Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Gift is the first friend that I've had in my life with whom I have nothing in common. We are from different continents and hemispheres. We are not the same color, gender, religion or age. We do not have the same level of education or the same hobbies. All we have in common is that we are both human and we both came to live in South Africa from somewhere else.

A few weeks ago I took Gift to see his first movie, the latest James Bond.  If you have seen a Bond movie then you know the formula used. The movie starts with an action sequence to get your attention and then goes into the opening credits. When the opening credits began, Gift asked me if the movie was over. 

On the one year anniversary of our arrival in South Africa, I showed Gift a photo of the plane that Mr. Deep and I flew in from JFK to here. He asked me, "how can you take a photo of the plane whilst you are inside it?"

It is remarkable to meet an adult who has never been to a movie or to an airport. The reason that Gift has never done these things is not because he belongs to an Amish like religious sect (he doesn't) or because he grew up in a remote African village wearing a loin cloth (he didn't - he grew up in a city wearing regular clothes.) It's because all of his life he's been too poor to participate in much of what the world has to offer. Because he lives in modern society he's fully aware that restaurants, movie theaters and planes exist. He knows that other people are enjoying these things but he has never been behind the secret doors to see exactly what goes on inside. And because of his inability to participate, he has told me that sometimes he has felt, "that he was not a person."

Gift is amazed by experiences that I barely give thought to and upon reflection don't appreciate nearly enough. The borderline crappy movie theater that we went to he said was "lovely." When we ate fast food at Sausage Saloon (yes there's a place called Sausage Saloon and I can't believe I ate there either) he proudly announced that it was his second time ever eating in a restaurant. When we went bowling and he scored a strike he screamed with excitement and jumped up and down with unmitigated enthusiasm. He told Mr. Deep and me, "because of you guys I am now seeing the world" and also said, "I am now getting used to having fun." 

Don't assume that Gift has led a simple life because of all the things he hasn't done. Gift has had many life experiences that we cannot imagine. And sadly, a lot of what he has experienced over the years is a great deal of suffering.

Among the challenges that Gift has endured are times when he did not have enough to eat. When he lived in Zimbabwe he would try to eat the small amount of food that he did have in little bits throughout the day to stave off hunger. Sometimes he had to go to bed hungry because he ran out of food before the day was over. He told Mr. Deep and me that in Zimbabwe "there is no life" and he said that one of the reasons he is scared to go back there is because he is "afraid of starving."

The suffering and the starving have shaped Gift as a person. He talks to Mr. Deep and me about his painful past openly and freely because in order to get to know him it's important that we understand. In America it seems like people try to hide their poorness and no one wants to admit it if they are struggling. But in Africa if you ask people about their lives they will tell you and when they do, you often can hardly believe what you are hearing. 

A few times Gift mentioned to us that he was interested in learning how to play the game of pool. I have no idea how he knows about pool. Maybe he saw something about it on TV. Mr. Deep is a pretty good pool player and he agreed to teach Gift how to play. Last weekend we went to a pool hall for the lesson. I have to digress here for a moment and say that before the pool lesson I never watched Mr. Deep formally teach anyone anything before. I realized as I was watching that Mr. Deep is a really excellent teacher. He was very thorough and patient. He took the teaching seriously and showed Gift everything from how to choose a pool cue up to and including the newly learned rules of bump bump. As I watched, I thought of the many times over the years that Mr. Deep has tried to teach me things (how to play pool included) and how those lessons unfortunately usually resulted in me getting mad at him because for some reason I don't like him (or anyone else - but especially him) telling me what to do. I feel badly about this because there are many things Mr. Deep can teach me and I probably could have learned a lot over the years if I was a little more open minded and accepting. 

After pool we took Gift out for dinner at Hooters.  You probably think that is a funny choice in dining but we wanted to go somewhere casual and fun. We explained to Gift that Hooters is from America and that the food we were eating was American food. We ordered chicken wings and some other finger foods to share. At first, I thought maybe Gift didn't like the wings because he was eating very, very slowly. Meanwhile, Mr. Deep and I were busy eating our wings in a manner the opposite of slowly. When we were all finished both Mr. Deep and I noticed Gift's plate. He had eaten every part of the chicken that was possibly edible, including all of the smaller bones, the joints, the tendons, the wing tips and the cartilage.  All that remained on his plate were four individual bones each about the width of a chopstick and the length of a toothpick. Looking at the plate you could not tell that he had eaten wings as the bones no longer resembled chicken wing bones at all. Across the table, the plate that Mr. Deep and I used for our bones was piled high with portions of the wings that we considered to be inedible. I wondered if Gift noticed our plate and was shocked to see that we wasted so much food. 

