Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Garden Route

After leaving Kichaka, our holiday continued as we drove a portion of what is known as the Garden Route. The Garden Route is a stretch of South African roadway that begins in the Eastern Cape Province and ends in the Western Cape. It is a beautiful area with picturesque views of the coast and lush green landscapes. From what I have read the actual Route is considered to be the section of road between Storms River and Mossel Bay
Jeffrey's Bay on a cloudy day.
Our first stop was Jeffrey's Bay about a two hour drive from Kichaka. I am sure that in the summer Jeffrey's Bay is a crowded beach town. The day we were there it was early fall and was quiet, cloudy and chilly. We did eat a yummy lunch at a Greek restaurant called "The Greek." The food was delicious and the restaurant was adorned with signs quoting Nikos Kazantzakis. Kazantzakis, in case you don't know (I didn't) was a famous Greek writer and author of Zorba the Greek

After lunch we continued to our next destination, Cape St. Francis where we had rented a beach house for two nights. Although we had seen photos of the house it was one of those situations where the beauty of the house itself and the views from the house can't be adequately captured. 
The beach house. This room was our bedroom so Mr. Deep and I had views from two sides. All of these windows were sliding glass doors which opened fully for maximum enjoyment of the sounds and sights of the Indian Ocean.

I love when I capture the waves mid-crash!

Did I mention that the beach house was gorgeous? 
When we first arrived at the house the care taker met us there. He was supposed to give us the keys and show us how to work the alarm. But he didn't seem to know exactly how to use the alarm meaning that the alarm went off the minute we opened the door. When the security company called, he explained the situation and I guess they agreed not to send the police. But we still really didn't know how to turn the alarm on and off. So we ended up not using it at all. 

We all loved the beach house but I think Mr. Deep loved it the most. Throughout our stay the kept wanting to brainstorm ways that we could stay in the house longer. He even said we should consider just staying and "squatting." When my parents and I went for a long walk down to the beach Mr. Deep didn't want to come, he just wanted to sit by the pool and look at the ocean. Of course it is possible (but not likely) that he was just tired of spending time with us!

Mr. Deep at the beach house. 
A path from the house to the beach.
Cape St. Francis is loved by surfers.
It really is!
At the port in Cape St. Francis the fishing boats were coming in and out. 
We left the beach house after two nights (much to Mr. Deep's dismay) and we drove to Storms River located in Tsitsikamma National Park. Storms River flows into the Indian Ocean. I had seen photos, but similar to the beach house it is difficult to capture the awesomeness of Storms River in photos.

We walked over the suspension bridges and then did a short hike. What the hike lacked in length it made up for in difficulty as it was quite steep. There is also something called the Otter Trail in Tsitsikamma. It is a 42 km trail which supposedly takes five days to complete. I would like to try that sometime. 

Storms River is famous for its suspension bridges.
My parents during the tough hike!
Great views! 

Not all the views were of the Indian Ocean. These are the Tsitsikamma Mountains.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Have We Learned?

For over ten years Mr. Deep and I both had insanely long commutes to and from work. We lived an hour and 15 minutes from our jobs...each way. For Mr. Deep at certain points the commute was even longer, about two hours each way. I regret these long commutes because a huge chunk of my precious and valuable time on this blue dot was wasted in the car. Not that going to work was a waste of time. But getting to and from work? That was a complete waste of time. 

The only thing that made the commute tolerable was that I spent a lot of time listening to Howard Stern. I know some of you are offended, but I find him funny and unequivocally the greatest interviewer of all time. As an interviewer Howard finds a way to get people to open up about their lives. He asks the questions that we all want answered. What does a fashion model really eat in a given day?  What life experiences cause a person to become a porn star?  Howard used to wrap up a lot of interviews by asking Robin, "what have we learned?" 

Here are a few things that I have learned in the 15 months that we've lived South Africa. 

1) It's all temporary. Intellectually we all understand that everything in our lives is temporary. Jobs, homes, belongings, relationships, people, and of course being alive. Nothing lasts forever. We know this but we really don't know it and so when we lose a job, a relationship ends or we can't find a favorite shirt we mourn the loss. We get angry. We fear change. 

