Monday, June 29, 2015


Soweto is a township in Johannesburg located about 45 minutes away from where Mr. Deep and I live. The name is derived from South West Township. Soweto is the largest township in the country and over one million people live there. A township, you might remember from my earlier posts, is a an area where black people were forced to live during apartheid.  

Soweto is the home of a lot of history and significance in part due to a student uprising there in 1976. Students marched in the streets to oppose a new law stating that at least half of their school instruction was to be taught in Afrikaans, the language of the white ruling party. During the protest a young student named Hector Pieterson was shot and killed by police. It is estimated that as many as 700 protesters were killed although the official reported number is much lower. The violence created a lot of attention, distress and shock over apartheid both in South Africa and internationally.

This is the famous photo of a dying Hector Pieterson being carried by one of his classmates after he was shot by police. The photo was taken by Sam Nzima and it captured the attention of the world and brought increased awareness to the issue of apartheid.
In addition to the Soweto uprising, Soweto was home to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. In fact, they both lived on the same street. Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Prize winners.
A few weeks ago when my parents were here, the four of us visited Soweto. We took a bus tour which included the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. We also saw a home that Nelson Mandela lived in for a time, the home where Winnie Mandela still lives, and other sights. 

Winnie Mandela's house
Parts of Soweto are similar to any middle class neighborhood. There are brick homes on tree lined streets, restaurants, a mall and a hospital. There is a part of Soweto that is an informal settlement similar to Diepsloot. This section is precisely on the other side of the tracks from the middle class area. While there is 25% unemployment in South Africa overall, in the informal settlement in Soweto the rate is 70%. 

We got out of the bus to take a walking tour the informal settlement area. You may be thinking that it's strange to take a tour and walk around and look at poor people. I don't disagree. We all felt a little weird about it. The people in the informal settlement did not seem to mind though. They were very polite, saying hello to us and thanking us for coming. I guess they think the more people who see the area, the more it might help to bring about changes.  Or maybe they are just used to having visitors.

A young man named Vusi, who lives in the informal settlement, showed us around and brought us into the shack where he lives with his brother. The one room shacks are made mostly of corrugated metal. 

Like Diepsloot there are people everywhere and tons of little kids running around. There are stores and restaurants and all kinds of services in structures created out of various scavenged materials.

When the tour ended, I think we all felt pretty horrible. The lack of employment is an overwhelming problem. I especially fely badly for the little kids who did not ask to be born into such difficult circumstances. The kids all seemed fine though, running around and playing in the dirt. The little ones are too young to know what they don't know.
Chicken for sale. Not sure where the seller went off to.
A port a potty used by hundreds of people who don't have indoor plumbing 
This is what the houses look like
Graffiti art
Vusi (right) and his brother inside their home. 
Inside their shack

Someone planted a pretty garden in the middle of it all
Between the shacks

Take out restaurant and store. Notice how the roof is being held on.
The menu. I believe Russians and Viennas are types of sausages and I think maybe French refers to the bread type? These days the rand is trading at about 12:1 USD. So the chips cost about $1.00

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I've Seen The Lights Go Out In Broadacres

A sign on the door of a bookstore near where we live
Recently I wrote a post about load shedding, explained what it is and why we have it here in South Africa. Since writing that post, I learned that people in Zimbabwe lose electricity for 8-10 hours a day! That's every single day! Can you imagine? 

Load shedding is frustrating in the moment when you need to do something that requires electricity. Like see in the dark, or work on your computer (the Internet goes down with the power. Obviously you can't open your garage door or go to the ATM when there is no electricity. So yes, it's annoying.

When the power goes out in the U.S., people get very upset because they don't know how long it's going to remain off. Many of us remember Hurricane Sandy or other big storms where electricity was not restored in some areas for weeks. Also, no electricity means no heat and no air conditioning which is a problem after more than a few hours. No electricity in the U.S. might also mean no running water in rural areas. It also likely means no school for many not so disappointed students.

Since load shedding only lasts at maximum four hours at a time in one community, it is certainly less stressful and disruptive here than what I've described above. The main difference is you know when the power is coming back on. That's assuming the whole system hasn't collapsed. We don't have heat in our homes here so that's not an issue. Well, it's an issue but it's not a load shedding related issue. I'm sure it's hot in the summer when you can't use the air con (as it's called here) but people will survive for four hours. Food doesn't go bad in the short time the power is off and we still have water and even hot water during load shedding. School stays in session, it would have to or there would never be any school, and we can put petrol in our cars. So really, it's not that bad. It's the frequency and the underlying causes rather than the severity that are the issues.

Large businesses, hotels, and many restaurants seem to have generators so they can keep running during load shedding. The gate at the complex where we live has a generator so that whole security process still functions. I can imagine though, if you own a small business like a hair salon, restaurant or store that load shedding would be devastating to your ability to make money. In fact, limited economic growth of just 2% in the country was blamed on load shedding based on a recent report from the International Monetary Fund. I am sure that international companies, when determining if they should establish a presence here, take the load shedding issue into account.

