No Regrets

Not only is the year 2012 coming to an end today. Today also marks the end of our family’s life in South Africa. As you’re reading this, we are somewhere en route between Joburg and Tennessee, making a last splash in an undisclosed Middle Eastern location – okay, Dubai, if you must know – before reality sets in again.
Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, August 2012
So forgive me if I feel the need to make some sweeping observations not only about this past year but our entire African adventure. I have no regrets. When we came to Johannesburg in early 2010, we had the benefit of having a prior expat assignment under our belts. That made a huge difference – not so much in terms of navigating a new country but in terms of our attitude towards it and life in general. What I mean is we knew to leave out nothing from the start. I was greatly helped in this by my farsighted husband Noisette, I admit, because I am by nature a couch potato. If there is a computer on my lap, that is. I remember that as an expat novice in Singapore some fifteen years ago I focused all my energies on forging a routine and willing my surroundings to function as I wished. Because that’s what new mothers do. Routine is king and you enslave yourself to it. But the truth is that afterwards you don’t remember the routine. You remember the time you sped over Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river in a water taxi, even though you threw up afterwards from breathing all the diesel fumes. Or you might have thrown up because you were pregnant. You remember the giant waves lapping into your undersized motorboat taking you to some godforsaken island off the Malaysia coast. You remember the time you stood on the highest mountain in New Zealand clutching your two-year old on skis, afraid that he’d be blown right out to sea by that howling wind. You remember feeling transported back in time when touring Pulau Ubin off the shores of Singapore, pedaling your bike with a napping toddler behind you through sleepy Kampongs. Those are the things your remember, and you regret not having done more of them. Because what else will you have one day to look back on than a bunch of memories? So here in South Africa we dove right in from Day One. We went on our first safari with the house still a mess of boxes fresh from the container. We rode in a hot air balloon, in a helicopter, on elephants, on dune buggies, and on camels. Put endless hours in noisy and bouncy safari vehicles under our belts for the privilege to watch lions, giraffes, buffalos, elephants, impala, waterbuck, rhinos, hippos, zebras, wildebeests, and even a leopard. Toured Soweto. Went into the notorious no-go zone of Alexandra, many times. Drove women and their firewood through Diepsloot. Visited Cape Town. And Durban. And Umhlanga Rocks. Had the most glorious food and wine in Franschhoek. Explored Mozambique, Mauritius,Zanzibar, Victoria Falls, Botswana. Watched our eldest fling himself from the Bloukrans bridge on a bungy cord and from an airplane with a parachute. Saw African penguins in the wild. Swam in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and the Okavango. Paddled down the Zambezi. Went into a cage in the freezing Atlantic to come face to face with Great White Sharks. Were kissed by elephants. Dangled from ziplines over the Tsitsikamma forest.



Free Parking

Did I know about all the free parking in Johannesburg, my friend recently asked me over coffee.

No, I did not, I admitted. As I told you in a recent post, I haven’t exactly been a Smart Shopper in terms of going after the free stuff, scant as it is here in South Africa.

My excuse in terms of parking ... 


The Parking Gods

You can’t live in South Africa without daily encounters with the Gods.

They are everywhere.
They might tell you where to go.
They are often invisible.
You have no choice but to trust them.
They can be a big comfort.
They hold your fate (or at least that of your car) ... 


