Saturday, February 28, 2009

Getting some exercise in the beautiful Pretoria

I just participated in a marathon.

Really I did.

Well, actually it really was a marathon, the Deloitte Pretoria Marathon 2009 to be exact, but what I had signed up for (in the drunken stupor of last weekend's braai) was to walk the first leg of the race, i.e. the first 10 kilometers. I and my friends managed to do this in 1 hour and 45 minutes, which I consider an achievement and will cherish the medal I received for all eternity. Actually I think I'll be wearing it for the next couple of weeks. It's red and gold, so it goes with a lot of my outfits.  

I didn't even really get out of breath, which was the real achievement. The five of us, all women, had a lot fun chatting as we walked and the kilometers just disappeared. Very cool. And at the finish line awaited the photo-happy hubby snapping pictures of the sweaty me like there was no tomorrow (perhaps he was thrown by the sudden motivation in me to do something like a 10k race, he still seems rather baffled) to show the future generations and probably everyone on facebook that yes, occasionally, I do take up something that does not involve alcohol in any way. 

However, the real cool thing about this race was not the sweating, the incriminating photos, honking angry motorists (to whom we waved with smiles on our faces), smiling metro policemen, the snap-happy hubby, or the guy who ran the 10 kilometers in sloppies (flip flops), but the chance to walk in the beautiful neighborhoods of Pretoria. I hadn't realized how long it has been since I have had the opportunity to just walk around, peer into other people's houses and yards, and enjoy the streets lined with jacaranda trees. I wish they had been in bloom. That would have totally made my day. 

As we finished and the man whose face I'll always think of with a camera in front or near it was running around "getting all the angles", we gathered a bunch of leaflets for other races. I'm really looking forward to more of these with the same excellent company at my side, as well as to seeing more of South Africa in this most organic of ways - moving my two quirky-sneaker clad feet. 

Points to SA for getting me off my behind! 


Thursday, February 26, 2009

The battle of the bricks

Or actually there really is no battle. 

Brick number 1, or the 'bad brick'

I have owned Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts for quite a while now, and have been wading through it at an uncommonly slow pace. It just seems that every time I pick it up it keeps getting worse. I am on page 200-something and the book is more than 900 pages. This might just be one of the very few books I will let go and happily never look back (unless I decide for some reason to read my own blog).

So what gives? Well, what some people refer to as 'one line philosophical nuggets' in this text drive me up the wall with their utter dimwittedness, or with the alarming rate at which the characters keep dropping these 'pseudo-philosophical tidbits'. And these are characters that are flat, stereotypical caricatures, the worst of which is the self-aggrandizing narrator - the alter ego of the author. The book is supposedly based on the author's exploits after fleeing the Australian legal system, which just brings everything further down a few billion notches for me. Roberts didn't even make this stuff up. He just churned out an embellished account of what happened in extremely bad prose. Be warned, if you do not like to rant about bad books leave this one on the shelf. 

On Goodreads, a book-enthusiasts' networking site, one reader, Paula, had this to say on Roberts' apparent need to tell instead of showing the reader: 

"Either Roberts doesn't trust his own writing capabilities and has to explain everything, in which case he is a bad author, or he doesn't trust his audience to draw their own conclusions, in which case he is a bad author."

Another reader, Jack, had this brilliant 'nugget' to drop about this 'book':

"It's only use is as a barometer: view anyone who enjoyed this with suspicion." 

As 'judge your neighbor by the books he or she reads' pretty much sums up my personal life philosophy, I could not have said it better myself.

Brick number 2, or the 'best brick ever'

I wonder why I have constantly shied away from Tolstoy's work. I remember reading Anna Karenina as a young girl, but the only thing that seems to have stuck from then is the plot. The reason for this could be that I was reading the book in Finnish, which is never a good idea if an option in any of the major languages is available. Finnish is a tough language, and unfortunately most 'non-Finnish' sentiments aren't easily expressed in this tongue. I know this as I fancied myself a future translator during the first half of my varied university career, also known as 'What will I ever do with my life' - the looong battle with education. None of my then classmates became prose translators and as far as I know none of them are reading books in Finnish, unless they were originally written in that language.

