God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Travel woes

Trying to travel in the times of Covid-19 becomes more and more a nightmare, especially when you come from a so called high-incidence area like South Africa – where the incidence of currently 11.9 and a recovery rate of over 95% constantly is obviously a major threat to European countries dealing with incident rates average between 100 and 300. It is an interesting experience to be a pariah of the world, only because South Africa did something right – which is seldom enough in our days – namely sequencing the existing virus genomes and making the world aware of a mutation which popped up in other countries as well and threatens e.g. with its 1% occurrence in Germany obviously this country in its core.

Trying to reach Europe from Cape Town is becoming a nightmare: airlines stop flying and entry is practically not allowed for those coming from the danger zone of open restaurants, hotels, shops and with level 1 lockdown almost normal life adhering to hygiene, masks in public and distance keeping.

But seriously:

The Robert-Koch-Institute in Germany keeps South Africa on all danger lists possible since last year – and till now only a court in Baden-Württemberg has dared to state, that this institute has not provided any valid reason for asking local governments in Germany to enforce extended quarantine for people returning from South Africa.

Those daring to fly to South Africa suddenly realise how politics can paint a picture of a country which has nothing to do with reality. Politics, which destroys without any visible regret a very important sector of South Africa’s economy, namely tourism, and pushes the country even deeper into trouble on many levels.

Fear and trying to be a Nanny state dictates currently German politics – add to it the urge to always have a perfect solution for a problem and inventing rules for it, then you have the perfect mix for disaster looming. Listening to those in charge you get the impression that they really think they can beat a pandemic. You simply can’t do this -you have to live with it – and you have to find ways to counter it in a way which balances the freedom of people and the needs of a healthy democracy with the threat posed by the virus.

Looking at the vaccine drives and the distribution of vaccines in the world, there is the other assumption for which Europe is falling: vaccinating their own people first will help. The pandemic is only under control if the virus is kept at bay all over the world at the same time. There is no first winner – even trying to curb travel will not lead to the final goal of co-existing with the virus on a level not really being a threat to humans.

Pandemics are a serious threat for human mankind and the systems, humans are working within; anxiety and fear are definitely not the best advisors nor is it to look only at virology for answers. Social sciences, the psychological impact as well as the economic impact are as important to balance and listen to. Time to reconsider as well as to reflect what governments are obliged to do and where the individual citizen remains in charge of his or her own destiny. Our highly complex societies and their interactions need different answers as we are currently able to give.
And like it or not:
Despite the failure regarding the vaccine story and the attempts to abuse the pandemic for political gains and transformation, for the time being South Africa handles the pandemic better than Europe.

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A window of opportunity

We all welcomed the relief of bringing back South Africa from Covid-19 alert level 3 to 1 in the last days. But having said this it is also noticeable that more and more voices are raising concern about the possibility of a 3rd wave as early as the second half of May, when winter is knocking onto the door – especially the Western Cape with cold temperatures and rain will be exposed to more indoor activities raising the bar.

So the next 8 weeks are a window of opportunity to get things right and especially to see to our tools available preventing another peak of death and hospitalization figures. Vaccinations are new in our tool box – but the way they were introduced have clouded for many the willingness to receive them. Instead of using 1.5 million jabs already in the country of a clearly death and hospitalization avoiding vaccine the countries leaders decided to give away 1.5 million protection and opting for a trial run with another vaccination provider needing volunteers to conclude phase 3.

I got quite some flak for criticising Linda-Gail Bekker for wearing two heads as the co-principal of the J&J study and at the same time being part of the running of the country’s vaccine drive. In a tweet reply she assured me that there were no financial implications for her and that several ethic committees have given the green light for this conflict of interest to overcome. I have no reason to not believe her – but I am still of the opinion that this is not really the point:

Looking around and listening to various virologists there is a clear line: vaccinate with what you can get your hands on – the WHO has approved AstraZeneca also for the mutant discovered in South Africa – and I would expect from anybody running the show in this arena to stand up against any government decision to miss the opportunity vaccinating to at least avoid dead and hospitalisation in the 3rd wave. Vaccinate your health workers with the J&J trial as it most likely produces a higher protection rate, but there are millions of South Africans who are not in the health sector – they are working in schools and crèches, in retail, in hospitality, yearning for that extra protection they can get.

