful because it was such a rare opportunity to see. But I dont think this postulate holds water. Many things are rare (did I just contradict myself?). For example, six fingers on one hand is exceedlingly rare. I saw it once on a Guatemalan baby. Let me tell you, it was not beautiful. Thus, rarity itself cannot equal beauty. There had to be another reason.

I argued that perhaps it was the fact that we were viewing something so vast in size and area, yet so very detailed. Indeed, you could see every little crack and crevice across an entire mountain. There was a tremendous amount of information zipping into our retinas at the speed of light, much more than when you simply look at your hand or the grass. Perhaps this was the key to beauty, at least in nature. But then I thought of a beautiful sunset or even a single moon lighting up a black sky. Not much detail there, just a sense of aesthetic satisfaction that we cant really explain.

So why do we find some things beautiful and others not? Why does the Grand Canyon awe us so when a ditch in the ground is not even noticed? While beauty is subjective, there is certainly some general gathered opinion as to what is considered beautiful and what is not. I think this question has profound implications in nature, love, and especially art. Would love to hear other's ideas while I struggle with my own.

Monday, November 21, 2005


I found this article that came out TODAY regarding the capture of Nigerian email scammers who bankrupted a Brazilian bank. They apparently stole $242 MILLION dollars. Quite ironic that this article was released today.

Anyway, the offenders were sentanced to a total of 37 years in prison. I cant even imagine what it would be like to spend a day in Nigerian prison, much less the rest of what would likely be a very short life. Take a look at the article if you have the time.

My first response

Yesterday, when I finally didnt have anything better to do, so I made up a Yahoo email account strictly for use in my Nigerian email scam detective work (see previous post). I emailed one of the older addresses I had received, thinking that it wouldnt even work. But sure enough, the next day, I got an email from someone posing as a lawyer in Nigeria. And this one was personal, not blatantly computer generated (I know this because he made specific references to questions I had in my initial email).

I was actually pretty suprised. I wasnt exactly sure what to write to him. So, I tried to bait him by telling him how excited I was to cooperate with him and how happy I was to be emailing with such a friendly lawyer. I actually tried to sound pretty gullible. But then I requested some information, like his credentials, CV, some information on the person that supposedly died in the accident whose millions of dollars I stood to inherit. Also just some information on his home country, for my own knowledge of course. I think my goal will be to lead him along and force him to come up with as many false documents as possible. I'll start easy, but hopefully progress to things like photographs and personal references. I figure I'll give him a lot of homework and he'll be too busy to steal other people's money.

What I learned already is that these people (not suprisingly) dont keep very good records. I personally received an email about this deceased fellow, but my fictional email account obviously did not. Any respectable con-artist would realize that their fake email scam was never even sent to the address that was now contacting them about the supposed transaction. But they didnt pick up on this, at least so far.

Anyway, its a little scary to be doing this. I still fear the Nigerian mafia. But I figure there is no way to trace a fake email account back to me. Nothing in any of the account set up has anything to do with me at all. For the same reason, I doubt I will post any word for word content that goes on in the emails (in case they get suspicious and know how to use Google). Really, I just want to understand more about these strange emails I have been getting for the past 4 years. Hopefully the enormity of the world wide web will keep my buried in anonimity.

In closing, I do hope that Nigerians arent into perusing other people's blogs.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Thing I love about South Africa #4


I know, you have no idea what this is. I didnt either. But lucky for you, I am here to translate all things South African, good and bad.

Rusks are these very hard, almost stale cookie type snack. Alone, they are pretty gross. Very hard and dry. If you just picked up a box and started eating, you likely would be dissapointed. But they are a biscuit that is designed to be dipped into tea. 4 of them can soak up half a cup of tea in one sitting. First, I should say that, much like in England, tea is HUGE here. Everyday at 10 am or so, people stop for tea. Its another built in break to the day. Since I get hungry everyday around 9 am, this works for me. But dipping rusks in my tea makes it even easier to wait all the way until I can eat lunch at noon.

Anyway, I doubt these can even be bought outside of South Africa. I would imagine biscotti, those hard sweet things they sell at coffee shops are a close relative in the states. But if you find yourself in South Africa with a cup of tea in your hand, these are worth a try.

Not the tallest

I found a brochure on "The Rock," Gateway's indoor climbing gym (just wrote about this below). They boast that they are the world's tallest climbing gym, at 22.5 meters (about 80 feet). Since I have climbed several times at what I always thought was the world's tallest climbing gym, I thought that this was likely incorrect. And it was.

