Thursday, September 28, 2006

hot day in durban

Yesterday, I spent most of the time at the beach and fitting minimum time on working on my qualitative questions for my research next week. It's tough to concentrate with the sun beaming into your home and calling your name to come out and play! I've been reading alot into social capital and tools to measure it an important factor in development. A quick synopsis, if a community has strong trust, civil participation and social networking opportunities (social groups, sports clubs, church, etc.), it could mean that social capital is high and that it can help to see more sustainable and understood plans for growth and development within a community. However, this is only one of the features I will be measuring when I arrive in the community. I will also look at the history of the community, the structures around them (schools, clinics, microfinance institution), the environment and the economic prospective of the area to develop a better sense of the community's ability to lift themselves out of poverty.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pie in the Sky

For those Vancouverites with a belly for tasty food, you have until the end of this week, Friday, Sept. 29, 2006, to order your gourmet pie for Thanksgiving and the proceeds of your purchase goes to A Loving Spoonful, a non-profit organization that provides nutritious meals to men, women and children living with HIV.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Massive Swell Yesterday

Yesterday, I captured a few nice photos of the massive at least 6-8foot swells coming through the Durban coast. This shot is from Cave Rock, just a little south from where I live. There were about nine guys out in the water getting swallowed by white water at points but then drop in on some big waves on the outside. It was high tide at 4:30pm so not too many spectacular barrels, just massive drop ins.

I cleaned up the office a bit yesterday and sorted the bits of paper that have been looking for a home the last few months and threw a majority in the recycling bin (wait, there is no recycling bin, so to the garbage dump it goes).

The Centre for Creative Arts at UKZN is hosting in a few weeks from now the 10th Annual Poetry Africa Festival. All kinds of writers from around the world, loads of spoken word and book launches. Looks like an exciting event that I will miss while in Mozambique. Maybe next time.

Red Eye - Durban

I have been waiting to see some raging art here in Durban and apparently Red Eye is the event to finally see it. It happens this Friday at City Hall or the Durban Art Gallery and it looks like all kinds of crazy stuff going down if it is at all similar to last year's event (read last year's review).

Monday, September 25, 2006

One week countdown to Maputo

Well, as expected the 15-page paper on South Africa's Land reform and social policy was completed yesterday morning at 5:30am. YEA! To celebrate, I went down to the beach for a snorkel in the rock pools; all kinds of tropical fish floating around under the rocks covered with small crabs nestled in their shell homes. These there were the beach creatures - hordes of families and dogs enjoying the first hints of hot sun - signs of summer in the southern hemisphere is on its way!

The monday was a South African national holiday - Heritage Day - and there were all kinds of music festivals and events taking place around the country. South Africa has a vast amount of heritage to celebrate as the country is multi-lingual, multi-racial and multicultural and all histories have much to contribute to what the nation is today. There were Zulu ceremonies, open air music stages in Cape Town and Jo-berg.

In Durban, I'm not sure of the festivities but there is one big one happening next weekend; Awesome Africa Festival which I'll be checking out as the Afro-Cuban All Stars will be playing.

On UKZN campus, it is empty because it is mid-term break holidays. It's great to not be bombarded at every door with undergraduates and long lineups for coffee! It will be a nice space to start preparing all that needs to be done before heading up to Maputo, Mozambique, probably on Tuesday. I found out that I was awarded a small grant from the African Integration Grant which I'm stoked about! Just a little stipend to get me there and back and pay for a decent translator.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Last late paper... hopefully.

So I worked so hard to try to finish this paper yesterday; I even stayed up until 9:30pm... and here I am, still trying to get it done on the due date. Old habits are hard to pass. Right now, I think the Introduction and poverty profile of South Africa is closest for submission. Well, one step at a time!

Other than that, the weather has been gorgeous in Durban and a massive swell just trucked through this coastline yesterday. I woke up and went down to a well-known surf spot called Cave Rock on the Bluff. Of course, not one person was surfing at 6:15am but a few body boarders looked like they were about to slaughter some waves. As for me, no surf and back to the grueling paper.

