Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thankful: Part Two

If you missed my last post, Thankful: Part One, you can view it here.
A raw turkey desperately in need of a heat source
At 3:30 p.m., two hours before I had to put my Thanksgiving turkey into the oven, the electricity went out. You may be wondering why. The simple answer is because this is Africa and things like this just happen sometimes. 

For the first 15 minutes, I sat quietly trying to ignore the situation telling myself that it would come back on any minute. When it didn't, I sent Mr. Deep a frantic SMS and then went outside to determine the answer to the big the whole neighborhood out or just us? The hope of course, is that the whole neighborhood is out in which case you can assume that the problem is a known issue, being worked on and hopefully will be fixed soon.

I quickly learned that the whole neighborhood was out. Then, I had to decide to what to do about Thanksgiving dinner. 

I consulted Mr. Deep. Mr. Deep, you will remember, was not going to be present for the Thanksgiving dinner because of his office holiday party being held the same night, but luckily I was able to chat with him while he was still at his office and before his festivities began. 

Mr. Deep suggested I cook the turkey on our charcoal Weber braai (grill.) He tried to walk me through the process via SMS, explaining that I needed to light the coals, then move the coals all to one side to cook the turkey over indirect heat. He also said I'd have to rotate the turkey every so often and monitor the temperature. He suggested I have a second batch of coals ready to go in case I need a heat boost. All of this sounded very daunting. While Mr. Deep is always confident in his opinions, he did write, "keep in mind I have never tried this but what options do we have?" I could only imagine our bird, black and charred on the outside and raw on the inside. 

I considered scrapping Thanksgiving entirely, ordering pizza or taking my guests out for dinner but I really didn't want to disappoint everyone. Thanksgiving dinner is something you look forward to and I knew my visiting American friends were excited about it. Pizza, while great any other day of the year, is not an acceptable substitute. In addition to my American friends, I had also invited Gift. I had been sharing the details of the amazing traditional Thanksgiving meal with him to build up his excitement. He told me he had never eaten turkey before. So for the sake of my guests, I had to give Mr. Deep's idea a try. 

The turkey was not my only challenge. While we do have a gas stove (but not oven) I wasn't sure how I was going to heat up the potatoes, stuffing and green bean casserole on the stove while also making the gravy. But these issues would have to be addressed later, I had to make an attempt to get the turkey cooked. 

While I was appreciative of Mr. Deep's patient guidance and suggestions, I was also becoming extremely annoyed at him for having to go to his party. I was actually wishing we had a kid so that I could have lied and told Mr. Deep. "You have to come home right away, I think little Paulie has a broken arm." Then when he arrived I would have said, "oh he seems fine now, but while you're here can you braai this turkey?" I know Mr. Deep could have pulled it off. But Mr. Deep was leaving the office for his party and I was left with a bag of charcoal, a raw turkey and cold side dishes. 

I had planned to heat up my mashed potatoes in the slow cooker
In addition to being scared that this braai the turkey idea would fail miserably possibly resulting in a ruined meal or worse, salmonella, I also had a logistical challenge. I was supposed to pick my friends up at Lanseria Airport at 5:50 (they had flown to Cape Town for a few days) and then I had to pick Gift up at his house. I wasn't going to be home while the turkey was cooking to rotate it, monitor the temperature and light a second batch of coals. Mr. Deep suggested I get an Uber for Gift which would get me back home quickly after my airport pick up.  

So I frantically got in touch with Jonathan, our favorite Uber driver, and asked him if he could pick up Gift. Because I was in crisis, rather than just calmly requesting his assistance I told Jonathan about the whole drama. I told him that we'd pay him by EFT and I let him know generally where Gift lived. I then had to let Gift know that Jonathan would be fetching him. Once I got all of that straightened out, it was 4:30 and I had to proceed with this absurd plan and light the coals. I only had a 3/4 of a bag of charcoal, not enough for a second set of coals if needed. I also realized in a panic that since the refrigerator wasn't working the beer and wine would not be cold. It's one thing to tell your guests they aren't going to have turkey, but it's another thing to make them drink warm beer, so I decided I also needed to run out and get some ice. I quickly changed my clothes as by now, I was really running out of time. It was 5:00 and I had to leave by 5:30 at the latest to pick up my friends. 

