Friday, September 30, 2005

How to speak "Saff Effriken"

So what else do you need to know about language, and talking, and listening here?

Well! One of the charming conversational gambits is that whenever you complete a transaction at a store, and say, “Thank you,” the shopgirl will smile this huge gorgeous smile at you, and say, “Pleasure”. Or even “Mah plih-zhah” It seems so friendly and, well, pleasurable. (And I don’t have any idea what guys are thinking when they get this response!) But this country seems like a place made to be pleasant. The weather is fabulous, the sun is shining, and flowers are lush and bountiful.

I’m still having some trouble actually understanding what people are saying, though. It’s embarrassing, really, like when I first got to England. You have to ask everyone to repeat everything two and three times. And then you’re still at sea, because you’ve now heard the words, but you don’t have any context in which to evaluate them.

I bought some airtime for my pay as you go South African phone, and the guy had to ask me three times how many Rands I wanted to purchase. Then I was so flustered, that when he asked me if I knew how to put it into the phone, I just said, “Yes.” Walked out of the store, and thought, “Duh, you silly prat, you don’t have the first idea!” So I went back into the store and said, “I’m sorry, but I absolutely have NO idea how to do this. I don’t know what I was thinking.” The kid just laughed and did it for me.

Anyway, here I have developed a useful little chart, for pronunciation and translation purposes. But first, some examples.

Listen carefully:

the vowel sounds ....
lights = lahhhhts
pleasure = plih zhah
bed= bayed (like, “bayed at the moon”)
you = well, it’s “you”... oddly, the same....
have = hehv

i = a
e = i ... or perhaps an “a” sound
u = oo
a = e
o = well, jury is out on this one...

South Africans seem to say “o”, (as in “”), as “ow” like “ouch”.... and “ouch”, that’s what I say to myself when I’m trying to figure out what was just said to me! I haven’t even been using the phone much, because it’s just too hard to understand people at the moment.

A couple of other bits and pieces. “Have a lekker day!” which I think means “Have a sweet day!” And then the general greeting, “Howzit?” -- that’s just an all purpose “Whazzup?”.

Oh and then let’s not forget “Ja”.

Obviously, it means “yes”. But you should hear how they say it!

“Ja ... yawwwww.... Oh yawwwwwwwwww... O yawwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!”

As Miss T said, you can almost see their tonsils! Quite an exciting anatomical experience.

You say "potato", I say "aartappel"

Later in the car, I’m listening to the radio, and the presenter is doing an interview. The interviewer asks a question in nicely modulated English, with a sweet South African accent, and then the other person answers at length in Afrikaans. Then another English question, or statement, or explanation of the issue(s). Then another long answer in Afrikaans.

And for me, it’s simply, “Heck, mate, whot are ya sayin’?”

They switch back and forth effortlessly, but it’s so weird. Like, “I’m going to speak in my best language, and you can speak in yours, and we both ‘get it’. And you foreign listeners, ha ha, good luck!!”

A pretty tantalizing radio show, in a way. You either get to hear all the questions, or all the answers, but not both. Right, then! Fortunately it was some blithering on about exchange rates and the strength of the rand versus the dollar, so my life wasn’t depending on it. (No dream Economics test tomorrow, either, so maybe I’ll be able to sleep tonight?)

And then there are all the radio stations..... “Phalphal”, “Munghana”, “Kwekwezi”, “Jacaranda” (jazz), “Thobela”, “Lesedifm”, Motswdng”, “Highveldt” (top 40), “Ukhozifm”, “Metro” (don’t listen to this one, it’s techno that you’ve never even heard of.... ), “Lotus” (Indian, out of Durban), “RSG” (Afrikaans), “SAFM” (news), “Umhlobo”, “Classic”.

Oh my goodness, what a relief! Classic! I can recognize the music. It’s from Mme Butterfly, Puccini, the beautiful humming chorus. Tears spring to my eyes (happy tears, this time), as I remember seeing it in London at the Royal Opera House with Francey and Bill. Next up, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Yes, I know, a bit trite, but I’m not complaining. Now it’s Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik... whew... something so familiar, I can even sing along. But I know that I have to pace myself with the classical stuff (there’s still the Japanese kid at the apartment, coming up at 5 pm today) so I change the station.

Yet a few more choices. “Ukmotghana”, and then “R2000”, the Afrikaans Christian radio station. Oddly I figured that one out eventually, even though I understand no Afrikaans. It was the bible story reading about Esther, the exiled queen, that clued me in. Or it could have been all the “praise” music. Or both. Maybe I’ll change my name to Esther. It kind of suits: the exiled queen.

And I won’t have to get the monograms on the silver or linens redone, either.

Do I look like your mother?

Oh, good, you saved me!

I was just starting to panic about the 30 page Art History paper that I need to finish by tomorrow. We’ve had a month to work on it and everyone else is finishing up their bibliographies and footnotes, but naturally I’m still trying to work out the central thesis... something about design of Art Nouveau wallpapers around the turn of the last century, and the influences of Japanese woodblock prints on the same.

Let’s see, how can I turn this into something that I can write about for thirty pages? With none of my art books available for research. Where the heck are my books, anyway? Oh, they’re all packed, of course... and no computer printer... bloody hell, why don’t I have a computer printer? ....hey, wait a minute.... am I dreaming again? God, time to wake up! I peep open one eye, and see brilliant morning sunshine streaming in the window.

OF COURSE! Man-o-man! That was a close call! I can’t believe at this stage of my life I am still having nightmares about finishing college papers. Sheesh! It’s the altitude, again, making my sleeping life decidedly unrestful. But at least they aren’t violent dreams, for the most part. Although maybe the violent part was just about to happen, when I went to ask the professor for a late extension? Oooooo. Scary!

Sooo, what’s up today? Well, probably off to the internet cafe again, after Pilates and coffee with a new friend. Sounds not too tough, eh?

Ah yes... the internet cafe, my “home from home”, as the English like to say. That is, if your home has pounding “world music” blasting through it 24/7, dishes shattering every five minutes on the tile floors (major breakage issues here!), and Amstel on tap. The two brothers who run the place sit at a table in the bar area and just talk talk TALK all day long. They are SO LOUD! (OK, I’m starting to notice it myself -- I’ve got a lot of issues about noise, don’t I?)

One of the brothers (the louder one) uses “fokking, fokking, fokking” every other word. Talking with women, talking with men. (You do know that word, don’t you?) It’s incredible. I’m sitting there, reading my emails, he’s getting louder and louder, and I’m thinking, “I must be hearing this wrong. Nobody could use the ‘F’ word that many times in one conversation!” (Unless they’re from Staines or Bracknell, but then it’s “fookin’, fookin’, fookin’ bloody hell"....)

So I look up and over at him, eavesdropping a bit, idly wondering if maybe he’s actually speaking Afrikaans or something, or maybe he’s an aircraft enthusiast ... (No, no... that’s a Fokker something-or-other ....) And then he suddenly notices me gazing at him, and he stands up, looks embarrassed, and says, “Oh I’m sorry, Mem! Ah just git so virry ix-saaah-tid sometahhmes.....!

“Ma’am”! Oh great.

Here I am peering at him over my reading glasses, looking like his disapproving mother probably.... but, no, instead I’m actually thinking about a synonym for... “verdant”.... not about him anymore at all.