After we dropped Gift off at home, Mr. Deep and I talked about the bones. Later that night, we talked about the bones. Over the weekend we talked about the bones some more. Even days later the image of the bones is embedded in our minds.

People can tell you things about themselves and you can think that you understand but sometimes it takes an illustration before you really get it. We now have a glimpse into the suffering that Gift has faced and has tried to tell us about. Right now, Gift is okay. He is not starving. But he still doesn't have an extra bit of anything to waste. In his entire life he never has.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Americans

As part of my Sr. Vice President of Household Operations duties I am in charge of all entertainment and social activities. You would think this would be easy but actually it can be challenging. Not only do I have to research fun things for us to do and manage all the logistics for these outings, but I have to strike the right balance so that we are not over or under scheduled. 

Being responsible for all things social also includes being in charge of making friends. In the time leading up to coming to South Africa and continuing when we first arrived, Mr. Deep reminded me numerous times that I "need to make us some friends." I think I've done well in that department. If Mr. Deep were to provide me with an annual performance evaluation, and honestly I hope he doesn't because I am not sure I want the feedback, I think I'd get a score of five (out of a possible five) in the friend making category. 

One way to easily meet new friends is to become involved with various organizations whose purpose is to bring people together. Groups like Meetup and Internations. We have participated in events with both but until yesterday we had never gone to any event organized by the American Society of South Africa (ASSA.) By the way, am I the only one who thinks ASSA is a funny abbreviation? 

We have met some Americans here who like to go to ASSA events and so finally last night we attended one. The event was a St. Patrick's Day happy hour at a pub in Sandton. Before I tell you about the event, I need to share that Mr. Deep and I had a challenging St. Patrick's Day. It started off with a fool's errand as we tried to rectify the situation with the cloned license plates. First, we went to the traffic registry office in Sandton. After waiting in the long line, Mr. Deep was told that they can't issue new plates there and we'd have to go to another office located in the Joburg CBD.  We were committed to getting this project handled so we headed to Joburg in rush hour traffic in the pouring rain. If that itself wasn't enough fun when we tried to find the building we were looking for we couldn't find it. We did see a building where the building we were looking for was supposed to be but it was all burned out and abandoned. So we threw in the towel and decided to just ignore any notices we receive going forward about unpaid tolls. That's what most South Africans do anyway.

The rain continued to come down heavily throughout the day and traveling back to Sandton during evening rush hour to drink green beer with Americans was not sounding all that fun and attractive. We forced ourselves to go and I'm glad we did because the happy hour was a lot of fun. We enjoyed spending time with our fellow country men and women. It is an interesting situation to be in a room full of people where the one and only thing that you all have in common is being American. Normally, when I speak to people here I try very hard to speak slowly and to enunciate properly. When I am not speaking I am listening carefully and concentrating very hard so that I can understand what others are saying. But at the happy hour, it was nice to just talk and to not feel self conscious about how I sound or worry about having to repeat myself a few times before being understood.

What did we all talk about? Mexican food of course. No, I'm not kidding. Both Mr. Deep and I got involved in conversations about Mexican food. I met a chef who recently moved here from California and is slowly introducing the taco to South Africa. Mr. Deep met a lady who likes to cook Mexican food and she told him where we can buy spices, tortillas and black beans. So yes, we celebrated St. Patrick's day in South Africa on a day when the weather felt like Ireland with a bunch of Americans and talked about Mexican food. Isn't that what makes America great?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Imitation is Flattery

Cloning is alive and well in South Africa. Not the cloning of sheep, cows or people (at least as far as I know) but the cloning of license plates. We learned this week that the license plate on the car that I drive was cloned and Mr. Deep had to devote several hours to trying to rectify the situation. 

I realize this post comes on the heels of a post when I shared that as Sr. Vice President of Household Operations I am in charge of fixing pretty much any mess (I mean challenge) related to our household. But you will also remember that I am a dependent spouse and sometimes being dependent gets me out of having to handle the most annoying of tasks. In South Africa's eyes I cannot own a car, rent a house or open any type of bank or other account. Because of this the license plates on my car weren't cloned because I don't own a car. But the license plates on the car that Mr. Deep owns, that I drive, were cloned.

I first learned of license plate cloning while watching a TV show called Carte Blanche.  Carte Blanche is an investigative journalism program that airs every Sunday. It is not an uplifting show. Watch one episode of Carte Blanche and you will wonder how quickly you can exit South Africa never to return. One report I saw on Carte Blanche was about the police pulling people over and beating the $%&! out of them. Another was about some kind of algae that is taking over all of the lakes and dams across the country that will make our water unfit to drink. Another exposed how raw sewage is poisoning the water supply. 