I drove to the Spar grabbed three bags of ice and a bag of charcoal. As always happens when you are in a major rush, there was a delay as the person in front of me at the check out line had apparently had never used a credit card before. Finally I made it back home. I rushed in, slammed the bags ice onto the floor to break up the chunks and emptied all three bags into the sink. I threw some beer into the ice and ran outside. I moved the hot coals to one side, added a few pieces of firewood (at this point why the hell not) and put the grate on. I placed the stuffed turkey, in the pan and covered with foil, onto the grill. I put the lid on. The braai was really hot (400 F) and smoke was everywhere from the wood. Of course I also left the big sliding glass doors open so the house was now filled with smoke. I was not feeling confident in this plan but I had to hope for the best and leave the house to collect my friends. 

I grabbed my purse and shut off the kitchen lights. Wait? The kitchen lights were on. The power was back! I have no idea if it came back on while I was at the store and I was so busy dealing with the ice and the charcoal that I just didn't notice? Or maybe it had only come back on that very second. I ran outside and grabbed the turkey off the braai. I came back inside, threw the turkey in the oven, turned the oven on and ran out the door. 

Three hours later we enjoying our delicious turkey with all the trimmings.  

My pan shall forever serve as a reminder of what I endured.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thankful: Part One

This year Thanksgiving was a little challenging. Maybe it was because I was short on time and saved the grocery shopping and start of the food prep until Wednesday afternoon. Or maybe I was feeling extra pressure because we had friends visiting from America and I wanted to be sure they didn't miss out on a proper holiday meal. Or maybe it was because of a few curve balls that South Africa threw at me along the way.

I had a good reason for getting a late start on my shopping. It was because of Starbucks. Within the past six months a new mall, called the Mall of Africa, opened nearby and it contains many nice stores and a Starbucks. I didn't visit the mall or Starbucks for the first few months they were open because I heard there were huge lines and massive traffic and I wanted to wait for the excitement to die down. But a friend had organized a get together at the mall for Wednesday morning and I wanted to go.

I had already purchased my turkey last week. I didn't want to miss out because turkeys are not always easy to find. I got the largest turkey in the store which equated to just over seven pounds.  Fortunately, Mr. Deep's holiday party was scheduled for Thanksgiving evening and he was not going to be home for dinner. Otherwise we likely would not have had enough turkey.  Meanwhile, I noticed during my Wednesday shopping trip that there were much larger turkeys now in stock but what was done was done and I have a small oven anyway. The turkey was so small that none of the websites I looked at provided cooking time for a turkey under ten pounds. Finally I found a Canadian website with a turkey cooking calculator and determined that stuffed my little turkey would take about 2 hours and 45 minutes to cook. Since we were going to eat our dinner in the evening, I would need to put my turkey into the oven at 5:30 p.m.

I had the turkey but I needed to get everything else. And that's where I ran into a few snafus during my Wednesday shop.  First, I couldn't find celery. I think all of the other Americans living in the area got a jump on me and snatched up all the celery. No big deal, I was able to find it at another store but instead of being able to buy a big bunch I had to buy the pre cut crudites type. Not a train smash as the South Africans would say.

I also planned to make green bean casserole. I am not really a fan but my friend mentioned it and I know some people feel Thanksgiving is not complete without it. So I bought a non Campbells brand of cream of mushroom soup thinking cream of mushroom is cream of mushroom and then quickly learned that this is not the case. This cream of mushroom was actually like soup you would get if you ordered cream of mushroom in a restaurant. It wasn't a gelatinous white substance that maintains the shape of the can after you pour it out. Instead it was brown and kind of watery which is honestly how cream of mushroom soup should be. At first, my casserole was kind of runny but luckily I cooked it a day in advance and it seemed to firm up overnight. 

