Saturday, December 31, 2005

My trip to the Creation Evidence Museum

I have been making the drive out to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose to do some mountaint biking. The place is famous for its giant dinosaur tracks, but it also has an extensive mountain bike trail system and has some of the best trails in Texas.

About 2 minutes away from the park, is the Creation Evidence Museum. I passed it, and immediately turned around to go have a look. What I found inside must be one of the most preposterous examples of pseudoscience in Texas.

The museum clings strongly to the notion that the earth was created in only 6 days and is no more than 6,000 years old. I watched a video by the museum's director, Dr. Carl Edward Baugh. He described how God first created something out of nothing when he created the heavens and the earth. He stated that only an omnipotent and all knowing being could perform such a feat. This actually made some sort of sense to me. It was about the only thing that did.

He then went on to explain that all the land and earth that is present today is was formed immediately. He cited evidence of this by mentioning some unstable radioactive isotope with a very short half life. He failed to explain why this isotope supported the immediate appearance of land in any way. He seemed to just be using scientific terms that lay people wont understand, and likely wont question.

As the presentation went on, the claims grew more and more ridiculous. By far, the most preposterous claim was that Noah's flood did indeed occur. He explained that Noah somehow collected ALL the creatures of the earth, and put them on an arc to survive the flood. As you might imagine, this would be completely and totally impossible. Apparently, the flood also had some major effects on the earth's atmosphere. There was apparently a crystaline barrier that surrounded the earth pre-flood that helped retain electromagnetic energy from the sun. This somehow allowed for humans to grow to very large sizes. I dont understand how this factors into their theory at all, but I was stunned that they even made this claim. They attempted to support this claim scientifically by building a "Hyperbaric Biosphere" that was meant to simulate the earth's environment pre-flood. They then claimed that this atmosphere supposedly detoxified snake venom and had some very poor evidence backing this claim.

At this point, I was completely shocked. I could not believe that people actually believed wholeheartedly in science that was so clearly fallable. It seemed to even stray from the wholesomeness of the Bible, and into something akin to witchcraft. I wanted to ask the people in the room next to me if they could believe this crap. But they seemed to swallow it whole, and shook their heads in agreement everytime Dr. Baugh made another claim. After the video tour, I took some pictures, and decided the place was entirely to creepy for me. Luckily, I made it out of there unbrainwashed.

Despite complete lack of any scientific or even rational thinking in this museum, I do understand why it exists. Christianity was born in a time when we knew very little about our natural world. Indeed, dinosaurs had not been discovered, they had no concept of the atom, of biology, evolution, much less something like relativity or quantum mechanics. Just as clear evidence to the contrary squashed the theology of the greek gods (Zeus, Apollo, etc), the theory of evolution is in a dangerous position to completely debunk the theory of creation. Then we may begin to question the validity of Christianity itself. How can we believe in only some parts of God's word? This would leave millions of people with the notion that perhaps there is no God, and that there isnt some all knowing being that loves and cares for them uncondiotionally. Thats a pretty disheartening idea to get used to for many. So, I see why there exists this small and allbeit ridiculous movement to combat evolutionary theory with creationism. Sometimes I wish I hadnt ever discovered evolution so that I could still believe wholeheartedly in the Bible. It was a nice, comforting feeling to have complete confidence in your fate after death.

Anyway, I could write and talk about this topic for hours, and have many times. But, I just wanted to share this brief experience with anyone who is willing to read.


So everyone got an iPod for Christmas and they have suddenly been introduced to the world of downloading music. Perhaps you have been augmenting your digital music collection since the days of Napster, or just began paying 99 cents per song on iTunes. Either way, I thought I would publicly incriminate myself and share with the world how I have been gathering mp3's for the past few years.

The big secret is a program called eMule. Its a totally free shareware program that is great for downloading most anything you can think of. I use it primarily to download entire albums of music. But you can also access great programs and software that is typically overpriced in any computer store. It takes a small amount of computer savvy to get it to working for you properly, but most people who know just a little about computers can probably handle it.

eMule can be downloaded here, just click on the installer, pick a mirror, download the program to your desktop, and run it. Follow their directions and you can be downloading music in no time.

The great thing about eMule is that unlike Napster or other fire sharing software, you can interrupt a download. You essentially download little bits and pieces of a file from many different people. If you download a large file, you may get pieces of it from different computers all over the world. It typically takes a day or two to download a whole album, but its really nice to have albums in their entirity.

eMule also likely has a lot of files and music that iTunes does not have. I've found some amazing bootlegs, recordings of concerts, and even discovered new artists and albums with it.

You'll probably also need a decrompression program to access some of the goods. Many of the files (especially whole albums) come in .zip's or .rar's. Most Windows users can access .zip's, but cannot open .rar's. There are dozens of programs, but I use Unzip them all. Its also pretty user friendly. Once you get eMule up and running, I also reccommend only searching archives if you want to download albums (just change the Type of file you are searching for under the search bar).

Finally, I should say that I know stealing music is wrong. I am a pretty ethical guy, except when it comes to this. But its just so damn easy, convenient, and cheap. Despite the admission that I am essentially committing a crime, I will likely keep downloading music as long as I can. At least until I make enough money to buy CD's in an actual store.

