I can't get no ... satisfaction

This song makes me feel joyful.

...

foxfour (by email): I had a dream last night, in which you sheepishly admitted that you were behind all yeti and sasquatch myths, and showed us your extensive collection of cryptid costumes. Hope you're well!

me: That is now my favorite dream ever, and I didn't even have it myself.

kit: And you don't deny the truth of it?

me: I mean ... uh ... :sweatdrop: Too late for denial now, wouldn't you say?

kit: Your secret's safe with me.

...

Sudden Poll! Are you still reading livejournal? If so, how are you doing and what are you up to?

Most of my writing is elsewhere these days, as it has been increasingly for years. I don't think I'll shut this place down officially, but I've got a lot to move on with. Questions on this score may be filed by email.

Oh yeah, also I came back from Africa. Right now I'm in San Francisco (where else?) and I'll be back in Chicago in November.
The Tale of the Tanzanian Taxi Driver

I went to Tanzania a few months ago with fellow Peace Corps Volunteer and boyfriend Rob. We were on a tour to learn all about the issues around coffee-growing, particularly fair trade coffee-growing. It was often incredibly interesting, though probably the most interesting thing we turned up was this awesome Obama calendar:



Spotted in a coffee processing factory.


The way the tour was structured, we didn't get to talk to the farmers much. Perhaps this is why the most affecting labor-related encounter we had was with a taxi driver.

Rob and I had split off from the rest of the coffee group two days early, because I insisted that it would be awesome to go to Zanzibar (and I was totally right; it was). On our way to and from Zanzibar, we passed through Dar Es Salaam for two nights and acquainted ourselves with a taxi driver named Frank. Because we had to catch a plane out of Dar Es Salaam in the early morning of our last day, we arranged for Frank to meet us around 5.30 AM at the hostel where we planned to stay.

On our last night in Dar Es Salaam, we went to the hostel and discovered that the running water wasn't working, and the place wasn't willing to provide buckets of water. This was no good -- not only were we thirsty, we were also covered in salt from jumping off a Zanzibari pier into the Indian Ocean. So we switched to the nearby YMCA, which had water and was cheaper anyway.

The next morning we had a brief adventure around 5 AM, when we realized that the YMCA didn't actually open until 6 AM and all the doors were locked. This meant that we had to break out of the place by climbing down a wall. Rob blazed the trail for me as usual, despite the fact that he was wearing loafers as usual. Breathless and laughing, we crept out into the dark streets of Dar Es Salaam and walked several blocks to meet Frank the taxi driver at our former hostel. On our way, a few taxi drivers offered to pick us up, but I figured that the only honorable thing to do was keep our appointment with Frank.

We were a little late, but Frank was there; so I apologized for our lateness, we packed our things into the taxi and drove off towards the airport. Rob and I sat chatting in the backseat about the local Tanzanian public transport -- here's what the public transport in Zanzibar looked like:



Zanzibari public transport is sort of like Swaziland's khumbi system, except that they're called dalla-dallas and they look ridiculously cool.


A few minutes into our conversation, Frank interrupted us. He seemed to be struggling with a strong emotion.

"Lydia," he said, "I have to say something."

"Okay," I said.

His voice was halting and seemed somewhat uncertain. "My English isn't good enough for this," he apologized, which was totally untrue. "But I am just very impressed and thankful that you came this morning. I am just a taxi driver, and tourists, they never think about me .... You had to leave the hostel last night because there was no water, and that was the right thing to do, because you should have water, but then when I heard that you had switched hostels without saying where you were going, I knew you would not be coming to meet me. But now I see that you came all the way back to the place you agreed to meet me, in the dark ... you worried about me and you came back to meet me. Even though I'm just a taxi driver!"

I wasn't sure what to say. I looked at Rob and Rob looked at me. Finally I said: "I mean, it seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't want to inconvenience you."

"Thank you," Frank said. The sincerity in his voice almost broke my heart. In the cities where I've lived in America, one never makes appointments with taxi drivers -- one simply calls a dispatcher or picks up a cab on the street when necessary -- but I found myself wondering whether drivers could be so affected by someone who was merely friendly and honorable. I mean, it's hard to imagine a New York taxi driver having such an emotional moment over a tourist who failed to be a thoughtless jerk, but maybe I just haven't paid enough attention to New York taxi drivers? Or maybe it really is that in Tanzania, the underclass tends to be treated much worse on an interpersonal level than they are in America, especially by tourists? Or maybe this is all just my white / cissexual / whatever privilege talking and it depends entirely on how customers perceive you? Or are there are lots of customer service jobs in America too where employees react to basic courtesy by feeling incredibly grateful? (Telemarketing?)

