Friday, February 27, 2015

Driving Myself Crazy

There are many things that have made transitioning to life in South Africa fairly easy. Everyone speaks English, the weather is warm and the dollar is strong. There are also things that seem extremely foreign and challenging. One such thing is driving. I have now driven a few times and I seriously wonder if I'll ever get the hang of it. Mr. Deep on the other hand would think nothing of taking off right now on a five hour road trip. He is perfectly comfortable. I guess we are just different that way.

Here are some of the things that I think make getting used to driving here extremely difficult  for an American.

1) Which side? We've been here a week and I am still about half the time walking around to the wrong side of the car to sit in the passenger seat which here is the driver's side. Old habits die hard! When you sit in the passenger seat you can't see yourself in the rear view mirror because its turned completely right toward the driver. Then when you are driving you have to stay in the left hand lane. Not a problem on a straight route but make a turn and you might fall into old habits and get in the right lane. That is until you get yelled at by your husband. Making turns when other cars are present also seems overly complicated. If you had to turn right onto a street in the U.S. and a car was stopped at a stop sign waiting to pull out from the street you were turning into, you would pay that person no mind at all. They'd just be way over on your left. Here, you have to go all the way around them so that you are staying left. And don't even think about making a right on red. You'll cut across traffic and die! So let's say you've got all of this down and you are ready to make your turn. You're going to flip on your windshield wipers to signal your turn because the windshield wipers are where the directional should be! Once you finally remember your directional is on your right, then it's all backwards anyway because you flip it up for left and down for right. All of this doesn't really matter that much because....

2) You are brand new to the area and have no idea where you are going anyway!

3) The roads and parking spaces seem overly narrow and the rental car we have seems overly wide. Someone who shall remain nameless already pulverized a side view mirror backing out of a narrow parking space where there was a pole.

4) No sidewalks and lots of pedestrians. And not just pedestrians. People walking double file, kids, people walking dogs, women balancing packages on their heads, people on bikes, some type of trash collection that looks like that large rolling canvas dumpster that people use in the states when someone leaves a job and all of their office contents get thrown away to prepare for the new employee. Only these dumpsters are piled high three times the size of the dumpster itself. 

5) How far and how fast?  I was that person in school who thought, "I'm never going to need the metric system." 

There is more that I could go into here. The traffic lights, the aggressive South African drivers, the hawkers. There is no shortage of content out on the roads. I'll save it for another time. 

Feeling good after driving and surviving! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My What a Big Box of Q-tips You Have

We are currently living in a guest lodge. It is a nice place and I should know because I spend a lot of time here. We still only have one car and I'm not at the point in my driving (too scared) to where I can drop Mr. Deep off at work and keep the car for the day. So most days I am home during the day hanging out in my little one room "apartment" or outside on the grounds.

One day, I got to chatting with the lodge housekeeper when she came in to make up our room. After talking for a little while she asked me where I was from. When I replied the United States, she said "oh I thought so." It turns out that it wasn't my accent that gave me away it was the giant box of 500 Q-tips. She said Americans always have big boxes of Q-tips. I asked if Europeans and Africans use Q-tips and she said they do but they "would probably only have a box of about 100 at one time." She then asked me why we need so many Q-tips - did I use them for putting on make-up or something? I really didn't have a good answer for this one. I wish I could say that I stocked up thinking maybe they wouldn't sell them over here but that's not it because Mr. Deep and I have been using this box for over a year. I mean let's face it, using up 500 Q-tips takes time.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Farmer's Market Excursion

Yesterday we visited the Farmer's Market in Fourways which is about 20 minutes from where we are staying. What a wonderful experience! This market is open every Sunday and seems to be extremely popular. It opens at 10:00 a.m. and by the time we arrived at 10:45 it was so crowded we had to park in the overflow parking lot. There were very few (if any) farmers at this market. It would probably be more accurate to call it an Artisan Market or a Food and Craft Market. But I'm not judging. They had live music and the guy sang "Sugar Man" which we thought was cool because it proves that people here really do love Rodriguez. Plus it was coincidentally Oscar Sunday. Check out the pictures.

