Thursday, March 31, 2005

My last week there, 31 March, 2005

In my life, some of the saddest days I have experienced were ones where I have said goodbye to Rosemary. Seems like we have done it so many times. Its too personal to write about here, so I wont go into our blubbery scene at the airport, but the rest of my final week in South Africa was full of great memories. It seems odd that Im now writing the Blog for an audience on both sides of the Atlantic, since some of my SA friends are checking it now to see how my readjustment to American life goes. I did make it home safely to American soil, and the 18 hours on the plane gave me some separation time, but I still feel at the moment like I lead 2 lives, and its a strange feeling. But back to my final week.

I posted the picture of me with the Women of Shag Pad from last Sunday nights braai. We also tried an artsy photo which was harder to organize than you might think!

The Shag Pad group reminds me a lot of my dear old friends from college here in the U.S. They are a group of people who have known each other so long (almost 30 years in many cases), seen each other at their best and worst, and can be different people when they are all together, from the people they are in their daily lives. They welcomed me into the group like I was one of them, and boy did I have some good times with them over the course of my 9 months. From Botswana to Shag Pad, I did some serious bonding with these folks. I miss them already.

One day last week, Rosemary and I took it upon ourselves to re-create a picture from 21 years ago. Here I am at Stonehaven in March 1984:

And here I am in that same spot in March 2005:

I know, I know, Stonehaven has changed a lot, but I havent really changed much at all. Just on my right shoulder, the little wooden arch that you see in the 1984 picture is actually still there intact, but harder to see in the 2005 picture because of nature growing over it. Stonehaven was rented out as a residence back in 1984, but it pretty much looked exactly like that picture when they started it as a business in 1994. You can see over the last 10 years how they have reconstructed the boathouse and built the River Terrace (left) to hold bigger functions and weddings. I understand one of the willow trees from the 1984 picture got struck by lightening and they actually moved it and it still lives in the 2005 picture.

On Tuesday night Rosemary and I took the kids for my final McDonalds meal there. Since I never eat at McDs here in the U.S., it truly was my last McDs meal for a while, so seemed appropriate. And Sarah-Pat LOVES McDs.

The packing started. Fortunately last weekend in Durban at a flea market (or was it a boot sale?) I had bought a suitcase that expanded into something 3 of me could have fit into and still had room to spare, because as I began packing, I found out that in the 9 months, I accumulated more than I thought. Some pictures of my room in those last few days:

A little messier than the day I arrived I suppose. Kali was still attached to me and my room.

Thats Junior (also known as Dufus) on the bed with her. Kali often slept up in my room on the sofa at night, but my last night in SA, she actually slept in the bed with me the whole night. I think she saw the packing and knew something wasnt right.

Wednesday night, my last night in SA, my plan was to have a laidback restful evening of visiting with the staff at Stonehaven and other friends I had gotten to know. I camped out in the Pub that afternoon and people came and visited and looked at pictures from my stay and we reminisced. As afternoon turned to evening, one of the staff members came rushing to the table where several of us were seated, and said there was a huge problem with the function going on in the River Terrace that night, as a cat was giving birth to kittens just behind the function room. Only at Stonehaven. So I grabbed my camera and went tearing down to the River Terrace to capture the blessed event for the Blog. And here is the sight that greeted me:

And there was the whole staff of Stonehaven waiting to send me off in grand African style. The black staff were singing me an African song and dancing and ululating and swiping my feet with cloths (I forgot to get that part explained to me) while the white people stood there and tried to pretend to move to the music and clap their hands.

Once I was over my initial disappointment that alas, there was no cat giving birth, I joined in the dancing and singing and ululating as best I could, which wasnt that great (what can I say, Im white).