While many African countries started a vaccination drive – with AstraZeneca – South Africa stands lonely with a marginal vaccination trial programme having rejected what was already in the country. Judge for yourself whether this decision costing lives in the third wave was right. There will be many who are already dead when in the third and fourth quarter the promised vaccine drive starts in this country. To get a sense of where we are the vaccinations done by now:

And there is more: the writing is already very clearly on the walls: no vaccination no freedom of travel internationally; what this means for business travel you might be able to imagine. We are in the process of missing the boat and we all know, South Africa cannot afford it.

Lastly another question mark: The whole drama about AstraZeneca was triggered by a small – not even peer-to-peer reviewed study – and knowing how the battle is on between pharmaceutical companies to get their product on the market and to cash in – it is understandable that there remain questions how convenient this study was put into the public domain. The amount of studies being published for a greater audience without the filter of academic review and academic knowledge is a danger in itself.

As lives are in danger on different levels: health, economy, social we have to ask the hard questions and to scrutinize what is done and how it is done on the level of decision-making.

We have now a window of opportunity before the virus hits us anew in another wave – and we have to expect from government more than just warm words and promises…. Lives are at stake!

Filed under: Africa, Medical and Research, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

FridaysForFuture

Even if it is questionable whether it is healthy for young lady Greta long term as a young girl using the world stage to therapize herself there is no doubt that the topic of climate change has reached a multitude of young people. And it has galvanised a youth long been seen as completely a-political and not really interested in anything than their own little pleasures. And as in every generation current youth is allowed to overdo it, put all emotions in it and indeed think that their order of the day is the most important and most essential as the world goes around. When I was young, the use of nuclear warheads and their storage in Germany as well as nuclear energy have been those topics moving us to the core of our young existence.

I would like to see FridaysForFuture reflecting a bit more on another reality that generally hinders the development of realistic changes towards dealing with the climate of our planet: the rise of egocentric and unreasonable politicians and the war between those wanting to preserve a male macho self-serving disturbing ignorant world order and those understanding, that the world has changed. With politicians like Donald Trump, McConnell and others in the USA, Boris Johnson, Viktor Orban, Sebastian Kurz in Europe, MBK in Saudi-Arabia or Vladimir Putin in Russia – to name a few – there will be no future for a world society tackling the climate change as a challenge for the global village. Simply because they don’t see beyond their power-hungry desire let alone understand the need for global social cohesion as a base for real change.

FridaysForFuture will only succeed if their action is framed by a global conscience shared by political leaders and enacted in forms of government recognizing the dependency of every country on each other. Make my country great again slogans and similar arrogance are stumble blocks for any joined action of a world, in which via social media, economics and travel people have reached a point of togetherness besides all existing differences.  The more in-depth realization of this togetherness to overcome remaining inequalities in the world order, in countries, societies or even between human beings related to sex, gender or human dignity is the base for any meaningful global action. Therefore, the movement will have to dig in deeper and political more fundamental if it will have merit and a successful place in the history books.

FridaysForFuture is a child of the digital era which at the moment changes fundamentally the world in a way most people even don’t start to imagine. Only when they understand their role within this scenario they will be a force for good, and they will help to shape a future for the human race which will be so different from the past ways of life. For this to happen, they need the maturity of the older generation giving a helping hand.

Filed under: Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thoughts before a trip…

The evening before my first major trip this year – and as always going through the program I am tempted to anticipate how things will work out – and questions popping up like “whom will you meet on this journey?” and “will there be that kind of connection needed to really encounter each other?”.

The first part will bring me hopefully without delay from Cape Town via Munich and Frankfurt to Bremen, a city I have never visited before. Last year march a delegation from the Federal State of Bremen visited South Africa and Cape Town. Having been able to introduce most of the more than 70 wo-men strong delegation to Blikkiesdorp and HOPE Cape Town I am now invited to learn about this Federal State. Meetings with politicians, clergy, students, refugees, press and social worker / activists are part of the program. I am indeed looking forward not only to meet those introduced to me in Cape Town but also lots of new faces for an exchange on different topics ranging from politics to economics, from trauma to HIV counseling and all in between. Not to forget a bit of culture to understand the great history of this important city.

