Sunday, December 27, 2009

I'm excited to receive some pix of my Vietnam dog

More than 40 years after I was a "puppy pusher" (as we called ourselves) at Soc Trang in the Mekong Delta, one of my buddies send me some photos I'd never seen before. They're of me and my first (and best) Vietnam dog, Fritz. They bring back some fond memories.

My sincere "thank you" to Martin Maier.

Another story that may have gotten away

It was certainly in the '80s that I took the camera assigned to the UCLA Extension class I was teaching and drove to Portuguese Bend on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. My quest was to sell what I saw as a "great story" to the TV folks at Ripley's Believe it or Not. My friend at KNBC, Karen Estudillo (Gordon) was cool enough to edit the raw footage at my direction.

The Backstory

Sometime in the '50s, our family went to Marineland of the Pacific and ended up taking a short cruise on a tour boat. We traveled in the direction of San Pedro and marveled at the stunning coastline. At one point, the guide pointed out a group of seemingly new and expensive homes close to the beach surrounded by a small bay.

"Those houses are all vacant," he said, "because they're slipping into the ocean." He told us how the authorities had condemned them all. They just sat there (well, maybe they were moving slightly).

Fast forward about 30 years and I decided to find out what became of the neighborhood. I drove through San Pedro and then looped around the peninsula on Palos Verdes Drive South. I had no trouble finding the area because the roadway suddenly turned into a broken, bumpy drive. The yellow centerline shifted left to right with the moving earth. All of the utility pipes -- gas, water and sewer, were safely above ground and sported special joints that enabled them to shift without breaking. The same with the electric and phone wires. They all had big loops that would enable them to stretch when the poles might drift apart.

What surprised me the most was that there still a few homes in the neighborhood and it seemed as if people lived in them. It was still part of the Portuguese Bend neighborhood, a private community behind security gates. Somehow I managed to get in and I was able to see those few remaining houses up close.

Astounding. They were either on steel girders and I-beams and leveled on stacks of railroad ties or they were leaning drastically down the hill. One young family invited me to return with the camera and shoot my little promo.

I went there on the day after Christmas with Xiao Mei and her father, and we were lucky enough to get in again. However, I couldn't find the particular house in the video below. I did some research last night and I now believe that the city of Rancho Palos Verdes purchased the property and tore down this particular house. I'm trying to track down the family that once lived there, but it will require a trip to the L.A. County Assessor to do some historical research.

I'll keep you posted.

I hope you enjoy this "blast from the past" -- albeit never-before shown to the public.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The man who paints rocks and cactus

My friend Joe Veraldi and I were driving near downtown San Diego about 15 years ago and we had to pull over when we saw a house made mostly of stone, it seemed. What made it so intriguing is that someone had painted colorful and sometimes strange colors and images on those stones -- as well as on the cactus plants, on palm tree trunks, on the windows, the sidewalk and even on the station wagon parked out front.

Then we saw the energetic 83-year-old culprit wearing bib overalls over a bright red flannel shirt. He was pushing a wheelbarrow up the steep sidewalk to get more cement. He needed it because one of the stone retaining walls he had built years ago needed more stones and more cement.

Of course, he had to stop and get to know the man, "Scotty" Campbell. I can't remember why I had my TV camera with me, but we put it to impromptu use. Joe did some of the interview, I did the rest. The hour or so we spent with him provided up both with enough wisdom and lust for life to last us for years to come.

Oh, and if you look closely, you'll see that he's painted his hat and his tennis shoes as well.

Meet "Scotty" Campbell. You'll love him!

If you do, please go to Youtube and rate the video. You can even subscribe. Wouldn't that be fun?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

For the love of the horse

From the "Projects I'm Determined to Complete" file comes the story of the love affair between a horseman and a blind mare.

It was in 1993 that a woman from a horse rescue group called to tell me about the blind horse that they had recently rescued. What many people don't know is that unwanted animals are easy marks for brokers who arrange to provide horses to butchers who sell the meat overseas -- where horse meat is a delicacy.

I visited a ranch in a canyon above the San Fernando Valley and had the pleasure of meeting a horse with the nickname of Lady. She was wonderful, but even more astounding was a gentle horseman I'm calling by his initials, K.S.

