Where in the World is Cheryl?

I know, it has been awhile but once again I am on the move finding adventure, new friends and living life to the fullest. A friend recently told me that she is always waiting for an email or new blog posting from me as she is never certain but always eager to know where on earth I will exactly turn up.

Well this time around I have made Paris the destination of choice. The city of classic architecture, grand and petite parks, pain chocolate and pompiers (those oh so good looking men eager to provide first aid that you are almost tempted to have a heart palpation just by looking at them).

While my heart still belongs firmly with Africa, Paris also feels like home to me. I lived here 27 years ago while completing my Masters in International Relations. And in a typical Cheryl fashion when I received an invitation for a Champagne launch of an International Relations Academic Journal in June it seemed like the universe’s serendipitous lure me back into the world. A month later I had officially ended my career as a Canadian federal public servant (thank god!!!!) and on my way to a Paris studio apartment located in the Latin quarter five minutes away from the banks of the Seine.

My Paris apartment
My Paris apartment

I have contemplated changing my blog’s name but knowing that eventually I will make my way home to one of the glorious 55 African countries is seems right to keep it. What makes it all the better is how, when and where I will go before I do. So I hope that you enjoy following my adventures where ever they take me!

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Lawrence’s Birthday Party!

Let the celebrations begin!
Let the celebrations begin!

Once the majority of the invited guests had arrived, Chenai called Richard to get him to bring the birthday boy home. Let’s just say that he was utterly speechless when they drove up! Loved it!

I had the pleasure of dragging him out of the car…I didn’t even give him a chance to put his sandals on. The first order of the day was blowing the candles out on his birthday cake and then the festivities were in full swing with plenty of food, music, a wicked birthday punch that turned everyone’s tongue red and lots of dancing.

Is is not hard to tell who has been drinking the punch?
Is is not hard to tell who has been drinking the punch?

One thing that I can say is that boys from Zimbabwe certainly get silly when it is party time…..

All in all it was a memorable afternoon and evening and a birthday that Lawrence will never forget

Ready to dance....
Ready to dance….
it was tough keeping the secret
time to relax after keeping the secret
a very happy birthday boy & me
a very happy birthday boy & me
How many men does it take to light a braai??????
How many men does it take to light a braai??????
let the dancing begin....
let the dancing begin….
who is the dancing queen??? Sheila of course
who is the dancing queen??? Sheila of course
don't worry, I did my share of dancing too....
don’t worry, I did my share of dancing too….

But the dance off got really serious….

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even the birthday boy had to strut his stuff
even the birthday boy had to strut his stuff

But not everyone was dancing all of the time

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Good night from Mochudi!!!
Good night from Mochudi!!!

 

Post Script to Exploring Gweru

One would think that Lawrence has now had enough exposure to me to have learned how not to rattle my cage….however, he appears to be a slightly slow learner in some areas.

So as retribution for a momentary lapse that he had this week I am outing him!

Early in our day of exploring Gweru when we were all congregated on the busy downtown sidewalk having our social hour I decided that I would slip across the incredibly busy street to purchase bottles of water as the morning was growing hotter and hotter.

Having successfully navigated the first lanes of traffic, I was temporarily halted in the middle of the very busy mainstreet waiting to cross the final two lanes to the safety of the sidewalk. As I was stranded there waiting for my opportunity through a break in traffic, I called back to Lawrence that should I not make it across the street and back alive to please ensure that my body was sent home to my parents.

The ungentlemanly reply (and I quote!): “No, I won’t bother because it will cost to much!”  It seems that financial considerations are always at the top of Lawrence’s list.

It is too bad that no one thought to take a picture of me standing fuming in the middle of this street 🙂

 

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I am back!

Well, I made it home from an adventure of a lifetime very late last night or should I say very early this morning.

The trip was fantastic and jammed full of fun and adventure. I have fallen in love with yet another African country. I was spoiled like a princess at the Dingwa household and was even invited back with or Without Lawrence.

I can’t begin to describe how fabulous it was but I will try in subsequent posts. But for now I leave you with a teaser of some of my pictures of my once again living out a dream…..

Yes, I hugged a lion and rubbed it’s belly!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is the proof and only a small taste of my up close and personal lion experience

 

Queen of the lions
Queen of the lions

I did what Buche, Lawrence and Mr. Dingwa said I couldn’t possible accomplish. Proving once again that I am either the most determined person on earth or crazy. Some would say a mix of both. Either way, I lived out yet another one of my dreams. However, my mother will be relived to know that I didn’t bring one home with me! (that was actually her first comment when she learned that I was moving here to Africa that I better not bring home a lion) I am actually supremely delighted to have just prowled the bush with them and get in a hug or two.

