Monday, December 28, 2015

A Christmas Story

Christmas Eve was a quiet and lazy day at our house. By afternoon, I had finished up all of my housework, beauty treatments and chores. Because I had no plans and it was a hot day (90F/32C), I spent the afternoon laying around doing nothing. Mr. Deep went to work for part of the day returning at about 1:30 p.m. at which time I was on the couch watching When Harry Met Sally. Sometime after the movie ended I was washing dishes and Mr. Deep yelled down from upstairs that the electricity had gone off. We checked the circuit breaker in the garage to see if it was tripped. It wasn't.

You may have noticed from reading this blog that the utilities often don't work perfectly here in South Africa. Even without load shedding, which we haven't had in a while, the power does sometimes just go off briefly in the neighborhood without explanation. Similarly, sometimes the water just doesn't work for a few hours. So the power going off is no need for panic. We usually just wait a little while and then it comes back on.

After a few hours when it didn't come back on, Mr. Deep went down to the guard gate to check to see if it was whole neighborhood that was out or just our house. He learned that it just our house that had no electricity. That is when we started to get a little nervous.

Mr. Deep called our new landlord, who is very responsive and reliable (the complete opposite of our previous landlord) to report the problem. She promptly called Eskom, the power company.

Our landlord called us back shortly to say that it appeared our old account (under the prior owner) had been shut down and that maybe that was the cause of the outage. The new landlord had set up a new account but hadn't yet received a bill. In South Africa utility accounts are set up by the home owner, not the tenant, and then the tenant pays the landlord who pays the utility company. 

By this time it was 5:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, which is really the worst time to need any kind of important service from anyone, no matter where you live. But our landlord must have raised holy hell on the phone with Eskom because she told us that an Eskom technician would be out to our house within four to six hours. 

At this point, Mr. Deep and I were pretty jolly about the whole situation. So we wouldn't have electricity for a while, we were o.k. with it. We thought of all the reasons that it wasn't a big deal. First, we didn't have a houseful of relatives visiting like many people do during the holidays. Second, we don't full on celebrate Christmas and we have no kids so we did not have to face wrapping gifts or assembling little Junior's bike in the dark. Third, we have a camping fridge that we could plug into Mr. Deep's Jeep and run off the battery, so our food wouldn't spoil. Fourth, neither one of us relies on an iron lung to live (a positive in more ways that one) so having no electricity would not put us in harm's way.

We have many guards who work in our neighborhood, but our favorite is named Lunga (loon-ga.) He is just the nicest man and refers to me as "his very good friend" such as, "How are you today my very good friend?" Lunga came over to check on us as he knew something was wrong since Mr. Deep had visited the guard gate. He was worried about us and asked "but how will you wash?" But we assured him that we had water, just no electricity. 

In what seemed like a modernChristmas miracle, Eskom did send a technician. He arrived at about 7:00 p.m. He flipped the breaker in the electricity box (not sure of the technical name for this box but it is a large box located outside near the driveway that contains a meter and a breaker.) As soon as he flipped the breaker the power came back on. We were so happy! The technician drove away and within five minutes, the power went off again. It was such a short lived period that Mr. Deep called the guard gate to see if the technician had managed to leave the neighborhood but we must have just missed him. He was already gone. Mr. Deep called the landlord again and she said she would call Eskom again for us. She also, very nicely, offered that if we needed to go to stay in a hotel that she would pay for it. 

You might be wondering why as head of household operations Mr. Deep was handling all of this and I was busy doing nothing. That's because I am not in charge of bill paying or finances. And since originally we thought this problem had something to do with the Eskom account and the new owner, this issue was assigned under Mr. Deep's domain and once it was assigned he was doing such a good job of handling that it seemed silly to change project ownership.

Our landlord again reported the fault to Eskom and told us that if a technician was to return that evening, it would be before 10:00 p.m. as Eskom techs were knocking off work at 10:00 p.m.for the holiday. As an aside, people here love to use the phrase knocking off to describe the end of work. 

After our very short lived return of electricity, Mr. Deep and I were a lot less jolly. We began to lose hope that our power would come back on any time soon. And while it remained true that we did not need the electricity to run an iron lung, or to keep our food cold, we were beginning to really wish we had it so that we could run the air con being as our house was getting warmer and warmer by the minute.

You might think that because Mr. Deep and I moved to Africa or because we slept outside while lions roamed and roared nearby that we are very brave and very rugged. And we are, sort of. But when it comes to sleeping both Mr. Deep and I are obsessed with getting a good night sleep and sleeping comfortably. Yes, we like camping but not so much for the sleep quality and when sleeping in our own home we prefer sleep enabled by air con and lots of white noise. I am so obsessed with sleep quality and quantity that immediately when I wake up every morning I asses the length and quality of my sleep and then, based on that data, decide if I am able to have a good day (I am well rested) or a bad day (groggy and sleep deprived.) 

While we could have gone to a hotel as our landlord offered, we decided to stay in the house. First, we thought Eskom might come as late as 10:00 p.m. (not likely) and second, we had plans to be at our neighbor's house the next day at noon for Christmas lunch. That invite, which we were so excited about just a few days before, was now causing us to be prisoners in our own home. If we hadn't had the invite, we could have left the house for cooler pastures as no obligations would have kept us here. As a side note, I was beginning to get nervous about my potential inability to flat iron my hair before Christmas lunch. I really didn't want to show up to Christmas lunch as giant frizzy head.