No big plans for the weekend but possibly see some rugby games. The Curry Cup has been running where all the South African provincial teams face off against each other for the cup. I believe that the Cheetahs (from the Free State) are in contention for the Cup and our home team, the Sharks, are hanging on by the thread in order to stay in the semi-finals. Still wish I was watching ice hockey but nothing wrong with digging the fingers deep into the biltong (beef jerky) and chip bowl while watching a bit of rugby. Check out the Sharks homepage at:

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

President Chavez’s Speech to the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement

A speech made by Hugo Chavez on September 15, 2006. After years of failed programmes led by the 'North', he speaks for the action and research of those from the South... as the answers to the problems of poverty and development can be answered and solved by the people who are living it.

Check out this 80s Flick: Out of Africa

Karen BIixen: "I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold."

This 1985 film directed by Sydney Pollack has got some of the raddest shots of Kenya's safari region from the air and ground and who can say no to a Meryl Streep and Robert Redford combo film. It starts off in the early 1900s with this Danish baroness wanting to get out of Denmark and does so with a scheme of marrying the brother of her then love interest. I love the culture shock faces she puts on with travelling by cart and meeting the people like the chief (and his umbrella) and her interactions with the indigenous people. A daring woman crossing the land with one compass and her wits - sightings of Masai and lions... really nice part on the whole "why do you want to build a school" idea of what does it mean to learn for the people of Kenya. Applicable today perhaps? Also the contrast when she first arrives with all her things and leaves with nothing but really didn't need anything in the first place. But she left with the most important things of all: her elaborate story making skills and her memories of Africa.

Ardmore Ceramics in the Midlands.

I just remembered this cool little ceramic shop called Ardmore Ceramic Art that is located in the Midlands. It's a small little gallery with the most ornate-Afro-funky ceramics that I have ever seen. The website states that it should be up and running by this month but still seen th whole under-construction thing. Check it out once it's up and running.

Other than that, I spent the day at home trying to get the first two pages out of the way for this paper due on Friday. The problem is that there is so much information about land reform in South Africa, I don't know the point of when to stop searching and when to start writing. I read this one depressing report on the Limpopo region in South Africa where the land redistribution program has not successfully helped the people it is meant to reach, the poor. Unfortunately, the land distributed were to ex-civil servants who were already running farms there during the apartheid era or one group who were connected with the national government's women's league. Even this group has had problems in getting their land title as a group. Another group were living on land owned by a church and were given land title by the church. In these cases, not much had changed from what most individuals were already producing or living and some individuals and groups were not neccessarily poor. Unfortunately, it appears that land reform in this area of South Africa have major institutional issues with its goals to help the landless along with the barrier of not being able to subdivide land to a size more reasonable for a low-skilled person.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mid September Already?

Where has the time flown? I guess when you get up in the morning and spend most of your time reading, writing and surfing, the next time one looks up, it's dark out and the stomach has reached feeding point. That is what it has felt like this last week. This is a new week and I'm ready to stroll down this path of academia again (as long as I've got one of these cheap 1.99Rand chocolate kitkat imitations in hand, cheap!). I went into campus on Saturday because downloading large articles off the web is much more efficient, so here I was just after a quick surf dip in town. Went surfing again this morning, nice waves, shallow and a westerly, but kept getting placed on the weak shoulder of the wave while about 4-5 guys were getting the meaty part of the curl. Time to get more aggressive on placement in the wave, I suppose!

I just got my hand on an Interesting journal article just about to go out from the Journal of International Development called, "Higher Education, Policy Schools and Development Studies: What should Masters degree students be taught?" by Michael Woolcock from Harvard ( I guess it is real nice whether there is an academic article that can reinforce the reason why I and my colleagues at the School of Development Studies are here and doing all this work for. He hits the target in describing that our job prospects will likely start off with a decent wage, a bit of responsibility and "little long-term job security" as is the nature of development. The way I think of it is that we've been taught about the volatility of the our current world and the need to dynamic people who are able to adjust to the job that needs to be done. Let's say, once one project is complete, one needs to already be looking for opportunities the whole time.

