Monthly Archives: October 2012

Just a small post…

… To say that things are somewhat coming together over here.

We don’t have the stuff that we shipped from DC (but it’s being delivered Friday, supposedly).

I still don’t have a desk.

Our toilet leaks.

We only have one (rental) car and one set of housekeys between the two of us.

And last night I ruined a pot of soup because a plastic ladle melted into it and made the whole thing taste like cancer.

BUT! I have a South African phone number now! Hooray! I am no longer completely disconnected from the world.

Being me, I got confused with the exchange rate when I bought some pay-as-you-go minutes and ended up buying a package of – wait for it – 18 minutes, but still – better than nothing.  After expending those 18 minutes (probably sometime tomorrow?) I’ll have to go back to the Vodacom shop across the street, where I’m quickly becoming a regular, and buy more. Honestly, those Vodacom people are going to be able to set their watches to me — I have been in there almost every morning since I got here and I’m now on a first-name basis with several of them (including one gentleman with the delightful moniker of Elvis). Whatever – I have a phone!

In other good news, I have a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup in the works (to be served with a generous helping of Salticrax) and I am keeping that ladle FAR away from it.

Salticrax and other curiosities

Given that I don’t have a car or phone here in Joburg, I am pretty much housebound.  Also, I’m married, so I guess this makes me, quite literally, a housewife. Depressing.  Give me a couple weeks and I’ll be hiding bottles of vodka in the oven and snapping at the children, Betty Draper-style.

Today I, along with all of the other desperate housewives of Craighall Park, took a spin around the fancy grocery store (Woolworths) and the normal grocery store (Pick ‘n Pay) and tried to acquaint myself with South African products.  Here are a couple of my favorite finds.

First:

“Kids, I made your favorite for dessert! Greengage jelly!”

I googled “Greengage,” which, despite sounding like a medieval wasting disease, is actually a plum-like fruit.  Still – gross.

I also saw this, which was displayed alongside instant coffee and hot cocoa, which leads me to believe it is intended to be served hot:

Hot, green cream soda, anyone? Anyone?

My personal favorite find was this charming brand of crackers, which I HAD to buy, obviously:

If finding Salticrax hilarious is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

Okay, off to cook dinner. Salticrax will be front and center on the table tonight. Delicious.

Cricket

Yesterday I was introduced to cricket, the second most popular sport in South Africa (after soccer and before rugby), and, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

Being an ignorant American, my impression of cricket was that it was a gentlemanly (read: boring) “sport” in which the players wear sweater vests and take frequent breaks for tea and crumpets while the audience watches the “action” through opera glasses.  Basically, I thought a cricket match would look like this:

Turns out, though, cricket is kinda fun! And the players are kinda hunky!  For example: we were sitting directly behind this guy, Michael Lumb (who was playing for Sydney but happens to be from Joburg), for the first half of the game:

Yay for cricket.

We went to a “Twenty20” final match between the local team, the Highveld Lions, and the Sydney Sixers.  I won’t try to reproduce the rules of cricket here but suffice it to say that I actually followed the game (at least, the basic outlines thereof) and was not completely bored. Which is more than I can say for baseball.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the game was the wildly uncoordinated dance troupe that performed every time either team got an out or scored a point.  The male members of the ensemble were forced to wear shiny red vests with no shirt underneath (a la Matthew McConaghey in Magic Mike), cowboy hats, and exercise pants with one leg rolled up.  Not cute, you guys.  Also, they sucked at dancing.

Anyway, cricket was a good time.  I was a little disappointed that no crumpets were served, but beer and biltong were available, so that made up for a lot.

Here’s a picture of the sky over the cricket pitch.  Not bad, Johannesburg.

Small adventures

Since arriving in South Africa, my life has been punctuated by a series of small adventures:  Al has driven on the left-hand side of the road without killing us both in a fiery wreck.  We spotted a white-tail deer at a country estate.  I tried biltong (cured game jerky) and ostrich.  And now, we are currently experiencing the small adventure of being locked inside our apartment.  Exciting!

The thing about keys in South Africa is that they look like something from the Victorian age – spindly, toothy skeleton keys that require jiggling and cajoling and twisting.

We had been faring alright with the two big keys that unlock, respectively, the outside metal “security door” to our apartment and the inside wooden door.  Then, this afternoon, we went to leave the apartment and found that our key would not open the lock.  We tried to no avail for twenty minutes to jiggle and twist and cajole the key in the lock, but nothing worked.

After much frustration and a doomed attempt at soaking the key in Canola oil, we got in touch with an emergency locksmith, who is currently replacing our lock with a new one.  He seemed suspicious of us, as if we were somehow responsible for the broken lock.  But honestly, South Africa, get with the times.  Yale locks have been around since 1848 (I checked) – what’s the hold up?

Looks like the locksmith has broken us out of our apartment prison.  Time to go about our day. More small adventures await.

Thirty

I woke up today, my thirtieth birthday, with a hangover from drinking too much Pinotage at a South African country estate near Pretoria. So I guess this is my life now.

It’s been kind of a whirlwind. I left DC on Wednesday afternoon and got into Johannesburg on Thursday evening.  Al was waiting for me at the airport with a bouquet of red roses (a romantic, that one!) and we embarked on our first South African adventure together: driving back to our apartment in a rental car, with no GPS, on the left side of the road.  Nothing like a few brushes with death to really make one feel at home in a new place, eh?