10:00 p.m. came and went and Eskom didn't arrive (shocking I know) and so we tried to go to sleep. We opened up all the windows and doors even though it was still very warm outside. Remember, we have no screens in our windows or doors. I've never seen any screens in any window or door here in South Africa so I guess they don't exist. As soon as we lay on the bed Mr. Deep immediately said mosquitoes were buzzing in his ear. He tried using his iPod to drown them out which didn't work. He then tried using his iPod paired with his noise cancelling headphones. We sprayed ourselves with huge amounts of bug repellent. Mr. Deep tried sleeping in another room, I tried sleeping with the blanket wrapped around my ear like those pictures you used to see of someone who had mumps. I tried sleeping on the couch because I thought it might be cooler and less bug infested downstairs.  Needless to say we didn't sleep much and we both had and still have lots of mosquito bites which we wear as battle scars, evidence of our tough night at home. In addition to the bugs and being hot, I was missing the white noise that I usually get from my fan. Even though we live in a quiet neighborhood I learned that the fan drowns out a lot of noise such as very loud cats that seem to meow all night long, the rooster that lives across the street and starts crowing at 3:00 a.m. and the birds that make so much noise starting at about 4:00 a.m. every morning. I have not written about the birds in South Africa before, but trust me they are the largest and loudest birds known to humans and every morning begins with a symphony of screeching unlike anything I have ever heard before.

As I lay in bed, I tried to remind myself that millions of people in this country live in shacks and don't have air con or fans. I also know of some people who live in very nice and fancy homes here who don't have air con. I reminded myself that when I was a kid we didn't have air con in our house and somehow I survived. But clearly I have become soft over the years and I can't sleep well when I'm not completely comfortable. I am the princess of the Princess and the Pea. I am the princess of air con.

When we "woke up" we were cranky, we were hot, we were stiff and we were tired. At 7:30 our landlord called again to say that an electrician, Mike, was going to come over "just now." Just now is a phrase South Africans like to use meaning soon or within the next few hours. Mike had conducted the electrical inspection when the house was sold so he is familiar with us and our home. I am sure Mike was not thrilled to leave his Christmas morning festivities to have to deal with us. He arrived and tried to look at everything but Eskom had locked the electrical box outside. Yes, we could have cut the lock off but we would be fined for doing so. Lunga came by to check on us but he didn't have a key for the box either. So Mike told us to have the Eskom technician call him if needed to talk through the situation if and when a tech arrived.

At around 10:30 an Eskom tech arrived. He turned the power back on and told us that the problem could be one of two things. First, maybe the house was using more electricity than the breaker in the electric box was made to handle. Or second, the cable that runs from the electric box to the house could have been damaged by rain and might need to be replaced. He explained that this cable was the responsibility of the homeowner and not Eskom (of course) but that he could fix it on the side for us. We called Mike and he said he doubted the problem was the first issue, because we have never had any issues before, but he thought maybe it was the second, the cable. Luckily, this time the electricity seemed to be staying on. The Eskom guy kindly offered to leave the box unlocked for us (even though according to him it is illegal to do so which I'm pretty sure translates into give me some cash and I will leave the box unlocked for you.) With the box unlocked if the power did go off, we could at least have access to the breaker to turn it back on. Leaving the box unlocked would also allow Mike to return at some point to take a better look to try to figure out what was causing the problem. 

We were so happy to have the electricity (air con) back on that Mr. Deep tipped the guy $50 USD. For some reason neither of us had any rand on us and so American money was the best we could do. The guy had never seen a $50 bill from America before and he kept turning it over and over in his hands looking at it, not sure what to make of it. Mr. Deep assured him that the bank could covert it to a lot of rand for him.

Now it's Sunday and the the power has remained on for over 24 hours. We had a lovely Christmas lunch with our neighbors even though we were tired and covered in bug bites. Most importantly, my hair was very flat and smooth. The irony is we have a camping trip planned for next weekend so we will be celebrating New Years outside in the heat in a tent with mosquitoes. Should be interesting. 

Essentials that we needed access to we kept on ice in the sink. Apparently to us essentials are mayonnaise and beer.
Inside the camping fridge which we plugged into the Jeep.
The camping fridge

So you know I am not exaggerating 
Have no fear, Eskom is here!
Our beloved air con unit in our bedroom situated up high to rain coolness down upon us.
Preparing for lights out
Electricity box unlocked!
Full view of the electricity box

Monday, December 21, 2015

Beauty Secrets

I've spent a lot of time lately writing about good deeds. I do think living in Africa has made me a more generous person. But good deeds don't fill up all of my free time. Not even close. So what does? 

I tried to calculate how I am spending my time using a 35 hour work week.  A few disclaimers. First, 35 hours isn't really an accurate starting point as Mr. Deep leaves for work at 7:00 a.m. and doesn't come home until around 6:00 p.m., so I am alone for more than 35 hours a week. I also didn't include things like taking a shower or washing the dishes, two things which I am proud to announce that I do every day. In addition, obviously every week is not the same and sometimes these categories overlap. For example sometimes I am shopping to buy something for a good deed. But enough explanation. Here is what I came up with.

