Monday, January 31, 2005

Cape Town, 31 January 2005

I woke up in Langebaan Saturday morning hoping to go hang out with the kite surfers and watch the Australian Open womens final on the TV in the bar, but Australia is further ahead of us than I thought and the final was over by the time I got up (which wasnt late). And there was no wind, so no kite surfers yet. Oh well. Rex and I went to the auction of the boat, which was being held on the boat itself at noon. There were about 20 people there, some who were like us, just looking, and some who were serious bidders. The auction itself was over in about 4 minutes. The boat went for 5 million Rand (divide by 6 to get approximate dollars). I was frozen during the auction, afraid to even scratch my nose or move a muscle, lest I be misconstrued for putting in a bid. (but then part of me wanted to raise my hand at about 4 and a half mil, just to see Rexs face).

After the auction, we stopped off at a local dive which Rex and I agreed was the FloraBama Lounge of Langebaan:

We then headed south, to Cape Town. As we crested a hill, there on the horizon rose Table Mountain off in the distance:

I dropped Rex off at the airport for his flight back to Johannesburg. I was now on my own. I knew my way around Cape Town somewhat, from having been here in November. The mountain is always there as your frame of reference, so its pretty easy to find your way anywhere. I had kept some phone numbers of guest houses from when I was here before, so called one of them and got a room for the night in the Midtown, Atlanta type area of town. Trendy bars, pretty people, art galleries, quaint restaurants. (Ken, if youre reading this, I was a block from Manhattans). The view from my front porch:

It was Saturday night, and the neighbourhood was jumping. Me being the non-partier I am, was in bed by 11pm (after some dinner and wine of course), and was constantly awakened pretty much all night by loud drunk people, and loud car audio systems. (some things are the same, world over!)

Bright and early Sunday morning I was up and out for breakfast. My plan had been to leave Cape Town that day, but I realized there were still things in the city I wanted to do, and I felt rushed to cram them in, so I extended my stay another night. I went to the information centre and gathered brochures and maps for my drive home. I also was able to get a high-speed Internet connection at the information centre, and nearly cried with joy to actually see fast Internet access again. (Its not very cost-effective yet where Im living in Vanderbijlpark, so I haven’t seen high-speed since I got here.) I then headed for Table Mountain. When I was here in November, both times I tried to ride the cable car up to the top, it was too windy and the cable car wasnt running. So I was still anxious to do the top of the mountain, one of those tourist-musts. But it was looking iffy. This was what the mountain looked like from the roof of my guesthouse that day:

Yeah. There is a huge mountain in there. Not promising, heh. Table Mountain had a tablecloth on it. Here is a reminder of what the mountain looks like on a clear day:

But I bravely drove up to the cable car station. The cable car was running, but they warned me there was zero visibility at the top. Ever the optimist, I plopped down my R110 and figured surely it would clear up in an hour or so! I boarded the cable car and looked up and here is what I saw:

Hey, the good news on a day like this, no standing in line for a ticket! Only 7 people on my cable car! (it holds 65) So up we went!

And here is what it looked like at the top:
Oh, and here is the view looking down, that glorious view of the city I was so looking forward to:

And it was cold. And wet. We were in a rain cloud. I had brought a jacket with me, so it was bearable, but not pleasant. Fortunately there was a nice warm dry restaurant up there, so I headed directly for that. I figured I would have a nice lunch, hot coffee, and any minute, the sun would come out and it would be a beautiful afternoon! 2 hours later I was jittery from coffee and damit, not a glimpse of the sun.

So I boarded the cable car and descended to warmer temps and it was nice to see the city was still there:

I assumed that as soon as I got down, the clouds would part and the mountain would laugh down at me, but as it turned out, when I left the city 2 days later, the mountain still had its tablecloth covering it (even though the city was in bright sun). It happens.

I drove up another mountain near Table Mountain and got a glorious view of the ocean from there. That particular mountain (Signal Hill) is a prime spot to watch a sunset, so that was my plan for later in the day. Unfortunately, when I drove back up there for sunset, Signal Hill was now shrouded in a cloud (but no crowds up there!). I would post the pictures of what sunset looked like, but look at the Table Mountain photos again. Same thing. It just wasnt my day.

Fortunately the weather down in the city was sunny and warm, so I drove down the coast some that day and enjoyed the scenery.

Another dinner, more wine, and I was asleep at a decent hour. Sunday nights are much quieter! Monday morning, I checked out of my guest house to begin my drive back towards Stonehaven. I had studied my maps, collected brochurs, knew the general route I wanted to take, knew general places I want to see, and had listings for hotels, guest houses along the way. My first destination was Hermanus, just to the east of Cape Town. (see the map). It is normally about an hour from CT, but I took the indirect route because I wanted to drive down the Cape some. I love those roads down there and I love the ocean views. Here are a couple of pictures from my drive down the Cape:

I arrived in Hermanus, which is best known for being ground zero for whale watching, when in season (November and early December):

I had lunch and walked around the shops for a bit before continuing my drive eastward.