I should have said, “No f----in’ kidding, pal!” But naw, I’m not that kind of gal.

And then, the South African men have the funniest voices sometimes.... loud, louder, louder still, laughing more. Then their voices seem to crack with the sheer effort of talking (or is it shouting?) at least once every paragraph. Suddenly they sound like 17 year old boys for a second... then they’re collapsing in fits of girly giggles... and then they recover themselves and it’s all back to bass tones. Of course, part of this could be because I’m essentially hanging out in a bar. Hmmmm. What do you think?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Musn't grumble!

Now of course there’s a bright side to all of this. Every cloud has a silver lining. I’m sure there are a whole bunch of adages we could pull out to smooth over the irritation of it all. (I need to consult my mom, Mistress of the Appropriate Axiom. She has a saying to suit every eventuality.)

But yeah. We do get to see the world, we live well, we have friends all over the place. Can’t complain too much. (“Mustn’t grumble....” as the Brits like to say....) Our kids have had unbelievable opportunities to travel and experience new things.

And, since you’ve asked, where are all the kids? I did have four of them living with me at one time... I think! Or five, if you count Mr. D... or six, if you count the dog.... Have I misplaced some of them, or have they moved away?

Peregrine, age 22, is finishing up (“finishing”... it’s looking pretty promising!) his last year of university at Indiana University; Tarquin, age 19, is a sophomore at Bradley University, in Peoria, Illinois. Aphrodite is a high school senior at TASIS England (the school she’s been at for the last three years). She is a boarding student this year. And Miss T, Mr D, and Vladimir (the standard poodle) are here in Jo’burg with me.

Miss T is attending a private South African girls school (St. Stithian’s Girls’ College) which is absolutely lovely. She’s a 15-year-old 9th grader, getting to do one more term of 9th grade to get in sync with the southern hemisphere school schedule (January to December, rather than September to June)

So that’s that ... four kids on three continents, and only erratic internet access for me as of yet. Pretty challenging to keep up with them. Although the boys are great about writing (when they need more money.)

And hey, here’s another nice thing: just three weeks into the mission, we’ve already had our first visitors from England! Judith and Hugh stopped through Jo’burg, on their way home from a conference/game park experience. It was so nice to see friends from “home” (our most recent “home”, that is) We had a lovely lunch in Nelson Mandela Square and gossiped about all the other tennis players at Royal Berkshire Racquets. Fabulous, and so encouraging and comforting to see old friends in this new country!

So, come on, come on, COME AWWWWN, the rest of you, book your flights. We should have a real house by November 1st, and then the party will be ON!


Thanks for all your fabulous emails, guys, it’s so good to hear from y’all. I promise once I have got a real online connection, I will be more personally responsive.

For now, I am off to a game park this weekend, so will write back with big scary details about claws and fangs and dripping blood... oooo, gory! next week (now I really won’t be able to sleep anymore!!!).

Perhaps it’ll be less dangerous than staying in Jo’burg for the weekend.


This brings to mind a Christmas eve dinner a few years ago, in fact, Christmas eve of our first year in England. Kathy and Greg invited us over, with two other families, to celebrate.

We talked and visited, met new friends, ate and drank and laughed, and finally sat down to eat supper at Kathy’s long dinner table. As it happened, Mr D was down by Kathy’s end, and I was sitting next to Greg at the opposite end of the table.

Talk went round and round, and eventually came to the inevitable topic of “the expat experience”. I asked Greg how they’d come to England -- were they both happy about it?

Greg leaned back in his chair and said, “You know, if Kath weren’t happy, I wouldn’t be here. We’ve moved a lot -- around the States, to Singapore, now to England -- and I have to say, if she wasn’t 100% behind me, well, it just wouldn’t be worth it. In fact, I always say that, really, she has 51% of the vote. If it comes up a tie, deciding to move, then she gets to be the tie-breaker.”

I looked across the joyful Christmas eve table at Kathy, who looked up and beamed her gorgeous smile at me. Wow, that was something! What a guy! Fifty one percent of the vote. How considerate, loving, kind. Kathy looked radiant. I thought about feeling railroaded into coming to England, and then I tried to just put it out of my mind. What was the point in making comparisons? It was Christmas eve, after all.

“Enjoy the evening, lovey,” I said to myself, “... have another glass of champagne...”

The next day I called Kathy to thank her for a lovely dinner, and for including us.

“No problem, darlin’! That’s what Christmas is all about! I’m proud to call you my friend!”

I broached the subject, ”Well, gosh, Kathy, I was so impressed with how you guys, you and Greg, make decisions about moving and so on. I think Mr D and I are so completely bad at all of this crap.”

“What? What do you mean?” Kathy sounded genuinely confused.

“No, Greg told me about your 51% vote rule. I think that’s great. Wish we did it that way in our family!”

“What? What? What fifty-one percent!?!? WHAT did he say?” Kathy sounded alert, irritated, surprised, maybe even angry.

“You know, he just said that any time you guys move, that you get 51% of the vote. So if you don’t want to move... that’s it. Because your vote is the decider. So he would just shut it down if you didn’t want to go.”

“God, I don’t BELIEVE it! He actually said that?”

“Didn’t you hear him? You were beaming away at me from across the table. I thought you heard what he said, and that you were nodding along in total agreement!”

Kathy was just revving up.

“God. That is so freakin’ incredible! What a laugh! I oughta take that ‘fifty-one percent’ and bash his brains in with it! Let me tell you....” and Kathy launched into the long and wrenching tale of moving from Singapore to Chicago for 10 minutes, to Japan (maybe... oh wait, didn’t have to go to Japan after all), to ... England... to... where next? Somehow, it didn’t sound anything like the story Greg was telling the night before....

”So you see ....”

“You know, I saw you smiling away at the far end of the table, and I thought, here’s a lovely marriage, an equal partnership, two people who are....”

“Dream on, babe.”

Yes, I suppose I will...

The ambiguity of "NO!"

Another thing that bugs me. There’s the whole thing about “choice”, and this being a group decision. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Somehow it never really feels that way. When Hizzoner called me from India and told me (on my birthday, no less!) that we could be moving to Thailand, or someplace else, I thought, “well, maybe that could be cool. At least they think well of him at work! Isn’t that nice?”

All my expat friends gave Thailand rave reviews, and Mr D lived there briefly years ago, so, well, “I’d consider that, I guess.” Such enthusiasm on my part! But that sinking feeling took over as soon as I’d hung up the phone. I knew in my heart that England was shortly going to be just a blip on the distant horizon.

Next day, another phone call from India.

“Well, Thailand’s off, so it looks like it’ll be South Africa instead.”

SOUTH AFRICA! Holy flippin’ cats! I did NOT sign up for this one!

“Do you want my opinion in the matter?” I asked pointedly.

“Of course!!!” he replied.

“NO. AND. NO.”

“Okay, great! But, why don’t you just think about it some more, and I’ll call you again tomorrow night.”

And thus began the slow, steady drip, drip, drip of rainwater on sandstone, day in, day out. I knew from the beginning that it was only a matter of time. One day soon, I would give in a little, saying, “I suppose it could work.” Or, “Maybe....” Parts of my resolve, bits of my determination and strength, would slowly get washed away, until all my opinions in the matter would be unrecognizable, even to myself.

And his thing is always, “At least let’s go there to look and see. Give it a chance before you make up your mind.” (Wait, didn’t I already make up my mind? What part of “NO!” was ambiguous? Am I talking to myself here?)