But I digress. I am currently a little under 200 pages into Tolstoy's War and Peace and I can't help but gush. This 1455 page (Signet Classics edition) book (I want to use a grander word. Is there one?) will very likely turn out to be the greatest book I have ever had the pleasure of reading. And it is translated from the original Russian, which just adds another mind blowing element to the text. It almost seems as if Tolstoy had in fact been writing in English. The book positively transcends the language barriers and captures the reader, even one who has no real understanding of (or possibly even interest in) 19th century Russia. Oh, gush, gush, and some more gush and glowing words. 

However, the truth with writing about this book is that there really isn't anything to add. This epic is part of the global literary canon and possibly the best novel ever written. The only thing left to say is that I pity the person who does not get the chance to read this book in their lifetime. 

I'm willing to lend out my copy once I'm done, which I suspect won't take that long. So expect a 'day-after-Christmas' post anytime soon, since that is definitely how I will be feeling when I'm done.   

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is it me after all? Maid Chronicles, part 'too many to keep track'

I am again on the verge of firing the maid. 

However, I am beginning to think that perhaps the problem is me, and that I have, during our care-free times as professional expatriates, become one of the dragon-ladies I used to abhor. 

You know what I'm on about. You know the type. These 'mistresses of the manor' shuttle around in their chauffeured cars, and sport fancy sunglasses, Burberry or Louis Vuitton handbags, Roberto Cavalli something or other, alongside meticulously coiffed heads of hair, and meet their friends for coffee to discuss the completely useless idiot they hired to drive their car, clean their house, tend to their garden, or take care of their offspring, and whom they probably left cowering in the car, at the house or in the garage crying about the horror that is this poor person's job.

I hate those women. Could I be one of them? 

I don't have a chauffeur, I don't own a single loud hand bag, my sunglasses on average cost about $10 USD, I don't frequent Roberto Cavalli boutiques, and my hair points every which way, since my hair dryer is not located near a mirror. Still, I just found myself having a 'talk' with the maid, emphasizing the importance of respect for our things and the house, and how she should not drop the handle of the vacuum cleaner to the floor when she turns the thing off. And following this monologue, I had the distinct urge to complain to someone about her.

I just might be one of those women. Geez, why couldn't my initiation into this society come with the trappings too? Where are my chauffeur, coiffeur, Prada, Cucci, and Cavalli???

Again, not asking much. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Irate Rich responds


Now, dear readers, you all remember my previous post on South African English. The debate continues. This is Rich's reply. You make of it what you will.

Rich's comments are in red.  

What a total misrepresentation of what I said. I am believing you should be a reporter, that because you twist the facts and put it in print (-:
How can I now defend and correct?
You guys are coming around to my house tonight and I should be at the shops to prepare, but I thought this response is very important, so if I am not ready tonight, you know why (-:
Please don't pick on my spelling. The simple truth is I CANNOT SPELL (-:
See my comments below

One of our dear friends here in SA refuses to believe that there is such a thing as South African English. He maintains that he speaks 'the Queen's English' (feel the Queen cringe), She should be so lucky, the old bag and that I speak wrong, i.e. American English. This post is for him.

I was not referring to your English but to the Yanks. Your English is very delicious (-:

According to Peter Trudgill and Jean Hannah (International English, 4th Edition, Arnold Publishers, 2002, p. 4 & 115) South African English (SAfEng) is a recognized, as well as a major variety of English, a 'dialect' differing in both grammar and vocabulary, Dialect perhaps, but grammatically, even though I may often falter, no. Just because I may at times be grammatically incorrect does not make it correct! rather than an 'accent' only differing in pronunciation (the Queen's English incidentally only refers to pronunciation). The words only found in SAfEng, such as stoep (a porch or a veranda) are not 'wrong' but simply different. The word robot in SAfEng signifies a traffic light, and that is just fine. The word "stoep" is NOT English, not SAfEng or any other form of English. It is an Afrikaans word and could then perhaps be regarded as slang if used in a sentence. A porch is a porch.