Feel free to contact me with any questions. That is of course, unless you work for the FBI or the FCC, in which case, this is all a joke and simply a poorly executed publicity stunt. I dont really even know what an mp3 is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Old Friends

Have been spending a lot of time with my old high school friends since I have been home. I feel very lucky to have such close friends from high school that I am still in good contact with. A few of my best friends date back to kindergarten, even birth in one case. They are a fascinating group of guys, and I truly think we are at our best when we are all together.

We recently were talking about the best concerts we had been to. We all had stories, but one of my friends told us one that topped them all. He was the musician in the group, and I was curious to know what his best musical experience was. He told us about a time that he opened for Buddy Guy at Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth. He played drums with another friend, just the two of them playing the blues. Just two guys on stage: an acoustic guitar, a mic, and a basic drum set up. They played in front of a sold out crowd. Then they met Buddy Guy just before he went on stage to play an amazing concert. It was such a cool story that I felt the need to share it with whoever happen to be reading.

Anyway, I hope everyone else is having as much fun sharing Christmas with family and old friends.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Things you learn from uncles...

Apparently "heavier" wines like a cabernet sauvignon and a malbec are best let to age for 5-10 years before drinking. I gave my aunt and uncle a South African cabernet from 2000 and my uncle told me it would be best when I finish residency. At the rate I am going, they may no longer be around by the time I finish residency. Though, I hope for their sake, and mine, that they are. Anyway, lighter wines like a pinot noir and a shiraz do not need to be aged as long. The things you learn from uncles over Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2005


This looks to me like the lamest New Year's Eve party imaginable. I hate Dallas. I can't even imagine the people who get pumped about a party like this.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Via New York

It was a LONG journey back home, but I have finally made it back to Fort Worth. Flew from Durban to Johannesburg to Paris to New York to Fort Worth. Slept the whole way to Paris, watched 3 movies on the way to New York (Wedding Crashers, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Crash). Stayed with my good friend, Matt O'brien in NYC.

The transit strike was kind of a huge pain in the arse. Cost $60-70 to get between JFK and Manhattan. We almost couldnt find a cab willing to take us out of the city to JFK and ALL the car services were booked. Ended up spending lots of cash on taxis, but made it out of the city with time to spare. As annoying as it was for me, I am sure this strike is a HUGE problem for almost all New Yorkers. People walking to work in cold, cold weather, awful traffic, and million dollar fines for the transit authority. Big problem, but one we dont really have to worry 'bout hur in TEXAS.

Well, I actually have lots more to write about, Africa-related and otherwise. Am planning posting a lot over the next few weeks. Regardless, its great to be home for Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sale Kahle

We are heading home for Christmas. Will keep posting while I am home, but not likely to hear much from me while I am in the air between here, Paris, New York, Fort Worth, etc.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Schwarzenegger's statement

Below is an excerpt from Govenor Scwarzenagger's statement denying Stanley "Tookie" Williams clemency. If you haven't read the whole thing, I would recommend doing so.

"The dedication of Williams' book "Life in Prison" casts significant doubt on his personal redemption. This book was published in 1998, several years after Williams' claimed redemptive experience. Specifically, the book is dedicated to 'Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard Peltier, Dhoruba Al-Mujahid, George Jackson, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the countless other men, women, and youths who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars.' The mix of individuals on this list is curious. Most have violent pasts and some have been convicted of committing heinous murders, including the killing of law enforcement."

In case you havent read all of Schwarzenegger's statement, you should know that the dedication of his book is not at all the only reason he decided to proceed with the execution. That being said, this comment has obviously stirred up some controversy over here in South Africa.

This particular comment had South Africans accusing Schwarzenegger of calling Mandela a terrorist. I find this interesting, because really, he was a terrorist. The definition of a terrorist is one that participates in the "unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons." Now, dont get me wrong, I love Mandela as much as anyone. I believe that his efforts to end apartheid, both violent and non-violent, are to be celbrated. But no one can deny that he was a terrorist.

Now, was Schwarzenegger wrong for claiming that Williams had not reformed because he dedicated his book to people like Malcom X or Mandela? Probably so. However, I see his point on the inclusion of George Jackson.

Still, I think its more apalling that Williams seems to associate himself with these historical figures because they have both served time behind bars. Lets not forget that Williams killed 4 innocent people, essentially for fun. He murdered an entire family, and then made jokes about it afterwards. Sure, Mandela's actions may have resulted in death, but his actions were more than justified at the time.

Whether you believe in the death penalty or not, conclusive evidence has shown that Williams murdered 4 people in cold blood, and never even apologized for his actions. He was tried fairly, and sentanced to death. Its hard for me to say, but I dont think I would have granted Williams clemency either. Am I becoming more conservative?

Friday, December 16, 2005

The day they vowed reconcilliation

So today is a national holiday in South Africa. I spent a few hours doing some work at CAPRISA and the place was totally empty. Everyone was off but me. Offcially, today is called "Day of Reconcilliation," though this is not the original title...

