Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sawubona and Hamba Kahle

Sawubona and Hamba Kahle. In Zulu, it's hello and goodbye. That's what our entire trip to South Africa felt like: a series of hellos and quick goodbyes. We encountered so many incredible people in such a short span of time, even interviewed many of them, but then it was on to the next location, the next interview, the next person...Our crew talked a lot about how and when we're supposed to process everything we've seen. Back in the US, in "reality" as it is, routine will just go back to normal. Work, errands, out for drinks with friends, but I can't pretend I'm the same person.

The little girl who was in tears telling us about her mother who died of AIDS, the desperate mothers with HIV positive babies at the AIDS clinic, the blind Zulu boy who may never get treatment for his condition, the family in the mud hut relying on a 63 year-old grandmother to support them, the songs sung by the St. Leo's kids, the tireless work of the Augustinian volunteers, the truck piled with coffins on the road to Pomeroy...As I slip back into my life here, these aren't memories that will quickly fade. I'm not sure how I've changed yet, what impact these images will have as I go on with my life, and it may take some time to figure it all out.

Despite the pain and hardships faced by so many in Africa, the people are vibrant, the landscape is beautiful and it's a continent that literally calls you back. I've never felt so drawn to a place, felt so strongly a need and desire to return. I'm keeping some Rand (South African money) in my wallet; I just have a feeling someday I'll need it again...

For now, however, the post-production work begins. I'm lucky in that I get to relive the experience, in a way. My job is to transcribe all of the 20 plus hours of footage, an arduous task for sure, but also a chance to revisit the people and places on our journey. I can't wait to see them all again, and for you all to meet them too.

So hamba kahle for now South Africa, I hope we'll say Sawubona again soon...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Am Somebody

A lot of the kids at St. Leo's school got up to perform poems and songs, but this one really struck a chord in all of us. This girl couldn't have been more than six or seven, had the most adorable, powerful little voice, and performed this poem she had written.

I Am Somebody

I am somebody
I may be poor
But I am somebody

I can make mistakes
Brown, orange, pink, but I am somebody
I may be poor, but I am somebody

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Video!

Here's a video of the St. Leo's kids singing in Zulu. Still trying to figure out this Flip Camera, but the sound quality isn't bad! Enjoy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Into the Valley

It's about 90 degrees inside the tiny mud hut. My arms are shaking from holding the boom pole, sweat is dripping down my face and back as I try to shift the pole between the 7 family members we're interviewing. They are all staring at us in wonder, as I'm pretty sure this is the first film crew they've welcomed into their crowded home.

Today was really our first taste of the rustic, and impoverished lifestyle of many of the Zulu families in the "Valley of 1000 Hills." A local Bishop has taken us to interview this particular family. As with many Zulu families, the grandmother or "go-go" is the head of this household. She is strong and proud and essentially raising four young children with little aid or resources. A whole generation has been lost to the AIDS epidemic. There are very few 20 to 30 year-olds around, fewer men than women, leaving an older generation to take care of a much younger one.

The go-go, with her family sprawled on a mat around her, tells us of the hardships she encounters each day. One of her grandchildren is nearly blind, and she can't afford to get him proper care. She's worried about his future, as he can't go to school or function normally in society. Most of her family's sustenance comes from a garden she tends, and what little pension she receives from the government.

It's an incredible interview, but it's not easy to hear. They tell us they are happy we are there to visit them, and tell their story, but still I can't help but feel invasive.

When we leave I grab a handful of Luna Bars, a bunch of packages of crackers and a bag of Target trail mix to give to the kids. I wish we had more to offer, and as we drive away I can't help but wonder what will become of these kids, this family, and whether we could have done something more for them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Today we woke up at 5 a.m., piled into a van at 6 a.m. and headed to the mountains. We went to a village called Pomeroy, about three hours Northwest of Durban. The Augustinian Sisters run an AIDS clinic in Pomeroy, a very rural Zulu village. On the drive up we stopped at a popular African fast food chain called "Wimpy's" (no relation to the Osterville restaurant) in a little place called Greytown. Wimpy's is basically an African Denny's. Delightful.

The drive up was incredibly scenic, with rolling mountains, beautiful rivers and streams running alongside the road, and livestock roaming freely everywhere. I'm making sure we include a lot of cows, donkeys and goats in the documentary.

The AIDS clinic in Pomeroy was overwhelming. I don't think you can really mentally prepare for something like that. We spent three hours shooting the nurses and patients in the Clinic, and it was really emotionally draining. People literally were waiting in line for hours to get their ARVs (Anti-Retro Virals, used to treat HIV/AIDS) since the clinic is only place for miles where they're available. A truck delivers the medication everyday, and today it was about 6 hours late. So people, who are already incredibly sick, were waiting in the hot sun without food or water.

