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Not much time, so I can’t do as much updating as I would like, but here goes. At the moment, I’m not in our quiet little training village, but rather in the pseudo-metropolis of Machackos, just south of Nairobi. We’ve been here since Sunday for an HIV/AIDS seminar sort of thing. It’s interesting – since it’s “vital training,” I was worried it was going to be boring scientific stuff (not that the science is boring per se, I love it, but three days of “This is how a retrovirus works!” would drive me into the I-Already-Know-This-Stuff Coma O’ Boredom.) Instead, we’re doing a blend of field-based learning and lectury things. Yesterday morning, we listened to local NGOs teamed up with such power hitters as AMREF, KENEPOTE, and Dorcas International talk about the different kinds of community-based services available to people with HIV/AIDS. Conclusion: a lot. Way more than just VCT stuff. They talked about play therapy groups for orphans and assistance in development of agribusiness, etc.

That second aspect was driven home when we went for some field-based training: we actually went to the homes and farms of people “living positively” who had undertaken (with some seed money support from these NGOs) various income-generating tasks that were manageable to them. Economic autonomy is REALLY important to living well while living with HIV, but due to the ongoing stigma, a lot of people lose their jobs when their serostatus becomes known. This is illegal and discriminatory, of course, but it’s a hard case to fight, and most people can’t afford the lawyers for it anyway. We visited women who were helping themselves or raising their children with poultry projects, dairy-goat farming, and beekeeping. Go ahead … make your own Eddie Izzard joke there. I already used all of mine.

After that came lunch and more presentations: a teacher who is HIV-positive talked about his struggle against stigma, then discussed the HIV+ teachers’ union in Kenya and how everyone strives to support each other in this fight. We also heard from a woman who started her own textile business and a youth group that goes around to high schools and colleges doing skits about HIV. I wish I had video of that last: it was like a high school drama club ON CRACK with an awesome purpose and great acting. They performed a couple of poetry pieces, one narrative piece, and a short play about a girl who is orphaned by HIV and loses her social support network. Educational AND entertaining. I think even I learned something.

I’m pretty sure today will be more of the same, with an emphasis on Home-Based Care (HBC) education and more field work. I’m enjoying myself immensely. Machackos is a fun town – the actual seminar didn’t start until Monday, so when we got here Sunday afternoon, we had a whole afternoon to kill. Some of us went to the grocery store and bought cheese (which we haven’t had since the States) then sat around in someone’s hotel room singing along to guitar for a couple of hours.

We had dinner with a current volunteer, which is always fun and enlightening, then hung out on the roof. I talked to a friend about Dante for a solid 30 minutes and bless his patient heart, he didn’t try to push me over the railing. Peace Corps folks are great. Countdown to site: 3 weeks? Thereabouts? Finally, if anyone hasn’t been paying attention, the US was defeated by Ghana 2-1 the other night. Waka waka wa eh eh.

Yep, it’s another World Cup entry. But instead of wiffling philisophically about the geopolitics of football, this is just to continue the cheering, stomping, hooting, and shouting that’s left me all but voiceless for the evening.

As I probably mentioned in a past entry, we have a strict 6:30 curfew for the duration of training — which makes it impossible to watch an entire World Cup match (although I stayed until halftime the other day, OH THE SCANDAL OF ALMOST NOT BEING ON TIME.) However, today, the US played Algeria. This is an important game because it basically was a decider as to whether the US progressed to the next round or not. Now, I’ve talked a lot of trash, but our team this year is the best we’ve ever had, in my opinion. It’s been close. After a great deal of begging, pleading, guilting, and general whininess, permission was granted for us to miss curfew and watch the game. Following training, we all raced down to the local equivalent of a sports bar, where we settled ourselves with Fanta (at least I did; it’s Wednesday, after all) just in time for the national anthem.

Want an exciting cultural experience? Situate yourself in a giant group of Americans, in an African pub, during the “Time for Africa” World Cup, and root for the team playing against Africa. There were some … eh … tense moments, but it’s all in good fun. No rioting or bloodshed.

America played a great game, and scored in overtime NINETY SECONDS before the clock ran out. It was *amazing*. And *fantastic*. And *beautiful*. And I am rather sad that Africa has had a poorer World Cup showing than hoped, but I am SO PROUD OF MY HOMELAND RIGHT NOW AND THEIR ABILITY TO FEIGN INTEREST IN A SPORT WE GENERALLY SUCK AT.

AAH. CAPSLOCK ATTACK.

Anyway, my computer has 11 minutes of charge left, and I still haven’t checked my e-mail. I’ll try to check in again this weekend.