So way back in 1838, the Afrikaner settlers headed out into the wilderness of South Africa in search of supposedly unoccupied land. The Afrikaners were originally of Dutch descent and were a rather close knit bunch of folks who liked to travel in covered wagons. They were big into farming, voertrekking, and God. As they headed east across what is now KwaZulu-Natal, they encountered some angry Zulus. Back then, the Zulus and the Afrikaners didnt get along too well. And well, they dont really get along very well today.

Anyway, on December 16, 1938, about 400 Afrikaners found themselves surrounded by over 10,000 Zulus armed with spears and a bad temper. Things weren't looking too good for the heavily outnumbered white folks. So they looked to God for divine intervention. They made a pact that if they survived this day, they would build a church and commemorate the day for years to come.

While the Afrikaners were heavily outnumbered, they did have plenty of rifles and a whole lot of bullets. Tragically, over 3,000 Zulus died this day. Their spears and ferocious warfare were no match for the Afrikaner rifles. Not one Afrikaner lost their life and the battle was known as the Battle of Blood River. December 16 was remembered each year as "Day of the Vow."

This day was celebrated as such until the end of apartheid in 1994. Once the new government took over, they changed the name to Day of Reconciliation in an effort to foster peace and understanding between the two groups. Many of the Afrikaners were not too happy about this change, but have since conceeded to the more politically correct name.

I can kind of see both sides to this. Afrikaners are very proud of their heritage and the Day of the Vow is an important, if gruesome day in their history. I imagine they believed God got them out of that mess, and that they should pay homage. However, its doesnt exactly unify a multiracial country when you celebrate annually the slaughter of one ethnic group by another. Just one of the many, many confusing, conflicting dillemmas that make up South Africa's diverse past.

To be honest, I dont think many South Africans really considered all this historical tension very much. I think they were too busy making the most of a long weekend. They beaches were absolutely packed. I checked the surf report today to find this picture of one of my favorite surf spots completely taken over by beach goers. I have never seen the beaches like this.

So what did this day mean for me? Not much. I celebrated by coming home from work early, sitting on my comfortable purple couch and watching the movie Willow while sipping cold apple juice. It was actually quite nice, though Willow is really not as excellent a movie as you might recall.

Regardless, Happy day of reconcilliation from South Africa!

Thursday, December 15, 2005


About a month ago, one of the HIV counselors at the clinic asked me to see a patient he had been talking with. The patient had just tested positive for HIV, and had come to our clinic with her mother because she heard we could treat AIDS.

I walked in the room to see a young, frail girl sitting in a wheelchair. She looked very weak and tired. A colorful Zulu blanket covered her legs. Her limbs were so emaciated and thin, you wondered how she moved her arms without breaking them. She could not stand and was barely able to hold her head up. Even her tears were meager, small streams of saline trickling down the saddened contours of a sunken face.

Lindiwe Zama* was 25 years old and had been struggling with full blown AIDS since the birth of her second child several months ago. Her illness began with mild headaches that gradually worsened into overwhelming migraines that eventually kept her in bed most of the day. After weeks of unrelenting pain, she and her mother went to King Edward Hospital (the teaching hospital here at the medical school). Her headaches were easily explained by a tuberculosis infection that had been growing in the fluid that surrounded her brain. A CT scan and a spinal tap confirmed the diagnosis. TB meningitis was a clear indicator that she had AIDS and needed antiretroviral (ARV) therapy. For reasons I don’t understand, she was not started on ARV's at this time.

She was started on the 6 months of TB therapy needed to cure her very dangerous infection. After a month of therapy in the hospital, she was sent home to continue the medications. After a few weeks of being at home, she began to develop severe nausea, and diarrhea. She dealt daily with excruciating stomach cramps, vomiting, and incapacitating weakness. In this time, she lost about 25 lbs off her already thin frame. She could not keep down any food, and thus, could no longer take the daily medication she had been prescribed for her meningitis.

Over the next few months, Lindiwe became so dehydrated that he was brought into a local hospital to receive IV re-hydration. She would show up to Addington Hospital (a local hospital that I wouldnt send my worst enemy to) much too weak to answer questions. They would start an IV on her, get her stabilized, and send her right back home again. For several weeks, she bounced back and forth between her home and various Durban hospitals. Its amazing she survivded all this. She and her mother had no idea know what to do. Every time she came back from the hospital, she would get sick again, and need to go right back. Somewhere along the way, she also picked up a dangerous viral eye infection that blinded her in one eye (CMV retinitis to all you medical students). As if that wasn’t enough, her newborn child had contracted HIV from Lindiwe at birth, and was now involved in his own fight to stay alive. Currently, the baby has advanced AIDS and TB, and will likely not live beyond the age of 2.

Lindiwe lives in a 3 bedroom house with 6 adults and 7 children (aged 5 months to 11 years). She lives in a township called Folweni. A township is essentially a large, very densely populated urban area where only black South Africans live. Most whites, including myself, will not even drive through one alone. This family lives off of about $120 a month, all coming from the grandmother’s pension check. None are currently employed. Lindiwe previously worked at a factory where she earned some money, but she was forced to quit when she had her second child and the headaches began. The father of her children works as a mechanic, but does not help financially with the children. He is likely the one who gave HIV to Lindiwe and her daughter, but has not been tested himself.