Living in a place that I have understood from the outset to be temporary sometimes feels like listening to a record album on the fastest speed (yes, I just dated myself.) I am acutely aware of the passage of time and there are constant reminders that our life here is not going to last indefinitely. Such as my home here is only my home for a little while and my car will not come with me when I leave.  Living here I've tried harder than I've ever tried in my life to build relationships and form friendships which isn't saying all that much because in the past I never tried at all. I just let friendships come about naturally. But moving to a place where you don't know anyone forces you to make a big effort. And the effort seems to easily pay off especially with other expats who are also making a concerted effort to make new friends. We have formed some close friendships and it's hard to imagine that these friends that will not always be in our lives in such an extensive way. Sure, we will keep in touch when they move away (or when we do) but it will not be the same.

Some of our friends have already left South Africa and moved on to other countries and continents. Other friends will be leaving soon. And we don't know how long we will be here or where we will go next. So I have to live in a manner that allows me to maximize the experience while simultaneously embracing the uncertainty. I have thrown myself, with all of the energy I have, into my life here. I have tried to make it fun, full, memorable and meaningful and all that effort will make it more difficult when it ends. But I think it's worth it.

2) Poor people like nice things. Obviously I can't (and don't) speak on behalf of all poor people. But, just like people who aren't poor, the poor people I've gotten to know personally like nice things. Will a poor person accept and be grateful for a half a loaf of bread that is stale and may have a little mold on it? Yes. And that person will eat the bread and will be glad to have something to eat. Would a poor person also be thrilled to receive a piece of steak or a brand new cool New York Yankees hat? Yes. Just because someone is extraordinarily poor, lives in a shack or struggles to earn enough money to buy food doesn't mean that person doesn't appreciate things that are hip, cool and stylish. I think when you give someone something nice that he or she will use but doesn't necessarily need to survive, that you are giving an even greater gift, the gift of treating them like a non-poor person who has good taste and likes nice things. People are people.

And speaking of people...

3) People notice personalized license plates. Oh how I wish this was not the case but countless times in the past month I have been asked by strangers and friends alike what Schmool means. Seriously, I want to have my car wrapped with text that says, "I'm not a pretentious A-hole with nothing better to do then personalize my license plate. My plates were cloned and this was the only answer. End plate-cloning now!" But that is not practical so instead I launch into a whole long story each time I'm asked. Exhausting.

4) I'm brave. Maybe you have seen the phrase "do one thing a day that scares you?" Scaring yourself daily may be a bit excessive but living here I am scared a lot. Not scared like full on panic can't breathe scared but rather forced to try new things and to push my limits. I have to drive alone to places I've never been before. I have to go to events where I don't know anyone and I have to mingle. I have to talk to people knowing the minute I open my mouth to speak they will know I am a foreigner. Let's also not forget that I slept in a tent while lions roamed nearby, which is either very brave or very stupid, I'm still not quite sure which.

Today, I ate offals or more specifically cow intestines. I didn't wake up this morning knowing this was going to occur it just kind of happened. I went to see Gift and his sister Beatrice. Beatrice was cooking and she asked me if I wanted to try some cow intestine. For some reason that I really can't explain I said yes. I guess it's because of what I said before, that I am trying to experience all that I can while I am living here. Beatrice gave me a bowl - like a fairly large bowl - of food even though I said I only wanted a little bit. When she gave me the bowl I got nervous and sweaty and my heart was racing. I was scared that I might gag or choke. But I ate the whole thing because I didn't want to be rude or wasteful. Nothing bad happened. I didn't choke, gag or die (and it's been seven hours so I think I'm out of the woods on dying.) I will say though that I am not in a huge rush to eat intestines again. Meanwhile, as I was eating the most exotic and strange thing that I can imagine ingesting while simultaneously patting myself on the back for being so open-minded and frankly awesome, Gift was busy eating a simple sandwich of scrambled egg on white bread. He did not seem impressed with (or even to notice) my exceptional bravery. Of course to him the intestines are not a strange dish at all but rather something he's probably eaten his whole life. Beatrice did notice though and after I finished eating she said, "I was worried that you might vomit because you had never eaten this before." "Don't worry," I told her. "I moved to Africa. I'm tougher than you think." 

This is a picture of what I ate while it was still in the pot before Beatrice scooped out a bowlful for me. It's a stew of samp with tomato, chilies and onions. The black (broccoli looking) and grey chunks are the intestines. Yeah, I'm brave.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Kichaka Private Game Lodge

I am so proud of this photo that I've already posted it on Facebook and on Instagram. Usually I try to save the best photos and reveal them on the blog but with this one I just couldn't wait. I'm so happy I successfully captured fighting zebras while on safari at Kichaka. 