This is biltong. It is jerky and is very popular here. I am going to conduct a biltong tasting and will create a future blog post to share thoughts. 

Close up of biltong

Cheeses for sale
The most popular booth was selling these cocktails. They came in ball jars and had either rum or vodka and various fruits. Interesting because in the U.S. glass would likely not be allowed an at event like this. You had to return the glass before leaving. The bee was included free of charge.
There was no shortage of booze at this market

The seating consisted of hay bales and stumps
Lots of gardens and plants for sale

This was the most popular food item. It seems to be chicken strips and fries with either blue cheese or mozzarella cheese.
Cute girls that we met. They gave us a lot of suggestions regarding things to do and places to visit. Notice the fruity drinks they had. I had champagne.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Not Bad Just Different

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We've only been here in Sunninghill, Gauteng - South Africa for a little over 24 hours but I want to share with you how I am going to try to approach the expat life. Notice I say try because I think this approach is going to be a work in progress but maybe if I share it here I will try a little harder and you can keep me honest.

Everything that you read about maximizing the expat experience says that rule number one is not to compare your new life and surroundings to that of your home country. This is not easy to do when you have lived in your home country all of your life and you are used to certain customs, behavior, culture, rules, amenities and on and on. In the short time we have been here I have noticed so many things that are completely different from what I've experienced in the U.S. What I am going to try to do is explain these things without judging and without giving an opinion about which "way" is better. So for example I will try not say things like, "can you believe they don't have Target or a Target like store here?" Well that really sucks! How am I supposed to get everything I need in an easy and convenient manner?" Instead I will try to say I went shopping and here was my experience and here is how it is different from the U.S. If I find something really egregious then I will have give an opinion but I am going to try to save that for the really big things.

So here's one. In the U.S. you rarely, if ever, see people walking along the highway. When I say highway I mean like I-95 for example. I think in my whole 44 years I have maybe seen three to five people walking on the highway, usually within a mile of seeing a broken down car and normally with a gas can in hand. Wednesday, driving 30 minutes from the airport to the place where we are staying, I saw at least five people walking on the highway. No broken down cars in sight. Don't think that there is a special pedestrian lane or an extra wide shoulder or anything either. There isn't. Interesting right? I assume that these people are going to and from work and that this is normal. Maybe not entirely safe but a way of life just the same.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Leaving on a Jet Plane

It's a long flight. Fourteen hours and 25 minutes was the flight time announced from JFK to Johannesburg when we took off yesterday. In case you're curious, here is how I passed the time.

2 magazines
2 books
several downloaded movies on Ipad
noise cancelling headphones
candy and snacks galore
This all in addition to the many movie and television show options available on the flight

The last time (and the only time) that we flew to Johannesburg Mr. Deep was seated in business class and I...well, I was not in business class. Keep in mind he was traveling on business and I was not. Or at least that's how the company policy viewed the situation. This time, we were both seated in coach. Why it's different I'm not sure but I do think it's good for him to see how the other half live.

The plane rows had two seats, four seats, two seats and was not full so I tried to spread out to a vacant four seat row but the flight attendant stopped me and said she was moving a family into that row. So I ended up sitting with Mr. Deep. It was actually good to sit by him because even though he really doesn't like to speak at all while on planes, I got a little sad as we were getting ready to take off. I was just thinking about my parents and friends and all the people I will miss when we leave. So I moved my seat and Mr. Deep held my hand and I felt a little better. 

As pre-planned I listed to Toto's Africa upon takeoff. The flight departed at 10:40 a.m. from JFK. Soon after takeoff lunch and wine were served. What's weird about the flight is immediately after lunch, at around noon eastern time, they act like it's nighttime. Everything is dark, the flight attendants never come around and it seems like most people sleep. I noticed this the last time too and I find it strange that all the other passengers just kind of fall for the trick and fall asleep for hours in the middle of the day. Maybe they stay up all night in preparation?