I mean, I spent years working in bookstores, and -- like all customer service jobs -- although I had some bad customers, I also had some really great customers. I think my strong reaction to Frank came from imagining what it would feel like to work customer service in a place where I'd be so heartbreakingly grateful to someone who wasn't thoughtless.

It's a cliché that the biggest impact Peace Corps Volunteers have is interpersonal, but it's also true. If most tourists are out there doing things like making unkept appointments with taxi drivers, or otherwise confirming awful colonial-ish stereotypes, then I guess we can make a major difference by failing to treat people like dirt. It's kind of sad to think that this is so necessary, but hey, at least we do it well.

If you're heading to Dar Es Salaam and want Frank's phone number, drop me an email! He gave it to me at the airport on our way out, and I promised to send him some business if I got the chance. And tell him I said hi, when you get there.

...

Amazing art done in car dust

Amazing super-tiny carvings in pencil lead

Exhibit on how colonialists looked through African eyes

The National Enquirer was nominated for a Pulitzer!
It didn't win, but still!

Zanzibarian Princess Salme was totally awesome
Growing up in the Zanzibar sultan's harem in the mid-1800s, she was not allowed to read or write, so she secretly taught herself to write using a camel's shoulder blade as a slate. Later she eloped with a German diplomat (who, alas, died only a year or two into her marriage) and spent the rest of her life in Europe, where she wrote the wildly popular Memoirs of an Arabian Princess. There's a whole room about her at the historical museum in Zanzibar! although it was kind of patchy and lacked a timeline, and therefore whetted my appetite for more information rather than answering questions.
For ages, I've been meaning to post about traditional healers (the politically incorrect, early-1900s anthropologist term would be "witch doctors"). They're completely fascinating -- I just hope that I don't make them uninteresting by talking overmuch about vocabulary. You guys will let me know if this entry is confusing, right?

Traditional healers are a major facet of Swazi consciousness, and South African too, and probably in other nearby countries as well, though I'm not sure how present they are in non-Swazi non-Zulu culture. (Swazi culture and Zulu culture seem quite similar to me, though I'm sure there are many important differences that an insider could swiftly enumerate!) These magicians are heavily intertwined with traditional ancestor worship and other religious beliefs. They're referenced in everything from movies -- if you haven't seen "District 9" then you really should -- to advertisements. My personal favorite piece of Swazi ephemera that I have so far collected is a leaflet from Nando's Restaurant that characterizes all the food in the terms of magical cures. For instance, over a picture of Burger Meal it says "To make your boss like you," over a picture of Full Pack Meal it says "To fix the family problems," and over a picture of Half Chicken Meal it says "To give your man more power." On the back it says, "Dr. N. A. Ndos Lemon and Herbalist: With New Powerful Herb, the African Bird Eye Chili," and gives further effects, such as "Makes employees happy at you", "Makes you to save the electricity," and "Makes enemies jealous." And on the bottom it says, "It's like magics." I love it so much.

The siSwati words for "traditional healer" are inyanga, plural tinyanga; also sangoma, plural tangoma; and a much less-used term, umfembi, plural bafembi. I am not entirely sure how most Swazis view the differences are among these terms; I tried to get some clarity on that question by asking around about the difference between tinyanga and tangoma during training last year, and ended up more confused:

* My host grandmother said that there is no difference.
* My friend's host sister said that tangoma are female but tinyanga are male, which doesn't seem to be 100% true from my experience.
* And the Peace Corps Training Manager, who is also Swazi, said the only difference is that tangoma dress traditionally while tinyanga don't.

After those three variant data points, I gave up ... you can already tell that it's tough to get good information on traditional healers, especially as an outsider. (Although at least one non-Swazi has undergone the initiation to become an inyanga. He wrote a book and everything!)