Via Frankfurt I will then continue my travel to Dallas where I not only hope to meet with some Directors of HOPE Cape Town USA but also able to engage with the impressive Cathedral of Hope, a congregation which has so much to offer and is also willing to engage with the South African HOPE Cape Town organization. Brian’s House, our second partner is definitely on the lists of visits as other organizations. Not to forget the participation in the Dallas South Aids Walk and the baptism of the youngest member of the HOPE family – the son of Stacie and Josh. It will be a real honor to christian the young man. The stay would not be complete without meeting Rev Ted coming all the way from New Mexico – lots of good advice is on the way.

A drive to Houston will complement impressions I gather every time I visit Texas learning more of the spirit of the people living here.  Then flying off to Puerto de Vallarta, where my duties as the chaplain to see for the MS Amadea during the last days of lent and the Holy week commences. Jamaica, Panama, Mexico are some of the stop-overs and finally end April going in Miami from board to catch a flight from Fort Lauderdale via Washington, Frankfurt and Johannesburg back to Cape Town.

What will I bring home from all this travel? Lots to tell I guess, tons of new experiences and certainly more people to feel connected with. Hopefully also some more people interested to join the HOPE family. Whatever it will be – there is always a change, a growth connected to travel – there is always a broader view on the world and its possibilities and challenges achieved. All these can be a blessing and a curse when you come home where life is so limited to a certain frame of customs, experience and expectations. Traveling the world can make a person sometimes very lonely but traveling the world with a mission will always counter this and make sure that the balance is right.

And there is more: Traveling and meeting at first complete strangers shows also how much more talking is needed to understand the realities behind the words used to communicate with each other. Using the same language does not mean to understand each other, describing situations does not mean to get the point across – upbringing, culture, politics and socialization determine the use of language and one quick realizes that the “global village” needs quite some push to become reality in the madness of the world today.

Filed under: chaplain, chaplain to sea, General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town USA, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,

One of those days…

Preparing for my flight to Europe and the airline already now know that there will be a more than 4 hour delay. Nevertheless they insist of being at the airport and check in at the normal prescribed time. Not really enhancing the mood.
Following the news also does not help – the Khashoggi case seems to develop slow but steady – to imagine that in a NATO country an embassy is used to kill a journalist and then cut him in pieces is not only appalling but it was one of the things I could not imagine – like so many developments in our current world affairs. USA, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Italy – the amount of countries which seemingly fall into the trap of authoritarian rule or xenophobic attitude  – weakening democracy and darkening the horizon of the new dawn of freedom, liberty, human rights and decency among countries most of us have had in the beginning of the millennium – seems to be growing.
Social media and modern technology hailed to bring people together are dividing and causing anxiety on all fronts of societies – in the moment one has the impression that the negative effects of possibilities to connect are clearly winning the day. And so do all those politicians with simple populist answers knowing perfectly well that disaster is looming when they gather enough followers. Populism is self-destructive – history has proven it over and over again.  And social media are weapons of choice for trapping those who are vulnerable to propaganda and easy solutions.

Maybe that is the reason why I believe that beaming people via SKYPE and conference call and Whatsapp are not enough to really engage with each other. I prefer the surely more expensive and time-consuming way of meeting the people, share some time with them and discuss matters relevant in person.  It is then and there that real conversation is happening – encounter in the real sense of the world. And if you can’t hide behind a slogan or a screen or a party or an ideology but one is looking into the eyes of the person sitting opposite – real communication, real problem solving is happening – real understanding is given birth.

I am convinced we have to stop being computer screen warriors and instead really engaging with the world. Clicking “like”or any other emoji might give a feeling of having done your bit – but this is self-deception and fooling oneself. It is also the only way that we can stem the non-sense of populism, bad right-wing politics  and – in the case of the USA – anti-academic attitude like denying climate change. Otherwise we are playing with our future – but maybe Mother Earth is happy to continue to exist without human beings – maybe it is not a great loss if the human race is failing and fading away.

Be it as it be – I am preparing for flying out today and I am looking forward to meet all those in the next days and weeks who are part of the HOPE Cape Town family or interested to know about it and maybe join those spreading hope and engaging with real people. Real people, who want to live with dignity striving for decent prosperity and who want to create a future for the next generation to come.

Filed under: General, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,

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