He and Lady impressed me so much that I returned with my television camera and a high-quality wireless microphone. It turned out to be a most memorable shoot. I brought Diane Toomey along with me to conduct one of her brilliant interviews, Vilma Yolanda Garcia as a production assistant. More recently, my friend, Pat Hall, transcribed and logged the entire day of videotape. Many of the fantastic instructors, technicians and fellow students at Video Symphony (where I'm honing my editing skills) helped out with information and encouragement.

Anyone who has seen the raw footage seems to get hooked. Hence, this sample. The rest of the story of how the relationship between Land and K.S. developed will unfold in the final product. You'll just get a hint of it here.

K.S. had his own history of rescuing doomed horses. He had learned the loving art of what we now call "horse whispering" long before the term became popular. He was frustrated that so many people bought horses -- often expensive thoroughbreds -- with the same I've-got-to-have-one fever they buy BMWs and Rolex watches. He told me that people had no idea of how to care for these special animals and, even worse, didn't have the time.

The result? The horses would act up, the owners would declare that their horses were dangerous and they'd unload them "for the sake of the safety of their families." Of course, the horse brokers and the butchers were very happy to take the horses.

When K.S. met Lady, it was the beginning of a beautiful romance. Somehow they seemed to fill each others' needs in ways I'm still exploring. As you'll see in the sample video here, K.S. had to draw on all of his gentle horse skills and more.

I'm sharing this sample video for two reasons: I'm determined to complete projects that I started years ago, and I want to invite others to participate in the full-scale production that will come out of the video I shot back then and on more current information that I'm gathering.

So if you know people who are passionate about horses, other animals or about very special and inspirational people, please share this video with them. There's a wonderful development that takes place in this story as well as a sad, bittersweet ending.

I'll share that with you in the completed project video. If you want to participate, please get in touch with me. It's a wonderful project and it deserves to be in the public eye. Oh, and if go to it on Youtube, you could rate it and maybe even make it a favorite. That will help get the word out.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Don Ray Archives: Managua 1985

We were pretty much locked in at the Nicaragua Press Building -- a former hospital, I believe -- on the day before the inauguration of newly elected President Daniel Ortega.

This wasn't the recent inauguration of Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega -- this was 1985. A young journalist accompanied me on a series of freelance print and radio assignments in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

My reporting partner, John Bilotta, was my former student. He had recently accepted an entry-level job with United Press International.

When whoever was scheduled to cover the inauguration couldn't make it to Managua, John's boss asked him if he had ever reported for the radio. He hadn't, he told them, but his traveling partner had. That's how we ended up in the press building -- prisoners of sorts -- along with dozens and dozens of other media folks from around the world.

Someone introduced me to the guy in the photo who was pausing to refresh himself. It was Abbie Hoffman, one of the so-called Chicago Seven who had disrupted the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

We had an interesting chat. What I remember the most is the newspaper clipping service he was using. As you may know, many public persons and organizations hire news clipping services to scour every newspaper and magazine in search of stories that reference their clients.

"I have the best clipping service in the world," Hoffman told me with a smile. "Once a month I send a Freedom of Information Act request the FBI. I request all of the newspaper stories about me that they've collected.

"It doesn't cost me a penny," he said.

In a future blog posting, I'll tell you the story of my amazing adventure the following day. It involves a pre-dawn, wrong-number call to our room, being held at gunpoint and then ending up in the most unlikely place.

I even have photos.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Dog-dancing Day in the Park

It's always a treat when I see these dogs converging from different directions. It means there's going to be an impromptu performance.

The Home-Loan Ranger

The secret is apparently out that Bank of America is not happy with me lately. They bought out the crooks at Countrywide and now manage the outrageous, obscene, inflated, slippery mortgage I ended up with two years ago.

They somehow think that I'm going to let go of the little, one-bedroom house I moved into more than 22 years ago. It'll never happen. Where would I put the mountains of stuff I've pack-ratted for decades? They don't make a shopping cart big enough.

Besides, I gave up camping out and sleeping under the stars when I got out of the Army. To me, "roughing it" is a room at Motel 6 next to the loud ice machine.

I knew that my footrace with foreclosure was public knowledge when at least three people told me about some big shindig at the Los Angeles Convention Center this weekend -- an event where folks like me could go and maybe find some creative way to distract the vultures.

The last thing I figured I'd encounter there today was a conversation with a true urban hero -- I call him The Home-Loan Ranger.