A Traditional Healer is Born

An oldish book about traditional healers by Lydia Phindile Makhubu informs me that tinyanga uniquely possess kushaya ematsambo, the bone-throwing skill, endowed upon them by the ancestors, which they use to diagnose illnesses. In contrast, tangoma diagnose by means of kubhula, communication with supernatural powers. The umfembi is similar to a sangoma, but rather than being tutored by benevolent spirits, an umfembi will be possessed by whatever evil spirits are causing the problems ze is diagnosing. Makhubu writes that for bafembi, "the spirits involved belong to people killed by members of the umfembi's family, perhaps in past wars." (In other sources, I've seen tinyanga referred to as "herbalists" as opposed to tangoma being "diviners".)



A traditional healer. Image taken from this site.


Makhubu mentions yet another type as well, the lugedla, which "evolves from those three" and whose skills are "acquired" rather than supernaturally inspired. That is, the lugedla learns how to be an traditional healer from existing healers ....

Which brings me to kwetfwasa. This is a process by which "ancestors manifest their presence in the subject who will eventually become a traditional healer," and it seems always to be attended by madness, illness, and/or omens. A lugedla does not undergo this, but the other types do. A person undergoing kwetfwasa is referred to as a litfwasa (plural ematfwasa); Makhubu describes past ematfwasa who disappear to a destination "as if hibernating", then return. Other accounts include:

* Periods of amnesia.
* A three-year submersion in water while learning techniques from "a woman with many necklaces".
* The litfwasa killing a python with his bare hands, then walking around with it wrapped around his neck.
* Families giving ematfwasa up for dead.
* Prophesies coming true, such as a cow behaving according to prophesy on the morning of a litfwasa's return.
* Loss of one's previous job has also been described as a kwetfwasa omen for at least one traditional healer.

Makhubu writes that "hibernation has disappeared" in "modern kwetfwasa," but a stage of incurable illness remains. A modern traditional healer named Priscilla Dlamini gave a lecture to Peace Corps Swaziland Volunteers in which she described her own kwetfwasa. She said that she experienced terrible aches and pains, but only between 6pm-7am, and that the aches defied all diagnoses. She went for everything up to and including an arthritis test and the doctors found nothing. These problems persisted until she had a dream of her call to healing, and then she felt quite suddenly better. (She was also careful to note that there's no consistency across healers -- two different healers can experience a completely different kwetfwasa.)

Sometimes ematfwasa are tested by their communities upon their return, to ensure that they're really enlightened -- like for example a family might hide articles and demand that a litfwasa use supernatural powers to find them. Or, as in one story, hide sacrificial animals and then demand that the litfwasa kill the animals without using a weapon -- just bare hands.

Read more...Collapse )

... and then I learned how to swim

Some of my fellow Peace Corps Swaziland Volunteers have made a new Welcome Video, which is what we send incoming volunteers to prepare them for this madness. My friend Kris has uploaded it to his YouTube account, and you can view it by clicking here. They thoughtfully separated the video into many separate themed pieces, so you can easily skip the chapter on "single women" but still watch "education" or whatever, or even just "introduction". I tried to watch it, really, but I was too bored. :grin: The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any positions of the U.S. Government or Peace Corps.

I did watch enough to note that Rob's in the education clip, though, so if you want to see my boyfriend just in from the field looking scruffy, that may be the one for you (he starts around 1:30, I think). I'm probably in some of the clips, but I don't know which ones -- if y'all watch any, let me know where I am.

Also, I'm going to Tanzania! Be back in a couple weeks.
My ownership of shataina.com lapsed while I've been here, and Godaddy.com is being very unsympathetic and probably won't let me have it back (I guess someone else bought it?). So, if any of you fine people have links to it anywhere (I can't imagine why you would), those links should be updated to point to:
http://pandora.simons-rock.edu/~shataina/
It's interesting how ritualized siSwati is. (Perhaps English is too and I'm merely accustomed?) When one passes another in the road, one always, always greets. Most of the time, even if you don't know the other person at all, you greet. "Sawubona," to one person, "Sani bonani," to more than one (or a particularly respectable one). They answer, "Yebo," ("yes") and you say "Unjani?" or "Ninjani?" ("how are you?"). To which they always say "Ngikhona / sikhona," or "Ngiyaphila / siyaphila," ("I'm here" or "I'm healthy"). If you choose to continue then you ask, "Uyaphi?" ("where are you going?"). If you choose to continue past that then you can say "Liyashisa," ("it's hot") in summer or "Makata," ("it's cold") in winter. To which the polite response is "Yebo, liyashisa kakhulu!" ("it sure is!") even if it's not particularly hot at all (or cold).

