Thursday, July 27, 2006

Updates from the Southern Stars

Hello to everyone out there! I have finally set up a blog so you can look at some photos and past emails! Check it out at Since I last wrote there have been many things going on in my life- some happy and others not-so-happy, but all a part of this journey that we call life! Since there are many, let me jump into them, pretty much in bulleted form, but not in any particular order.

First, Ima and Abba, being the wonderful parents that they are came “to the end of the world” to visit me in South Africa! They arrived last Sunday and in the past ten days we have had a great time. We went up Table Mountains, tasted wine and cheese in the winelands, had cocktails as we watched the sun set over the ocean, saw baboons at Cape Point, and drove up the Garden Route to where we are now and where I write this email- Kwandwe Private Safari, a luxury game reserve where we have seen elephants, lions, monkeys, cheetahs (oh my!) and thousands and thousands of breathtaking stars. One of my favorite days was when we stopped at MadAboutArt (where I have been filming in the township, where Beaty lives) and my parents got to meet everyone in person. Abba also brought recording stuff and we recorded some local songs from the kids that we are putting on cds for them! All in all, despite my sometimes moodiness around my parents (I know, hard to believe), we have gotten along great and I have realized- after hearing them process South Africa- that I am the sum of my parents, particularly my mother. It has been truly wonderful having them here, and I know I will remember this trip forever.

Next, it is officially two weeks before Beaty, Siphewe, Jonathan, Larry and I head for the International HIV/AIDS Conference in Toronto! Though I have much work to do, I am so excited to go, particularly to spend time with and film Beaty and Siphewe. Also, I noticed an MTV film contest that will be held for youth (18-26 yr olds) at the conference, and so Beaty, Siphewe, and I applied to write, shoot, and edit a piece at the conference about how HIV affects us, about how we are three different and are affected differently, and yet how we are also all affected and have become friends…will let you know if we are accepted!

Speaking of filming, remember I wrote several months ago that I taught the MadAboutArt kids filmmaking skills? Well, they have a camera and have filmed each other about MadAboutArt and HIV, but they don’t have a way to edit this footage…until now! Thanks to Duke’s Multimedia Project Studio (where I first learned to edit), they are donating not just one, but TWO mac computers to MadAboutArt!! This will be a huge help for the kids, who will be able to edit film, pictures, record songs, and express themselves creatively through multimedia! The only problem now is figuring out how to get the computers from North Carolina to South Africa without paying huge amounts of taxes on them (any ideas?). I hope to get the computers here by September so I can teach them how to use them and edit on them.

Finally, in not so happy news, Dinushika and I broke up last month. Though I am sad about the loss, I also know that this was the best decision, as we are both independent women who need to pursue our own life paths for now. Our relationship taught me so much, opened my eyes, challenged me, made me a thousand times more racially aware, and was filled with love. I think that we will always love each other, and I am learning to let go, to love her as a friend, and especially to see this as a new chapter in my life, one in which I am single, I make life decisions based only on myself, and I continue to walk the path of life where it takes me- as Yoav says, “You gotta go where the road takes you.”

Okay, so those are a few things that have been going on in my life. There is another thing brewing that could potentially be quite exciting, but I will leave that for another email update, when it is more definite (how’s that for suspense!?)

Thank you everyone for your support and love, I feel truly privileged and blessed to be where I am.

With love,

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

things I thought about today

It is officially one month before Beatty, Siphewe, Larry, Jonathan and I head to Toronto for the International AIDS Conference! I am getting excited about it, but also am realizing how little time there actually is for me to finish the ten minute hero book film that I am premiering there (on a panel with the above mentioned).

This past week I am helping another documentary filmmaker who is also making a film for Jonathan- it's has been a great learning experience, filming in a studio, monitoring the sound, talking with the light guy about tips on how to light darker colored skin, making A LOT of coffee (remembering how it feels to wake up at 7 am), picking up lunches, working the camera, and picking up the women who are being interviewed- all HIV positive women from Cape Town's township who, with Jonathan's help, published a book on body maps (another form of narrative therapy), and are now being interviewed every five years to see how their lives are. anyhow, during one of the interviews today- my job at this point was to sit in the interview chair and for the woman to look at me while she was talking- and she was explaining about the scar on her head, from the time she was raped and probably contracted HIV. the line that sticks out of my head, from the interview was "i was fortunate because not all the men raped me, just one man." i sat there, holding m gaze to her as she explained that her mother, an alcoholic, also died of HIV. this woman, unlike most of the others, was willing to show her face. when i drove her to the taxi stand, i told her how brave and strong i think she is , and that because of her courage, other women will also gain strength. she said, "this is why i am doing it." the more people who come out with their status, the more the silence will be broken, the stigma lessened, the support strengthened...yesterday, after the filming with another woman, i talked with her over tea. she was not able to show her face, because she has not disclosed to her boyfriend (of three years) of her status...he does not want to know, and will not sleep with anyone positive. though she said, "we use condoms," when i talked with her, she admitted, "sometimes we use, and sometimes we do not use."