Meet my new friends who are almost a year old lions who I had the privilege  of accompanying on a bush walk while they learned to hunt and try to play with me but that is a whole other story that you will soon hear about.

Tummy rub for my new friend
Tummy rub for my new friend

 

Stay tuned for lots more about my lion adventure and Zimbabwe trip.

Changing the perception of Africa one blog at a time

One of the many reasons that I committed to doing this blog was to not only keep my family and friends updated on my life and adventures in Africa but it was also to change people’s very outdated perceptions of this glorious continent.

Many of those who I spoke to about my journey were all under similar illusions that this is a war torn, poverty, drought-stricken land filled with people dying of famine. While this is a perception that has been true at time, it has been mainly conjured by the media, governments and even development projects such as I am involved with. There is entirely different prospective that people are not seeing and understanding. Africa is not the Third World continent that it was  and still is portrayed as in the Western World’s media.

And please note that it Africa is a continent….not just one country but 54! Granted this number changes on what seems like almost a monthly basis as new boundaries are defined by either war or democratic efforts. Yet, all of the 54 countries that currently make up the continent of Africa are still growing and developing systems and infrastructures equivalent to those found in the Western hemisphere. There are many schools of thought on how best that this development should take place. Some are strong proponents for the assistance provided through foreign aid; while others argue the success of African countries who have done it on their own without the complications and patronizing attitudes of the west. Many of the volunteers that I know agree with me that the current system of development aid simply doesn’t work or have the intended results. But that is an issue for another blog.

Back to the topic at hand, Africa is an amazing, beautiful continent filled with 54 countries that are so unique in landscape, culture and life. Please stop thinking about it as only a land of famine, poverty and war. Change your perspective, it is the best thing that you can do for those who are in more vulnerable situations. Use the internet to search and learn about the unique beauty of landscape and people that are just waiting for you to discover. The following post which I found on the on-line version of the Toronto Star features an article about Oxfam’s campaign to change perspectives as well.

http://thestar.blogs.com/worlddaily/2013/06/oxfam-ad-campaign-reimagines-africa-draws-some-criticism.html

Oxfam ad campaign ‘reimagines’ Africa, draws criticism

Oxfam2Africa is starvation, hunger and poverty. That’s how the vast majority of British residents answered when they were asked about how they view Africa in a survey commissioned by the influential charity Oxfam. So Oxfam figured it was time for the continent to be re-imagined, in a manner of speaking, and help locals in Britain see Africa through a different lens. To that end, Oxfam kicked off 2013 with a new ad campaign highlighting Africa’s beautiful scenery. The ads depict lovely waterfalls, fruit markets and lush landscapes. At the time, Oxfam’s then-chief executive, Dame Barbara Stocking, told BBC News, “We want to make sure people have a really better balanced picture of what’s happening in Africa. Of course we have to show what the reality is in the situations in those countries. But we also need to show the other places where things are actually changing, where things are different.” “Let’s Make Africa Famous for Its Epic Landscapes, Not Hunger,” one ads reads. Another: “Let’s Make Africa Famous for Its Food Markets. Not Its Food Shortages.” Oxfam1 Oxfam3Oxfam official Nick Futcher said in a phone interview from London that the campaign was meant to coincide with this month’s G8 meeting in the U.K. Oxfam, which has an annual marketing budget of $6 million, spent about $1.2 million on the campaign, Futcher said. Futcher said preliminary surveys of about 1,000 respondents suggest the campaign was a success. “The percentage of people who believe that the global poverty problem can be solved has gone up from 60 per cent in our survey to 75 per cent,” he said. The local press in the U.K. covered the unorthodox ad campaign, and reader reaction was mixed. “I think it’s a great campaign, but what I found a bit upsetting and annoying is that Oxfam is one of the organisations that has spent a great part of its history creating the very stereotype that it is now criticising,” said one reader on The Guardian’s website. “Fair enough they have changed their mind but I would like to see just a touch of humility and acceptance of responsibility on their part for the image that they had a hand in creating in the first place.” I read Oxfam’s Futcher that comment. “It would be hypocritical to say that we’ll never show people in need again, but I think this campaign really succeeded in convincing people to look at Africa differently,” Futcher said. “You have certain ads for certain jobs. I think you’d have to go pretty far back in Oxfam’s history to find images that show people without dignity or children in hopeless situations.” Nigeria-based journalist and Huffington Post contributor Tolu Ogunlesi has offered stronger criticism. “Am I alone in thinking Oxfam’s lamentations suggest a British public that is at the mercy of what they are fed. Helpless Brits who somehow cannot – despite all their efforts – rise beyond the bombardment of pity-evoking images of Africa. One might as well rephrase Dame Stocking as follows: ‘Oh poor helpless people of Britain, all they’re being fed is harrowing, unhelpful images of Africa. We need to stop that. We need to feed them something different. We need to change their diet.'” If Futcher could do the ad campaign again, he’d do things slightly differently. “What was missing for donors was, ‘what do I do next?'” he said.
Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

Zimbabwe here I come!