Not surprisingly I also couldn't find the french fried onion rings that go on the top of the casserole but I was able to find a substitute...funyuns. If you don't know what funyuns are then you didn't eat lunch in an American school cafeteria in the 80's. They have the consistency of styrofoam and are sprinkled with an onion flavored seasoning. I bought them because I had no choice. AND I know I am not the only American in Joburg that went this route because I got the last bag of South Africa's version of funyuns that they had in the store! Side note as I write this I am munching down what remains of the bag of funyuns. Clearly I have lost all self control. 

The third challenge was the pie. In South Africa you can't find canned pumpkin or a pre-made pie shell and you definitely can't find a pre-made pumpkin pie. Because I'm too scared to make my own pie crust I decided to make a graham cracker crust instead. 

Just to go off on a tangent for a moment the reason I am too scared to make my own pie crust is because of my mom. I know every adult likes to blame his or her mom for everything but I rarely blame my mom for my problems. If you've been reading my blog you'll notice that I haven't blamed my mom in any of my posts over the course of almost two years and 140 posts, but my fear of making pie crust is definitely my mom's fault because she always told me it was very difficult and I never once saw her make her own. I think I had a good plan with the graham cracker crust but then I couldn't find graham crackers so instead I purchased ginger snaps and made a ginger snap crust. 

For the pumpkin filling I bought cut chunks of pumpkin and roasted them with coconut oil and sugar in the oven. I then immersion blended them into a puree. All was going well until I realized the pumpkin volume had reduced a lot during cooking and I needed another cup of pumpkin. I could have gone back to the store and repeated the whole process but instead I threw two bananas into the mix and blended it all together. I then proceeded as if I was using canned pumpkin adding eggs, evaporated milk, etc. By this time you can imagine that I was feeling pretty proud of myself for my extraordinary ability to find creative solutions to problems. 

The crust was looking good, the raw filling was looking and tasting good (I'm not scared to consume raw egg.) So I put the pie in the oven and got to work on another project, completing the South African census. Yes, somehow the South African version of the census tracked us down and I agreed to fill out a huge booklet of information. No one seemed to care that we aren't South African and there were no questions in the booklet about nationality. The census form contained a lot of interesting questions and was a strong reminder about the difficulties faced by many people in this country. Maybe I'll write a post about it in the future.

One of the census questions was "has any member of the household suffered from diarrhea in the past three months?" Because I wanted to make sure that I answered all questions as accurately as possible, I went upstairs to ask Mr. Deep if he had diarrhea at any time during the past three months. While we were discussing his answer, I remembered the pie and ran down the stairs to get it out of the oven. It was a little well done but nothing too severe that couldn't be camouflaged with whipped cream.   

Despite my late start and other issues everything was on track. Thanksgiving day I made the stuffing, the salad, and cut and peeled the potatoes. Amazingly I had time to spare and I sat down to relax and work on my blog until it was time to put the turkey into the oven. And then, at 3:30, the electricity went out. 

To be continued....Read Part 2 now. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Too Much Information

These days everyone is afraid of child abductions and my question is this. Are there more child abductions now than there used to be? Or are we just more aware of child abductions because of the amount of information available to us through the vast technology to which we have access? I have this same question about Autism, peanut allergies and ADHD. Did those issues exist back when I was a kid and we just didn't know? Or is there something in our environment making these problems more prevalent now than they were forty years ago? Don't answer. If I really want to know I can google it. 

Because I live nearly 8,000 miles away from my home country and many loved ones, I enjoy having information about what everyone back in America is up to and I am fortunate because I live in the age of technology and I can easily access this information. I can what'sapp with my mom every day to say hello. Mr. Deep and I can Skype, Face Time, email, and go on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (we are too old for Snapchat.) In fact, it's only when I am on the plane flying to the U.S. from Joburg or vice versa that I fully realize how far away we currently live from America. When you have flown seven hours and still have another eleven to go you think "holy $%$&@ the world is a big place and we live far from home!" But most of the time I don't feel so far from home because of the technology that allows us to communicate and keep in touch. 

