Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A Slideshow, Sept. 29, 2004

OK, Im having a geek moment, and I created this very cool slideshow of some of my favorite pictures from my first 3 months of being here (wow, can not believe I have been here that long already).  Click on the link below to load the slideshow.  I havent included all 233 pictures I have posted in the Blog, but just some of my favorites for an easier way to stroll down my South African memory lane.


As always, feedback is welcome.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Happy Heritage Day! Sept 24, 2004

Its Heritage Day here today, a national holiday!.  Which means big business for establishments like Stonehaven that sell liquor!  Its also payday.  One interesting thing about South African society is that they all get paid once a month, so businesses thrive that last weekend of the month, from grocery stores to movie theaters to restaurants and pubs.  It seems the average South African citizen spends his money when he gets it, then lays low the rest of the month.  It is a visible and huge difference when one goes into town or to the grocery store around this time of month, and it is also a visible boost to Stonehavens business.


Im not sure what Heritage Day is for, and neither are the people I have asked so far.  Seems to be like one of those state holidays that we have at home that we are not sure (or dont care!) why we are off work, but we are damned happy to take it off!


Rosemary, Rex and the kids have gone for the weekend to a place near Durban where John is playing in a cricket tournament.  I would have gone with them for the weekend, but got an invitation to go to Johannesburg tomorrow for the day, so I chose that instead.  Rosemarys sister lives in Durban, but she is actually in the States at the moment (Orlando of course!), so I know I will be going back down there to visit her in the next couple of months anyway.


Sorry for lack of blogging this week, it was a full workweek and not much worthy of blogness I afraid, but I will post anyway.


Emails have been trickling in from home and family and friends who were hit by Ivan.  They all seem to be slowly getting electricity and emailing abilities back.  It sounds like the worst of the storm went east of Baldwin County, which took the direct hit.  Everyone at home just sounds tired and cranky now.


We took the Royal Stonehaven out of the water this week for its annual cleaning/repainting/maintenance checkup.  It is a big boat!  It is used for functions, weddings, receptions, brunches, river cruises and things like that.


3 days later, we put her back in the water:


…and headed back home.


Since we had it out for maintenance, it was time for a stress and balance test, and we needed 62 people to be on the boat at one time.  Since it was payday, we decided to use the Stonehaven staff!  We gave out paychecks on board, and made them stay put for a few minutes.  We managed to get 66 people on board, and herded them up to the top deck, had them stand all on one side, then the other, and took water measurements (and hoped it didnt tip over, which it didnt).


This week, we also started installation of a new time-clock system for employees here to clock in and out on.  Sorry I dont have pictures of that, but it is very exciting stuff!  OK, maybe not.  And people always resist change, no matter what hemisphere youre in.


Kali the Great Dane puppy also took her first dip in the river this week, quite unexpectedly, at least to me.  I had walked her down to the river and I was sitting on a jetty watching the sunset, while she sat there with me.  Out of the blue, she decided to dive in and I mean dive.  And with her sleek divers body, she went straight down!  There was a few second pause (probably 1 second, felt like about 30!) where I did not think she was coming up and I was thinking Oh great, my first swim in the Vaal River (and the water is still kinda ice cold!) is going to be to the bottom looking for this damn dog.  But she finally surfaced wide-eyed and panicked, and started paddling, fortunately towards me.  She latched on to one of the rubber tires that protect the jetty (see the picture above) and clung to it for dear life.  Im not sure how I did it, but I managed to lie on the jetty, reach down and pry her front paws off the tire, and pull her up.  Guinness was there, but was no help at all --- he just thought this was a great game we were playing!  (he swims in the river daily).  Here is a picture of me and Kali (I woke her up from a nap for this picture):


Oh, and Mrs. Cat is still bonding with me.


She and Guinness had a standoff the other day when Guinness wanted to come up stairs to my room.  He got half way up the steps when Mrs. Cat stood at the top and dared him to come closer.  He turned around and went back down. 


As I said, Johns cricket season has started, so most afternoons when he gets home from school, I go out and bowl to him.  Thats cricket-speak for pitching/throwing the ball to the batter (John).  Bowling sounds so gentle, but Im definitely throwing it.  The batter (John) wears all these pads, on his shins, hands, arms, etc.  The bowler (me) doesnt wear any of that.  Im not sure why this is, since Im just throwing this small ball to him (it is harder than a baseball), and it comes flying back at me at about a zillion kph.  So far, I have ducked well.  Good thing I have quick reflexes.  But really, I would rather go back to kicking the rugby ball around.  Much safer.  We watch some cricket on TV in the evenings now, and I am slowly learning the rules, but its a little bit tedious.