More signs from around the room, including in Afrikaans and Zulu:

Rex made a touching (to me anyway) speech about my time there at Stonehaven, and a couple of the staff members chimed in with memories of their own from my time there. They gave me a lovely ID bracelet, with my name on the front and Stonehaven on the back, so it will always be a part of me. They sang For Hes a Jolly Good Fellow to me, and we toasted. It was really special to me. The evening then proceeded into a dinner (Mongolian braai, regular braai, or buffet with some hot hot curry), and a little dancing and more singing. They had a cake for me with the SA and USA flags on it and they made me sing the Star Spangled Banner for them. Pictures from the evening:

It was certainly a night to remember. I couldnt think of a better way to spend my last night there, than surrounded by all the people who had made my time there so memorable. I cant say thanks enough to all of them, and I feel humbled that they gave me such a send off. I did have a small babalas (sp?) (hangover) my last day at Stonehaven, but it was worth it. Im very sad to end this chapter in my life but I have special life-long ties to South Africa and to Stonehaven, and I have always had special ties to Rosemary of course, and her family. The hospitality I was shown cant really be described properly in this Blog, but hopefully I have relayed some of the feelings to the people reading it. I will continue to post some here, just to keep folks posted on my readjustment phase. But sadly, the Blog will have to come to an end soon, as all good things must.

I will post more soon!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Winding down, 29 March 2005

Very little time here this week to post to the Blog. There are too many people to see, last minute work things to do, errands to run, packing to do. We had a Shag Pad braai this weekend and they did a very sweet toast to me and then the women of Shag Pad posed for a picture with me:

The goodbyes are not a lot of fun and I have never been good at them, so I am trying to just say See You Later to everyone. I do plan to be back, but they all want to know WHEN and for how long. Those things, I cant say, but I am sure I will be back.

I will post more to the Blog this week if I can, but no promises --- I might have to catch up after Im State-side. I leave here on Thursday evening, on a direct flight to Atlanta (one stop for refueling). I land in Atlanta about 18 hours later, on Friday morning at 8:15am, and already have a long to-do list there, including some things I have missed. One of the first trips I would like to make is to Krispy Kreme and hope the red light is on! After that, a Diet Dr. Pepper. A Starbucks coffee. The list goes on from there. Is it boiled peanut season yet?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Durban last weekend, 23 March 2005

So we had a nice family weekend in Durban last weekend, me, Rex, Rosemary, Storm and Sarah (John had to play rugby so stayed with a friend in Jo-burg). We left Friday morning for the 6ish hour drive down to the coast. The dogs were sad to see us go:

Durban is on SAs east coast (link to map). On the drive down, we stopped for a lunch and got to see some ostrichs closeup:

Other pictures from the drive down:

You can see the terrain is rocky and mountainous. However, as you get closer to Durban, the landscape changes quickly and drastically and becomes very plush, green forrests. You can also feel the humidity in the air increase. Durban is a big beach city, much like Miami Beach. As we drove into the heart of Durban on the way to our hotel, we stopped at a robot (redlight) and rolled down the window. You could taste the salt air on your lips, and smell the beach. We were all having a nostalgic moment; Rosemary remembering visits to her mother in Durban, myself, happy to be at the beach and remembering arriving here 21 years ago. Our peaceful moment was abruptly broken by the man in the car next to us yelling at Rosemary: Ma-am? Scuse me ma-am? You should roll your window up in this neighborhood. Not safe.

Welcome to Durban! That will kill a moment, wont it? We hastily rolled our windows up except for Rex who dared anyone to try to come through his window, which made Storm frantic with worry. Some things never change.

Our hotel was right on the beach front. Some views:

We unloaded the car and went for a walk down the beach that afternoon and met Shirley (Rosemarys sister) and her family for dinner at a beach front restaurant with a local name:

I should give a little history of the Durban area. Durban is in the KwaZulu Natal Province. 300 or so years ago, it was inhabited by the Zulu tribe who had moved down from the continent of Africa. They eventually clashed with the Afrikaner (Dutch) settlers who had migrated up from the Cape. The Zulus were an aggressive tribe and did well in warfare, but eventually fell to the Afrikaners (on 16 December, 1838, the day that Afikaners made their vow with God and believed God had given them victory over the Zulus). But the Zulus have remained a force to be reckoned with though, even through modern times. Nelson Mandela wrote in his book about the difficulty of getting Zulu backing for his black party (the ANC, African National Congress), because the Zulus disagreed with the ANCs peaceful negotiation policies, and the Zulus believed violence was the only way Apartheid would be dismantled. Mandela was constantly trying to appease the Zulu king when establishing the new democractic government in 1994.