12 hours til landing
Watched 2 episodes of Modern Family. Thought about how it is a great show. Wished I had watched more of it when I had the chance. 
Watched Shawshank Redemption. Cried a little at the end when (spoiler alert but if you haven't seen it by now are you really going to? ) Red met Andy down in Mexico.
Ate a snack (I know we just ate lunch!)
Walked around the plane to prevent blood clots.

9 hours til landing
Read Self Magazine. Thought about how much more I can work out now that the weather will be nice. Felt inspired.
Watched Mr. Deep sleep. 
Watched Whiplash. Was excited to see it because it was the last Oscar nominated best picture movie I needed to see. Not that I will be able to watch the Oscars but still. Got annoyed that the swearing was dubbed over. Found it funny that when Mr. Deep started watching it about a half hour after I did that he said he found it annoying that the swearing was dubbed over. 
Wished I had popcorn. Especially during the scene in the movie when they eat popcorn.
Walked around the plane and drank a bunch of water.
Hoped that my parents would remember to drink a lot of water and walk around when they fly over to visit.

6-1/2 hours til landing
Realized that is the length of time of a flight from NY to California
Realized that it's 7:30 p.m. back in NY
Thought about all of the great beauty products I read about in Self Magazine. Assumed they are not available in SA and tried to forget about them.
Tried to sleep. Instead wondered if I am making the biggest mistake of my life. Played a game called "What If" 
Wondered what if I hate SA, what if I'm homesick, what if I don't make any friends, what if it's not good for my relationship with Mr. Deep to have this added level of change and stress.
Tried to think of ten positive things about the move. Forced myself to make a list:
1) the weather 
2) having a pool
3) more free time
4) new experiences
5) the challenges will bring Mr. Deep and me closer together
6) we will make new friends
7) friends and family from the U.S. will visit us
8) this is a great professional opportunity for Mr. Deep
9) it's good to step out of your comfort zone in life
10) could only come up with nine!

5 hours til landing
Fell asleep. Slept on and off for a while.

3 hours til landing
Woke up and noticed that it was light out. Thought that three hours is the equivalent of a flight from NY to Dallas.
Ate the breakfast they served. 
Watched Modern Family episodes again. Thought about not watching the episodes so that I wouldn't have to admit it in the blog. Decided to watch anyway.
Brushed my teeth and tried to wake up. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Five Scenarios

Today was our last chance. If we didn't secure our visas today we'd have to postpone leaving for South Africa, change our flights and extend our time at the Crowne Plaza White Plains. We had a plan. We would try what they call in the sales world the assumptive close. We would advise the experts handling our case file that since the four week deadline had passed, that we would go to the consulate ourselves to personally collect the visas. Mr. Deep woke up at 4:00 a.m. to send an email to the expert in London asking her to be sure the visas would be ready when we stopped by the consulate to get them. 

We woke up several hours later. The expert had replied that they were continuing to follow up in the visas and that we should change our flight and should wait for a phone call from the consulate. We decided not to accept this answer and to cut out the middle man and go to the consulate ourselves. 

As we trudged through NYC in below freezing temperatures we talked about what might happen when we arrived at the consulate. We came up with five scenarios.

1) The Hopeful Scenario - the visas would be ready and they would hand them to us and we would be on our Africa

2) The Hopeful but Practical Scenario - they would inform us that the visas would be ready sometime today

3) The We Mailed the Visas to you Scenario - this would not be good as we forwarded all mail to a facility in Texas

4) The Oh There's a Huge Problem Scenario - we would learn about some big issue, missing information and thus a delay with our applications 

5) The Who the %$&/(-$!  are you Scenario - no record of us or our application at all and just a blank stare 
Riding up in the elevator was stressful. It seemed like we were heading in to see a doctor after having tests done. We would learn our fate. 

