Local psychologist combats African HIV through performance

By Wanda Sabir, Special to the Daily Planet
Tuesday November 20, 2001

Last year, 2.5 million sub-Saharan Africans died from AIDS.  

There are no embargo or travel restrictions to Africa, however, this continent is not a popular tourist attraction to most Americans – unless her name happens to be Lou Montgomery.  

The Berkeley psychologist joined a meditation retreat to South Africa in 1998. After only a few weeks, she fell in love with the landscape, people and culture.  

The following year Montgomery returned to South Africa to perform her doctoral thesis: “Kali’s Follies: Mid-life at the Millennium” for delegates at the Parliament of World Religions. Using the Hindi goddess Kali, the creator and destroyer, her work parallels 3,000 years of historic patriarchal exploitation of the womb with that of the earth.  

Kali’s Follies has been compared to Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” and Sia Amma’s “In Search of My Clitoris.” All three works speak humorously about topics not often explored on stage, let alone behind closed doors. 

The one-woman show comically dramatizes attitudes, trends, and dominant Western cultural projections towards women in menopause. It is set against the backdrop of Apocalyptic “millennial madness.” Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction, whose fierce compassion heralds sudden transformation is having the last laugh as the planet careens into breakdown or breakthrough pursuing its reckless “follies.” 

Through her performance piece, Montgomery wants to get people talking both here and elsewhere about the tragedies still committed against women and girls world-wide, more specifically in Mpumalanga, the second largest of the nine provinces that make up the new South Africa. This place has the third highest rape statistics in the country. Here one in three adults is HIV infected. The myth that sex with a virgin can cure HIV/AIDS has put girls as young as 1 year old, at risk of sexual violence.  

Montgomery met three people there whose causes quickly became her own: Sophia Jardim, Barbara Kenyon, and an indigenous healer, Dr. Shado Dludlu. To help raise funds and awareness here for their organizations, Montgomery decided to throw an celebratory extravaganza for the South African activists – the first week of events took place last week and the last performance will be Friday, in conjunction with Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Ensemble. 

Prior to Montgomery’s visit to “the place where the sun comes up” which is what Mpumalanga means in Zulu, Jardim, Kenyon, Dludlu didn’t know each other, even though they served the same population.  

Kenyon, who is a white South African, didn’t trust indigenous practices and blamed Sangomas for the rapid spread of the disease. While, Dludlu and other black Africans were leery of anything coming from white people whom they didn’t know. Strangely enough, Jardim. an Afrikaner, and Dludlu, a Sangoma, already knew and respected each other’s work. Thanks to Montgomery, all three are talking now.  

The focus on South Africa is not to take the focus away from problems at home. Alameda County has declared a medical state of emergency for HIV disease, Hepatitis C and women of color who are partners of men with these diseases.  

The spirit journey will conclude Friday with a show in conjunction with Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Ensemble, John Santos and Machete, the South African Folk and Street Choral, “Umlilo Acapella,” and Cuban choreographer Ramon Ramos Alaya. It will be at the First Congregational Church of Oakland, the corner of 27th and Harrison streets at 7:30 p.m.  

For program and ticket information log on to www.kaliworks.com or call 848-5792. 

All proceeds will go directly to the HIV/AIDS organizations in Mpumalanga Province: Jardim House which cares for people with HIV and orphans, GRIP (Greater Regional Rape Crisis Intervention Program) which treats child victims of HIV perpetrators, and Mngoma Walk, a medicinal herb growing and youth employment project.