License plate cloners visit parking lots and take photos of license plates. Then, they go to shops that produce fake license plates and have fake plates created. Fake plates are then affixed to cars similar to the make and model of the original car. The cars with the fake plates cruise through electronic tolls (e-toll) without having the little dashboard e-toll device or an account to pay the tolls. The e-toll system takes a photo of the license plate of the car passing through without paying and the person who owns the car with the original and non fake plates, gets charged for the tolls that the fake plates vehicle passed through. In even more serious cases highlighted by Carte Blanche, drivers with fake license plates commit crimes and then the police show up at the house of the person with the original non-fake license plates thinking that poor unsuspecting individual is the criminal.

E-tolls are a controversial topic in South Africa. Actually controversial is the wrong word because it implies that people disagree about e-tolls. Instead, it is one of the few topics that most South Africans seem to agree on. It appears that most South African citizens strongly dislike e-tolls. I once made the mistake of bringing up the subject of e-tolls with a South African woman I met in the bathroom of a bar (I get chatty in the ladies room sometimes) and I got a ten minute earful about the topic. An earful that included a lot of swear words. I don't like to guess where opinions of people here come from but if I had to guess I would say that people here don't trust the government to spend the money earned from tolls on the projects that the money is supposed to support. Also, there are a lot of people who really can't afford to pay the e-tolls.

In the U.S. we also don't like paying tolls but we appreciate the convenience of being able to drive quickly through a toll booth if we have an electronic thingy on our dash. When traffic forms at toll booths because of the need for the lanes of people who still think it's 1982 and are still paying their tolls in cash we ask ourselves, "who doesn't have an EZ pass in this day and age?" Only we don't say it quite that nicely. The tolls here are not like the ones in the U.S. There are no actual booths that each vehicle drives through. Instead a giant scaffolding like structure branches over all the lanes of the highway and every vehicle just drives under it. 

If you don't pay your e-tolls a photo of your car is taken as you pass under the scaffolding and you receive a bill. If you have unpaid tolls you might have trouble renewing your vehicle registration which needs to be renewed annually. 

Even though we got the little e-toll device to stick on our dashboards, Mr. Deep and I don't drive on the highway much so our toll expenses are very low. Because of this Mr. Deep was surprised to notice earlier this week that our prepaid e-toll account was drained and that we were being asked to add more money. He requested the transaction history and immediately learned that there were over 20 transactions since February 19 all showing the car that I drive going up and down the N1 highway. The total cost of the tolls was R60. That isn't a lot of money but the situation still needed to be addressed. 

To avoid being accused of a crime we didn't commit and to have a record of the cloning so that we could request a new set of license plates, Mr. Deep had to the visit the SAPS (South African Police Service) and file a police report. As much as I would have loved to spend an afternoon visiting the SAPS, it's not my car, so I couldn't file the report.

When Mr. Deep arrived at the SAPS office and explained the situation, the police officer was incredulous. He grilled Mr. Deep as to how he knew for sure that his plates were cloned. Do people really take the time to visit the SAPS and pretend that their license plate has been cloned just to get out of paying tolls?  Mr. Deep handed over his extensive documentation obtained through lengthy conversations with the e-tolls office. After about twenty minutes, the officer admitted that cloning is a huge problem. He didn't feel like taking the report though so instead he handed the document containing the fraudulent e-toll transactions to another police officer who happened to be on the phone at the time. The officer who was on the phone shook his head and handed the document back to the first officer. In America we call this game hot potato meaning something that no one wants to touch.

Finally the first officer said Mr. Deep could file an affidavit which is like a self service police report. Mr. Deep had to write up his own report about what happened and the officer then signed it and stamped it.

Now the Ops team is working on figuring out how we can get new license plates for my car. I mean Mr. Deep's car that I happen to drive. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Ops Never Stops

Purple Rocks Purple Rocks
I can't believe it's been over a week since I published my last blog post. I didn't start this blog to market myself but I do hear every marketing person I have ever known in my head telling me, "you have to be consistent with your brand" and "you must communicate with your audience regularly" and "be sure to use engaging content." I realize I have probably let my readers down by going longer than normal without publishing. I don't really have a good reason for my lapse but I have been very busy lately with a lot of different things. Things that I will share with you over the next few posts. 

And what is it about marketing people that you can always hear them talking to you in your head? I guess they are good marketers and know how to make their message stick!

This week, I have been extra busy with my Ops work. No, I have not joined an elite special forces team. Ops is how I refer to any project or task associated with the Deep Household Operations, all of which I oversee. If there is a question in our house concerning which one of us needs to handle something the answer is that the Ops Team needs to handle it. Keep in mind that Ops is a very small team consisting of one person.