I have this conversation at least ten times every day. It is in fact offensive not to greet someone; I've gotten in trouble for it. Because I'm impatient, I often skip straight to "Unjani?" Less formal, but it does the job, and won't offend unless it's the chief or something.

...

It was slow in my community today, so slow; even slower than is usual, here, partly because of the holidays. At least it wasn't terribly hot. I took a nap in the late afternoon and woke up around 6.30, took my daily malaria prophylactic. I wanted to go for a walk, but in Peace Corps we're trained to be terrified of that kind of thing. Never go anywhere alone, unless you know the route well and there are lots of people. Never, ever go out after dark. I spend so much time sitting still; the Swazis say, "ukhuluphele" -- "you're doing well, you're getting fat." Not quite fat, and maybe they're exaggerating out of politeness (fat's a Good Thing), but I'm certainly too sedentary. I had to walk. It wasn't dark yet. And the community knows me pretty well, now, so how dangerous can it be to walk in a new direction from my homestead? Just for twenty minutes? As long as I'm back by dark?

The earth here is red -- deep red -- brick-red. The dirt roads are all red, practically glowing in contrast against the dusty yellow-green fields and scrubby small trees. My area is bounded in distant romantic cliffs and mountains. The wind was strong today; it wasn't even close to hot, by 6.45; my hair blew across my face and streamed behind me. I went in a direction a host sister once told me was dangerous. "The last Volunteer used to walk along that road, in the fields," she said. "But it's dangerous."
"How?" I asked.
She shrugged.
"What do you mean?" I persisted.
"I don't know, it's just dangerous," she said.
"So I shouldn't go there, then?" I asked. She shrugged again.
Conversations with Swazis often go like that.

At a crossroads I saw a boy with a wheelbarrow twenty feet away, accompanied by a small sisi (girl), and waved. He waved back, asked how I was.
"Ngiyaphila."
He shouted something I couldn't hear.
"Angiva," I shouted back. ("I don't understand.")
"You look like an angel," he cried. The girl was hopping on one foot, giggling.
"Ngiyabonga," I shouted. ("Thank you.")
"I love you!" he said, which is normal; at least this one didn't ask me to marry him.
"Ncesi," I called back. ("Sorry.")
The girl was in paroxysms of laughter.

I was reminded of another man who mistook me for an angel. I was reminded of the song "Nobody Needs to Know," from the musical The Last Five Years; a betrayal, that song -- dislikable lyrics, but the melody's so beautiful.

The fields are very empty along that road. That's probably why my host sister said it was dangerous -- there'd be no one to hear me scream. I passed three Swazis walking abreast. "Ninjani?"
"Siyaphila,"
they chorused.
One turned to watch me and asked, "Uyaphi?"
I smiled. "Just walking."
They laughed and shrugged me off.

Over a year ago I talked to one of my oldest friends, Ed, about whether I should come to Africa when the Peace Corps called -- that, or try to hold out for a region I actually wanted, like Asia. I already knew Africa was the place they intended to send me, and I knew it would be risky to hold out for someplace I really wanted, because PC disdains such preferences and judges applicants negatively for having them. I remember that I was drunk. I was on the edge of crying. Ed said, "I think you should go to Africa," and I said, "Why?"
He said, "Because I think Africa will make you a better person."

An orange-legged round insect the size of my palm darted into the road, dug, darted back into the bush. I passed one of the skeletal bushes with white wooden thorns several inches long and paused, touching the thorns, pushing my fingers gently against the points.

Singani sami -- my boyfriend -- Rob and I trade text messages every day. Last night, in one flurry, I noted how much I appreciate it that "I always feel sure that you listen to what I say & interpret charitably." He wrote back: "If I ever felt anyone deserved a charitable interpretation, it's you, a creature of love and madness, even desperation." And tears came to my eyes.

I'm falling in love. With the many-shaded red road, with the dusky mountains and white thorns. With slowness and ritual greetings and text messages thrown into the ether, like messages in tiny bottles. This love doesn't quite feel -- natural? It doesn't feel unavoidable; it doesn't feel like lightning or an avalanche or an inferno. I am not overwhelmed. I'm walking into it slowly.

