adrian is rad


birthday giving

Filed under: — adrian @ 1:33 pm

A few years ago I started a tradition of giving money to charities around my birthday*. After taking a few years off while I was in South Africa and then recovering from the financial impact of living in South Africa, I’m happy to restart the tradition.

As usual, I like to give to some local, national and international–particularly Africa-centric–charities. I also like giving to efficient charities.

Here’s who I gave to this year:

  • 20% Local Year Up [Boston Chapter] (CN) They run one year programs for low social-economic status 18-24 year olds with mentoring, apprenticeships and skills training. They have a pretty high success rate.
  • 20% National/ Good Idea Fresh Moves A mobile produce market that serves the ‘food deserts’ in Chicago. Seems like a cool idea that I thought about giving money to for a while.
  • 20% National American Red Cross (CN) For the first time in years (that I’ve seen, at least) they were not a top rated charity as far as efficiency goes, but I also couldn’t find another equivalent national relief organization. When it comes time for next year’s birthday giving, I’ll reconsider if they’re still not a four-star charity.
  • 20% International/ Africa African Medical and Research Foundation (CN) I’ve given to them every year that I’ve done the birthday giving. They focus on less known, but high impact diseases and health issues in Africa.
  • 20% International/ Africa Books for Africa (CN) I worked with a library building organization while I was in South Africa who cited a statistic that 93% of schools in South African did not have a serviceable library. And South Africa is probably better off than most countries in Africa in that regard.

As always, I’m reluctant in posting these because I don’t like to draw attention to myself. Perhaps you’ll find an interesting charity to donate to, or if you think I’m doing it all wrong, you can find a charity more in line with your ideals and donate to it.

*And, of course, I’m a bit late for my birthday. It took me a while to research and choose charities.


arts this week (IFFB, Archers of Loaf, Horse Feathers)

Filed under: — adrian @ 5:42 am

This past week and a half has been pretty busy, including seeing three movies, three bands and two baseball games. I won’t talk much about the games—you can find out what happened in the two games (Sunday’s 17 inning Red Sox loss and last Monday’s win vs Oakland)—but here’s what happened with the movies and bands.


  • Sleepwalk with Me was the opening night film for the Independent Film Festival Boston, where I saw all of these films. It’s Mike Birbiglia’s semi-fictionalized take on his life, sleepwalking, relationships and becoming a comedian. I liked his comedy for a while. And, really, what I mean by his comedy is his story telling style. I wasn’t disappointed. This is equal parts funny and thoughtful and I’d recommend it. My one fear with the film is that producer and cowriter Ira Glass will get a lot of the credit where most of the meat of the story come straight from Birbiglia’s comedy.
  • Knuckleball!: This is a documentary about the baseball pitch. Since about 1992, when I became fascinated with Tim Wakefield, I’ve liked the knuckleball and knuckleball pitchers. This game an interesting look at the history, some of the pitchers and the mechanics of the actual pitch. Most of the film, though, looked at the two pitchers who were still throwing it in 2011: RA Dickey and Tim Wakefield. (Wakefield has since retired.) I enjoyed it a lot, but I think it may only be for those who are interested in baseball.
  • Under African Skies is a documentary about Paul Simon’s Graceland with a large part of the film focusing on Simon’s first trip back to South Africa since the album was released. (He played in Zimbabwe in 1987, but not in South Africa itself.) He reunited with a lot of the original musicians and through and around them playing the album’s music together again, some of the story about how the album was made and the aftermath were told. I really thing Graceland is one of the best pop albums ever, so I wasn’t a hard sell on this movie, but I thought it was a really well-made film.


  • Archers of Loaf @ the Middle East: I’ve liked this band since I was 18; unfortunately they broke up when I was 17. Luckily they reunited last year and added a Boston stop to their tour dates this year. The show itself was great. It wasn’t just that they played all the old songs I loved, but that there were all these fans seeing the band they couldn’t see for all those years. It made for a fun atmosphere.
  • Horse Feathers @ Brighton Music Hall: I’d seen Horse Feathers before, in a small show in San Francisco almost four years ago. This time it was a Saturday night crowd in Boston and a sold out show. The band played well and from that aspect it was a great show. The crowd was very chatty, though, which distracted from the overall experience. I’ll never get why one would pay 15 dollars to see a band and then talk he whole time.
  • Feist @ House of Blues Boston: After all of the above Margaret and I were not exactly excited for another night out. Add to that that I’m always sceptical of large venues like House of Blues. Feist came out and started the hard, scattershot rhythm of “The Bad in Each Other” and we were won over. And, though it’s very big, House of Blues has good sound and decent sightlines.