Perhaps the most famous linguist ever, Ferdinand de Saussure, once said "Time changes all things: there is no reason why language should escape this universal law" (Saussure in Jean Aitchison, Language Change - Progress or Decay? Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 4). Languages change and evolve, they are never stationary. Yes, rules apply to facilitate understanding, but change still constantly occurs, and has always done so. The differences between the specific variants, in our case SAfEng, stem from changes to the variant since settlement in the particular territory, but also from changes in the original variant, in our case British English (EngEng). (Trudgill and Hannah, 2002, p. 6-8) Furthermore contact with other languages can influence a variant. In South Africa English came into and still remains in contact with several different Bantu languages such as Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho and Tswana, as well as the Boer language Afrikaans. Even Hindi and Tamil might have had a hand in the change game. (Ibid, p. 27-28) Again these influences incorporated, are incorporated into our language as "slang" in order to communicate more effectively or to emphasise certain things into a local perspective, but do not influence what is correct. These words would not be used in formal correspondence or in business communications. There the dear Queen and our formal educational influence would apply.

As previously mentioned the differences between SAfEng and EngEng reach beyond differences in pronunciation onto differences in grammar and vocabulary. Grammatical differences between SAfEng and EngEng appear to be fewer than between Australian- and New Zealand English and EngEng (Ibid, p. 29), which would explain why our friend is so adamant that he speaks like the Queen of England (yes, pun intended). However, there are recognized (recogniSed not recogniZed) differences, such as the replacement of adjective + of + participle structure with an adjective + infinitive structure, as in instead of saying 'He is capable of doing many things at once', saying 'He is capable to do many things at once' (Ibid, p. 30). What a total misrepresentation of the truth!! English speaking SA's do NOT speak like this. The people whose first language is Afrikaans speak like this. The reason for this: That is the grammatical way of structuring your sentence in Afrikaans and they attempt making a direct word for word translation. Unfortunately the English SA's sometimes stoop very low and even make fun of them. For this I am embarrassed. From personal experience, I can say that this is not a grammatical glitch only in some speech, but does in fact occur quite often, and also in educated speech. NONSENSE - Only with Afrikaans speaking South African's speaking English. Granted there are a lot of them (-:

SAfEng vocabulary has additions from several other languages spoken within South Africa. From Zulu Trudgill and Hannah (p. 30) list the words impi  and indaba meaning 'African warrior band' and 'conference' respectively not additions to our language, these are not English. I have to admit though that this is my first introduction to both words. I have heard ubuntu, meaning hospitality many times, but its origins are not found in any one specific language, but in the Bantu languages in general. Afrikaans is a language that has, in my opinion, had a very strong influence on SAfEng and continues to do so, as many of the South Africans who speak English as their second language speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue (or maybe it is just the crowd I hang out with. Again I think I need some black friends). Of adopted Afrikaans words Trudgill and Hannah (p. 30) mention dorp meaning 'village', kraal meaning 'African village', sjambok meaning 'whip', and veld meaning 'flat, open country'. These words are all familiar to me, only after half a year in the country. Still, don't think that I am a weirdo or something, sjambok figures very strongly in all of the apartheid-related literature I have been consuming. According to Trudgill and Hannah (p.30) the differences found within the formal English vocabulary are not many, but there are differences. They mention such words as bioscope for cinema, location for (Black) ghetto, reference book for identity document, and of course robot for a traffic light. 

None of the above mentioned words are English. We live in a country with 11 different official languages, so you cannot assume every word you hear is a variant of SA English. In fact none of the above words are English. Please also refer to some of my comments above.

Trudgill and Hannah never venture as far as looking at the potential of Black South African English as a specific variant, even though they do separate American Black Vernacular English as a vernacular in its own right (Ibid, p. 112). Rodrik Wade of University of Natal department of linguistics' article on this question makes a compelling argument and very interesting reading though, especially, if you are as much of a language nerd as I seem to be. Wade argues that Black South African English should be considered a distinctive 'new' English, and as such could have an impact on the current South African English.  Wade is a moron (-:

See Richard, change is inevitable. Even Queen Elisabeth does not speak the same way Queen Victoria did.

As an example of grammatically incorrect "American" English. If such a thing even exists, it's just that they cannot speak correct English?

I did so good ??????
I did so well !!!!!


Interesting stuff.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

South African English - an educated rant in honor of Rich.

One of our dear friends here in SA refuses to believe that there is such a thing as South African English. He maintains that he speaks 'the Queen's English' (feel the Queen cringe), and that I speak wrong, i.e. American English. This post is for him.

