A Typical Day in Africa

Today was a very ordinary day, nothing special, and yet in a way it was typical of life here in Africa. First, I had coffee with another expat friend. I find myself often having coffee with friends. There is less rushing, and people seem to have more time for coffee breaks. We traded expat stories, and as always it left me feeling much better about my lot, because she really is in a pickle.

Somehow the Department of Home Affairs has been sitting on her family’s permanent visas, and, as I’ve said earlier on this blog, NOTHING happens in South Africa without your permanent visa. You cannot open a bank account, you cannot get the infamous traffic register number which you need to ...  Continue Reading

Christmas in Joburg and Where to Find a Tree

I’m a bit slow getting geared up for Christmas this year. It’s hard to think about the festive season when you are woken up by birdsong every morning, another day of 80 degrees of sunshine stretching ahead of you. There is just not much of a Christmas atmosphere in Johannesburg, which people have fled in droves to spend their summer breaks somewhere else, partying on a nice beach, most likely. We ourselves have just come back from a fabulous week in Mauritius, which is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. So for once I’m not feeling very stressed about my Christmas to-do list, even though daunting questions beckon, like how can you get all those presents without Amazon, will your Christmas lights work with 220 volts, and where on Earth do you find a Christmas tree in Johannesburg?

Maybe I’ve embraced The African Way more than I realize. I’ve cursed the exhausting and frustrating “Welcome to Africa” side of it, which those of you reading this blog will have heard plenty about. But there is also a very relaxing ...  Continue Reading

Our First South African School Year is Coming to a Close

Today is the last day of school, and I am of two minds about it. On the one hand, I can’t believe that these kids are going to be home now and it is only the beginning of December, with a million things for me left to do before Christmas, preferably away from curious eyes. On the other hand, it is time for us to bid grades 8, 6, 4, and 2 our final farewells. It doesn’t just seem like we’ve hung around them forever, we actually have! Leaving the U.S. in March of this year, we had almost completed the school year, only to start here almost from the beginning of the same grades. I’m now more glad than ever that I took the kids out early back home and traveled the country for a month.

Not that they didn’t get enough breaks here. Every time it felt like we had gotten into a routine, there was another break coming up, and Zax will tell you that I harp endlessly about the fact that there were three weeks (THREE!) practically off for high school exams. Twice this year. One and a ...  Continue Reading

I Might Have Spoken Too Soon: Fraud in the South African Postal Service

Just a humble suggestion to the South African Postal Service: Aspiring to be number 10 in the world does not sound all that ambitious, but you will never be even close to that if you cannot control rampant theft in your system! So my little experiment of sending mail to the U.S. went well, the package was delivered, and quickly at that. However, no such success the other way.

If you remember, I told you our neighbor had warned us about having foreign bank correspondence sent to our PO box, and I did indeed make a half-hearted mental note to perhaps change that, but what with other pressing to-dos and the Christmas season approaching it didn’t get much attention. As luck ...  Continue Reading

Have You Brought Anything for us Today?

So I’m innocently driving along William Nicol the other day, my car full of 4th graders going on a field trip, when I run into a major road block. I’m third in line of our little convoy going to visit a dairy farm, and of course the two cars in front of me are waved through, but sadly I’m not. I’m a little nervous, since of late I’ve left my American drivers’ license at home. I’m still not entirely sure what kind of drivers’ license I actually need, as it seems impossible to obtain a South African one. But I also don’t want to lose my Kansas license, which is why I’m only keeping a copy on me, the original safely at home. However, I do keep my international drivers’ license on me, and I’ve also dug up an ancient German one (German licenses don’t expire – or at least they didn’t back sometime in the Middle Ages when I got this one).

All this is going through my head when the cop walks up to my window.

I hand him the German license, which he eyes suspiciously, wanting to know if it’s an international one. I’m sure I could have said yes, but just to humor him I also hand him the international one. Mind you, the two ...  Continue Reading

The Life of a Domestic Worker

Having recently read “The Help” (a great book, if you haven’t read it) and now enjoying the privilege of full-time domestic help here in South Africa, I feel compelled to share a few observations on this topic. My maid – again, the correct South African term is “domestic worker” or simply “domestic” – is absolutely wonderful. She has been a blessing, which is why I’ll call her Sibusiso, Sibu for short. Without her, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post, because I actually wouldn’t be writing it. Instead, I’d be busy cleaning showers, washing the laundry, ironing school uniforms, picking up after the kids – you know the spiel. And my house would still look messy, whereas now it is spotless. But of course this is all only possible because her services are affordable from our perspective, and if you’re in any way human you cannot help but try to look at it from her perspective.

Your best resolve to not become personally involved will melt away over time, and you will find yourself with a small humanitarian project of your own. How could you not? How could you not finance (a loan for the time being) the extension of her house, when you hear that soon eight people will be ...  Continue Reading

Joburg Lightning and Rainbows

Johannesburg features some of the most spectacular thunderstorms in the world. We’re entering the time of year where they are an almost daily occurrence, from about 4:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon, or at least so I’m told. I was also warned that you better unplug your TVs and computers  and ...  Continue Reading