Thursday night we had the Shag Pad Kalahari Express Reunion here at Stonehaven.  It is the first time we have all been together since the Botswana trip, and it brought back a lot of memories.  I almost felt dirty again.  We had the reunion in the Wine Cellar, which is the room directly below my room here at Stonehaven.  Here is a picture of myself and Rita (one of the function ladies who works here) in the Wine Cellar before the reunion:


We had a slide show of Botswana pictures running, and the highlight of the evening was later when our trips video expert presented his compilation DVD documentary of our excursion.  For those of you so lucky at home, I will definitely be making you sit down to watch these home movies of what I did on my summer vacation!  It plays sort of like a music video, and I think will be entertaining even to folks who werent along for the adventure.  It certainly captures our highs and lows.


So I need to stop blogging now and go celebrate Heritage Day.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

An email from home! Sept. 19, 2004

This is only fitting, from my family.  I knew they didnt have electricity after Ivan hit and wont for awhile, so I didnt expect emails.  Rosemary and I tried to call on Friday, but didnt get through (phone rang for about 3 minutes, then a busy signal).  I have been reading reports online, and knew Baldwin County was a mess.  I was confident all of my family is safe, but was very interested to get a damage report of some kind from them.  And for that matter, I had not heard from ANYONE in the state of Alabama yet.  So imagine my surprise when an email popped up in my inbox from my brother. It was 32 hours after the eye of a Category 3 or 4 hurricane had passed over my entire family, leaving death and destruction in its wake.  And here is what the email said:


<<GAME ON!  Auburn University will play Saturdays Game vs. LSU.  The Auburn-LSU game is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 pm CDT.  A release will follow shortly with details.>>


So!  I know that my brother is alive and I know that he somehow had electricity and a phone line.  But I dont know much more.  I emailed back a few questions for him, and did later receive the following:


<<Everything fine. Just left pat and Leon they are fine.>>


So thats all I have to report this morning from the Hurricane Ivan South African Communications Centre. 


War Eagle!  Beat LSU!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Life goes on here! Sept. 16, 2004

Another beautiful day here at Stonehaven.  One of the nice things about having a function at Stonehaven, is that it is always slightly off-center here.  Thats about the best way I can put it, but it probably doesnt make sense if you havent seen it here.  The function rooms here (theyre not really rooms) all have an outdoor feel to them, because they are mostly outdoors, although covered sometimes, and sides pulled down (like a tent) sometimes.  Very charming, and when you have a conference or wedding at Stonehaven, its definitely NOT like going to some cookie-cutter hotel chain where all the meeting rooms are perfect.  But thats part of the charm of Stonehaven.


This week we got a phone call at 3pm the afternoon before an all-day meeting here, from one of the presenters who informed us that she would be needing an internet connection to run her meeting.  My first thought was Has this woman ever been here?  None of the function rooms even have phone jacks (they do have electricity and we can put gas heaters in if its cold!), and the venue her group was booked into (with no option of moving) was about 60 meters from the nearest phone jack.  I scoffed.  I laughed.  And then I started running phone lines from the jack in the cottage, down to the River Terrace.  And you know what?  It worked.  I took my laptop down there to test it, and sure enough, I could connect to the Internet.  Now to string the wire down there, we literally had a phone cord running through Rosemarys new herb garden, along fences, through the Syringa Garden (its an African tree), over a small bridge that spans the koi pond, and into the River Terrace meeting area.  Can you spot the phone line in these pictures?


OK, maybe it did have that certain white trash look (a phrase that they even use here in South Africa!).  You might be a redneck if you have phone wire running through your back yard.  But the attendees hardly noticed.  And I threatened the staff with their lives if they tripped and disconnected my phone cord (fall if you must, but do NOT disconnect the line).  And the meeting was a grand success.  The organizer, after it was all over, even had the gall to tell me she was very impressed with our line speed.  I nearly choked.  I wanted to (but couldnt with a straight face) give her some wise-ass remark like Well, after extensive testing, we found that running the line through the parsley patch increases our through-put substantially.  As long as the koi fish dont bite the line, we usually get a pretty good success rate.  But I couldnt. 


Here is another shot (from the stairway just outside my room) of the newly refurbished garden:


And Storm and I trying to get Kali to pose for a nice picture in the garden:


And here is me having a cup of tea at about the time Ivan was raking through Alabama:

Do I look like I feel guilty for being here?  I do, really I do.