Or, “At least let me hear the financial part of the offer.” Or.... whatever. The point is, at some point you just throw up your hands and say to yourself, you know, if it makes him happy, and he’s thrilled that it’s more money, or a good opportunity, or a good life experience... whatever. Who am I to stand in the way of this force? Me, with my “tennis”, and my “no career” and my .... nothin'.....

I was stupider when we were looking at moving to London. I thought if I just put my foot down, I could put an end to it all. I thought I’d extracted a promise from him when we left Baltimore, that we could stay in Chicago until the kids graduated from high school. (Shoulda gotten it in writing, now, shouldn’t I? Maybe he misheard me, thought I just said “kid” ... we did get one of the four to graduate in Chicagoland....!)

But promises like that are hard to keep, I know that. When the big world is beckoning to you, luring you out of your ordinary old humdrum day-to-day experience, inviting you to instead explore, travel, go......

And I didn’t count on the wearing down, wearing down thing. Interestingly (well, it’s not that interesting) is that the mother of a college friend of his once said, “You know.... the thing I’m not sure I really like about Mr D is... that he always gets what he wants. Always.”

I would say Mrs. Williams was right.

And, finally, it’s hard to resist the whole plan without looking really ungrateful, pigheaded, unadventurous, and generally horrid. I mean, I look at it now, and I’m glad we lived in London for three years. It was fabulous. I made the best friends, saw the most amazing things, and lived a lovely life there. In fact, I’ve loved everywhere I’ve ever lived, and I’ve hated to leave each place. And I suppose it will be the same here in South Africa. ... eventually. But I’m not very good at this moving thing. I get depressed and lonely and have extra bunches of existentialist crises.

As in, “What on earth is the point of all of this? What am I doing? Why build a whole life only to toss it away three years later and start the whole damn thing all over again? And more to the point, why do that TWELVE times? Have I got rocks in my head?” (Don’t say anything, you!!!)

It feels like building sand castles, stupidly, below the tide line, every single day of the year. All your work will be gone soon... don’t you want to have some kind of lasting legacy? And leave your mark somewhere? What is the point of appearing in people’s lives if then you just disappear shortly after? (Although a few of those people are probably secretly relieved... you know who you are!!) It’s just too transitory and bleak, some days.

Added to which, the stuff you do end up having to spend your time on, doing again and again and again and again, in each new place, is the awful boring but necessary stuff. New driving licenses, new insurance, change of address forms .... new dentists and doctors and filling out those aggravating medical forms all over again.

“Tick the box if you have ever had: asthma? bronchitis? diabetes? emphysema? heart failure?”

“YES YES! That’s the one! ... my heart broke, again, just three weeks ago, when I left England!”

Aw, never mind.....

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Shark with Fish Sauce

Ok, what happened?

Well, yeah, I got demoted, and what else is new? Mr. D returned from 11 days away in Paris, and took the Audi. Good-bye, smooth shifting, speedy acceleration, hello Mazda Etude! This car has a terrrible clutch (didn’t I just get rid of a car like this, in England?) and the hand-brake is shot. Oh, no! Whenever I’m stopped on a hill now, I get this creepy feeling that I am drifting, drifting backwards. I yank the brake some more, and then it’s on so tight you can’t release it to drive off. Problems, problems.

I know, I know, I could be in one of the crowds of people walking.

And the person who drove this thing before smoked, so pheee-yewww! And, as I said to Miss T, “Oh my goodness, 148000 blinkin’ miles on this thing!” To which she replied, comfortingly, “Mom, it’s only kilometers, now, isn’t it?” Yeah yeah, that makes it all a lot more palatable.

Bitter? Naw. Not me. Of course the real answer to at least some of my problems is, I should get a job. Then perhaps I’d have more control over my destiny (an illusion -- I know that, thanks), and I’d get to pick where I lived for once and for good, and I’d fly business class instead of coach. Or not fly at all, if I didn’t want to. But we’re the remoras to Mr. D’s shark, so... see? There you are. He swims, we tag along, cleaning up. (Actually, that’s a better analogy than I first thought.... unfortunately!)

My friend from Raleigh NC wrote and said, “South Africa? How did you end up there? You didn’t open a bottle of fish sauce again, did you?”

Yes, I’m afraid I did. It’s an old joke. Whenever I buy the giant gallon size bottle of fish sauce from Costco, or buy a side of beef and pack it into the freezer, or refinish the basement... yup, it’s almost immediately time to move again (two months, tops). Honestly, every time I pull that little ringy thing on the fish sauce to open a new bottle, I think, “Is this it? Is this gonna break the charm and send me packing, off to parts unknown... again?”

It’s really enough to put you off Thai food for good.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The wife gets it too

And then, finally, there was the awful story Mr. D told me while he was already down in South Africa, in July, working, and I was still in England, packing up the house.

“Mmmmm, yeah, some bad news in the paper today...”

“O gosh, what? Everything ok?”

“Well, the building near us, Bosch. They’re an auto parts distributor. Anyway, they noticed they were having a significant 'leakage' problem in the warehouse. The inventory was ... disappearing.”


“Ok, so the financial controller investigated, and they discovered this big organized crime plot. Apparently, they were feeding fake footage to the CCTV intakes, so it looked like the warehouse was empty. But at the very same time, their people were going in and plucking two of these, four of these, five of those, four of that, off the shelves and then loading it onto a truck for parts unknown. Not enough of any one thing to make anyone notice big blank spots, but the scam was very lucrative overall -- thousands and thousands and thousands of rands worth of merchandise was disappearing....”

“Wow, sounds like Mission Impossible!”

“Mmmm, yup. Well, the upshot of it was, the financial controller got a handle on the whole thing, they had a big police bust, and caught some of the people involved.”

“Cool, well, that’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but a couple of days later the financial controller and his wife were shot in their home. Assassinated.”

“Oh NO! NO! God, that’s terrible.”

“Yup. That’s what happened.”

“Oh my gosh, the CFO! How awful! But ... his wife too ?"

Big silence over the phone. Ummmm.

At this point, Ms. Intrepid Writer sits back in her chair and thinks, “Yeah, that was inappropriate! You’re supposed to be worried about your husband, you idiot, not just your own silly skin."

One should at the very least keep these thoughts to oneself.

Oh, well, what can I say? Thoughtless. Completely thoughtless.

And, a good security system sounds like a great idea. Just grrrreat!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Um, can I buy some Mace?

Okay, so I was thinking yesterday, “I’ll just do some shopping, that’s safe enough (except not so safe for Mr. D’s credit card, but that’s another story.)

But then, well! There’s been a run of jewelry heists in local malls. Rosebank, Hyde Park, Sandton City. All of the hip shopping centres in Sandton, Jo’burg’s tony northern suburb. Gangs of armed robbers come in, with ammo and guns at the ready, and clean out the jewelry stores in these very upscale malls. Like having a massive gang of 12 guys with big, BIG weapons come in to Oakbrook Mall in Chicago, or The Oracle, in Reading, UK.

Is the mall security staff going to be any good? Are you kidding?

Fortunately no one has been injured in these latest attacks, although there were a few of these robberies in the last week, in fact. According to the “statistics”, store robberies are most likely to happen on a Monday morning between 8 and noon. Remind me to go to a Pilates class then!

