Tuesday, June 20, 2017


"The less I seek my source for some definitive 
The closer I am to fine" - Indigo Girls

Before Mr. Deep took off for Geneva leaving me in Joburg to manage the mother of all Ops assignments, our departure, we went to Tanzania. I will get to Tanzania in a minute. I promise. I'm as tired of talking about our move from Joburg as you are of reading about it. But I do have an important update to share. The situation that I was cranky about, the job that I thought was taking us to America, St. Louis to be exact, isn't happening. Instead, the plan is for us to spend the remainder of 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland where Mr. Deep is overseeing a project. 

When I talk about our future, I sound like a journalist. I say, "the plan for us" the way a reporter might say "the alleged attacker. " I do this because I think we might end up moving to St. Louis one day. So I'm not going to go on and on about how relieved I am not to be going. Doing so would be like telling your best friend you don't like her boyfriend only to find later they are getting married. It's better to say very little and to secretly celebrate if they break up.

And now, Tanzania. 

As you read the word do you pronounce it Tan Zan Knee Uh? Or Tan Zany Uh? Mr. Deep and I always pronounced it Tan Zan Knee Uh and then we noticed that many people here say Tan Zany Uh, a pronunciation which annoyed Mr. Deep greatly. Turns out both are wrong as the locals pronounce it Tan Zon Ya the last part almost rhyming with lasagna. 

Africa is huge.  It's 30.3 million square kilometres. In comparison the USA is 9.8. Globes are fictitious representations of scale. I know how big Africa is because when we fly to Joburg from New York we reach the coast of Africa in eight hours but it takes another eight of flying time to cross almost the entire length of the continent.  Although Mr. Deep and I have done an amazing job of visiting Southern Africa, having been to seven out of ten Southern African countries, this was our first visit to East Africa and let me tell you it's another world. 

I remember when Mr. Deep and I flew to South Africa for the very first time. I was sitting in coach and he was in business class. No, that's not the point of the story but it bares repeating that it occurred. Anyway, the man I was sitting next to told me that South Africa isn't really Africa. Funny enough today in Joburg I spoke with a Spanish lady and she  informed me that Geneva isn't really Europe. Anyway, it is true that South Africa is different from other parts of Africa and so if it's real Africa that you seek, I think Tanzania fits the bill. 

We started off with a midnight flight to Nairobi, Kenya, a four hour flight from Joburg, and then flew to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. As luck would have it we were seated on the wrong side of the plane when we flew over Kili so I don't have a photo to share with you of the mountain from the air. We were picked up at the airport and driven 1.5 hours to Arusha where we stayed at Arusha Coffee Lodge for one night before going to the Serengeti.

My first impressions of Tanzania are that people drive very slowly on long two lane roads, similar to Lesotho. Also, so many men drive motorcycles. It was almost like being in Asia (not that I've been but I imagine lots of Japanese made bikes.)  Our driver told us there are so many scooter accidents that the hospital had to build a wing dedicated to treating scooter injuries. 

Not the best photo quality but you can see the bikes and I love how every man in this pic is looking at the woman. 
Coffee beans. 

The next morning, we flew back to Kilimanjaro on a small plane. This time it was too cloudy to see the mountain. We then flew to Lake Manyara and then finally to the Serengeti. It was similar to our trip to Botswana where the plane stopped multiple times and different passengers came and went. 

As we walked down the steps of the plane, we met Justice our Serengeti guide. He took us out to the parking lot and advised us he had to file our park permit paperwork and that we should wait for him. Everyone else appeared to be in the same situation as it seems the park doesn't allow the guides file until the guests arrive. Justice had set up a lovely table for us with lunch and he showed us where the cold drinks were. 

When he returned he told us that we'd spend the rest of the afternoon doing a game drive and then we'd return to camp. It was only about noon and we'd never been given the opportunity to do such a long game drive before. We were thrilled at the prospect. He also showed us a map of the park and a paper showing us the type of birds we might see. I told him that Mr. Deep loves birds and Justice said he also loves birds so I knew we were in for some birding excitement (oxymoron.) Our pilot, Gareth, also joined us for a portion of the game drive. He wasn't scheduled to fly back until the next day and was spending the night at our camp. He rode with us for a bit until another guy from the camp came and collected him.

The purpose of visiting Tanzania in May was to witness the great migration, an annual natural phenomenon in which nearly two million antelope, wildebeest and zebras travel about 2000 miles in search of better grazing. The trip is dangerous and many animals are killed by predators such as lions and crocodiles (during river crossings) as they migrate.

Viewing the migration is challenging because the animals don't follow a strict schedule meaning you can't count on them to arrive in one area on a certain day or a certain week. This is understandable as they are animals searching for nice grass, not putting on a show for humans. In order to ensure that we maximized our one chance to see the migration we booked our trip with And Beyond safari company and stayed in a mobile camp, meaning the camp moves throughout the year to put itself close to the migration. More on this camp in a future post. 