Filed under: — adrian @ 9:28 am

To me the crux of the Nelson Mandela story is his time in prison. He went in angry, at his own admission, and deemed a terrorist. He was ill-treated by guards. Long hours of hard labor in a lime quarry damaged his eyesight permanently. But after twenty-some years, he wasn’t broken; instead when he was offered to be freed, he refused unless the other political prisoners were freed as well. And after 27 years, he came out a hero, a founding father and a redeemer. He came out a better man, learning the language of his oppressors to better communicate with them, working to save one of their national symbols, willing to forgive those—both specifically and generally—that oppressed him, even helping give a scholarship to one of his prison guard’s sons. Granted, he was just one man—there were many that worked to change South Africa—and he wasn’t perfect, but what an amazing man, he is.

466/64 was his prison number.


two years

Filed under: — adrian @ 2:33 pm

Two years ago today I arrived in South Africa.

I’m working on a longer essay about South Africa that I was hoping to have finished by today, but I don’t, so I’ll have to share that with you another day.

I wanted to at least mark the day, though. It’s been a strange, unexpected and often wonderful two years.


like a tan, it fades

Filed under: — adrian @ 7:56 pm

The vestiges of my rural South African tan are nearly faded away, as have the constant and then daily reminders that I once lived there.

I walk at night without thought and I’m not shocked when beer tastes good. I usually look to the left when stepping of a curb. I have some expectation of bureaucracies and other processes working, albeit not necessarily quickly. Having friends around that have known me for years isn’t strange. Bands touring to my town; being cold; feeling normal; and being bombarded with the vast choices and wastes of everyday American life are all becoming increasingly normal experiences.

The one thing that I still get a bit surprised by is that everyone, to some approximation, speaks with an American accent. People open their mouth and I still expect one of the various accents that occur commonly in South African, or possibly one of many languages that are prevalent in the region.

I’ve been back in the US America for well over two months now, as hard as that is to believe. I traveled a lot[1] when I got back but I’ve semi-settled in Boston. I don’t have my things or a place but those are both in the works. And I have some promising job leads.

Some day I’ll go get tanned again, even if it’s just for a bit.

[1] Cape Town->Charlotte->Washington, DC->Philadelphia->Washington, DC->Boston->New Hampshire->Boston->Philadelphia->New York->Boston, approximately.


mugged (months ago)

Filed under: — adrian @ 4:27 pm

I wrote this on January 26, 2010, four days after the incident. It affected me decreasing amounts over about six months. Despite this incident I think that South Africa is a safer country than is often portrayed and that the paranoid often displayed about safety is detrimental to one’s life.

On Friday I got mugged. Walking home from a meet-up at a hotel bar not far from where I lived, three guys, probably around 18 or 20, pushed and held me up against a fence and went through my pockets. They took my debit card and a couple hundred Rand in cash. One who took my ID gave it back when he saw what it was. The street was one I’ve walked many times, both in dark and light. It’s not heavily trafficked, but it’s also not deserted.

Soon after they let me go and moved away, a car guard came up and asked if they’d taken anything. When I told him they had, he started chasing them down the street and around the corner. He came back after a few minutes saying the police caught them around the corner… Sure enough there were three undercover policemen with three guys and a crowd forming.

I suppose “cruel and unusual punishment” doesn’t mean much to those policemen. At least one suspect was hit (slapped) by a policeman. Two were put in the trunk of the unmarked car–a small Citi Golf sedan–for transport to the station. One policeman sparked off a taser repeatedly in the air as a threat. Another policeman told me how they once made a suspect run in front of the van the entire way from Vredehoek to the station–a distance of about two or three miles. I didn’t particularly have any love for the people who mugged me, but I immediately knew that at the very least they should be treated fairly and humanely.

I went down the the station to give my statement. In the end, I could positively identify one of the three people they picked up. Maybe he’ll go to jail or maybe he won’t. Cracking down on robbery is necessary, but not as necessary as creating situations where people in desperately poor situations can improve their lives.



Filed under: — adrian @ 7:22 am

I have a lot of things I want to say about a lot of things, but first I wanted to say something about Ingwavuma and my time there over the last few months (most of October, all of November, basically). And I want to start with that because I didn’t write very much about this trip there, particularly compared to last year.

