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? 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Long Arm of the Law

Read any article, website, blog or book about moving to South Africa and you will be told that it's a strong possibility when driving you will be pulled over by the police. The articles will go on to say that sometimes the police will imply that if you give them cash they will let you go and that if you don't they will charge you with an infraction.

Like much of what I read about South Africa prior to coming here, I thought that this information must be grossly exaggerated. But it's not. Road blocks are everywhere. Here are the details of a recent run in with the law.

One Sunday morning Mr. Deep and I were heading over to his office. I had agreed to help him hang up some artwork. Helping in this case entails standing around while he does high level math so he can perfectly center the pictures on the wall. Helping then involves handing him tools like nails, the level, the hammer and such. 

On our way to the office we were pulled over. Being pulled over here does not usually mean flashing lights or sirens but a road block. The police officer stands in the middle of the road motioning that you must pull over. It is against the law to keep driving and ignore the request. The people who are motioned to be pulled over seem to be selected at random, some are forced to pull over while others drive right on by.

So Mr. Deep pulled over and the officer asked for Mr. Deep's drivers license. Mr. Deep then gave him his international drivers license which we obtained from triple A in the U.S. before coming to South Africa. Technically, from what we have read, our New York State driving license would suffice here but we got the international license anyway. 

Not to digress too much here, but the international drivers license looks like something that anyone with a computer, a printer a pen and a glue stick could make. It is is the least official looking document that I have ever seen. It looks like a booklet and has the licensee's name and information hand written on it in pen. It also includes a glued on passport photo of the licensee. 

The cop however, recognized the international license and did not seem concerned about its validity. Seeing that we were foreigners though he then asked for our passports and our traffic registry information neither of which we were carrying with us. Yes, we probably should have had copies of these items with us, but I also don't think that we were breaking any laws by not having this information with us. 

Then a circular conversation began between Mr. Deep and the officer. It lasted for about ten minutes. It went something like this.

COP: I need to see your passports. Maybe they have expired?
Mr. Deep: They are at home, sorry I didn't realize we were supposed to keep them with us in the car.
COP: You should keep a certified copy in the car. Otherwise, maybe your passport has expired? I must charge you and bring you down to the station. 
Mr. Deep: If you like I can go home and get the passports and bring them here (to the side of the road) and show them to you? 
COP: Maybe you can have someone go to your house, collect your passports and bring them to the station.
Mr. Deep: There really isn't anyone who can do that. If you like, I can go home, get the passports and bring them back here to show to you? 
COP: If you cannot produce your passports I will have to charge you and the fine will be R500 each. You must come down to the station now and pay it.
Mr. Deep: Sorry I didn't realize we were supposed to keep the passports with us in the car. We will make sure we keep copies in the car from now on.
COP: So I must not charge you? 
Mr. Deep: No we would prefer if you didn't charge us.
COP: Do you have any children? 
Mr. Deep: No
COP: Oh no children yet.
Mr. Deep: No, that ship has sailed.
COP: So I must not charge you? 
Mr. Deep: No don't charge us.
COP: The fine will be R500 each. You can come to the station now and pay it.
Mr. Deep: We do not have R1000 on us. We only have (looking at the money we both have) R30. We would have to go and get the money.
COP: Oh you don't have any money with you? 
Mr. Deep: No
COP: OK, I will let you off with a warning because I want to make sure you enjoy it here in South Africa and that mami (that's me, the momma lady) enjoys it here in South Africa also.
Mr. Deep: Yes, thank you. We are enjoying it very much.
Cop: Reaches into the car to shake both of our hands. 

And I thought going to hang up pictures might be boring. 

You'll be happy to know that after this happened Mr. Deep got certified copies of our passports and our traffic registry documents for us to keep in our cars to avoid these lengthy negotiations in the future. Or at least until we learn there is another document we should have with us that we were not aware of. 

Monday, November 9, 2015


In case you missed it, great news! We don't have to move out of our house. After we retained a lawyer suddenly the new owner was open to having tenants. It all worked out and it's a huge relief. We love our house and moving is such a pain. It is wonderful that we get to stay.

You know how when you are facing something possibly bad you tend to bargain in your head with a higher power hoping that things will work out the way you want them to?  Like in our case I was thinking, "if only we didn't have to move, life would be perfect." Well human nature is such that the minute your problem isn't a problem anymore you go back to your old ungrateful self and start immediately complaining about something. And that's what I am going to do now. Because there is one problem with this house.  It is located next to the clubhouse. When we first moved in we thought the proximity to the clubhouse was a positive because we don't have a pool at our house and there is a pool there. The problem with the clubhouse is that it is the epicenter of noise.