Weather updates, Sept. 16, 2004

Its a dry, sunny, beautiful day in South Africa, about 80 degrees expected for the high today.  I hear its not quite the same back home!  As I type this, the eye of Ivan is just off shore at Gulf Shores, so Daphne will be just a few miles up the road.  Pretty much all of my family has stayed to ride it out.  Patti and Joel have the farm to be concerned about, so they stayed.  Polly and Drew were staying, in their house which is right on a bayou, but built up high.  Last I heard, Robbies wife, Nancy had left with her horses a couple of days ago, bound for Arkansas.  Im really not sure if Robbie has stayed or followed.  My mom stayed, saying she has been through these before, and I think she is more concerned about the difficulties ahead (no power, water, etc.) than safety during the storm.  Her house is pretty shielded, and definitely high enough that flooding wont be an issue.  We phoned her from here yesterday to see if she had decided to stay or evacuate.  We were sitting here talking about it and Rosemary just said Lets call and picked up the phone and started dialing.  I said Who are you calling and she said Aunt Pat!  I said you know the phone number?  She said yes, even after all these years (28!), she still remembers the phone number there.  Of course she got a recording that the area code had changed to 251 which was news to her, so she redialed and in 10 seconds we had my mom on the phone.  Yes, theyre staying put there in Daphne for the storm, and have filled up the bathtubs with water, stocked up on batteries, have a gas grill for cooking in the next few days, and are prepared. 


No one reading this who is acquainted with me and my family will be surprised to know that the emails I’ve gotten from them in the last couple of days have had as much information on the status of the Auburn-LSU game on Saturday as on hurricane preparations.  War Eagle!


So all I can do here is hope for the best and tune in via CNN and the Internet and watch.  If any relatives reading this should talk to my family over the next few days, and you have electricity and can email, I would appreciate any word from home on how bad (or not) the damage is.  If I hear anything, I will post here.  Communications Center South Africa signing off for now!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Duck! Ivan's coming!

If anyone at home in the path of Ivan the Terrible is still taking time to read my blog, GET OFF THE DAMN COMPUTER AND GO PUT UP SOME PLYWOOD!!!
We are keeping CNN on the tube here, tracking the storm on the internet, and hoping for the best.  It is a helpless feeling being on the other side of the world. 
I would much appreciate emails from everyone as soon as you are able to, after the storm passes through.
Good luck!  Good karma!

Monday, September 13, 2004

Animals, animals, animals Sept. 13, 2004

The animals are taking over at Stonehaven, little by little.  There were 8 dogs when I got here, and I think we are up to 10 (I still get them all confused, so my count might be a little off.  The cats, I REALLY get confused.).  Kali, the new Great Dane puppy is growing daily, and we got another new addition this weekend from the river.  Yes, pulled him out of the river.  One of our boats was taking a party of people down the river Saturday afternoon, and spotted a dog swimming out in the middle of the river, who looked like he might be lost and in trouble, so they pulled him on board and brought him home.  He has a collar on but no tag, so we are not sure who he belongs to.  He is very friendly and is already acting like a watchdog for us, and has fit right in with the other dogs here.  We are going to try to find his home (somebody must be missing him) but for now, he seems perfectly content to live here with us.  He has one big problem, in that he totally ignores the cats (there are 7 of them) inside, but when he sees the same cat outside, he goes for it.  Cat-eating dogs are not tolerated here at Stonehaven, so if he doesnt change this personality trait, he wont be here for long anyway.


Some of the cats seem to have adopted me and my living quarters upstairs.  The cats are mostly nameless, but there are Mr. Cat and Mrs. Cat and 5 others that I cant keep straight anyway.  (Mr. Cat and Mrs. Cat dont like each other anymore, since they both got fixed last year, but I know human couples like that too) 


Mrs. Cat:

Mr. Cat:


Mrs. Cat seems to have really bonded with me, and this weekend brought a dead bird up to my room, which I am told means she REALLY likes me.  Once before, she brought a dead mouse and left it at the foot of my stairs, but that was the night of my surprise birthday party, so I assumed it was just her gift for me that night.  The dead bird this weekend (It was headless too.  Too much information?) was the first present since the mouse, though.  Some nights one or 2 of the cats sleep with me, sometimes they dont.  They really need to be outside at night anyway, doing their jobs of keeping the place free of rodents, so I try to make them stay outside when I go to sleep. 