Exercise could save your life! REALLY!!!

And then the sister of a friend of mine related this story. She was wearing a large ring, a CZ reproduction of some fabulous original, and a bunch of thugs came into her frame shop in Pretoria and held them all at gun point and robbed them. And one of the guys looked at her hand, took it up in his, and bit the stone out of her ring. And they left.

And of course my first thought is, “Thank God the robber wasn’t an Englishman -- he would have broken a tooth!”

Second thought is, of course, “Damn it! Poor Estelle!”

And what moral lesson can we learn from this South African story? Nothing, nothing, and nothing. You can be just running your life, running your business, doing your thing, and bad stuff happens. As Albert already well knows.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

(In)security issues

My impressions (misguided) after the initial look at Jo’burg were, “Well, it looks a lot like Palm Springs ... all those walled communities and golf compounds... but with a wee bit more razor wire and high voltage electric fencing.” And also, “Gee, perhaps it’s a wonderful thing that Mr. D's in the electrical industry! All those volts!” (or amps, or joules, or whatever....electricity is not my strong suit (unless it’s my sparkling personality at parties))

I actually have a secret, perverse desire to throw something across the strings of electrical fencing around our apartment complex, just to see what happens. Does it spark? Short out? Plunge the whole neighborhood into darkness?

It’s kind of the same thing as when we lived in rural Pennsylvania. I had a burning curiosity to know just how strong the shock would be if you touched the cattle fencing. In actual fact, I had small children to go ahead and do that testing for me. (God, not that I told them to touch it! Please! It’s just that, well, accidents do happen, and believe me, Peregrine never got near an electric fence again. Perhaps this is why he’s majoring in English instead of Engineering? We may never know.)

Here in South Africa, there are all varieties of metal bars and grates. In fact, our apartment has a swinging door (like what you’d think of as a “screen door” in America) but instead of screening, it is made of big metal bars and has a keyed push-bolt lock. So you unlock this grate, unlock the front door, go inside, pull the grate shut behind you and lock it, and then lock the door. There! The monkey’s in the cage now! Safe! (Maybe.)

That’s after you’ve already gone through the security guard station and they’ve raised the “boom” at the entrance to the apartment complex driveway, and you’ve shown your electronic passkey. Inside the apartment, there are bar grids across every window. Our worry at the beginning was, if there were to be a fire, would you be able to get out, for crying out loud? (“Yes, she never was murdered, but she did get roasted alive (a new interpretation of the BBQ/braai concept?)” Oi, too morbid.)

The artistic expression in ironwork and grilles is a whole new area of study for me. I’ve always loved metal (but not in music, thanks) and I thrilled to see “The Iron Bridge” and all that other fabulous cast-iron up Telford way. (Totally worth a trip, and you can learn all about smelting (so hotly exciting!!), and the first Crystal Palace, and see 800 styles of cast-iron garden benches (be still, my pounding heart!)) Oh, think of the lovely Art Nouveau Metro railings and archways in Paris, or the Eiffel Tower, or the metal work at the V & A in London! Even the structural ironwork of Chicago’s “El” (elevated train) has a spare but sexily rugged industrial beauty. It’s all good in my book.

Anyway, here in Joburg, you get to see all types of “keep-’em-out” metalwork. There are fences topped with trefoil-form sharpened points, or with deadly fleur-de-lis, or with straight up-’n’-down daggers, or with a kind of floral “spray” of cutting curly knives; the walls surrounding each house have a different style. Then there are the seriously security minded ones; behind the 8-line electric high voltage wire, there’s a twisting spiral of stretched out razor wire. (“Call “The Ripper” for ripper wire solutions to your security problems... “ ) Yeeeesh. It’s pretty in a cruel way, and the clear bright South African sunlight on the wire is simply blinding.

I was told that you can’t have the electric voltage cranked up high enough to kill anyone, but the same person said, “I don’t think anyone’s going to come around to check, either.” Yi yi! Armed and dangerous and South African. But are “they” inside the gates, or out? You make the call, babe.

Then there are “trellies”. These are accordion style grilles that pull across doors and windows. (Think, “The Loop, downtown Chicago, USA", or "Camden Town, UK”) Some homes have them on a few doors. Some homes have them on every door or window on the ground floor. Some have them..... everywhere. You can probably tell a lot about a homeowner’s personality by looking at the level of security in his house. Or, sadly, perhaps you can learn a lot about the homeowner’s personal life experiences (“I’ve been robbed, I’ve been beaten, my wife’s been raped.”) by looking at what he’s chosen to install in his home.

Ok, I’m not gonna think about that.

Today, in the papers, new crime statistics were released for South Africa. Rather reassuring, if you are willing to swallow the story of the week. And if nothing bad has happened to you personally, lately. The news?

Here we go. “Whereas Johannesburg has the dubious distinction of being the country’s crime capital, and is the country’s most populous urban area, only 694 murders were committed there in the past year, compared with 1757 in Cape Town and 1931 in Durban. The situation is similar for rapes, with 3943 in Cape Town, 3897 in Durban, and just 1542 in Johannesburg.” Mmmm, I feel better already because .... it’s worse somewhere else! Hoo boy. Let me check my pulse and see if I’m still alive. Yeah, no problem, I guess I’m breathing, barely.

Then, another article in today’s paper. The ANC announced that at least three of its MPs in the Acacia Park parliamentary village in Cape Town were the latest victims ...[of crime]... The complex is guarded fulltime by police, homes have alarm systems and burglar bars, and millions have recently been spent on upgrading security there, including the installation of CCTV cameras, after repeated problems with crime at the complex. ... In a statement yesterday, the ANC said it regretted the spate of burglaries at parliamentary residential villages, occurring mostly when members are on constituency work.....”

Great, so you go off to serve your country’s government, to represent “the people”, and work for the greater good, and you get home to find that some of “the people” have stripped your house of anything of value. Very inspiring! No wonder some find Africa a disheartening experience.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Albert's bad day

I can’t decide if time is going fast or slow. Whatever it’s doing, it sure is hot, which makes everything seem much more languid. One could get used to this pace. How’s the weather there, where you are? Is it sunny? Warm? Dry?..........HA! Thought not. (Feel free to verbally abuse me -- I have my CD player on because the Japanese kid is practicing again -- so I can’t hear you....)

Since so many have written to express their surprise that I’m still alive (haven’t dropped dead from heat or exhaustion on the tennis court or in a pilates studio and haven’t been killed ... yet) I thought I’d take you along on a little riff about crime and security issues here.

Everyone’s heard the statistics about South Africa. Highest reported rape rate in the world. Personal safety is an area of significant concern. Massive homicide statistics. In fact, all of my friends pulled terrible faces when I told them I was going to move to South Africa.

“Ohhhhh. Well, Cape Town, then?”
“No, Jo’burg.”
“O my God, please be careful!”

Gee, thanks, I’m even more excited about going than I was before. (But at least I know you care!)

But once we did get here, things didn’t seem too bad. You could walk around a beautiful mall, eat in a lovely garden restaurant, drive your car along wide avenues, and you lived to recount your adventures. Although there was that one luncheon.....

When we came to visit here in July, for our house-hunting trip, our new friends David and Tuppence took us out for a Saturday brunch. We agreed to meet at a favorite spot of theirs, an eating place in Broadacres Centre. We entered the gloriously verdant open-air garden restaurant, and were invited to choose any table. The waitstaff came over to adjust umbrellas, pour water, fuss over us.