I joked to all my friends before I left that within six months I'd either develop Stockholm Syndrome or go home. I've got it now; I'm falling in love; I have no choice. But I wouldn't have come here if I wanted a choice.
I'll just paste it here, because I doubt that the "Times of Swaziland" is going to get on my case. It's worth glancing at the original for the comments though. This mirror has some good comments too. Keep in mind that the contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US Government or the Peace Corps.

It's from the Letters to the Editor section:

Sir,

My name is Willard Windsor a resident of New York, United States of America.
I was born in Swaziland in 1964 and I left your beautiful country with my father when I was three years old.
My mom stayed on in Swaziland until 1986, and when she came back to the States she told me that if I wanted a happy life I should marry a Swazi woman, as they know how to take care of their husbands.

I didn’t listen to her then but I’m willing to listen to her now.
I am coming to Africa for the soccer world cup next year and I would like to use that opportunity to visit Swaziland as well, and hopefully meet and marry my new wife.

So I am hoping that you will publish my request for women who would like to marry me to send me emails so that I can communicate with them and make a proper choice before coming for the world cup. Briefly about myself; I’m a VP for Acquisitions at an Independent bank in New York City.

I am a divorcee and I have a 12 year old daughter. I’m looking for a woman between the ages of 20 to 40, and I’m not too picky; I just want a woman with a good heart to help me raise my daughter and take good care of me. I make good money so my wife will not need to work or worry about finances. So please publish my details in your newspaper and help me meet my future wife.

Willard Windsor.
willardwindsor@aol.com


The editor responds:

Windsor,

My immediate thought to your request is that I hope it is a genuine interest you have in our women. I also do hope that you are not just looking for someone to keep you busy during the month of the world cup. Having said that, it obviously lies with all the women who will show interest to make sure they know what they are getting themselves into.

Otherwise, let’s appreciate what your mother told you, it goes without saying that she is very right. We have beautiful women, who were raised right, and who I am sure, are intelligent enough to see through certain cons. Good luck, and may all those who will be interested tread carefully!

Editor.
BOOKS FOR SWAZILAND! :: An exciting request.
A PITCH THAT I SPENT MUCH TOO LONG WRITING.
(Cross-posted to: my LiveJournal and related communities, my Facebook profile and related pages, HPK-Mayhem, Bowers House, Moomers Readings, lots of my friends. Please forward!)



Hi everyone!

My name is Lydia and I am currently volunteering in Swaziland with the U.S. Peace Corps. For several years previous to my departure, I worked in the wonderful bookstore O'Gara & Wilson -- Chicago's oldest bookstore, in fact! (It has a beautiful new website that you can access by clicking here). I am also a nigh-rabid writer, and generally spend much more time reading than out in the healthy fresh air like a normal human.

Recently, my friend and fellow volunteer Jason collaborated with an organization called Books For Africa to create Books For Swaziland, a project designed to establish new libraries or enhance existing school library facilities in rural Swazi communities. He then recruited a bunch of us other volunteers to help distribute the books around our communities. If this sounds awesome to you, please donate money to help ship the books by clicking here.

But perhaps you have doubts! Read on, my friend. I will settle all your doubts and solve all your problems.


Your Doubts!

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking:

1) "Wow, it is awfully culturally imperialistic for America to be shoving our books down Swaziland's throat. I am disappointed in Lydia, as I thought she was a more culturally sensitive human than this!"

2) "Book donations are very rarely of good quality or useful subject matter. Doesn't Lydia know that it will not be awesome for Swazis to receive thousands of obscure literary criticism tomes and 1995 computer manuals?"

3) "I feel zero confidence that these books will be properly accessible to the Swazi populace and/or taken care of. For example, how is Lydia ensuring that the books for at her site are not sold, or perhaps destroyed through neglect?"

I completely understand! But rest assured that I would not participate in a project that did not address said doubts. Allow me to explain!


Solving All Your Problems!

1) "Wow, it is awfully culturally imperialistic for America to be shoving our books down Swaziland's throat. I am disappointed in Lydia, as I thought she was a more culturally sensitive human than this!"