As I sat and listened to Lindiwe’s story, I knew she would soon die if something wasn’t done for her quickly. She was receiving occasional supportive care from local hospitals, but no one was starting her on the antiretrovirals she needed to get her healthy again. I also knew that no one would. Lindiwe was much too ill to start ARVs in our outpatient clinic. At this stage of AIDS, ARV’s can kill a patient if they are not managed daily by a skilled clinician. Besides that, I knew she might die from dehydration and malnutrition before she could even be started on therapy.

Lindiwe needed careful management by a skilled AIDS clinician. I only knew of one such clinician in Durban. Dr. Yunis Moosa, a doctor I had written about previously, was the only one I believed had the knowledge to help her. With the help of another clinician, we called the very busy doctor who happily agreed to see Lindiwe. Within a day or so, she was admitted to King Edward Hospital, and was being followed by the infectious disease team. I knew Lindiwe didn’t have a very good chance of seeing her 26th birthday. But I also knew Dr. Moosa was about the only clinician in Durban that would at least give her that chance.

For the past month, Lindiwe has sat in a hospital bed on the 5th floor of King Edward Hospital. Everyday, Dr. Moosa and his team have rounded on her. She is being treated for the TB that has now spread to her abdomen and is receiving weekly injections into her eye for the viral infection that she acquired. She inevitably has bouts of diarrhea and dehydration, for which she receives IV fluids until she feels better. She recives three meals and is on several multivitamins.

Today, she starts antiretroviral therapy in a safe controlled environment. However, I write this with guarded optimism. Lindiwe has advanced AIDS with multiple opportunistic infections. Her CD4 count was 2 (a normal is about 1200, you start ARV’s at 200). While ARV’s are her only hope, they may also be what kill her. When you suddenly bring a patient’s immune system back to life, it can try to attack the many viruses and bacteria that have been growing there. This massive immune response has killed many patients in Lindiwe’s situation. It’s a risk, but one that must be taken.

Lindiwe is the patient that we stole the cell phone for on the bus back from Coffee Bay. We go in and visit her a few times a week, just to say hello and take a look at her chart. Because she is essentially trapped in the hospital with no TV, books, etc, we occasionally bring her magazines and books. It’s the very least we can do for someone who doesn’t deserve any of what she has experienced.

Lindiwe’s case brings up a lot of issues about HIV in Africa. From the way she was infected, to the financial situation at home, to her son that is dying of AIDS himself. It’s hard for me to understand why she was never even offered ARV’s when each hospital she attended offered them. I have no doubt that had we not fought to get her into see Dr. Moosa, she would have died without ever starting ARV’s. She may still die anyway, but at least she was given the chance of survival.

It’s hard to imagine, but Lindiwe is literally one of the millions of patients who need, but cannot access AIDS medication. She actually was lucky to be in South Africa, and even luckier to get in to see Dr. Moosa. Patients in other parts of Africa don’t even have the option of ARV therapy, and live in much worse conditions, miles from any hospital. So if I leave here with no published paper, no abstract, no honors thesis, I know I at least helped to provide one patient among millions, a small chance to someday resume a normal healthy life. Its not exactly something you can put on your resume, but people like Lindiwe kind of make things like papers and resumes seem trite and pointless.

*name was changed to maintain patient confidentiality.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Death penalty and humanity

Does it seem wierd to anyone that the traditional conservative stance is to oppose abortion, oppose medically supervised suicide (i.e. desperately trying to keep brain dead Floridians alive) and generally fostering a "culture of life" as Bush puts it, yet they will execute people with little disgression? I am not asking this in an accusatory sense, it just seems contradictory. You would think that those who want to maintain this culuture of life would oppose the death penalty. Seems kind of dumb to me, but then again, I am pretty liberal. I think...

This all makes me wonder about the fundamental differences in the left and the right. Is there any central philospophy that guides either one? If so, its a loose association. What is the central ethos behind a conservative philosophy, a liberal one?

If I had an ethos, this would be it: I think there are way too many people in the world. We have overpopulated and are thoroughly destroying our planet, as well as our own sense of humanity. Because we are so populated, disease, famine and poverty, have made life miserable for millions. Thus, I am guided by the principle that we should maximize the number of happy, safe, comfortable lives that can be maintained on our planet. Currently, we are not doing a very good job. So I say, why bring unwanted children into the world? Why force people who would rather die, to live a hell on earth, and stay alive. Why waste millions of dollars on keeping prisoners alive who have raped, murdered, and cannot be reformed? Lets focus our efforts on the people that want to live peacefully within society, but cant find a job or lack basic healthcare. How many villages could have been fed on Terri Schiavo's hospital bill for the past 20 years?

Actually, I dont know if all that is true. Again, I am "trying on" an argument to see if it really holds water. Funny how most of them dont, especially if Blake is your friend. But what a better way to find out that a central philosophy is flawed than to post in on your blog for all you smart people to read and criticize!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How am I doing?