Being a total literature and language nerd this post has been brewing for a while, but I have had to wait until I actually received all of my fancy reference material. Some of it was unfortunately a bit bent and moldy, but I believe the facts still apply. 

According to Peter Trudgill and Jean Hannah (International English, 4th Edition, Arnold Publishers, 2002, p. 4 & 115) South African English (SAfEng) is a recognized, as well as a major variety of English, a 'dialect' differing in both grammar and vocabulary, rather than an 'accent' only differing in pronunciation (the Queen's English incidentally only refers to pronunciation). The words only found in SAfEng, such as stoep (a porch or a veranda) are not 'wrong' but simply different. The word robot in SAfEng signifies a traffic light, and that is just fine. 

Perhaps the most famous linguist ever, Ferdinand de Saussure once said "Time changes all things: there is no reason why language should escape this universal law" (Saussure in Jean Aitchison, Language Change - Progress or Decay? Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 4). Languages change and evolve, they are never stationary. Yes, rules apply to facilitate understanding, but change still constantly occurs, and has always done so. The differences between the specific variants, in our case SAfEng, stem from changes to the variant since settlement in the particular territory, but also from changes in the original variant, in our case British English (EngEng). (Trudgill and Hannah, 2002, p. 6-8) Furthermore contact with other languages can influence a variant. In South Africa English came into and still remains in contact with several different Bantu languages, such as Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho and Tswana, as well as the Boer language Afrikaans. Even Hindi and Tamil might have had a hand in the change game. (Ibid, p. 27-28) 

As previously mentioned the differences between SAfEng and EngEng reach beyond differences in pronunciation onto differences in grammar and vocabulary. Grammatical differences between SAfEng and EngEng appear to be fewer than between Australian- and New Zealand English and EngEng (Ibid, p. 29), which would explain why our friend is so adamant that he speaks like the Queen of England (yes, pun intended). However, there are recognized differences, such as the replacement of adjective + of + participle structure with an adjective + infinitive structure, as in instead of saying 'He is capable of doing many things at once', saying 'He is capable to do many things at once' (Ibid, p. 30). From personal experience, I can say that this is not a grammatical glitch only in some speech, but does in fact occur quite often, and also in educated speech.   

SAfEng vocabulary has additions from several other languages spoken within South Africa. From Zulu Trudgill and Hannah (p. 30) list the words impi  and indaba meaning 'African warrior band' and 'conference' respectively. I have to admit though that this is my first introduction to both words. I have heard ubuntu meaning hospitality many times, but its origins are not found in any one specific language, but in the Bantu languages in general. Afrikaans is a language that has, in my opinion, had a very strong influence on SAfEng and continues to do so, as many of the South Africans who speak English as their second language speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue (or maybe it is just the crowd I hang out with. Again I think I need some black friends). Of adopted Afrikaans words Trudgill and Hannah (p. 30) mention dorp meaning 'village', kraal meaning 'African village', sjambok meaning 'whip', and veld meaning 'flat, open country'. These words are all familiar to me, only after half a year in the country. Still, don't think that I am a weirdo or something, sjambok figures very strongly in all of the apartheid-related literature I have been consuming. According to Trudgill and Hannah (p.30) the differences found within the formal English vocabulary are not many, but there are differences. They mention such words as bioscope for cinema, location for (Black) ghetto, reference book for identity document, and of course robot for a traffic light. 
   
Trudgill and Hannah never venture as far as looking at the potential of Black South African English as a specific variant, even though they do separate American Black Vernacular English as a vernacular in its own right (Ibid, p. 112). Rodrik Wade of University of Natal department of linguistics' article on this question makes a compelling argument and very interesting reading though, especially, if you are as much of a language nerd as I seem to be. Wade argues that Black South African English should be considered a distinctive 'new' English, and as such could have an impact on the current South African English. 

See Richard, change is inevitable. Even Queen Elisabeth does not speak the same way Queen Victoria did.

Interesting stuff.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The 'beauty' of uneventfulness

There is absolutely nothing going on. 

For a person who thrives on a certain amount of drama that is a really bad thing. The highlight of today has been finding maggots in the bottom of the trash can and the subsequent 'Dooming' of them. 