So I like technology. I'm a fan. Except lately I hate it. Facebook in particular has become intolerable in my opinion. Six months or a year ago Facebook was only mildly annoying. Last year, thanks to Facebook, I was kept fully up to speed on important American news topics such as the Starbucks red cups fiasco and the Target bathroom gender saga. Without Facebook, I would have missed important "holidays" like international frozen yogurt day or love your pet parakeet day. But these days I am avoiding Facebook because the U.S. election talk is more than I can take. 

For months leading up to the election, Facebook was unbearable and now that the election is over it is even worse. The entire news feed is full of political posts from people on all sides. Viewpoints are one thing but Facebook is full of fighting, nasty comments, stupid memes and links to articles that try to dumb everything down. 

Everyone is so busy talking and blasting out his or her opinion five times a day on Facebook that no one is taking the time to try to understand what anyone else thinks. Have you ever, EVER seen a Facebook post where someone commented "thanks Chris, your post really opened my eyes, I now fully understand your viewpoint and even if I don't agree with it I appreciate the opportunity to have my mind expanded" No, you haven't.  

I also don't want to know the political leanings of Timmy from third grade or Toby my former co-worker. Because I used to like Toby. I liked seeing photos of his kids and his dogs but now that I know the full details of Toby's political thoughts I think that he is a total neanderthal. And if it wasn't for Facebook Toby would not even be in my life and now he is in my life daily and I don't want him there anymore. 

So I have to take a break from Facebook. I can't fully break away because someone might post a cute photo of me that I need to see so I will glance at Facebook now and then. But that will be the extent. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sunday in Soweto

"If you can't be an athlete, be an athletic supporter." 
- Principal McGee, Grease. 

On Sunday, Mr. Deep successfully ran and completed the Soweto Marathon. For those who don't know, a marathon is 26.2 miles/42 kilometers.  This is an extraordinary achievement and I am very proud of Mr. Deep not just for completing such a difficult physical event but also for the amount of training he has put in over the past months. He truly committed himself to this endeavor.

This post isn't about Mr. Deep's race though. Instead it's about my experiences spending a good part of the morning on my own in Soweto as a race spectator.

I have written posts about Soweto before but as a quick refresher, Soweto stands for South West Township. Blacks were forced to live in townships during the apartheid era and Soweto is the most densely populated black residential area in the country. Parts of Soweto look like a middle class neighborhood but other areas are informal settlements filled with shacks. Soweto is rich in history. Both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived in Soweto and the Soweto uprising of 1976 was a major event which garnered the attention of the world and led to increased sanctions and pressure on the apartheid government to change its ways. Although clearly it took a while.

On Friday evening, before the race Mr. Deep and I decided that on Saturday we would review the course route and come up with my spectator plan. On Saturday, Mr. Deep emailed me a course map (from the other room) and suggested that I, "figure out where I was going to be."

I would rather it had been a collaborative process. But Mr. Deep was obviously feeling stressed about the race and he didn't seem to want any part in the development of my plan. I thought about pushing the issue but decided not to. I think running a marathon is kind of like going in for surgery. No one who is going in for surgery is too concerned with the plans of those around them. You would not ask someone who was going in for surgery, "hey, where do you think I should eat lunch tomorrow while you are under the knife?" Or, "what time do you think you'll be finished? I have plans in the evening." So I left it alone and tried to come up with a plan on my own. To make matters worse, I was also given the world's worst map, one with a lot of missing street names.

