Saturday, January 31, 2009

Salon, shmalon.

I've never been one for fancy hair cuts, manicures, pedicures, facials, massages, or any kind of dealies where strangers touching me (sometimes in my no no areas, as with hair removals and such) is involved. In this respect I am an apt poster-girl for my small, but proud Finno-Ugric tribe, representatives of which (at least in the part of the country I come from) really like their personal space. Never try to hug a Finn, unless they initiate the action.

However, perhaps I'm shedding some of my Scandinavian baggage, or I've finally crossed over to the dark side - also called being friendly and affectionate in some parts of the world - where friends exchange bras in the middle of a drunken party (true SA story), kiss each other on the mouth while wishing 'compliments' of the new year (also a true SA story, and yes, I've yet to fully recover from the shock), or comfortably discuss their Kegle-experiences in a unisex setting (a true MX story, and yes, afterwards I had to google Kegle, the prude that I am), since I actually seem to have found a hair salon where I can go without feeling an overwhelming urge to bring the hubby, or a friend to help me through the ordeal. 

I even got highlights. 

In this Gary Rom salon I can actually relax and enjoy the experience. The stylists, and the entire staff in fact, are super cool, never up your butt about the awesome natural tone to your hair,or overly aggressive with their chosen line of products. Instead they are jokey amongst themselves making the client feel included in the jokes, while giving her the breathing room she needs to survive someone wielding a pair of scissors an inch from her eyes, and they are definitely not fake. The people, not the eyes, that is. And as a total bonus, what I before considered an instrument undoubtedly inspired by the Chinese art of water torture - the washing station - in this salon gives you a very nice, yet mechanical, back massage.

I wonder whether, after our time in SA is up, I can justify jet-setting to Jo'burg for my hair appointments? Must start working on the hubby already now, and device an ingenious plan... Muahahahahahah (world domination laugh in case it's not obvious).  

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An apple a day... What?!? I thought it was 7 cups of coffee?!?!

In my country hopping life I've rarely found time to go see a doctor. Or, you could say that I have managed to avoid seeing a doctor for an indecent amount of years, regardless of several complaints that I habitually try to 'walk off' (possibly a remnant of my work for the Girl Scouts). A year and a half ago in Mexico I actually attempted to walk off a gallstone the size of a grape. Lo and behold I ended up in emergency surgery at 2 in the morning, and consequently had my entire gallbladder out. Pretty gross, but luckily I was out for most of it, and my dear husband was left to deal with things - en español. When I woke up he knew they had operated, but wasn't quite sure on anything else, even though he had actually signed a permission slip (note to self: make hubby also learn the new language beyond restaurant terms).

So, now that Ciproflox antibiotics are no longer as readily available as they were in Mexico (over the counter, no prescription needed), I have recently had to visit an actual doctor (and not diagnose myself on the internet with all sorts of parasites, cancer, and such). Turns out, I had nothing to fear, but the fare itself, and by this I mean the cost of having someone poke needles in your arm, that obviously is entirely without circulation, since no blood is coming out in any painful angle. In addition to the consultation fee of around R300, for the lab tests I had to fork out R2200. I hope the insurance is sorted out soon, since these costs are depleting my shoe-money stash fast.  

Still, I actually was not horrified by the whole ordeal. First of all in SA you are not made to wear a surgical gown with your butt half hanging out. Small victory! The doctor was super nice, laid back, yet very thorough, and she was actually the first doctor in a long time who did not immediately zero in on what they all seem to see as the root of all of my complaints, my overweight. In the past I've had 'helpful' healthcare professionals explain to me how I should really "eat less" or "go on some sort of diet", and then have them look baffled when my complicated insulin issue comes out. Well, I can tell you, with the healthy BP of 125/80, I almost kissed the doctor on the mouth (people who are not in love do this here, another long story...), when she said that so far everything is looking "as it is supposed to". I might just escape this one without too many complications and win peace of mind for some years to come. I'm due back for my results on Friday.

Dontcha just looove nature?!?! Situation update

Hubby is thoroughly ignoring the mythical beast roaming the back yard. The door will now permanently stay locked and no laundry will be hung out, unless... I can trick the maid to go out.

So there again. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dontcha just looove nature?!?! Amendment I

Actually, whatever scurried under the house seems to be either a side product of all of that secret gene-manipulation stuff going on all over the place, or possibly a mythical beast.

I'm officially freaked out and will most definitely be sporting my rubber boots until the situation has been contained by the hubby.

So there.

Dontcha just looove nature?!?!

I think I just saw a mouse scurry under the house in the back yard behind the kitchen. 

There is a dead something underneath the kitchen door and it just might turn out to be a cockroach.

Yesterday I saw ants coming out of the kitchen tap.

Earlier this month there was a dead bird on the balcony. I made the maid get rid of it.

I have weird itchy bites on me, and I think I've seen something hop on the bed.

Two months ago I bludgeoned a spider to death with my flip flop. The spider was most likely a black widow.

One night there was a mouse on the stairs, inside the house.

A dog followed me home today and 'watered' the downstairs couch. Thank Zeus the thing is rented, and the dog had a couple of numbers on his collar, so he's home already. 

At least the air is clean and it's warm. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Post-Party analysis

Q: What happens when you let one 13 year old, and one under-appreciated husband loose with a bunch of decorations in your house?

A: Cool stuff happens, I tell you. Very cool and inventive stuff, that results in all entrances to the garage being blocked and lots of tape on the walls, but no less an amazing effect. Thanks guys!

I'm very happy with how the party went. Not so loud that someone would contemplate calling the police, but just loud enough to annoy the most annoying of the annoying neighbors, whose children/dogs could function as our alarm clocks if we wanted to get up at 5AM every Sunday. There was more than plenty of food and drink (What is it with the locals? They always show up with food and drinks, even when asked not to). Everyone, and I mean everyone, came in a well thought out costume, and is undoubtedly regretting that decision now as the pictures have been uploaded onto Facebook.

Regardless of our stuff still sailing somewhere on the Atlantic (any day now...) the party was a success. Our friends showed up bright and early to help, and never slowed down for the whole day, even when the bad hostess half forgot to offer them lunch or coffee (the hostess also forgot to eat lunch herself, resulting in an emergency taco ingestion after two glasses of wine within the first 30 minutes of the party). The host ended up doing less cooking than expected (or feared) and was positively taken aback by the latent cooking abilities of the hostess... This could be bad, I must ruin a pot or a pan asap...

The punch - Long Island Ice tea - got everyone going early and wine and tequila were in the end enjoyed in the proper ways, or at least no proper tequila was wasted on the salt and lemon shots. For some reason, however, no one touched any of the white wine leaving me stocked for the next couple of months at least (the hubby seems to think I should be writing 'for the next year', but hey I prefer not to lie in writing).  

Again, we were both surprised by how willing the locals are to accept new people into their firmly established circles of friends, and how cool they are with discussing the many sides of their nation - the good as well as the bad, and how open they are with their opinions. Agreeing to disagree is the concept of the day, and luckily I'm no less included, even if I am always on the disagreeing end. Perhaps we shouldn't any longer be so surprised by the open arms and hearts hiding behind the high security gates, and accept South Africa as what it is - An absolutely awesome, hospitable country as long as you remember to look beyond the first impressions.  

Friday, January 23, 2009

Preparations Vol. 2

Quick update on the still practically nonexistent party preparations:

I'm putting all my faith in you Honey, Skat, Rakas, My Love to End All Other Loves, and other syrupy terms. I seem to not be progressing. 

Please make this party happen. I promise I'll at least show up and drink myself to oblivion, but not before letting everyone know how great you are.

And, you make the best, most awesomest, Rajas con Crema in the world. Yes, you do!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Things I love about living here

My dear husband, and possibly my blog's only reader, remarked yesterday that my writings have been taking on a rather negative tone. Unfortunately, I have to agree. My initial idea with this blog was to tell everyone of the cool stuff happening in my life, BECAUSE we are living in SA, not to highlight the not so flattering sides to this country. Yet somehow stuff has come up that's had me googling crime, rape and lack of recycling in Johannesburg. Shame. Time for a little praise that this country certainly deserves.