I had to slow down a couple of times for a baboon family to cross the road, and I drove into countryside where there were as many ostriches grazing in the fields as there were cows and sheep. This is Africa, after all. If you look at the map, I was heading for the southernmost tip of Africa. People (me included) always think of Cape Town and the Cape as being the tip of Africa, but as you see on the map, there is a more southern tip of the continent. And I wanted to be there!

I arrived at a small town near the southern tip, called Arniston. It was named for a ship that wrecked there in 1815, costing 372 British citizens lives. Now its just a small, sleepy fishing village. I booked in at the only hotel there, the Arniston Hotel:

I promptly set out for a walk on the beach, and dipped my feet into the Indian Ocean for the first time this trip.

(Not bad with a self-timer, heh?)

I had another Shirley Valentine moment as I updated the Blog (see the movie):
For dinner I walked around the corner from my hotel to a very Afrikaans restaurant and had a delicious fresh sea salmon grilled in butter, with some hot vegetable soup. Walking home, the stars were almost as bright as they were in the Kalahari Desert last August, and though the Southern Cross hadnt risen yet, I did watch 2 satellites drift by overhead. Wow!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Road trip, 29 January 2005

Im zapping this from an internet café in Cape Town.

My trip began on Thursday when Rex and I left Stonehaven in the Land Rover, heading for Cape Town. Our goal was to be there by noon on Friday, to see a boat that was being auctioned on Saturday, meet with the owner, and take a cruise on the boat. Rosemary and Rex have long had the idea of building a new boat bigger than the Royal Stonehaven, which will hold more people, for bigger functions, and ergo more business for Stonehaven. They ran across this boat being auctioned and though it is a little too big for the river (it is built for the ocean) and will go for more at auction than is in their budget, they were anxious to see the boat and get ideas for their own creation. Hence the road trip.

Click here for a map of South Africa that will help make more sense of where my travels are taking me this week.

So we left at 2:30 Thursday afternoon, taking the N1 which runs all the way from Johannesburg to Cape Town, cutting through the heartland of South Africa. The terrain that we started out in was flat and agricultural. If I didnt know where I was, I might think I was in Kansas. Flat, crop fields as far as the eye could see, in all directions. We even drove through a couple of dust storms where visibility would suddenly drop to almost zero. We passed through Bloemfontein, which was once the countrys constitutional capital before being moved to Pretoria. This is the heart of Afrikaner country. The road signs were mostly in Afrikaans, and we watched the kilometre postings to Kaapstad (Cape Town) drop slowly. Rex and I alternated the driving, which made the trip easier. The sun set in front of us and an almost-full moon rose behind us. Brilliant! The terrain turned into rolling hills and an occasional mountain, much like parts of Texas and Oklahoma I have driven through. By 10:30pm we were in Beaufort West (that is pronounced Bo-fort, but I stuck to the southern US pronunciation of it). We found a guesthouse there that was an old magistrates house, converted into a bed and breakfast. Beautiful old African / Dutch style house. It would have been a great place to spend more time, but alas, our night was short, because we had a destination and a deadline.

At 5am we were up and on the road by 5:30. The hills were bigger and they slowly became a mountain range. We zigzagged through the mountains, and eventually hit wine country. (near Stellenbosch on the map) Easy to spot because of the vineyards on both sides of the road, not to mention the black men selling grapes along the side of the road. It was beautiful country. But as we cut through the mountains, the rains came. The boat we were on the way to see wasnt in Cape Town itself, but rather about an hour north of there, on the Atlantic Ocean, in a small seaside town called Langebaan (close to Saldanha on the map). So we cut off through backroads in search of Langebaan. After a wrong turn or 2, and bad signage in some of the small towns, we arrived in Langebaan at 11:30am. It had taken us 14 hours of driving time, and 1425 kilometres. But I enjoyed every bit of the drive, to really see the interior of South Africa. Some pictures from the drive:

It was still raining and cool when we finally arrived at the dock and saw the boat.

We met with the skipper/owner, a rather interesting character in his 60s who in his life has been a farmer, a helicopter pilot (until his 3rd crash when he gave it up) and now a boat skipper. He is wanting to retire, hence auctioning the boat. In order to get ideas for a new boat for Stonehaven, and for Rosemary since she didnt make the trip, I took 162 pictures on the boat. I took pictures of everything from the generator and the kitchen to the toilets. They were taking a group out on a 2-hour cruise, so we were invited to come along for the ride. The weather cleared up and it did turn out to be a warm sunny afternoon. The boat was a beauty, and Rex was a little punch-drunk from absorbing so much information about it (and the owner/skipper). It was a worthwhile trip though.