The other group that makes up the main population of the Durban area are the Indians. They were brought over in the 17 and 1800s as cheap or slave labour, to work in the sugar cane fields around Durban. The local joke here is Whats the capital of India? Durban. There are a lot of Indians there, of both the Hindu and Muslim religeions. In the Apartheid era, the heirarchy of status was (1) Whites, (2) Indians, (3) Coloureds (the mixed race and descendants of Malaysian slaves that were used to settle the Cape area) and last of course, (4) Blacks. Mandela also wrote of the difficulty he had of getting Indian help in fighting Apartheid. Though Apartheid affected Indians, it was not nearly to the extent that it affected blacks, so the Indians had their own reasons and methods for fighting Apartheid during those years.

So Durban is very much like visiting another country. Everywhere you go, the people just dont look like they do in Vanderbijlpark, or even Johannesburg. The restaurants have strong Indian influence, which I LOVED. I love curry, and the smell of Indian spices was everywhere we went, it seemed. Even on fruit. At a flea market, I came across a small food stand selling pineapple on a stick rolled in this reddish powder. The powder is called Fruit Spice and its meant for any kind of fruit. I cant tell you how good it was. I kept asking the lady Is this a curry spice? and she would just say Is fruit spice! I think maybe it was her secret recipe. So I bought 3 bottles of the stuff to bring home. A few minutes after eating my pineapple rolled in fruit spice, my lips began to burn. Then magically, my sinuses opened wide and clear! 5 minutes later, I was sweating. This was good stuff! So I went back and bought another one! And later in the day I had 2 more. I was craving the stuff! We-ll see who at home is brave enough to try it! Its OK if no one at home likes the stuff. Leaves more for me to eat.

On Saturday night we drove to Shirley and familys farm home about 30 minutes outside of Durban in a little town called Drummond. Its spectacular! Their family used to live in the heart of Durban, but about a year ago, they made the decision to simplify life and move to the country. The family of 4 now occupy a small thatch roofed house that is about 30meters by 10 meters. Small, small, small. There is a bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom downstairs, and a loft area with another bed upstairs where they all sleep. Small but beautiful! And they are so happy there!

That last picture is the view from the porch. As you can also see, there were animals around. Minature horses, big horses, chickens, ducks, a turkey, 2 dogs, some doves and a parrot. I dont think Ive left anyone out. The animals are just part of the family, and certainly made themselves at home as we had drinks:

The minature horse female was in heat (brought to our attention by 10-year-old Nicholas. Ah, growing up on a farm…), and during dinner, the mood struck for them:

You just dont see that much in the city. Especially during a braai. Mr. Turkey sat right there with us during dinner. I think he needs a mate, as he seemed lonely to us.

We had a wonderful evening in the country, as darkness fell and we ate a delicious salmon grilled on the braai. As I think I have mentioned before, Shirleys cancer has returned (she has fought it for 8 years and had gotten a clean bill of health last December) and she is now on a new treatment of radiation and chemo. Her attitude is amazing, and she sits and tells us about how excited she is with the new chemo she is getting (its orange, which is her new power color!) and how all these wonderful things are happening in her life, and how she is going to beat this yet again. I guess one never know how one would react if put in a situation like hers, but Im not sure I would be nearly as upbeat as she is. She certainly has the right idea, and Im betting on her to beat this again too.

The rest of our time in Durban was spent being tourists. We came across a body painting competition near the beach:

We went for a walk on the beach and tried to walk through some treacherous rocks until the tide came in faster than we thought and we turned around and came back:

No harm done, we went around the wall and continued our walk on the beach:

Sunday afternoon we drove up the north coast to a new casino that has opened, and had a wonderful lunch overlooking a grand view:

On a dreary Monday morning, we packed up the car and drove back towards Stonehaven:

It has been cool and wet here lately, and everyone thinks theyre in for an early Winter here. Im already sleeping with a heater on at night, so I suppose Autumn is here. Good news for the Northern Hemisphere though.

Its Easter weekend now. My last weekend in South Africa (for this trip anyway!). Today, Good Friday, is a major holiday, and Easter Monday is also a major holiday, so it will be a long weekend and Stonehaven will be busy. We have some plans to braai with the gang at Shag Pad and other things. The good-byes have already started. I cant believe 9 months has flown by so fast. Ive got mixed emotions swirling around, excited to see friends and family back home, but sad to say goodbye to friends (and animals) here. But anyway, one week left on my amazing adventure…..