Things I love about living here:

The sun. It is unlike anywhere else in the world. I love it when the sky is just one big blue expanse, with no clouds in sight. Yes, it gets hot, but never to the point of being uncomfortable. There is nothing like standing on the top of a hill, completely surrounded by grass higher than you, with the sun shining down. This city slicker for sure has a new love for nature.

My friends. A cool bunch of through and through South Africans, who love their wine and their country. I have never experienced anything like the open arms in SA. 

Finding shoes in my size. Need I say more?

The wine. Again pretty self-explanatory, given that you all know about my penchant for drinking it. Even good bottles are cheap!!! I'm already planning our next trip to the Cape and to the wine routes. 

The guards at our gate. They had one look at our last name and rechristened us Mr. and Mrs. Guru. Love it! Makes my day every day to have someone holler "Hello Mrs. Guru, howzit Mrs. Guru," when I drive through the gate.

Being able to buy as many books as I want in English, even if I am currently stuck reading the not so awesome Behaviour of Moths. Still, I'm expecting for it to pick up. Fingers crossed. 
The Braai and all that goes with it, i.e. the meat and the company (potentially in that order). Having been a vegetarian in my younger days, I never thought I would develop such a taste for meat. A carnivore hoping to be a bit more locavore.

Boereworsbiltong, and droëwors. I'm almost sure, that besides meat in the form of awesome rump steaks, these are the three main reasons why it was not in my destiny to remain a vegetarian.

The relaxed atmosphere. For many years now I have been able to avoid wearing socks, and have managed to wear flip flops to a number of affairs, sometimes to poignant stares (Mexico's First Lady's reception, or the reception for Queen Margrethe II of Denmark). In SA I have finally encountered a dress code that is willing to include shorts as a part of formal wear. Laid back is the order of the day. Hurrah for flip flops and many more years without socks, not to mention pantyhose (that I believe is a plague invented by the devil or some such evil). I also drive home from the pool in my swimming suit, which doesn't seem to faze anyone. Points to SA.

Not being identified immediately as a tourist, or a gringa, or called 'guerita' (blondie), 'blanquita' (whitey) or, and I cringe, 'gordita' (fatty). Mexicans don't mean any harm, neither are they being rude, they are just being... well... Mexican. Here in SA I blend in, except for when someone insists on speaking Afrikaans to me, which they do a lot. I usually answer with 'Dankie', which means 'thank you', just to be on the safe side, and imagine they are all complimenting me, or possibly my shoes. Great self-esteem booster strategy after being 'fatty' for two years.

And the list goes on. Updates coming in the future. I'm glad I still have almost two more years to explore this wonderful place. 

Corrective measures

Yes, there are some horrifying things going on all the time in South Africa, and no, there is not much one person can do to change things. Or is there?

How can I make this place better?

In Mexico I volunteered, which I loved, but in the end as usual I got myself so involved in the whole operation, and actually took the lead (I hate being bossed around, even if leading will give me an ulcer) that it was very hard to finally extricate myself, as our move came closer. There are still certain babies' faces I prefer not to remember, because remembering would mean finding out what happened to the souls behind the faces. And what happened is not always a positive in a society like Mexico.  

However, I'm getting more and more ready to throw myself in the game again, as days stuck with the, now extremely frustrating, presence of my maid seem longer and longer by the minute. I know, I know I should just be happy someone saves me almost daily from drowning in filth, but...

I have been researching some volunteering opportunities in Gauteng, and as I'm ruling out all clearly (and sometimes overly) religious instances, here are the potentials:

Ikholwa Children's home. They take care of children infected or affected by AIDS. (And, I met the founder at a fundraiser and he seemed like a good guy)

Tshwane Place of Safety. They take care of babies and toddlers in distress.

Global Crisis Solutions. They promote human rights through practice and policy.

Mohau Centre. They provide care and support to orphaned, abused, abandoned, neglected and terminally ill children and their families who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.

SOS Children's villages. They take care of orphaned and abandoned children.

These all seem like very good possibilities, and I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of our second car, so I can get out of the house every once in a while and maybe change a diaper or two, or if I'm lucky a policy or too. But, seeing as I have plenty of diaper-related experience from Mexico, and no sense of policy or politics, I'll most likely end up doing the former. I can't believe I'm actually looking forward to feces in sticky paste form. I must be bored indeed.

I'm also trying to recycle, which surprisingly has been made nigh impossible in this country. So far I'm the official empty-bottle pack mule of our bunch, and thus am always storing empty wine bottles in various ingenious places (taking my cue from the queen of weird, yet spacious hiding places, the maid). This I do, since there actually is a glass bank only kilometers from where we live and driving there once a month must be the least we can do. Still, the 'recycling' we do here in SA is nothing like what comes almost naturally (or under threat of a fine) in Northern Europe, or even in Mexico. 

We just have to keep trying, I guess. However, before the nation's attitudes and awareness about environmental issues change, the task ahead is hard. In the US people who drive vehicles (since simple cars they are NOT) that could fit their entire extended family in the back and still have room for some neighbors as well, are generally at least aware of how much their gas-guzzlers are hurting the environment, and are just choosing to be A-holes. Here so far the major concern seems to be financial, and environmental concerns don't even come into the picture. The same goes for using electricity, water, etc. I can't honestly say which option is worse.

I seem to have ranted some again. Well, I hope I have made you feel guilty enough to go and do this.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Staying safe in SA

The son of my friend is apparently such an awesome athlete that my scarcely populated nation has decided to send this 17 year old promise all the way to South Africa to train along with a team of other promises and a coach. I come in the picture in the receiving end of a rather anxious e-mail. My friend has asked for my assistance.

It seems that the news of the current safety situation in South Africa are yet to reach the media in my country, or they just haven't really sunk in with the general public, i.e. the coach, who is looking to rent a house for the team through the internet with little regard to where the house is, or how the house is. The seeming unawareness of the dangers here might, yet again, be the unfortunate case of 'there is so much evil and bad stuff happening in Africa that it flows off my back without ever registering into my consciousness'. Unfortunately, many of us Europeans are often attacked by this syndrome. I seem to suffer from it off and on when it comes to parts of Africa, other than my immediate surroundings. How easy it is to close our eyes, and stay behind these, often electric walls of ours. 

Don't get me wrong, I love this country, I love living here, I adore the people, I adore the customs, and love being privy to the mix of the different cultures unlike anywhere else in the world. But, unfortunately SA, and especially the area of Gauteng, where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located, is amongst the most dangerous areas in the world currently not at war. According to Nation Master, per capita SA has the most assaults, rapes and murders with firearms.  Heartbreaking, especially since many of the victims are children. It seems that when it comes to rape, the myth is that engaging in intercourse with a virgin will cure AIDS. Sometimes the world just kicks you in the gut, making it almost impossible to breathe. 

Why am I writing this most negative of posts? Because my friend informed me that the coach of the team was looking to rent a house with the requirements being limited to the number of bedrooms, and a location near the needed sports facilities, so they wouldn't need transportation. As you might have guessed, walking around in my hood might not always be a smart idea. My friend had gotten scared for her son's safety and wanted the local scoop on the different areas. Granted, I'm no local, but I tried my best. 

I quizzed my friends regarding different neighborhoods around here, and proceeded to write one of the most difficult mails ever. I love this country, but understand its shortcomings as well (or at least try to), and as much as possible attempt to see the humor in them. Still, there are aspects of this country where humor is simply out of the question, and only horror prevails. I cannot imagine how it must be sending your child (and he is still one at 17) far from home to a foreign country. Not to mention a foreign country, such as South Africa with its often very frightening reputation, and trusting your child with someone who perhaps has not clearly understood the precautions required by that same reputation.