But first, if you haven’t seen it, watch the video I made about Ingwavuma. Not because I think it’s great, but because until you see what Ingwavuma looks like I don’t think you can understand it.

I’ve written about a number of the instances and events in Ingwavuma, so I’ll say something more about the intangibles.

For me it’s salient characteristic is stillness. Things move and change slowly. People walk slowly. Sounds are laughing and shouting, goats bleating, cows mooing, roosters crowing. Clothes flap gently in the wind. Trees sway.

It’s a really gorgeous region. The rolling hills and valleys of the Lebombo Mountains are covered in lush green trees and accented with slate-grey rocky outcroppings. From the tops of the hills, you can see 20 or 30 miles on a clear day. At one end of town, the dirt road runs along a 700m drop-off looking over Swaziland.

Everyone greets everyone. I’d go for a walk and most everyone I’d pass would greet me and ask how I was.

People are nice. Like really nice.

There is a small non-Zulu community (60?). People tend to know each other and help each other out. It’s a nice community. Someone who arrives might get invited for a weekend away right away. And if you don’t help someone, who will? I found myself being a nicer person because of that. Who else is going to help change the tire? Or act as a courier of a box of books back to Cape Town? And it certainly wasn’t one-sided. I was invited to dinners where I hadn’t even met the hosts before and welcomed into homes when I got stuck without a phone somewhere.

There aren’t any bars and there’s one small cafe but no restaurants. There’s next to nothing in terms of entertainment that one can go out to. It takes away a lot of the social hang-ups. You want to spend time with someone? Invite them for dinner or to go for a walk or hike. And alcohol is not as free-flowing as in cities so you’re more likely to be offered tea or juice at someone’s house than a beer. It’s basically a completely different social paradigm than in most any other place I’ve been to.


time slows, time hastens

Filed under: — adrian @ 10:39 am

Time has been doing weird things lately. Sometimes it slows down and most improbably many things all fit into a short amount of time. It also speeds up and goes by far faster than any atomic clock should allow. I have about a week and a half left in Ingwavuma and a little more than three weeks left in South Africa. That seems like a ridiculously short amount of time.

I saw a guy wearing a Steelers shirt on Friday as I drove through Jozini a pretty small town that one hits on the way to Ingwavuma. I almost drove off the road. This was undoubtedly one of those thrift-store-thinks-it-can’t-sell-it-so-it-sends-it-to-Africa things, so it wasn’t like I’d encountered a fan, but it was still stunning. This would be liking seeing someone wearing an Ajax CT or AmaZulu* shirt in Monte Vista, Colorado.

kosi bay lagoon
kosi bay

I’ve been having all sorts of adventures lately. After tutoring Monday-Thursday this week, the school asked if I couldn’t drive to Cape Vidal, in St. Lucia, for their school field trip on Friday, as they were a few spots short transportation-wise. It was about a three hour drive each way but it was a gorgeous beach.

I had already been planing to go to Kosi Bay yesterday, so it looked like two beach days in a row. You go almost to the Mozambique border (<500m—you can see the fence) before turning down a dirt track. Eventually it turns to sand and it's 4x4s-only from there. It's about 5km to the beach. Luckily a family that I know were there for the weekend and I caught a ride down with them to the actual river mouth. It's absolutely gorgeous. There's a very shallow estuary area where you can sit and enjoy the water or go for little dips without any rough waves. And there's a little spot for snorkeling with spikey stone fish and eels and a number of tropical and colorful fish. There are 30m or so tall forested sand dunes, which I've seen nothing like in my life. The Tonga people around there still use traditional methods for catching fish (complicated fish traps that funnel fish in the river into catchment areas). They look like spiraling fences in the river. It's quite a sight. And there are people line fishing on the ocean-side beach as well. I'd love to go back but I don't think I'll have time. And tomorrow I start my hiking safari which runs through Wednesday. I’m quite excited about it.

Last weekend I went back to Cape Town for a friend’s wedding. The Durban airport is a four or so hour drive from here and it’s a two hour flight from there to Cape Town. Plus the travel time on the Cape Town side and the waiting-in-the-airport time, it made for long days on Friday and Sunday. But it was a beautiful wedding and a nice opportunity to see friends.

The other thing was that after six weeks in Ingwavuma, even the Durban airport was a shock. Look at all those lights and all the things you could buy! I mean, the airport has a Woolies so you can get organic Ayershire yogurt in the airport. I can’t even get plain yogurt of any sort in Ingwavuma.