Tuppence said to us, “We love this place; we eat here all the time. It’s super.” and then to the waiter, “Hallo, isn’t Albert here today? He’s our usual waiter, could you send him over, please?”

The waiter looked down at the carpet of thick green grass underfoot, and said, “Oh, Madam, I’m sorry. Albert is not here today.”

“What? He’s always here on a Saturday! Does he have the day off today?” asked Tuppy.

“No Madam. I am sorry to say that Albert was shot last night.”

David and Tuppence looked at each other and you could just tell that the two of them were thinking, in unison, “Awwwww, sheeee-itttt.” Because of course, five minutes before they’d been telling us that crime was nothing to worry about, if you paid attention, weren’t stupid, and so on. “No problem to move to South Africa! If you’re smart, you’ll be safe!” Oh, the unfortunate timing of it. But this could happen to anyone.

Tuppy recovered herself. “Is he still alive? I hope?”

“Yes, Madam, he is in hospital.”

Well, whew then. Lunch could be eaten, worries could be set aside, and Albert’s wounds could heal. One would hope.

Say a prayer for Albert, won’t you?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Spring is here in South Africa

So after the BIRD HORROR. Is there any good news?

Well, there are some smallish birds too. Pretty little finches, in brilliant yellows and reds, twittering away amongst the bird-of-paradise plants, the banana trees, and the ... pansies? Yes, pansies they are, because it’s springtime here! September means springtime in South Africa.

When we got here, two weeks ago now, everything was still very brown. It was coolish (that would be 26-27C midday ... are you sure you still want to be in England???) and windy, and the trees were bare. I drove on the wide roads, and saw people everywhere along the roadways, walking, walking through small whirlwinds of leaves and red dust. Skirts flapping, hands covering eyes and holding down hats, and dust and dust devils everywhere.

But now, just in the last few days, it’s starting to green up. In fact, the trees are just beginning to flower. Again, two weeks ago, the only blossoming trees were these massive things with giant dark purple pompoms on them (sort of like lilac blooms, but in the tops of big bushy trees.) Then yesterday when I was outside with Vladi, I looked around, and against the bluest sky ever stood a tree with the sheerest haze of violet flowers across its canopy. Looking through that purple haze, to the periwinkle blue sky beyond, was simply heavenly. I’ve never seen anything like it.

So these are the famous jacaranda trees! They’re a lot like plane trees in Europe, or America’s beautiful old long-gone elms. They were planted to line generous avenues and provide lovely dappled shade from high above. But those gorgeous blossoms are simply beautiful. And even as the tree is covered with violet flowers above, the ground below is a purple carpet of fallen blooms.....

Then there are roses on trellises, and mimosa trees (the ones with the bright red feather-duster flowers), and another simply amazing bush called “yesterday, today, and tomorrow”. I saw that one in the garden of one of the houses we looked at... and it appears to have three different colors of blossoms on it, all at the same time... purple, blueish violet, and white!

And so fragrant. The flower smells here are just phenomenal. You wouldn’t believe! But for now, until you come visit me, you’re just gonna have to take my word for it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Remake of "The Birds"

And there is still more to tell of our strange and wonderful little apartment complex. Regarding [ominous music here] The Birds. My God. The birds.

I hope you saw the Hitchcock film, for purposes of comparison, because this is much, much ..... much.... worse.

So frightening really.

You can’t imagine.

But wait! Before I get to that! Even more horror is in store, because [even more ominous music] the Japanese kid across the way also has a RECORDER ! a recorder!

Holy Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!!!!

This could mean homicide.

It appears that Sunday afternoon is the moment we’ve really been waiting for all week. Not Sonatina in G, again. Or Fur Elise, or some other hoary old musical chestnut. No. It’s “Toot, toot. Twee, tootle. Frootle toot toot.” The limpid tones of a soprano recorder float through the air from across the way. Well, using the word “tone” in this context is a bit misleading. I think “bleating” is more on the mark.

I look down, and see the blasted Japanese kid blatting away, sitting by the open window. Maybe he thinks that if he plays music by an open window, these terrible sounds can escape into the atmosphere more easily? Kind of like throwing the windows open after you’ve cooked liver and onions? God, who knows! I told Miss T to go get her trumpet and fight back, but she refused, because Friends was on. (Yes, I know, it’s everywhere in reruns, no escaping it. Just like there’s no escaping this amazing music from our little Suzuki prodigy.) At least you can’t hook a soprano recorder up to a flippin’ amplifier. One small blessing. Although, leave it to the Asians, they could find a way. Hopefully they won’t think of it. Keep your fingers crossed, my friends!

I know, I know. I’m awfully cranky. I suppose I could close the windows.

But now, back to the birds.

They are monstrous. Huge. (All the wildlife here is pretty damn big, come to think of it.) First up are the terrifying “har-de-dar” birds. These things come up to about knee height, (about the size of a particularly healthy ocean seagull), and they are an oily, iridescent, medium gray color. Their wings, in the sunlight, gleam a dark pearly lavender, or deep pinkish gray. Their eyes are a sinister and beady black. And their beaks! Well, they’re long, very narrow, and curved, like a huge darning needle. Someone told me they could use their beaks to peck out a dog’s eyes. (Vladimir has his paws covering up his eyes right now, for protection! He hates this part of the story.)

They stand around, on lawns, and in the underbrush (all the tropical plantings in the apartment complex’s borders), using their pointy beaks to pluck insects or grubs or what-have-you out of the dirt. And they are very quiet. UNTIL you innocently walk by them too closely (you didn’t even see them there, or you would have given them a wide berth) and they take off with a huge clattering and crashing and flapping of wings.... whush whush, WHUSSSHHH... screaming their earsplitting cries of... you guessed it..... “har, HAR, DEE DARRRRRRR!”. It’s enough to make you wet your pants. (Good thing I did bring all those 85 pairs of undies after all ...(ha, just joking!))

And there are all these other birds and they all make so much noise! (OK, be honest, do you think I need earplugs?) And the weirdest thing is, half of them don’t even sound like birds. One sounds like a car alarm. The next sounds like a frog. Another sounds like a baby crying. Then there’s the one like a cuckoo clock. Just when it’s about to strike “34”, it finally shuts up. Still another sounds like a monkey screeching. (Or maybe that is a monkey screeching? Hey, it’s the one riding that camel over there, Russell!) Sheesh, who knows? Then there’s the rooster who crows at 3:30 am every day. Pre-dawn wake-up call. I thought they were supposed to crow as the sun rises. Perhaps this one misread the instruction book. What a cock-up. Literally and figuratively. (And the Americans can stop giggling now. “Cock-up” means “mistake” in British English. So there, to you and all your dirty little minds!! Harummmppph!)

Wild thing

What else? O my goodness.... the wildlife here! And I’m not talking about the “big 5” -- like the lions, elephants, and what, and who, and wha’evah.... no, I’m just talking about the run of the mill creatures.....

THE INSECTS!!! Like the ENORMOUS grasshopper I saw sitting in the road the other day when I took Vladimir for a walk.

He, the dog, was appalled. I was appalled. This beast was the size of a Triumph TR3. Less sporty looking, slightly, but still. It was a glorious golden brown color, with custom yellow stripes along its haunches, and spotty details on its hood, ...whoa... I mean “bonnet” -- hang on, don’t I mean “head”? It was at least 4 inches long. Is this allowed? Should I call someone? Can we get past him?