Staying Safe on South African Roads

The following is a guest post by Barbara Bruhwiler. Have you ever changed a car tyre?  Will you find your spare wheel, and do you know how to get it into the open?  And the tools, the jack and everything – any idea where they are in your car, no doubt cleverly hidden by some nerdy automobile engineer? In my car, you have to dig the tools out from the plastic side panels in the boot, manage to assemble various parts into a crank, remove a little rubber cover from a cup holder at the front, put your crank in the hole that is hidden underneath, wind until there is nothing to wind anymore, and then use your crank to pull the extra wheel from underneath your car.
Why do I know all of this, in such detail, you ask? 
Because getting the spare wheel is my job in the business of changing a tyre. While my better half is busy unscrewing the screws on the wheel, setting up the jack, and lifting the car.
The thing is, we have considerable experience with changing tyres, my hubby and I.
In Limpopowe had to try and get our tyre fixed before we entered a game reserve, not wanting to run the risk of being stranded in the wild if yet another tyre popped. In KwaZulu-Natalwe had to hurry like crazy as we had to be in town before nightfall, before the hippos start roaming the streets. In Mpumalangaour car alarm went off in the middle of the night when the tyre went flat, waking us up. In the Northwest Province our friends, who were driving behind us, were frantically hooting and waving when our tyre went up in smoke. We never went to Cape Town by car. I don’t dare to think of what might have happened.
You see, in our first few years of living in South Africa, we managed to get a puncture fairly regularly whenever we travelled. The problem, apparently, lies in a car with a heavy back and a very soft suspension (so I am told, I don’t know much about cars), combined with potholes in the road.
These potholes, they are like mushrooms: As soon as the rains start in this country, they appear. And join the ones from last year and the years before. And like mushrooms, they are really juicy. You could comfortably give a bath to a Mini in some of them.
In Joburg I manage to do surprisingly well, slaloming around the potholes. But when we travel, it’s a different story. These potholes, they like to lurk in the shade, so that they are difficult to see because your eyes have yet to adjust from the blinding sunlight. And then it’s too late. Boom, you hit one, and you can only hope your tyre survives.
When on a road you don’t know, it pays to drive a bit more slowly. Or follow a local, he will most probably know where to swerve or go slow.
But not only potholes are responsible for punctures. You might have noticed that there is usually quite a bit of debris on Joburg’s roads. Pebbles and little pieces of rock that have been swept onto the street by the torrential rains, bits of wire, as well as old screws and nails. 
Photo: Barbara Bruhwiler

I don’t know how it is that these screws and nails invariably end up in your tyre. One would think that your car squashes them flat to the ground, but nope, into your tyre they go.

Thankfully this is not a huge problem, normally, because they only cause a slow puncture. And help for this situation ... 


Things I Won’t Miss

What do gas heaters and William Nicol Drive have in common?

They are both on the list of things I’ll be glad to leave behind in South Africa.

Maybe you’re surprised I do indeed have such a list. A collection of all the stuff I won’t shed a single tear over when it comes time to say ... 


The Not So Smart Shopper

One of the first items I added to my wallet here in South Africa was a PicknPay’s Smart Shopper card. Soon followed by Woolworth, Dis-Chem, Clicks, and MySchool cards.

It’s no small feat to obtain some of these cards, so that owning them constitutes a victory in and of itself, letting you ... 


Christmas For Criminals

The following is a guest post by Barbara Bruhwiler.