I am excited to go home for a bit and see my family. Really excited to see some high school friends in Fort Worth, and hoping to see some medical school friends along the way. Will also hopefully make a trip to Dallas to see friends from college. I miss all these great people that have come into my fragmented life. Also excited about the many presents we have collected for people over the past few months.

I am terrified because I still dont know what residency to apply for. I debate everyday about staying in line with my current effort to save the world and do some aspect of medicine/international health/research, or to go out on a limb and pursue some surgical subspecialty (ortho? trauma?). I took a whole extra year off and still dont know. I am the most indecisive person alive. Will write more, perhaps much more, about this later.

I am frustrated because my job basically has been to track down missing data. CAPISA is a poorly run, disorganized nightmare of a place to work. I am constantly having to look for data that someone else has lost, forgotten about, failed to write down, etc. I havent seen any of my supposed mentors or supervisors in weeks, and most wont respond to my emails because they are too busy not helping me. This is a really, really annoying place to work and I no longer have any reservations about making this fact known to anyone who will listen.

I am encouraged by people like Dr. Watts at UTMB who have spent a lifetime doing research in the developing world, and understand how frustrating it can be.

I am thankful of the statisticians (who I have learned are the only people here that know what the hell is going on) for their help and support.

I am pumped because I had a great morning of surfing. Surfed North Beach with 3-6 foot waves in glassy, smooth water. Managed to catch waves despite the crowds and had a great left all the way in. Still working out those backhand rights.

I am confused because this patient in the hospital just wont get any better. She has days where she is happy and excited, and days where she can barely hold her head up. When I last saw her, she was considering a trip down the stairs and outside (would be her first time in weeks). But I brought her a newspaper and a magazine yesterday and she was too weak to hold them up or even read. I worry what will happen to her while I am away for Christmas.

Finally, I am happy that Kylie had a good birthday and that we have had so much fun here so far. Despite the pressure, the confusion, the frustration, we have the unique opportunity to live in another world for a year and enjoy all the amazing things around us. In ten years, hopefully I wont remember the bad things, and will instead focus on the many great things that have happened and have yet to happen.

The weekend

Kylie's birthday was Sunday and we decided that since we were going home so soon, we'd stick around Durban and do some of the things we had never been able to do so far. First, we tried to go out with the Natal Shark's Board. They maintain the shark nets that keep us safe from jaws everymorning and they offer boat trips to go out and maintain the nets. We took their boat through Durban's enormous bay and out through the harbor mouth. There we encountered some pretty large, choppy waves and were forced to turn around. No sharks, but it was really cool to see the ocean so big and choppy.

We were back early, but this was a good thing as we got to have one last breakfast with our friend Nupe who was sadly heading back to the states that afternoon.

Sunday, we finally made it out to Ushaka Marine world. This is a huge new water park very near the harbor mouth. Its one of those places you really have to go to at some point while you are in Durban, no matter how much you hate crowds and parks.

I was a little reluctant to take Kylie here on her birthday. Might have worked if she were 7 years old as opposed to 27. But it turned out to be great. We rode waterslides for a few hours. We stood in line with other 7 year olds and it made us act like kids again. We did about every slide they had, and then did our favorite ones a few times. I really love waterslides, always have.
We dried off and headed across the park to the aquarium. I wasnt expecting much, but it was really amazing. A huge aquarium with ceiling to floor viewing windows. They had several sharks, some rays the size of a cow, glowing jellyfish, old sea turtles, and even a Finding Nemo tank with all the characters. We spent a long time at the aquarium staring and laughing at the fish.

We finally made it home in time for pizza and barely stayed awake to watch the Endless Summer, a classic surfing movie that even showcases some of Durban's great waves.

All in all it was a great day, and hopefully a great birthday for Kylie.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Waste some time this festive season

This is a great site to make your own Snowman. Well worth it if you feel like wasting 10 - 45 minutes.

And speaking of wasting time...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Lost and found

Kylie and I had gone to South Beach for an early morning surfing session. This beach is a little more timid when the surf is raging. It was a beautiful day with some nice waves. We went through the now well rehersed routine of stripping off the wetsuits, drying off, and loading up the boards. This was the morning of the big swell that struck Durban in early November, so we drove down the Marine Parade to watch the surfers and big waves.

We finally made it back to the house a few hours later. We were unloading the boards and wetsuits when we realized we had left Kylie's wetsuit at South Beach. This was a big loss as we had just bought her wetsuit only a month or two ago, and wetsuits arent exactly cheap. We had to go back and at least look, but we had a feeling the wetsuit was long gone. We had been away for about 2 hours, so we figured it was already sold to a pawn shop.

We pulled up to the beach to have a look, and sure enough, there was no wetsuit to be found. We were about to get into the car when the car park attendant hollared said "Hay Siss, you leave a swim suit and towel here. Yes, I knew dat was you..." He had found the wetsuit and hid it in one of the buildings nearbye.