Duh.
What’s wrong with this picture?

Anyone?

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I have a nasty cold, and while at the doctor’s office yesterday (just want to make sure it isn’t Strep or something) the nice nurselady said “Oh yeah, you should get that kicked ASAP, since you leave for Kenya in … uh … how many days again?”

How many days indeed.

You see, when I REALLY leave for Kenya, as in when I board that flight that will set me on the inevitable no-turning-back collision course with the continent, is 14 days from now: May 25. The day before, however, I will be flying from Albany to KingofPrussia for a day-long check-in and safety briefing. So my journey actually starts then. Or would, if my flight didn’t leave at dawn, encouraging me to stay the night before at a hotel airport (Albany’s actually kind of a schlep for me, so if I want to get any sleep at all, I should probably take “long drive at night with the clock ticking” out of the equation.) I have a friend who’s flying out of Albany the day before, so depending on her flight plan, we may share a car up there on Sunday (t-minus 12 days).

In conclusion, I leave WAY TOO SOON. Considering that I have not started packing yet. Not at all. Not even a little. ACK.

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By the way, here’s another World Cup video to add to your ever-increasing collection! This one’s great, I promise. And only one minute.

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Not a whole lot to report on the Peace Corps front at the moment. I submitted Final Paperwork, Round 32534982082 this week (and – inshallah – that will be more or less the last of it before staging.) There’s a zen to filling out visa forms in duplicate, to be certain, but other than that? All is quiet. I leave in 34 days. I told my Africana Studies professor about my impending trip and he immediately recommended ELEVENTY BILLION books I should read (God – err, Nhialic – bless him). Might be hard to get that done in 34 days.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming …

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WORLD CUP, PART TATU (THREE)

And now, the part for which you’ve all been holding your breath … who am *I* rooting for? The answer may seem fairly obvious:

SOUTH AFRICA!

For one, I like it when host countries win. For another, I think it would be fabulous for an SSA nation to take home the big prize during the first African World Cup hosting event EVER. Also, I think they have a pretty good team, all things considered. And finally … they could use some national unity right now. Winning the biggest sporting event in the world sure as hell wouldn’t be a bad thing these days.

Failing that – or rather, “Teams I’m Rooting For That Stand a Decent Chance of Winning” – I’ll be happy to root for whoever knocks out Italy. I’m still a little sore over the 2006 World Cup, truth be told. I also would be happy to see England win. They’re my second choice. Spain number three; I keep hearing about how good a team they’re fielding, but I don’t know as much as I should. We’ll see.

Also … the US team? If it doesn’t lose in the FIRST ROUND like it usually does? I will be so, so proud.

Any time you have an internationally recognized sporting event, a certain degree of trouble is to be expected. Between the crowds and the publicity, all weaknesses are exposed as little cracks become gushing fissures. We saw it in Germany (anyone remember the human trafficking brewhaha? The rumors of “mobile rape vans”? Whatever happened with that), we saw it with Vancouver (aka the FAIL-LYMPICS), we will see it in South Africa. Many of the cities in which there are stadiums are beset with crime; despite best efforts, the crime rates haven’t gone down significantly ( in fact, in some places they’ve gone up). Hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of tourists swarming into places that are just a little off-kilter? Particularly when said tourists are passionate sports fans, or going to be drinking/celebrating, or going to be carrying lots of merchandise, or any other number of complicating factors? Could get extraordinarily ugly, extraordinarily fast. Just saying.

Politically, a number of issues are threatening to tarnish the event. The government spent over six BILLION dollars building stadiums and improving infrastucture; the motivations are understandable – local jobs, improving neighborhoods, enabling the economic boon of the trip, etcetc (the usual rigmarole) but it hasn’t been sitting well with a number of people who are quick to note that six billion dollars could’ve gone a long way to, say, building schools, or assisting neighborhoods with no running water or flush toilets. Not to mention the accusations of skimming off the top and shameless “pork” (as we call it in the States) of legislators that have been thrown around. Despite efforts to improve it, public transportation is still a HUGE issue, which will be vastly more complicated by throngs of matchgoers in an already tense and overloaded system. And even though FIFA has tried to stress World Cup 2010 as a “continental celebration,” the skyrocketing costs associated with the event make the trip economically infeasible for a lot of Africans.