I do realize there are plenty of wives who would say to their husbands, "have a great race and I'll see you when you get home." I also know there are a lot of expat wives (and South African wives for that matter) who would tell their husbands "sorry but I'm not cruising around Soweto by myself."  But I decided to suck it up and figure it out. This is the kind of relationship that Mr. Deep and I have. When one asks the other to do something, the person who was asked is supposed to do it...with a smile. This would be a good time to mention that following 9/11 Mr. Deep rented the last car in Houston and drove non-stop all the way to Minneapolis to rescue me and then he drove us home to New York. 

When I looked at the race website to see if there was any kind of information for spectators I couldn't find anything. Finally, I found a section about friends and family in the FAQ section. Only it wasn't very helpful.

The race began at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m and so we had to leave the house by 4:30. Unfortunately even 4:30 was not quite early enough because as we got close to Soweto the traffic was horrible as thousands of runners were trying to get to FNB Stadium for the start of the race. If you are a devoted fan and long time reader of my blog, you might enjoy the irony of the fact that the race began at FNB Stadium. 

We sat in traffic, barely moving, for about 45 minutes. Finally, Mr. Deep was running out of time and he got out of the car to walk to the start. Of course, as soon as he got out of the car the traffic started moving. He got back in the car and I was able to drop him off him pretty close to the stadium. I then continued on my way to the first point where I planned to stop and watch the race.
Walking to start.

I decided my first stop would be about 4-5 miles into the race. The map was so bad that I can't even tell you exactly what mile marker it was. I chose the location because it was near a big hospital, named after Chris Hani that I had passed on a tour once. I figured that A) a hospital is a safe place to be and even if it's not safe if something happens to you you're already at the hospital and B) a hospital has parking. 

But I guess I forgot that I was in South Africa because while the hospital had parking it also had massive security and a gate with guards so it wasn't like I could just drive right in and park. I saw a few race marshalls standing near the hospital and they suggested I turn around and park at the petrol (gas) station where they themselves had parked.

I parked at the petrol station and then walked down to where the marshalls were. In true South African form these women were so nice and friendly that we soon became best friends. They asked me where I was from. Partially I think because of my accent but also partially because they don't get a lot of white women hanging out alone in Soweto. I stayed with them and got to see Mr. Deep pass by and then I moved on to my next location.

Busi (who also goes by Lillian) is on the left. I didn't get the name of the woman on my right.
Someone must have driven into this traffic light. It still works though. 

My next location was to be around mile 17 near Vilakazi Street a very vibrant and famous part of Soweto. This is the street where both Mandela and Tutu lived. I chose it because I figured it was early enough in the race where I would still be able to see Mr. Deep finish and also because (you guessed it) I had been there before on a tour. 

Driving to mile 17 from mile 4 (or wherever I was) proved challenging as I kept ending up having to drive across the race course. While this was frustrating for me, it was extremely frustrating for those people who were going about their business and had nothing to do with the race. The taxi drivers seemed especially inconvenienced. And since taxi drivers never follow any traffic rules of the road, they were certainly not going to let a few thousand runners get in their way. The race marshalls had a tough job trying to control the traffic. At one point I saw a race marshall sitting on the hood of a car trying to stop the driver from driving through the race course. Sadly, I didn't get a photo of that!

Here is a marshall arguing with a driver.
A nice shot of the Orlando Towers a Soweto landmark.
I arrived near Vilakazi street and parked in front of a church. Tip of the day when driving around Soweto park near churches and hospitals. Vilakazi Street did not disappoint as there was a lot of entertainment, music and energy and while I would have liked to hang out there I thought it would be better to go around the corner and try to create a little excitement along a quieter stretch of the course. I walked down to a residential area and began cheering my heart out for every runner who went by. Eventually Mr. Deep came along and then I was free to head to the finish. 

Entertainment on Vilakazi Street.

Getting to FNB Stadium was difficult as I somehow had to cross the race route twice. I finally made it and parked near a long pedestrian bridge. The man who helped me park my car told me it cost R30 to park there and while I think that was total BS, I paid it anyway. 