We decided to stay the evening there in Langebaan, The area reminded me a lot of the island of Mykonos in Greece, and even some of the houses built on the hills were white with blue trim, very much in the Mykonos style. On the recommendation of a waitress who served us beer and wine after our boat cruise, we found a great little guesthouse to spend the night, called Friday Island. We were told its where the windsurfers and kitesurfers stay, so duuuude, we fit right in. Our room was second from the left:

Some pictures of our view:

At sunset, we sat at the Friday Island bar, at a table on the edge of the sea, and I had a very Shirley Valentine moment (if you saw the movie, you understand):

I will try to write more as my week progresses and I start the journey back to Stonehaven, taking the scenic route!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Spur of the moment road trip! 27 January 2005

Rex and Rosemary want to look at a boat that is being auctioned in Cape Town, so in the last 24 hours, we have made plans to head to Cape Town.  For Rosemary to go turned out to be too much planning, with the kids to be taken care of, a busy weekend at Stonehaven, and other things.  So the plan is that Rex and I will drive to Cape Town today (Thursday), arriving tomorrow (Friday).  It is about a 12-hour drive, so I am looking forward to seeing parts of South Africa that I have only seen from an airplane.  We will take the direct route there.  We will look at the boat on Friday afternoon, and Rex will then fly back home, maybe after we talk to the boat builder on Saturday.  But I am going to take the car and do the scenic drive back home.  There are some South African maps on my information page (link at the top of this Blog), and I will post maps and explain the route more when I get back.  But along the coast from Cape Town up to Port Elizabeth and East London is called the Garden Route, a spectacular seaside drive.  I will probably take at least a couple of days to make the return trip.  I will try to check emails from the road, but it is not always easy.  But I should have some great pictures to post when I get back next week.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The KKK Word, 26 January 2005

As an add-on to yesterdays Blog posting, I found out today that the Afrikaners even have a version of our KKK, called the AWB (stands for something in Afrikaans).  They dont wear sheets, but they do have uniforms and they ride horses.  They dont burn crosses, they just go in and burn down buildings.  Their leader went to jail for a while shortly after the 1994 democratic elections, for some kind of assault on a government official.  He is now out and supposedly still doing his thing underground.  Last year, there was even a lynching across the river from here in the Free State (a different Province, known to be a very very right wing area of the country), in Sasolburg, involving a black man being dragged to death behind a bakkie (truck).  Its just like Texas!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The K Word, 25 January 2005

At home we have the N Word, that horrible, derogatory term for black people.  Here they have their K Word, Kaffir.  When Im sitting around drinking in the Pub or whatever with friends here, some of whom are Afrikaners, they will throw in the K Word and when I tell them not to use that word, they will jokingly say, oh, its just n____r to you.  Eeek!  I always put my hands over my ears and say Stop! Stop! That word hurts my ears!  And it does!  Not so much out of political correctness, its just (to me) a vile word that belongs in the past.  (The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg has the motto: Apartheid is finally right where it belongs, in a museum.)   As I tell my friends here, I heard my grandfather use the N Word, but I dont think I ever ever heard my parents use it.  And if someone in my generation or younger uses it, it is a conversation-stopper.  (Am I right?)


The ironic thing is the word Kaffir literally (in Xhosa or one of the tribal languages, I forget which) means Indigenous Person, so in a strange twist, these guys are really calling the blacks The People Who Were Here First.


The Afrikaner people that I know well here are not big bad racists though.  I dont mean to paint a bad picture of them.  In discussions, they always agree that Apartheid was horrible and it was absolutely right that it be abolished.  (They do make jokes about the good ole days when they could go to the bank and have their own, short lines to stand in, and things like that, but thats just their twisted senses of humour.  They dont really want those days back.)  But they also feel a growing resentment for black people who are getting jobs they are not qualified for, and black people having the attitude that they are owed certain things (which in my opinion, yes some of them are owed certain things.).  For instance, there are Black Economic Employment programs here, (comparable to our Affirmative Action in the US) and certain people are categorized as PDIs, or Previously Disadvantaged Individuals.  They get preference in areas like jobs and loans.  I have had to help Rosemary do long reports for the government, doing org charts, showing where Stonehaven has PDIs employed (management vs. line employees, etc.).  We have some of this back home too of course.  Hell, we still have blacks who want reparations for slavery that was abolished 140 years ago.  Apartheid was only officially abolished here 10 years ago, so the people here who were oppressed under it for 40 years are certainly owed something, in my opinion, but I am sure it gets abused, which is where resentment from white Afrikaners comes in.  But I tell them that they have a long road of that ahead of them.  Perhaps shorter time than it has taken us in the States though.  In the US, the blacks were always a minority.  Here, they are a vast majority.  That is a huge difference between our situation back home and their situation here.