I should note that car park attendants are somewhat novel to South Africa. Because of the constant threat of car theft, they watch over your car while its parked. They often poor men, just happy to have a paying job. Sometimes, their only income is the few Rands you hand them as a tip as you leave the lot.

Well, this car park attendant earned himself a hefty tip on this day. We were so happy to discover that the wetsuit hadnt been lifted. This obviously happened a few weeks ago, but I wanted to go back and right about for a few reasons. First, it was an incident that restored our faith in this city that is often notorious for its crime rate. Second, I wrote about this very beach, how a possibly drunk, very sketchy guy offered to wash our car. Finally, I thought it kind of tied into the recent post about finding the cell phone. Regardless, we were pumped to have the wetsuit, and the car park guy was also pretty excited to get a nice tip. That day, everybody won.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lots of working, lots of surfing, less sleeping

These two things have taken up most of my time the past 2 weeks. Have been working hard to get a lot of things in order for this research project before I go home. Lots and lots of frustrations, difficulties, and periods where I sit and the computer and try to think of what to do next. The good news is that I officially sent in my Honors Thesis proposal today (am going to use my research project here for a thesis) and am learning a lot about how data can be managed, sorted, and analyzed. Also just learning about how much work and effort goes into even a simple chart review. So I'm making progress, though most of the time it doesnt really feel like it.

But we've also found time to surf a lot lately. The waves have been small, but fun. Plus, there have been some beautiful mornings with calm water and sunny skies. This should all change tomorrow morning as monster swell is expcted to build over night from a powerful storm off the coast. May opt for the smaller breaks tomorrow as 10 foot waves may once again be possible in my usual surf spot. Will definately take the camera and grab some pictures if anything interesting happens.

And all this adds up to a very, very tired Cully. Its 10 pm and I can barely keep my eyes open. Time for bed!

Zuma now officially charged with rape

I had written a little about Jacob Zuma, the former vice-president of South Africa and his recent endictment in relation to a bribe and a potentially corrupt arms deal. That was really bad news for Zuma, as well as the ANC, the ruling part in South Africa.

But this blows it out of the water. Just yesteday, Zuma was officially charged with raping a family friend in Johannesburg. He has now stepped down as the Vice-president of the ANC and will likely focus his efforts full time on his two pending court cases. This is an even bigger blow to Zuma and the ANC. Plus, its essentially career ending for Zuma. In combatting his corruption charges, he still had some financial support to pay for court fees, many of those supporters have now backed out once he was charged with rape.

What really gets me though, is that he is still immensly popular in South Africa. I saw a news channel here interviewing various South Africans. They seemed to support Zuma in his recent charge, and suggested they would continue to support him regardless of the out come. To me this seems ludicrous. But, then again, I stood by Clinton even as he was impeached.

Anyway, this is the major news in South Africa. I am sure the shooting of a passenger on the Jetway in Miami is making headlines in the states, but Zuma and his trial is in the center ring in South Africa.


I wanted to say thanks to people who leave comments here. Whether positive or negative, it at least lets me know that people are still interested in what I am up to and what I have to say. To be honest, I kind of slowed down the posting for a few weeks because I wondered if I was writing for an audience of one. So it was good to hear from some people recently. Keeps me motivated to write everyday. I suppose my motivation should just be to record my thoughts and document what happens here, but that seems a little egotistical eh? Regardless, its great to hear what you guys have to say and it really does keep me writing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Long-winded moral dillemma

So we were on a night bus heading back from Coffee Bay. We were a small group of only 3 umlungu's (Zulu for "white person") on a double decker Greyhound. People are getting on and off periodically and the lights go on and off at every stop. About half way through the journey, a cell phone in the seat next to us begins to ring. And not just once. Someone is calling the cell phone EVERY MINUTE. Someone had been sitting there previously, but we dont know where they went. We try to ignore the phone, but it continues to ring and ring and ring. We look for the missing passenger to tell him that his phone is left behind, but he is no where to be found. Finally, after another 20 minutes of incessant annoying cell phone noise, I get up to turn the thing off.

Now, we can sleep. We doze for the rest of the trip and none of us wake up until we are about 20 minutes outside Durban. I notice that the cell phone is still sitting on the bus seat. Then it hits me. Someone had accidentlally left their phone on the bus at one of the earlier stops. It was the owner that was apparently calling non-stop. He was hoping another passenger would pick up. It seems like an odd way to get your cell phone back as I wasnt about to answer the ringing phone. But I suppose it was the owner's only hope.

So my first thought is to turn the phone back on and simply call the number that had been calling the phone and tell the owner what had happened. But, like most phones in SA, it asks for a PIN number before switching the phone back on. Essentially, unless you replace the SIM card inside the phone (which only cost about $3), the phone is locked.

So we find oursleves faced with a moral dillema. There is a nice, fairly new Nokia cell phone sitting on the seat next to us. Its clearly been left by a passenger, but there really is no way to contact the passenger or even find out who they are. If we could, we would but there really was no way to identify this person. If we leave it on the seat, it will inevitably go into some nationwide lost cell phone box and the chances of it ever going back to the owner are slim. Likely, the bus driver or cleaning crew will simply pocket the phone as they too know it will never be returned to the owner.