For this post, I want to focus on the bright yellow triangle in the upper left hand corner of the pie. Because I spend a significant amount of time, sometimes more than four hours a week, getting worked on by professionals in an effort to improve my physical appearance. If you want to get technical about it, working out and beauty could be combined to create one giant slice of pie because I am only working out in hopes of looking better. 

Here are the details of my beauty activities and estimated amount of time spent on each in an average month.

1) Hair - cut, color and treatment. This takes about three hours every time that I go. I try to stretch it out and only go every four weeks but sometimes I go every three.
2) Skin - I get Botox every few months and I've started getting chemical peels which take about 30 minutes every month. 
3) Nails - has two subcategories manicures and pedicures.  Manicure is one hour every other week and pedicure is one hour every three weeks.
4) Waxing - eyebrows and other about 30 minutes per month.
5) I also "pull" with coconut oil every morning. This is an ancient ritual of swishing coconut oil around in your mouth for 20 minutes to remove toxins from your body. I think it helps whiten my teeth.

So clearly I have two serious problems. First, I am really bad at math so I don't know if my weekly and monthly activities correlate properly. I am sure that they don't. I could ask Mr. Deep (aka math genius) to help me with this but I don't want to bother him with such silliness and I also don't want to encourage him to calculate how much all of these activities are costing. Second, and perhaps most alarming, I am very self absorbed, shallow and superficial. And not just about my appearance. I mean I write a blog because I am positive that people care about what I am doing or thinking. And a lot of you are nice enough to act like you do. 

I admit I have problems. These problems didn't start when I came to Africa either. I was always bad at math and except for the manicures (reason explained below) and the chemical peels which are new, I used to get all of these treatments when I lived in the U.S. too. Except back then I had a job and so these treatments seemed far less glamorous and indulgent because I was cramming them in on a Saturday or after work rather than going for treatments during the day. Also, I was a professional. I had to try to look presentable. These days, having a pedicure while other people are working seems more selfish and more luxurious even though the actual process is the same. 

I am going to try to justify and explain the beauty treatments.

1) Hair - if I didn't color it I would be grey. I am way too young to be grey. I am not going to embrace being grey until I am either over 70 or too poor to afford to color my hair. It is likely that before I turn 70 all of my hair will fall anyway out from all the coloring and flat ironing. If you have been to my house then you know that my hair is everywhere, in our bed, on the floor, in Mr. Deep's food. Flat ironing, which I am not even going to go into in this post could probably get its own slice of pie in the chart.  I would embrace curly hair if I had good curly hair but I don't so I can't.

2) Skin - I want my face to glow. When getting a chemical peel you are supposed to say on a scale of one through ten how much burning you feel. I always say it hurts less than it does because a) I don't like to show weakness to the esthetician because I want to be her toughest client, the one that she tells he husband about at dinner, "this woman is tough, you should see what I put on her face and she didn't even flinch not like the other clients who come to see me" and b) because I want the strong stuff so that I can see improvement and get my money's worth. I'm pretty sure the last time they poured battery acid directly onto my face. I rated it a six. Even though a tear was running down my cheek. Now my skin is peeling like spring break in Florida circa 1983. I also get Botox in between my eyes every six months because I don't like having a "whatchu talking 'bout Willis" expression on my face at all times. Yes, I know it's botulism.

3) Manicures - I used to bite my nails so horribly that my thumb nails were severely deformed. I tired to hide them by making fists all of the time with my thumbs tucked in but some people still noticed. I remember one person saw my hands once and then said, "but you seem so normal." Good news is I stopped biting and now my real nails have grown in. If I don't get my nails done every other week with gel polish I will bite them again. Can't stop. Won't stop.

Pedicures - Two arguments, one I live in a warm climate so I wear open toe shoes a lot. Second, I run (clearly only as an effort to stay somewhat thin) so my feet get banged up and have calluses that need to be addressed. 

4) Eyebrow Waxing - I know George Costanza said "who cares about eyebrows" but properly groomed eyebrows can make your whole face look better.

5) Pulling with coconut oil- yes it's an ancient ritual but I don't care about that. I think it helps to whiten my teeth without harmful chemicals. I only choose to put harmful chemicals on my face, nails and hair. I am also fine with having a toxin directly injected into my face. But I don't want to put harmful chemicals into my mouth. That would be crazy.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


I don't believe in karma. I also don't believe in feng shui, the healing power of crystals or aromatherapy. I do believe in astrology a bit because I am a Virgo and if you know me you know I am such a Virgo but that's where my new age beliefs end and my practicality begins. Practicality by the way being a central Virgo trait.

I remember when I was a kid I read a Judy Blume book and the main character in the book used to write in her diary every evening and she would grade her day. She only had one A plus day and all the rest were just average and graded as B's and C's. I don't remember much else about the book or even the title.

I mention all of this because I had an A plus day today. It was so wonderful that it almost made me believe in karma.