There is a lot to be made up for in South Africa and made right.  For instance, when the government instituted Apartheid around 1950, they commonly designated certain areas as white only and black only neighbourhoods.  If they decided a certain area was now white only, they just came in and took the blacks houses and land and made them move.  They would level the neighbourhoods and put up new houses for the whites.  Sometimes they had black townships for the displaced blacks to move to, sometimes not.  But the blacks had no choice but to move.  There were black families who had owned and lived in their houses for generations, and suddenly they were made to move by the government.  I read in the paper here recently that since the new government was elected in 1994, over 50,000 court cases have now been processed to give people back what was theirs.  Thats only a small part of the pains this country is going through to undo Apartheids effects. 


As I have mentioned before in this Blog, I think racism is a human condition, to a certain point.  To stay within ones tribe, think yourselves superior, is something that is engraved in our DNA.  And to a point, maybe its a healthy and natural thing.  But when it comes to passing laws, and hate crimes, and war, and derogatory words for other human beings, that is where we as civilized people should draw the line and get along with each other and enjoy the differences between ourselves and other cultures.  Imagine what the world would be like!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

A slow January, 20 January 2005

Sorry for the lack of Blog posting lately.  I have been plowing through Nelson Mandelas book, all 751 pages of it, and finished it this morning.  Great read.  Im not sure I have ever read a book that fast.  Two of my favorite reading spots:


It was especially interesting to me to read about the 18 years Mandela spent in prison on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, since I was just there in November and toured the island and could visualize as he wrote, exactly where he was.  (He was in prison 27 years total, 18 of those on Robben Island.).  He went into prison when he was about the age I am now and he came out when he was about my mothers age.  Mind boggling to me when you put it in those terms.


Business is slower here at Stonehaven in January, which is expected after all the year-end and Christmas parties we did in October, November and December.  It gives everyone a chance to catch their breath and work on projects that had been put off in the busy time, like sewing and hanging drapes.


John and Storm have started back to school after summer break, so the house is a little (lot) quieter during the day (and we can change the TV to CNN instead of having to watch Cricket all day!  Actually Im keeping the TV on Australian Open tennis all day at the moment.)  And even little Sarah-Pat has started preschool, which is a daily adventure.  Some days good, some days bad! 


Last weekend we had some friends of Rex and Rosemary down for a dinner cruise on the Royal Stonehaven.


There were 19 of us in all (Rosemary cant do anything small).  The dinner was sort of in honour of 2 mothers of friends who had been visiting from the U.K., both in their mid-80s, and they were flying back to cold England this week.


Ive been working on teaching Kali to sit, and shes getting it slowly but surely.  We are also teaching her the word NO but thats not coming along so well.  Shes pretty spoiled.


Its funny to walk her out on the lawn in the afternoon, down to the river, because customers just stop their eating to gawk at her.  Shes a beauty!  And everyone wants to pet her and tell her what a beauty she is, of course.  And she doesnt mind that at all.  All the dogs at Stonehaven have wonderful laid back personalities.  Everyone from tiny kids to great-grandparents want to pet them and they just stand there and smile and take in all the attention.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Technology blues, 14 January 2005

Once again, Im laptop-less for who-knows-how-long due to the internal modem in my laptop taking (we think) a lightening hit.  Rosemarys PC has gone through 3 modems just since Ive been here, so it happens.  Evidently the phone lines here are less lightening-proof than ours back home (not that ours back home are perfect).  And we have had some wild and crazy lightening storms here lately.  We try to unplug all the PCs and unhook phone lines when we hear thunder in the distance, but sometimes we are not around to do it.  The storms are really no worse than those severe southern summer storms we get at home, and they even seem to come late afternoon like the storms at home.  Today its a slow drizzly misty rain and it feels like Seattle here.  Anyway, Im slower at emails without my laptop and cant post pictures to the Blog, but Im still here.


Also, the site I use to post to my Blog has been having technical difficulties this week, so even though Ive been posting to the Blog, my posts dont show.  Theyre working on them, and obviously if youre reading this post, theyve resolved their problems. 


Maybe the Tsunami caused all of this.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Banks and Cell Phones, 9 January 2005

Two things I have observed about South African life that are a little different than life back home are banks and cell phones.