His name is Bruce Marks and he's the founder and CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA). Neighborhood assistance is an understatement. What he runs is more like a guerrilla army.

When I heard him tell the crowd of a couple thousand of my delinquent brethren about how he "gets the attention" of the CEOs of banks and other lending institutions, I darn near wanted to build a stature of him on Figueroa Street or something.

He's doing the stuff I dream of doing. When the rich, fat-cat executives ignore his calls for restructuring the rancid loans his troops are stuck with, he leads a small batallion of them to the CEO's doorstep -- the home doorstep.

He gives out their home phone numbers and encourages everyone and their relatives to call the big wheel at home -- every 15 minutes.

I don't know where I've been that I haven't heard about his delightful tactics or about the other massive gatherings he's been hosting. I had to learn more -- from the horse's mouth.

I waited for him to finish an inspirational pep rally and I approached him with notebook in hand.

It's great to be a journalist. Such access. Such respect (sort of).

Within 20 minutes or so we had found a less-noisy spot and I picked his brain apart.

Then I talked to a few of the thousands of people he had helped this weekend and I began to feel just how much of a Pied Piper the Loan Arranger really is.

Here's a short sample of what he and a couple of others told me:

I'll be heading off in the next couple of weeks to one of his next gatherings in either Phoenix, Las Vegas or Oakland. It turns out I didn't have all of the paperwork that they require. Plus, a couple of weeks gives me some more time to nail down some additional work assignments.

I want to grow up to be like Bruce Marks.

Maybe he needs a sidekick. The Loan Arranger and Donto!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Leti lights up the morning

Her name is Leticia, but anyone with that name in Mexico quickly becomes Leti.

She's one of the many people who make the rounds at the local park. Her eyes are so warm that they light up the morning. She's not the only visitor in search of recyclables. You'd be amazed at the number of hard-working and dedicated residents who count on bottles and cans to round out whatever income they need to keep kids dressed and in school and to pay the rent an utilities.

Leti has been in the Burbank area for ten years. You might have seen her with long, beautiful hair that cascaded down to her waist. But she had a stroke that apparently triggered a heart attack.

"They had to cut my hair," she said in Spanish, "so they could cut into my head.

"Touch here," she said in English as she parted her hair. I was willing to believe her, but she seemed insistent on having me feel the lump.

People who don't speak Spanish believe that I'm fluent in it. Those who know Spanish instantly know that I'm just a beginner who speaks more quickly than other beginners. The same applies to my piano playing, by the way. I can't fool real musicians.

I tell you this to apologize for any information that I may have gotten wrong this morning when Leti stopped by to meet Mija (my dog -- you can check out the video down further in the blog). What I never knew what how fast Leti speaks in Spanish as well as in the limited English she's learning. She's taking classes at the local adult center and apparently doing very well.

But back to her stroke/heart attack. From what I could pick up, she was pregnant at the time and that complicated things even more. I believe she was paralyzed for a while and couldn't speak.

That's certainly not the case now. She gets up early every morning and walks a little more than a mile to the park. I'm certain she has other stops along the way. Two days a week she cleans houses for two clients.

She spent a couple of minutes describing in English -- backed up in rapid Spanish -- the excellent work she does cleaning houses. I could tell it was a matter of great pride for her.

She told me that she'll clean a complete house for $50, but she hinted that she works a lot harder in the afternoon is the client shares lunch with her. Apparently, one of the clients in the past didn't believe that she should stop to eat.

What fun is it having a friendly, qualified and speedy housekeeper if you can't share lunch with her or him. Besides, that how I brush up on my Spanish.

Leti doesn't have a phone where she lives in Burbank, but her sister, Marisol does. If you should want to meet Leti and experience her high energy and higher enthusiasm, e-mail me at or call me directly.

I'll hook you up.

She'll light up your morning also!
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The girl I never met

I accepted an invitation to join some fellow Vietnam veterans who get together once a week to share poems that they've written about their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It turns out that it's therapeutic to express inner fears and feelings and share them.

When I returned from Vietnam, I also wrote a few poems. The interesting thing is that I didn't know that I was doing the same thing these vets are doing today -- I was expressing inner fears and feelings.

PTSD works in strange ways, it turns out.

Because my job in Vietnam was to work alone at night with only my dog, I didn't develop many of those close friendships with fellow soldiers that my colleagues who fought in other wars may have developed.