as much as i am learning, as much as i am filming, as much as i am thinking and processing, there is still so much i do not understand. i don't understand how so many people are dying. i don't understand why everyone is not on arv's, when they do have access to them (most people in south africa do have access to free treatment i am learning, though that certainly doesn't mean most people take them). i don't understand why- if people know that hiv is spread through unprotected sex- why they still won't use condoms. i don't understand why, when there is such a high prevalence rate, why there is still stigma, why people still feel alone. i don't understand how people are watching so many around them get thin, weak, and die...

i had a realization today, when the women talked about not being on arv's because their CD4 count is high and so they are gave me a form of comparison- and subsequently fear and sadness and many other things- that my friend Beatty is taking ARV's, and so her immune system is considerably weaker...I haven't seen Beatty in a month and I really miss her. I referred to her yesterday as my best friend here in South Africa and it is certainly true. I am very very excited for the Toronto conference. I am also very excited that my parents are coming in ten days!

Okay, so I wanted to share with all of you part of my day today. After work, I took a long walk on the beach, with my (fixed!) ipod, and danced a bit for the ocean...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

how penguins helped me overcome my monster

last time I wrote about my fears, my own monster if you will (using
Hero Book vocab) about my fear of editing. I doubted my own ability,
I doubted myself. And then one morning, about two weeks ago, my
friend Jacqui and I drove to watch the sunrise over Penguin Beach. As
I sat on a rock, overlooking the mountains and the ocean, with
adorable penguins (seriously) chilling beside me, I decided that the
time of fear had come to a close and that I would push through it. In
the words of my friend Beatty, I would not let my monster get the
better of me.

And so I did push through. I put most of the hero book related
footage on the computer, transcribed all of it, organized the clips
into appropriate bins, came up with a basic outline for a hero book
film story, and started doing chapters (funny how I still ask myself
if I am being productive enough, I am my hardest critic it's true).
Basically, I am intertwining four stories from kids at MadAboutArt
(including Beatty) to bring their hero books alive- so I have
interviews with them, their hero books, and most excitingly just in
parts of life where they are talking about hero books (ie when beatty
told me a few days before her mother's funeral that her shame suicide
monster was starting to creep to try to get the better of her).

And it has been an amazing- but challenging- experience to edit and
put the story together, because I can feel that there is something
there in the footage, I can feel a powerful, personal story develop.
My roomates who are film students here in Cape Town (someone in their
school just won an oscar) had interesting comments. They were first
surprised that I was not part of a crew, but doing everything on my
own. Then, they wondered how it felt to get emotionally involved with
the people I'm filming (i guess typical filmmakers don't do this as
much, but that's exactly what I want to be doing so that the audience
also feels a connection, that they too are getting to know Beatty and
her family and her story). but perhaps my favorite quote was from one
white girl who, after seeing only one minute of basically raw footage
said, "South Africa needs a documentary like this."

I am excited to see how the story unfolds.

As I have been editing, I have also been building my own life here in
Cape Town. I have met some amazing women who have become my Cape Town
tour guides. My friend Jacqui does spoken word poetry and used to work
for the tourist industry so knows a lot of what's going on. Most
excitingly, she knows a lot of people in my neighborhood and in her
going-away party (it was all girls per her request), I was blown away
by these beautiful, confident, talented, creative, educated African
women. Just the day before I went to see an exhibit on 18 women who
moved South Africa, only to learn that actually the strikes and
marches that brought down apartheid were started by the women, and
then the men followed. So in the past month I have also loved seeing
another side of South Africa- the complicated tapestry that makes up
this society (wow, I just used tapestry metaphor)- one with more of a
middle ground I would say. And it has been a true privilege for me- I
have sat in on some amazing conversations on race and South Africa.
And it feels great to be surrounded by people of color and to not
register the difference or that it is an unusual happening here in
South Africa or even in the US (though I'm sure they notice my
whiteness). But perhaps a great compliment I received yesterday while
driving to a poetry reading was from Jacqui who said, "You know
Maital, you are one cool white chick."

So, the past month has been balanced between work and play. I am
amazed by what a great time I am having and especially how at home I
feel here. It feels great. And even in moments of intensity- and
they can happen at any time- like when I got my eye brows waxed right
before I came to write this email and the woman who did my brows
opened up to me and told me about her sister who has AIDS but is not
open, and also how she and the other women fought against apartheid,
running from police and jail and keeping strong- that even as I hold
back my tears as she quietly wipes hers away- that I still am so happy
to be in that moment, to be talking about it, listening, learning.
Apartheid is still so fresh, so raw here, the trauma still there that
people talk about it...something that I wish and will push for more of
in the US, because only if we talk about it, even if it's
uncomfortable, can we recognize the pain and injustice, and move
forward. As I have been amazed here- even with apartheid and the
blacks being exploited and used- when they gained power they did not
start a civil war and kill white people (which they could have done
easily seeing how they are so outnumbered)- but they wanted to make a
fair society for everyone. now, as you can tell from previous emails,
South Africa is far from reaching its goal, but at least people are
working together, acknowledging each other, and trying to move