Oh sure. Grasshoppers just sit there, ogling you, really, thinking, “Will she step on me? Will her dog eat me? If so, I’m gone.” (Vladimir’s sitting there thinking, “Golly mom, please don’t make me do anything!”)

No, the creature just sat there, bobbling his enormous black eyeballs at me, and I finally moved off. I thought about running back to get my camera (“running! running! did you have your oxygen tanks filled up? Are you mad?”) OK, not running, smartarse, but I figured that by the time I got back, he’d be gone. That was my excuse, anyway. So I didn’t take his picture and you’ll just have to believe me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

One pint deserves another

Miss T and I went out exploring again this morning, looking for a free wireless connection (supposedly McDonald’s has it, but we somehow couldn’t connect) so after having compromised my principles and pointlessly purchased and eaten an awful Egg McMuffin -- just as nasty in South Africa as everywhere else in the world) it was back to Nelson Mandela Square to our regular internet cafe.

At least at the ‘Cafe della Salute’ in the Square, if you order a cup of coffee, it comes already made. At McDonald’s of SA, astonishingly, when you order coffee, you get a china tea cup filled with boiling hot water, and then you are handed the jar of Nescafe and a spoon (while you’re standing at the till counter!) and you mix your own. Gad. I’m definitely switching to Diet Coke. Or maybe a nice cuppa tea.

So we picked up some emails -- (thanks to those who wrote -- very cheering!) -- and then wandered about the mall a little, before coming back to the apartment to read the paper and nap..... Yes, nap..... Please don’t get on my case about it. It’s exhausting to move to a new country. And I dare you to try..... I do. (And I promise I will be there to hold your hand when you’re sobbing there, alone, by yourself, in your bathtub. Not so easy,eh? Never mind.)

No, everyone says I should be used to it by now, after 12 moves in 26 years. And I must believe me. I believe it, I do. Yes, I do, on a good day..... (OK, now I am trying to stop thinking about you, naked, in your bathtub. Oh hang on, this is a family blog, I must stop that, this minute. Whoah, that was distracting.)

But hang on, we mustn’t get all gloomy and weird. What else has happened?

I almost got talked into giving blood at the shopping mall (something I do strongly believe in, as the ex-chair of the blood drive at St. Mark’s) but I reconsidered, as I’m still feeling significantly tired and near faint about half the time. (Or maybe I felt faint thinking about giving blood ... was that the chicken or the egg, or what? Oh well....) Apparently, South Africa has a huge blood shortage, and since at least 25% of the population is HIV positive, tragically even less of the population than usual is able to donate usable blood.

And of course, you and I BOTH know that most people will think up just about ANY excuse not to give blood.

“I don’t do needles” -- Steve
“I didn’t eat breakfast today” -- Sarah
“I have to work this afternoon” -- Mike .... oh, puleeze!

That would not be you, of course ... not .... YOU?? Go out and give a pint of blood, just for me, next time you get the chance. There’s no synthetic blood invented yet, no way to transfuse people, saving their lives, if their blood type just isn’t available in hospital at that moment... so... give somebody a break today. It could be your own life, or a friend’s, that you’re saving. Yah, I know that’s a stretch, but things could get odder. I mean, here I am in South Africa.....

So......if you give a pint, I’ll buy you one. (Amstel, Stella, whatever you like.... and I promise someone will appreciate your pint of A, B, AB, or O) Anyway, I’m putting that on my list of things to do, once I’m not keeling over from the altitude adjustment issues. St. Stithian’s is having a blood drive on Wednesday, so maybe I’ll be recovered by then? One can only hope......

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Camels! Killer Bees!

Water..... waterrrrr....... waaaterrrrrrrrrrr.........

Yes, that was my plaintive refrain yesterday, as I played tennis down here in Joburg for the first time since arriving in the country. A lovely experience, really -- happily neither my heart nor my lungs exploded in the almost oxygen-free atmosphere, and here I am to tell the tale......

Went over to a local tennis club, quite a low key place, with a small clubhouse building and I think six courts. I was told to get there about 2ish, and when I arrived ten minutes before that, there were only two souls there. An older guy, “Vasco”, (as in ‘da Gama, the explorer’) who is the owner/operator/pro, and Russell, a kid aged 15 or 16. I introduced myself, and Vasco suggested Russell and I go knock up... or “warm up”, for you Americans in the group. And a “warm-up” it was, indeed.....

Ten minutes into it, I knew I wouldn’t be playing singles anytime soon... Panting and gasping for breath was the order of the day. I tried to break out into a sweat, but the “air” is so dry that you’ve evaporated any sweat before you’ve even perspired it..... Gosh, good thing I did try to do some training before I left England! Russell was probably wondering if he was going to have to resuscitate me on court. He was quite a darling boy, really ... that wouldn’t have been all bad.... (but hang on...! I’m married, and he’s only 16... oh, God forgive me, never mind! ) So....! Back to the game....

Two more people, Barbara and Wally, showed up about 2:30 and we started playing a good game of doubles. Of course I hadn’t played for a few weeks, so my serving was crap (allow me the dignity of using that excuse, please!) but worse, of course, was that ... obviously ... we were playing outside. Now, I’ve never been known for being “outdoorsy”, and have done everything in my power to make sure I always play tennis indoors... Chicago and London both gave me perfect reasons for choosing indoor tennis (the weather, the weather, and the weather.....) But here! ......

Hell, they don’t do indoors.

So now I need to learn to deal with the sun, and the clouds (well, there aren’t any, so no problems there), and the achingly beautiful blue sky. There’s also wind, the helicopters, dogs barking. Good thing I’m not distractable. (Huh, really?) And the dry dry dryness of it all. Everytime time we changed ends, I took a swig of water, but the other three people I played with didn’t even have any water on court, at all! In fact, at last I said to my darling boychild partner Russell, “Are you guys all camels?”..... and he turned around, away from me, shaded his eyes and looked off to the horizon. Then turned back, saying, “Pardon?”

I repeated the question, “Are you guys all camels? Don’t you need some water???” And he blushed furiously and said, “Oh, I thought you said that you saw some camels over there.”

Now this was something different! A native South African apparently would not be surprised to see camels walking across the grassland surrounding his tennis club? Hmmmm. This country could be even weirder than I thought!

We ended up splitting sets, and going into the cool of the clubhouse for a drink. In fact, it was not that cool in the clubhouse, only shaded, and as soon as I sat still I was suddenly covered with a glowy sheen of sweat. (Finally! Although probably not an attractive look....) Drank the rest of my litre of water, and then Barbara said, “Prim’s here, let’s go out and have another match!”

Oh my Gawd! And here I thought we were done! Stood up and realized I had better refill my water bottle. I went over to the sink behind the bar and filled it up... but could only get hot water to come out of the tap. Yeah, that’s interesting! The one time in a foreign country when you just DON’T want hot water, you get it! Oh well, off to the court again. I hoped my legs wouldn’t start to cramp, in the heat and the exquisitely arid conditions.....

This time, it was a ladies doubles match. Barbara, me, Prim, and Desiree... (The names here are great ... cooler even than Arabella, Jade, and all the Fionas and Emmas of England...) We stood around chatting, and making some introductions, when suddenly the other three fell silent.