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Soweto, 22 March 2005

We had a great weekend in Durban, which I will write about more later and post pictures from. But yesterday, we went on a tour of Soweto which was interesting, to say the least. Soweto is a black township on the south side of Johannesburg. I am trying to think of a place in America that strikes fear in the hearts of white people, and Harlem is about the only place I can think of. I know Bill Clinton has offices there today, and it has become a different kind of place, but I think there was a time when the thought of going to Harlem struck a deep fear in anyone white. Soweto is still that way here. In fact, several staff members here thought we were absolutely crazy and taking our lives into our own hands to go into Soweto on a tour. I wasnt sure what to expect from the tour, but wanted the educational experience. There is a lot of publicity about what a tourist destination Soweto has become in the last few years, so tourgroups go there all the time, and there are even Bed and Breakfasts in Soweto. I wasnt worried about our safety. So off we went.

When Apartheid laws were put in place in the early 1950s, one of the first things the government did was to assign locations where blacks were allowed to live. Soweto was one of them. All across the area, where blacks had lived and owned homes for years, they were forced to pack up and move to Soweto. It became a melting pot of the different black tribes, Xhosa, Sotho and Zulu. Probably what Soweto is most known for are student riots that occurred there in 1976. By then, Apartheid laws had been in effect for over 20 years, and there was a whole generation of blacks that had grown up only knowing Apartheid. The black schools in Soweto were purposefully in place to under-educate the blacks. But in 1976, the government passed a law that from that point, all subjects in black schools would be taught in Afrikaans. Up until that point, they had been taught Afrikaans as a language, but the general subjects (math, history, etc.) were taught in English or in their vernacular languages. Suddenly it was decided they would be taught in Afrikaans. It was a very symbolic change. Afrikaans was the language of the oppressor. There was great resistance to it. In June of 1976, a boycott of the schools was organized, and a march came together in Soweto where students took a petition to the Police Station protesting the change to Afrikaans. Things got out of hand that day, and the police opened fire. These werent college kids making a big protest, they were actaully grade school children, and some as young as 13 were gunned down. It sparked 2 weeks of riots throughout Soweto, a state of emergency was declared, and by the time the dust had settled, 515 blacks had been killed. The pictures of students being shot made world news and thereafter, a whole new world pressure was put on the South African government. The Soweto riots are considered a major turning point in the anti-Apartheid struggle.

10 years of democracy in South Africa have changed Soweto a good bit. There are now million Rand homes there, but there are also still shacks occupied by sqautters. Our tour wasnt just riding through the streets of Soweto and looking at them. In fact, our tourguide told us right up front that there used to be tours like that, where busloads of tourists came in and looked at the people like they were monkeys. The people of Soweto didnt respond well to that, he said and that they wanted the people to get out of their busses and say hello, shake their hands and move amongst them to see how they live. So thats the kind of tour we had. At first, I felt a little awkward, in a rude way, like I was just being a spectator to their poverty. However, everywhere we went, the people had a certain pride in their meager surroundings and seemed happy to show off where they live. Part of the new pride in Soweto comes from the fact that the people there now own their houses, having been given them by the new government. Even the poorest areas were clean, and the people smiled and were friendly to us wherever we went. Plus, they see that tourism brings in money, and in fact each person who took us into their home got a fee from the tourist company that organized our trip.

One of our first stops was at a taxi rank, the central place in Soweto where taxis pick people up and take them to work in Johannesburg or various places.

It was a busy market-like area, with much activity. The 4 of us and our white tourguide (we also had a black tourguide with us) were the only white people in sight. We walked through the markets and looked at the goods they were selling. We bought African potatoes at a Sangoma stand. A Sangoma is like a witch doctor, and we had to clap our hands 3 times before entering, to ask the ancients permission to be there. They showed us roots and snakeskins and tortoise shells that were used for all sorts of cures and remedies. As we walked further, we sampled some local foods, including Mopani worms, which were dried and crunchy and basically tasted like dirt, but not bad. We even tasted the heart of a cow. They grilled it and then lay it out on a table and cut slices for us (very hygenic, Im sure!). There was chilli powder and salt to dip it in:

It tasted like beef to me, pretty good!:

We also ate the head of a cow, which was being sliced up right in front of us:

I didnt find the head as tasty as the heart. They generally only allow men to eat from the head of a cow, as it is considered brain food, and they want to keep their women dumb, but the 3 women with me gave it a try. OK, Rosemary only took pictures.