I need a deadline. I function well on deadlines. I kind of have a deadline for unpacking, since we are getting visitors for dinner on Friday, but I find it very hard to experience house work as something so important that it deserves a deadline. My apologies to all of you housewives who feel differently, but I just don't have that kind of domesticity in me. 

Someone give me an interesting task and a deadline. Please (and dear hubby, no, finding out what to eat for the next two weeks and shopping for it is not an interesting task, and neither is filling out the insurance claim).  

Monday, February 16, 2009

Maid Chronicles. Part gazillion and six and other random thoughts

The maid agency (and I use this term very loosely) finally got back to me, after I expressly told them I wanted my money back. The nice person that I am (stop laughing!), I had to give them one more chance, and here I am today breaking in a new maid. This one actually does speak English, and lo and behold, so far seems to know the difference between a 'rag', and a 'feather duster', or 'mop' and 'vacuum cleaner'. Better yet, she seems to know what 'upstairs' means, but I don't want to fall in love yet. Things can still go wrong. Ever since Mexico I have been experiencing very bad maid karma, so I'm not counting my eggs just yet. Maybe I should go to a sangoma, to see about that curse.

Just imagine:

"May you be forced to live the rest of your days in relative luxury, but plagued by a maid who throws out half empty tooth paste tubes, washes your shower with your nice towel, harangues you with questions about your seeming barrenness, and uses up all of your sugar."

Wow, what a mean curse. That will totally screw up my life.   

On a happier, and possibly less cursed, note I was reminded today of the lovely time we spent in Cape Town over Christmas by a friend who is planning a visit all the way here to SA from the cold North, also known as the Land of Santa. No, that is not the North Pole for you Americans, or even Greenland for you Danes. I am talking about Finland, the country where all of London flies to every December to gawk at a fat guy in a red suit, whose English is suspiciously good for a true Finn. 

Whoa, where did my patriotism disappear to?

Anyhow, my friend is planning to stay a few days here in Joburg before jetting off to Cape Town, because, to be totally honest, that is where the action is. She'll want to see some giraffes, zebra and if possible a couple of lions and elephants too, but let's face it, she'll LOVE touring the restaurants in the Cape Town Waterfront, and tasting the different South African wines. Not that there aren't good restaurants here in Jozi, but you simply can't beat the coastal experience of CT. Like one of our local friends remarked of Bloemfontein (in Sotho Mangaung), an inland town, and it's 'one horse town' -ishness, she loves Bloemfontein's waterfront, meaning that without the water there really isn't that much to a town in SA. 

South African wonders and sights are definitely in the wild, and missing the towns is usually not a great loss, especially if one has been to such city destinations as New York, Paris, Athens, San Francisco, Taipei, Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, or Mexico City. Still, nothing beats seeing a wild animal in the actual wild, without bars and nets obscuring the view and without the tiny voice in the back of your mind that is screaming at you about the size of the cage, the condition of the animal's fur, its erratic, caged behavior, and whether it has water or not. Animals in the wild are fierce, and truly demand your respect and awe. Wild is the true pull of Africa. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bizi, bizi, bizi.

By popular demand (i.e. the hubby who knows what's going on anyways, so what's up with that?) I'm posting an update on the current goings on. 

The short story: 
Our stuff arrived. Some of it was broken. Nothing was missing. I'm still unpacking. I fired the maid. I am battling the agency who placed the maid with me. I am picking up my adoptive brothers from school and taking them to all sorts of practice this and next week. We haven't cooked ourselves dinner once this week, but are living on Mickey D's, which is a very questionable solution to hunger pangs.

The long story:
As the movers finally arrived on Monday they did so three and a half hours late, and as usual, in a rather unapologetic mood. The much talked about 'gear' to be used to haul two double beds, four bookshelves, three desks and other assorted heavy items upstairs over the balcony railing turned out to be two pieces of rope. Pause here and ponder this. I sure did. As expected even ten guys in their (more or less) prime cannot lift a desk made out of solid wood over a railing at least 4 meters off the ground, even if they try to stand on their tippytoes.

As for the damages. Well, I will not go into it, since the issue just makes me sad and want to go on a rant about respect for other people's possessions that equal their homes when they are living the nomadic life. I'll save that for another dry season. On the plus side, I uncovered quite a few items of clothing and pairs of shoes I do not remember owning. The customs only take stuff, they don't put any new stuff in, right? I like the Vagabond pumps. A lot! 