While my cultural sensitivity may not be an enormous thing, I like to think that I am relatively perceptive, and I have been living in Swaziland for almost six months now. Swaziland was colonized by the British and attained independence in the middle of last century. SiSwati is the tongue spoken by almost all citizens, but English is rife: it is the official government language, and is for example used at all government meetings. Newspapers are in English, all the books in my local library are in English, and when asking for siSwati books at various Swazi libraries, I've been informed that there aren't any. Most Swazis speak at least some English, and schoolchildren learn all their lessons in English -- in fact, kids are punished for speaking siSwati in school.

You may have mixed feelings about how prevalent English already is in Swaziland -- I certainly do -- but the fact remains that it is everywhere, and the books available are already almost entirely in English. So by donating to this project you will be allowing Swaziland to access more and better-quality reading material of the type that it already uses, rather than forcing American reading standards upon uninterested and unappreciative Swazis.

Also, this project has been designed such that the collaborating Peace Corps Volunteers and our community partners are fundraising a considerable chunk of the budget (45%). So you may be sure that the communities receiving the books are interested, because they're putting in money!

Are you comforted? Donate!

2) "Book donations are very rarely of good quality or useful subject matter. Doesn't Lydia know that it will not be awesome for Swazis to receive thousands of obscure literary criticism tomes and 1995 computer manuals? What about the mildew and water stains?"

As a former employee of O'Gara & Wilson (did I mention that the store has a gorgeous new website?), rest assured that I am incredibly familiar with the frequently-terrible quality of book donations. Because I am so familiar, I grilled Jason when he recruited me. "Jason! Are you encouraging me to raise 1500 emalingeni just so my library will receive a thousand odd volumes from the 1962 Encyclopedia Britannica?"

Jason has informed me that he carefully checked into this matter before putting together the project. Some of the books are new and donated by the presses who printed them. Others are gathered from donation drives and carefully sorted. But if you don't believe these secondhand assurances about Books For Africa, you can check out their website directly, where an assortment of testimonials may be gathered from countries that already received books.

Also, I am pretty sure that it will be easy for these books donations to be better-quality than the books already available. Some of these books are going to places where there are none; some (such as those for my community) are being sent to existing libraries. And let me give you some random samples of books I found while wandering through my library:
# AIDS: Your Questions Answered. Copyright 1987.
# A book that had been thoroughly investigated by termites.
# Six odd volumes from the 1980s science fiction Gor series by John Norman, none of which were the first in the series.

Are you comforted? Donate!

3) "I feel zero confidence that these books will be properly accessible to the Swazi populace and/or taken care of. For example, how is Lydia ensuring that the books for at her site are not sold, or perhaps destroyed through neglect?"

Each Peace Corps Volunteer involved in Books For Swaziland has personally vetted the area where the books will be stored. In some cases, these are clean, dry rooms in schools; in others (such as my own) the facility is in fact already a library, with some books (and even a librarian) already.

Also, the volunteers involved in the project will be given a two-day workshop on setting up a good space for books and taking care of them properly, after which we will return to our communities and teach those skills to anyone who will listen. Although book preservation was never my O'Gara and Wilson specialty (check out their exciting new website), I feel confident that I can ensure at least some value at this workshop, even if it does manage to be terrible, which I'm pretty sure it won't.

Are you comforted? Donate!


That Is All!

Thank you for reading! Even if you are not concerned about the bookless Swazis, I hope you will think about donating in consideration of the mild entertainment that you have gained from this message, being as you made it all the way down to this paragraph.

You can do it right here!



Take care, all of you. I hope all is well in America.
Lydia



P.S. Guess what? The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US Government or the Peace Corps!
All the Peace Corps Volunteers in Swaziland just finished up a big all-volunteer conference in which we showed up at the biggest city, Manzini, and endured a metric ton of workshops. One day at lunch, I had a conversation with a few others about potential methods for educating vampires about HIV risk. We had just finished when Mr. Rob* appeared and sat across from me.

"You missed the conversation about interventions for vampires," I told him.

"Aw, man," said Rob. "That's a population I really want to work with! It sucks that I missed the focus group."

Potential HIV Interventions for Vampires: My Notes **

The target population is approximately 18-1023 years of age and tends to be unemployed, but wealthy. According to the roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade by White Wolf Game Studio,*** which has both condensed and defined modern perceptions of vampires,**** vampires can carry and spread HIV although it does not make them sick. The game also notes that vampires don't especially enjoy sex but do, of course, require blood to survive; thus the major vector for transmission is biting rather than sexual contact, and that's where we should focus our efforts.