So what do you do? You could leave it there, and hope for the best. Turn the phone into the bus driver. You could keep the phone, pop in your SIM card, and replace totally outdated piece of crap phone you have now. To me, these were the only options, and I was just going to leave the phone there.

Luckily though, Kylie and another girl, Kate from California, had a better idea. Grab the phone, buy a new SIM card and charger for about $10, and give the whole package to a deserving party. Perhaps a sick AIDS patient at the clinic. Kind of like a Robin Hood plan. I wanst convinced that this was the best idea, but it seemed better than leaving it for the bus driver. So I committed my first act of theft in South Africa. When no one was looking, I slid the phone into my bag. No one noticed.

It turned out to be a great idea. After making sure the phone worked and replacing the SIM card and charger, I brought the phone to one of our referred patients in the hospital. She had been stuck in the medical ward for 2 weeks with no books, magazines, or any way to contact her family. I knew she had no cell phone because I took her history and referred her. This is a girl who has been sitting on a hospital bed with diarrhea, CMV retinitis, TB throughout her abdomen, and had about a 50/50 chance of leaving the hospital alive. Yet, she seemed a very kind and honest girl, well deserving of someway to contact her family while in the hospital.

I went to visit her today, and brought her the phone. She was elated. I really thought she was going to cry right there. I was almost embarrassed. I was happy, she was happy. The only person to lose here was the poor guy who left his phone on the bus. I have to commend Kylie for thinking outside of the box on this one and coming up with a good idea.

This patient was one of the first AIDS patients I interviewed and took a thorough history on, as I mentioned I would do on this blog previously. She has a really amazing story, but is not out of the woods yet (still in the hospital and not. I will write more about her, but will be sure to link back to this post when I do.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Slacking, but not really

So the blog updates have been a little sparse. I apologize. It happens to everyone. Below are some hopefully entertaining pictures and stories from a recent trip to the Eastern Cape that I hope will placate my audience for the time being.

I can say that I was slightly busy writing with my Nigerian email friend. I made up a fake email address and responded to one of those obviously fraudulent emails about some wealthy relative of mine that died with millions in the bank. There is always a greedy Nigerian at the other end trying to take some poor sap's money. I emailed a lot with someone claiming to be a "Barrister" from Nigeria, while I posed as a regular Texan willing to cooperate with the supposed lawyer. He sent me some obviously fake documents that I posted earlier. He also kept asking for my phone number. I wasnt about to give him my real number, so I looked up a Walmart in Houston and told him to call me at 8 pm (which was 2 am his time). Needless to say, he wasnt very happy when he found out my alter ego didnt really work there. We have since ceased communication.

But instead of blowing my cover and berrating him for trying to steal American's money, I asked him to please stop sending emails and damaging the name of his struggling country. I told him to use his apparent knowledge of emails to start a business or to help somone. That was the right thing to do, right? He didnt seem to think so.

I thought I was really clever until I discovered a whole cohort of folks dedicated to scamming the scammers. Their main site is and its actually pretty interesting. Gets into the questionable ethics of re-scamming the poor Nigerians who have no other way of making a living except via fraudulent emails. Anyway, I could never live up to these guy's genius, so I likely wont be responding to anymore Nigerian email scams. Probably.

But to be honest, work at the clinic has taken up a lot of time and energy lately. I suppose that is fitting since that is WHY I AM HERE... Have been desperatly getting all the data together, finishing up a thesis proposal, and counting the ways in which CAPRISA is a total disaster of an organization. But that is another story....

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Coffee Bay

Last weekend we made the long journey to the Eastern Cape from Durban. The Eastern Cape is the province next to KwaZulu-Natal. Its considerably less devloped than the reas of South Africa. During apartheid, it was essentially a dumping ground where the government moved and forced black South Africans to live. It certainly feels different as you drive through the country side. Its a much more rural, agrarian South Africa where people really depend on the land to get them by. This type of society, which depends largely on local subsistence farming, obviously has its drawbacks when compared to a more industrialized alternative, as evidenced by recent famine in Malawi. South Africa for the most part, is much more developed than the rest of Africa. Most of its citizens have power, you can drink the tap water, and the government's efforts to improve the quality of life of its people is present on many levels. But a lot of this is lacking in the Eastern Cape. Most all of the traditional Xhosa homes (which are round, one roomed, mud walled huts with a reed thatched roof) do not have electricity. Its the only place in South Africa where its unsafe to drink the water.

But the Eastern Cape (also known as the Transkei) also has some amazing countryside, beautiful secluded beaches, and fascinating culture. And to be honest, when your job is to work among the world's most ill and destitute AIDS patients everyday, sometimes you need to get away and realize that life can be happy and fun and wonderful.