I'm sure the team will have a great time here, achieve a lot, and most likely their stay will be entirely problem free, as our life here so far has been. Still, as many of my friends often remind me: "It never hurts to be a little paranoid."   

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Somewhere in the midst of 2008 taking its last breaths, I quietly (but aided by a husband, two great friends, and two bottles of Veuve Clicquot Brut yellow label) turned 30. Practically no one was here in Joburg to celebrate. Now the party is on.

Well, in truth the preparations are on. Since I'm notoriously excellent at procrastinating (this used to only include school work and cleaning, but now seems to have meandered its way into my everyday life as well), I only came up with a 'menu' and a shopping list Saturday morning, a whole whopping week before 40 people in quirky costumes show up at our door, and demand drinks, food, and music. Today, I'm thinking perhaps I should get some decorations as well... Hmm. 

The only aspect of the party I seem to have a firm opinion on is the drinks. No guest should have to drink wine which Platter's gave less than two stars to. Hence the white wine selection will be Fish Hoek Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (3 stars in Platter's) and John B. Sauvignon Blanc-Colombard 2008 (2,5 stars), whereas the reds include Truter's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2004 (3,5 stars) and Kleine Zalze Merlot 2007 (untasted, but 05 3,5 stars, 08 2,5 stars). 

Furthermore, naturally we will be serving 2 excellent tequilas, one available in the country, and one clandestinely smuggled into SA all the way from mi querido México

The tequila available here in SA is one of Mexico's leading tequilas, Don Julio . DJ is not one of my favorites, but still miles ahead of what generally passes for tequila in the bottle stores (liquor stores) of South Africa, Olmeca (no Mexican I know seems to have heard of it), Cactus jack (I crinkle my nose so hard it almost falls off), or Good ole Spring Break favorite, Jose Cuervo. Of course, these tequilas in their unmatured (or matured for that matter) state are suited for shooters (shots) to be ingested with the 'made famous by American party animals': salt and lime. However, I thoroughly snub this tradition, and dare I say it, find it a tad 'White Trash' (what else is new). 

My favorite tequila on earth, which I now own three whole bottles of thanks to the smuggling hubby, is none other than 1800. This tequila in its añejo (very matured) state rivals the always talked about and praised aged whiskies, and will only be consumed with salt and lime OMDB (over my dead body, and No, I'm not coming as a dead body) at my party. A tiny glass of this precious liquid should be enjoyed with a tiny glass of sangrita, A tomato based juice mix that complements the aftertaste of tequila beautifully, never ever shot down, without savoring the taste. How can I start a petition to bring 1800 to SA, and to stop people from drinking shots of bad tequila? Important issues.

Drinks under control, all the other preparations seem a little less so. The almost-thieving aside, the maid can stay at least until Monday.

System abusers and guys with camel-toe

I have been thinking about my teeny tiny political post quite a lot this weekend, and found myself wondering whether I'm really living in a country, whose population can be divided into those who abuse the system, and those who try to thwart their attempts (not to mention which group I would fall into).

It seems to me, in South Africa trust in one's employees is not the going trend. There are, in fact numerous more or less funny, but at the same time incredibly sad examples of ways to stop 'potential abuses'. My personal faves include the cashier having to buzz in an elderly matron-lady - whose office must be located at the back of the store or possibly downtown, because we are talking at least a half-hour arrival time to the cash point - when the poor cashier has punched in four plastic bags instead of the three we asked for, lest she embezzle the whopping 29 cents, or the guards in our compound having to carry special sticks (and not the good kind either) and touch them to every second light pole with a sensor, while on their rounds, to make sure they don't take any short cuts, or a guy in a safari-outfit, complete with shorts no grown man should ever wear in public because of their unfortunate camel-toe creating effect, standing arms akimbo watching ten other guys slave away planting on the piece of dirt in the middle of a roundabout (a monthly occurrence by us). In light of these kinds of situations I'm glad I'm my own boss. Or, well, that no one is the boss of me, technically at least, I think. God?   

Still, these thwarting measures don't just go for employees, various ones can also be applied to customers, one of which I frequently am, so these ones get to me. Before coming to South Africa I never realized how hard it was to judge a book, or in this case a magazine, by its cover. Every single magazine here comes neatly packaged in cellophane, making it compulsory to be versed in Cosmo-talk. How else will you ever know if the '100 ways to make your man purr' will teach you that trick in the bedroom that will help you to keep your fires burning into your nineties, making the mag a necessary purchase, or just tell you to stroke your man's ego every once in a while, which we all already know to do regularly anyway. For my R28 I could be getting a latte and a small muffin instead. 

I have never been able to understand moral compasses that tell their owners to go ahead as long as they don't get caught, but lately I'm also having huge problems with understanding the state or any other 'authority' as that moral compass. Well, even as a kid I never liked anyone telling me what to do, or curbing my behavior in any way (I always know best, even when I don't), and I have to be honest and say I don't think South Africa will succeed in what even my iron-willed mother failed in (I think I must have been grounded for about fourteen years in total during my wonder years).

In the near future, if you see a blond woman slipping off the cellophane covers of all of the Cosmos, Cleos, Feminas, Saries, and such, just to set the magazines back on the rack and stare at them, possibly at your local Checkers, or Pick n' Pay, please come say hello.  

Thank you for the opportunity to rant, all I need now is an amazingly bad book, and my week is set.  

Friday, January 16, 2009

Something small on politics

So my internet has been on the fritz for the past couple of days. Or actually my internet provider had in their infinite wisdom figured out that I had gone over my limit and proceeded to cut my internet. Now, I knew there was a limit, but I was under the impression that if I exceeded the limit I was just going to pay more. You know, the normal way of doing things. 

No, no, not here. Again, we were given the explanation that we have become much too familiar with: one of their previous clients had exceeded his agreed limit and downloaded to such an extent that later he was unable to pay his bill, i.e. someone at some point in time had abused the system, and therefore we have to suffer for it. 

This song is getting very old for us. Granted there are quite a few even rather public displays of abusing the system, from the antics of the former president Thabo Mbeki to the even scarier seeming doings of the wannabe president Jacob Zuma. And we truly understand that the gravest problem South Africa is facing right now might just not be crime after all, but the ubiquitous corruption, eventually making it impossible to do anything about the crime situation. Still, I'm not sure the right way of going about 'educating' the citizens is to thwart any potential abuses even before they appear, thus making trust and respect for adult intellect superfluous. Is it just me or could there be a link to the crime? Just wondering...

I always seem to get really agitated when I feel my intellect is not being respected (I happen to have quite a decent size ego) and apparently this time it was enough for me to actually churn out a political post. There is a first for everything. 

Hmph, I don't quite know what to do with my highly politicized self right now.   

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

T.I.A. - This Is Africa

8:50AM I hear a knock. I answer the door. A guy hands me a piece of paper. I'm a little baffled as it looks like a flyer some people try to stuff through the half millimeter crack between your car window and the frame of the door whenever you stop at a robot (traffic light). I glance down at the flyer. The guy is still just standing there. I start to read the flyer:

Electricity Interruption
Upgrade & Maintenance work

Please note that the electricity supply will be interrupted on:
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
between 09h00 and 14h00 

At first my brain doesn't quite register the time and date on the flyer. Why would anyone wait until the last minute to inform the residents, since this is, after all, scheduled work. I glance at the messenger. He looks like he expects me to hit him, or at least lash out in some way. He actually cowers ever so slightly. I realize my house is probably not the first place he has been to. As the Danny Archer line from Blood Diamond flickers in the back of my mind, I decide to give the poor guy a break. Most likely not his fault anyway. "Oh, okay," I manage, and after an almost smile the messenger skulks to the next house. 

Eight minutes later the electricity is cut off. I had just enough time to make a pot of coffee, but the laundry will have to stew in its own juices for the next five hours. 

At 2pm my first action is to make a new pot of coffee (I didn't realize all of my thermoses are sailing on the Atlantic, and I never felt the need to rent such an item), and then I sit down to write this complete T.I.A. post, even while knowing that this could just as well have been an 'así es México' post. 