After some quick research, I learned that Stoneworks Climbing Gym in Carrollton Texas has been confirmed as the world's tallest. I used to climb there often in high school. Its a 6 pack of old corn silos that are over 120 feet high. They cut walkways in the concrete and put holds up all along the inside. Its a pretty amazing place to climb with some really diverse and LONG routes. Its quite odd being at the top of a silo, 120 feet above the ground, barely able to yell down to the person belaying you below.

Anyway, as a proud Texan, I will be forced to confront the folks at the Gateway gym. Although their facility is nice and much more modern, its is 30 feet short of the tallest. Where I come from, that is called false advertising. They could likely boast being Africa's tallest climbing gym, but somehow, that just doesnt sound quite as impressive.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Today we went to the Gateway Theatre of Shopping. Its the largest shopping mall in the Southern Hemisphere and is about 15 minutes outside Durban. I am not one to really enjoy malls. I dont really even like to shop, at all. But we didnt have much else to do and its kind of one of those things you have to see while you are in Durban. What we found was actually pretty cool. I wasnt too excited about the mall itself, but they had an amazing standing wave pool and huge indoor climbing wall.

The standing wave pool was this very larg, foam lined pool that shot streams of water over a curve to simulate a wave. It looked like it would be pretty difficult to control your position on two feet. I imagine I would flop over pretty quick and get plunged backward by the powerful jets. But the guys riding the waves there today were pretty impressive. I didnt try it, but am planning on coming back to give it a full day's effort. I'll be sure to post a picture of me trying, or of my bruises afterwards.

One entire end of the mall seemed to be devoted to surf, skate, and sport. Just about every international (Billabong, Quicksilver) and local surf companies (Island Style, Lizzard) had a huge shop there. I was excited to discover a huge outdoor/camping store. It was all pretty expensive, but its so hard to find good camping equipment in this country. There was also an outdoor skate park, and a climbing wall that had to have been 80 feet hight. Despite my desestation for shopping, it was cool to look through the racks of surf and outdoor clothing that I cant afford.

All in all, I was actually kind of impressed with the place. Sure, it is ostensibly profit driven and entirely overpriced but I know places like this are actually good for Durban and South Africa. While it does make rich people richer, it also gives lots of people jobs. Plus, it will gave me something to do on a Saturday afternoon and now gives you something to read about.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Working hard for my money

So here is some proof that I actually do work in South Africa. I know I write about surfing and traveling and hiking, but I really do work here on occasion. I have been transcribing patient charts (on the left) in to pages and pages of Case Record Files (the sheets of paper in front of me). It takes hours, and is not all that fun. But the reward is, well, I am not sure what the reward is. I think I forgot. Will let you know if I ever get there.

What I would like for Christmas

I cant believe people are selling this. Kind of cute actually.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Officially opened by Zuma

As I was leaving work today, I took a picutre of this plaque on the 1st floor of the building that houses CAPRISA. It was apparently opened by the "Honourable" Jacob Zuma. Ironic that I wrote about and pondered his dishonorable deeds while in the building he opened. I wonder if they will leave this plaque up if he is found to be guilty...

New Email Scam

Here is a recent email scam I received about the South African World Cup Lottery. This one really cracks me up. Its written very poorly, but note who "signed" the email at the bottom. Who are these people and how dumb do they think the rest of the world can be?

Lottery Headquarters: 31, Brixton Court Carlton East Gate
Batch: ( 13/26/DC36.)


Attn: We happily announce to you the draw of South African 2010 World cup Bid lottery Award International programs held in Zurich, Switzerland. Your e-mail address attached to ticket number: Reference Batch Number is : ( B9665 75604546 199 ) with ! Serial number ( 97560 ) drew the winning: ( 60/84/27/17/36), which subsequently on you the lottery award in the 2nd category. Your name have therefore been approved to claim atotal sum of US$( 1,000.000 ) ( One million United States Dollars) in cash credited to file ( KPC/9030108308/03 ).This is from a total cash prize of US $( 100,000,000.00 )One Hundred Million dollars, shared among the first One Hundred luckywinners in this category world-wide. Please note that your lucky winning number falls within our lottery booklet representative office in South Africa as indicate in the play coupon.