First, everyone has a cell phone.  Everyone. People who cant afford food have a cell phone.  Every staff member at Stonehaven has a cell phone, from management down to the cleaning ladies and gardeners.  For poor people who cant afford good housing or a car, its a status symbol to have a cell phone, and gives them a little bit of identity.  There are monthly contracts available for cell phones like back home, however the vast majority of people use pay-as-you-go.  I have a cell phone here, and I just buy phone time when I need it.  I dont use my cell phone a whole lot, but its a nice security to have when Im away from the family here, running errands or on a trip or just out and about.  I know I can always get Rosemary and Rex on the phone if needed, and vice versa.  Plus, Stonehaven is so big that often when we cant find each other for something we need, we will just call each other.  I buy phone time about every 2 to 3 months.  You can buy phone time almost anywhere, from convenience and grocery stores, to gas stations, etc.  Ive been putting about R180 ($30ish US) on my phone every couple of months and when the balance gets low, I go buy some more.  This is what everyone here does.  Theyre very conscious of the cost of using their cell phones: its very expensive to call from cell phone to land line and vice versa, so you dont do that unless you absolutely have to.  On the switchboard at Stonehaven, we have land lines, plus 2 cell phone lines, so if Im making a call to someones cell phone from Stonehaven, I make sure to use one of the cell phone lines.  A little complicated for me at first, but it becomes second nature. 


The other thing thats huge about cell phones is what they call SMS-ing, or text messaging.  Everyone SMSs everyone.  I think an SMS costs about R1, so if you just have a quick message for someone, its cheaper than calling them.  But they obsess on SMSs!  Especially the kids and the younger generation, who are constantly SMSing their friends about a TV show or movie or some song theyre listening to.  But even the older generation gets into the mentality.  Ill SMS you and we’ll do lunch.


I believe back home, you can only text message/ SMS someone if theyre on the same cell phone company as you?  Here in SA there are only 2 major cell phone companies, and SMSing between them is not an issue, so maybe another reason why its more popular here.


Banks are in some ways advanced from what we have at home, but in some ways still just as cumbersome.  I dont have a checking account here (very few people do), I have whats called a transmission account.  If you want to pay someone money, you just ask for their banking details (which is basically their account number and branch where their account is) and you transfer the money using an ATM or the internet.  Most functions that are booked at Stonehaven pay by transferring the money into our account here.  Rosemary ordered some calendars over the phone in December, and rather than give them a credit card number like we would at home, she simply got their banking details and transferred the money.


Unfortunately, red tape is a worldwide phenomenon, and when I first set up my account here, they forgot to give me Internet access and other things, so I was forced into 2 more in-person trips to the bank to stand in a queue (line) to resolve my problems.  Customer service is not big for them, at least not for my bank (Absa).


I have a credit card (Visa) that is linked to my transmission account and paid off monthly.  Actually they forgot to set that up for me too and that involved yet another 2 trips to the bank to stand on queue after they stopped approval on my credit card for non-payment, so already I got a bad mark on my credit record here thanks to my bank!  Ugh.   I have a pretty low credit limit on my credit card, since Im a new account and not a resident (my official status is non-resident with a work permit).  So when I went traveling in November to Pilanesburg and Cape Town, I knew I would need to charge hotels, plane tickets and things on my credit card.  My only option was to transfer money ahead of time to my credit card, which wasnt a problem, but Im glad I knew to do it.  But when I went to rent a car in Cape Town, they had to get R2000 approval on my credit card, which I didnt have covered, so I was stuck.  However, I just walked down the street to an ATM, transferred money from my transmission account to my credit card, went back to the rental car place and presto, had the approval.  I might be able to do things like that in the States, but Ive just never had to.


I have an ATM card and it can be used as a debit card at grocery stores and pretty much everywhere, just like back home.  Ah, but then theres a transaction fee.


There is a charge for almost everything you do with your account.  Every transaction you make on your transmission account has a transaction charge (of less than 1% but its still a change).  Every thing you charge to your credit card gets a transaction charge too, plus a government levy charge (of about 3 cents US).  So they nickel and dime you to death, and balancing my monthly statement becomes a chore, since you get all these extra transactions added to the ones you make.  My transmission account pays me a tiny interest rate for the balance that I keep in there.


The nice thing is I will be able to still monitor my bank account pretty easily from the States, since its just a matter of getting on to the Internet (which I do with my U.S. account from down here as well).  When I go home, Im still not sure how much I will leave in the account here, or if I will transfer some back to the U.S., but transferring the money overseas will likely be a chore (with lots of extra charges thrown in Im sure!).  Or maybe it wont, who knows.


The tax year in South Africa ends Feb. 28th, at which time I will need to file my taxes here.  That will be an eye-opening experience Im sure.  They do take out taxes from my paycheck just like back home, so I have no idea if I will owe more or get a refund, or what.  But Im glad I will be here the month of March to get that taken care of.  Im still hazy on how my taxes back home will be done, accounting for the money Ive earned and taxes Ive paid here, so that will be a learning experience too.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Home Stretch and Mandelas son, 7 January 2005

Christmas and New Years are behind us now.  From the start of my time in South Africa, they loomed as a huge separating point of my trip.  It seemed like they would never get here, not that I wanted them to anyway.  Now that theyre suddenly behind us, I can only see the downward slide ahead of me.  Im flying home on 31 March (arrive Atlanta 1 April), so I have basically 3 months left here.  I am already making mental lists of things I need to get done, places I want to see, and Im trying not to think of actually leaving here.  Big time mixed emotions; as homesick as I am for some things back home, I really hate the thought of leaving other things (and people) here.  When I left Atlanta, there was a set time when I knew I would be back.  When I leave here, Im not sure when I will be back.  That will make it much harder.  I guess I just never thought of that when I planned this whole adventure.