Now I think I'll have to go see what five hours in soapy water do to a load of whites (no pun intended. Really!). 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The most amazing show on the air

The big thing right now amongst our friends seems to be the dstv decoder that also records (and apparently offers you a multitude of other cool functions I'm completely oblivious to). I have been told that there are so many interesting shows and other entertainment on television at the moment, or starting this month, that one has to simply record all of it. I have been missing something worth watching, so I'll be happy if this turns out to be true. All I know about the upcoming attractions is that at least I'll have Louis Thereoux's zany documentaries to look forward to! 

However, the best show on air just happened (again, but even cooler than normal) outside my patio windows. I pulled up a chair, sat back, and enjoyed the craziness that is South African weather.

Earlier today, as I was driving back towards the estate, some droplets caught my windshield, and for once I was actually in my full right to use the wipers. Hurrah! I also almost ran into a pick up truck (those pesky stop signs again), but more on that some other time. Anyway, as I drove into the third gate towards my house it really started raining. The wind picked up, and I could hear a distant rumble. The neighborhood nuisances were herded back inside by their (I'm starting to think very rude) mother, and I could enjoy the childless, birdless, and cricketless sound scenery. 

As I pulled up my chair - that I use for this purpose only, because it smells of beans and death, and is very suspect in its rented existence - I could hear a powerful crack as the lightning struck just behind the garden wall. Lucky little bastards, the neighborhood pests. The lightning struck very close more than a couple of times, and the rumble did not subside for a whole 15 minutes. It felt like night at one in the afternoon. Almost like watching a horror movie. You know what is coming, but you jump and scream anyway. Points to South Africa.

It is awesome how little it takes to make my day.   

Monday, January 12, 2009

Adopted at 30

For the past weekend I was in fact the third child of a possibly slightly loopy (otherwise why would they adopt me), but thoroughly lovely South African couple. Since my husband was away (and still isn't back yet), and everyone seems to be in on the 'she seriously cannot or will not cook, or drive for that matter' trait in my sparkling personality, I was taken in by this pair of Jozi-based (potentially out of their minds) Capetonians. 

My being adopted luckily did not involve anything boring or horrific such as chores or Sunday service. Instead, on Friday, I enjoyed a lovely dinner with the family, while watching the boys build me and the hubby a magnificent mansion on Sims, only for it to be destroyed an hour later in a fire, as my character just sat around upstairs reading a book. Even the game knows me too well... Several bottles of the always nice Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc were also consumed, but not until we had suffered through a bottle of Dalla Cia Sauvignon Blanc 2007, that had supposedly gotten four stars in Platter's. I think the wine must have turned, because delightful it was not.  

On Saturday I was asked to make a green salad for the braai I and my adoptive family had, in our Friday night vinoed-out state, invited ourselves to (a South African custom I have been told, since apparently you only get one invitation and the rest is up to you, for all eternity. Good to know). Making the salad was a rather daunting task, but I eventually managed, and no one has been sick yet. So I think I'm home free. I also brought with me a bottle of Durbanville Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, which goes with anything and is a great 'getting sloshed slowly but steadily' beverage. And my coup de grâce I delivered with two bottles of the Chilean Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon, one of my favorites from Mexico, which I had managed to find in Makro (a real task, since foreign wines are throughly snubbed here). Everyone seemed to enjoy it. I know I did. Felt a little home sick for Mexico and envious of my better half, who is currently cavorting away in the city of 25 million people, hanging out with my BFF. Triple sigh.

As the discussion undulated from movies and books to racial issues and politics I truly enjoyed myself, and was unable to keep my controversial (in the South African sense that is) views entirely to myself. No one came to blows, or even spat at me (even though my adoptive brothers have recently been grounded for doing just that at each other), so I consider the night a raving success. I'm hoping after our two years in SA I'll have turned a few potential liberals to my brand of ultra-super-duper-and-then-some liberalism. Who knows what will happen. All I know is that I'm done keeping quiet.

On Sunday more kitchen miracles were required of me for yet another braai. This time with family. I managed to come up with a beet casserole, that tasted much better than the greyish mess it looked. Again I was very positively surprised by how included I felt and how cool and fun the day turned out to be. Not that I was expecting not to have fun, but it always amazes me how hospitable South Africans are towards someone they barely know. Judging by the razor wire fencing so abundant here, one would never guess. 

As I had already quaffed my fair share of different wines throughout the weekend I decided to keep it simple and only sampled a bottle of Lanzerac Merlot. As I paced it with plenty of mineral water I greatly enjoyed it, and eventually it made a wonderful companion to the Portuguese espetadas - special rump prepared on a sword-resembling skewers over a braai. Yum! 

As the day neared its end, regardless of my new sisterly status I was not, as opposed to my not as fortunate bros, forced to get a hair cut to ready myself for school starting on Wednesday. Regardless of the financial side of things - the haircuts at this kitchen 'establishment' are free of charge - I'm still opting for my fancy salon, and the relaxing scalp massage. Furthermore, luckily I'm on permanent vacation, and can sport a shaggy look whenever I feel like it (more often than not). On a side note, I sincerely hope the beginning of the new school year signifies the disappearance of the dirty mess on my wall. The neighborhood nuisances (from next door) keep scaling our garden wall and leaving their business cards in the form of several different sized black and brown foot prints. Go to school already.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Unlucky wildlife meets the braai

Last night at a braai I tasted some or other bok's liver, and surprisingly it was very good

I can't quite remember which bok it was, and Wikipedia is seriously confusing me by introducing me to the non-South African names for all the different kinds of bok rampant in these parts. You don't hear the locals ever mention antelopes, gazelles, impalas, or oryxes. Instead the locals hunt and consume the gemsbok, the rooibok, and the springbok, which is also the national animal and the name and the symbol of the national rugby team. There are also plenty of other kinds of bok, running loose in, and near my hood, but as usual their names elude me. As long as they don't get too close while still breathing, I'm cool with just calling them bok. 

Other than the bok liver I'm also experiencing the beginnings of a possibly very long love affair with the taste of lamb chops on a braai. I never understood how good charred fat could actually be. The same goes for my long forgotten, but recently newly found affection for pork rashers. Starting to sound pretty gross, eh? All in all, I think a side of a shoe would turn out nicely if it was meticulously (as they do here, since we're talking of an art form) seasoned, and braaied to simple perfection on the fire. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Driving in South Africa. Vol. 2

Yesterday I fell off the road.  

I am not making this up, or trying to be funny. Well, funny maybe a little, since I'm still in one piece, and lived to tell the tale, but in all honesty I really did fall off the road.

"How can one fall off the road?", you may be asking yourself, seeing as the road is intrinsically already a part of the ground, making the action of falling pretty much impossible. Still, I must remind you that you have never seen me drive, or if you have, I know from experience - not to mention the impromptu speeches pertaining to my lack of driving skills at my farewell party in Mexico -  you will not be questioning the possibility of my falling off the road. I know you my dear friends, and I can feel the love.

Anyhoodle, how did the events unravel? Well, I was minding my own business (a major problem when I'm behind the wheel) driving around in my hood, as I suddenly came to the conclusion that I was supposed to turn left at the upcoming intersection. As I was on the right most lane, and NOT on the turning lane, I seriously contemplated using my Mexican experience and turning anyway, but scrapped that plan in favor of a plan much more suitable for South Africa. I would change lanes and nicely slide myself in between the oh-so-fancy Mercedes, which had more or less been up my posterior since leaving my house anyway, and the bakkie (a pick up truck) with the population of a good-size village crammed in the back. No problemo. Todo bajo control (read with strong American accent).  

Long story short, I grossly miscalculated the required length of my otherwise nicely executed slide, and consequently did not stop where the asphalt ended and ended up letting out a tiny scream instead as the left side of the car less than graciously lurched down into the dirt, a good 20 or 30cm below the surface of the road. Thank Zeus, or in this case Daihatsu, for good ground clearance. No harm done, and as a bonus I totally freaked out the lady up my you-know-what. 