My day began when Justice, who I wrote about in this post, surprised me by coming to work with Christine this morning. I have not seen Justice since his last day of work for us at the end of September but I have been chatting with him over whatsapp. About a month after he left us, Justice got a job! He is now working security at some type of estate or housing complex. I didn't help him to get the job but I was able to help him with a few things he needed once he had the job. He told me recently that he wanted to come by one day to say hello and I guess today was the day. I was excited to give him some Christmas gifts that I brought back for him from the U.S.A. First, was a Yankees cap which he loved and second were some seashells that I gathered for him on the beach in Florida. Give most people over the age of seven a gift of seashells that you picked up yourself from the beach and they will be like what the F$%& is this? But I knew that Justice would really like them. And when I gave them to him Christine said it perfectly. She said "Justice loves decorations." And as much as he loved the hat, he loved the shells and he spent time looking at each one and said how beautiful they were and I knew that he meant it. 

We talked for a while and then he began cleaning my windows. The American version of me would have tried to stop him, telling him it wasn't necessary and making a big fuss about how he didn't need to work for free or running to the ATM so I could pay him, but South African version of American me just let him do it because I know he wanted to repay me for some kindnesses and this was his way and to stop him or pay him would have been rude. When I got home this afternoon and he and Christine had already left so I sent him a note to thank him for my gorgeous and sparkling windows and he replied, "you deserve good things." 

Also today, I spent time with Gift.  I went to his house and met his sister and his brother in law for the first time. They were so nice to me. I think a lot of cynical relatives in this world might have been confused and wondered what my motives for being friends with Gift might be. Am I some kind of recruiter trying to bring him into my cult? Do I work for immigration? Am I a sad and lonely housewife with wild fantasies about younger African men? If they did wonder these things or had questions about me they didn't let on, instead they accepted me as being genuine and welcomed me into their home, giving me a piece of corn on the cob to eat (called mealies here) and chatting with me for an hour. At the end of our visit they told me I was welcome to come back any time to visit.

I brought Gift some clothes and shoes from the U.S.A. When I gave him these items he acted like those people we have all seen on the publishers clearing house commercials. He was happier than any grown up adult I have seen in a long, long while and possibly ever. Later, he wrote me a note saying he was "so much more than the word happy" and that I was his "first friend of white." And I replied to him much like Justice replied to me, and told him that he deserves nice things. 

Finally, at the end of the day and I saw our neighbor from across the street, Brenda, standing outside of her house. We hardly know our neighbors except to say hello or to chat briefly if we happen to be outside at the same time. I needed to talk to her today because I had a timely question concerning what, if anything, we should do for the guards at our estate for Christmas.  Mr. Deep had suggested I ask her for input. We chatted for a bit and she asked me if we were going to be here for Christmas and what our plans were. I said we were just going to stay home and braai (grill.) By the way Mr. Deep and I don't really celebrate Christmas and we have have spent many, many Christmas days just making dinner at home and hanging out. We also generally don't give each other birthday presents or celebrate any holidays (except Thanksgiving which only involves making dinner) so it's not like we would be sitting at home sobbing, missing the U.S. and feeling suicidal but she of course doesn't know that. So once she heard we had no real plans she invited us to come over for Christmas. The American version of me would have been horrified thinking this poor woman really doesn't want us to come over, she is just being nice and later she is going to have to apologize to her husband for speaking without thinking and tell him she invited us and he will say, "dammit Brenda, do you even know their names?" But the South African version of American me said, "great what time should we come over" and wondered (briefly) if this is what good karma feels like. 
Justice at our house wearing his new cap. And yes, it totally matched his jacket. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


You're probably tired of hearing about my jet lag. Believe me, no one is more tired of the topic than I am. But good news! This post is only minimally about jet lag. 

It's funny the kind of thoughts you have when you cannot sleep. For some reason last week when I was unable to sleep due to my jet lag (officially last mention of jet lag for a while), I became obsessed with the idea of making chocolate bark. 

I am not really sure how or why this idea popped into my head. I am not much of a baker or a maker of sweets and I have never made chocolate bark before, but for some reason all I could think about for a few nights in a row as I was laying awake was chocolate bark, chocolate bark, chocolate bark. Important questions about chocolate bark were swirling around in my brain at 2:00 a.m. Such as, what kind of chocolate would I use? What toppings would I put on? Would I marble in white chocolate? The urge to make chocolate bark was so great that if I had had the ingredients in my house, I would have gotten out of bed and immediately started making it.

So on Sunday, the day after the shebeen tour, I made chocolate bark. If you don't know, chocolate bark is melted chocolate cooled on a cookie sheet with various goodies sprinkled onto the still soft chocolate. When it hardens, the chocolate is broken up into uneven shards. The great thing about it is it's really a hard recipe to mess up. You aren't really making anything from scratch. You're just melting chocolate and smashing up toppings. 

