a fish in a story about an ocean.

Over two months spent in South Africa and nearly reaching that date that used to seem far off which has snuck up and become “3 more weeks”. Three more weeks until I drive to the airport, stand in lines, move through security with hundreds of others in the quiet chaos of removing our shoes, belts, coats, scarves, convince guards we aren’t smuggling bombs, wait to board, wait for takeoff and then stare out a tiny window as if to say goodbye to yet another place I’ve fallen in love with. About the time the stewardess rolls down the aisle with the drink cart I’ll have entered into reflection about what was just happened in my life and I will probably take out my journal and begin writing frantically, trying to capture what I am feeling right then and there, wondering as I write if I’ve done any good and why I can’t be everywhere in the world all at once. Then a steady, holy whisper will interrupt my thoughts and remind me that there is a bigger story that I am a part of and that whatever experience I have just had is a fish in a story about an ocean. I will order a cranberry juice and try to convince Steve to order a ginger ale and propose that we share our drinks, combine them and make spritzers. He will probably agree and as we concoct delicious fizzy goodness I will look at him and know that the gears in his head are turning and that the same tension that is escalating in my heart is shared in his. He will take my hand and we’ll recline our seat backs a little bit, breath deeply and silently prepare our hearts for the next part of the journey.

By that point I’ll probably have closed my eyes, put my head back against the pillows I’ve collected from the empty seats around me and be on to thinking about how romantic Africa is; it’s tall mountains named after the wild game that roam it’s valleys, the breathtaking pinks, purples and reds in its skies at dusk, the energy you feel as you pass by a group of men singing and dancing on the sidewalk or the respect you feel when you see a woman balancing groceries on her head, a baby strapped to her back, knowing she has probably walked for miles and she probably has miles more to go. Yes, there is an inexplicable vibrance here that seems to be encouraged by the steady sound of tides rolling in from the Indian and the Atlantic as if to say over and over “life is here, hope is here.” I don’t think I am the only one who romanticizes Africa. If you live in the west it is generally portrayed as a place where HIV and AIDS victims suffer hopelessly, where swollen bellied babies with big, sad eyes stand in line for rations at feeding schemes, infomercials about why we should donate 25 cents a day for eighteen months so that a family can have clean water and an excuse for why American kids have to finish their dinner.

Ironically I’ll finish the last part of that thought just in time to refuse a scary meal in a tin tray. Steve will dig in, tell me it’s not as bad as it looks and put all of the tomatoes from his mini-side-salad in his empty coffee cup and hand them to me. Such a thoughtful husband. I’ll eat my lycopene and my mind will go back to Africa. It’s not to say that the generalizations about Africa aren’t true, yes, your 25 cents a day will probably change someone’s life forever. But the thoughts that will be swirling in my brain will be of a life I don’t quite understand. About why I was born in a place where most of the swollen bellies are caused by overabundance and not malnutrition. About if I am convincing myself that I am actually doing some good in the world. I’ll search my brain and try to get to the core of what is causing the pangs in my chest. I’ll take out my headphones and listen to some music to slow my heart down. I’ll fall asleep and wake up 11 songs later. I’ll know that the generalizations about Africa only become scary and wrong when we begin to think in the context of ourselves as the fixers of the world and the hungry people with the dark sad eyes as the ones who need to be fixed. When we take on the humble mindset of servants to all, we realize that there are infinite connections between me and you and the kids whose faces flash for 30 seconds on the screens in our living rooms. I need to be redeemed just as much as him, her and you. I’ll take out my journal again and my favorite black pen but this time I won’t write frantically. I will write a three word prayer, “peace.be.still”. I will exhale deeply and open my window to realize I am flying high above the clouds.


purple sheep.

{note: this is not the actual stained glass window that I refer to below}

I was recently in a church where there was a large stained glass window, front and center, depicting Jesus as "The Good Shepherd", halo around his head, with pink and purple sheep surrounding him. He held the smallest, least colorful sheep in the palm of his hand and a glowing staff in the other. When I first saw it I smiled, admiring the artist for their creativity, but the longer I sat there staring at it (it was smack dab right in the front of the church, so I really couldn't help it) I couldn't help but ponder how I envision "The Good Shepherd" when I pray, "...I shall not want..."Of course I have a limited understanding of what it means for Jesus Christ to shepherd me, framed within the context of sheep grazing within fenced areas on farms. Jesus was talking to a group of men who knew sheep (John 10). I imagine these men have a similar thought pattern as the shepherds that Steve and I met in Afghanistan last year when it comes to sheep. The sheep that I envision aren't the cute and cuddly stuffed toys (unrelated sidenote: all of Katie's toy sheep, yes there were more than one, were named "Joey") that my sister carried around as a kid. As creative as I am, I am way too much of a realist (I refused to watch cartoons as a kid) to imagine a glorious, glowing Jesus snuggling pink and purple sheep. The sheep that I envision are the kind that roam aimlessly, that eat garbage out of gutters unless directed to the luscious patch of green meadow and peaceful stream beside it.

