Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Lowdown on Skivvies

Since this blog is about becoming an American African, and since I'm running out of material, I thought it's time to broach a delicate subject: underwear shopping.

You might think that underwear is the same the world over, but I can tell you from experience that this is emphatically not true. For instance, my 7-year-old son needs new underwear. I went to the shops expecting to find underwear plastered with Harry Potter scenes, Ben 10 or whatever else young boys are into, but no. There are no characters to be found on boys underwear here. In fact, there is no boys underwear of any kind to be found here. What is called boys underwear looks like a Speedo.

Girls underwear, on the other hand, does not come in solid colours. Each pair is carefully plastered with pictures of Hannah Montana, fairies, or cute little monkeys. And no matter what the label says, the underwear goes halfway up to your armpits. Even the ones labeled "bikini".

You might be keen to admonish me at this point, "When in Rome, do as the Romans," but I don't think even the women in Rome wear underwear that covers their rib cage. And did I tell you I'm allergic to Speedos?

So now I'm faced with a real dilemma: do I go against ever fibre in my being and by my son speedo underwear, or do I hope his Buzz Lightyear underwear lasts another five years?

Thoughts on Parking Guards

Parking isn't free in South Africa. Almost everywhere you go there are parking guards who watch your car while you're shopping. When you leave, you're supposed to pay them R5 or something like that. And if there aren't parking guards then there are automated tickets and machines to pay for parking depending on how many hours you park.

But back to the parking guards. In any parking lot, there is a guard for every aisle, and being the creature of habit that I am, I usually park in the same row. Consequently I have the same parking guard each time. After a while you get to know these guys, and going to the grocery store becomes a social visit.

For example, the guard at Pick N Pay is going to night school at Tshwane University of Technology to study IT. Cool, huh? Makes me want to tip him extra each time I buy my groceries. The guy at Spar (pictured above) makes fun of me because I am apparently the only person in South Africa who drives around with a cup of coffee in my hand (a leftover from my Starbucks indoctrination, I'm afraid).

It is easy to see the parking guards as near-invisible service providers who never had higher aspirations than to guard cars for a living, but the truth is that most of them dream big dreams as do all of us. Many of them are foreigners from the DRC or Zimbabwe who just want to support their families and will deal with a lot to do so. Others have disabilities or are dealing with difficult circumstances, but at least they're working and doing what they can, and most of them even do so with a smile.

I don't know where I'm going with this, so let me just end by suggesting that the next time you meet a service provider that tends to be ignored - smile and thank them. Treat them with dignity. Be the bearer of grace.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ek is Lief Vir Jou, Suid Afrika!

I've complained a bit lately about strikes and power outages, so I decided it's time to write about why I have fallen in love with South Africa.

There's something about the red clay soil, the soft colours of the veld and brilliant sunsets that gets into your blood. The coral tree, palms, bougainvillea, and jacaranda blossoms burn colourful imprints on my mind, and my ears are ever attuned to the birds - kiewiet, hadeda ibis, mossie, vink, dikkop, grey lourie, crested barbet, glossy starling.

One has only to open a window to hear the buzz of life - cicadas humming, taxis hooting,children laughing, street hawkers selling anything from maps to Rubik's cubes to cell phone chargers to homemade fudge.

And the people... someone once said a nation's greatest commodity is its people, and nowhere is this more true than in South Africa. Never will you find a more hospitable, smiling, resilient, joyful, resourceful, flexible or vibrant people than here.

South Africa gets a lot of bad press, but I want to say emphatically that South Africa is one of the greatest places on earth to visit, and I can't wait until the World Cup next year when the world will have a chance to see what I already know.

You are beautiful, South Africa.

Random Funny Sign

How exactly do you "drive" a horse?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tis the Season to Strike

First it was the garbage men. Then it was the postal workers. Then it was the bus drivers and other municipal workers. Then it was Telkom. Then it was the postal workers again (and as far as I know they're still on strike).

Yesterday, though, the army tried to go on strike. 3,000 soldiers, to be precise. They marched to the Union Buildings, where the police were waiting for them (because you can't go on strike if you're in the army - not even in Africa). It eventually turned a bit ugly, with the police firing on the army and the army waving pangas, knobkerries, and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. 25 government vehicles were damaged, and the city was effectively left unprotected while everyone converged on the Union Buildings. All because the army wanted a 30% pay raise.

I am learning to take all these strikes in stride. I suppose I'm on the "control-freak" end of the spectrum, but in the past two years I have developed an emerging skill: flexibility! I am learning that when I wake up each morning, my day might not go as planned. And that's okay!

(The only thing that bothers me is that I mailed a birthday present to my mom a few weeks ago, and I have this sinking feeling it hasn't even left the post office yet. Today is her birthday, so... Happy Birthday, Mom! Sorry about the present; I'm sure it will arrive eventually.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

This is What Happens When I'm Tired....

The postage workers have been on strike again (they were only off strike for two days). Our power is scheduled to be out for ten hours tomorrow. My car's making funny noises. I think I'll write a blues song....