I followed this recipe from Jamie Oliver. It was a helpful recipe as it gives instructions to ensure the chocolate melts easily and smoothly. Melting the chocolate is really the only part of bark making where you could make a mistake. 
Melting the milk chocolate.
One last thought about bark and then I'll get to the pictures. While chocolate bark seems like a holiday treat, what I loved about making it was that no oven is needed so it is also a good treat to make during hot weather. You just have to store it in the fridge!
This is the milk chocolate I used. And below is the dark chocolate. 
This dark chocolate turned out to be really, really dark. I am not sure how many people would like it. Maybe I should have mixed a bar of milk in with the dark bars? Or maybe I just think the sweeter, the better. 
As instructed by the recipe I purchased grease proof paper to cover the cookie sheet. It worked perfectly. No sticking.
It's crucial that you taste the chocolate prior to melting it. If it's poor quality you need to know. It may take more than one taste to be sure.
Preparing to smash candy canes into bits and dust.
Candy cane dust
Toppings starting from top of photo - crushed nuts, crushed pretzels, dried cranberries, cinnamon and sugar mixture, crushed candy canes. Below is the melted and spread dark chocolate just waiting for toppings.

Milk chocolate with toppings added. Below, the finished products.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bump Bump

Two things about me. First, I like always having some event planned for the future so that I have something to look forward to.  I have spent more than one plane ride home following a vacation thinking about what my next vacation could be. Second, sometimes I don't learn from my mistakes.
Me. At The Shack in Soweto

Mr. Deep and I returned to Joburg from our two week trip to the U.S. this past Thursday morning. Because I thought it was important that we have an activity to look forward to upon our return, before we left for the U.S., I arranged for us to participate in a shebeen crawl in Soweto on Saturday. 

The part where I don't learn from my mistakes comes into play because once again we suffered from serious jet lag. I was not able to fall asleep until 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning and both Mr. Deep and I were wide awake between midnight and 2:00 a.m. early Saturday morning. During this two hour period both of us also found it necessary to eat a snack because we felt hungry given it was dinner time back in the U.S. So yes, we were kind of a mess. However, if you are already feeling crappy and not at the top of your game, that might be the perfect time to go on a pub crawl.

Shebeen is an Irish word that refers to an illicit club that sells alcohol without a license. Most shebeens are now legal however the shebeen plays a significant role in South African history, which you can read more about here.  

You might remember I have written about Soweto before as we visited the area when my parents were here.  Soweto is the largest township in South Africa and is home to over 1 million people. A township refers to an area where black people were forced to live during apartheid.

The shebeen tour was arranged by a group called InterNations in conjunction with a tour company called KDA Travel & Tours. InterNations is the largest international expat community in the world and offers networking events and activities as well as tips and practical information for expats living in over 390 cities worldwide. Mr. Deep and I received a lot of advice from other expats both before and after moving to South Africa suggesting we join expat clubs such as InterNations as a way to meet people. We have been doing pretty well meeting people without joining any clubs but this seemed like a fun event and a good way to meet others who have relocated to Joburg. 

We met the tour guide and the rest of the group at a hotel in Sandton City and boarded our bus to Soweto. Mr. Deep and I were the only Americans participating. The other expats were from Germany, Italy, Cameroon, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Finland and the Philippines. There were also three Australians. Not to stereotype but I think Australians really enjoy a good pub crawl.  We didn't receive our itinerary in advance, which we were told was for our safety, so until the time we boarded the bus we had no idea what the night would bring. 

We were not really worried about safety but we did decide to leave our rings and nice jewelry at home prior to departure.

Once on the bus, we met our tour guide, Ngugi, pronounced Goo-gee. He assured us that going to Soweto and on the tour was completely safe and that we were in for a great time. He said that since Soweto is so famous and has so much historical significance that people there are used to seeing visitors and tours pass through frequently. He told us our first stop would be to have dinner at a place called Tinties. 

I don't know who Tintie is but s/he must be doing really well financially because we soon arrived at a small shopping center where every single store had Tintie in the name. There was Tintie's restaurant, Tintie's Supermarket, Tintie's butchery, Tintie's Pool Hall and Tintie's bottle store. The whole parking lot was full of people as were all of the stores and the restaurant. The parking lot looked like a tailgating party that you would see in the U.S. at a sporting event. People were parked and hanging out and just drinking and dancing near their cars. It was not a holiday or a special event, just a typical Saturday evening. There was also a DJ playing music in the corner of the shopping center. We headed to the restaurant where we somehow secured a long table like you would see at a beer garden.  I call the restaurant a restaurant but really it was more like a grilling pavilion.  It had a huge braai (grill) and guys were manning the fire and cooking tremendous amounts of meat. In order to have your meat braaied you first had to go and purchase it raw from the butcher. If you wanted beer or a drink (and of course we all did) you had to walk across the parking lot to the bottle store to get it. The bottle store was really more like a stand where the liquor and the seller were safe behind bars. To purchase a drink you had to wait in a line and then tell the guy behind the bars what you wanted. Mostly everyone was drinking beer which were huge quart size bottles. It seems none of the locals in Soweto wanted to waste time with a pint. In addition to buying a bottle quart, you could also buy a whole six pack of regular size beer. Liquor and soft drinks were also sold. In addition to not selling the drinks or the meat, the restaurant did not provide any plates, utensils or napkins (serviettes.) We were expected to eat everything with our hands. That is easy when eating a lamp chop but more difficult when eating the pap and prawn salad. Pap, you might remember from this post, is a staple food of South Africa. It is made from maize meal and is the consistency of mashed potatoes. The pap (pronounced pop) was served with a side of chakalaka sauce which is a very delicious cabbage and tomato sauce with a hint of curry. In addition to the lamp chops we also received beef and wors (sausages.) The platters that these meats were served on were the cardboard that formerly housed cases of beer.