In view of this, your US( $1,000.000 ) ( One Million United States Dollars ) would be released to you by your claims agent immediately he commence the processto facilitate the release of your funds as soon as you contact him. Also your claim included with free flight ticket and one month hotel reservation in one of the five star hotel. All participants were selected randomly from WorldWide Web site through computer draw system and extracted from over ( 100,000,00 )companies and individual emails address. The lottery programe took place to promote south africa ( 2010 world cup award,) For security reasons,you are advised to keep your winning information confidential till your claims are processed and your money remitted to you in whatever manneryou deem fit to claim your prize. This is part of our precautionary measure to avoiddouble claiming and unwarranted abuse of this program by some unscrupulous elements.
( Please be warned. )To file for your claim, please contact your claims agent immediately, you read this message for quick and urgent release of your fund , his conatct information is as:

AGENT E-mail

Please be informed that all winning must be claimed on or before 15th January 2006.You agent will furnish you with his full details to avoid manipulations. To avoid unnecessary delays and complications, please quote your reference batch numbers in any correspondences with us or our designated agent. Congratulations once more from all members and staffs of this program that has succesfully won this competition.

Thank you for beingpart of this promotional lottery program.

President Nelson Mandela ( chairman.)
Molefi OLIPHANT ( President )
Chief Operations OfficerAlbert MOKOENA
Chief Executive OfficerDanny JORDAAN.

Zuma flew over our house

Jacob Zuma (the guy on the right) is the former Deputy President of South Africa (i.e. the Vice-president). He was second in command behind President Thabo Mbeki (the guy on the left, pointing at Zuma). Mbeki is only the second president South Africa has seen since the end of apartheid in 1994. The first being Nelson Mandela (not pictured). All three South African politicians are part of the ruling party in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC).

Zuma was forced by President Mbeki to resign from his position as deputy president based on charges of corruption. He had been involved in a multi million dollar arms deal with a large South African company (kind of like the Haliburton of South Africa). Irregularities were suspected in this deal, and Zuma allegedly solicited a bribe of $80,000 a year in return for protection from the government probe. Essentially, he offered to pay someone this amount if they would simply not look into the matter. Kind of like when you pay the border patrol not to look into your glove box. Thats fine for people sneaking pot across the border of Mexico, but not the kind of behavior you would expect from a Vice President.

So what does all this have to do with me? Well, the President's house is the official residence of high ranking public officials when they come to Durban. Its enormous, heavily guarded, and located about a block from my house. On November 12th, as I was packing for our camping trip, Zuma's helicopter flew right over our house to land at the nearby residence. He was in town for his court date and posted a bail of R1,000. Why he is allowed to stay at the President's house when he is not even the deputy president anymore.

Anyway, Zuma was in town to be indicted basically. His trial wont even start until July 2006, so I am likely to have forgotten about it all by then.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


The camping birthday weekend was great. We managed to escape the rainy weather on the way up to the base camp. The hike up to the top of the Sterkhorn was grueling, but it was worth it to finally make it to the top. We got a little wet on the way down, but fortunately had a dry tent and dry clothes waiting for us at the campsite. I cant emphasize how important it is to get your tent set up in dry weather. Makes a world of difference. We spent the late afternoon/evening hiding from the rain, reading, and making tea, soup, and dinner with my tiny camping stove in the small covered area outside the tent.

The campsite itself was awesome. It was set next to a small stream that fed lush vegetation all around us. Good soft ground and the sound of frogs and running water made it a great place to sleep. The water allowed for trees and massive ferns to grow wildly next to the stream. A few meters behind our tent was a small waterfall where you could fill up your bottle with CLEAN WATER. Oddly, there were several mountain crabs scurrying around in pond under the fall. I havent seen these crazy crabs since I was hiking in Nicaragua. I caught one, and thought about boiling him for a snack, but decided we had enough food. Very strange to see crabs out of the ocean, but it must happen in cool, wet climates.

Monday morning (my birthday), we woke to an amazing view from the campsite. The fog lifted to reveal a great sunrise to the East. Behind us, the sun slapped the mountains, lighting up the path we had taken the previous day. The sky was so blue behind the peaks that it almost looked unreal.

In the picture below, the Sterkhorn is the 3 peaks off to the right (not the long broad castle looking peak on the left). You can see a small trail making its way up the grassy hill in the foreground. It was quite a steep hike, essentially straight up with no switchbacks. At the top, you could see over to the other side of the range. Was a nice view when the fog wasnt obscuring it.

We made it back to Durban on Monday afternoon, just in time to squeeze in some surfing. The waves werent the best, but it was a fun longboarding day. The weather is now warm enough that you can get away with just board shorts and a rash guard on a sunny day. The surfing is coming along, I just need some work on my rights, which are backhand for this goofy footer.