We then went to a shebeen, which is basically a honky tonk beer joint, except not as fancy. It was a tin shack, and we walked into a room about 10 meters x 10 meters, that had a wooden bench all around the edges, on all sides. The benches were full of people sitting and drinking (it was 11am afterall), and they all said hello to us and moved over to make room for us to sit down with them. We were then given this beer in a carton and we each took swigs from it as the locals sang a song and laughed with (at?) us.

I dont like beer in general, so Im not a good one to ask if the stuff was any good. But I dont think it was.

The rest of our tour was just as entertaining. We stopped and went inside a hostel where several families live in one unit. There was a main room, and smaller sleeping rooms off of it. It was all concrete, no electricity, though they did have a gas tank that they cooked with, and no inside toilet (several units shared an outhouse). We went to a squatter camp, which is basically a field where people have just built whatever they are able to, as living shelter. We walked through the camp and went inside one ladys small shelter, which had a tin roof, and the walls used to be tin, but have rotted through, so she has used banners and paper to make the walls keep the weather out somewhat. Sorry no pictures here, but that would have felt downright wrong for me to take. However, I do have some pictures of a squatter camp near Stonehaven, taken from the road to give you an idea:

We also visited a creche in the squatter camp, which is a nursery school for 3 to 5 year olds. The children there speak Zulu and Xhosa at home, but are being taught English words at the creche, and they recited an alphabet song for us in English. A is for apple, B is for boy, C is for cat …

It was a school holiday yesterday, so there were only about 10 children in the room in the picture, where there are normally 21 there.

We went to 2 museums there in Soweto. The first was a museum marking the events of the riots of 1976, in pictures, video, court case transcripts, and newspapers. Like the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, I found it very moving, and once again am amazed at what humans can do to other humans.

We also visited the Nelson Mandela house museum, which is the house where Mandela lived for 15 years before he went to prison (and for 11 days after he got out of prison, though he quickly found he had no privacy there in his small Soweto house).

It was an educational day, and we felt perfectly safe the whole time. I think the people of Soweto are welcoming the tourist Rand, and are protective of tourists that come through. They also have a pride, even in their poverty. It was a little depressing to see some of the living conditions, but encouraging seeing the growth and positive things happening in this historically troubled place.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Off to Durban, 17 March 2005

Happy St. Patricks Day to all. Yes, it is celebrated here too. I think there are bar specials and giveaways in the Pub tonight. We will be packing, because in the morning, we are heading to Durban. Rex, Rosemary, Storm, Sarah and I are driving down for the weekend. John has rugby to play, so will stay here with a friend. Durban is about a 5.5 hour drive from here, down on the eastern coast of South Africa. See the map if you like:

Durban is SAs third largest city after Jo-burg and Cape Town, and as I recall from 20 years ago, is sort of the Miami Beach of SA. White beaches, big waves, muggy hot weather. Durban has a huge Indian population, and is in the KwaZulu Natal Province. The Zulus were a powerful tribe of blacks that had moved down from the continent of Africa over the centuries, until they clashed with (and lost to) the Afrikaners in the 1800s. Still, the Zulu influence is felt strongly there (unlike the area where Im living which is more Xhosa and Sotho).

Also Rosemarys sister lives in Durban. Shirley and her family visited us here Christmas, so now I get to go see where they live. I hear it is on a farm outside of Durban, so Im looking forward to seeing it. Also, recently Shirleys cancer has returned, and she is again undergoing radiation and chemo (she has faught it for 8 years and had been given a clean bill of health last September). Her attitude is amazing, and she calls us daily with positive news of how well the chemo and radiation is going, and how excited she is and energetic she feels. Truly inspirational! I guess we never know how we would each react if put into those shoes, but Im not sure I would be as giddy as she is. But it is definitely the right attitude to have if youre going to fight something like this.

So no posting to the Blog over the weekend most likely, but I will have pictures and tales to post when I get back on Monday. And Tuesday, we-re going for a tour of Soweto! Keep your fingers crossed for us on that one!