After watching another person who was also trying to secure a visa struggle through the process at the window it was our turn. Mr. Deep went up to the counter. He said he was following up on visa applications. The woman replied that the applications take 4 weeks. Mr. Deep said (nicely) that it had been over four weeks since we applied. She went in the back to check on things. She returned and said we should come back in an hour to get our visas. We did. We got them. We're moving to Africa tomorrow! 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Don't Know. Valentine's Day Edition

We still have more questions than answers as to when we will be departing for Africa. Yesterday marked four weeks since we submitted our visa paperwork. Poor Mr. Deep walked around compulsively checking his phone all day waiting for the consulate to call and say that we could come and pick up the visas. They never called.  Things are getting tricky because we have airline tickets to fly out on Tuesday. Obviously we can't leave without the visas. To make things even more complicated we now no longer have a car and tomorrow we have to move out of our temporary apartment. You know the phrase "it's just you and me?" well that could not be more true because at this point it's Deep, it's me, it's a few suitcases and it's about to be living out of a hotel.

In happy news we had a fun afternoon and night in NYC with Deep's sister and nephew. Although it was freezing cold we went up on top of the Empire State building. It was a gorgeous and clear day. Nothing like seeing for miles to remind you that you are really just dust in the wind.

Looking east toward the UN and the East River from the top of the Empire State Building

We then enjoyed a yummy Italian Dinner and a comedy show.

The comedy show was extra entertaining because we tried at the last minute to get tickets at the well known Comedy Cellar but they were sold out. We put our name on the waiting list only to be approached by a guy with a clip board asking us if we wanted to see a comedy show at a bar nearby for just $20 per ticket. It was probably close to zero degrees at this point so we wanted to do anything that was inside...and fast!  We paid the money (cash only of course) and he handed us a sheet of paper with some writing on it. We started to wonder if we had been totally scammed. Why does having a clipboard make all things seem official? Luckily it was not a scam and we got to see at least ten comics of varying comedic ability. It was a lot of fun and took our mind off our of our uncertainties.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Just Where Do You Think You're Going?

Imagine that applying for visas is similar to going to the DMV. You compile the massive amount of information that you think is needed and then you go there and present it hoping for the best. In addition, imagine that you have experts located throughout the world helping you pull the information together. The experts might sometimes give conflicting information and they are located in different time zones meaning that you often don't hear back from them for a day or two.

On January 16th we applied for our visas. We went down to New York City to the South African consulate and presented the information. There was a great deal of information needed and it took Mr. Deep over a month to put it all together. That day, there was one question and additional information was requested.  We were able to take care of it and provide the needed information within an hour. Then, we were told it would take four weeks to get the visas. The experts were following up on our behalf and kept saying four weeks, four weeks, four weeks. Four weeks is up this Friday, February 13th.

Late yesterday, Mr. Deep got a call from the consulate saying that two additional items were needed in order to process the visas. The first is easy - airline tickets showing when we plan to depart. The second, a little more complicated, is something new that they seem to be requiring (sounds like the DMV right?) Of course it was about 1:00 a.m. where the experts are when this request came to Mr. Deep so he drafted an email to the experts and immediately checked for a reply when he woke up this morning. Today there has been a lot of back and forth. We are still hopeful that the remaining information can be provided today or tomorrow and that the visas will be ready on Friday and that we can go down and pick them up.

In the meantime, we are living in temporary housing. It is a one bedroom apartment where we have been living since Superbowl Sunday. Mr. Deep walks to work from this apartment. All of our belongings, except for what we brought with us, in suitcases, are on the boat heading to Africa. We are down to one car and this weekend we will be getting rid of that car. We are really hoping to leave on Tuesday, February 17th. We will see!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

I'm Scared

Let's start off by saying that the number one emotion I have about moving to South Africa is excitement. I am confident and positive that this is a good move for us and that it will be a life changing adventure. Following closely is impatience. The opportunity of the relocation first surfaced in July of last year. Even months later when we knew that we were definitely going, things moved slowly. I just want to get there already!

Of course it's also scary. It's scary to leave the only country you've ever lived in and move nearly 8000 miles away right?