From the moment we left the airstrip, the animal sightings were incredible. We have never seen such large herds of zebras and wildebeest at one time and we had never before seen lions in trees. 

These poor zebras were so nervous, they would go in the water, drink for a few seconds, get spooked and run and then repeat over and over. It's not easy to be the hunted. 
Photo credit to Mr. Deep for possibly the best picture taken during our entire time in Africa. Bravo! 

More to come on Tanzania....

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Week That Was

This week, I went to see a dermatologist. Going to the dermatologist should be unremarkable and not worthy of a blog post. Should be. 

I visited the doctor because I have a lot of freckles and moles and I thought it was time for a full body inspection to check for irregularities. I also went because I am not happy with my face, specifically the skin on my face. This is a little game I play with myself and the medical profession. If I go to the doctor for something medically important I also reward myself with something quasi medical and less important. So in this case it was go to the doctor to have my moles checked and walk away with a miracle cream or pill that will make my face radiant.  

The appointment began normally enough with me filling out forms and being called in to see the doctor but from there it degenerated into the strangest, longest and least helpful medical experience I've ever had.

The doctor began by asking me where my family was from, not as in America, but before that. I said Eastern Europe and when she asked specifically where, I said Russia...which I then realized isn't Eastern Europe so I felt like an idiot. In fairness to me I wasn't expecting a geography quiz. Mr. Deep, upon his review of this post, informed me that part of Russia, the part west of the Ural Mountain range, is in Eastern Europe, so that's good. I hope the doctor is aware of this. She asked if Russian was the same as Celtic, which should have been my first clue that something wasn't right. She said she had just come back from a conference where she learned that gene therapy is the next big thing and that it's important for me to know where my family is from. Keep in mind she hadn't yet examined me or determined that anything was wrong with me that would require gene therapy so this discussion may have been premature. Also, if medicine is advanced enough and doctors can treat your illness by addressing at the gene level, can't they also "map" your genes? Does knowing what former Soviet town some of your family is from really matter in this case? 

She took me into the exam room. While we were waiting for my gown to warm (it's winter now remember) she said she'd start by examining my face which as I've already explained was my top priority as well. Unfortunately, she couldn't get the giant lighted magnifying glass to turn on. After five minutes she eventually gave up on the light and had me put the gown on. Once the gown was on instead of examining my body, she instructed me to return with her to her office. Fortunately I was still wearing my pants and my bra (and the gown) so I wasn't returning to her office completely naked. Back in her office she used some giant gun like camera to closely examine a spot on my face. She called her assistant in to help her load a close up photo of this spot onto the computer and then they both tried to figure out how to use some software to determine what the mystery spot was. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to know how to use the software and it took quite some time for them to come up with a diagnosis. It was finally determined to be dermal melanin. I don't have any medical training but I'm pretty sure dermal melanin and a freckle are the same thing. However, the doctor didn't seem sure and she removed a book from her shelf...A BOOK FROM HER SHELF! I suppose the reason for the book was to look up dermal melanin but she got sidetracked telling me about pills that contain Amazon tree bark extract that I should be taking to help protect my skin from the sun and she never actually opened the book. She left the room to get the pills to show them to me, not a new bottle because the pills were out of stock, but her own personal bottle. 

Meanwhile, I'm starting to feel nervous that this appointment is taking a very long time and I'm thinking that if we have to spend five minutes on every mole and freckle that I'm going to be there for two weeks. I decided that if she attempted to examine my body that I'd tell her I was out of time. But she never got back to my body...even though I was still wearing the gown.

Remember I'm vain, so I was still holding on to hope that she'd prescribe me some great serum for my face and I decided to stick it out and try to turn the conversation back to my face. Big mistake. 

She looked at my face and stopped just short of declaring it the biggest mess she's ever seen. She asked if I had allergies. Even though I said no she prescribed some kind of blood test to check. She then asked about my skincare routine but as I tried to explain it, she kept interrupting me to advise me that everything I was doing was wrong. She took some lotion and demonstrated how to apply products to the face. She said you press instead of rub. OK press instead of rub could be valid but she also told me that I should only be washing my face with water. I asked how I would remove make up using only water and she said I should use a face cloth, but hadn't she just said no rubbing? The whole conversation was making no sense. When I said that I sometimes use an RA cream, she asked me "what is RA cream?" At that point, I knew for certain that she had absolutely no grasp on reality and that I had to get out of there. What dermatologist doesn't know what RA cream is? She continued telling me all of the things that might be causing my problem face including saying that I had a bad habit of putting my fingers into my mouth. Only I don't think I do have this habit as I no longer bite my nails. She told me I might have streptococcus.   