Mr. Deep at Tintie's. You can see the guy hanging out and tailgating in the background. You can also see the giant quart bottle of beer in this picture.
A box of meat
Tinti has cornered the market. And as you can see below some signs say Tintie's and others say Tinti's. I don't know why.

Wors (sausages) 
Some hot coals
Not a great photo because the light is behind them but still had to post a pic of the guys cooking the meat.

Pap. It came wrapped in plastic on a Styrofoam plate. So I guess there was sort of a plate. 
One of our fellow expats walked to Tintie's supermarket and bought a package of serviettes but other than that that one creature comfort we all ate with our hands and without utensils or plates.

Following dinner, we stopped at a petrol (gas) station to use the bathrooms. We then headed to our first shebeen, called The Shack. The Shack looked like some one's house as it consisted of various rooms. The first room had a table and couches and seemed to be where the older men were hanging out. The next room had a pool table and seemed to be where the younger men were hanging out. The bar itself was its own room. It wasn't really a bar but rather a room full of coolers like you would see in a grocery store. A guy manned this room which also contained the cash register.

How funny I just noticed the guy in the Giants shirt.
Coolers of beer at The Shack
At this point Mr. Deep became interested in playing pool with the locals. Unfortunately we weren't at The Shack long enough for him to have the chance to play.  At the next bar, called the Sanile's Place, he immediately put his money down in order to get next game. It turns out there are pool rules that are very specific to Africa. The Africa bump bump rule means that if you are shooting and fail to connect with your ball (this would be a table scratch in conventional 8-ball rules), your opponent gets a "free" additional shot if he misses his next. If your opponent makes his shot, he still is able to use that free shot if he misses after that. I know what you are thinking. This rule sounds like a rule that was created specifically for the circumstance when a white guy appears in Soweto and wants to play pool. But Ngugi confirmed that bump bump is an actual rule. Mr. Deep did not win but he did make some friends in the process. The guys playing with him wanted to get a photo with him. Even one guy who had a mohawk and seemed more than a little intimidating as he was explaining the rules in a very animated fashion, became Mr. Deep's best bud while we were at Sanile's. Also at this bar, the actual bar was a counter with bars on it. To purchase a drink you had to go to the window and pay, similar to a gas station. Sanile's also had a DJ spinning tunes and lots of people dancing. While there were some women in these bars, I would say 90% of the clientele were men. Probably because women were too busy at home taking care of their kids. One of the woman in our group was a blond woman from Finland she got a lot of attention from the men. Ngugi told us on the bus that one guy at Sanile's offered him 40 head of cattle as a lobola for her. A lobola is a dowry or a price that a man's family gives to a woman's family to obtain the woman as his bride. That is the thing about minute you easily forget you are anywhere exotic and the next minute someone is offering 40 head of cattle for a woman.
A selfie with Mr. Deep's new friends including guy with mohawk. Oh and I am promised that facial hair will be gone by the end of the year.

                                Lined up for beer at the window with the bars at Sanile's
We then moved on to our final bar called Sakhimzi. Sakhimzi was like any other restaurant or bar that you would find in any city. It had a ton of outside seating and the bar itself was normal meaning you could walk up and order directly without iron bars or having to pass any money through a slot. It was a nice place and we once again secured a long table outside. We met a guy named David and he sat with us and we played a game where he guessed which country we were all from. He didn't do too badly. It turns out he visited Chicago once when he was working as a salesman. The only thing that was strange about Sakhimzi was the staff were all wearing canvas jumpsuit type uniforms which made them look like they had just parachuted in. It had to be hot and uncomfortable and I clearly missed what about the theme of the bar led to these uniforms.  

The jumpsuit
Christmas decorations at Sakhimzi
The leader from InterNations named Nkuli with Ngugi, our tour guide.
Heta from Finland and David from Soweto

Thursday, December 3, 2015

My Friend Gift

Written in New York City while sitting at a Starbucks. Yum. Starbucks.

This post is not about how I am gifted in the art of making friends. This is a story about how I made a new friend, named Gift. 

I met Gift a few weeks ago when I parked in the lot where he was working. I had parked there so that I could go for a run. As an aside Mr. Deep and I are training for a half marathon and running has been taking up a lot of our free time. In my case however running has has not been taking up nearly as much of my time as it should be. I have not been committed to my training as much as Mr. Deep has or as much as I should be. Anyway, on the day I met Gift I had finished running and I was standing by my car, drinking my water and concentrating on not throwing up when Gift came over and we started talking.  After a few minutes of chatting about the weather, Gift told me he was hoping to get a better job and he asked me if I knew of anything. I was impressed by his initiative because if you have ever looked for a job you know it's all in the networking. Gift explained that he came to South Africa from Zimbabwe three months ago and he said he does not have a permit to work in South Africa. He told me he has a drivers license and maybe even a commercial drivers license (sometimes it's hard to understand.) I promised to keep my ears open for him. He gave me his phone number so if I heard of anything I could let him know via whatsapp. We've been friends ever since chatting frequently on whatsapp.