What is most interesting about load shedding is how people here react to it, which I would categorize as very well, considering. South African people have a good sense of humor about the whole mess (and about most everything.) Mention load shedding to a South African and you'll get an eye-roll for sure. You might get a few thoughts about President Zuma and Eskom too. But that's it. You probably won't get a whole rant. And you'll likely hear the phrase "what can you do?"

This doesn't mean people don't grasp the seriousness of the problem. It means, what can you do? And the answer is probably not much.

When we were visiting Dullstroom a few weeks back, they were having load shedding. My mom and I met a lady who owned a restaurant and she told us a joke that they think is just hilarious in her family.

Question: What’s electricity?
Answer: Something they have in other countries.
An outdoor store uses load shedding as a marketing angle to sell gear which would normally be used only for camping.
Selfie during recent nighttime load shedding. I hung a torch around my neck and I look a little like Iron Man.

Sign outside a grocery store

KFC web page listing which stores are open during load shedding

Monday, June 22, 2015

Say What?

Danger, high voltage.
I've mentioned, but never really elaborated on the level of security, walls and fencing that is the reality at the house where Mr. Deep and I live. This post is about the process involved to allow entry for visitors, workers, deliveries, etc.

If you are not a resident, to get into the neighborhood you have to go through a guard gate and tell the guard who you are visiting and you also have to show your ID. The guard then calls the person you are visiting. If the person wants you to be allowed to enter, then s/he has to enter a a digit sequence using his or her phone. You can't just say "oh yes, please let Bob in." That won't fly. Once that digit sequence is entered a computerized code is generated for the visitor at the gate and the visitor has to punch in that code in on a keypad in order for the gate and boom to open. Upon leaving, the visitor has to again enter that same code to show that he has left the premises.

The front entrance gate. Left is for residents and right is for visitors.
If you have a worker like a babysitter or maid who comes regularly you can fill out a form that contains that person's information, but you will still get a call from the guard and will still have to approve that person's entry each and every time.

It would be impossible to organize a surprise party of any kind in this neighborhood and anyone stopping by or popping in is out of the question.

If you are having anyone come over, then you have to be home. Or they have to have a key because once they get in the complex, the house is so secure, they wouldn't be able to access. For example if you need propane delivered at your house in the U.S. you can likely have the guy come and do that whether you are home or not. But here, I have to be here to unlock the fence to the area where the propane is. I could do the phone part from a distance but not the access part. Fortunately, I have nowhere to be most days but I do spend a large portion of my days waiting for people to come over for various purposes.

Walls inside the complex 
The front of our house
In addition to managing the coming and goings of guests, workers and deliveries, the guards also drive around the neighborhood in a golf cart checking on things and make rounds on foot in the middle of the night making sure nothing is amiss.

One of the guards on the golf cart
I really appreciate the guards who work here. I haven't felt unsafe since arriving in South Africa but I am happy to live in a place that is extra safe even if it does make having people come over and getting deliveries extra a little more complicated than I am used to. Kids play in the streets and ride their bikes around the neighborhood. You can open your windows and doors and enjoy the weather and sunshine. It is a nice place to live and the guards are the ones that make it that way for everyone. Plus, they are very friendly and seem very happy to be here. So that's on the bright side.

On the downside, it is a sad state of affairs if all of the fencing and protocol is warranted. It is hard to know if the guards and the walls and the electric fence is a selling point for neighborhoods like ours or the necessity of a dangerous area. This is not for me to judge. I think it would be disrespectful and wrong of me, after four months of being here, to decide that all of the security is not necessary. Which came first? The guards or the safe community?

Back to the protocol for entry. There are a few major flaws. These flaws may be specific to some shortcomings on the part of the Deep household, I am not sure.

First, you have to answer the phone when it rings. This sounds simple enough. You have probably known that a ringing phone needs to be answered since you were about three years old. But it's not that simple. My cell phone has horrible reception inside our concrete house, so sometimes it doesn't ring at all. It is also a pre-paid, meaning I buy air time in advance and then use it up, so sometimes the phone is out of time and I am not aware. Back when we first moved in we had a guy from the satellite TV company come over and he said he'd be back shortly to set up our TV service. We were thrilled, we would have TV service that day! He never came back and we were baffled. Until the next day when my phone service righted itself and I had 15 (no exaggeration) voice mails from the guards trying to reach me so I could let this guy in. I think this story illustrates that no one can sweet talk their way into this place.