Ops has many different departments and functions. They include but are not limited to:

  • travel, social functions and entertainment
  • house and garden maintenance including staff management of cleaning lady and gardener
  • licenses and renewals
  • health and medical
  • automotive cleaning and care
  • food and nutrition 
  • other as requested by Mr. Deep
You will notice that anything related to financial matters is excluded from the Ops scope of work. This is due to the team's marked deficiency in mathematics. Mathematics are handled by our CFO, Mr. Deep. Ops sometimes has to approve invoices for Mr. Deep to pay. Invariably Ops forwards these invoices to Mr. Deep without even looking at them which leads to scolding and a discussion about the need to be thorough.

I'd like to share with you about a day in the life of Ops but each day is a little bit different. So I am going to combine the experiences of a few recent days into one example to illustrate the vast array of projects I am currently managing.

1) Wake up at 6:00 a.m. Say hello to Mr. Deep who wakes up at 5:30 a.m. Mr. Deep requests his morning green smoothie. Make his green smoothie (if you want the recipe I can share it.) 
2) Check emails and look at Facebook while waiting for Mr. Deep to go to work
3) Clean up all smoothie making materials and put away dishes from last night's dinner
4) Clean the water feature. We have a water feature in our garden and somehow many of the bricks have turned purple and green. Use gloves to protect manicure. Use a scrub brush and bleach to try to clean bricks. Realize the purple and green is some kind of algae. Hope that I don't get infected with a brain eating amoeba. Realize that I need to remove all water from the fountain. Use a bucket to bail out water. Stand in the fountain and clean out remaining debris. Hope that I don't step on a snake or other kind of creature in the dirty and cloudy water. Hope that I don't contract cholera. Refill the fountain. Realize that there is a serious drought and that I am not supposed to be using the hose during the day. Continue using the hose while feeling guilty about it. Get frustrated that the purple growth remains on the bricks. Pour a whole bottle of bleach directly on the bricks. Let the bleach sit until the purple pales to a light shade of lavender. Decide it is much better and end the project due to running out of bleach.
Ugh I had to stand in this to get the last bit of water and dirt out.
5) Email the South African office of the Mozambican consulate. Tell them the Deep family would like to visit Mozambique and ask them how we can get a tourist visa. Hope that it does not take long to get one since the trip is already booked and fully paid for. Consider it to be an Ops failure that the visa piece was not discovered earlier. Decide that it's dumb that people need visas to go on vacation. Expect not to hear back via email and decide I will call them at noon if I don't hear back.
6) Receive an email from security advising that the pine trees in our back garden need to to be pruned because when it rains the branches are touching the electric fence and causing security havoc. Call a tree feller (that's a guy who chops down trees not fellow spelled wrong) who I saw working at a neighbor's house. Feller says he is in the estate now and can come over. Meet with feller and agree on price. Set tree trimming date for Thursday.
7) Try to renew the Deep family TV license. (FYI as best I can tell a TV license is a money making scheme in South Africa. You have to buy a TV license or give a license number when you buy a TV. You must then renew the license every year for about R250. I am not sure what happens if you don't renew it. Does your TV just stop working one day?) Review email received from Mr. Deep regarding the license renewal. Note that his email says he tried to pay the fee online but was not successful. Review list of retail outlets where the license can be renewed. Go to a TV store listed to try to pay the fee. Wait 15 minutes while the salesman tries to help me. Argue with salesman when he says my passport number is supposed to have a letter in it. Go to a grocery store. Wait in line to renew license. Get frustrated when cashier tells me that I need an EZ pay number (license number on the email does not suffice.) Go to the store where we purchased our TV and our original license. Learn that they are unable to process renewals. Go to another store in the same shopping center. Wait online only to learn that the TV license renewal system is offline. Wonder if it's too early in the day to have a glass of wine. Decide instead to eat lunch. Make a poor eating choice and eat a burger due to being hungry and frustrated. Decide not to get chips because that would be gluttonous. Eat burger in car while driving home. Notice that it is dripping with tomato sauce (ketchup) and that I have gotten tomato sauce all over my clothes. Return home and change clothes. Receive email from Mr. Deep saying I can renew the license online. Remind him that he told me he tried to do so and was unsuccessful. Remind him again when he seems to have no memory of any of this. Imagine a peaceful life without TV. Successfully renew license online.
8) Call Mozambique consulate. Learn that we can get the visas Monday - Friday from 
8:00 -12:00 p.m. Email Mr. Deep to see check on his availability.
9) Review email inbox. Learn that my South African visa situation has officially been "rectified." Feel good that Home Affairs has finally acknowledged that I am here accompanying my husband and not my father. Rejoice that once again I am officially a dependent spouse in the eyes of the South African office of Home Affairs. 

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.