My best friends were the two dogs I worked mostly with: Fritz and Ralph (the cute little fellow in the photo).

When I got out of the Army, I went straight in to Los Angeles Pierce Community College with the belief that I'd end up a veterinarian (I'll tell you the amazing story about how that dream came about, but in a later posting). One of the first classes I took was astronomy. If you go back into the earlier blogs, you'll read about the constellation Southern Cross. It's connected to that.

It was in my astronomy class that an attactive and friendly looking young woman attracted my attention. What I didn't know back then, was that the early signs of my PTSD were showing up.

After weeks of wishing that I could be her friend, but being unable to make it happen, I wrote the poem.

I never gave it to her.

In preparation for meeting with the veterans' poetry group, I found the old poem. When I read it, I immediately understood what was at work in my mind.

The Girl I Never Met
By Don Ray

You might be Sue or Cindy —
Monique, Marie, Michele.
You could be Cathy, Kay or Chris
As far as I can tell.

Your name is, quite regrettably,
Unknown to me as yet.
Unless we’re introduced, you’ll be
The girl I never met.

That day when I first saw you,
A month or so ago,
I vainly tried to smile at you
And simply say, “Hello.”

We see each other frequently —
A dozen times a week.
I can’t help feeling close to you
Although we never speak.

I wonder if you wonder
What I’m thinking when I stare.
If you think I think I’m good for you,
You haven’t got a prayer.

I guess I should explain it now —
My silence from the start —
Thought I appear unsociable,
I’m cowardly at heart.

So be happy that we’re strangers.
It’s really not profound.
As long as I don’t know you
I can never let you down.

You’ll always be a friend to me
But, one day, I’ll regret
I never really got to know
The girl I never met.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

McFlashbacks with a side of Pride

Just about every morning, I take my spectacular dog, Mija, to the local park.

It's not for enjoyment -- it's her job. Every morning she heads for the ivy that surrounds the tennis courts and searches for a tennis ball. When she finds a ball -- and she always does, the work is over and the fun begins. She has trained me to throw it and then, when she retrieves it, to throw it again.

And again and again.

But that's a story for another time. This story begins at the same park, but in the dark hours before midnight. I was blessed to have my stellarly stunning wife, Xiao Mei, accompany Mija and me to the park. Mija enjoys showing off for Xiao Mei. Xiao Mei enjoys pretending to not be impressed. I pretend to not notice.

As we entered the park, I noticed the couple sleeping on the grass behind the trunk of a big tree. One of them was wearing a white sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over the head. A couple of days earlier, I had seen a big fellow sitting with his wife or girlfriend on the bleachers watching an imaginary softball game.

He had been wearing the hood of a white sweatshirt over his head. The sweatshirt draped down his back and, from afar, looked like long, white hair. My park friend, Larry, told me later that they were, like him, homeless and that the guy had beaten him to a pulp a while back.

I didn't tell Xiao Mei who I thought the sleeping couple was -- I simply steered us in a different direction on the walk back home.

The following morning, Mija and I were there doing our respective jobs. It was shortly before 8 a.m. when she and I started walking across the baseball fields in the direction of home. That's when we noticed a young couple with their three-year-old (probably) daughter walking away from the spot where the people had been sleeping the night before.

It was the woman, it turns out, who was wearing the white sweatshirt with the hood keeping her ears warm. And the guy was much smaller and thinner than the homeless man who had messed with Larry.

They were carrying some blankets, some makeshift bags and the little girl's Teddy bear and they were walking in the direction of the public restrooms on the opposite side of the ball fields. Park workers open the restrooms at about 8 a.m.

I kept walking toward home, but I couldn't stop thinking about the young couple and that little girl having slept all night in the park. Something made me turn around and walk in the direction they were walking.

I finally caught up with them when they reached the restrooms -- which were still locked. The mother stood off to one side with the little girl while the father checked the doors.

"You were in the park last night," I said to the man. He had warm, friendly eyes. He looked to be in his early-to-mid 20s. He hadn't shaved in a couple of days, but he didn't have any of the telltale signs of being a careen homeless person.

I know now that I should have approached him with a better first line.

"No," he said with a friendly smile, "we weren't in the park last night."

"I'm going to be at the McDonald's down the street in about 15 minutes," I said. "Could I buy you folks some breakfast?"

"We weren't in the park last night," he said again, a bit more firmly. "We like to come here in the morning."