The guards are happy to call additional numbers if the first one doesn't produce a reply. We actually have a land line so I gave them that number and Mr. Deep's cell a while ago. Somehow though they missed entering the land line into their system so they were calling Mr. Deep's cell every time they couldn't reach me which was every time they tried to reach me. For some reason Mr. Deep found it annoying when he was busy at work and in the middle of important meetings to get calls so that he could let the bottled water delivery guy in. So finally that was rectified and now they call my cell, our land line and then Mr. Deep's cell in that order.  

Second, and this is probably the most unlikely to be solved any time in the near future, we can't understand what the guards are saying when they call us. I'm pretty sure that Charlie Brown's teacher works at the guard gate and is responsible for making all of these calls.

The conversation starts out pretty well.
Guard: "Good morning ma'am, how are you?"
Me: "Good morning, I'm fine how are you?"
Guard: " Fine, thank you. I have (inaudible and unintelligible string of words) here at the gate."
Me: "I'm sorry who is at the gate?"
Guard: (makes sounds that sound like words but cannot be translated into English)
Me: "Okay...." (presses digit sequence to let potential serial killer or knife wielding kidnapper into very secure housing complex, thus putting the lives of all residents at risk)

Many times, I know who is on their way here so it's not a big deal, but if I am not expecting anyone, then it becomes tricky. In my daily life, I can understand people when they talk here so I'm not sure what is going on. Mr. Deep agrees and he can't understand this critical portion of the conversation either. It seems like a combination of issues that develop when the guard holds the phone too close to his mouth, has a strong accent and tries to pronounce some one's name.
The gate up close

I measured this wall behind my house. It faces the road and is eight feet high with an electric fence on top

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Power to the People (or not)

Here’s a quirky aspect of life in South Africa. The power goes out. Frequently. The aging electricity generation network is overburdened by demand causing planned outages to occur regularly. It's called load shedding. It's called this because the load on the plants are being lessened. While load shedding is troublesome and annoying it is better than the alternative which would be a complete collapse of the power supply nationwide for weeks, if not longer.

It's a serious problem.

Why is this happening? The President blames apartheid saying that the electricity was originally only meant for white neighborhoods and statistics show that twice as many households now have electricity as did in 1994 when apartheid ended.  However, a lot of people aren't buying this explanation.

The power plants are old, need maintenance and sometimes have to be taken offline for this purpose. New plants are under construction but delays keep occurring with new plants coming online which results in continued pressure on the current plants. There are a lot of accusations of corruption both in the government and at Eskom, the public utility company of South Africa, which cause many people to think the whole process is being severly mismanaged. In fact, the CEO at Eskom recently stepped down and is thought to have been given a "golden handshake" although the figures of what he received have not yet been published.

Since the outages are planned, residents can log onto Eskom's website to see if any load shedding is planned for a specific area for that day or that week. Here's part of the schedule for where we live.

Load shedding schedule for our neighborhood - stage 2

Just because load shedding is scheduled doesn't necessarily mean lights out. If the supply and demand are okay, the power will stay on. There are stages depending on how much power needs to be shut down. Stage 1 is up to 1000 MW (what’s an MW? Mr. Deep says its megawatt) stage 2 up to 2000 and so on all the way to stage 4. On the website schedule we can see what is listed for our neighborhood for each stage. If a neighborhood only has load shedding scheduled at stage 3 or 4 then likely the power is going to stay on because they normally don't need to cut that much. If load shedding is planned at stage 1 or 2 then it is likely the power will go out. The scheduled time for the planned outage is also listed website. Oh and let’s use military time just to make the whole thing a little more complicated and exciting. Finally just because the website says, for example, that load shedding for an area could begin at 10:00, it might not start right at 10:00 and a person might think s/he is safe until the power goes off at 10:30 or 11:00 a.m.

So that's the technical side. It's almost as easy to explain as cricket. How does life work (or not work) when electricity is in short supply? I'll cover that in another post as I've got to run out now and buy some candles.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Petrol and a Chat

Thanks to all of you who subscribe to the blog. I appreciate your interest and your comments on the posts. If you have missed past posts you can check them out here. There are 45 posts in total now! If you'd like to subscribe or know of someone who would enjoy the blog you can add a new subscriber email address where it says follow by email. New subscribers will receive an email with a link from feedburner and will need to click on the link to confirm the subscription. Thank you! Now here is today's post about visiting the petrol station.

In South Africa, you can't pump your own gas, or petrol as it is called. Filling up the car with gas feels like going back in time to the 1950's (I'm guessing.) As you drive into the station the petrol attendant gets very excited and starts waving so that you'll drive over to his area. And yes, he is wearing a uniform. Then, after you tell him what kind of gas you want and how much, he offers to check your oil and your tire (tyre) pressure. He also washes the windshield front and back while the car is getting filled. For these services you are expected to tip him, about R10, which is less than $1 U.S. dollar.