The real kicker came when she asked me about my mattress and how old it is. I replied that we'd purchased it in 2013. She asked me if I vacuum the mattress. I should have lied and said that I do, because she then told me that she could see DUST MITE BITES ON MY FACE. Honestly, I have never in my life been told something so horrifying. Can you imagine? I couldn't escape this woman's office fast enough. It was all I could do not to go directly to a shop to buy a new mattress and then firebomb my entire house. Even though this doctor was clearly a bit off could I really take a chance on being eaten alive? I pulled myself together though and didn't buy a new mattress or a new bed or have my house fumigated and here's why.

Two days before this medical madness Gift, his sister and his brother came over for dinner. During the course of the evening I became aware that Gift's brother, Wiseman is his name, doesn't own a bed or a mattress. He sleeps on the floor of a shack where he has been living for the past few months. If the shack has a floor. I couldn't bring myself to ask if there is a real floor or a dirt floor. He also doesn't have electricity in the shack. Since then, I have been obsessed with the thought of Wiseman sleeping on the floor of a cold, dark shack.  At night when I am in my recently declared imperfect but still functional bed I am thinking of him and feeling concerned. And no, Wiseman is not an ex-con or a recovering drug addict trying to get back on his feet, he's just poor and he can't afford a mattress or a bed with the money that he earns from his job. It's that simple. 

I decided I am not going to let this doctor lead me down a path of craziness. Even if it's true that sunscreen is rendered ineffective if there is orange fragrance in it, I don't have time for this insanity. I don't need the pills the from the Amazon, I don't have streptococcus, I'm not going to get a full blood test and I certainly don't have mite bites on my face. Dust mites don't even bite. I looked it up. I will not become any more self-involved than I already am and will not start creating personal medical problems where there aren't any. Instead, I will find a bed for Wiseman and even if the bed is used, I think he will be really happy to receive it. Dust mites and all. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Where is My Handbook?

The process of moving to South Africa was not easy. It was logistically challenging. The visa business was frustrating and caused a lot of angst. However, when I think back to that time, right before we left the USA and came to South Africa, my most prominent emotion was excitement. We were about to embark on a new life and I couldn't wait to get started. We laughed off the delays and challenges. It was all a big adventure.

Leaving South Africa does not feel like an adventure. It feels awful. I would love to put a positive spin on it for you and say something like, "onward and upward" or "change is good" but I can't. What I can say is, "I'm sure it will be fine." That's the best I can do. But I'm not a huge fan of fine. I prefer amazing. 

Intellectually my sadness about leaving makes no sense. How can it be harder to leave a country where I've lived for just over two years than it was to leave a country where I'd lived my entire life? How can it be harder to leave a place where things don't work all that well for a place where everything works? What could possibly be so difficult about going back to America where everyone will understand me when I speak and where I can eat tacos and drink Starbucks with reckless abandon? Not to mention being closer to family and friends.  Side note, what is wrong with me that I listed tacos before mentioning family and friends? 

When we arrived in South Africa, our relocation agent gave us a book called "Living in South Africa." Of course I never actually READ this book, but the point is there WAS A BOOK about newly arrived expat adjustment. So where is the handbook that details best practises for expats trying to depart a place gracefully? Because I have a lot of questions. 

Some of the questions are trivial, yet real. How will I survive without the constant sunshine, palm trees and smiling security guards who greet me every morning and then ask me to buy them a 2 litre Coke and loaf of bread? How will I manage without my clean house and my perfectly ironed and folded clothes made so by the world's kindest and sweetest person? What about the kids that I teach? Will they forget about me after five minutes (answer is yes being that they are eight years old.) Most importantly, how am I supposed to say goodbye to all the people here who I love...my second family, some of whom, if I'm being honest with myself, I may never see again. 

Mr. Deep has gone already. He is in Geneva working on a project for the next few months. While I am here alone for what simultaneously feels like forever and not nearly long enough, he was "ripped out of here."  Maybe that was the way to go? To leave quickly. Maybe I should have gone with him? Maybe I should have insisted on being an excellent wife and standing by my man, literally. I wonder what the non-existent expat departure handbook would have suggested I do?

I have watched other expat friends leave over the years. Some were life long expats and some were not. All were very stoic and said things like, "here's to the next adventure" which leads me to wonder, is that how they really felt? Maybe they were ready to leave and could barely contain their excitement? Maybe South Africa was getting to them and they were tired of trying to find spare change every minute for car guards, constantly sitting in traffic because of broken traffic lights, and having to visit three stores each time they wanted to buy kale? Or maybe it was breaking their hearts to leave and in the privacy of their own homes they cried a lot and got drunk every night under the guise of having to drink all of their South African wine before the movers arrived? It's hard to know. 

The thing about expat life is when it's time to go it's time go whether you want to or not and conversely for some who wish to leave it's not time to go and they have to stay. This is what we all signed on for. I guess if there were an expat departure handbook, that is what it would say. It would be a very short book. 

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.