I knew better. I'd never seen them before. "I must have been mistaken," I said in a desperate attempt to undo the damage I figured I'd already done. "The couple I saw last night were wearing the same colored clothes. You must be embarrassed that I made such a stupid mistake. I certainly am."

The whole time, his wife or girlfriend stood about 20 feet away with her daughter and just listened. I strategically bid him a farewell, offered up another apology and headed home.

I wasn't even halfway there when it became perfectly clear to me that I couldn't continue my day without doing something.

That's when I had the McFlashback.

When I was about three years old, we lived in a little, one-bedroom house at 11116 Weddington Street in North Hollywood.

My sister and I shared a sofa that flattened out into a bed. The living room was the dining room and vice versa. My mother backed a couple of dining room chairs up against the sofa to keep me from falling out. When my father wasn't looking, she would pin a bathroom towel around as a makeshift diaper. If Dad found out I had wet the sofa, there would be a bad scene.

The man with the baseball cap and the flashlight came to the door in the middle of the night. It's the first memory I have of being alive. It was a disturbance. Our parents were clearly afraid and were scrambling to get whatever it was that the man in the baseball cap wanted. They didn't turn on any lights -- probably so they wouldn't wake my sister and me.

It would be years later that I would figure out what had happened that night -- what that man wanted. He was either a bookie, a loan shark or one of my father's co-workers at Lockheed Aircraft who my father had scammed. You see, my father was a horse race addict and, by that time, had already pretty much ruined their marriage. This man wanted his money and wasn't going to leave peacefully until he got it.


As I walked back home from the park, I couldn't stop thinking about that nightmare and about the three-year-old girl who had slept with her parents on the wet grass the night before. I wondered if, many years later, that little girl would remember hearing her father lie about sleeping in the park and then turn down the offer for food. Even if she didn't hear or understand the conversation, I'm certain that she could feel the tension and wonder what Mommy and Daddy were worried about.

Of course, there was no doubt in my mind that the young father was not being truthful. I figured it was about that ridiculous pride that keeps us men from admitting that we need help. Later, a friend suggested that the young man was afraid that someone might report him to the authorities and they would take the child away.
I felt even more stupid. But back to that day.

When I left home to begin my day, I drove through the local McDonald's and ordered four breakfast meals. I knew that the man would probably not accept it, but it didn't matter. I suppose it became more about me than about them.

I parked my car in the parking lot and walked to a picnic table about 50 feet from where the mother was sitting on a blanket with the little girl. The father was, no doubt, in the restroom cleaning up. I didn't make eye contact with them. Instead, I methodically set the table for four and sat myself down.

Again, I never looked at her and I don't know if she looked at me, but I'm guessing she did.

I ate my breakfast, gathered the empties and deposited them in the nearby trashcan. Of course, I left the three other meals sitting on the table -- orange juice, McMuffin and hashbrown potatoes. I never looked back

As I drove off, I knew that I would never know what happened to the food. Did Mommy and Daddy have a "should we" discussion? Did they scramble to the table and begin eating? Did the little girl ask them why they couldn't eat the food?

I'll never know. And I'll never know if or how that innocent little girl will see life differently because of the crisis her parents were experiencing.

The whole incident, however, made me think more about how easily some circumstances can change the course of someone's life. I pondered about the impact that the circumstance of my childhood had on my life.

Was it a combination of childhood crises, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and post-traumatic stress disorder from Vietnam (and childhood?) that set the tone for everything that has happened in my life? For as long as I can remember, I've struggled just to keep up with life. I've been blessed with an inflamed curiosity and a radar-like ability to connect with the most wonderful and amazing people -- and a few who were not that wonderful, but equally amazing.

And I've been cursed with the inability to complete stories and projects so that I could share them with people. I'm buried in a massive collection of astoundingly wonderful stories to tell about people anyone would want to get to know.

But instead of crafting the stories and sharing them with people, I've spent my entire adult life (so far) scrambling to keep the wolves off my heels. If only I had the time. If only I had the money. If only I had a working partner. If only I had the breaks.

I cannot keep saying "If only."

I can no longer wait for someone to give me permission to write something or shoot something or to record something. In my heart, I believe that it's time to tell the stories and hope that people read them. I spend so much time encouraging people to sit down with their parents or grandparents and record oral histories.

"It's like being in a library that's burning down," I keep repeating. "You have to move fast."