There are two kinds of noise that emanate from the clubhouse grounds. One is the weekday noise that comes between about 3:00 and 5:00 when every kid in the neighborhood from babies to pre-teens migrate to the club house for the express purpose of screaming. Every afternoon my house is filled with the sounds pool splashing, counting (for hide and seek), yells of Marco followed by yells of Polo, crying, shrieking, nanny's yelling at kids, big wheels racing by and more. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking these are the wonderful sounds of happy children playing. You are thinking that if heaven has a soundtrack then it is the sound of delighted kids. You are thinking how wonderful that they are outside playing and not sitting inside playing video games. You are also thinking that you thought I loved kids because I take the time to work at the Diepsloot school twice a week. I do love going to the Diepsloot school and I do love the kids there but I go for an hour at a time and 95% of that time is spent telling the kids to be quiet.
But okay I can live with the weekday noise. The weekend noise is far worse. Every weekend on either Saturday or Sunday (thankfully there must be a rule against booking both) the clubhouse is exclusively booked for a party. 

Some of these parties are adult parties that include drunken noise and music. These aren't great because they tend to go later into the night. But the adult parties are much preferred over the kid parties. Why? Because of the dreaded element of the kid party. The mother $^!^#%#$%% bounce house. 

An SMS warns us of the upcoming party
As party setup begins, Mr. Deep and I start peering out the upstairs windows or standing on a chair to look over our wall, like Gladys Kravitz would do if she lived here, trying to determine what kind of party it's going to be. Then, the moment of truth comes when we hear the high pitched sound of what we now know is a bounce house being inflated. The bounce house is usually placed inches from our wall it's inflated columns peeking over the top. It's then we know that we are completely screwed because nothing produces endless hours of screaming quite like a bounce house. 

Oh you wanted to eat a nice dinner outside? Too bad. Oh you wanted to take a nap? That's not happening. Oh you wanted to watch a movie? Well I hope it doesn't contain any important dialogue because you won't be able to hear it.

bounce castle spires peeking above our wall
I need to pause here and say that when I was a kid and went to a birthday party the party was a) at the birthday kids' house and b) didn't include any type of special entertainment. You got cake and maybe you got some ice cream. You also got to watch the kid whose party it was open his/her presents. That was your live entertainment. And while we are on the subject, do you know how much combined time I spent bouncing around in a bounce house during my childhood? About ten minutes total. If I was lucky enough to go someplace like a fair or carnival where there was a bounce house there was no endless bouncing all afternoon. I bounced for a few minutes and then one of my parents stuck his or her head into the house and yelled that it was time to come out because we were leaving. I'm pretty sure the words, "that's enough fun for one day" were said and that was that. No, I was never indulged in an afternoon long bounce-a-thon.

Great, a puppet show! 
A sad deflated balloon hangs from a tree at the clubhouse. A reminder of a bygone party.
But back to birthday parties. Your parents dropped you off and then they picked you up. They did not accompany you to the party because they had better things to do like enjoy the fact that you weren't home. Well now it's a whole different ball game. The parents are at the party as well and the parties always include some type of horrible (loud) entertainment. Trust me I'm an expert. Since we moved in I estimate that we have been subjected to about 20 children's parties. These days it's all about face painting, water slides, bounce houses or its fancy cousin the more deluxe bounce castle, balloon animals, some weird dude dressed up as a clown or a cowboy and of course the mainstay of the party, endless high pitched screaming. The screaming only pauses long enough for the kids to eat some cake and then it resumes. It's like when you are hunkering down during a hurricane, and the rain and the winds slow you down and you think the storm is over, but no it was just the eye passing over and then the whole thing starts up again. 

I hope this young generation enjoys their bouncy childhood.

A bounce house mid inflation

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Take the Pen

Remember the Seinfeld episode when Jerry went to visit his parents in Florida? They lived in a retirement community called Del Boca Vista. During the visit a neighbor named Jack Klompus stopped by. Jack had an astronaut pen. It was called that because you could write with it upside down. Jerry admired the pen.The dialogue goes like this. 