My baby ate all the biltong
My baby ate all the wors
My baby ate all the melktert
And now my kitchen's gemors

'Cos the power's out
And there's no mail in town
The car's not working
And he's feeling mighty down
So he ate up all the culture
He ate up all the kos
And all he left for me
Was a piece of stale toast

Oh I've got the blues,
The South African blues.....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blue Crane

Dan was driving home the other day when his eye caught a glimpse of this blue crane in a recently burned patch of veld. Being a man who almost always has his camera with him, he stopped to take this photo.

Incidentally, the blue crane is the national bird of South Africa. Beautiful and graceful, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Take A Stroll

Have you ever been in love? Remember what it was like to be with that person? It didn't really matter what you did or where you went; just being with them was enough. Okay, now hold that thought.

"Enoch walked with God." - Genesis 5:24
"Noah... walked with God." - Genesis 6:9

These are the only two verses in the Bible where it says that someone walked with God. But here's the cool part - in the Afrikaans translation, it says, "Henog het met God gewandel." The verb used is "wandel", which means to stroll, take a leisurely walk (I learned this from my friend, lest you think I'm brilliant in Afrikaans. I'm not.)

Sometimes we Westerners get the idea that a walk is only useful for getting from Point A to Point B and that when walking with God, the destination is the point. We've got to hurry up and get things done to gain His love or approval.

I am learning, however, that it's more about being with God than going somewhere or doing something. Strolling with God, if you will. It's less about tasks and more about relationship. I don't need to stress about the destination or worry about the tasks that must get done; I just need to "wandel met God." The rest will fall into place.

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Mortified Mother Moment

The other day the kids were playing around before bedtime (why is it that they become hyper and bouncy when it's time to go to sleep?), and Lucy did something that made Emma say, "Lucy, you look just like a man about to go to the bathroom."

I looked at her, totally shocked, and said, "And how would you know what that looks like?" I shouldn't have asked; I didn't really want to know, but I had to find out.

She answered in a mildly deprecating tone (as though I should know better), "Mom! We see men peeing on the side of the road every day on our way to school! And don't forget the wire statues in Sandton - those are peeing, too."

She's right, of course. I guess that's one of the 'joys' of living in South Africa. I've gotten so used to it that I don't notice it anymore. But my daughter? I had one of those Mortified Mother Moments in which I became temporarily irrational ("She's scarred for life - lost her innocence - what have we done, moving our family to South Africa?")

Thankfully my "freak out" moments are short-lived. When the sane side of me kicked in, I realised that it's actually sort of funny. It doesn't bother her in the least. And if I make a big deal of it, she will, too. Best to keep quiet and.... and...

.... shrug my shoulders. Oh well!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Joys (and Evils) of Skype

Skype is great because I can stay in touch with my family and friends around the world, and it costs hardly anything. If I turn on the video, I can even see my family and friends (even though it eats up my bandwidth). Sometimes technology is great.

Other times, however, it is rather maddening. Last night I was talking with my prayer group back in California. They were all gathered together in their summer clothes and flip flops, eating chocolate covered strawberries! Here I am, still wearing winter clothes, salivating over strawberries that I haven't eaten in two years, watching them eat each bite on my computer screen. That was too much. Cruel people!

But I got them back (hee hee). I held up my Cadbury chocolate brownie bar, and then turned off the video! Ahhh, the joys of technology....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

1,000 Like Tshepiso, Every Day

This is our friend Christo holding Tshepiso. Tshepiso died this week, from complications related to AIDS. She wasn't even two years old. She will never go to school, never learn to ride a bike, never climb a tree, never fall in love.

Some days are hard to stomach.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

101 Things to Do With Leftover Mexican Food

Okay, so we've been raving about Mexican food for two years to everyone in South Africa (because we can't get it here and miss it), and our friends from Stellenbosch wanted to try it. I figured, I'm from California, I should be able to make it myself, right? So in a weird but lekker culture clash we had a braai/Mexican fiesta. I made homemade pico de gallo, guacamole, refried beans, burritos, rice, etc. - no small feat considering everything had to be made from scratch. Our friends brought cool drink and an amazing South African pudding (dessert).

The problem with me is that I have trouble estimating how much food to make and end up making too little or too much. Fortunately (for them) I made too much. Unfortunately (for us) I made too much. I have a big problem wasting food, so for the past three days we've been eating leftover Mexican food for lunch and dinner, which equates to six meals (and counting).

The first day of leftovers was great (Another burrito? Awesome!). By today, though, I was feeling pretty uninspired. How many different meals can you make using rice, beans and guacamole? We had leftover burritos, tostadas, a weird sort of nachos, white fish with pico de gallo and rice, but today... I was really at a loss.

I ended up opening a can of Pilchards (sardines), added some onions, cumin and fresh coriander (cilantro) and made a weird stew to put on top of the rice with grated cheese on top of that. It was desperate, I know, but it actually turned out quite tasty, and I have to say that even my kids liked it.