Oh, and here is a moment at Stonehaven yesterday, as Jenny and Mariette were getting ready for an evening function where the customer brought a strange prop to be used at their function. Dont ask.

Monday, March 14, 2005

My 3rd to last weekend, 14 March 2005

As I wind down my time here, I am trying to make lists of things I havent done that I need to get done, but I am also trying not to cram too much in and really enjoy my time with the people here more than anything. Friday night we went to a new seafood restaurant in Vanderbijlpark, with Tom and Carole. Now Vanderbijlpark is a decent sized small city actually. I know from pictures, a lot of people get the feeling I live in Mayberry here, but its more like Mount Pilot (with Johannesburg being the big city of Raleigh!). We had a delightful evening of good seafood (landlocked though we are) and too much wine (my aching joints be damned). For a starter, I had a crab soup, which is unusual here to begin with because soups are not common at all in South Africa. This was probably the second bowl of soup Ive had anywhere since Ive been in the country. The crab soup had a touch of sherry in it, so reminded me of a good She Crab Soup from South Carolina. It also had shrimp in it, or prawns, as theyre called here. Now prawns are a big delicacy here, but my problem with them is that they are always served in the shell and with the heads on. No matter what dish you get them in, shells on, heads on. Now at home, I dont mind a good shrimp boil where I shell and de-head my own, but Im usually outside, and in shorts. But at a nice restaurant where Im somewhat dressed and not wanting to smell like shrimp, Im just not up to the shelling and de-heading thing. So I left my prawns in the soup as they were, and everyone at the table was saying this will probably be the first time their kitchen has ever seen prawns of any kind come back. I did have a prawn curry for dinner, which were medium prawns, shelled, which was delicious. Im going to miss the curries in this country!

Rosemary and Rex went to a formal dinner in Jo-burg on Saturday night, with Rotary.

I dont think they were overly excited about the formal dress up thing, but Bishop Desmond Tutu was the guest speaker, so it was a chance to hear him in person, and they thoroughly enjoyed his speech. They said he was critical of the current government in subtle ways, which was just how he was even with the Apartheid government pre-1994. Its good that he is just as critical of the current black government in their wrong-doings. Every government needs its watchdogs.

While they were at the dinner in Jo-burg, I stayed here with the kids. We got take-out pizza and rented Scooby Doo Two and had a great Saturday evening! Here is a shot of John and Sarah-Pat (she had been doing some face painting I think) watching TV:

There was a beautiful rainbow over Stonehaven one afternoon last week (after a short hail storm):

We sat out on the back porch and watched the rains and rainbow from a distance:

Here is a picture of Guinness on Saturday afternoon:

No, hes not dead, just sleeping. We have a kids play area at Stonehaven just off the lawn that is a great big sandbox. Guinness goes in there to sleep in the cool sand sometimes, and the kids with their buckets and scoops will start pouring sand on him. He doesnt stir, doesnt move, just lies there and takes it. The kids love it and I guess he does too. Another of Guinness-s sleeptime pastimes is getting a tongue bath from Ping Pong, our Pekinese. She loves licking him while he sleeps and once again, he just lies there and takes it.

Heres Kali and me on a lazy Saturday afternoon (dont try to look up my shorts):

On Sunday morning, we hit the flea market in Vanderbijlpark for a little shopping, since there are still a few items I want to pick up to bring home. Imagine my shock when I passed this hat seller and looked down and saw:

Georgia Bulldog hats for sale in Vanderbijlpark? What is this world coming to? They were only 10 Rand a hat (less than $1.75), which was still a lot more than I would pay for such trash.

On the way home, we passed by something interesting:

That is a leftover from the Apartheid years, a siren that was used to signal every night at 9pm, when blacks had to be off the streets and in their homes. Rosemary says she has memories of hearing the nightly siren when she was a child. Blacks could be arrested an imprisoned if they were out after the sirens went off at night.

Another interesting Apartheid law was in place just across the river from us, in the Free State Province. This province was (and still is) largely inhabited by hardcore Afrikaners (and home to their version of the KKK). They had a law on the books in those years that an Indian could not sleep in the Free State. They could pass through, but they were not allowed to live there or even to stop and sleep on the way somewhere else. Indians in this country have long been viewed as shrewd businessmen, and we think this law was in effect to basically ensure that no Indian businesses were established in that Province. Strange laws, from a strange time in history.