So we hopped on a bus and took the 5 hour ride to Coffee Bay. We stayed at one of the best hostels in South Africa, the Coffee Shack. This is a hostel that attracts a really great crowd. A fine mix of South Africans escaping Johannesburg, a handful American do-gooders (that is where we fit in, I suppose), the requisite crowd of rowdy Dutch guys, and even the odd Spaniard or two. The Coffee Shack was a stone's throw from the water, and a short walk to a protected bay with some nice beach break. It was paradise with lots of cool people to share it with. But the ebst thing abotu the place was the way they really worked to support the local community. They employed a lot of the local villagers and set up a charity to fund one of the schools nearby. Very respectful but fun environment.

Most nights we spent playing pool, poker (we play a lot of Texas Hold'em these days), talking, hanging out at the bar. Nights went late, often until 2 or 3 am. Then we'd crawl out of bed as early as tolerable and head over to the beach to surf. We toted the longboard and wetsuits all the way from Durban, and it was fun to catch the gentle beach break of Coffee Bay. By the afternoon, we usually needed a nap. I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking....

This is Coffee Bay. A wide beach with some rocks in the foreground. There was a nice beach break that can be seen here, and a point break that was a little too rocky and shallow for my taste. I actually snapped a fin off at one point on a large floating log that had floated out of the river mouth. Note: surfboards work just fine with two fins (I didnt even know it was gone...)

The very small, but always accomodating bar and pool room.

Here, Kylie plays a hand of Rummy amidst 12 foot tall Amstel bottles.

I had to put this one up of our Durban friends playing card games with the National Library of Medicine cards that were given to all the Fogarty Fellows during our 2 weeks of training at the NIH (previously refered to as "nerd camp"). These are the nerdiest cards imaginable. Yet, they somehow found their way into being licked and applied to the side of this guy's face. I dont think this is what they had in mind when the NIH gave us this deck.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. Essentially, it’s a day to promote awareness of the global pandemic. There are candlelight vigils, lots of linked hand ceremonies, and everyone is supposed to wear the red AIDS ribbon.

It seems like a great idea in theory. A whole day for the world to at least think about AIDS more often and how it is impacting humanity. I believe awareness of the situation in Africa is indeed one of the only ways we can even begin to make an impact in this epidemic. But living in South Africa, where the number of HIV positive individuals soared to over six million this year, it seems kind of futile. I think about the hospital full of sick, dying patients in the medical wards not 100 meters from where I type these words. I wonder if they even know its World AIDS Day. Its just another day of living with the disease for them.

And these are not easy days. The experience of an sick AIDS patient in the hospital is filled with symptoms like chronic diarrhea, blinding eye infections, severe abdominal pains, uncomfortable and disfiguring rashes, unrelenting nausea, powerful headaches, and fear. Constant, permeating fear that one has no control over the disease that is ravaging their body.

When you see whole hospitals full of adults and children living like this, it kind of makes the hand holding and the ribbon wearing seem trite and tragically ill equipped to make an impact. But, for someone living in Texas or California, thousands of miles from the nearest South African AIDS patient, it is at least one small way to feel they are recognizing the epidemic. And that small way, is a lot better than nothing.

So on the radio or on CNN, you are likely to hear the most recent statistics put out by UNAIDS. They just came out in November and essentially say that HIV is still spreading rampantly. The worldwide prevalence of HIV has increased from 37.5 million in 2003 to 40.5 million in 2005. More than 3 million people died of HIV in 2001, 500,000 of them were children. South Africa has more cases of HIV than any other country in the world, with 6 million infected individuals. The official report can be found here.

Its easy to hear these numbers, and gloss over the millions here million there. We get so immune to the statistics, its easy to forget how significant those numbers are. I think a good way to keep it in perspective is this:

Currently, there are over 40 million people with HIV. If the disease were to stop being spread right now (which would be a tremendous miracle). That would still leave over 40 million people. That’s essentially double the population of Texas. So lets suppose that only this many people are affected.

That is still over 40 million people that will die a drawn out, painful, horrendous death over the next 5-10 years if nothing is done. 40 million people that will eventually end up in an understaffed, poorly equipped hospital where they are likely to die from any number of opportunistic infections.

But, there is good and bad news here. The bad news is that the number is not going to stay at 40 million. It will continue to grow and spread, though no one has any idea how much that number will increase. 50 million? 60 million? We just don’t know.

The good news is that we have medicines that can keep these people out of the hospital. Antiretrovirals are really all we have to try and keep this immense number of people healthy and living the kind of life they deserve to live. I know because I work with these people everyday. Many came to our clinics barely able to walk, and are now living relatively normal lives.

Currently, of the 6.5 million people that need antiretroviral medication (not all of the 40 million have HIV that is advanced to the point that they need medicines, though they all eventually will), only 15% are receiving it. This means that over 5.5 million people will die in the next few years if they do not receive treatment. ARV’s can help, but only if they get to the people that need them most.

So, what can you do? If wearing a ribbon and holding a candle is enough, then commemorate World AIDS Day, and help promote awareness in your community about this disease. That at least is something. But if you would like to do something more substantial, then donate to the Global Fund.

The Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria is one of the world’s largest contributors to getting antiretroviral medications into developing countries. In my opinion, they are the most reliable, most trustworthy organization. If you are up to it, I am sure they would appreciate your donation, no matter how small. As would the millions here in South Africa that are in desperate need of treatment.