The environment at the School is completely collegial with faculty and students conversing in and out of the classroom about their projects and studies. It's been a pleasure being able to bounce ideas easily off another who does not necessarily agree with me but is able to give me just as constructive criticism. The degree program does provide an inter-disciplinary approach to study which I have found as a major advantage for me and my colleagues. Those who came to the programme who had their mind set on working solely for the international institutions are open to other effective possibilities in other smaller, well-run agencies that would have never crossed their mind beforehand. I especially like how Woolcock points out the growing interest in program evaluation and monitoring in development because I notice this to be a crucial area no matter which organization you work for and to be trained in this type of work has been very valuable exercise. I am unsure if I would have picked up such training except when finally starting a job. I guess graduates of development studies are distinct as "detectives, translators and diplomats" as described in the article and are trained to know how to give input on program impacts, help communicate to the poor and government the strategies of implementation programs and be able to negotiate and speak on behalf of the interests you have been asked to defend.

Coming from the one African university listed in the Appendix of development schools around the world, I'm stoked to be part of a community who will be the beginning of my professional contacts and strengths in this difficult area of work.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Morning Chocolate and Coffee Mug

I have given into my Vancouver habits and bought myself one of those stainless steel coffee mugs for 40R (6$ CAD) from the UKZN Campus shop. I lost my old one somewhere during the trip to the Transkei and every day living on the edge as to how I was going to make the day without a portable mug. I read in last weekend's paper that Durban has quite the coffee "society" forming. Um, not. Until I see at least two coffee shops at every intersection of the town and people jogging with their dog and mug, I am duly unconvinced. I miss those Friday mornings before work, grabbing a cup at the local shop, reading the newspaper or chatting with the ladies before the last grueling day of the week.

It was a 6:30am start at New Pier beach with Anna, German girl doing Masters in Communications and Media, I believe, and Sean for a small small westerly wind surf. I thought we were just at the wrong beach but glanced over at the other spots and things were looking pretty weak as well. Still nice to paddle around in the morning and get the arms on the go.

Yesterday, I just took it easy at home and read through articles on land re-distribution and cash transfers for my last assignment. I am supposed to compare these two government policy choices, both benefits and challenges of both of them and give my recommendation for South Africa's development plan. Um, probably one of the more tougher assignments I have had to do from my whole year here! Well, I guess they don't let you off that easy with this degree.

I've also been planning for my trip up North to Mozambique. I'll probably stay at my old apartment in Maputo during my time there as Suzanne and Erin are still hanging out with the puppy and cats on the 9th floor penthouse suite of Julius Nyerere Avenue. It's such a great place with a view of Maputo Bay and just enough wind to blow all the nasty mozzies away. I think I may have also located a local translator who can assist me with my field-work in the small rural town of Bela Vista. Looks like things are coming together, piece-by-piece.

Back to work...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Planning the dissertation fieldwork

Just came back from another 7am morning surf. Offshore, gentle head high waves off the south of North Beach pier. Still stoked on the surfboard. It feels a bit muggy out and behold, it started to sprinkle a bit of rain while we were in the water. Today and yesterday, I've been trying to get a hold of all my contacts in Mozambique and prepare my itinerary for the trip up north. I also handed in my application for the "African Integration Grant" within the School which allows you up to R5,500 for research expenses. Hopefully I'll hear from them soon.

As for dissertation planning, I really need to pack down my literature review on everything and anything about microfinance, Mozambique and how institutions can possibly be part of the mitigation of HIV/AIDs in their communities. Any advice in preparing for this endevour for the next three weeks? Oh, I should probably work on that final Assignment for my last course as well.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Seminar on Land Reform in South Africa

I finally finished my 23 page internship application package and couriered it off last Thursday. Just imagine me sitting besides the fax machine and watching it go "error" every second page. Needless to say, it went through and I'm now crossing my fingers for good news in November. After that ordeal, I made it over to my last seminar ever for my Masters degree and it was a guest speaker from the World Bank Group, Rogier van den Brink, speaking about the redistribution of land in South Africa. He talked about the need to help with "empowering beneficiaries", those family farms that can help increase the standard of living for the rural poor. Rural farms would be productive of land, any income earned will go back to the community, the social capital grows around these farms (clinics, schools, churches etc. ) From what we learned in this whole course, is that a more equitable society leads to more growth, especially those that redistribute land equally to the people. One thing that stuck in my head was when he mentioned that every country he visited, there were few or no slums in countries with good rural development programs. There are major land reform issues in South Africa because of the legacies of apartheid. Here were the major points:

"- Land markets need help
- Much more than land needs to be financed
- Need flexibility in financing to assist poor and non-poor
- Supply-driven implementation through “stovepipes” is unworkable
- Government officials cannot run groups and farms
- Land reform needs to be part of local government development priorities and planning
- Impact evaluation to be stepped up"
(Seminar 9: Poverty & Inequality, Sept 7, 2006).

