by Barry Thorsness -
SGN African Correspondent
As webmaster of the SGN since February 18, 2005, I have had the wonderful opportunity to post almost every story online that has been in the print edition. Often the SGN would 'go online' from locations other than Seattle, often Vancouver, Canada, sometimes places as remote as a small village in the mountains of Bolivia.
Not only is the SGN going to go online for the next while from Africa, my partner Louis and I are going to explore and share with you what it is like to be Gay in Africa. Our plans are as diverse as checking out the nightlife in Johannesburg to visiting and chatting with the activists who worked to free Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza from prison in Malawi.
I have been in touch with LGBT activist organizations from South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda. While some places in South Africa have full rights, including marriage, for GLBT people, in others, such as Malawi, even a Gay engagement can result in 14 years in a very rough prison. What is it like to be Gay in Maputo, Mozambique, or Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania? I am currently working with the LGBT organization in Dar Es Salaam to create a website to help with their work. The SGN is providing the server space for the website.
So as we venture forth, we are not sure of what we will encounter. Louis and I look forward to sharing our travels with you. I am currently working on a blog so that you, as a reader, can ask us questions and we can have a dialog as we travel. I hope to give you the link with our next story.
Getting to Africa
Getting tickets to South Africa can be difficult to arrange, especially if you plan to arrive in Johannesburg during the World Cup. South African Airlines flies from New York and Washington, D.C. daily. Many have a stop to refuel in Dakar, Senegal. Ours happened to be direct and only took 15 hours from New York.
A suggestion: If you want some of the best fares and someone great to help you book a flight to Africa (or anywhere else, for that matter) give Brett Copeland a call at Flight Center in L.A. at (877) 862-7051 or e-mail him at Brett.Copeland@FlightCenter.com. You are welcome to let him know that Barry and Louis referred you. If you book the flight with S.A. Air, remember you can stay in Dakar for a couple of days or travel to nearby Gambia at no extra charge for the layover, and then go on to Johannesburg.
Arriving in Johannesburg
I have to admit that going to Africa can be daunting even for a person who is a well-seasoned traveler. Arriving in Johannesburg during the World Cup without a place to stay borders on sheer nightmare. Our friend who we were planning to stay with had rushed off unexpectedly as her mother was in very poor health.
Thank you to the worldwide LGBT community!
Suddenly, there I was in Seattle, two days before our flight left, and I was e-mailing all my "African contacts" for help! Thank you, Tracey Sandilands, executive director of Pride Toronto and our hero. There was poor Tracey, in the middle of Pride in Toronto, getting an e-mail from Barry asking, "Can you find us a place to stay in Johannesburg?" Tracey was previously with Pride in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
She pulled through, and we are so lucky to be staying in the northern part of Johannesburg with our new South African friend Sharon Versfeld, and our other two housemates, Joyce and Lebo, who are from Botswana.
Sharon had a big party to celebrate her birthday on the weekend and we worked to get over our jet lag with too much to drink!
A suggestion: Yes, Johannesburg can be dangerous, and you must be aware and travel accordingly. It is a good idea to have someone meet you at the airport, especially if you are going to arrive after 6 p.m. when it is dark in Africa (in our case, we took the new Gautrain to Sandton in the morning to meet Sharon). More on this in weeks to come.
What are we doing this week?
We are exploring Johannesburg from Constitution Hill - where the new Supreme Courts are and the prison where Mahatma Gandhi was held twice ("deplorable" does not come close to describing the conditions in this prison) and where Nelson Mandela was held before being transferred to Robben Island near Cape Town - some African markets, the Gay bars, of course, and the Apartheid Museum. We will also see why everyone has walls and electrical fences around their homes and how one gets around in a city of 8 millions people when rapid transit is more like Seattle's and some areas of the city are too dangerous to venture through.
Have questions about our travels? Until the blog is up and operational, we welcome your e-mails at email@example.com.
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