I seriously thought about bashing the condition of the roads (so much better than in Mexico, unless we're talking dirt roads, but nowhere near the northern European standard) in this post, but the truth is, yet again, it was me, ALL me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

What to do in Jozi, if you are an unadventurous 'widow for a week'.

The hubby is leaving town for a week and I'm left to fend for myself.

I could go to some of my favorite restaurants and have some sushi, or some sizzling steak ('cause Zeus knows I won't be cooking for myself).

The best sushi I've had in Joburg came from Cape Town Fish Market. They are a little (if not a lot) classier than my other favorite fish place, even if it is a little fast food-ish, Ocean Basket. CTFM actually has a sushi bar, the conveyor belt kind that is, which always takes me back to our stay in Taiwan, and just wins me over no questions asked. On top of being sushi-heaven, their wine list is decent, and their other dishes pretty awesome as well. At least my husband seems to enjoy them, personally I can't seem to get off the sushi-wagon once I'm on it.
In Cape Town my favorite sushi place so far is 221 in the Waterfront. I say so far, since their sushi is the only sushi I've had in CT. 

The best steak round our way - and after the world renowned Argentinian beef we kept splurging on in Mexico, finding this was a task indeed - is to be had at either Karoo or Cattle Baron. Karoo does not win hands down, since their steak is only good if you are smart enough to ask for it without the horrid basting all South Africans seem to be very fond of. But, Cattle Baron does not win hands down either, since even though the meat was excellent, the service and the atmosphere weren't, and they actually charged us for an unfiltered red (what we ordered), but brought us a regular one. Shame.

I could go to the movies. 

There are two movie theatre chains in South Africa: Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro. They show the same movies and the theaters themselves are pretty identical. Last weekend we went to the Nu Metro movie theatre in Menlyn Park Mall in Pretoria to see Australia. We opted for the Privé theatre, which according to our friends should be the theatre with the most comfortable (airline-like) seats. The seats were nice and my butt vouches for that since miraculously it did not fall asleep or tingle uncomfortably at any moment during the loooong epic. At a staggering R33 (€2,5 or $3,5) we'll definitely go for the Privé again. As for the movie: well, it was an epic, I liked it, kind of. It was very long, and every time you thought it was finished it picked up again, for almost three hours. I've heard that Burn after reading should be far more butt-friendly, and funny too, so perhaps I'll try out the Ster-Kinekor privé equivalent (and actually find out what it is called, since it is not obvious from the website). 

Still, sadly South African movie theater magic is centuries behind Mexico. Check out their VIP theater, Platino Cinemex. Why oh why, can I not satisfy my craving for a cocktail or a slice of pizza in the middle of a three-hour, numb-your-b'cheeks, cinematic experience?!?!? All I ask is a waiter to crawl to me on his knees and take my order, crawl back while balancing a  fancy glass and some nachos, and let me enjoy an exorbitantly priced glass of (possibly quite bad) white wine while I'm meticulously ogling Brad Pitt, or possibly Hugh Jackman.   

I could go get drunk and listen to some live music. 

My singular 'get drunk to the sound of loud live music' experience in South Africa took place some months ago in the suburbia of Centurion, north of Joburg, at a place called Firkin Pub. The music was good, but obviously I'm past my bar going days, unless we're talking snobbish, martini-galore, quirky-little-finger-food-at-high-prices kind of establishment. I'll still feel out of place in the more snobbish venues too, but at least I won't feel the need to stuff toilet paper in my ears to avoid the searing headache the volume is causing me. In the end, I think I'm simply more of a 'get drunk with your friends over a nice braai' kind of gal. I won't host them without the husband with the mad braai skillz, but I'll graciously accept invitations. And, you you can always count on me to bring the wine.

I could go shopping. 

In a country that has never heard of department stores (No, Woolworths is not one) the shopping is surprisingly good. I happen to adore Woolworths and all of the malls, Sandton City, Nelson Mandela Square (links to Sandton City), Brooklyn Mall, Menlyn Park Mall, Centurion Mall, etc, that we have visited offer a wide variety of different shops and boutiques. As opposed to Mexico the shoe shops here actually stock my size (I'm a big-footed Scand, as you might have guessed), which means that in my shoe-mania I've so far acquired quite a few pairs. Unfortunately, the dress code here being far more relaxed than anywhere else in the world that I've ever experienced, I've yet to have too many opportunities to flaunt my black and gold stilettos, or my Hilfiger wedges. Double shame. 

I could go to Montecasino and gamble away my husband's pay check or see The Beauty and the Beast.

Well, I've already seen The Beauty and The Beast, and have no interest in seeing the premiering one - The High School Musical. I saw the movie and strongly prefer Grease and even Grease II to it, so we'll just leave it at that. However, Montecasino is definitely something to see, especially if combined with a visit to Soweto, the sprawl of former townships Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu once called home. Montecasino is designed to imitate a Tuscan village, probably by someone who has never been to Italy, or even Europe. Fake laundry hangs over the 'alleys', walls have cracks painted on them, and looking up you are faced with either a hot pink sunset or an eerily blue sky. I seem to recall some twinkling stars as well. Luckily or unfortunately, you take your pick, Montecasino also houses quite a few good restaurants and drinking spots. Montecasino is so kitch it almost borders on cool, and is most definitely best served with a hefty dose of the other side of South African reality, the townships.
I highly recommend a pre-Montecasino visit to a Soweto-shebeen. Get a glass (or a pickle jar) of the local brew. I did, from a communal mug nonetheless.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Complete and utter rut

For the past four months that we have been in South Africa I have literally done nothing worth noting with my life. I read, surf the net and occasionally drink too much wine, or coffee, or both. While we were waiting for my husband's work permit to come through (first E & Y, the good for nothing company, took over two months to translate 3 measly one-page documents into English - two from Spanish and one from Danish, followed by a prolonged Home Affairs deliberation time of 40 working days. Yes 8 weeks) I was comfortably in limbo. We couldn't buy a car, I wasn't allowed to drive the company car my husband had been allocated, so I really could get no regular activities going, let alone something I would be doing every single day, such as volunteering. I had a valid reason to curl up on the couch with my cup of coffee and go through a book a day.

Now, some days after getting the car, I still seem to be stuck in that rut. I still get up in the morning only to hang out all day long. I have started going to the gym on the estate, but that is not saying much. Again, I'm faced with the question 'what will I ever do with my life'. I'm plagued by nightmares of returning to Europe some time in the distant future and having to work in McDonalds, because no one else will hire a person, who has pretty much never worked a day in her life, not really that is. Not that there is anything wrong with working in Mickey Dee's, but I have actually, eons ago, tried it out for a while and would hate to have to repeat the experience. Burgers and me don't mix, unless the burger is going down my throat.

In Denmark I was studying and finally ended up with a Masters in a very non-practical field. In Mexico I was volunteering, and eventually got far too involved for my own good. But what to do in South Africa? Every time we move I decide this will be the time I'll finish my bestseller that will also garner critical acclaim, i.e. I'll become the next Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy, or Philip Roth. At this point I'll also settle for becoming the next Stepehenie Meyer or Marian Keyes and just go for the bestseller. I'm easy to please.

The only slight glitches in my brilliant plan of becoming a world renowned author, are that I never seem to feel inspired enough to actually sit down and write, not to mention the fact that when it really comes to it, I'm just not that great a writer. This was a very harsh realization I recently came to as I hit a major milestone in my life. I can still feel the ripples of my existential crisis, even if the only tangible remnant of it is the question. 

I think I'm going to try my hand at poetry now. Feel my desperation. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

House wife drama in a teacup

This is a tough one. I would give anything not to be writing this post. I just want things to work out and everything be nice smelling, sunshiny, and flowery. Still, I am, yet again for Zeus' sakes, in the grips of a subtle battle, or you could call it a quiet feud, with none other than my maid.