Inside the clinic the nurses were doing check-ups on patients who crowded the waiting room. One woman brought in her baby because she had a rash, which is the US would just simply be a rash, but the nurse told us it was because the baby was HIV positive. This is the reality for people in the KwaZulu Natal region, where we are. Over 34 percent of the population is infected with HIV, some of the highest rates in the world. It's hard to imagine how we complain about health care in the US seeing the condition of this clinic.

The sisters who run the clinic are very inspiring. They are literally, little old, French nuns who have been working at the clinic for decades. They all had to be at least 80 years old, yet are still doing this incredible work.

One of the difficult things about shooting a documentary, is that you sometimes feel very invasive. On the one hand, you want to believe that filming these people will ultimately make a difference, but on the other hand you can't help but feel like you should be doing something more active to help these people. All I wanted to do was give them money, do anything for them I could, but there really wasn't much we could do except try to tell their story in a way that was respectful and authentic.

I hope that's what we're able to do. The footage we've gotten so far in pretty amazing, and hopefully will be eye-opening to our audience. I know what I've seen so far has already changed the way I see the world, as cliche as it is to say.

Tomorrow we're going into the "Valley of 1000 Hills" but for now I'm trying to process what we saw today...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life Behind Walls & the St. Leo's & St. Theresa's Kids

Today was our first day shooting on what is literally the other side of the planet. South Africa is an incredible, incredible place. We’re staying in a retreat house on the property of the Augustinians, which is situated atop a hill that looks out over the sprawling “Valley of 1000 Hills.” The Valley is home to mostly the Zulu Community, who lives in round, thatched-roof houses or tiny shacks.

Everyone in South Africa lives behinds gates with barbed wire and high-wall fences. Robbery is a huge problem here. There are bars on all our windows, and a locking gate on our front door. The day before we arrived there was a robbery on the property. A group of men broke into one of the volunteer’s house and stole his iPod and cell phone. When we leave for the day, we have to hide our passports and valuables incase of a break-in. It’s a very strange way to live, but the Zulu population has a 70 percent unemployment rate, so much of the crime I think comes from desperation. There’s still a huge tear in the population that’s lingered since Apartheid. The white people, in many ways, live in fear of the black community. White people who’ve lived here their entire lives have never seen many of the places we’re going on this trip.

Otherwise, however, the country is beautiful. We’re on the Eastern coast, near Durban, so there is an amazing variety of landscape. It’s on the Indian Ocean, but there are sprawling hills, riverbeds and mountains.

Our first day was an intense one, to say the least. We spent most of the day at St. Leo’s school, a primary school run by the Augustinians and largely populated by kids who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. These are the most genuine, sweet, kind, caring kids I have ever encountered. Many of them live in tiny shacks without parents and many siblings. They don't get enough to eat, they don't have any worldly possessions but they are so happy and appreciative of what they do have. We began the day by walking to school with one of the families. They had 14 kids living in a tiny, one-room shack, and they were being raised by their oldest sister. They had lost both parents to AIDS. But the kids take care of each other, it's incredible. They help each other get ready for school, carry the little ones on the walk.

When we arrived at the school the kids had prepared an incredible music presentation for us. They sang traditional songs, did traditional Zulu dancing, it was amazing. They sang with such enthusiasm, energy and passion. I can't remember any school assemblies at my elementary school being quite that moving. There are 680 kids attending the school, and really it's the only solid thing many of them have. They are provided with uniforms, two or three meals, access to computers and the staff is incredible.

We spent six hours filming at the school, and I would've loved to stay there the entire trip. However, the next stop was just as amazing. We went to St. Theresa's Home for Boys, run by the Augustinian Sisters in Durban. It's home to about 80 boys who have either lost their parents or left a bad situation at home. They boys were very grateful, and mesmerized by the camera of course. "We're going to be on American television!" Again, I was just blown away by the way these kids take care of each other. They look out for the little ones, make sure everyone is involved in whatever game or sport is happening.

It's hard not to be changed by what I've already seen here. What we're filming is incredible, and I can't wait for you all to share the experience too.

Tomorrow we're going to an AIDS Clinic in a remote village in the mountains called Pomeroy. I've read so much about the AIDS epidemic (yes, because of Bono) but seeing what it's caused first-hand is really altering. More tomorrow, good night from the other side of the planet. I'll try to get more pictures up, but the connection here is pretty weak.

(P.S. - We got all of our bags back! Thanks South African Airways!)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Boston to DC to Jo'Burg to Durban

Three planes, one missed connection, three lost bags and 25 hours later we're in Durban, South Africa!

The 18-hour flight was the easy part. I don't have a long internet connection tonight, but I will say this is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I will post pictures and write a longer post tomorrow. Can't wait to see more of this country...