Then there is Dr. Doolittles Diner which is a seating section for the restaurant/pub where animals run free around your feet while you dine, if you want to sit in that section.  There, there are ducks, geese, chickens, roosters, turkeys, turtles and rabbits. The geese can be a little aggressive, but the rest of the animals there are pretty docile.


There are also wild birds who love the lawns of Stonehaven:


Some other Stonehaven pictures, since Im posting today:

A nice sunset on the river we had one day last week:

A recent wedding we had here, where the bride arrived by boat:

The bishops who performed that wedding:


One of the distinct memories I will always have of Stonehaven is seeing Rosemary around the grounds.  She is a very hands-on owner, so is always wandering the grounds looking at things with a critical eye.  She usually wears black (for work-times), and with her big blonde hair, is usually easy to spot from a distance.

Watching the bridal couple arrive:


Even in the pouring rain, she had to make sure those rose bushes were being fertilized correctly:


A duck in Dr. Doolittles Diner got a piece of straw stuck up his nose one day, so Rosemary had to coral the little thing and pluck the straw out:


Last month when the lawn was being dug up and re-sod, she was out in the middle of that project pretty much every day!


Never a dull moment around here.


I missed most of the Auburn game this past weekend, as I got invited to a braai (cookout) and am in desperate need of expanding my social life.  No, not really, but I couldnt justify passing up a braai to stay in my room to listen to the Auburn game, so off I went.  I tagged along to the braai (pronounced bry) with a staff member here, and it turned out to be pretty much like any cookout back in the States would be, and of course much wine was consumed.  Its the South African way!  I got home at a reasonable hour and dashed to the PC to check on the Auburn score, and was able to pick up the radio broadcast for the post-game show.  How cool to hear Tubs all the way here in SA!  I did end up staying up way too late Saturday night listening to the Georgia-South Carolina game radio broadcast, and it was such a good game, I couldnt turn it off and go to bed.  Then I stayed up for most of the US Open womens final, but at 3am, I finally decided I didnt care which Russian woman won it and went to sleep.  As I drifted off to sleep, I heard the meowing of a cat from below me.  It seemed a cat had got himself locked into the wine cellar for the night.  I was too tired to get up and go rescue him/her at that hour, but I did get up at 8am and went to find the key to let it out.  Turns out both Mr. and Mrs. Cat were locked in there and they were not amused.  We will have to tell the staff to do a better job of checking for cats when they do their nightly lockup!

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Funerals, Sep. 9, 2004

There was a funeral last Saturday for a Stonehaven employee who died of AIDS. That is the second funeral since Ive been here (both women), and I dont think it will be the last.  AIDS is a huge problem facing this country, and it seems to me to be a black problem.  Thats not just perception, I think it is the reality.  The white people I talk to about it are aware of AIDS and take precautions but dont know anyone white who has it.  The black people seem to have their heads in the sand and there is a horrible stigma to having it (no surprise, same back home), and they dont even want to go for an HIV test.  I am told the black men refuse to wear condoms, and promiscuity is huge; so its spreading through the black population pretty much unchecked at this point.  I dont think education and safe sex are making progress in controlling the spread like it did for the U.S.  There was a man here recently from a local AIDS organization that left a box of condoms for the staff to take free, along with informational brochures.  The brochure was mostly full of information on the anti-viral drugs they have here.  I am not overly familiar with what are the current treatment drugs available in the US even (a combination cocktail of steroids, I think), but it didnt sound like the same thing they have here.  The brochure was full of advice on getting tested, and finding out you have HIV early, because if you wait too late, the drugs here wont work.  It was interesting that the brochure didnt stress much on safe sex (though it was mentioned), but more on getting tested and finding out early you have it, so you can get on the drugs.


Just this morning another staff member here was taken to a local hospice because he is sick.  We have watched him go downhill physically in the last week, and Rosemary asked if he wanted her to take him to get help and he said yes (though he still has never been tested at this point, we all know he has it). 

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Football Separation Anxiety, Sept. 5, 2004

Thanks to Leslie for putting a name to what Im feeling this weekend.  Football season is getting underway back home and no one here really cares.  Well, 14 year old John cares and wants to watch games with me, but we dont seem to be getting any on TV here.  Yesterday (Saturday) was our Spring Beer Festival here at Stonehaven, which is a lot of work for the staff.  I worked as one of the managers on duty, which basically meant I did all sorts of things from moving tables and lifting beer kegs to calling ambulances, picking people out of rose bushes, and breaking up fights.  And it was a long day, about 7am to 1am.