When someone tells you they are scared you're supposed to ask, "what are you scared of?" So here it is. A list of my top concerns in no particular order.

1) Crime and violence. Of course who isn't scared of crime and violence? Some people, when they find out you are moving to South Africa immediately launch into a scary story of South African crime and violence. Why people feel the need to do this is interesting and something I could write about more in the future. Anyway, I met a woman in Miami who was South African who told me straight up that she would not want to live there again. Then, she told me about her friends that got kidnapped and tied their own home. Another person told me that his friend drives around with a shotgun for safety reasons. Another person, who had lived there, said that if you are driving at night and you come upon a red light you should run it so you're not a sitting duck. I have heard lots of stories about this and the statistics do show there is a lot of crime. When we visited though people were actually out and about. They were not inside hiding. They were working and driving and shopping and laughing and eating lunch outside. And they seemed calm. I've also had a lot of people tell me how wonderful it is to live there and how if you use common sense you'll be fine. So I guess you just have to be careful. Don't wave around a lot cash. Don't drive a fancy car. Maybe don't rush to get the latest upgraded cell phone and always watch your back.
Tactic to address fear: Be careful!

2) Snakes. I'm terrified of snakes right here in the U.S.  I don't care how big a snake is, if it's poisonous or not, or what it eats. This fear is not based on anything logical. I don't like to see snakes on TV or in movies. At a zoo, I skip the reptile exhibit. I don't go in pet stores because there might be snakes there. I don't know what type of snakes they have in South Africa or worse what snakes live on the African continent. I am not going to look into this. When we move there and have a house it would be great to have a garden but this fear of snakes may not allow it. Please don't email me any details about your African snake research. I really don't want to know.
Tactic to address fear: Avoid thinking about the problem.

3) Driving on the other side of the road. Ugh! This is a major concern. First of all, I don't think I am the best driver here in the states as evidenced by the big dent in the front of my car from driving over a boulder that was in the median for decoration in the parking lot of my gym. Now I will need to learn to drive in a car sitting where we all know the passenger should be sitting and barreling down the "wrong" side of the street (all while watching out for carjackers.)  My biggest fear is making turns which I don't think can be avoided. Can I think fast enough to get in the correct lane after make a turn? Will I look the correct way for oncoming traffic when stopped before proceeding? Once, when I was in Europe on a trip an American got hit by a bus because he instinctively looked the wrong way before crossing the street. How can I unlearn these automatic habits picked up in over 30 years in the U.S.? 
Tactic to address fear: While I would like to say hire a driver I don't think Mr. Deep will go for it. I might take a driving lesson though.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Can Sarah Koenig Read Me a Bedtime Story?

A few posts back I talked about my symptoms of stress. Eventually, I will give you an update on each symptom. Surely you're on the edge of your seat wondering about my bald spot. I will share that as of now, my sleeping habits have not improved to the degree that I had hoped that they would. Falling asleep seems to go o.k. but staying asleep is challenging. Most nights I wake up a few times. It may only be for a few minutes, or it may be for hours! I chalk it up to the big upcoming move across the world. The only thing that seems to help me get back to sleep is Sarah Koenig's voice. She soothes me. Her voice is a drug that I am addicted to. I am keeping my Ipod under my pillow at this point so that Sarah is close by in case I need her. 

I don't listen to NPR. I didn't know about Sarah until I started listening to the podcast Serial. Putting aside my sleeping challenges for a second, I am going to implore you to listen to Serial if you haven't already. I know what you are thinking, "podcast? that sounds horrible! What are you going to suggest next? That I listen to old Gunsmoke radio broadcasts while eating cornmeal mush and sitting by a coal furnace wrapped in a shawl?" I had the same reaction initially - not interested. Then Mr. Deep listened and gave it thumbs up and when I finally listened the story was fascinating. At this point, I'm over the story because I could practically recite it. I'm no longer focused on the content. I'm focused on the smooth sounds of Sarah.

Hopefully this is just temporary. I will let you know. In the meantime, take a listen.

About Me

My photo
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.