After returning from the flea market, we went out on the river for some skiing and stopped at a place further down the river for some lunch. Some pictures as we arrived back at Stonehaven:
Now its Monday morning, back to work, trying to organize projects Ive got going on and wrap up as much as I can so I dont leave things undone (which I will certainly do anyway, I am sure).

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Earthquakes, oh my, 10 March 2005

OK, they dont have tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards or tsunamis here in South Africa, but they do have an occasional earthquake, as happened yesterday. It was centered about 150K from here (90ish miles) and measured 5.3 on the Richter scale. We didnt feel anything here, but evidently tremors were felt as far away as Pretoria. The scary thing (to me) is, the quake was mining-induced. Never heard that term before, but evidently, the areas surrounding Johannesburg are a network of underground mines, a maze of tunnels and digging sites, where gold is mined. I am told you can walk 40K outside of Jo-burg, all underground. Mining-induced earthquakes happen when mining activity triggers natural stresses in the rock and shifting can happen, and faults can be activated. Yikes! There was some damage above ground in this quake, and plenty of damage and injuries below ground, though no one was killed.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

True Medical Confessions, 8 March 2005

Im not sure why I have hesitated to write this little chapter in the Blog, except that it feels personal, but then again, sheesh, look at all the personal information I lay on the line in this Blog all the time! (and Ive lost track of who out there is even reading this thing!) I guess Ive decided to come forth with the following, as it sheds light on a little known side effect of living outside of ones own environment for long periods of time. Its nothing serious, just a medical inconvenience. And we all know how bad I am at taking injuries of any kind!

It all started for me back in January. I have been fairly active physically since Ive been here, going for a run 3 or so times a week, playing social tennis now and then, and going to the gym for some light weight work from time to time. Active, but probably less active than I was back in Atlanta. Just before the Cape Town trip in January, I noticed my knees felt a little sore all the time. I passed it off as running fatigue, and figured taking the time off from running during the Cape Town trip would do me good. But it seemed to get worse that trip, so bad I couldnt squat down to pick up something. So I did what I always do when these aches and pains come along. I ignored it! Ah, one of lifes little constants: Ignore it and it will go away! But this didnt. In fact, at one point in February, I noticed my knees had changed their shape! Nothing drastic, and everyone who looked at my knees said they looked fine, and they did. But I could look at them and feel them and they didnt feel like my knees. They were swollen above the kneecap and to the sides.

See? They dont look bad dothey?. But to me, they felt odd. Still, I ignored it. Drank lots of water. Figured I would flush the swelling out. I iced them sometimes. I stopped running. But I could also barely get up stairs some days! They hurt! Then another strange thing happened, both my wrists and my elbows began to hurt in the same way. I would sometimes find myself sitting on the couch, and to get up was a major chore. My knees couldnt do the work, and it killed me to put pressure on my wrists. I would crawl my way off the couch. I would struggle to get up and I had flashbacks to my grandmother getting out of a chair (but hell, she was 70 and had been badly burned earlier in her life!). I kept thinking Oh, Im just getting old. I’m vain I dont mind getting old, and I try to do it gracefully, but if I was feeling like this at 46, I wont be able to get out of bed at 56, much less 66! So Rosemary and I decided I should go visit a doctor they know well in Johannesburg, in fact he and Rex used to be running buddies, and hes very good at diagnosing athletic injuries. So we made an appointment and off we went. My second visit to a South African doctor! (my first was that finger infection thing back in December) Well, I didnt like the doctors diagnosis. We did a blood test and my uric acid levels are high. Doc says its not arthritis, but more like Gout. Now of course I have gone home and researched Gout on the Internet, and yes, it is most common in men over 40, but its also most common in overweight men and men who drink too much! Aaack! I dont think Im overweight, and Im pretty sure I dont drink too much. But yes, since I have been in South Africa, I have drunk more wine than I did at home. Most nights, one glass of wine. Sometimes none, sometimes 3. Always white wine. What I read on the Internet sounds like red wine is the biggest culprit, which I never drink. They do have some incredible fruit juices at the stores here, and I drink a ton of it. I know fruit juices are acidic. My toe isnt hurting at all, and that is the biggest result of Gout. So it seems I have high uric acid and thats the definition of Gout, but I dont feel like I really have Gout but maybe Im in denial. Ugh. Its also hereditary. Any relatives of mine reading this, does this run in my family?