I employ a maid, have so done for years, because beyond all of the 'we are coming here and taking a job, so we also have to create one', reasoning I often offer, without a maid I would most likely drown in refuse of various colors, manage to unwittingly breed bubonic plague in the kitchen, or be attacked by a vicious Mr. Hanky while on the toilet. I hate cleaning, and would rather not drink wine for a whole year than vacuum, not to mention, wash the floors. Luckily I'm a spoiled expat wife. 

Regardless of my clear need for someone to clean the house, do the dishes, and iron the clothes, I just can't seem to pick them well. I always end up experiencing severe heart burn and headaches. These maladies are partly do to the exciting new things and ways of doing things my employees introduce into the household, and partly to my having to deal with these new and exciting occurrences. I like being bossy and commanding until I actually have to do it, especially when it comes to some such foreign stuff as cleaning. 

I will not bore you with my previous battles on this front, but instead concentrate on the current one, and perhaps even receive some advice from the more diplomatic types out there. Believe me, I know this is a luxurious problem to have, but a problem it is nonetheless. 

Anyhow, I have never quite figured out how to start off with a maid, and perhaps I should explain more and show how everything should be done, and not attack the problems that may arise, since currently there are PROBLEMS arising left and right. The 'amount of cleaning products used' is an oldie but a constantly resurfacing goodie, regardless of culture, as is the 'moving things around will make it convincingly look like everything has been cleaned', right alongside my personal favorite: 'piling random, but important, papers and mail and stashing them in even more random places'. These are all issues I have recently attempted to deal with with ever more faltering success. However, South Africa has also thrown some previously unexperienced punches at us. 

Seeing as we are so extremely wealthy we practically bathe in money, the maid seems to think that buying a new tube of toothpaste signifies that the half-full one is immediately to be thrown away (no she is not siphoning the stuff, she is honestly throwing it out). This purge also extends to kleenex boxes, if there are less than 10 kleenexes left, once used make up sponges, wine bottles left half empty anywhere but the fridge (yes, you guessed it, this one really got to me), and any item she cannot confidently decipher the use of, especially if the said item is made of plastic. Several times now we have had the discussion of 'what counts as garbage', but regardless of my insane sign language thrown in to make my point, I see no improvement. I don't like being wasteful if I can avoid it, and the situation being out of my control is making my stomach acid rise to my throat much too often.   

Putting things away, i.e. hiding things is something we have experienced before but never on this scale, or done with such inventiveness either. My sneakers, that I wear every single day, keep disappearing and not just into my closet either. Just yesterday I found them propped against the patio wall outside. Of course. My queries as to why they keep disappearing are answered with rather empty stares and one of the dreaded 'what is that word'. I tried tekkies with just as much success. I have also recently been unable to find certain tiny bits from my camera and sincerely hope they are not being embraced by the black plastic bag.

Another new and rather horrid discovery concerning the cleaning habits of my maid, is her use of just one rag for the entire bathroom. Indeed, this means she washes the inside of the actual toilet bowl, with the same rag she uses to clean the sinks, the counters, and the bathtub. I have been bathing in my own feces. Beyond gross, disgusting, and horrid. I actually screamed a little and have hopefully scared her into comprehension. 

A storm in a teacup you might say (well, except for the feces). I know, it's comfortable house wife (not the desperate kind) drama, but all of the above are simply issues to be ironed out, or at least compromised on.  However, my number one issue is something that really boggles me. I have encountered variations of it before, and swiftly dealt with them, but the brazenness of the person I'm currently up against is throwing me off my game. In truth, my employees can pretty much clean or not clean anyway they like (again excluding the feces) as long as my respect for and my trust in them are met with equal respect and honesty. I hate being taken advantage of, or being lied to. Unfortunately, both seem to be going on.

My maid only works for me three days a week. I buy bread, margarine, and some ham for her to eat for breakfast and for lunch, these being the foodstuffs she requested. Since we don't eat bread, she is allowed to take the rest of the bread and ham with her if it has already expired or is about to do so. However, in the past month other things have started to disappear from the fridge, such as eggs, avocados, grapes, and soda pop, and she seems to be taking a whole loaf of bread with her every other time she comes to clean. I admit, we are not talking about a great loss for us, but it is a question of principle. When asked whether she still eats the bread, she forcefully maintains she does. She also forcefully maintained she did not clean the toilet and the bathtub with the same cloth, or sweep the floor with the feather duster meant for the ceilings, even though I saw her do both.    

What am I to do? Sigh.  

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The murderer in me

I don't understand what I do wrong, but I'm pretty sure it's me, ALL me.

Driving in South Africa

If you live anywhere near the greater Johannesburg and Pretoria area I suggest you stay off of the roads for a while. I have acquired a car.

And what a pretty and convenient vehicle it is. Light silver, only one previous owner, extremely good gas mileage, plenty of cabin space, and I swear it actually purrs. However, there is a catch: I have never driven on the left side before in my life. 

I'm finding it oddly distracting that the signal switch is on the right side of the steering wheel, and thus I keep expertly signaling with the windshield wipers. This would not be so bad if the Joburg weather wasn't so flippin' good every time I find myself driving, and if I wasn't a blond (no need to give them further reason). I also keep hitting my right hand on the door as I'm trying to change gears, not to mention having to actually look down to make sure I haven't put the car in reverse by accident (is this possible? I'm very worried). Furthermore, crossings and roundabouts baffle me, and if there is no other traffic I actually have to stop and concentrate in order to figure out which way I'm supposed to go. All this is naturally happening while I also have to keep track of my new surroundings to find where I'm going. So far though, the 'where I'm going part' has been the grocery store and the gym, both of which are within a kilometer radius of our house.

I don't particularly enjoy driving, and loved living in Copenhagen, where I took the bus everywhere for five years, never getting behind the wheel myself. However, in Mexico City, due to the dubious nature of the public transport system (whether there actually is any system to 'the system' is debatable), we decided to invest in a shoe box of a car, and I had to start driving again. Now, many of my friends (and many people in general) hated driving in Mexico City, because of the sheer amount of cars on the roads (read: mega super traffic), and the almost complete lack of drivers following the rules. Many of my friends employed drivers. Unfortunately, that was something not in our budget, and I eventually found that I was actually fine with driving myself around (usually my friends would not get in the car with me driving). I found it easy to just follow the flow of traffic. The average speed in Mexico City must be something between 40km and 60km per hour depending on the general flow, something that my shoe box was very suited for (wouldn't go above 100km/h). In Mexico City I learned to expect the unexpected in traffic, right turns from the left most lane crossing four lanes in the process, or people backing up at high speed on the freeway, and also to do the unexpected myself, such as sticking my hand out the window, to make it clear I was going to push myself in front of the car next to me. Here, however, to me it seems that the traffic is moving far too quickly, I have to keep an eye on the speedometer, which I never had to do in Mexico, be on the look out for the ubiquitous stop signs, be on the turning lane if I wish to turn, signal when I'm changing lanes, and remember to not push myself in front of anyone by force. Also, my best friend, the u-turn, is not as popular here as I would have hoped. 

I hate owning a car for environmental reasons, and I hate the fact that we will most likely have to have have two, if I ever want to leave the house in the next two years. As much as I love Joburg, this is no place for pedestrians, for security reasons naturally, but also for the sheer distances between all the places that are 'just down the road' according to all of the native South Africans. Even my friend, who I call my neighbor, and who lives on the same estate as us, is still two kilometers away. I guess, when there is such an expanse of land, miles and miles of fields even rather close to the heart of the city, no one wants to be too close to their neighbor. Of course, the situation is very different in the former townships, but even in these areas people still live in single family dwellings, and not in apartment buildings. 

Anyhoodles, here I come. Watch out if you see a little silver car with a crazed and bewildered looking blond on the wheel, and just let me pass, even if I'm giving you the windshield wipers.   