There is also the ongoing complication of politics not related to the World Cup *at all* that have been held forth as reasons why South Africa is not a great choice. A lot has been said about the murder of Eugene Terreblanche, internationally-famous white supremacist and epic asshole as upping the tensions of political polarization and threatening to spark racially-motivated violence. Some fear this will keep the tourists – and their dollars – away, while others are concerned that the general upheaval associated with the World Cup could be all that’s needed to incite some massive violence. Others have expressed fear about terrorism, from al-Shabaab to the AWB. South Africa is not unique in being threatened by terrorism, but it does have the kind of slightly volatile political climate that could be really, really deeply affected if something happens.

That said, I still think SA is a overall magnificent choice. It’s a movement away from the euro-americo-centric model of sports achievement and a means of involving a very football-crazy region of the world in a great sport. It’s an instiller of national and, yes, even “continental” pride (I read one interview that said something along the lines of “Who cares if SA wins? We got to host the cup, that’s winning already.”) It’s a much-needed boost in a country that could do with some hope and unity right about now. And maybe if people flock there and see something they like (or don’t), they’ll be inspired to learn more about the province, the nation, the region … good things could happen.

To conclude, here’s a little commercial thrown together to raise people’s spirits. It would’ve been nice if they could have, you know, gotten an actual African to speak up for SA instead of some random old Australian dude, but it’s a start. I especially love the awkward slow clap at the end. Who among us HASN’T wanted to tell a stranger in an airport to quit their bitching and STFU?

This is a big year for sub-Saharan Africa. February marked the 125 anniversary of the end of the Berlin Conference, which initiated the imperialist “Scramble for Africa” and flung into place a great many of the continued (and not unproblematic) national borders still in existence today, among other things. More than a dozen nations are having elections, including Sudan, which is undergoing the democratic process for the first time in over two decades. A sitting head of state – Omar al-Bashir – has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes of genocide. A new hominid skeleton (aged more than 2 million years) has been discovered, further muddling the heated debate about just who the immediate ancestor of mankind is yet again. Also, I’m moving to Kenya, in case you hadn’t heard, which may not be continent-wide news but it’s certainly a big deal for some (and by “some” I mostly mean “me.)

Weighty though these events are, a great many people will tell you they are secondary in comparative significance to what’s about to happen in June.

Oh yes. You guessed it.

It’s time for the 2010 FIFA WORLD CUP.

I for one haven’t been this excited for a sporting event since … well … the 2006 World Cup, although that ended differently than I’d hoped. It had been my sincere hope to attend the World Cup this year or, at the very least, be in South Africa when it happened. However, as we’ve seen, that wasn’t in the cards – by the time the matches begin, I’ll be well and truly entrenched in Kenya. I wouldn’t have it any other way, of course, but still … if I could be in two places at once … *sigh*

Those who don’t understand football (read: the majority of Americans) may have slightly challenging time grasping the significance of this event, so I’ll clue you in to some of the basics.

1. The FIFA World Cup is an elimination event for which only 32 teams qualify. Qualifiers have been going on – literally – FOR YEARS.

2. Football – or “soccer,” if you prefer – is HUGE in the rest of the world. At the beginning of the last World Cup, I was in Bhutan, and it was pretty much the second or third question every single person asked. What’s your name, where are you from, WHO ARE YOU HOPING WILL WIN THE WORLD CUP???? This, in a country that’s technically (legally, at least) not supposed to have television. Or wasn’t. (There’s a very cute Bhutanese movie about satellite dishes and soccer, actually.)

3. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event IN THE WORLD – WAAAAY more than the Superbowl, the Winter Olypmics, or whatever that final basketball thing was that everyone was up in arms about. Almost 800 million people tuned in to the 2006 one. That’s almost 3 times the ENTIRE population of the United States.

4. This is the first time a World Cup has been held on African soil. Hell, it’s the first time an African nation was seriously considered in the runnings, to the best of my knowledge. In fact, all of the countries considered hosting this year (South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco) were African, but South Africa was the only sub-Saharan nation.

5. The only teams that have ever *won* the world cup are from South America and Europe. Wouldn’t it be a good year for an African cup winner?

6. Hosting the World Cup has not been without its perils for South Africa … but I think that’s a topic of such weight and scope as to deserve its own blog posting. Suffice to say for now that it isn’t an event wholly unaccompanied by dark challenges.

But on a lighter note … who am I rooting for? Well, that’s a topic for another post, methinks. I’ve no doubt that this is not the only post I’ll be doing on the Biggest Sporting Event Of All, partly because it’s IMPORTANT, and partly because it gives me something to ponder while I tread water waiting to leave (42 DAYS!!!!). Stay tuned. In the meantime, who are YOU rooting for?

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The opinions expressed on this blog do not represent those of the Peace Corps, the United States government, or any other organization. The author is solely responsible for all content on this blog.
Yours truly