We then met some friends for dinner in Durban. We ate at an Indian food restauraunt called Vintage. Was a cool, diverse group of people. We ate too much, and then ate some cake. Finally came home very full, very tired, but very happy to have had such a great birthday.

This birthday was:
-My 27th
-My 3rd in another country
-My 2nd in Africa
-My 3rd in row on which I managed to surf
-My 2nd with Kylie
-My first mountain birthday
-Only 3 away from 30!!

It sounds so old, but I dont feel it at all!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Off again

We are off again this weekend to hike in the Drakensberg mountains. Are hoping to climb the Sterkhorn this time and camp at the base. Which means we'll be toting all our stuff up the mountain with us. Its been a while since I have hiked up and camped on a mountain, though I did it all the time (with groups of 30) in Guatemala. Hopefully I can manage this group of 2. We are hoping for some sunshine, or at least no rain, but it is the rainy season after all.

Monday is my birthday, so we're hoping for a nice view from the mountain top that day at least. Then, if we dont get washed away, we'll head back to Durban for dinner Monday night. Feel free to join us, I think the last minute airfare is not too expensive right now. If you fly all the way here, Kylie will even pay for your dinner. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Idea Post

I had a good idea come to me today. I decided I am going to pick 3-4 patients at our clinic on ARV's and have brief interviews with them (with their permission, of course). Ask about their lives, their illness, their income, etc. I have been doing this anyway for months now, as a part of working at CAPRISA as a study (junior) clinician. But havent been documenting it at all. Would like to find some that have been on ARV's for a while, and others that are just starting.

I will probably post a lot of this information here (with names changed) and will likely use it in powerpoints when I have to go back and justify what I was spending all this time in Africa for. I hate coming here and only donig a research project. Feels so selfish at times. I think this is a way to combine history taking with pseudo-journalism to help Americans understand what its like to be HIV positive, poor, and South African.

I think if I post my ideas, I will be more likely to follow through with them. But dont want to get too ambitious, I still have to try and dupe some Nigerian email scammers.

JJ pondering the jump. His teenage competitor is in the foreground in the pink. Ironically, all four surfers in this heat couldnt paddle past the break. They all were washed ashore, and had to walk back out to the pier, and jump again.

Surfers being briefed before the competition. That's JJ in the polka dots (the 44 year old competitor)

Here is a picture of the massive waves hitting the New Pier in Durban. Notice the sets in the background.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Kylie and I woke up early this morning to meet Lisa and Sara at Addington Beach to surf. Sara and Lisa were new to the sport, and wanted to surf a more tame break, so we skipped North Beach and headed a little further south.

We arrived a little ahead of them, just before 6 am. When we pulled up, I could already tell that something strange was going on with the ocean. Firstly, the horizon was not flat, like it normally is. It was bumpy, for lack of a better word. Instead of a straight line, there were perfect sinusoidal shapes, evenly spaced. You could also see massive waves breaking just below the horizon. Not at the beach, where things were relatively calm, but about a mile or two out, waves were whitecapping, and tumbling over. I had never seen waves break that far out. Strong offshore wind blew the tops off the wave in an arc of trailing sea spray. It was too far away to hear, but it looked loud and powerful.

I often have a recurring dream about large waves that moved parallel to the shore. I am usually driving along the seawall in Galveston, watching waves break the same direction that my car is moving. I always thought this was impossible, until today. Waves about a mile out were literally traveling parallel to the shore. Some were breaking, others were simply rolling along like big huling blue monsters.

What might seem confusing, is that the beach where we surfed, the waves were relatively small. The waves were only about 1-2 feet tall. Perfect for longboarding, but really kind of boring. You might wonder how this is possible. Its a trick of swell and protection. I'll explain.

Groundswell occurs when a huge storm somewhere several hundred miles offshore roughs up the water. The swell is initially powerful, but disorganized and choppy. As it spreads out over the hundreds of miles between the beach and the storm, the waves sort themselves out. They organize, and roll onto shore in great big lurking waves, evenly spaced out with a smooth, polished surface. Groundswell is what makes for classic surfing conditions. Sadly, in Galveston, groundswell rarely occurs. Usually we are only lucky enough for some choppy windswell (the kind of waves that occur before they have time to organize). Only big hurricanes really bring the groundswell. But in Durban, groundswell is really the only thing that is surfed.