I'm also a library and I'm feeling the heat.

I hope you'll enjoy the very personal and amazing stories I'm about to share with the world.
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts on the death of Michael Jackson

Let there be no doubt about it, I'm saddened to learn that singer Michael Jackson has died.
My sadness isn't, however, because I will miss his music. Truth be told, I don't believe I could name any song he recorded since he sang "Never Can Say Goodbye" or "Ben" -- whichever one came first. I probably heard him sing, however, before most anyone I know. I was stationed outside of Detroit in 1969 and 1970 and I remember watching him and his brothers on local television there.

He was cute and amusing. And it was clear he had a lot of talent.
It was 1993, however, when he sort of stepped into my life and changed things forever. It was when a Los Angeles Police detective blessed me by tipping me to what was, up until today, the biggest single entertainment story in history. I was able to break the story that the police were investigating the famous singer as a possible child molester.
After I was able to confirm the investigation and the allegations, I worked with my best client, KNBC-TV News in Burbank, and we broke the story. Nobody outside my circle of news media friends knew that I was responsible for the scoop of a lifetime. It would be months later that the producers of a PBS FRONTLINE documentary about the news coverage of that story learned that I was the one.
The information had come to me from a longtime contact -- a contact I trusted and still enjoy being his friend today.
I had already learned about pedophiles. In fact, I knew more about the subject than most any journalist.
Was Michael Jackson a child molester? Was he a pedophile? Nobody ever proved it in criminal court and a secret, out-of-court settlement prevented the civil trial from ever happening.
The veteran detective investigating Michael Jackson was convinced that he was a pedophile. If there was ever someone who fit the FBI's profile of pedophiles, it was Michael Jackson.
But that doesn't mean that anything every really happened. And after the media circus that my story triggered, I'm not sure I would believe anything that might have surfaced since then.
But I can say that Michael Jackson's death was a tragedy that followed a life that was, in its own way, tragic.
If he was a pedophile -- if his interest in children was, in reality, unhealthy or criminal, one would only have to look at the world into which he was born to understand why.
The one thing that this parent-driven child celebrity never experienced was a normal childhood. What child could experience normalcy when he was on the road with older brothers who were dealing with groupies in the hotel room every night? I'm convinced he was the victim of child abuse and that these factors took a tragic toll on him.
Imagine being so famous, so gifted, so rich and yet so lonely and lost in the world.
These are the kinds of things that lead people down paths that aren't normal -- that lead people to do things that our society doesn't (and shouldn't) allow.
When the shock of his death wears off and people take a microscope to his tragic life, we're likely to learn more about what really happened.
But whether the allegations were true or false, Michael Jackson is still a tragic figure -- even when he was alive.
By the way, that's not really Michael Jackson trying to strangle me in the photo. It was a Michael Jackson look-alike who shared a talk-show stage with me in Chicago. Just for the fun of it, someone set up the photo and someone else pretended to be the body guard.
I'm so sorry that Michael Jackson died before he would know what life is really all about. Indeed, he'll join Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe in history and legend.
Maybe he can rest in peace.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rafael and Matthew vs the AIDS Epidemic

It was a Sunday and my Malawian achimwene (brother), Beston Tebula, was my passive guide as I explored the streets of Blantyre. Achimwene knew that I wanted to be open to anything that we stumbled across and anything that came our way.

Rafael and Matthew walked up and it seemed clear that they were hawking pirated DVDs. But we were wrong. They wanted to sell us a CD they had produced -- a CD of a song they had written and performed. Why buy a CD, I said to Achimwene, when we can have a live performance.

"Ask them if they'll perform for us."

I hardly had time to whip out my little digital camera when they began singing. Here's the song:

Of course, I was unable to appreciate the lyrics. The next day, I somehow rigged up a way for Achimwene to hear the music through headphones while I recorded him translating it. You can see that version on YouTube at You can read more about Beston (Achimwene) Tebula earlier on this blog. We remain in touch and I've promised that we'll spend time together again -- either in Malawi or in California. When he comes, I want you to meet him!

Anyway, the lyrics turned out to be remarkable. It's a song about the "enemy" that has invaded their little country -- AIDS. It's about corruption and it's about spreading the word to young people to protect themselves. As they say it, nobody else is going to look after them.

Sometimes we think we know the motives of strangers.

Usually, we're wrong.