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My delightful, creative friend, Tausi Kumbatha, died of stigma. We worked together in Nairobi, Kenya and in Somalia. Tausi was a very talented radio producer and trainer. We had so many great times together.

In late 2000, Tausi was working in Nairobi while I was in and out of Somalia and living in Watamu, on the Kenyan coast. Whenever I was in Nairobi, I tried to contact Tausi. Often Tausi was ill but she always said it was just another attack of malaria. I began to wonder what was happening. When I raised the possibility that Tausi was HIV positive, one of her sisters told me to stay out of their family affairs. I withdrew, but still tried to stay in contact with Tausi.

At the time, Tausi’s family and many people in Kenya, including the then President Daniel Arap Moi, were in denial about HIV/AIDs.

Paraphrasing what Nelson Mandela once said, more people were dying from stigma than from AIDs.

With prompt acceptance of Tausi’s illness, she would be alive today.

I regret that I did not persist.

Thinking of you Tausi.

Tausi is on the left with the glasses.  Our friend Nasra is on the right.  We were in Nairobi celebrating Tausi's birthday

Tausi is on the right with the glasses. Our friend Nasra is on the left. We were in Nairobi celebrating Tausi’s birthday.


7 October 2015

Dear Friends,

I am reposting the blog below about SIEV X.  Recently I returned to the SIEV X memorial and walked and read each post. This Sunday 11 October 2015 there will be a protest against the incarceration of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru Islands, instead of bringing them to Australia for processing and resettling.  The struggle for human rights goes on.  JOIN US!


In my last blog, I asked when does a death become a tragedy?  Death is a normal event. When is it a tragedy?  What does it depend upon?  The relationship of the deceased person to you?  The age of the deceased?  The circumstances of their death?

The examples I gave were from my own life – my friends and family members.  Each death had a meaning – an impact on me and many others.  Only one death, because it was preventable, that of my friend Tausi who died of stigma attached to HIV/AIDs, did I describe as a tragedy.

Another criteria for tragedy is numerical.  If there are many preventable deaths, is that a tragedy?  What if we don’t know personally any of the people who died?  Do we experience their deaths as a tragedy?

On 20 October 2001, in international waters off of Australia, a small, very overcrowded fishing boat sank.  This boat was not being used for fishing.  This small boat was transporting 400 desperate people, mostly women and children, who were trying to get to Australia to seek asylum.  The boat was labelled SIEV X – Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X.

353 people drowned – 146 children, 142 women, 65 men.

The drowning of 353 people jammed onto the small fishing boat called SIEV X is a tragedy.  Although it happened over 12 years ago, SIEV X is a continuing tragedy for Australians.

SIEV X is a tragedy that is burrowing away inside the heart and soul of this very large, mostly arid continent and country.  The response that ignored the tragedy of  the deaths of SIEV X is a tumor that is silently growing.  Some people in Australia are trying to excise it, but many are feeding it, helping it to grow bigger and bigger.

The mainstream media and political parties in Australia feed the growth of this ugly tumor.  They categorize  as “illegals”, the asylum seekers, most of whom are fleeing for their lives and have a genuine claim, according to international conventions signed by Australia.

As a huge continent with a population of about 23 million, enjoying one of the highest standards of living on the planet, politicians and media have again and again whipped up fear of  the “others”, who are supposedly planning to invade and take over Australia – much as the Europeans did to the original indigenuous Australians over 200 years ago.

Opposed to this fearmongering, thousands of Australians are bringing people together to expose and destroy this tumor burrowing deep into the social fabric.  One of the most splendid and inspiring examples of this positive response is the SIEV X Memorial, which acknowledges a profound tragedy that affects us all.

SIEV X Memorial sign Canberra Australia

SIEV X Memorial sign Canberra Australia

I first discovered the SIEV X Memorial by accident.  After a picnic in Canberra, Australia, I walked around Weston Park. I saw a number of white poles, similar to Aboriginal memorial poles, on a hillside overlooking Lake Burley Griffin.