Anyway, Doc gave me drugs, and I now take 5 pills a day. Im turning into my mother! (just joking, mom!) The anti-inflamatories have already helped the pain in the knees a lot, and they seem to be shrinking a little. Doc says I should continue on these pills which will last till about the time I go home, and that I should visit my doctor at home just to make sure we-re still on course to fix things. So thats my plan.
So I guess living overseas affected me in an unexpected way. When we go on overseas trips, or trips to big cities or something, and we eat exotic foods and foods we-re not used to, its a fun thing to do. But by coming here to South Africa, I completely changed my diet in a lot of ways, and over a long period. I had been here about 6 months when I noticed the effects. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the fruit juices, but it seems to have been brought on by diet. It will also be interesting to see if when I get back to the States, back into the diet I was accustomed to, if it will all go away on its own. So thats my true confession time. I feel better now. Rosemary is horrified that everyone reading this Blog will think horrible things of South African food and liquor, so I do hope I dont bring tourism down single-handedly!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Dreams, 3 March 2005

A month from now, I will be back in the States. I fly out of here 31 March and arrive Atlanta the next morning, April Fools Day. I have got very mixed emotions about winding my time down here. I am excited to get home to see people, eat certain foods, and have a Diet Dr. Pepper, things like that. But I am extremely sad to leave here, and leave the friends, family, and animals that I have bonded with here. I have had some very vivid dreams lately that I am sure are related to my state of mind. One dream that just seemed to go on and on, I went for a weekend visit to Atlanta, and kept wondering why am I doing a weekend visit here when Im coming for good in a month? Then in the dream, there would be South African friends there with me, and I would get very confused and have to stop and think, am I in SA or am I in ATL? On another night I had a dream about driving into a roundabout in the wrong direction, i.e. to the right, not the left. We dont even have roundabouts at home! I was so annoyed at myself for driving the wrong direction. I am sure dreams like that are my subconscious dealing with the transition time that Im heading into.

Conversations are starting to include *after Ive left*, and work related things are starting to carry a certain urgency to wrap up *before I leave*. I look at Kali sometimes and think how can I explain to her that Im suddenly going to disappear and she will be left to wonder where the hell I am (if dogs can wonder). Not to mention Mrs. Cat, though I think cats dont take those things as personally as dogs do.

I still dont have any definite work-related plans for when I get home, though I am putting out lots of feelers. If anyone reading this Blog has ideas or suggestions or wants to pay me to do something, use that email link at the top!

Im starting to give serious thought to packing. Ive got many things that Ive bought and received as gifts, and intend to buy more before I leave. As for clothing, I think I will leave everything American here. I know you have all gotten sick of seeing me in pictures in Auburn attire here, but I have accumulated a ton of South Africa stuff as well --- rugby, cricket, you name it. So when Im home youll be sick of seeing me in all of that! (My fashion tastes have remained steady over my life: if its got a drawstring and a sports team name on it, its acceptable as proper attire for any occasion.) I figure I will leave all my old clothes here for the staff, so when someone sees a gardener fertilizing the lawn in an Auburn shirt, or a cleaning lady cleaning a floor with an orange t-shirt, they will always think: I wonder how that crazy American guy is doing.

There is great tension in the house today, as I have been invited to a birthday braai tonight at the home of some managers here, but Rex and Rosemary havent been invited. We-re all kind of baffled as to why not. I want to ask, but maybe I shouldnt? Maybe Rex and Rosemary are perceived as the big bad bosses, and no one will be able to cut loose and get plastered if theyre around, but I dont think thats the case at all. Besides, some of the mangers parents will be there. So why am I invited but the Andersons arent? Its like that episode of Gilligans Island where the Howells throw a party but Gilligans invitation gets lost, so everyone thinks he was snubbed. Maybe the Andersons invitation will suddenly appear (though it was all verbal, no real invitations). Meanwhile, its an awkward situation and you can cut the tension with a knife around here! Of course Im still going.