Last month, Mr. Deep, my parents and I took a trip together. The trip began in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa where we spent a few days at Kichaka Private Game Lodge. 
Map of South Africa. We live in Gauteng. Kichaka is located in the Eastern Cape province near Grahamstown.
We flew from Joburg to Port Elizabeth and then drove about an hour to Kichaka. We arrived early and our rooms were not yet ready but we were immediately captivated by the pretty lodge and surroundings. Kichaka is on par with Madikwe, which Mr. Deep and I visited about a year ago. Although we've been on several game drives since Madikwe, we haven't been anywhere nearly as fancy again until now.
Beautiful view from the deck at Kichaka lodge.
Inside the lodge

Private outdoor shower for each cabin at Kichaka. There was also an indoor shower and bathtub.
Private pool for each cabin at Kichaka. There was also a large pool at the lodge.
Mr. Deep and I have enjoyed all kinds of game drives from the self drive camping trip in Kruger to the more local park in Pilanesberg to the top private lodges like Madikwe and Kichaka. All of these safaris have been wonderful. Even our worst game drive experience was still an opportunity to view wildlife in natural surroundings. Watching wild animals eat, drink, fight, sleep, walk, whatever, I find it fascinating. And as no two game drives are exactly alike going on one is never boring at least not to me. 

Visiting a luxury lodge like Kichaka is an extra special experience because of the amenities offered. There is a lot of down time spent at these remote lodges when you are not out on game drives.  While I am fine with camping and roughing it I love vacations that are a mixture of rugged/wild and first class service. Years ago Mr. Deep and I visited a working cattle ranch in Montana. Days were spent riding horses, yelling at cows and getting dirty. Yelling at cows is so exhilarating by the way. Nights were spent eating gourmet dinners, drinking great wine and sleeping in a warm and cozy cabin with high thread count sheets. Perfection!

Another reason to love the high end luxury lodges is that the rangers who take you out on the safaris are excellent. The amount of knowledge that they possess in their heads about the animals is remarkable. Remember I wrote about Gavin at Madikwe? our guide at Kichaka was named Jason. Although he was much younger than Gavin he knew everything about animal behavior, trees, plants and animal tracks. The topic that he seemed to be most passionate about however was animal dung. This guy loved to talk shit. And not just talk about it. He liked to show it to us and discuss information that could be garnered from looking at it. Apparently quite a bit can be learned by studying it. 

An elephant track that Jason spotted on the road during an evening drive. Sorry, I didn't get any dung photos. I know some of you are disappointed.
We all know that male humans can be kind of gross. It seems that they can't help it because humans are animals and male animals in the wild are really gross. Male animals such as hippos and rhinos like to use their dung to mark their territory. I'll leave the methods they use to do this to your imagination. In addition, from what I gathered from listening to Jason, male animals spend their days eating, trying desperately to have sex with females, spreading around their dung, getting kicked out of herds by annoyed females and fighting with other males. How endearing.

One of the most exciting and borderline scary experiences came when we were looking at elephants. We were parked on the road watching elephants on both sides of the road eating branches and just hanging out. The brush was so thick that we couldn't see through it to see if other elephants were nearby. Jason had told us the day before that the situation you really want to avoid when viewing elephants is suddenly finding your vehicle surrounded by them. As we were watching, a big bull elephant came out of the brush right in front of our vehicle. Now, the truck was surrounded on three sides by elephants. Jason got nervous and said, "that's exactly what I didn't want to happen." He threw the truck into reverse and started backing up pretty quickly. It all happened fast and soon we were away from the elephants. What an experience!

Besides a first rate safari guide, other fantastic elements of Kichaka included the food, the accommodations, the spa and the endless amount of all inclusive fine alcohol. I have never been on a trip anywhere in my life where top shelf alcohol and whole bottles of wine were included in the price. If I had not visited the spa we would have owed no additional money upon check out. When the staff took us to our rooms they actually asked if they could put anything specific into our mini bars? For free! I almost fell over. I have been to Mexican resorts where some type of half gasoline half dregs of nearly empty liquor bottle swill is mixed with some not naturally appearing in nature blue juice. That concoction is free and all you can drink but it's not that classy. Of course at a game lodge you are getting up at 5:00 in the morning for the drives so you need to keep yourself in check. 