Right now, much of the farms are large commercial areas where some of it is used for crops and a larger part is idle land. It is very difficult for smaller farmers to afford these large areas for their own familly use. There is currently little reform in creating this market, similar to such divisional ownership like condos in Vancouver. On top of obtaining land, assistance is required for housing as land is only 30-40% of the cost in creating a family farm. The government needs to move towards a joint effort with ministries in addressing rural development because currently each ministry is divided and do not come together on their efforts towards land reform. Fantastic last lecture on South Africa. One more assignment to go and then off to Mozambique for field work!

Surfing Bay of Plenty on new Board!

This weekend, I finally took a break from the books and jumped on my new lady baboon (the picture on my board) 6'8 surfboard! It is a pleasure to finally ride aa board that is made for me; full nose, 18' 5/8 width - not too much of a rocker either. Good times! Yesterday I surfed with Sean and Anna at Addington Beach and then today, got up for a 6:30am start to surf at Bay of Plenty. It's a really great feeling and very stoked.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Dissertation Approved!!!

It's 6:27pm here still on campus attempting to concentrate on this IDRC internship proposal when pop! In my email box, is the subject line: "Proposal Approved". So stoked that my Mozambique project has the a-okay with the university! It's motivation to keep trucking on this current 10-pager that's for sure!

Today's second to last Poverty and Inequality seminar dealt with Poverty Reduction Strategies and Impact Assessments. More and more governments (and especially the World Bank) are getting on the bandwagon of monitoring and evaluation of their national budgets particularly in social programmes. The major theme which I came away with (besides reviewing these results-based management tools that I just produced for this proposal) is that without well-designed research which has been reviewed by experts, a policy can potentially not reach the targeted group of poor people it was meant to address. It comes back to my previous Political Economy course which looked at evidence-based policies and the potential danger of using evidence that is not well-researched to satisfy the right agendas in government.

10 min break is up. Back to proposal writing.

Oink! Hebron Haven piggy!

Oink! Hebron Haven piggy!
Originally uploaded by make_change.
Here is just a few of the country animals found this weekend during the Midlands Meander. The area's wide vast, agricultural fields, dairy cows chewing on patches of grass and horses running around in their fenced off playground. Of course you are reminded once in a while that you are still in South Africa with the odd zebra chewing among the cows or a little duiker fawn's horns perk up from the shrubs. The midlands look like the towns you would pull into through the Californian vineyards of Napa Valley, filled with their little trinket shops and cheese farms (we visited Swissland Cheese farm, goat cheese). A venture through the midlands also needs the necessary stop at the Swiss-German sausage place and the Austrian brewery called Nottingham Road? Interesting mix of coffee shops and European style pleasantries which again demonstrates all the different areas of South Africa. All was topped off to watch a bridge in a purple dress with a groom in a purple vest; whatever floats your boat, I suppose. Click on piggy for more photos.

On the assignment side, I just emailed my assignment on a poverty profile of Kwazulu-Natal analysing empirical data of this Kwazulu-Natal Income Dynamic Study (KIDS). Really practical exercise on trying to find the poverty measures for a sample of 362 households in this province who were surveyed in 1993, 1998 and 2004. Main thing I learned is that poverty is multi-dimensional and can't just look at low incomes to solve problems. It's important to look at those who are stuck in poverty (chronically poor), and those who move in and out of poverty (transitorily poor). The strategies to help both are very different. The other thing I learned about from this particular study is that the richest 10% of this group spent between 33-40% of all expenditures of all the people surveyed while the poorest 10% spent between 1-3%. Great exercise but back to the proposal writing!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Karkloof Canopy Tours, Midlands, KZN, South Africa

Just a quick post of one of the crazy activities you can do in the Midlands Meander in Kwazulu-Natal! Just think about those steel cables at your local park (I'm thinking of Surrey's Bear Creek Park) where you hold on to the swing at one end and you try to push off to get to the other end of the cable. That's what, probably 10 metres or less? Try 180 metres of steel cable up in the trees! Here's one of the guys on the tour, Brent, with professional stance and composure. More blog to come about the Midlands Meander weekend... right now back to the two assignments due today!