As the movers had rid all of the bigger items of their several layers of cardboard and and such, after I'd had a good swear at whoever was close to me, and after the solid wood desk was finally upstairs (I don't want to know how), the boss of the crew approached me and suggested that "perhaps madam would want to unpack all of the smaller items herself." I looked at my watch, and funny enough, it was nearly four o'clock. Hmmm. 'Full unpacking service' my behind! I would not want anyone else but me handling my underwear either, but as every single stupid fork is packed in at least two pieces of paper it takes quite a while to unpack everything. I'm still at it, and no longer can discern the light at the end of the tunnel. It is all walls to me.

Onto a different topic: The maid chronicles. This is part gazillion and five, at least according to my highly complex filing system (five follows four, etc). I fired the maid who wore the turban. In the end it became painfully obvious that her English was practically nonexistent, and by "yes, I understand," she meant "I have no idea what you are saying lady, but I'll potter off and try to look like I'm doing something, and then I think I'll go and ruin some of your good towels by pouring bleach on them and cleaning the shower with them. And I'll do all this after eating two loaves of bread and two tins of mackerels." I had to let her go, which was a 15 minute discussion, because she did not understand what I was saying. 

I had found this maid through an agency called A1 Domestics. The person in need of a domestic pays a one off placement fee and the agency sends someone, who supposedly has references and meets your requirements (my only requirement was that the person spoke English) to work for you. There is a 30 day guarantee, during which time they will send someone else, if you are not satisfied. Sounds like a good deal, eh? I thought so too.

Well, the truth is an uglier being. I have now called and e-mailed the agency several times and none of the "this and this person will call you back," have come true yet. I' don't even want a replacement anymore, I just want my placement fee back, but am starting to suspect foul play. Points deducted from South Africa, and more stories for the file labeled gullible expats on the loose

The happiest times I have had this week have been spent hanging out with my South African adoptive brothers. While their mother is having surgery and their dad is working his heart out, I have been roped into making sure they do their homework (my math limit is third grade, Shame!), they show up at practice (with or without the correct gear. Note to self: for water polo take a towel), and every once in a while eat something. If I knew my kids would turn out like these boys, I would maybe even have some, at some point, like sometime in the future, distant future. They even like my driving, even though I almost hit the high curb while trying to open the window. These boys are truly cool.  

Now I'm off to my never ending unpacking task, before I go and pick up the boys and attempt to woo them to my cooking with pancakes. Did someone say 'Fire hazard'?    

Monday, February 09, 2009

File in: Crap service providers

I know, believe me I know, this blog is supposed to be about positive stuff that happens and that we make happen in South Africa. But sometimes you get slapped in the face so many times that it becomes very hard to turn the other cheek, at least without ranting a bit. And you all know by now how much I like to rant, hey?

It is now 9:40AM and I and my husband are sitting on the kitchen counter awaiting our stuff, the container that holds it, and a crew of five movers to arrive. They were supposed to be here at 8AM. 

20 minutes ago, after several attempts, my husband finally got through to the company in charge of our move in this end, Elliot International, and was told that they were actually having a problem with their transportation and that the container hasn't even left yet. WTF?!?! So now we are waiting for a crew with broken limbs, since none of them was able to pick up the phone at 8AM to tell us that they were having a problem. 

A delay of couple of hours (if indeed this is what it will remain as) might not seem like a huge thing, but let's face the facts: We arrived in SA a whopping five, yes 5, months ago. Try living out of two suitcases (24kg each) for more than a couple of months and you get the frustration, especially when one of the suitcases also contains the wedding album, important papers and obscene amount of not even so valuable, but too shiny to pass as junk, jewelry. And, I will not even go into the joys of an existence amidst smelly rented furniture. Also, If this was the first and only cock-up of the said company, I would most certainly not be ranting like this (I know what you're all thinking, but I like to consider myself as patient. Stop laughing!). However, this company's, whose relocation services my husband's company also forced on us, track record with us is severely less than flattering, and we have had it up to here - me holding my hand way above my head - with this thing they insist on calling service. I hate to think how much money my husband's company is throwing at them for this show of incompetence.   