The whole living overseas experience has been much more fulfilling than I expected, and very life-changing in many ways.  I have been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling in my life, seen a lot of countries.  But there is a huge difference between visiting a country and living there.  It is a little hard for me to put into words, but when you are living in a place for such a long time, you become part of the landscape and stop looking at it as an outsider looking in.  Learning to think in a different currency rather than always making the calculation to dollars in your head.  Driving on the left without even thinking or concentrating anymore.  


But on the other hand, Im still a foreigner here, and I still talk in my American accent (which strangers notice right away and usually think Im British).  Its funny, but even now, 6 months into my trip, hardly a day goes by that we dont find a word that I use differently than they do here, or vice versa.  Like getting asked if Ive seen the Selo tape lately (scotch tape to me).  Or questions I am asked sometimes, like why do American football players paint that black stripe under their eyes.  Storm nearly gagged the first time I was helping her with typing something and I said put a period at the end of a sentence.  She looked at me with horror and surprise on her face.  For a 12 year old, talking about periods is not something one takes lightly.  For her, that thing at the end of a sentence is a full-stop.  The fact that I call it a period is appalling to her!  Something like this still pops up with us every day that Im here.  Its amazing.  Its great fun to still learn from the people here and have them learn from me. 


Its a new year, a time for resolutions and fresh starts.  Being away from my home and family and my comfortable Atlanta surroundings makes me re-evaluate a lot of things in my life, which is always a good thing.


Im reading Nelson Mandelas book, Long Walk to Freedom, which I got for Christmas.  750 pages, so it should keep me busy the rest of my time here.  In one of lifes little synchronicities, yesterday I read in his book about the birth of one of his sons, and yesterday that same son died of AIDS.  It had been in the papers over the last couple of months that his son was sick in the hospital, possibly dying, but no cause had been given, so people here assumed it was AIDS.  Today in a press conference, Mandela in a way came out of his own version of a closet by announcing his son had indeed died of AIDS.  Part of what he said at the press conference:


<Some time now, I have been saying: Let us give publicly to HIV/AIDS.  Let us not hide it. Because the only way in making it appear like a normal illness like TB and cancer is to come out and say somebody died because of HIV/AIDS.  And people will stop regarding it as an extraordinary illness reserved for people who go to hell instead of Heaven.>


The statistics say that in the year 2000, 4.5 million South Africans had HIV; and that in the next 10 years, 6 million South Africans will die from the disease.  But still the black population here turns away from the facts, and they refuse to use condoms, and they think they can pay a witch doctor R2,500 and be cured.  (Rosemary had a staff member here a few months ago who wanted to borrow that to pay the witch doctor, and when Rosemary said no and tried to explain to him that there is no cure that any amount of money can buy, he got furious at her.  He refused to go on the free retro-virals that the government provides.  He died within a month.)  And now even the great Nelson Mandela couldnt save his own son from it.  I think that above war, terrorism, politics and famine, it is the biggest problem facing this country and continent right now.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Watching the Sugar Bowl, 4 January 2005

It came to my attention just a couple of days ago that ESPN here (which is more like ESPN Europe, as they carry a lot of soccer, cricket, etc.) is carrying the 4 major bowl games from back home, which meant that I would get to see the Auburn-Virginia Tech game LIVE!  I was beside myself with joy.  Until a thought formed in my head.  What if.  What if I get to watch Auburn live for the very first time this season, with my own eyes… and they lose.  I might never be allowed back in my home country again.  Should I stick to my usual ritual (which has served us so well all season) of dialing in on the Internet to hear the radio broadcast of the game?  Should I continue to light my African candle, wear my African (orange and blue) sarong, and scream War Eagle in Xhosa (imfazwe intaka!)?  Or should I throw caution to the wind and just kick back on the couch with a drink in my hand, just as if I was back home in Atlanta?  (no matter that the game was on at 3am my time).  What to do, what to do?  There was no time to post a poll to the Blog and wait for votes of what I should do to pour in.  Besides, what if the votes went one way and I went the other way and disaster happened?  Could I live with my eternal guilt over ruining the Perfect Season?


So I made my decision.  I would watch the game.  And if we lost, I would lie.  Lie to my grave.  Not even on my deathbed would I utter the confession that I had watched this game.  I was prepared for a life of guilt and eternal damnation for it, but I was not prepared for the abuse my friends would heap on me.  So lying was the best option.  By far.