Like any wave, groundswell can also refract around edges. The massive groundswell I saw rolling across the horizon was actually created by a huge storm way down south of Africa. The waves were rolling up, and almost wrapping around the coast by the time they hit Durban.

However, where we were surfing (near Addington hospital in the map to the right) the shape of the shore line was protecting the beach from the massive swell coming in from the south. In the image to the right, imagine waves rolling in from the bottom of the map, but refracting a little around and inward. The mouth of the bay (North and South pier) were blocking much of the refracted swell. So, where we were, the surf was pretty timid, but still kind of fun.

After a quick hour of catching thigh-high waves, we loaded up the boards. I decided I wanted to go have a look at North Beach, and maybe surf there if there was time. The mouth of the bay doesnt offer as much protection further north, so I knew the waves would be much bigger up there. I had never seen the ocean move like this before, I wanted to see what was happening up there.

So we made the short 2-3 minute drive up to North Beach (one could walk it in about 5 minutes). What I saw there was unreal. Enormous waves, some 10-15 feet tall, exploding into the pier. There were red Quicksilver flags running all along New Pier. I surf there most days, and had never seen them before. There were about 10 people in the water surfing, and several others standing on the pier, board in hand, waiting to jump off. People were catching lots of the huge waves rolling in. Surfers and bodyboarders would drop in on the giant towers of water and carve whitewater along the face. When the waves broke, they exploded in a dynamic wall of whitewater and hiss. It was truly amazing to witness.

Those jumping off the pier had to time their jump perfectly. If they jumped at the wrong time, a huge wave could toss them back into the pier with a lot of force. Many jumped, cleared the pier, but couldnt paddle past the massive break and were washed back to the beach. They were all experts at duck diving, where you essentialy push you and your board uner the breaking wave (see image at right). Even if they were washed ashore, they usually reappeared at the pier 10 minutes later for another jump. They all looked to be about 16.

For an instant, I thought about going to get my board. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I was on the sidelines. But then I remembered that I would undoubtedly die if I tried to brave this surf. Either that, or be rescued by the many jet skis zipping around, making sure no one drowned. That seemed like an embarassing fate, possibly worse than death. So I swallowed my pride, and we sat and marveled at the amazing display of natural power unfolding before us.

The Quicksilver flags were up because the next day they were holding the Goodwave Surf Competition. This is a once a year event, held on the day that the judges predict the surf to be the best for that season. Unlike any other surf contest in the world, this contest does not have a scheduled date. They simply wait all year for the biggest and best day, and call everyone up. Often, surfers are off in other competitions, and local alternatives are invited to join.

One of those locals happens to be the guy who introduced us to Durban surfing, JJ. JJ gave Kylie her first lesson, and helped us find the shaper who designed our boards. He is 44, and is at the beach every single day. I think everyone who surfs in Durban knows him, and I dont think anyone knows his last name. He is friendly, energetic, and I only understand about 70% of what comes out of his mouth (he speaks quite quickly and in thick surfer lingo). Tomorrow, he'll surf in the Goodwave against teenagers, less than half his age. Needless to say, we'll be there to cheer him on.

It was a truly phenomenal day. I have never seen the ocean display so much power, yet power that was so organized and focal. Sure, part of me wished I was one of the brave souls diving into the ocean to surf this once a year swell. But really I was just grateful to have caught a few waves that morning and been around to witness such a unique aquatic experience. I cant wait to get up at dawn and do it again tomorrow.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I love duct tape

Duct tape is absolutely one of the most useful products on the planet. Especially for anyone living overseas. After several trips, I have learned never to leave home without it. If you are planning a trip, put it on your must bring list. Here are a few of the ways duct tape has changed my life.

● Duct tape makes a decent waterproof seal for temporary surfboard repair. Its typically advised that if you ding your board, you should get it repaired before getting your board wet, but if the surf is good, it can be a useful temporary fix to keep the water out.

● I tore my sleeping bag while leading a hike in Guatemala and knew that down feathers would leak out for the duration of the hike, thus rendering my bag useless. But a little duct tape over the hole, and the bag still works perfectly.

● The last time I was in South Africa, my nice Nikon camera broke. The film compartment wouldn’t close. I was terribly disheartened, wondering how I would possibly get it fixed. But a 4 inch piece of duct tape brought the camera back to life for a few more years of good picture taking.