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Wine of the Year

I finally (or perhaps already now would be more correct) decided to open a bottle of the wine that Platter's South African Wines 2009 classifies as their Wine of the Year, Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. As promised previously I will now attempt to report on the experience. Keep in mind, that I'm no wine connoisseur, and have never been quite able to understand how words such as 'asphalt', 'openhearted' or 'busty' can be used to describe wine. I also indiscriminately drink all kinds of wines from box to age-old without that much thought to what is going down my throat. I am now attempting to change this, and instead of shameless drunkenness I'm intending to portray my shady pastime as a legit hobby. We'll see if anyone will actually buy it.

According to Platter's South African Wines 2009 the five-star Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 "...delivers resplendently complex cedar/cassis aromas & ripe blackcurrant [sic] flavours, with defining savoury, herbal edge."(p. 331)

I am sorely unable to get much out of this definition. I know what cedars smell like, how black currants taste, the essential definition of 'savoury', and what possibly could be conceived as 'herbal'. I will have to google 'cassis' now.

Cassis is a French liquor, which I obviously have never tasted.

Smelling the wine last night, unfortunately after having a few glasses of Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon (I know I'm a wine heretic), I have to say I was thoroughly unable to smell the pine. And I should know, my country is 'resplendent' with them. To me most wines have a black currant flavor, since to me that is the flavor of concentrated grapes. So, check the black currants. I can say the wine was not particularly sweet, so I guess that is a check for savoury as well. I'll have to think about the herbal a little more when I consume the last remaining bottles.

I get the feeling my reporting is not going very well.

All I can say is that the wine ranks right up there with the best tasting wines I've ever had. It smelled good, tasted nice and smooth, and the four of us, I and three friends, happily shared two bottles of it. I will attempt to find more of it, and yes, I think it is definitely worth it at R224 per bottle at Makro. 

Thank you for bearing with me. I will do better in the future.    

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Shopping for Local Crafts

It has always been extremely easy for me to fall in love with local crafts, be they intricate Mexican day of the dead Catrinas, large (never to be actually worn) Maasai necklaces, Kanga-wraps with Swahili sayings from Tanzania, or Murano glass from Italy. Therefore one of the first points on my to-do list in South Africa was to find a place to shop for local arts and crafts. Finding a local crafts market was actually our mission on the first weekend we ever spent in SA. And, oh boy, what did we find. 

One of my husband's local colleagues packed his family in the car, threw us in the mix, and headed out northwest of the capital, Pretoria, to Hartbeespoort Dam, a beautiful area in its own right with breathtaking views from the dam. However, the area is also home to several big and varied crafts markets. After a short confusion regarding the nature of the market we were headed to - our Afrikaner friends insisted on calling it a 'flea market', but assured me I would find what I was looking for - we arrived at Chameleon Village. At this point in time we were still living out of our suitcases in a hotel room, and my husband wisely advised me to "look, but not buy... yet". Before my visit to this market, it had never occurred to me how much I actually liked traditional drums, beaded animals, woodcarvings of more or less angry looking Africans, spear and shield ornaments, or beaded leather sandals. Also, from what I could see from a distance, carved chairs, headboards, tables and such were also available in the area. It would be easy to add an African touch to our home. In my crafts-crazed state I wasn't even thinking about prices and I could see my husband pale by the minute.

Still, as agreed, and because it would be smart, we only looked that first time and made plans (or at least I did, my husband might have been going over the budget instead). We would be back.

Yesterday, after pretty nigh buying the market dry on our previous visits, we went back for the fourth time, and finally realized how the shopping was to be done. Being from two very 'European' countries, I and my husband are not used to bargaining or anyone trying to rip us off either. I've heard this trait often referred to as having the blue-eyed gene, and I'm pretty sure we both do. In the past, we have happily paid what was asked, or only slightly less, only to be answered by either a puzzled expression, or a big, toothy smile. Yesterday, however, since we were in a hurry, and I was getting extremely annoyed by the sellers' super aggressive sales tactics, I decided to play hardball. To every approaching seller I responded with a very pointed (in my mean voice) "Thank You, just looking", while doing the universal 'stop' with my hands. 

I and my husband were on a mission trying to find presents for our friends in Mexico. We had a list, and we had agreed to only look for specific things for the people on the list (in reality this meant that I ended up with only one new fruit basket for our house). As we found something appropriate for each person, I made it further and further into 'the zone'. I was telling sellers they were "giving me tourist prices" and that I knew "exactly how much this drum is worth". At one point, after telling a seller to "please let me look in peace" (still in my mean voice), I actually told the very same seller that I had just seen a similar item to his and it was going for half his price. To top it off, we finally did several 'walking away because your price is too high' routines, only to find to our amazement that they actually worked.

I'm sure the sellers are still making a profit (if not a superb one), and that I finally acted more the norm than a green-behind-the-ears tourist. I also found that I actually enjoy the game of back and forth bargaining, while also being much more comfortable with touring the market without having ten guys in my face trying to force their wares on me. With this experience in my back pocket, I'm already planning my next shopping trip, since I now know it will be much more of a true South African experience. I'll also be trying to brush up on my local accent. Will that accent be Afrikaans or English is yet to be figured out.     

Saturday, January 03, 2009

'Hiking' in Groenkloof

Some months ago, while leisurely sitting in someone's backyard enjoying a glass (or two) of wine that same someone (and no one is exactly sure who that was) came up with the idea of all of us going hiking together in the Groenkloof nature reserve, situated not far from the country's capital, Pretoria. Naturally, everyone laughed and laughed and laughed, especially us two - the complete city slickers. Granted my native country could seem to exist as pure county side, but I maintain I was born and bred in a city. Also, our little family's previous address was none other than the biggest city in the world, Mexico City. Furthermore, how was hiking to fit into my wine-fueled and relaxed to the extreme lifestyle? As you can imagine I had more than enough reasons as to why any hiking was completely out of the box: I'm overweight, I drink too much, my knees hurt, I burn in the sun, wildlife freaks me out, etc and some more etc...

But... because you always need to say yes to all invitations if you want to make friends, not to mention to make the most of your expat experience, this morning (a Saturday mind you) we got out of bed at 7AM and were soon on our way towards Groenkloof. The ride from our estate does not take long, so before we knew it we were headed up a trail with giant wildebeest hoof prints going the same way as us. There were also quite a few curious, or perhaps put off (or at least they stared at us a lot) ostriches by the trail. These birds are huge, and when there is no fence between you and them somehow they seem to double in size. Or, I'm just a big baby - something that seemed to be the general consensus amongst the others in our hiking group.

Reaching the top of the first hill we actually came across four wildebeest hanging out only 10 meters into the bush by the trail. After ignoring us for the whole of two seconds they took off in a hurry. These creatures also seemed pretty huge. At that point I was happy I was in a big group. A bunch of guinea fowl followed the wildebeest sighting as did five giraffes from quite a distance. Or,  to put it honestly, others in the group saw the giraffes, I on the other hand apparently need glasses.

The group was pretty excited about the giraffes and hoping to spot some zebras as well, so we decided to make a beeline for the next ridge. Without me being fully aware of what a 'beeline' actually entailed, we soon found ourselves cutting through grass higher than any of us and a murky stream of water at the bottom of the valley. Walking through the grass was pretty cool, I have to admit, as was crossing the water had my sneakers only stayed dry, but at the same time this 'hiking' was getting pretty creepy. I'm glad the park does not have a lion population. 

When we finally made it to the foot of the hill where the giraffes had been, they were of course nowhere to be found. The most athletic guy in our group decided we could climb a straight line up the hill, and catch up to the elusive long necks. At this point, the less enthusiastic hikers (read: all of the ladies) thought it was time for a break and some shade. The group split, the guys and the kids sprinted (I'm totally being nice here) up the hill and would call us if there was anything to see. As we enjoyed some shade no call came and we happily yapped and yapped about books and our book club and the usual, such as what to do with a very nasty looking boil in a 13 year old boy's lip, and how hot is the guy who stars in the movie Australia. You know, the usual ladylike stuff. Finally we decided too much time had passed, we had thoroughly exhausted the interesting boil discussion, and decided to call the guys instead.