All liquor shown here was included in the price. Plus a full wine list and beer. WOW!
And the spa. To look at it the spa didn't seem like much as it was housed in a tent. However, the spa at Kichaka was the single greatest spa experience that I've had. And I know my stuff when it comes to beauty treatments. Listening to birds and nature and feeling a cool morning breeze while getting a facial is actually more relaxing than low light spa rooms with the piped in sound of fake waves crashing. I feel asleep during my treatment. It was that good.

Inside the treatment room
The spa from the outside
The food! Breakfast, lunch, dinner and high tea were provided each day as well as snacks and drinks on the afternoon game drive. It was really too much food but I managed to eat most of it anyway. All food was beautifully prepared and delicious.
African sunsets are so beautiful. 
Another one
Now onto the important stuff. Photos of animals. Enjoy!

Lion brothers. They were kicked out of the pride and now live on their own.

This cheetah had a little scrape on his leg so he was just resting. We watched him for about 30 minutes. 


Submerged hippo

These rhino sightings were followed by a full lesson about rhino dung.

This is an African wildcat. Doesn't it look exactly like a regular house cat? Jason hadn't seen one in months so he was really excited about this sighting.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Good and Proper

I realize that lately I've written several posts complaining about South African bureaucracy and inefficiencies. Hopefully these rants are not making you think that I am unhappy living here because I'm not at all. Actually I'm quite happy. There are so many things to love about life here and our experiences so far have been overwhelmingly positive. But yet again I am facing a situation that is challenging and at the same time amusing.

When we first arrived a relocation company assisted us in getting settled and provided advice on many practical matters. People from the relocation company took me around to look at houses, helped us figure out how to register our vehicles and more. One of the things they told us was that we needed to pay into the unemployment insurance fund (UIF) each month on behalf of our cleaning woman and our gardener. I would be willing to bet that many (if not most) South Africans do not pay into this fund just like many (if not most) South Africans don't pay e-tolls. But, because Mr. Deep is an accountant and because in America bad things happen to you if you don't follow the rules and pay what you are supposed to pay we thought it best to pay into the fund.

Unfortunately over a year has passed since we moved into our home and we have yet to pay into the fund. And it's not due to lack of trying. The fund seems to be so poorly managed that we have been unable to pay. Yes, we are willing to give money away and yet we have been unsuccessful in doing so.

Step one to paying into the fund is to get an employer registration number from the UIF. Over the past year, I have requested an employer registration number at least six times.  I have used various available communication methods for these requests including phone, email and fax. I have spoken to several UIF staff members on the phone but still have not received a registration number. When I do get someone on the phone, they ask me to again email and fax the forms. I comply and resend the information and then the UIF goes radio silent until the point in time that I work up the energy to contact them to again try to obtain the registration number.

I asked two people I know if they pay the UIF. The first person I asked is a fellow expat and she said she tried numerous times to obtain a registration number but was not successful. At least I know it's not just me. The second person I asked was a South African. First, I had to remind her what UIF was and then she kind of shrugged and said she has never paid it.

On the surface it seems like a good idea to pay into this fund. It would be beneficial if hardworking people could have some money set aside for them if they become unemployed. But, I can't imagine that if it is seemingly impossible to obtain a registration number that things are running all that smoothly over at UIF. I really doubt that the UIF is paying out claims in a diligent manner to those poor people who are requesting assistance.

I wasn't going to write about this situation because I hate to admit in writing for all to see that we are not following the rules, even if I have a folder of evidence illustrating my efforts and correspondence. But now, something has occurred which is too precious not to share.

On February 26, I received a customer service satisfaction survey via email from the UIF. The subject line read "Was our Service Good and Proper?" This email text followed.

Dear valued client

At the UIF we are committed to providing you with excellent customer service, and we rely on your feedback to continuously improve.

We would like to find out more about your recent interaction with the UIF. Please take a few moments to complete our brief survey - your participation is of great value to us.

This survey will take approximately 2 minutes to complete.

Yes, the survey will take two minutes to complete BUT you will be waiting the rest of your life to receive any assistance from the UIF. Clearly their service has not been good or proper seeing as over 12 months had passed and I still don't have the employer registration number.