“Yes, I hear them! That can be quite dangerous.”
(or..... “Yis, Ah hee thim! Thit kin be kwaat din-je-rus.”) (sorry, South Africans, but your accent is just too wild! .... more on that later.....)

I listened, and indeed, I could now hear this terrific buzzing sound. Not from some mid-distance tree, or from up in the sky, or from over by the clubhouse, but apparently the bees were all flying along at speed right along the pathway at the edge of the court! It sounded like the straightway on an insect Indy 500. “Vreee, vreeeeeee, vreeeeeeeee! .......... Vreeeeeee!!!!! Vreeee!!!” I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to leave the court if it carried on ... I mean, can you cross a major “bee highway” and not get stung? Or, what if they just picked you up and carried you away?

I turned to Barbara and asked her if there was a problem... “Are they, like, killer bees?”

She burst out laughing, “Oh my word, no. It’s just that you don’t want to have anything sweet on you when they’re around... a juice or an orange or something like that.”

I imagined bees swarming all over sweet lil’ ol’ me, and then tried to put that all out of my mind and play some more tennis. Des and I pummelled Barbara and Prim. I finished off most of my second litre of (piping hot) water, bade my farewells to this friendly bunch at about 4:45, and staggered home for a nice glass of wine, a hot bath, and a very early bedtime.

Looking forward to seeing Russell.... ( ....and the ladies too, of course) .... again next Saturday....

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Why is the sun over THERE?

So where was I? Driving? With the windows rolled up, doors locked, air con on, sun shining in the bluest sky imaginable, radio blasting ... and getting lost. One thing nobody bothers to mention when you move to a different hemisphere is that the sun is in the wrong place. Oh, it comes up in the east all right, and it still sets in the west, but the rest of the time, well, it’s completely wrong.

I kept wondering why I was going south, when I was actually driving north, and going north when I was really southward bound. For a girl who grew up in the Midwest, where almost every town (save the one I actually lived in!) is laid out on a north/south/east/west grid, well, an internal compass is vital. Maybe this is why I never learned “right” and “left” -- I’ll always tell people, “turn east on Roosevelt Road, then north on Main....” Obviously not everyone thinks this way, judging by the blank looks I received (especially in England).

So anyway, you look at the sun in the sky and orient yourself... but you’re going the wrong direction. That’s because the sun travels across the northern sky, stupid!

Some of the letting agents were showing us houses, and extolling the virtues of this or that room ...”it has a fabulous northern exposure...” And I’m thinking, “what do I look like, Van Gogh??!? Why would I want north light?... that’s for an artist’s studio, you goose!” But no, northern light is the sunny side. Gosh, that explains a lot. It’s all back-asswards!.... (Or back-arsewards, in Brit.)

However it’s still hard to retrain 47 years of orienteering habits, so maybe I’ll just buy a compass for the car. That might be easier. Now, if I could just work on “left” and “right”.... anyone got any tips? I’ll warn you though.... tennis coaches, driving instructors, fitness trainers, my family, have all given up in despair....You will be next!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Scarlatti in Sandton

Oh no! The Japanese kid across the way is starting to practice piano. It’s horrible. I mean, he’s quite accomplished really.... but how much Scarlatti and Mozart can a person really stand? I played it, my kids played it, now THIS kid is playing it at top volume on a fairly dreadful keyboard or electronic piano. Can this family not afford headphones?

Actually, it would be fine, but he really needs a metronome. (Should I buy one for them, and leave it on their doormat?) Now I finally understand what all of my piano teachers have been telling me ... for 40 odd years.... There’s pleasure to be had in listening to music, but a huge part of that pleasure is the wonderful feeling of “the expected, ... achieved”.... which includes, in a major way, doing the piece in flippin’ TIME! Call me a crab, but it is torture, torture, to hear someone stumbling all over the keyboard, erratically. Speed, yes, we all know you can do that! -- but in time, now that is an achievement. (My apologies right now to everyone, everyone, who’s ever listened to me practice!)

And at least one might have the decency to turn down the amplification. Maybe his parents think they’re providing high class entertainment for the whole neighborhood? Of course what they don’t know yet is that Tessa’s trumpet arrived in the air shipment today! We’ll see who laughs last! OK, I’m turning on my CD player now. Don’t bother trying to call, I won’t hear a thing!

If not "just now", then when?

Hello again. ...

Just got back from the school run, and I’m now waiting for the fabled air shipment. It’s supposed to come “just now”.

Don’t be fooled, though. “Just now”, to you and me, means “really really soon”, if not “already”. To a South African, well, God, who knows? Could be an hour from now, could be today, could be tomorrow, could be next week. Not to knock you Brits, but all I can say is, good thing I got used to British “customer service” over the course of three years, because it would have been an AWFUL shock to come to South Africa straight from the States. This way I had lots of time to lower my expectations for the speed at which things get done.... (now, now, don’t get all huffy, you know it’s true!)

So, have to stay in today, until the shipment shows. Means I can’t go out driving around town, getting lost. What am I driving? Well, it’s a very nice borrowed Audi. It can really speed. The roads are wide and flat and mostly straight, and you’re driving along at 120km/h in a residential zone before you even realize. (That’s when I haven’t stalled it again at the lights.) Lots of opportunity to use the handbrake here, as it’s really hilly. I stall at least once a day. “Women drivers!” ... I can hear you now!

Driving requires all your attention. Which means I’m seriously handicapped right now, with my brainless airheadedness -- or is it actually lightheadedness, due to lack of oxygen? Whatever. Anyway, besides worrying about whether or not to stall, I’m also trying to avoid all the jillions of people standing in the road, selling stuff. These guys are at every major intersection, standing on the lane lines of every lane, holding out ... well, you name it. Car phone chargers, straw handbags, bags of avocados... yesterday I saw I guy with a two foot long scale model of a wooden ship. Now what possesses anyone to stop at a stoplight and decide, “Gee, I really need a wooden ship for my mantlepiece right now.... Hey..., yo! .... over here!!!

The people who aren’t selling merchandise (whatever fell off the truck last night) are angling to wash your windscreen, or take any rubbish off your hands, for a small fee. Then there’s the poor guy handing out cards for Spanish lessons. Hmmmm. I only do French. (And that’s only with guys I really like....!) And then there are all the women sitting in the median strip of the 6 lane highway, with babies in slings on their backs. Simply begging. Ach, wow. It’s hard to get your head around it.

There’s the blind guy with his cane, and his friend who keeps him on the median, the lady selling newspapers (there’s one paper called Junk Mail -- do you suppose you have to pay for that one???), and then people selling feather dusters, clothes hangers, plastic flamingos... Man-o-man. And all I want to do is drive across town without killing anybody.

Speaking of which, one of the first nights we were here, we were driving home from a wonderful dinner (sushi, since you asked!) and up ahead saw lots of blue flashing lights. Slowed down to be careful, and there (in the median strip, again) was a dead body, a person, partly covered with a greenish sheet. Yikes! A few police standing around... no need to hurry, no hope... and the blood was simply streaming across the roadway. It gleamed reddish and blueish and metallic silvery all at once. I didn’t know a person could HAVE that much blood in them.

From the back seat, “Did you see that?” Yup, Miss T, welcome to Africa...