The night before the game, we had what they call a Highveld Storm here.  This area of South Africa is known as the Highveld, and there are lightening storms that roll through with amazing power, in a way they dont anywhere else in the country.  I left my curtains drawn back and lay in bed watching the magnificent storm.  It was lovely!  I fully expected the electricity to go off for the night and my Sugar Bowl dilemma to be decided for me by Mother Nature.  So I drifted off to sleep watching the amazing light show and listening to the sounds of thunder and torrential rains on my roof.


At 2:30am my alarm clock went off and out of bed I shot.   I turned on the coffee maker and got dressed in my lucky clothes.  I walked outside to see a crystal clear sky, and stars that looked like you could just reach up and touch them.  I turned on the TV and watched the end of a Monster Truck Pull until finally, the Sugar Bowl started, and there was little bitty Terry Bowden talking about Auburns undefeated season.  Bless his evil little heart.  Just after kickoff, there was a knock on my door and 14 year old John was there to watch the Tigers with me.  He is dying to learn American football, and though we do get occasional NFL games here, this would be his first college game to see.  And I have done a wonderful job of brainwashing him to support Auburn, if I do say so myself.  We fretted, we worried, I explained late hits and things like that to John, and he absorbed it like a sponge.  Ah, grasshoppah, you are young and you will live to see many Auburn victories. 


The game progressed, I drank 2 pots of coffee and was pretty much bouncing off the walls as the sun came up.


I cursed ABC/ESPN for their propaganda that made it seem that the whole US Army stationed in Iraq was pulling for Virginia Tech.  Why did they have to show us that guys reaction at their missed field goal?  Why did they have to make sure that every neutral fan across the country tuning in for the game suddenly became a huge Hokie fan and wished death to Auburn?  Now really.  Dont they know anything about Operation War Eagle, in which the Atlanta Auburn Club is in constant touch with AU Alums stationed in Iraq?  Puhleeeeeeze. 


I thought my death-to-the-jinx voodoo spell was safe in hand, but of course, nervous moments ensued towards the end of the game.  As the math was done on the sidelines and Jason took a knee those last 2 minutes, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Because Im a really bad liar!


Homesick doesnt begin to describe how Im left feeling today.  It seems like a dream that I watched an Auburn football game.  I guess I will get up at 3am again tonight and watch the Orange Bowl, just to keep me feeling homesick, and to see what the second rated teams do.  Cause according to every poll Ive seen in South Africa, Auburn is No. 1.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year! 1 January 2005

The sun came up on 2005 just as I was going to bed.  Another wild Stonehaven night.  We put a huge tent up on the lawn yesterday, to serve as the beer tent.  Food was also served there, Boerwors Rolls, Prego Rolls, Chicken Curry and Chicken a la King.  There were 2 bands, and a DJ providing music through the evening.  We are guessing about 3,000 people came out for the party.  I mostly helped out at the gate.  We had decided to be as strict as possible about keeping underage kids out, so the evening was a constant battle between us and them (the legal age here is 18, so we were just trying to keep out kids under that).  Im amazed at the bad parents out there who bring their kids to something like this and leave them.  When they enter our gates as a family (we dont let underage kids in without parents for events like this), the parents were warned they wouldnt be able to leave without their kids.  Of course some parents snuck out anyway.  Amazing that parents will bring their 14, 15, 16 year old kids and go to such effort to get them into a drinking venue and go to such efforts to sneak out themselves and leave their kids there.  And then there are the people who might be 22, as they say they are, but they dont have their ID with them.  Ha.  I gave so many lectures last night.  You should never go out on New Years Eve without your ID no matter how old you are.  We turned them away.  They would try to sneak in, via climbing over a fence, or sneaking in down by the river, or whatever.  It was like this horrible life or death crisis that they couldnt get in!  Some snuck in anyway, and yes, some parents did manage to abandon their 15 year olds, but we weeded out a lot of them and had a pretty well-behaved crowd. 


At midnight, just as the celebration was really getting underway, the police arrived, about 5 cars and a paddy wagon.  It was a raid, they told us.  They assured us they were hitting many local bars that night and had already confiscated lots of liquor and shut down 5 shebeens (honky tonks).  For us, it turned out to be no problem.  Rex spent time with them showing our liquor licenses and all of our other ducks were in a row.  They roamed the crowd checking IDs and in an actual case of good timing, a fight broke out while they were there.  The 2 guys involved were handcuffed and led away.  There wasnt another fight the entire evening.  And the police were on their way by 12:30.  We had last call at 1:30am, and music and bars shut down at 2am.  There were a large number of late partiers who hung around on the lawn till about 3:30am, but they were tame and happy drunk Afrikaners.  My favorite kind.