● We recently used duct tape to try and catch a cockroach in our kitchen. We hoped that the little bugger would crawl over the tape and get stuck on the sticky side. We even put a cracker in the middle to entice him onto the trap. This didn’t work out as well as the aforementioned examples. In fact, it didn’t catch much except my big toe.

● We recently used duct tape to repair the handle that rolls our window up and down (aka the window-roller-upper-and-downer). Amidst a furious roll, it snapped in two and I thought I was going to have to roll the window with my fingers. But duct tape to the rescue, and the window still rolls up quickly in the rain.

After thinking about it, I realized one major problem with using duct tape. It works so well, that you think you have solved the problem. Almost all of the examples above started out as temporary repairs. But I never got around to really fixing them because the tape worked so well. Our sufboard is still sealed by tape, my sleeping back still has the same piece from 4 years ago, and my camera went through seveal strips of tape until it was finally stolen 3 years later.

So, I guess the moral of the story is dont leave home without duct tape. But once you are home, get your equipment fixed properly or you'll be left with that awful sticky grey residue that duct tape unfortunately leaves behind.

Finally, while I do love the stuff, I think my passion for duct tape pales in comparison to these guys' love for it. Their site is pretty funny, and even uses Napolean Dynamite quotes when you switch between pages.

Going undercover in the Nigerian email scam

For years now, I have been getting emails from people posing as friendly (and often illiterate) Nigerian lawyers. Its always some sort of a scam thrown together in pseudo-cerebral English. They apologize for contacting me via email, they tell me about some American that has died whose last name is also Wiseman. They invite me to enter into a "deal" with them where they transfer the money to my account if I just offer my honest cooperation. Just to give you a sample, here is a typical email below:

Attn:Dear Wiseman I am Barrister peter c ibeh personal attorney to Late Mr.Ron Wiseman ,a national of your country, who used to work with Shell Development Companyhere in Nigeria herein after shall be referred to me as my client. On the 21st of April 2003, my client, his wife and their two children were involved in a ghastly motor accident along Warri- Sagbama Express Road. fortunately, all occupants of the vehicle lost their lives as the vehicle caught fire after the crash. Since then I have made several inquiries to your embassy to locate any of my clients extendedrelatives this has also proved unsuccessful. After these several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to track his last name over the Internet, to locateanymember of his family hence I contacted you. My purpose of contacting you is to assist in repatriating the money and property left behind by my client prior to his death before they getconfiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank where this huge deposits were lodged particularly, the BANK where the deceased had an account valued at about US$15.5 Million dollars.The bank had issued me a notice to provide the next of kin or have the account Confiscated within the next ten official working days. Since I havebeen unsuccessful in locating the relatives for over 2 years now I seek your consent to present you as the next of kin to the deceased since you havethe same last name/surname so that the proceeds of this account valued at US$15.5million dollars can be paid to you and then we can share the money.I have all the necessary official and legal documents that canbe used to back up the claim we may make. All I require is your honestco-operation to enable us in seeing this deal through. email me at

I particularly like this one where (I assume) he mistakenly wrote "fortunately" instead of unfortunately when telling me that all occupants of the car died in the "ghastly" accident. I sometimes get a kick out of imagining a bunch of Nigerians sitting around a computer with a thesaurus, looking up words like ghastly.

Even though I laugh at most of them, they really kind of piss me off. They clog up my email for one thing, not to mention the thousands of other people that receive these. But I also have to remember that they are quite obviously trying to steal my money.

So, by now my curiosity has gotten the best of me. I have decided to make up a fake email address and am going to play along with one of them for a while. To be honest, I am a little nervous to try this. What if these are Nigerians, but are working out of South Africa or even Durban. What if they find out who I really am and I find myself at the mercy of the Nigerian mafia? All of this is not likely. But, like many other South Africans, I have a healthy fear of Nigerians (they are responsible for a lot of the violent crime here). Still, I think if I set it up right, there will be no way to trace it back to me. I'll set this up over the next few days, and let you know how it turns out. I have a feeling their email addresses dont even work, but we'll see.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Venezuela, Argentina, poor Bush, and of course, AIDS in Africa

Yesterday, the Venezualan army staged a mock invasion of its northernmost shores. Troops stormed the beaches in an effort to simulate what an invasion might seem like. Who might invade Venezuala? Well, the USA, of course. That's right, Venezuela staged a mock invasion to prepare for an invasion via Venezuela's Carribean shore. Their logic was that if we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan for their oil, why wouldnt we target Venezuela.