* On the Cape Town-Durban flight on the way back from the above-mentioned wedding, AmaZulu, a major soccer team in the top division here, and Maritzburg FC, a smaller team, were both on the same plane.

and today

Filed under: — adrian @ 2:36 am

I’m less embarrassed to be a Catholic. Scratch that, I’m less embarrassed of the Catholic Church; I’m rarely embarrassed to be Catholic.


the big five aren’t necessarily the biggest, nor are they the best.

Filed under: — adrian @ 12:27 pm

I’m not quite sure the reason for it but I’ve noticed that holding hands by same-sex friends is somewhat common here. I could guess that it could be because there isn’t a visible homosexual community to speak of to the point where the homophobic reactions to same-sex affection doesn’t happen. Or perhaps it’s just cultural.

Tutoring continues. Helping final-years with physics really hasn’t happened so I switched to helping grade 11s prepare for their end-of-year math exam. It’s a different set of things they need to know, so it’s been nice for me working through different problems.

I also started tutoring English and math at an upstart school nearby. It’s sort of grade 2-7 material so it’s quite basic, sometimes to the point where I find it difficult to explain. And English is just generally hard to explain, given that the ‘rules’ were made up based on a highly irregular spoken language.

children's radio project
four of the kids from the Children’s Radio Project broadcasting on the community radio station.

As I mentioned two kids from the children’s radio project (2nd from left and far right, above) were trying to get to NYC for a UNICEF workshop and awards presentation which they were invited to after the program won a regional award from the organization.

Well, the kids got to New York (mostly) without incident and seemed like they had a good time. Not only that, but they/ the program won the global UNICEF children’s radio award, which we’re all very excited about.

Things I can’t get in Ingwavuma includes: plain yogurt, butter, chicken breast (without buying most of a chicken), natural peanut butter; most restaurant-type or pre-cooked food like pizzas, burgers, curries, etc;

Different bugs seem to decide that my place is a good place to be. First it was ants. The least amount of food left out would draw a swarm of ants. Then it was fruit flies. Now it seems to be transitioning to mosquitoes.

Safety is much less of an issue here than in Cape Town. I’ve never once felt unsafe here and apparently other people don’t either: the other day at the market (admittedly on a slow day/ time), someone had left their car unattended and running outside when he went in. Wow.

After being dry and hot for a few days, Friday was muggy. I’m not used to the humidity and after a 15 minute walk up the hill to one of the schools for tutoring my shirt was drenched in sweat. I’m going to bring a change of shirts next time I go.

There’s a chance I’ll get to see some of the next two Steelers games on tape delay. That would be very exciting. So far I have mostly been following the team by reading up about the games and the moves the team is making on the internet, though I did get to listen to a couple of the early games online.

tembe elephant

After a beach weekend trip had to be canceled last minute, I decided to spend a day at Tembe Elephant Park which is nearby. It’s a different sort of park in that most people that go stay the night, a package that includes two game drives with rangers and all of the meals. (It’s a very sandy area so driving oneself isn’t feasible unless he has a stout vehicle.)

The game viewing wasn’t spectacular with the main sights among the big mammals being an elephant (above) and two rhino, but there were some nice surprises like seeing a large number of nyala and the fairly rare and diminutive suni. The food and accommodation and company was all good, though.

Next weekend I’ll be attending a wedding outside of Cape Town. I’m not looking forward to the travel days (driving 4 hours to/ from Durban airport plus the 2 hour flight), but I’m excited about the wedding and the people I’ll see.


hot hot

Filed under: — adrian @ 11:22 am

Today was the sort of day that makes you feel like you’re in Africa. It’s hot. But it’s a special sort of hot. The sun beats down. The red dirt is dry; it’ll be cracked after a few more days like. Gone are the weekend’s cool, stormy days. No, it wasn’t comfortable today. The wind wasn’t cool or crisp or refreshing. It felt like someone blowing a hair dryer in your face*. No one would use a hair dryer on a day like today. I’d just leave my hair wet and try to keep something cool at least. This heat takes away any motivation for movement. Walking across the road becomes a chore. The only thing that seems imaginable is sitting, sitting and hoping it’ll cool down. With every person you pass there’s a commiserating look saying “Eish, it’s hot. But we’re all hot together.”

*This particular phrase was taken from a guy named Henry.


how to write about africa

Filed under: — adrian @ 11:35 am

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

I’ve seen this piece a few times now. Some of it definitely rings true.

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