Of course, that could have been me, when we first got to England three years ago. Step off the curb while reading the pavement that says, “Look LEFT”..... No, NO! The other left! Crunch. Did I ever get a chance to tell you I’m crap with “left” and “right”? Even arrows confuse me! Oh well. Run over by a bus and she’s not even out of the flippin’ airport yet. Sheesh!

At least here they do still drive on the British side of the roadway. Which would be... don’t tell me... on the left! Is that right? Trust me, I AM managing to stay on the proper side of the road... I had more problems this year while driving in the States. Not that I got to drive very much, as Mr. D had the car keys firmly in his clutches the whole two weeks... but that’s another story for another day. Don’t get me started!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Driving Miss T

So, mostly I drive T to and from school. She loves it (the school, and the chauffeuring). Can you believe my luck, after all her moaning! She looks great in her new uniform (about 74 compulsory articles to purchase, but never mind.) It's very smart: plaid skirt (blue, white, red) and blue sweater/jumper, sensible shoes and sox, blazer with crest on the pocket. She looks like Britney Spears in the "Hit me, baby, one more time" video.... schoolgirl something-or-other.

And she's already met some nice schoolmates. All the girls are pretty and happy and blonde, it seems. So I drive her over there in the morning; with all the traffic, it's one hour for a 3.0 km round trip. Ugh! So we leave at 6:50 am, and then I pick her up again at 3pm, and in the meanwhile I try to remember what it is that I'm supposed to be doing all day. Sooooo forgetful! I think I fried my brain this summer -- too stressful! -- or maybe brainlessness is a symptom of altitude sickness as well. Or... could it be? Maybe I was just dumb to start with. Though I don't think so; I remember getting great test scores in high school and college... but maybe that was last night's dreams??.... Naaaah!

In the car, I listen to the radio stations, which are done in every language under the sun. You'll catch "Let's Get Stupid" (my theme song this week) by the Blackeyed Peas and then it's "mbmbmommmo ndkdkei nmdtho... Blackeyed Peas!... mdodode mndababa blah blah!" from the disc jockey. Yikes, and here I thought I was "tuned in".... apparement, non.

Yesterday I caught a radio talk show on golf, on an Afrikaans radio station. You'd hear "Tigerrrrrr", "Errrrrnie", "ball", "golf", and then the Afrikaans "chat" going on. It sounds like a lot of people who are gargling while they talk. They do a nice job of rolling their "rrr"s too. And doing the "ch" of "ich" (for those of you who took German) in every possible instance. In fact the "g" in Afrikaans sounds a lot like "ch" in German (to me)... so lots of throat clearing noises. It's good for your sinuses, probably?

And speaking of sinuses, well, if you have some, here's the drill. It is DAMNed dry here. So if that helps you, great. If not, I don't want to hear about it. The women slop on moisturizer here in South Africa like there's no tomorrow. And I thought England was bad -- there, everyone in the changing room seemed to slather on about 1/2 a bottle of lotion in one go... doing this in the MOISTEST country in the freakin' world!! And here, well, I haven't spent time in the ladies locker room yet, but I can just guess it's a production. Meanwhile, my crow's feet are deepening daily and when I look at my hands, they look like an alligator's body parts. Maybe that's why snakeskin leather goods are so popular here -- it just looks like yer own skin but in an exotic color!

But lots of laughter here too, which is nice. Glad somebody's laughing. I will be too, eventually. People are very friendly, so there's hope.

The air's too thin here!

More stuff to do.... and speaking lungs getting x-rayed (a requirement for my visa), I was going to tell them, "don't bother" because I don't feel like I have any. The altitude in Jo'burg (1800 m) really affects you. We live on the upper floor in this apartment complex... which is three half- flights (8 steps each, I counted) of stairs up... and I am panting when I let myself in the door. Golly! I went for a "run" this morning which ended up being about 200m... I don't know who was more out of breath, me or the dog! We both seem to want to sleep a lot, and for a pretty peppy dog, Vladi is awfully dull at the moment. Supposedly you adjust in about three weeks time... if it doesn't kill you.

Thank goodness I started running on the treadmill in England, otherwise I'd probably be crawling on hands and knees through the checkout line at the grocery store. Absolutely pathetic. Or pa-thit-tic, as they say here.

Then I wake up at night, having had the most vivid and astonishing dreams. (Settle, boys, they're not about you, sorry! Or not about most of you...) So real-ish seeming.... the phone rings and I'm up after it, but no... I was asleep! Apparently that's another altitude thing going on, making me a bit tired during the day.

So I am trying to get a nap scheduled into my busy busy busy day, because last night I dreamed that Hilary Clinton was being executed for treason, by guillotine, and it took four grisly tries. Now I know that she's one tough bird, but that was a bit much. Yikes! Tonight I'll try to steer the dreaming toward daisies and flower gardening and such... leaving the dream axe (and dream scythe and other sharp cutting implements) in the dream shed.

Apartment living takes some getting used to... children crying, dogs barking, people arguing loudly at 2am. Was that what woke me ? what are they arguing about?? It's in a language I can't understand, and even if I could understand it, who understands the arguments of lovers at 2am anyway? Not even them, probably... especially not them. Certainly not me.

Welcome to Jo'burg

Hi there!

Hello from my apartment in Sandton (northern suburbs of Jo'burg). It's pretty nice, though a bit dull for now. Mainly because I have no friends! like you guys! to play with! Well, I suppose it'll happen eventually. Don't feel sorry for me yet, though, as it was 30C and sunny all week. Probably just like in England, eh? .... Ah, I hear your bitter sobs....

Right at the moment we are still faffing about with work permits, visas, etc. It's ridiculous! What a lot of time-wasting crap. lung x-rays, medical records, criminal background checks in the UK and USA ... boy! (My criminal record is a mile long... all that shoplifting in the make-up department at Boots, but maybe it won't show up! .... (kidding, guys! have you seen me wearing eyeliner.. ever???... (and don't answer that question if you have seen it, buster!!!)))  But hopefully it will get sorted out fairly soon... then we can have a bank account, car, house, etc. What fun! Like real grown-up people!

Meanwhile, the air shipment (the "quick" one) hasn't gotten out of customs yet... it's been over a month since it was sent off from England. Oh well. I have been living out of a suitcase since early August... yuk. (And will do until early Nov, when we move in to our "permanent" home). I brought only one or two of anything, because we were traveling all around the States and we had to lug all our "packing up the house" stuff with us -- cameras, computer, important papers, tax returns, and other stuff too "crucial" to ship.

So I packed for all weather, all climates... and so what do I have to wear now? ... two skirts, two pairs of dress shoes, 2 pairs of trainers, 2 tennis outfits, two sweaters, two jeans, 85 prs of underwear and 40 bras (okay, mistake, but you never know...) blah blah blah. Good thing I like to wear a lot of black. I look the same every day, but the clothes ARE clean! In fact, you don't need as many clothes here because the maids do the laundry several times a week, and your knickers come back ironed, even. I've never ironed a pair of blue jeans in my life; how I'm well pressed (hope that doesn't mean something in Brit slang that I'm unaware of!)

I think we've found a house to rent. It's really lovely, with good security (lasers in the garden, high voltage electrical wire around tops of walls around the property, video camera to see guests at gates...) About like Fort Knox. Well! You could feel either more secure with all that, or a lot more worried about what it is you're keeping out...! And it's not lions and leopards, apparently.....