All during the evening, there were firecrackers and small fireworks being set off by neighbors, or people on the river, or places up and down the river.  The birds in the neighborhood were frantic, flying from tree to tree every time another loud pop went off.  I saw Guinness at one point cowered under a desk in the accounting office, nervous as hell.  It occurred to me I should go check on Kali, but figured she was inside with John  and Storm, and I was too busy at the gate.  Well about 1am I got a chance to run upstairs to my room where I had left the door open.  Before I even turned on the light, I heard this rumbling in the room, so flipped on the light and Kali was just coming out of my closet.  Seems she had dug herself a little cubby hole there to be safe from the firecrackers.  Poor thing.  I dont think she has ever been so happy to see me as she was then.  I took her downstairs where Storm was watching a movie and left her there where she felt safe.  The noise had pretty much died off by then anyway.


We also found a new dog sometime during the evening.  A little Pekingese dog was found in the river by some customers, and brought to us to take care of.  Storm did a good job of cuddling the poor dog in a blanket and drying her until she calmed down.  We still have her today and have called the SPCA, put up fliers, etc., so hopefully her owners will realize soon that they are missing a dog.  Not sure if she fell off of a boat or was on the riverbank and fell in or what.  It is amazing we havent found any 15 year olds in the river either.


By 4am the crowds were completely gone, and the cleaning ladies were doing their thing all over the property.  The rest of the staff and I sat in the bar for a self-congratulatory drink and some left over boerwors rolls and told war stories from the night.


I hit the sack about 4:45am and went right to sleep with the fan on.  Hot days lately, about 30c (92f), and remember we have no air-conditioning here (except in cars).  Its January 1st now and while if I were home I would be camped in front of the TV watching football game after football game, here its just another sunny hot day on the river.  I think I need a nap though!

Tsunami, 30 December 2004

The Tsunami tidal wave that rocked the Indian Ocean the day after Xmas continues to dominate our news here.  Last Ive seen, death toll is what, 119,000?  Wow.  Ive been asked if South Africa felt the effects.  No, nothing here.  I havent read of any effects even felt at Durban, on the east coast.  They dont get anything here.  No earthquakes, no tidal waves, no hurricanes, no tornadoes, nothing.  They have mild winters and mild summers and occasionally get hail.  Oh but they do have murders and car-jackings.  I guess that proves the old Eagles song is right, that every point of refuge has its price.


There were approximately 700 South Africans on Phuket (no!  Its not pronounced that way!) when it hit.  Like I wrote the other day, my friend Serge was in Bangkok and felt the quake, on the 27th floor of his building, but was in no danger of water where he was.  My friends Rachel and Paul were on Phuket, poolside at their hotel when it hit.  They got home today and came to Stonehaven for drinks and to relay the stories and show us the bruises.  Its incredible to sit and hear them talk about it.  Paul has scratches all over his face and legs.  He was swept into a tree where he helped a woman climb to a second story balcony to safety.  Rachel has bruises on her legs, big ugly bruises, and under her arms.  She was swept into the lobby of the hotel and isnt a strong swimmer.  She thinks a TV set hit her to cause the bruises on her leg, but shes not sure.  She said furniture was just piling up and she kept swimming and climbing to stay on top of the furniture.  She got to a fire escape and just held on for dear life, thinking she would wait till the wave subsided, but realized there were people under her who needed up too and they were screaming at her to climb, so she climbed up to the second floor and went looking for Paul, and found him helping the lady off the tree onto the balcony.  They remember 3 big waves hitting, the second was the highest and came into the second floor of the hotel.  Their room had been on the first floor, and if they had been in their room instead of poolside, most likely wouldnt have made it out.  (They had felt the earth quake about 8am but thought it was pretty much all over, and were by the pool at about 10:15 am when the first wave hit.)  They were lucky!  After finding each other on the second floor, they waited for the water to recede and went down to their first floor room.  Everything was washed out, although a water taxi of some sort had washed (crashed) in through the window into their room.  Their room safe was still there, where they had left their passports and plane tickets, so again, they were lucky.  All their suitcases and clothes were gone, and the only other valuable thing gone was Rachels engagement ring (they married in Phuket a year ago), which was washed away.  All replaceable though of course.


After the initial survival of the waves, Paul and Rachel walked to higher ground and wound up in the house of 2 nice Englishmen who are now their friends for life.  They stayed there for 3 nights while the chaos settled around them.  They were able to phone home from there, and even email Rachels dad a birthday wish.  South Africa sent a plane to Phuket to retrieve citizens in peril, and though they had to wait for the second trip to get on the plane, they made it on and flew directly back to Johannesburg.  Rachel still had her torn swim suit on (fortunately she was wearing her top when the wave hit), though she had managed to buy some track pants and a shirt to go over them.  I think that tattered swim suit is going to be framed for her living room.