When speaking, often I am self conscious about my American accent. The person I am speaking with knows, within a few seconds, that I am a foreigner. Sometimes, that causes a little bit of challenge in us understanding each other. Most of the time, it doesn't get any reaction and sometimes, it leads to curiosity and questions. Today, the petrol guy was really excited to learn I was from America. And he had lots of questions.

He recognized my accent right away as being American. This isn't always the case. Believe it or not sometimes people think we are British. Can you imagine? But today, he asked right away, where in America are you from? 

He then asked me how I am liking South Africa and he was happy to hear that I like it very much. He then wanted to compare the two countries which he referred to as "this side" and "that side." He said he knows that on "that side" (USA) things are very expensive. I said yes, that comparatively food in the US is much more expensive than it is here, but that other things like petrol are much more expensive here. It cost me the equivalent of over $60 U.S. dollars to fill up my little Volkswagen today! 

Since I mentioned food, he wanted to know which side had better food. I said I really liked the food here. He wondered if that meant I liked the restaurants here and I explained that I like both the restaurants and the grocery store selection. He asked if I had my own chef. I assured him that I did not.

At this point, my credit card was declined - awkward.  Yesterday, I lost my South African bank credit card and the new one hasn't come yet so I had to use one of my U.S. cards. Don't you just love fraud protection? Anyway, I had another card and he was not phased so we continued to talk. He wanted to know how crime compares this side vs. that side and he then wanted to be sure that I was being careful here but still enjoying myself, going out, feeling comfortable. Finally, he said he hopes to visit the "country that never sleeps" someday. He continued to ask me questions even after the car was full and I had paid for my gas.

I really appreciated that he was so interested. Maybe he was hoping to increase his tip amount, but I truly think he had questions and wanted some answers. I try not to have my blog posts have any kind of lesson attached to them but I can think of so many times when I was back in the U.S., I would speak to someone and notice their accent and I never bothered to ask where they were from or how they were finding things. I think this is something that I'd like to change if and when we return. Worse than that, sometimes I would be annoyed (not outwardly I hope) when hearing an accent and think, "great, this person is not going to understand me. I don't have time for this." Now, as the person who sounds different than anyone else, I can tell you that kindness and interest really made my day today at the petrol station.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Beautiful Cape of Good Hope

In my previous post I shared the details of the animals we saw when visiting the COGH last weekend.

Today I want to share some of the stunning pictures of the scenery from that area. It was challenging to narrow down my collection of photos and only include the ones posted here. I have never in my life seen such colossal waves smacking into such giant rock formations. Enjoy!


ocean white with foam
man on the edge
mist and spray off the water

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ostriches, Baboons and Penguins

The above title could be the answer to this question, name three animals that you would not expect to encounter over the course of a single day unless you were visiting a zoo. Last Saturday, we were lucky enough to run into all three when we visited the Cape of Good Hope (COGH.)

Mr. Deep joined us in Cape Town on Friday night. Saturday the weather was windy, cold and slightly rainy and we thought it might improve if we traveled a little bit out of town. If you have been to San Francisco then you know what I am talking about. The weather is often better to the north, south or east than it is in the city. I think Cape Town is the same way.

The COGH, while not boasting the title as the southernmost point in Africa, does mark the location where ships traveling around the coast of the continent begin to travel in a more eastward than southward direction. This doesn't really matter much if you are not piloting a ship though. Here is a map showing the location.

Even though the COGH is located only about 30 miles outside of the city, it takes over an hour to get there because you have to drive on these winding mountain roads. It was well worth the trip as the area was gorgeous and the weather was much better! I will post pictures of some of the scenery soon but for now I want to get back to the animals.

We spotted the ostriches shortly after we entered the park area. I have never just casually been in a car and seen an ostrich on the side of the road eating before. I think the picture below is pretty cool as it has the ocean in the background.

This female was on on the opposite side of the road.
After we hiked around the Cape area, we went to another spot where there was a shop and a path to walk to a lighthouse. There, we saw a troop of baboons. As you know from the first Madikwe post, I am more than excited to run into baboons or monkeys of any kind. I guess a lot of people feel this way because there were signs everywhere stating that baboons are dangerous, wild animals with sharp teeth and that you should not feed them. 

The baboons in this particular area have really hit the mother lode because they are living in a place where there are lots of people and therefore food within easy reach. In the 30 minutes we were there we spotted a baboon pulling food out of the trash, two baboons climbing into a car while the trunk was open and one sitting on top of a van in the parking lot. These guys were bold! A tour bus driver told us that he saw a baboon go right up to a table in the nearby restaurant and steal a whole pizza off the table. I know they are dangerous, wild and apparently thieves but I still think they are super cute!

How can you not love this guy? 
On our way back to Cape Town we drove around False Bay and realized we were in an area full of African penguins. This type of penguin is only found on the southwestern coast of Africa and there are two colonies living near Cape Town. These are small penguins and only grow to be about 24 inches tall.

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.