SIEV X Memorial, Lake Burley Griffin in background

SIEV X Memorial, Lake Burley Griffin in background

Each pole has a unique painting, a plaque with the name and age of the person who drowned or “unknown” on it and a second plaque with the name of the group in Australia who painted the memorial pole.

I looked carefully at each pole – 353 for the people who died when the SIEV X boat sank  in October 2001.

I walked the entire 400 metres reading each plaque, overwhelmed by the pain of this tragedy. At the same time  I was encouraged that thousands of Australians throughout the country participated in creating the SIEV X Memorial.

SIEV X memorial, Canberra Australia

SIEV X Memorial, Canberra Australia

If you live or visit Canberra Australia, be sure to visit the SIEV X Memorial in Weston Park.  SIEV X is not listed in the free tourist booklets  or on the Canberra website. You can find out more information at

SIEV X Pole commemorating death of a child, age 2

SIEV X Pole commemorating death of a child, age 2


Losing someone from your life, be it parent, child, sibling, friend, colleague, or mentor affects each one of us.

When does a death become a tragedy?  Death is a normal event. When is it a tragedy?  What does it depend upon?  The relationship of the deceased person to you?  The age of the deceased?  What they achieved during their life time? The circumstances of their death?

Losing my mom two years ago was one of the greatest losses of my life.

The other deaths were  of close friends – Tausi in Kenya, Angel in California, Claudio in Venezuela –  and my mother-in-law Hsiao Li Lindsay in China.

Nasra (left) Tausi (right)

Nasra (left) Tausi (right)

Of the four, Tausi was the youngest.  She died of HIV/AIDs at a time when most people in Kenya were in denial.  As Mandela once said, people with AIDs often died of stigma, even when treatment was available.  When Tausi died, her own family was in denial and treatment was generally unavailable in Kenya.  Her death reverberates with me as a tragedy.  She was young , talented, a mother of two – a very special warm person. If she had been diagnosed and received treatment in time she could have lived. We miss you Tausi.




Then there was Claudio –  a very exceptional person – a musician in the Venezuelan National Orchestra in Caracas — a humanist and role model for everyone who knew him.  Claudio lived a wonderful full life, although it was cut somewhat short by cancer.  We miss you Claudio.



Pamela, Angel, Margaret (his wife) in their kitchen in the Mission District, San Francisco, California , probably sometime in 2000

Pamela, Angel, Margaret (his wife) in their kitchen in the Mission District, San Francisco, California , probably sometime in 2000

Angel was another exceptional person.  He was an activist for working people and human rights all his life.  Angel was a community organizer in the Mission District of San Francisco, a leader in early childhood education for all and an all round exceptional, warm human being.  Angel lived a very full life and left it peacefully.  We miss you Angel.




Hsiao Li Lindsay, my mother-in-law

Hsiao Li Lindsay, my mother-in-law

Hsiao Li Lindsay died four years ago at the age of 93.  She was a heroine in the modern history of China.  She and her husband Michael Lindsay were in the underground opposing the Japanese occupation of China, which began before World War II. She wrote a wonderful book about her life in those years Bold Plum.  She lived to see Bold Plum published 60 years after she first wrote it.  She died surrounded by her family in Beijing.  We miss you Hsiao Li.


Portrait of Bette Hutchison Silver 2010

Portrait of Bette Hutchison Silver 2010


My mom was within nine days of her 89th birthday when she died in March 2011.  Her death was a tragedy to me as her daughter.  Her childhood was a struggle in a family with challenges of alcoholism, poverty and divorce.  Her adult life was one of sharing and participating in activities such as building support for the Kansas City Art Institute.  She loved to travel – to Mexico, to Africa and to Europe.  Her front porch in the Brookside area of Kansas City was open to all – for talk, games, and pot luck dinners.  I miss you Mom.

Of the five deaths, the one that seems to me to be a tragedy was that of Tausi.  Her death was probably preventable.  She died very young.

More thoughts on Death as Tragedy in my next blog.


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