Posts Tagged 'Johannesburg'

Purple houses

I have been in South Africa since Wednesday afternoon. The clean(er) air has done me good and I can now sing nearly one octave – with lower and higher reaches still a croak. But it is hot here (in the 90s) and everyone is suffering from the heatwave and the absence of rain.

I gave myself Thursday off and tagged along with my MSH colleagues and the Board. First we went to Johannesburg for the official launch of the “No More Epidemic’’ campaign at the Nelson Mandela Institute.

This place is hallowed ground. It is both a museum (his work room, significant correspondence, photos, footage), a reminder about the evils of Apartheid, currently celebrated by honoring the journalists who showed the world what was going on here, and a conference facility.

A panel of public health experts shone light on ways that we can work together and prevent a repeat of the many epidemics that have killed millions of people over the last 100 years. It was helpful for me as I already have my eye on the next assignment in Cote d’Ivoire which is on the horizon and very relevant to this pre-occupation of no more epidemics.

After a finger food lunch we piled into a van to visit a “cradle-to-career” center in the Alex(andra) township. We toured the center that caters to the needs of a poor and very disadvantaged population, adding skills, hope, education, food, entertainment and space to people from infants to elderly. We know that talent is everywhere and that it takes opportunity to realize it. This place is doing just that with the help of an impressive list of supporters, worldwide.

We had a chance to sit in on a youth group (early twenties) discussing the rootcauses of the frightening HIV statistics (1700 new girls between 14 and 19 infected every week) and what to do about it. It was a refreshing open and honest conversation between very articulated boys and girls who have all become youth leaders and are educating their peers in the township; some do it through sports, some through entertainment, working with parents and teachers.

But there was one thing that touched me more deeply than anything else. Recently the organization has started to work on getting disabled children out in the open. Awareness about the plight of families with disabled kids is growing thanks to a campaign to paint the houses where these families live the color purple, with a picture of the kind of disability the member of the household has. It has been an amazing success as it has brought these kids out in the open, educate parents, provide services, teach them skills and set them to work.

Let’s see how we can create a movement #purplehouses4disabledkids

Sugar and purple arcades

I could fly around the world in a B-class pod that reclines 180 degrees. This way the 15 hour flight was a cinch.  For the connecting flight to Atlanta I was on the waiting list for an upgrade. Maybe it was because of me being a 2 million miler but I ended up at the front of a list of 50 hopefuls, all competing for one seat. I got it. Maybe having passed the 2 million mark has put me in a different league where I am leaving some of the competition for upgrades behind. I imagine that most of the 2 million milers are already business class travelers with paid seats.

On the long stretch I watched three movies: A Royal Night Out (OK, probably won’t remember in a month), The Little Prince (in French, lovely) and That Sugar Film. The latter shook me into a resolve I am keen to stick to. It is a documentary about sugar and how it has slipped into what we might consider ‘healthy’ foods under the guise of ‘low fat.’  I have resolved to not touch the stuff, at least in recognizable foods, until I get back to the US.  This is no small deal as I am a bit of a sugar addict, and learned that I consume more than the prescribed 24 grams for women on many days. It was the promise of a healthy liver and mental clarity that was most attractive. Test my clarity in 45 days!

I arrived in Johannesburg under clear skies. It was a warm summer day. The hotel is in one of the suburbs. The Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. The urban designers planted the trees in such a way that one has a sense of going through a purple arcade with the flowering limbs touching one another overhead. Here and there the dark red Bougainvillea adds another magnificent color to the overall décor of suburban lanes. It is breath taking; but here, as in Pretoria, people hide behind tall walls, serpentine wire and thick gates.

The hotel presents itself as an opulent urban sanctuary. Urban here means main thoroughfare and shopping malls. The hotel which is a dedicated historical monument, must at one time been looking out over green fields and surrounded by gardens. But this is no longer the case. It is now separated from the busy street life by hedges and a locked gate, just like the jewelry shops at the mall.

I have an enormous suite that has two bathrooms, two rooms and a separate dressing area. The old fashioned bathtub was the main attraction after the long flight. Before taking a bath I wandered into the mall to get money, a local simcard and a small bottle of wine. I completed my mall visit with a sushi dinner on a mall terrace while watching people stroll by. This stopover in Johannesburg was just what the doctor prescribed. By the way, I had no dessert, nor did I eat the praline that was put by my bedside. Sugar!


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