JERRY: What kind of pen is that?
JACK: This pen?
JERRY: Yeah.
JACK: This is an astronaut pen. It writes upside down. They use this in space.
JERRY: Wow! That's the astronaut pen. I heard about that. Where did you get it?
JACK: Oh it was a gift.
JERRY: Cause sometimes I write in bed and I have to turn and lean on my elbow to make the pen work.
JACK: Take the pen.
JERRY: Oh no.
JACK: Go ahead.
JERRY: I couldn't
JACK: Come on, take the pen!
JERRY: I can't take it.
JACK: Do me a personal favor!
JERRY: No, I'm not...
JACK: Take the pen!
JERRY: I cannot take it!
JACK: Take the pen!
JERRY: Are you sure?
JACK: Positive! Take the pen!
JERRY: O.K. Thank you very much. Thank you. Gee, boy!

Then Jack leaves and Jerry's mother says to Jerry, "What did you take his pen for?"

Here's what I have learned. This is American behavior. I'm not saying it's bad. I am and always will be proudly American. But this is not how people behave in other places. 

People here are happy to accept gifts and offers of help. There is no argument, there is no back and forth there is simply a thank you. It's the opposite of what I am used to. It's as if it would be rude NOT to accept an offer of assistance.

I first noticed this months ago when we still lived at the Sunninghill Guest Lodge. We didn't have much of a kitchen so I had bought a pizza for lunch. I couldn't eat all of it so I asked the maid if she would like the rest. And she said yes! I was shocked. I never in a million years actually thought she would take it. It's not that I wanted the pizza, it's that my whole life I have been trained that in that situation while it is nice to offer the other person is likely going to decline the offer. 

Can you imagine if you tried to offer your leftover pizza to someone in the U.S.? A co-worker or a hotel maid?  Anyone short of a homeless person would likely be confused. They might even wonder what was wrong with the pizza.

You: would you like the rest of this pizza? 
Person: you don't want it? 
You: no I'm full. I can't eat another bite.
Person: well you can save it and eat it later. 
You: yes I could do that but I am wondering if you would like it.
Person: I don't want to take your pizza
You: I'm telling you I want to give it to you.
Person: No, you keep it. I ate lunch already.

And on and on and on.

Here are a bunch more examples of people in South Africa "taking the pen." 
One day I had to go to the dry cleaners. I was eating some pretzels at the time. One of the ladies working at the cleaners remarked that the pretzels looked good. I asked if she would like some and she said yes. 

I often give Christine food to take home. She always accepts it and simply says thank you. I don't have to make up a story about how I have left over chicken and I'm not going to eat it and it's going to go bad and yes I could freeze it blah blah. I just simply say please take this chicken home and she replies thank you.

The guards where we live will sometimes stop me when I'm driving out and ask me if I am going to the shops. If I say that I am they will ask me to bring them a loaf of bread and a 2 liter coke. I think they sometimes unexpectedly have to work double shifts and they can't leave their posts to get food. Oh and we can talk another time about how a loaf of white bread and a giant coke is not a proper meal! Anyway, the guards always offer to pay for this food but I never let them. And they don't argue. They don't try to throw their money through my open car window or anonymously tape it to my front door, they just say thank you.

Maybe you are thinking that it's only people who are poor and possibly desperate who readily accept offers of help. Well the people in the above examples all have jobs although it's true some are struggling. But just to prove my point here is another example.

Mr. Deep and I went to an outside bar/restaurant on a recent Sunday afternoon. Most of the tables were in the full sun but one very large table was in the shade. We sat at the shaded table. Soon after a large group of six people showed up. They had the same dilemma, they wanted to sit in the shade but there were no shaded tables. So we said they could sit with us. AND THEY DID! And then our food arrived and we offered them some of it and they accepted. So you can see there is an assumption here that you are being genuine when you offer something to someone. 

This is actually one of the things I love about living here. It's easy to be kind. It's easy to pick up a loaf of bread and a coke at the store for less than $2.00 and give it to the guys who keep us safe in our neighborhood. It's easy to grab a cold drink out of the refrigerator and bring it to the gym and give it to the guy who stands and watches my parked car in the hot sun all day and only gets paid if people give him spare change. It's a good thing not waste food that I am not going to use and give it to Christine to take home. It's fun to sit with a 70 year old guy and his friends at an outdoor bar and have him sing Kenny Roger's The Gambler for all to hear. Yes, that happened. It's nice to be nice. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Scene

where the sidewalk ends
Some of the most interesting sights that I see as I am out and about are the everyday activities of other people. These are the things that seemed so foreign and unusual when I first came here. Now they seem a little more common place, but still fascinating. I love these sights. These are the things that remind me that I am lucky enough to live in Africa! 