Our apartment is in an area called Craighall Park, which is home to a fancy mall and a fancy grocery store (Woolworths — go figure) but is also curiously abundant with sex shops.  We live directly across the street from a charming little place called Sextopia.

Our apartment complex, however, is gated off, leafy, and quiet.  When we entered the gates, there were four little kids playing with water guns in the driveway.  They all eyed us shyly and the oldest one asked us, very properly, how we were doing.  We were fine.

That first night, we ate dinner at a restaurant in the fancy mall.  I was immediately impressed with the food and the wine here, both of which are delicious and cheap.

My second day in South Africa, Al and I ran essential errands, which included buying a hair dryer, stocking up on wine, and getting a “wireless stick” for my computer, and then we packed into our rental car again to drive north to Kievits Kroon, a country estate where Al’s company was holding a retreat.  We had cocktails on the veranda of a manor house (built in the “Cape Dutch style,” I am told) looking out over lush green lawns. A cat purred around our ankles. It was lovely.

I spent the rest of last night stuffing myself with a variety of tasty local dishes, including ostrich medallions, and a *bit* too much Pinotage, which is the signature varietal of South Africa, so how could I not, right? When in Pretoria, I say.

Anyway.  Today I woke up thirty years old and with a red wine headache.  But you know? I feel pretty good about it.  I’m in Africa on a Grand Adventure with my husband.  Bring it, old age.  I’m ready for you.

Packing

Moving is the worst.  And the worst of the worst? Packing.  And the worst of the worst of the WORST? Packing by yourself.

These people are liars. Packing is terrible.

Packing for a move sucks because it involves taking things out of their Rightful Places and putting them into boxes, where they might be broken or bent. It involves turning a well-ordered apartment into chaos.  It involves breathing in clouds of dust and dander.  And it involves tough choices, like, do I keep this seven-year-old MAC lip gloss in an unflattering shade (frosty purple) because it cost $18 when I bought it (circa 2005)? I mean, $18! That’s nothing to sniff at.  Especially in 2005 dollars! What am I, made of money?

I’m also facing a dilemma about what to do with all of our canned goods. I don’t have a car so I can’t take them anywhere to be donated and I would feel weird just leaving a box full o’ cans in front of my apartment door, but I can’t bear to throw away perfectly good cans of diced tomatoes.  I’m part Italian, I can’t just throw away tomatoes.  That’s like spitting on my heritage.  I don’t know what my excuse is for not wanting to throw away the canned beets I have in my cupboard, but it just feels wrong.

I realize these concerns are objectively dumb and I should be throwing away as much as possible, but a not-insignificant chunk of me sympathizes with those people who can’t open their front door because there are too many cats in the way.  Not that I’m condoning animal hoarding. But I get it — it’s hard to throw away perfectly good cats.

So, to keep my mind off the misery of this process, I’ve been listening to an excellent Canadian podcast called Stop Podcasting Yourself (http://maximumfun.org/shows/stop-podcasting-yourself) and catching up on TV shows I’ve been meaning to watch for years now (“Freaks and Geeks,” for one, and “The League”).  But it’s still a slog.  Tomorrow morning the movers come and whatever I have packed will have to do.  The rest of it, they’ll have to pack. And there’s something weirdly intimate about having strangers pack your dishes for you, but what are you gonna do?

Kay, back to packing.

Stephanie’s no good very bad week

So, uh, I’m moving to South Africa in four days.

I know.

And I’m completely unprepared.

Guys, I know.

The (abridged) backstory: my husband (Al) works for a great company that has a Global Rotation Program that allows employees to work in two of the company’s many offices for six to nine months each.  Al applied last year and was accepted (hooray!) and we decided to do nine months in Joburg and nine months in London. I’ve written about the decision process and my feelings on it here.  Suffice it to say it was sort of a fraught decision but I’m feeling good about the move and even better about my decision to quit my terrible, toxic law firm job and become a professional writer.

Anyway.  It’s really happening now.  Stuff is getting real.  But as I sit here, four days out from boarding a flight to Johannesburg, I feel woefully unprepared for this move.  I haven’t packed half of our appliances, I have a load of laundry that needs doing, I don’t have enough boxes for the rest of our stuff (and why do we have so many novelty hats?), and I ran out of bubble-wrap before I could wrap up all of our wine glasses and ceramic mugs.  Oy.

I couldn’t really pack before this because I was busy suffering through a comically terrible last two weeks of work and I had little time for anything other than crying in my office.  See, Al left for Joburg two weeks ago but I had decided to stay on a couple extra weeks at work because of a big filing deadline for one of my cases.  So there I was, in DC, working bonkers hours to try to get this brief filed, when I started feeling sick.  Really sick.  I had a terrible headache, body aches, joint pain, chills, fever, and sharp abdominal pains, and I completely lost my appetite. I went to the doctor and — long story short! — I had typhoid fever.

Yup.

I’ll spare you the gory details but my last week of work was truly hellish, and not just because I was dealing with a disease that you contract from eating or drinking something contaminated with human feces.  Oh, wait, I guess I didn’t spare you the gory details at all. Well… real talk. Deal with it.

The point is, I don’t recommend working at a law firm. It’s TERRIBLE. Worse than typhoid! And I should know!  Actually, typhoid fever is a pretty useful metric for deciding on the horribleness of any given thing. For example: Drinking a frosty eggnog with rum > watching a baseball game with beer > getting a stubbed toe > watching a baseball game with no beer > having typhoid fever > working at a law firm.

Anyway, I’m better now (thank you, Cipro) and I really do need to pack.