So all that leaves is another meal of refried beans and guacamole, and then the leftovers are GONE. Any ideas for lunch tomorrow?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

... And the Coat and Scarf Come Off

After a long winter, when that day comes that signifies spring is one its way... that is a day of heightened enjoyment.

Today was such a day for me. I peeled off my jersey (sweater) and just enjoyed... being:
  • being with friends and enjoying homemade Mexican food
  • being content to feel the warm sun on my back
  • being thankful for seeing friends from California yesterday
  • being grateful for my church and soaking in every word
  • being happy about the Springboks victory yesterday over the Wallabies (sorry, Australia)
  • being in wonder at how blessed I am
  • being at peace, having a new perspective on difficulties
  • being amazed that I am here in South Africa, and loving every moment of it
(Oh, and the garbage men are not on strike anymore!)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My Day in Numbers

Number of hours the power was out: 7
Number of times I looked forward to the upcoming Tri-Nations game this Saturday: 2
Number of days (and counting) that the garbage collectors have been on strike (again): 15
Number of times the dog tried to escape out the front door: 3
Number of confirmed cases of swine flu at my children's school: 1
Number of chapters left to finish Antjie Krog's book, Country of My Skull: 2
Number of hours I wore my coat indoors: 4

Despite the challenges each day brings, I really feel so blessed. I think it comes from being loved. It sounds corny, I know, but I am so thankful for my family - I love my husband and children - and as long as our family unit is intact and healthy (and Dan tells his nightly bedtime story which leaves the kids rolling in laughter), it doesn't matter if we have to eat by candlelight, chase after the dog, look at piles of garbage or feel cold.

"I believe we can face anything when we know we are loved." - Dr. Paul Tournier, Creative Suffering

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Brief Pity Party

I didn't come to South Africa to hang out with other Americans, but it's always nice to know at least ONE other person from your home culture, right?

In all the time we've been here, we've only known one other couple from the States (ironically, our home towns are only 90 minutes apart). It was so nice to share a cup of coffee every now and then and have someone from my home country to use as a sounding board or get a good dose of perspective without worrying about cultural misunderstandings.

Today we had to say good-bye, as they're moving back to the States. Our kids went to school together, so the children are also feeling the loss.

Good-byes stink, and they never seem to get easier, no matter how old I get.

Ever Get a Song Stuck in Your Head?

We sang a new song in church on Sunday, and the words really stuck out to me. Here's the chorus:

You're the God of my days,
King of my nights,
Lord of my laughter,
Sovereign in sorrow.
You're the Prince of my praise,
The Love of my life,
You never leave me,
You are faithful,
God of my days.

My eyes are on You.
My hope is in You.
My faith is in You.

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." - Matthew 28:20
"She is clothed in strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come." - Prov. 31:25

Monday, August 3, 2009

How Much are You Willing to Lose?

The other day my friend sent me an sms (text message). In it she said (and I'm sure she was quoting someone, but unfortuately I don't know who, so I can't give credit), "You can wake up today only to find that the one thing you held dear has been taken away - even your name. With this truth I am more determined to see my worth in terms of the price Christ paid for me. Not in the position I hold, not in what I have, not in the way I look, not in the people I know. I walk tall because of who I am in Him."

That really got me thinking. I think I'd be fairly okay if I lost my possessions, I'm not too hung up on my looks, I don't usually name-drop, I don't find my identity in my job, but to lose my name? To have my reputation unjustly tarnished or to have people incorrectly think ill of me? THAT would bother me. Yet are we not called to forsake everything to follow Christ? And if I am not willing to lose everything for His sake - even my good name - then I have not completely surrendered my will to Him.

Someone once said that the problem with being a living sacrifice is that you can crawl off the altar.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Some Inspiration to Start Off the Month

A friend of mine sent me this excerpt from an article in WIRED magazine. I never thought I'd say this, but.... I was actually inspired by an article in a tech magazine! Here's the excerpt:

You're Looking at a Box
by Scott Dadich, Creative Director, WIRED

...But for all that we can't do in this static medium [print media], we find enlightenment and wonder in its possibilities. This is a belief most designers share. In fact, the worst thing a designer can hear is an offhand "Just do whatever you want." That's because designers understand the power of limits. Constraint offers an unparalleled opportunity for growth and innovation.

Think of a young tree, a sapling. With water and sunshine, it can grow tall and strong. But include some careful pruning early in its development - removing low-hanging branches - and the tree will grow taller, stronger, faster. It won't waste precious resources on growth that doesn't serve its ultimate purpose. The same principle applies to design. Given fewer resources you have to make better decisions...

The idea of operating within constraints - of making more with less - is especially relevant these days. From Wall Street to Detroit to Washington, the lack of limits has proven to be a false freedom. With all the economic gloom, you might not be blamed for feeling that the boundless American frontier seems a little less expansive. But design teaches us that this is our hour of opportunity...

The imposition of limits doesn't stifle creativity, it enables it.