We do get ESPN here, but Ive come to the conclusion that its not the ESPN I get at home in Atlanta.  I had noticed it carries a lot more soccer than I remember getting back home, yet its definitely ESPN and we do get SportsCenter and baseball highlights sometimes.  Saturday afternoon about 4:30 my time, I assumed College Gameday would be on, so I got away from the beer drinkers and turned on the tube, expecting to see Kirk Herbstreit and the gang in Baton Rouge (I do read the Internet).  But instead, ESPN here was showing a Tractor Pull event from Detroit.  What gives???  This does NOT bode well for my upcoming football watching (much less Herbstreit watching).  I checked periodically throughout the night and things like the Outdoor X-Games and a Strong Man Competition were on, but no football.  Damn!  I knew the Auburn game would be starting about 8:30pm my time, so I got on the Internet and did follow much of the game through the live stats update page.  (I tried to get the radio broadcast, but am on dialup connection here and couldnt get it to download, but I will pursue that more next game when I can sit at my PC and not have to go check on drunk Afrikaaners throughout the game).  But here it is Sunday noon and Im watching SportsCenter with the Gameday crew updating me on the LSU barn-burner last night and other games.  So sometimes it seems like its real ESPN, and sometimes it doesnt.


On the plus side, we are getting plenty of US Open tennis coverage.  There is a channel here that carries it live from NY every day starting at 5pm.  So Im getting to see a most of the day matches, but Im not staying up for those evening NY matches.  It’s a good thing that I dont have to suffer Tennis Separation Anxiety.


The Spring Beer Festival brought out the crowds.  Some pictures from the day:

From my window,

Storm enjoyed the foam pool, for kids,

Also for kids, there were pony rides.  Now Guinness didnt know what to make of the ponies.  He tried and tried to get the pony to play with him, but the pony was having none of that…

There was a trapeze artist,

A rock band,

A Miss Bikini/Mr. Speedo contest,

And lots more,


Here are some fellow Stonehaveners enjoying the day, Rex, Carole, Jenny, Charles and Rosemary:

They all look so happy in that picture.  Obviously before the ambulance was called and the first fight broke out.  For some reason, when Afrikaaners drink, they get very aggressive.  This country needs more happy drunks!


Towards the end of the day, Guinness fell asleep in the bar obviously still feeling the pangs of pony-rejection.  It was a rough day for us all.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Tracking a Hurricane, Sept. 3, 2004

I hear there is a Hurricane heading towards Florida.  Football games are being postponed --- it must be serious!  Im reading about it on the Internet and tuned into CNN this morning to see the latest.  Also, luckily I brought with me a Hurricane Tracking Chart from home (sometimes Im such a geek!) and am teaching John and Storm about things like longitude and latitude.  Every day we go on the Internet and get the latest coordinates to track whatever storms are out there.


They were pretty bored by it all at first, but now that there is a real killer storm headed for land, they think its pretty cool stuff!  The evacuation process seems to dumbfound them.  You mean you just pack up and leave home?


On a related note, I have pointed out to them how hurricanes spin counter-clockwise, as does water going down the drain in the northern hemisphere.  But here in the southern hemisphere, water going down the drain spins clockwise.

Hurricane in northern hemisphere:


Water going down drain in southern hemisphere (not as easy to capture as you might think):


Isnt life strange and wonderful sometimes?


Good luck to anyone reading this that ends up in Frances path.  Send pictures and stories so these South Africans down here can know what its really like!

Thursday, September 02, 2004

A new family member, Sept 2, 2004

Johns 14th birthday was this week and we have a new family member, a Great Dane puppy named Kali (short for Kalihari, in memory of our recent Botswana trip).  To surprise John with his gift, we wrestled Kali into a box by the hardest


as Sarah and some of the other dogs looked on wondering what the hell we were doing.  Thats Mariette and Jenny helping out.  Theyre 2 of the people I work closest with here at Stonehaven.  They both work incredibly long hours here.


We managed to get Kali in her box inside the cottage for John to be surprised.


So now we are all working on the group project of house-training Kali (its not going well).  The other dogs have accepted her pretty well, although some of them snap at her if she comes near.  I keep telling her to just be patient, that theyll be bowing at her feet in fear one of these days.  All the dogs here are smallish, like pug dogs.  Then theres Guinness, our black lab constant trouble-maker.  He seems to love Kali so far, but shes just another small dog at this point.  I think he will be happy to actually have a play-buddy his size (or bigger!) one of these days soon.