On one of my tours I learned that FNB Stadium, which was built for the 2010 world cup, is supposed to look like a giant class of beer with a foam head. It actually does but you can't tell from this photo. 
I headed inside to meet our thoughtful and kind friends who had also shown up to support Mr. Deep. We all then watched Mr. Deep cross the finish line. 
Mr. Deep, his post race beer and his Soweto Marathon Medal. 

Friday, November 4, 2016


In October of 2015, Mr. Deep and I came to South Africa for the first time. This trip, which I now know to be called a "look-see" in the expat world, was required by Mr. Deep's company. We were told we had to visit, take a look at Joburg and determine whether or not we could live here. 

When we arrived, and by arrived I mean a few hours after we landed for the first time ever on the African continent, Mr. Deep had some work meetings to attend and so a representative from our assigned relocation company took me around. She showed me the places that Mr. Deep told her I'd be interested in seeing, grocery stores, shopping centers and a gym. We also looked at a few houses just to get an idea of what was available. Because there are lovely stores of all kinds in Joburg, and because I desperately wanted to move here, I was thrilled with everything that I saw. 

One of the places she and I visited was Clicks, a drug store which has hundreds (360 according to google) of locations across the country. The first few times I visited Clicks it seemed to be very similar to the large chain drugstores that I was used to shopping at in the U.S., selling drugs, cosmetics, lotions, candy etc. 

But after a few shopping trips to Clicks I realized that while it has some similarities, it also has some differences. 

The biggest difference is that at Clicks the real drugs are not available on the shelves. Maybe this is common in other parts of the world as well? Clicks, it seems, takes the phrase "over the counter" literally. This means that if you have a headache and want something like Advil that you have to go to the counter and ask the pharmacist or the pharmacist's assistant for "something that will help a headache preferably with Ibuprofen" you then rely on that person to bring you something good. What I really feel like doing is jumping behind the counter, seeing what's available and then selecting my drug of choice, but that is not an option. This is the case for any type of ailment, congestion, allergies, sleeping problems, sore throat, cough, etc. In the U.S. we are used to grabbing a bottle of 500 Advil tablets and being set for the next year or more. Here, you are lucky to get 12 tablets because remember you said you had a headache, you didn't say that you expected to have another headache tomorrow or the next day. 

Prescription medicines are also kept behind the counter and if you visit the counter to get either over the counter meds or a prescription filled your drugs are put into a "cage. " You will then carry this cage up to the cash register to pay. Once paid, the staff will open the cage and give you your drugs. I am assuming this is done to dissuade people from stealing drugs but the cage is secured with a zip tie so any thief with a scissor could likely find a way around this system. Of course I am not recommending that or condoning theft. 

The "cage" and the zip tie.
So if all the real drugs at Clicks are kept behind the counter, then what type of merchandise fills the numerous aisles? Well some of the things I've already mentioned. Things like shampoo, lotions, soaps, make-up and candy. And that is why the first few times you visit Clicks seems to be quite unremarkable. But, there are also a lot of interesting elixirs and remedies for sale at Clicks that I've never seen before many of which I find quite funny.

I tried to google to see what Sejeso means. If anyone knows please comment. 
Who doesn't want to be super chill all day?
"To comfort babies with gripes." 
Or, if you don't want a baby with a gripe, try these. 
This one is my favourite for so many reasons. The name of the product, the man's hair, the woman's expression, the fact that it's needed because of "today's demanding lifestyle" and of course his seemingly extra long finger. 
Man Juice
More condoms.
Apparently featuring a photo of Dr. Long himself. 
One item that is for sale galore is Grand-Pa Headache powder. You can grab this stuff right off the shelf. Which is funny because although headache powder is sold in the U.S., very few people know about it or have ever tried it. I actually have tried it thanks to a friend of mine who is a huge proponent of headache powder. I think it's really just crushed up aspirin but it comes in a little folded piece of paper so you can pour it right down your throat. 

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.