As my friend and former Veterans Affairs Canada work colleague Andrew McAulay would say, someone had better warn Zimbabwe that Cheryl is about to land because it is never going to be the same ever again!

The presents are bought, money exchanged, all I have to do is finishing packing (Tanyala is helping me chose suitable clothing) and wait for Lawrence to pick me up early this afternoon then we hit the road. i have been told by Lawrence that I will actually get to have my turn driving the Mercedes. Even Buche was jealous! He figured that I would make good time driving in that nice machine as he calls it. Plus if I am driving I can stop where ever I want to, poor Lawrence has so much to learn about women but I am teaching him slowly but surely. By the time I am finished with him some lovely Zimbabwean beauty going to have the perfect man, right Lawrence?

Of course, I am unbelievably excited about the trip for many reasons. However, I am not sure that the Dingwa household will ever be the same again. We will see after the weekend if they will ever open their doors to a crazy woman from Canada ever again 🙂 Thankfully I got most of my misbehaving out of my system last weekend. I should be able to practice some decorum and control but no doubt I will have my moments too. Hopefully they will be out of sight and hearing of the Dingwas. 

We are booked for the day at Antelope Park on Sunday so that I can play with the lions and accompany them on a bush walk, yippee! Hopefully I won’t get eaten or if I do that Lawrence will remain calm and take some great photos. There would be no better way for me to go! But alas, I have promised Buche that I would back so being eating by a lion is not an option for this trip. Perhaps another time.

So everyone have a great weekend! I promise that I will return next week with wonderful stories to tell.

 

 

 

The Saint continues to surprise me

Buche has once again surprised me! Just further proof that there is always something new to learn about people.

This morning after finishing a meeting, I asked him to take to me to a fabric store where I could make a purchase of a specialty fabric which I wanted to get as a present to take to Lawrence’s mother. The particular fabric that I was intent on purchasing is a traditional cotton fabric known as ‘German Print’ or  ‘Shweshwe’. This fabric is used to create traditional dresses worn for weddings, traditional ceremonies, important occasions and even every day wear.

It originally came in an indigo blue color and was brought to Africa by Europeans in the 1800’s with it’s manufacturing taken place in Germany, thus the name ‘German Print’. The introduction of blue print to South Africa was with the German settlers in 1858 / 9 who settled in the Eastern Cape and Natal. The demand from the German Settler woman prompted traders to import this fabric from Europe, thus during the nineteenth century the Xhosa women gradually replaced their animal skin garments with newly available cotton ones. The “school” woman, who were educated at mission stations, started to dress in European style dresses to cover their bodies, enjoying the blue hue the indigo gave their skin.

The fabric is still incredibly popular and I had it on very good advice that it would be a perfect gift to take Mma Dingwa. So off Buche and I went to purchase it. Once we arrived at the fabric store recommended by Jetske, Buche surprised me by coming into the store with me! I never expected him to join me on my shopping expedition. I was further surprised once in side of the vast store of his knowledge of the fabrics. He quickly got someone to assist us and we immediately headed to a large table which contained the tradition fabric in the now traditional colors of blue, red and chocolate brown.

It was like I died and went to heaven. I love fabrics and textiles! Having a table full of to select from was incredibly. With Buche’s assistance I selected what we both agreed was a perfect pattern in indigo blue. See for yourself:

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Like the true gentleman that he is he even carried my purchase for me which also included some for my mother as well. And as we were exiting the parking lot, he further astounded me by telling me that the fabric needs to be hand washed before working with so the final product comes out beautiful and supple.

You see, the original Shweshwe is very stiff when new because in the history of the fabric it had to endure the long sea voyage from the UK to South Africa, so starch was used to preserve the fabric from the elements and gave it a characteristic stiffness. After washing, the stiffness disappears to leave behind a beautiful soft cotton fabric. 

So once again he simply proved what an amazing man that he is and how lucky I am to have both him and Lawrence in my life. Both of them take such fantastic care of me including helping me navigate the unfamiliar cultural landscape and treating me like the ‘Princess’ that I am always being referred to since coming here. I am one incredibly lucky woman.

On another note, I also paid a visit to Liquorama to purchase a bottle of whiskey for Lawrence’s dad. Once again I proved that I simply can dance any where and anytime with out even realizing it. I was the only customer in the store at the time and incredible African music was playing while I was being assisted with selecting my purchase. To be honest with you I didn’t even realize like that I was bopping along to the beat until I was at the cash register and realized that all eyes were on me. Everyone was grinning and the manager even said to me that it was very obvious that I was loving the music. The lovely young man who had assisted me with my selection and purchase carried my bag to the door for me and told me that the song was from the DRC and being sung by a Motswana. Obviously they were very pleased to see me so enthusiastically enjoying local music. What can I say! I am in the land of great music and enjoying every minute of it.