Gift works as a car guard, which means to make a living he stands in a parking lot and guards the cars that are parked there. Car guards are employed in nearly every parking lot in the part of South Africa where we live.  Their job is to watch your car while you're inside shopping, working, eating or whatever. The car guards are not paid a salary and rely solely on customer tips. If that were not bad enough, what I learned from talking to Gift, is that the guards have to pay to work. Yes, you read correctly. Car guards pay a daily fee to some type of boss, a person who I think there is a special spot reserved for in hell, to rent the area of the parking lot that they are covering. Gift pays R25 per day so that he can guard cars. He told me that on a good day, if he is assigned to a busy section of the lot and if a lot of people are out shopping he can earn R100. However, I have seen the lot where he works and I would be surprised if he earns R100 in a day very often. Between the R25 he pays as his fee, plus his transportation to and from work, I estimate that sometimes he can take home about R50 which equals $3.50 USD. He said if it's a really bad day, and if a guard can't pay the R25 fee then the fee is added to the fee for the next day. 

Gift and the other guards stand in the hot sun or the cold or the rain for 12 hours a day watching cars, being nice to shoppers, loading packages into the cars for them, directing them as they back out of parking spots and hoping desperately that they come out ahead financially that day. He didn't say this, but I think that working as a car guard is also slightly dangerous. Not just because of the heat that they often have to bear, but because if a deranged criminal does want to steal cars or the contents of cars or rob people, the unarmed car guard is definitely no match for the criminal.

As I mentioned Gift came to South Africa from Zimbabwe three months ago. You will remember that I have written about Zimbabwe in other posts, about how the electricity goes out for 8 hours a day and how in many places no water comes out of the taps. South Africa certainly has many of its own problems (for example we recently had no water coming out of the taps at our house for two weeks) with its troubled and aging infrastructure, government corruption and 25% unemployment rate, but to people from many other African countries, South Africa is the land of opportunity.  

After chatting with Gift over whatsapp, I invited him to meet me for lunch on one of his rare days off.  When I offered to buy him lunch he responded that he had never eaten in a restaurant before and that he did not know how to use a knife or a fork. I could tell he was slightly embarrassed about it so I purposely I took him to a burger place (not McDonald's because I have my standards) but a place called Wimpy. I think it was a good first restaurant experience. We had a waitress and silverware was made available to us but we didn't use it. I showed him a little bit how to use the knife and fork but it was not a full and proper lesson. And to be honest, I am not the best person to be giving anyone advice in this area.

During our lunch I learned that Gift is 35 years old. Both of his parents are deceased (later through my research I found out the life expectancy in Zim is 56 for a man and 57 for a woman.) Gift lives in a house in Joburg with his sister and one other person. He pays his sister R1000 per month rent and he has his own room in the house. He normally works 7 days a week from about 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. each day. In the month that I have known him he has had two days off. 

In many ways Gift is just like my other friends. He likes making jokes, using emoticons on his phone and watching sports, mostly soccer, on TV. Liverpool is his favorite team. And he likes beer. Castle Light is his favorite beer. Communicating with him has taught me that I have a tendency to say a lot of things that are dumb. Well not exactly dumb but inappropriate for his situation. For example, when I told him he deserved to have a day off after working so hard for so many days in a row he was perplexed and reminded me that he has no choice but to accept the fact that although he was told he would have a day off, he didn't get it. When I told him that I was confident that he would get a better job soon, he asked me how I knew such a thing and then I had to admit that really I didn't and I was just trying to be positive and upbeat. 

When I told Gift that Mr. Deep and I were going to visit America for a few weeks, he asked me to tell my friends from America about Gift. He sometimes talks about himself in the third person. He said to tell my American friends that he wishes to visit their country someday but for now he is too poor.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Not for Sissies

First, I want to apologize for my use of the word sissy. I am sure it is a derogatory word that should not be used. 

The reason I need to use it is that here there is an actual phrase here, "South Africa. Not for sissies." The first time I heard it was when Gavin, our guide at Madikwe said it.  It means just what you think. That in order to live here you need to be patient, you need to be flexible and you need to be strong. 

In some ways living here is ridiculously and almost embarrassingly easy. Especially for me because I don't work. I will quickly, to avoid annoying you, list the ways that living here is easy. First, to us as Americans it is inexpensive. Housing, food, wine, hotels and many other things cost must less than what we are used to. I am careful not to go on and on about this because to many people who live here the devaluation of the rand is making it more and more difficult to make ends meet, but if you are from America and you come visit, you will be shocked when you order a glass of wine and it costs less than $3.00 USD. Second, it's warm and the sky is almost always blue. And there are palm trees. Even in winter when it was chilly it was nothing like the tundra where we used to live. Third, we live in a nice house. In fact, it's the nicest house I have ever lived in. And someone comes to clean it for me twice a week and someone else comes to work in my yard/garden once a week. If we were living in America these luxuries would not be possible.

I realize that paragraph was irritating. And the good news is that's the end of the cushy life talk and I am instead going to instead focus on the ways that living here is not easy. Living here is challenging in ways that I've never experienced before.