The call was answered with a whisper, since they guys were watching seven zebras and five giraffes up close, from about 30 meters away (this however might be a case of the catch getting bigger with every story). My husband was too busy taking pictures to call me and later iterated that 'So and so was going to call you', as did all the other guys, with only the 'so and so' changing from comment to comment. So zero zebras and giraffes for me, lucky we still have two years left in the lovely, if somewhat too wild, South Africa. 

Finally, after tramping on and off the trail for some hours without seeing anything more exciting than running guinea fowl and a yellow butterfly, there was nothing else to do except for head back to the picnic area and start a braai. As I've mentioned before, the braai truly is an institution, and can apparently be attached to any activity (I've so far heard of such oxymorons as church braais and Cricket braais). Again the people were awesome, the discussion was interesting (the guys gave their views on the boil issue), and the food was great. Had there been more wine we would still be in Groenkloof. 

Friday, January 02, 2009

On Being Literary

So I recently read the entire Twilight Saga. Yes, all four books. Indeed, the well over a thousand pages. And I did this within a week. 

I tell people I read the books in order to be able to bash them, which is kind of true, but it is also true that I read them because I really wanted to know what happens to Bella and the Cullens. Usually, I pride myself on not reading 'unliterary' material. I like to think I read good books, which at the same time are good literature, and deal with things worth dealing with. Still, I read all of the four books in the series termed 'a gripping vampire love saga'. This title alone would normally be enough to keep me far, far away. In reality, I was actually secretly reading, while my husband was talking to me, and also when I was on the toilet. And I never do the latter. 

Initially I wanted to read the books, because I could see all my American friends listed as reading them on their facebook profiles. Also, South African dstv simply does not compare to the television I had gotten so used to, the Mexican Sky. Thus, I've really been reading a lot in SA. Long story short, when the books hit SA, I bought the first one and after finishing that one in a day, I bought the last three the following day. I actually had to go to two different bookstores to get the last three. Desperate, huh? 

"What is so wrong with these books that she has to gripe about them on her blog?", Edward murmured, or possibly Bella cringed. Repetition, total flatness of the characters, and unimaginative expression aside, my real issue with the saga is that the books are mainly meant for, and widely consumed by teenage girls. Hence, the books are not simple bubblegum for the adult brain, but they are in fact moulding the minds of this often very susceptible, young audience.     

I read some of the Twilight reviews that commented on the books teaching abstaining from premarital sex, and while I think this is not a horrible message to pass onto any teenage girl I severely disagree with the way the books convey women as behaving in their marriages, or any male-female relationships for that matter. I simply hate the fact that a potentially strong, intelligent, self-sufficient, and confident protagonist is made into a cooking, cleaning, clumsy, constantly-in-need-to-be-saved-by-the-men-in-her-life, never-smarter-than-a-man rag doll, who is never satisfied with herself, and doesn't think education is worth anything. This is my problem with the books. This is my problem with me reading these books. The books should immediately incite a snarl or a hiss from me, or at least make me cringe, not read in the toilet. 

I guess this post is me snarling, hissing and cringing. Hope this makes me feel better. Soon.   

Egoli vs. Cape Town

For Christmas we felt the need to abandon the super duper secure compound we call home and flee to the city we had heard so many good things about. Not a bad choice either, Cape Town is amazing and for a short while had me hoping that's where we were making our lives happen instead of the financial and industrial capital of South Africa, Johannesburg.

We had chosen to stay at the Waterfront, the revamped harbor area, at a hotel built into one of the old harbor buildings, and all I have to say is that boutique hotels are totally my thing, regardless of country. Still the Waterfront, the hotel, the awesome restaurants and cafes, those all pale in comparison to how we spent our Christmas in Cape Town.

After hearing about our vacation plans, our friends in Joburg, who originally come from Cape Town (we are yet to meet any people who were actually born in Jozi), immediately planned our four days for us. And on top of that they were in the mother city at the same time with us. This is where our European - and we both come from reaally small and in many ways reaally closed European societies - psyches came into play, and were truly taken by surprise. 

On our arrival we were picked up at the airport and whisked away, via a scenic route and one Table-Mountain-from-the-back photo op stop, to a family Christmas eve lunch at a cozy family restaurant, where our friends had three tables reserved for all of the relatives (and us). Many plates of awesome seafood and multiple glasses of Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc (a lovely quaffer, I'm sure Platter's would say), not to mention a drinking game, later we were finally delivered at our hotel to check in. In our 'Christmassed out' state (in a very good way) all we could do that night was to visit the recommended Waterfront restaurant, Belthazar. Glad we did, they boast 178 different wines by the glass. All of them pretty amazing, and naturally South African. 

Next morning, after having breakfast looking out over the water at Table Mountain, we had a little time to tour the exciting waterfront (and get a wheat grass shot for the slight hang over - I had to try more than one wine at Belthazar) before we were again picked up by our lovely and extremely hospitable friends for the official Christmas Lunch. I never knew having Christmas by the pool drinking local sparkling wine (everyone here calls it champagne, but being European I have to respect the rules), while kids are jumping in and out of the pool, could be so much fun. We are glad to have witnessed something real instead of having to settle only for the touristy thing. This was also the first time ever I tasted gammon (and still don't know exactly what it is) and flaming Christmas pudding with custard. Good times.

As much fun as Christmas eve and day were more was still to come. Early next morning we started on our real mission - the wine route. If this blog was entirely about wines this post would have been miles long. Our first stop was Delheim, where we took the tour of the vineyard, tasted about nine glasses of manna (except for the icky sweet rosé), and ended up with three boxes of wine in the trunk of the car. Amazingly these bottles are still uncorked and will be going on my (so far only planned, not executed) wine rack/ aging thingy once I get it standing. I can recommend the Delheim Grand Reserve and their Vera Cruz range shiraz and remind everyone that if you plan on tasting nine glasses of wine, and are unable as me and my friends are, to spit out this precious liquid, you should get the undoubtedly tasty Delheim cheese platter to avoid getting thoroughly sloshed at your first stop. This is, of course me telling you this after the fact and you can imagine what really happened...

Our next stop was Kanonkop. According to Platter's Wines of South Africa, this winery is the winery of the year and also produced the wine of the year, Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. Needless to say their (slightly pathetic and very overpriced) cheese platter came too late for us, but we still tasted four more or less amazing reds. The wine of the year was sold out (I have since managed to get hold of four bottles, still uncorked, will report later), but we tasted the 2005 equivalent. Fruity, yet personally I wasn't that excited.

In our search for something more to eat (and naturally also to drink) we drove down to Spier. I have to admit their wines have generally been good, but, man, what a circus that place is. We parked the car, walked to the restaurant, saw the queues and the masses, ran right back to the car, and sped away. Too touristy is just too touristy. I have later learned that Spier is the most visited tourist attraction in South Africa. I sure do believe that.

At three in the afternoon, after having consumed 13 glasses of wine (except for our poor, water- drinking, designated driver, my husband) we had still found nothing more to eat than the cheese at Kanonkop. We saw signs by the roadside (never a good thing) and decided to visit Asara. What a surprise! Their restaurant was amazing, the setting incredible and the view left me at a loss for words. Their wines weren't that exciting, but next time I'm in Cape Town this is the place I want to stay at. I'm sure the price is not the most affordable, but based on our visit I'm pretty sure it would be worth it. 

I never imagined being this interested in wines, apart from how much alcohol was in them, and how much they cost me, but South Africa might just make a wine aficionado of me yet. As lovely as Cape Town was, with its Waterfront, Camps bay, Hout Bay, Muizenberg, Table Mountain, District Six and so much more, my best memories are of our deeply South African Christmas with our cool friends, as well as touring the wine route with them. I'm happy our friends are here in Jozi on the same estate as us, but I can't help wondering whether vines really can't survive around Joburg. All I'm asking is for a couple of vinyards in Egoli, not even for that many.