I find this just as humerous as I do disturbing. The thought of Hugo Chavez feeling so concerned that we might invade his South American country that he felt a need to simulate the invasion to prepare for it, is well, kind of funny. I think our government is often up to no good, but I seriously doubt we have any intention to invade any country in South America.

What really bothers me about this is that all of Venezuela seems to think this is a possibility. Sure, its ridiculous, but are we that poorly respected in the international community that a South American country would really believe we might invade their shores for oil? Apparently so. Seems like the mark of a low point for Bush and the US.

To make matters worse, Chavez and other South American celebrities organized a protest of Bush in Argentina. As Bush attended the Summit of the Americas, he seemed to trydesperately, and pretty pathetically to improve his and the US's reputation among South American countries. Apparently, thousands protested Bush's appearance at the summit. Bush weakly tried to find common ground by mentioning Argentinian basketball player Manu Ginobili, who plays for the Spurs. Was this supposed to make Bush and Argentina buddies? It seems kind of desperate to me. Like playing the name game with someone who doesnt like you very much to make ammends. I can only imagine Bush's internal logic:

"Well, they like this basketball player guy, this Ginobili. And he plays basketball in Amurca. And in Texs! Well, I'm from Texs, so, I think I'll mention this guy, yeah, that should smooth things right over, he's an abassadur, yeah, a baskebaul ambassadur..."

At this point, I kind of feel sorry for Bush. I never really liked him much, but his second term is going so badly that I almost feel bad for making fun of him. In all seriousness, the reasons its going bad arent really funny.

Despite all this, I will say that I dont think Bush is all bad. He has done som good things as president. One of which happens to be funding the antiretrovirals that we dispense every day at our clinic here in Durban. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is making a good, positive impact in Africa, and for that, I commend our poor president who is the most unpopular he has been in the past 6 years. As long asI am defending myself, I should also state that I really dont like Hugo Chavez, at all. Anyone who shakes the hand of Rober Mugabe is not to be respected in my book, no matter how much they dislike Bush.

Finally, I just read this about Bush and Chavez at the summit:

"Bush and an outspoken critic, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, also were likely to meet Friday, shortly after Chavez's speech to a demonstration of mostly anti-Bush protesters. Chavez has joked about whether Bush is afraid of him and said he might sneak up and scare Bush at the summit."

Now that would be hilarious to see. I cant even imagine what would happen if one president tried to scare another at a summit.

So, thats my Friday evening ramble. We're still without a car, so I dont have much better to do. Venezuela, Argentina, Bush, and always, back to Africa. Cant seem to leave that one alone.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Little Dogs

One of Kylie's friends saw our Hot Dog pictures and sent us this picture. Thought it was pretty clever, but not nearly as fun as our life size version.

Gaskets and Geography

Our 1991 Ford Sapphire has turned on us once again. We drove it to work Wednesday morning and it started smoking. The engine was piping hot. We let her cool off, and drove to the mechanic that we kind of trust. Apparently the water pump had broken and the car was overheating. No problem though, could be ready that afternoon. At least that was the story. But then they called back to tell us the head gasket had broken. I had no idea what that was either. A gasket is apparently any watertight seal in the car that keeps oil on one side, and water on the other. The head gasket surrounds the cylinders (where the gas is combusted) and has holes where tubes of oil and water run through the head block (see the exciting phot on the right). The water had stopped, and the engine overheated. This melted the gasket, and leaked oil into our water tank. Would take more money and a few days. Awesome.

Dan Johnson, if you are reading this, you should feel bad for selling us such a car for the price we paid.

Dan was the Fogarty Fellow before me. I naively bought his car from him before I arrived. I actually dont think he meant to sell me such a lemon, and his helpful advice so far has made it hard to ever be mad at him for this. Besides, I will likely sell this car to the next unsuspecting buyer for more than its worth, and the cycle of deception will continue.

So the result has been us being stuck at home with no car. Luckily there is lots within walking distance, and friends have offered rides to help. But I have spent way too much time with my computer lately. Obviously not all of it was spent updating the blog. I have been working a lot on my honor's thesis proposal. Its kind of the one thing I want to get done while I am here. Its an opportunity offered by my medical school and you graduate "with honors" if you complete the thesis. Its proving to be a lot of extra work, and I am just getting started. But I figure I am taking an extra year to do research, so I might as well get it done. Still, not fun to sit at home and synthesize a background all day when its your only choice for entertainment.