We were driving on our way back into town from a remote village where we had just distributed food during a drought. We were WAY out there and hadn't seen any sign of life for hours. Then, in the dusty distance, 3 figures appeared. As we got closer we could make out hundreds of sheep, a few donkeys and three men. We stopped to meet them and offer them the last of the oil, sugar and flour that we had left over from the food distribution. They were grateful, thanked us and told us that they had to be on their way. The sheep needed to be tended and guided. The shepherds walked away from us and we watched as their sheep followed.

I can't speak for the stained glass artist, but for me this is a beautiful example of "The Good Shepherd" faithfully guiding his sheep through right paths in the desert, no end in sight, but still they lead their sheep onward.

The LORD is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the LORD
Psalm 23


in the know.

Being in a country with over 12 million aids orphans, our group became quickly aware of how little we know about HIV and AIDS. This is partly due to the fact that there are misconceptions about the illness in the United States, so it becomes a hush hush problem that "happens in Africa and to homosexuals" and is portrayed on popular television shows as a deadly disease that you can contract when someone who is HIV positive so much as breathes on you. In an attempt to shed some light on this illness, I am passing on some (paraphrased) information from my dear friend, Laura, who is a psychologist, counselor, lecturer, mother and runs Voice for the Voiceless with her husband here in Cape Town.

General Facts about HIV

Originally called G.R.I.D (gay related immune-deficiency)

Over 20 years ago Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was first documented in the United States

More than 15 years ago Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was linked to and identified as causing AIDS

Since then HIV/AIDS cases have been documented all over the world

First labeled a sexually related illness but later found out that hemophiliacs were also contracting the illness. Soon after it was realized that prostitutes and children were also at risk and than eventually realized that all humans are susceptible.

There are two different types of HIV
HIV 1 -associated with infections in Central East and Southern Africa, North and South America and the rest of the world
HIV 2 -West Africa (acts more slowly)
Often strands cross and people acquire a double infection (1 and 2) which causes the virus to act much more quickly.

HIV first Identified
-Acquired Immunity deficiency syndrome first described in America in 1981.
-Number of men developed a rare pneumonia cause by a parasite
September 1983 scientists in France discovered the human immune-deficiency virus (HIV) to be the cause of this new disease called AIDS
In Central Africa health care workers were discovering a new disease called “slims disease” also due to immune deficiency and it was present in heterosexually orientated people.

Earliest Instances of HIV:
-1959 plasma sample taken from an adult male living in DRC
-HIV found in tissue samples from an American teenaged who died in St. Louis in 1969
-HIV found in tissue samples from a Norwegian sailor who died around 1976

Origins of HIV:
Most accepted explanations:
HIV crossed the species barrier from primates to humans at some time during the 20th century

HIV is related to a virus called SIV (simian immunodeficiency) found in chimpanzees and African green monkeys.

The virus probably crossed over when contaminated animal blood entered open lesions or open cuts on the hands of humans who were butchering of SIV infected animals for food.

While initially the spread of HIV was probably limited to isolated communities various factors such as migration, improved transportation, networks, socioeconomic instability, multiple sexual partners, injecting drug use

Contributing factors to the fast travel of HIV- Complex processes
-National and international travel, especially international travel in the Gay community
-In Africa the virus would have spread along truck routes between towns and within the continent itself. Also liberation wars led to mass rape and pillaging, therefore the soldiers already infected with HIV positive spread HIV rapidly.
-Patient “0”
-Blood industry boomed-as blood transfusions became routine parts of medical practice. The demand for blood began to develop rapidly. In countries such as the USA people were paid for their blood often attracting the most desperate for cash. IV drug users. Doctors were unaware of how easily HIV could be spread and remained unscreened. In the late 1960’s hemophiliacs began to manifest symptoms of HIV
Drug Use-in the 1970’s there was an increase in the availability of heroin following the Vietnam War and other conflicts and helped to stimulate a growth in the use of drugs

Global realities
-More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981
-Africa has m12 million aids orphans
-By the end of 2005 women account for 48% of all adults living with HIV worldwide and 59% in sub Saharan Africa
-15-24 year old kids account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide around 6,000 become infected with HIV every day.
-In developing and transitional countries 6.8 million people are in immediate need of life saving AIDS drugs, of these only 1.65 million are receiving these drugs

South Africans spend more time at funerals that they do having their hair cut, shopping or having Braais.


a blog for steve.

dear steven, please feel better soon. love, wife.

© 2010 unless otherwise stated all photos are copyright diane schallert and may not be used without permission. thanks.

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