The mechanics of this will vary. The well-known acronym ABC summarizes the methods used to prevent HIV spread among humans: Abstention from sex, Being faithful to an HIV-negative partner, and Condom usage. Analogous practices for vampires might include abstaining from human blood by drinking animal blood instead, but this is an inefficient and ultimately unsatisfying alternative for the vast majority of vampires -- particularly very old ones, which require a certain minimum quality of blood. A vampire might be faithful to one partner by only choosing to feed from one human; in fact, many vampires already keep a retainer to serve this purpose ... but is it realistic to expect complete fidelity? As for prophylactics, perhaps it would be possible to develop some kind of tooth-sheath that would protect human meatpuppets from contracting HIV, but I strongly suspect that humans will prove unwilling to utilize this intervention because it will decrease the unearthly bliss imparted by vampire bites. Another idea from the focus group is simply encouraging vampires to drain human blood into a glass and drink it from there, but again, lack of unearthly bliss = almost certain failure to adopt intervention.

Vampires are a highly marginalized and stigmatized population. This makes interventions difficult. The vampires, who must hide from humanity to survive, will be hard to find. Additionally, they may be wary of well-intentioned human educators. It's conceivable that they may even consume said educators -- our initial team should never travel alone. (But while it may be tempting to equip the team with materials such as stakes and flamethrowers, we must keep in mind that if any of us actually kills a vampire -- even in self-defense -- that will only make our job more difficult in the long run as they may begin perceiving us as vampire hunters, etc.)

Since fetish communities are both marginalized themselves and have demonstrable vampire sympathies, it might be worth seeking out HIV educators that have historically been willing to workshop that population (such as Chicago's group Better Living with HIV). We might also seek parallels with initiatives for commercial sex workers. Like vampires, CSWs have experienced exclusion and even abuse; some (though not all) are not happy to be CSWs, and would take other options if they were offered.

Ultimately, the lesson we have learned from other similarly stigmatized populations is that one of our best possible tactics is to recruit educators from within those communities and educate them so they can convince their peers. Thus, we should probably begin by trying to reach out to known high-profile vampires such as Ann Coulter.***** But the vampire community itself, which greatly fears human attention, polices its ranks for HIV carriers and slays them when found because carriers are considered a threat to vampiric secrecy. This has the unfortunate effect of driving vampiric HIV carriers even further underground, and of course making them even more difficult to reach.

Thus, we must accompany our educational efforts with a destigmatization campaign both within the vampire ranks -- encouraging them not to terminate HIV carriers but rather to treat them with sympathy and understanding -- and among humanity itself -- encouraging them not to view all vampires with fear and mistrust but to understand that many vampires legitimately live peacefully among humans, and those should be differentiated from violent, murderous, non-consensual vampires.****** A good start might be to encourage kine humans to use the polite term "thanatotically challenged" to describe the undead, plus some nice diversity workshops in schools and corporations where everyone gets snacks afterwards.*******

A final recommendation from the focus group: workshop venues for this population should probably be dark.

P.S. The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US Government or the Peace Corps.

P.P.S. Today is World AIDS Day, folks! Donate money or something. I mean, [begin guilt trip] I'm devoting two years of my life in the Third World, the least you can do is give five bucks. [/guilt trip]

* Has it become a convention on this here blog that I refer to certain men in my life with Mr.? I can't remember how consistent I've been. Maybe it has.

** I really can't tell if this will be funny to other people. We'll have to see.

*** Technically the game has been updated and is now called Vampire: The Requiem, but the old version was better.

*** To the extent that major popular movie-makers have been sued with relative success (i.e. money-grubbing settlement) for stealing setting material from the game. Also, I've heard that the recent prime-time TV show "True Blood" claims vampires cannot spread HIV, which strikes me as dangerous and irresponsible spreading of misinformation. (But naturally, those who truly believe vampires cannot spread HIV will argue that by claiming they can, I am cruelly increasing vampiric stigma.)

**** I take it back. Ann Coulter is not even close to cool enough to be a vampire.

***** Of course, successful destigmatization of vampirism may lead to people becoming more careless about becoming vampires or even choosing to become vampires (after all, from some perspectives the benefits are considerable). It's hard to know how to deal with this effect. I mean, we can't all be vampires; that's unsustainable, more's the pity.

****** I'm particularly fond of those square-shaped sugar cookies.

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