I (naively) thought maybe if I completed the survey with horribly low ratings and explained my situation in the comment box that it might get the attention of a supervisor and maybe that then the issue would be resolved. So I completed the survey checking boxes that rated service as "worst," indicating that my "issue was still not resolved" and noting that service was "taking longer than expected. " I also shared that working with the UIF was "very difficult" and that my needs were met "not at all." I then used the comment box to provide the details of my problem as well as my contact information.

On March 30 I received the same survey for a second time. I diligently repeated the exercise and panned the service that I had received or more accurately not received from UIF and I again submitted the survey.

Last week I received the same survey for the third time. This time I am not going to bother to fill it out as I know I'll have numerous future chances to complete it if I decide to do so.

I have to say the UIF is good at one thing. They are good at sending out surveys.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Editor

Recently Justice sent me a WhatsApp message saying he wanted to come to our house with Christine the following day. Although Justice had not been to our house since before Christmas, I'd seen him a few times. One day when I was driving Christine and David home they asked if I wanted to stop by and say hello to Justice at work. I had no idea where he worked but it turns out it's near to where we live.

Justice was our gardener for a few months last year and now he is employed as a security guard but art is his true passion. He told me at the beginning of 2016 he was putting a plan in motion to get serious about his art. His favorite artistic outlet is singing. He and Christine sang a lot while they were working around our house but back then I didn't know it was anything more than a love of church hymns and a way to pass the time. As he executed his plan to get serious, Justice visited a studio to record an African gospel music CD. I am hoping that once it's ready I can purchase a CD for myself as well as some for family and friends. Of course I won't understand the language but I know he has a great voice and I would like to support his efforts. 

When Justice worked for us, I never knew about his love for art. I had an inkling into his creative mind through his style of gardening (remember the pine cone decorations.) He and Christine also created a picture for us, but I considered that more of a thank you than a passion. When I found out that Justice loved art, I gave him a bunch of art supplies. As a thank you, Justice made a beautiful painting for us. When I received the painting part of me felt badly because I thought Justice felt obligated to give us a gift to thank us for the supplies. But, I was so excited to own an original and beautiful painting created by an artist who I know personally that after about five seconds I forgot about feeling guilty and I ran out to get a frame for the painting. 
The painting before I framed it
The recent message from Justice about coming to the house was, "am writing poems. I need ur help. I will show u the pages." When I read this I was flattered. I assumed that he wanted to show me the poems because I encourage his artistic efforts. But, when he arrived with notebook in hand, I learned that he had other motives.

"OK teacher," he said, handing me the notebook. He pronounced teacher just like the kids at the school in Diepsloot, teach cha. "I want you to correct my English." He handed me the notebook and a red pen that he had brought for my use. I don't think Justice and Christine know that I volunteer teach in Diepsloot. I have never told them about it. So I don't think that has anything to do with the poetry editing assignment. I think as English is my first language, Justice was just hoping I could help. 

I know absolutely nothing about poetry and I did tell him that repeatedly.  I read poems when I was in grade school (because we had to) and I know the names of some poets like Robert Frost and Emily (I can't remember her last name right now something or other.) I wasn't sure if correcting the grammar and spelling was the right thing to do. Maybe the poems should have been left as they were originally written in his authentic voice as an African man whose first language isn't English.  But he was adamant about what he wanted and so I edited the poems using the red pen. And I also typed them up and emailed them to him so he would have them for future use.

I can't say whether or not his poems are what poets and people who travel in poetry circles would consider good. I like them quite a bit but I could be biased. I found the poems interesting to read as they provide a glimpse into his life which I don't know much about.

When I first drafted this blog post I did not include a poem. I couldn't share Justice's work without his permission and I was concerned that if I asked permission he would say yes only because he might not be comfortable saying no. But then I showed Mr. Deep (my editor) the post and he said I needed to include a poem. So I went to see Justice at work and I asked him if it would be o.k. to include a poem in the blog and he said it was fine. You will notice that there is no punctuation. That is because the editor has no idea what she is doing and doesn't know if she should have added it. 

The Burning Heart
By: Justice Makhokha

You can cover yourself
But you can’t hide the smoke
You look very well outside
But the flame is burning inside

You eat hot chilies as sweets
But inside your mouth is too hot
Why don’t you vomit that pain
Why don’t you set yourself free

There is no smoke without a fire
Raise the voice of help
Call the rain to stop the fire

The hand of mercy will help you

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.