Unfortunately, while driving is not the best time to take photos so I haven't shared a lot of these images on the blog. When driving I generally keep my purse and my cell phone in the boot (trunk) of my car so as not to entice any potential thieves. But in the name of good journalism I decided to keep my phone with me in the car for a bit, hidden under my leg, so that I could show you some of these things. The photos in this post were taken while stopped at red robots (red lights) or while out walking.  

Guys piled in the back of pick up trucks. Pick up trucks here are called bakkies (pronounced buck ease or buck eee for a singular) and it is not unusual to see anywhere from 2 to 15 guys riding around in the back of one. This can be seen on roads around the neighborhood or on while on the highway.  Sometimes it's just people in the back and other times people are squished in between piles of stuff. 

I counted 11 men in this truck

This one is a little different because it's within the complex where we live but still I had to post it. 
Holes. No, not potholes although there are plenty of those. I am talking about giant holes and trenches that are constantly being dug on the side of the road. Often the purpose of these holes is to do maintenance work on the water pipes. A high percentage of the time the digging causes a rupture in a pipe and then water starts pouring out into the street, sometimes for hours. Let's say you are driving near your house and you see water pouring into the street. You then know when you get home you will either have very low water pressure or no water at all. What's also interesting is that these holes and trenches are largely dug by hand by guys with shovels and pick axes. Rarely will you see any type of backhoe or machinery in use. 

Pick Axe! There is some kind of generator powered machine here but no one is using it.
Women carrying packages on their heads or babies on their backs. While I see the guys in trucks and the holes every day, seeing a woman carrying something on her head is a little less common. I maybe only see it once or twice a week. I am amazed by this ability! How can one balance a giant shopping bag or even suitcases on a head while walking? Sadly I couldn't get any pictures of a woman carrying something on her head for this post. I will keep trying! 

Baby with a blue hat. You can see his foot sticking out on the left side.
It is very common to see a woman carrying a baby on her back. The baby is held on by a blanket that is tied very tightly around the woman's front and the baby legs are on either side of the woman's torso.

Hawkers. At nearly every robot (traffic light) when the light turns red, a bunch of guys walk out into the street among the stopped cars and try to sell things. I am often getting honked at by other drivers to move along when the light has changed because I am so busy watching the hawkers. Some of the items they sell sort of make sense and are things you might need while in your car. Things like sunglasses, soft drinks, car cell phone chargers, car air fresheners and newspapers. Other items I would be shocked to learn that anyone actually buys. Here are some of the things I have seen hawkers selling:
  • pumice stones for your feet
  • giant inflatable toys
  • Springboks (national rugby team) jerseys and flags (an Uber driver that Mr. Deep and I had did buy a flag while we were riding with him - it was the day of the big match after all)
  • huge leather whips
  • cowboy hats
  • dishtowels
  • purses and bags
  • pencils
  • tennis balls the size of a basketball
  • artwork and paintings
In addition to hawkers who sell items there are a large number whose job it is to try to hand out flyers at red lights. A lot of the flyers are for real estate, laundry services, pest control, and the like.
selling traffic registry covers, cell phone chargers and what I think are steering wheel covers around his neck
Guy with flyers and you can see some paintings behind him that someone is selling.
Selling cold drinks. Actually I have no idea if they are cold or not.
Selling covers for your traffic registry registration that goes on the windscreen on the left side and cell phone chargers on the right side.
People resting. When waiting for a ride, taking a break, eating lunch or just hanging out people may sit or lie down on the side of the road in the grass and if possible in the shade. Often times I think they might fall asleep for a bit. If I just spent a few hours digging a trench with a pick axe, I also might lay down for a rest!

While it's mostly men who lie down on the side of the road (of course we all know how tiring it is to be a man), I got a picture of this woman laying down.  She also happens to resting next to a giant hole! That's how many holes there are. 
Men under a tree. They are taking a break from work. 
Pedestrians everywhere.  I wrote about this when we first arrived and now I understand it a bit better. People need to walk to work to and from where the mini bus taxi drops them off. Of course I have been in other places where people walk a lot but what is strange here is that there are so many pedestrians yet very few sidewalks or road shoulders. This leads to a lot of people walking in the grass or in the road.  Outside of where we live they recently built a short sidewalk, not I don't think, out of concern for people's safety but to save the grass from being trampled.
no sidewalk, just a path
no shoulder, just a jagged edge

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.