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UPDATED: 3/30/20 - 1:28 p.m.

"We Are All the Same"

thesame.gif2008 Summer Reading Assignment: We Are All the Same

The 2008-2009 Common Summer Reading is "We Are All the Same" by Jim Wooten, an award-winning senior correspondent for ABC News and the recipient of a John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. His Robert F. Kennedy Book Award-winning book's subtitle is "A Story of a Boy's Courage and a Mother's Love."

In "We Are All the Same," the reader is introduced to Nkosi Johnson, a Zulu, HIV-positive child with no hope for living, but whose life remains anything but hopeless. The reader also meets the indefatigable, white South African Gail Johnson who becomes Nkosi's foster mother. Johnson's persistent as an advocate for children like Nkosi helps draw international attention to discrimination and personalizes the apartheid struggle in their country.

Members of Catawba's Common Summer Reading Ad Hoc Selection Group recommended the book because it includes topics which may be addressed in first-year seminars, including cultural differences, heroism, vocation and helping, as well as political and social issues. The book also will dovetail with a second semester Consilium course on globalization which first-year students will take.

"We Are All the Same" will provide a starting point for Catawba's first-year students and their faculty. After completing the common summer reading, first-year students arrive on campus ready to participate in and contribute to intellectual dialog on campus. The book also provides a common thread for intellectual discussion throughout new students' first-year experience.


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Study and Reading Guide



Who is Jim Wooten? How does Jim Wooten's background inform both the book topic and his writing style (such as the opening scene of eavesdropping and his implicitly comparing the gist of Nkosi's practice speech to one written by Shakespeare)?

Do you find the opening scene in the prologue to be credible?

Why does Wooten make himself part of the story?

Chapter 1

What is the relationship of the geo-political history of the land and the history of the Zulus to Nkosi's story?

What is Apartheid? How did Apartheid policies contribute to the development of socio-cultural norms (particularly cultural mores in villages) that provided fertile ground for the AIDS epidemic?

How are the mechanisms of oppression applied by degrees, systematically restricting movement of an entire people? Have there been analogous mechanisms over the course of US history?

Chapter 2

How does Wooten's interaction with the gift shop clerk demonstrate that, as late as the 1980s, Apartheid was still ingrained in the day-to-day lives of most South Africans?

Did the political changes in So Africa (particularly Mandela's release from prison) affected Daphne and her country mates? Why didn't the villagers explicitly support Mandela?

Why did people refuse to acknowledge that AIDS was killing members of their village, and how did their refusal prevent people from seeking treatment and learning how to prevent AIDS?

Chapter 3

Although explicitly against Apartheid, did Gail, Alan, and their friends contribute to it in some degree anyhow? Why does Gail mention sharing a glass of wine with her maid (re celebration of Mandela's release)? How is that event significant?

Are there parallels between Gail's life and Daphne's? How were both women's views shaped by their childhood and relationship with their parents?

Families are arranged in myriad ways throughout this memoir/biography. Is there any one standard way of arranging family, following what we think of as the "typical" American model?

What forms of censorship were present in So Africa, and how were they used to perpetuate ignorance?

Chapter 4

The Guest House provided the sort of shelter for AIDS patients that would not have been possible in the villages owing to social class, cultural differences, and financial support. Yet the Guest House closed anyhow — was that inevitable? How come?

Did Gail purposefully neglect to tell Alan that Nkosi was coming home with her? For what reasons? Did Nkosi hold Gail's marriage together for awhile?

Chapter 5

Why did Gail (and ultimately the whole family) think laughter, love, and family comforts could extend Nkosi's life? ("Whatever the cost to her business or other members of her family" p. 113.)

How do Daphne's realism and Gail's optimism, as well as the responses to those traits by family and friends, provide a contrast to understanding the cultural differences among South Africans?

The 1990s AIDS statistics from sub-Saharan Africa are jarring; what progress has been made in 15-20 years? Where was the "1 st world" during the build-up of the AIDS crisis in Africa?

Chapter 6

Should Nkosi have been admitted to school? Did his relationship with other children (especially Eric) say anything about children's knowledge of Nkosi's illness?

Why did Gail push so hard to get Nkosi to America?

Wooten notes (p. 154) that much of what Nkosi did in America was "…a performance" and that it fed "Nkosi's ego". Does it seem that Wooten is painting Nkosi as more profound than most children? Is Nkosi more profound than most children?

Chapter 7

When Nkosi discusses race with Jim, what does he (and what do we) learn about Apartheid?

Was Nkosi really separate from his roots? Would he have been happier knowing his roots, as Nikki asserted?

Was Ruth Kamalo's interest in Nkosi "understandable"? (p. 167)

Contrast Museveni's policies with Mbeki's. What is the current AIDS trajectory in Uganda now? Why did Mbeki continue to refuse to confront AIDS in So Africa? Why did he deny availability of Nevirapine and AZT?

Chapter 8

Describe Gail's difficulty in determine whether to let Nkosi speak at the AIDS conference. Were her qualms based solely on Nkosi's health?

Gail asserted that "[Nkosi] ….kick started me" (p. 197). If not Nkosi, would Gail have found another kick start? Or was Nkosi just that compelling?

Consider Nkosi's speech on pp. 198-9. Do you believe these are Nkosi's words, or is there some artistic license by Wooten in that speech?

Wooten asserts that the women testing virgins on the soccer field were doing a misguided thing for a noble purpose. Do you agree?

Do you think Nkosi wrote his speech? (pp. 205-6) Does it matter if he did?

Chapter 9

Was Gail right to take Nkosi on such a along journey to the US?

What did Wooten mean when he said Nkosi has the "…heart of a warrior"? (p. 221) How was Nkosi's lengthy survival after his seizures surprising?

Why did Ruth et al. vacillate in their criticism/praise of Gail? Was she satisfied by Nkosi's funeral arrangements?


What political/social legacies did Nkosi's story leave for South Africa?

Why did Gail name her new ward Thabo?