 

 

 

The connection between food and HIV survival

The connection between food and HIV survival (this article originally appeared on the Toronto Star website http://thestar.blogs.com/worlddaily/2013/06/the-connection-between-food-and-hiv-survival.html

Three decades after HIV first emerged, the virus is no longer a death sentence. Thanks to antiretroviral therapy drugs, a newly-diagnosed 20-year-old can now expect to live for 50 more years.

But a new study by researchers in British Columbia underscores the fact that treating HIV has to do with more than just giving patients drugs — ensuring they are well fed matters too.

The study looked at the connection between food security and HIV survival rates, tracking 254 injection drug users across British Columbia over 13 years.

Roughly 71 per cent of those patients reported being food insecure when they first began their HIV treatments — and the study found that those patients were twice as likely to die.

“The introduction of life-saving antiretroviral therapy has significantly reduced HIV-related morbidity and mortality,” said senior author Robert Hogg in a press release. “However, the impact of insufficient access to food, particularly quality food, on the mortality of HIV-positive injection drug users is alarming.”

HIV/AIDS and food insecurity are “intertwined in a vicious cycle that heightens vulnerability to, and worsens the severity, of each condition,” according to this 2009 study.

There are many ways in which food insecurity can increase one’s risk of contracting HIV in the first place, the 2009 study notes. Surveys in Swaziland and Botswana have found that food insecure women are 80 per cent more likely to enter the sex trade and 70 per cent more likely to have unprotected sex. Food insecurity also leads to malnutrition, which can make people more susceptible to HIV infections by compromising their immune systems and “gut and genital mucosal integrity.” Otherstudies have also suggested that malnourished mothers are more likely to transmit HIV to their babies.

Food insecurity has also been linked with poorer drug effectiveness and lower adherence rates to treatment regimens. One paper cited in the 2009 study noted that HIV patients in Uganda receiving free drugs were still forced to choose between spending their money on transportation to clinics and using their limited funds towards feeding their children.

The 2009 study concluded that there is a growing recognition of how food insecurity impacts HIV survival rates but much more research is still needed to better understand the link.

Hogg notes that his study is only the first to examine the impact of food insecurity on HIV survival rates amongst injection drug users.

“The research points to the urgent need to further investigate the impact of food insecurity on the health outcomes of people living with HIV/AIDS,” he said in the press release.

Jennifer Yang is the Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

The Perfect Winter Afternoon

The conclusion to a wonderful weekend and a perfect winter afternoon for me today was a poolside brunch with my girlfriends Erin and Sheila. As the temperature rose to 30 degrees, we enjoyed a wonderful brunch of homemade waffles, maple syrup, fruit salad, omelettes and banana chocolate chip muffins. As you can see from the pictures below not a lot was left over! And following stuffing ourselves we lounged poolside reading the newspaper, magazines and talking until the sun went down shortly after 5 pm. Truly a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon 🙂  and not at all like you would do in Canada in the wintertime.

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Sheila and Erin in very serious discussion

 

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Keeping hydrated

Meanwhile it is actually winter in other parts of Southern Africa. This morning there was snow at Sutherland Observatory in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Glad I am in Botswana
Glad I am in Botswana

I am officially a Prize Winner

Well, it is official , I can now retire my dance shoes after tonight as I have received my first ever, and I am confident only, prize for dancing!

Personally, I think that it was a pity prize but I definitely took it 🙂

To explain, it all happened at the DJ Battle taking place at Alliance Francaise. A total of 15 DJs had 15 minutes each to spin their tunes. You voted for the DJs that you liked by dancing. I even did a check in with one of the judges to see is just booty shaking qualified as a vote and was told a resounding ‘Yes’.

Well, you do the math…I danced and /or shook my booty for 3 1/2 hours straight. At one point it was just me shaking my booty with three guys…not bad for an old white chick 🙂

Although I knew that there were prizes be given out to the top three dancers it never occurred to me that I would be one! I had music, an out door dance floor and flat shoes on. I was a happy camper.

Imagine my surprise when I received my prize, a CD of African music. While there were much better dancers there than me. I mean much better, apparently I scored high simply because once I started dancing I simply didn’t stop and everyone could tell how much I was enjoying it.

So I came home a winner in more ways than one with I might add my shoes actually on my feet this weekend. I may never get another prize for dancing but that certainly doesn’t mean that I am going to stop now. I am just happy to know that I can be on the dance floor with the amazing dancers who actually have rhythm and can really shake their booty.  Life is good!