Everybody knows the Festive Season is a dangerous time. We’ve all heard about Christmas trees catching fire, for instance. And undoubtedly we are all aware of the jeopardy that lurks in refusing to meet the rest of the family. Even though the prospect of spending yet another five days in overcrowded quarters can be disheartening at best, we all know that it is far more dangerous to stay away when the clan’s matriarch has issued an invitation for the festivities. Driving to the family gathering has its fair share of unsafe moments, what with the howling, crying and shouting that comes from the backseat of the packed vehicle, causing the most diligent driver to be prone to sudden swerves – or at least sudden swearing. Once we have arrived at said quarters, there is the danger of cat fights between sisters and rows between brothers, while Mums spend hours slaving in the kitchen with pursed lips, preparing the turkey and its trimmings.  All the participants at the family gathering take on the risk of never having a single moment, one single calm minute, to themselves.
Strike While The Iron Is Hot, A New Madam & Eve Collection by Stephen Francis & Rico.
In every family there is also someone like my Uncle Nick whose jokes will make you want to jump out of the window – a highly unhealthy pastime. And we haven’t talked about those extra kilos that always pile up on our hips. Yes, the Festive Season bears dangers to our health. Raising our cholesterol. Giving us a hangover. And perhaps leading to a near heart-attack. In Johannesburg, the Festive Season also holds certain risks that are not directly related to the family’s social dynamics. It is a time of the year when criminals are most active. Call it the criminal’s Christmas, if you want. And it starts early. Those of you who have lived in this country for a while know that South Africans are early risers. If you want to avoid traffic jams in Joburg, you have to be on the road before 6 am. And did you know that 5 to 8 am is considered peak time in Joburg’s gyms? So not only do Joburgers get up extremely early, but they are really up and running, or swimming a kilometre or hopping and stepping in a strenuous aerobics class. But I’m getting off track. What I wanted to say was: South Africans are early risers, and they are early Christmas shoppers, too. By mid-October, you will find your local supermarket decked in Christmas decorations and delicatessen, and plenty of reindeer and snowmen will be grinning at you as you are buying your groceries. No wonder that the well-organized in these parts start making provisions for the Festive Seasons early. The well-organised criminals, on the other hand, are very well aware of these habits. And they know that many Christmas shoppers carry large amounts of cash with them. So pick-pocketing reaches its peak in the weeks before Christmas, and it is a good idea to a) use your credit cards instead of cash and b) always keep a close eye on your bag. Pickpockets are incredibly skilled. Someone once stole my wallet out of my handbag, with me attached to the latter. It must have happened while I was squatting down, inspecting children’s shoes on the lowest rack in a shop, having pushed my handbag to my back so it wouldn’t dangle in front of me. The thief had to squeeze his hand into a slim opening, open a zipper inside my handbag (!), and get the wallet out of it. All the while I was blissfully unaware of what was going on behind, or to be precise, on my back. Incredibly skilled, as I said. If only it hadn’t been so annoying. Because people need more cash during the Festive Season, there are also criminals who position themselves close to Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs), ready to strike when there is a good opportunity. At this time of the year, it is even more important to only withdraw money from an ATM at a busy spot and during daytime hours. Don’t use AMTs unless there are plenty of other people around you who would witness if you were to be robbed. That seems to be the best strategy to avoid being targeted by criminals. Now apart from your wallet, criminals will also go after your house during the festive season. It’s the long summer and school holiday, and the majority of South Africans, poor and rich alike, will travel to meet with their families for Christmas. For most of them, the holidays start early (surprise, surprise!), and between mid-December and New Year’s the roads and shopping malls will be pleasantly quiet in Johannesburg. Some neighbourhoods will even look nearly deserted, which makes them an inviting target for criminals. If you are going away for the holidays, I would strongly recommend that you think about some protective measures to put in place. Here are some ideas of what you can do: Tell your security company about your absence; do not tell other people, and ask your maid to refrain from talking about your travelling; turn on your alarm system; if possible, ask your neighbours to keep an eye on what’s going on on your property. Because of the frequent heavy storms and rains around Christmas in Joburg, it is a good idea to have someone check on your property on a regular basis anyway. They may have to prevent the pool from going green, wipe up water that somehow got into your house and threatens to ruin the carpets, keep the ants from making your house their home, make sure the power didn’t trip, and so on. This explains why at this time of the year, you will find plenty of ads from people who offer to house sit. South Africans know that it is not a complete waste of time to have someone looking after their home while they are away. Now, the second part of this blog post sounds gloomy compared to the first part, doesn’t it? But think about it: There are just a few security measures you can take to try and avoid the dangers of pickpocketing and robbery. But when it comes to the dangers associatedwith spending days with the extended family in a crammed house, I feel much more helpless. Does anybody out there have some tips on how to survive this?

Barbara Bruhwiler lives in Johannesburgwith her husband and two children. She is an internationally successful author of five books. One of them is the  ... 


The Last Time

I’ve been driving around my beloved Joburg almost in a daze this past week, running last minute errands. Everywhere I turn I seem to come across a sight which has me catching my breath.

Like the view of the Magaliesberg in the distance, especially after a rain clearing all the dust, when driving ...