I wrote before about load shedding. That's when the electricity is purposely cut off to save the entire grid from going down. That's hard. But the good news is we haven't had load shedding in a while, over three months. The latest problem though is a severe lack of water. For two weeks Mr. Deep and I had no running water in our house. About 75% of the time absolutely no water came out of the tap at all. Sometimes, there was enough to brush your teeth or hand wash dishes or flush the toilet. But in two weeks there was not enough water to take a shower, do laundry, run the dishwasher or water the yard/garden. While we are having a severe drought, the reason for this situation is we have very old infrastructure in the underground pipes around our neighborhood. This scenario might push some sissies over the edge, but we dealt with it o.k. It was not the end of the world. We showered at the gym and we drank bottled water. Not to say we weren't annoyed but we handled it. 

The other thing that is hard is seeing destitute people every where that you go. South Africa is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. It is not unusual to see a man in tattered clothing, without shoes, with a bucket hand washing a Mercedes or an Audi that is parked in front a large and beautiful home. It is not unusual, when stopped at an intersection to see people begging in the streets, pointing to their mouths to let you know they are hungry. There are also hundreds of thousands of people who work every day and earn a living yet they are still hungry and many of them live in the kind of place that a lot of us wouldn't want our pets to have to sleep. 

But the saddest thing of all is much more personal. I found out last week that the 2 year old granddaughter of Christine, the woman who works for us, might have kidney cancer. That type of devastating news isn't specific to South Africa. Any family anywhere in the world could receive that horrible information. And many have. But the day that I heard it, when I was sitting in my waterless house, having recently returned from a Christmas party where Diepsloot kids in torn uniforms with missing shirt buttons chose to put the Christmas Happy Meals that we handed out into their school bags, because they might need the food more later than now, that was the day when I had to try really, really hard not to be a sissy. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Diepsloot on Foot

Recently I visited Diepsloot with a group called The Joburg Photo Walkers. This group is just what it sounds like, a bunch of people with cameras who meet up at a specific place or event for the purpose of taking pictures. It was not an ideal day for me to spend walking around Diepsloot. Mr. Deep and I went to a big fancy party the night before and we were out quite late. Also, it was really hot, about 35 degrees. But having the chance to walk around Diepsloot was well worth my personal hardship of being tired and hot. 

I have written a few posts about Diepsloot in the past. You might remember that it's a township of about 200,000 residents located near where we live. Our cleaning lady Christine and her family live there and I have been volunteering at one of the schools in Diepsloot twice a week for several months. Even though I go to Diepsloot for school, I have never had the chance to explore the area on foot so I was not going to miss the opportunity to join the photo walkers. You can see past posts I've written about Diepsloot, here, here and here.

It turns out the reason the photo walkers chose to visit Diepsloot that particular day was because a group called the Diepsloot Arts and Culture Network built an arts cafe and it was the launch day for the cafe and something called the Diepsloot Arts Pricint (sic) a place for Diepsloot artists to gather and work. The cafe was built out of a shipping container.
The cafe on the narrow end of the container

The rest of the cafe container. The right hand side was a DJ booth.

I'm not going to say too much more about this photo walk because I am hoping the pictures and the captions can tell the story of the people I met and the things I saw. I will only say that Diepsloot is the land of opposites. There are so many kind and smiling people living there but they are living in and surrounded by horrid conditions. I'm not trying to be too dramatic here but Diepsloot is a triumph and a tragedy all at the same time. It is a most depressing place as well as a most inspirational place. I hope you enjoy the photos. 

The woman on the left runs the arts cafe
Seats at the arts cafe made from tires and heavy rope 

And here is the thing about Diepsloot. Right next to the arts cafe is this scene.
Part of the cause of all of this trash is because the cafe is located next to a recycling yard. The bottles come from a nearby tavern on a forklift and are piled sky high. 
Often the crates from the forklift fall onto the ground and there is broken glass everywhere. We saw it happen.

Vendor stands and shops are everywhere. And so are kids.


 Chickens are for sale throughout the township for R50. I guess that is the cost the market will bear. That's $3.50 USD
  And here is a man who purchased a chicken. It seems like for R50 the chicken is killed but not plucked or butchered.

Trash and more chickens
When we were talking he was all smiles but he didn't smile for the picture
These men were eating and invited me into their courtyard. The one in the middle barely tolerated me but the other two said not to worry about him.

Love this pretty lady!

This guy was sitting in his car drinking beer while his friends removed one of his tires to put air in it
The guy putting the air in the tire was far less jovial
It seems like in Diepsloot (and in fairness in lots of other places too) Sunday means either drinking beer or going to church

 This guy, named David, was excited to meet an American. He said I should take him to America.
The church crowd. Someone told me if you are dressed in a gown like this it means you have been saved

Yay! I finally got a picture of a woman carrying something on her head!
Dutch is the name of the man in this photo. I met him at the Artists Pricinct. He said he is an artist. I asked him what type of art he does and he said, "any kind of art I can do it." He and I were walking and found a place where a shack had burned down (a common occurrence because paraffin stoves are often used.) We spotted this sculpture in the ashes and he went and picked her up.

People living among trash. It's not that they are slobs. There are only a few skips (dumpsters) and there is a lack of regular rubbish pick up for the those that do exist.

Yes, this is weed. Is this the reason people were so smiley? 

About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.