I also just discovered a new very cool website called Geography Zone. Its this great site that tests your knowledge of world countries. The cool part is that you compete with your country and it keeps a running average score for all the countries in the world. I must credit Nupe with telling me about it. He is a fantastic fellow nerd, and we have a lot in common (one thing being our oft mispronounced first names). Anyway, I have taken the Geography Challenge many times today, and its been hard trying to discern Turkministan from Kajikistan. The break up of the USSR must have wreaked havoc in the geoography world with the addition of 15 new countries, most of which end in -stan.

Well, this is not the most exciting entry I have posted. Gaskets, thesises, and geography. But my life hasnt been too exciting lately, so there you go. If things dont pick up, I'll just make something up here pretty soon.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Hutu rebels moved back into Rwanda

I found this article about UN soldiers forcing Rwandan Hutu rebels out of the Congo, back into Rwanda. Before I had seen the movie, Hotel Rwanda, I doubt I would have looked at this twice. But the movie made a permanent mark in my memory.

If you havent seen it, it depicts the slaughter of almost 1 million Rwandans. Tension between the two ethnic groups the Hutu and the Tutsi has been a problem in Rwanda for decades. But in 1994, they had been living relatively peacefully. Then, the Hutu decided to take over the government and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, often with machetes. This was all on the heels of the US military catastrophe in Mogadishu, Somalia (ever seen Black Hawk Down?) and the US and UN were reluctant to intervene. Close to a million Rwandans (almost all Tutsis) died before the genocide was stopped.

I hate admitting this, but I barely remember this happening. Its an endictment of our world, and of myself, that it took a major motion picture to bring this to my attention. Close to a million people, were murdered. More than double the Asian Tsunami, and these deaths were entirely preventable. I think of it as one of the darkest moments in human history. I am also reminded of Tom Cruise's character in Collateral. He is an assassin that justifies his murder by the fact that millions of Rwandans died in 1994, and barely anyone knew about. He is obviously wrong, but it makes a strong argument.

Anyway, after having seen the movie, this article made a lot more sense. The Hutu responsible for much of the genocide fled into the Congo (after being driven out by the Tutsi counter-rebellion) and continued to launch attacks in the area. But now the Congolese army and the UN are driving them back into Rwanda.

To me, this doesnt make too much sense. Wont they be likely to cause even more problems in Rwanda? I wonder how the Hutu government feels about this. I suppose its not really theo Congo's problem, and maybe its the right thing to do. But really, I suppose there is no way to get past the scars and deep sentiments that follow from something as awful as genocide.

Finally, I just realized I mentioned 3 movies here. Interesting what effect, both good and bad, can have on a person's perception of the world. And I highly reccommend 2 of the 3 aforementioned movies (dont see Collateral though).

The Life Aquatic

I have never seen a more sea friendly city than Durban. So much here revolves around the ocean. Its one thing I have noticed and really admired about this city. Let me explain.

One of the first mornings I went out to surf at North Beach (I had NO idea what I was doing back then...) I remember feeling kind of cool to be out in the ocean, 200 feet or so off the shore on my board. I was out past the break, ready to catch some waves. Then a gang of 13 year old girls paddled by me, giggling about some boy. I realized I wasnt the only one floating around that area of the ocean. Suddenly I felt a little less cool. These girls were all paddling on Malibus. A Malibu is kind of like a surfboard-boat. Its long and shaped like a board, but you kneel on it, and really made for lifesaving. You can catch waves on it, but its really for fitness. Its very common for sea-friendly families to grow up training on a Malibu. There were about 20-30 girls, all training together, paddling parallell to the shore.

A while later, I noticed a group of heads swimming over and through the waves toward me. These people didnt even have a board, they were out past the break, simply going for a swim. When they got close to me, I realized they were all in their 60's. Suddenly, I felt a lot less cool.

Regardless, I am really amazed at how ocean oriented Durbanites are. They come to the ocean on long boards, short boards, body boards, Malibus, wave kayaks, fishing kayaks, sea kayaks, and of course, with just themselves. Its normal to me now to find myself surrounded by 20-30 surfers, a fleet of Malibu kids, some elderly swimmers, and the occasional dolphin when I head out to surf in the morning. Many times, I see the same kids getting dressed for school in the parking lot, with mothers or fathers either waiting, or changing out of a swimsuit themselves. And all this is usually well before 7 am. Except when they get in my way, its kind of cool to see all these people enjoying the sea so early in the morning. Kind of makes me wish I had grown up near the water. But I am near it now, and doing my best to be in the ocean as many days as weather and work will allow.