The really scary part of this is that I am not even that anal about stuff like this. Mexico taught me many lessons in patience and trust, like when I spent several months (not making this up) waiting for the dishwasher repair guy, so sadly, I am picking my battles, and not getting worked up by the small stuff. I hate to think of the stink the me from five years ago would have caused over this.

No sign of furniture yet.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Good bye smelly rented furniture, hope to never see you again!

The smelly rented furniture and other items of that nature are finally on their way to being the sore spots of someone else's decor. No more India-inspired, gold and burgundy dining room chairs. No more couches that have more different colors on them than I care to count, and most importantly no more bed with a very likely bedbug infestation. Good bye to itchy bites. Yes, I will drink to that later today as I'm hanging out with the most awesomest, coolest South Africanos to date. 

Who would have thought that people would actually open their home to us bedless folks, while the pest guy attempts to rid us of the aforementioned bedbug-problem. Thank you from the bottom of our heart guys! You are the greatest. Virtual hug.   

Our own stuff is set to arrive on Monday. Happy to be expanding my wardrobe, yet fearful of what has been broken, and what has been stolen this time around...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A serious talk with Mama Africa

I might just have to take back what I said previously about having found a country where I never have to wear socks. 

South Africa, I'm taking away some of the points I have given you. It is inhumanely cold right now, and the water coming down from the skies every time I dare to step out of the door is just really unfair, and stripping away some of the love I have for you. Don't get me wrong, I love the frequent thunderstorm shows, just not when I'm trying to sleep, or actually have to go somewhere. South Africa, my husband's hogging my car, so I have to walk. I am refusing to buy an umbrella, while all of mine sail on the Atlantic!

Mama, I am giving you a chance now. Like I said to the first maid: "This is your choice. Either you want to work for me or you don't. Prove to me that you want to continue our relationship." South Africa, stop mooning me and be my friend again. Remind me why I love you. 

Also, South Africa, while I'm at it. Please remove the bedbugs (deemed as such after an entire morning of googling bites, manifestations and such), and please never plague us with such frightening things again. Still, I understand you might not be responsible for them, and I should perhaps point my accusing finger to where everyone else's fingers are also pointing: the government. And that would be an entirely different post.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The maid chronicles. Part gazillion and four

I have a new maid (because), whom I immediately fell in love with because she was wearing a turban, and so far things are going like this:

After me explaining to her that we don't eat bread and I'm only buying it for her to eat.

Maid: Why you not eat bread?!?!? I eat bread ALL the time. Potatoes too. What you eat if you not eat bread?

Me (a little defensive): Well..., we eat meat, fish, vegetables and things. You know, we're not from here (if she only knew that bread and potatoes are all Finns ever eat, or at least did when I was a kid). 

Maid: Vegetable, that is good, but pork... You eat pork?

Me: Yes... yeah... Yes.

Maid: Porridge, you not eat porridge?

Me: Well. No. We don't eat wheat.

Maid: ?????

Me: We don't eat flour, you know flour? (making a sorry attempt at mimicking baking, I hope). Or mealie meal either.

Maid lets out a huge laugh.

Me: ?????

Maid: I eat chicken. I only eat chicken. I no eat cow, not pork, not nothing. Porridge, potatoes. I peel potatoes, put cream and cheese. Very good.

Me: Oh, that sounds nice (fake smile). You know, we're not from here (shrug).

Maid lets out another huge laugh and I escape to something reeeaaalllly interesting on the computer, that I need to ponder and frown at.

About an hour later as I'm still expertly frowning at the computer and the maid is preparing her lunch.

Maid: When you shop you buy me fish and beef.

Me: Huh?

Maid: Fish Lucky Star and beef. I write down?

Me: Ohm... Yes, please, yes. You mean beef, like raw or like to put on bread?

Maid: Yes, raw. I eat bread and Lucky Star or beef and bread. Next time you shop you buy. 

Me: Ohm... Okay.

Now what just happened?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Cocoon life

As I've previously mentioned nothing bad has happened to us here in South Africa. That is, apart from being ripped off by a devious hotel (do not stay at the Protea Waterfront in Centurion, I tell you) where they make you pay for a suite, but put you in an ordinary room and then as a goodwill gesture, because the internet is not working, 'upgrade' you to a better room (this also taught the hubby to read all documents properly...). Some of the staff was nice though, but truly gave us oodles of insight into the various meanings of the phrase we have already come somewhat too used to: 'I'll call you right back madam/sir'. Kind of like the meanings of 'ahorita' (in a little while, meaning anything from 2 seconds to in a couple of years) in Mexico. 

Anyhow, nothing bad has happened was and is  the starting point of my post (I just enjoy random rants). We are hitting the half year mark in a short time, our stuff still isn't here (another day, another rant), but we have been very fortunate and really have never come closer to violence or any such thing than hearing about it from our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. There was that police operation gone awry near where our friends run  their business, and some people got killed (we think the bad guys), another friends' house has now been burgled quite a few times in the past year, my husband's colleague's sister in law was shot and killed in a carjacking turned nasty, and literally every single person we have met so far has at some point had some sort of unwanted visitor in their house, had their cellphone stolen at gunpoint, or endured an attempt at some sort of check fraud. Unfortunate but true. 

We have listened to all of the stories and the warnings (even Lonely Planet says to talk to the locals about security) and really tried to take from them what we can, so that we could avoid something similar happening to us: we live in a secure neighborhood, lock the car doors while driving, do the infamous 360ยบ at every stop light, keep walking outside to a minimum, don't blindly follow the GPS, and definitely don't flaunt what we have. I mean, I drive a tiny Daihatsu, and regularly look like a hobo. So far, we are good, but we are also beginning to feel like our caution might just be getting the better of us. I wonder if this caution isn't keeping us from properly experiencing South Africa? Are we living the kind of cocoon life, I used to make fun of in Mexico? 

I have been to Soweto, which was truly an awesome experience (also because I was there with someone who actually lives there), and that is more than a lot of the locals round our way can say. I have been to downtown Jo'burg - granted because of the GPS (which seems to be on crack sometimes) and completely by accident - which again is not something people from the security estates normally include in their day. I really hope the inner city facelift succeeds, since it is the kind of environment I would frequent, if it was safer. But, I still can't help feeling I'm missing out on some of the sides of the rainbow nation

We have a great bunch of friends, who love showing us the good sides of South Africa and telling us about the not so good, but I am also realizing that this group we love seems awfully pale. I can't help but wonder how our experience would change if we actually made some friends with other kinds of backgrounds. 

Argh, to hell with being politically correct. I think we should make some black friends.

Anyone?

Some light filing

I, the spoiled-rotten expat wife, have actually been working today (Stop gasping, it could happen!). Only half of the day, and I'm not getting paid, but I still consider my 5 hours in the office proper toil. Today I have been filing like there is no tomorrow, even though there is a tomorrow, since I'm only halfway through the Ds.

The filing in itself is not very exciting, and using the heavy-duty hole punch is most certainly resulting in a pinched nerve somewhere in my back/neck area, but immersing myself in a real South African office environment and observing the dynamics in this office has been a most intriguing exercise. Someone other than myself or the hubby actually made my coffee today. This was a little weird, yet it thoroughly confirmed my suspicion that in an office environment I would definitely have to have a secretary or brave constant melt-downs. I think I'm just too scattered to ever do anything real. Management here I come ;o) 

Still, I'm on a very friendly terms with the bosses - hence my volunteering to help with the time-consuming (as well as life-force depleting) task that is filing - so I can't really get into the mix, but having to use a hole punch instead of your brain certainly leaves your ears and eyes hungry for whatever is happening in the office. Lucky for me, as the big boss also remarked today, "there is always something going on." I really hope though, for his sake, that less will go on and he can take some time off. Stress central.

Without getting into detail (and this blog really is supposed to be about moi, not office gossip), I am starting to realize how much South African culture reminds me of Mexico. Here too modernity co-exists, or even intertwines, with ancient traditions and beliefs. In SA one might encounter a computer savvy sangoma, whereas in Mexico one could hire a lawyer who worships Saint Death. In northern Europe most people consider acupuncture as out of the norm.

I love the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition, perhaps I should schedule a visit to a sangoma as well, just to, you know, find out if anyone's put a curse on me. With WikiWorldBook I can find out if someone googles me, why not this?