Tag Archives: Johannesburg

One year later

It’s been a whole year since I wrote my first post on this blog, in which I fretted about moving to South Africa while recovering from a bout of typhoid fever and an über-traumatic last week at the law firm. In the intervening year, as with most years, a lot has happened. We’ve moved from the US to South Africa to the UK. We’ve traveled to a bunch of new countries. I’ve launched a fledgling writing career. We’ve made new friends. I’ve discovered sewing and rediscovered knitting. Overall, my life is a lot better than it used to be, and I wake up most days looking forward to the day to come.

But when I stop and think about it, it actually doesn’t feel like a whole year has passed. Perhaps this is because all of the big life changes over the past year — quitting my job, moving abroad, starting a new career — happened in rapid succession, and I’ve just spent the rest of the year adjusting to a new routine. The year marker also feels a bit arbitrary, because we’re still in the midst of our big International Adventure, and it doesn’t seem appropriate to do any real retrospective thinking until I’m back in the US and can look at my time abroad with some remove.

A year in, though, here are a few things I can say that I have learned so far:

  1. I like routine. And I like feeling like I have a home. I wrote about this here and my feelings on the matter have only become more acute, because Al and I have had to pick up and move within London several times since then. We’ve been in our current apartment for less than a week and we’re moving again tomorrow. It’s a giant pain. When you move so frequently, and with such short notice, it’s not even worth unpacking your suitcases. I hate that. As much as I love seeing different parts of London, I long for a settled place in the city, somewhere I can use the drawers and closets and get into a comfortable routine. I guess there’s nothing like living like a (reasonably well-to-do) vagabond for an extended period of time that makes one appreciate the comforts of home. Also, it teaches you flexibility. And flexibility is good, right?
  2. South Africa was a mix of good and bad, and that’s okay. Just the other night, I was telling Al that there are certain things I miss about South Africa. The weather, for one. The intense, clear blue of the sky. The vivid sunsets. That wintry wood-smoke smell. Our big, roomy apartment with the little balcony and barbecue. Our car, as unreliable and beat-up as it was. The cost of living. The steak. The wine. But, I realized, it’s possible for me to miss all of that and still never want to live in Joburg again. It’s also possible to say that I disliked Joburg as a city but liked our life there. Life is tricky like that.
  3. Rejections are tough. Enough said.
  4. Having a support network is important. Duh.
  5. I miss the US, but I’m not desperate to go back. I think maybe in the spring, or even after New Year’s, I’ll feel really ready to go back to the States. But right now, I’m content to stay in London a bit longer; I really like it here. (It would just help if we could nail down the housing situation.)
  6. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone but Al. The thing that no one tells you about having an international adventure is that it’s full of annoyances. Living abroad, it turns out, requires juggling an immense amount of logistics. And logistics are a pain in the ass. It helps to have a partner who you like when you’re trying to figure out how to not go bat-poop insane when you have to move for the fourth time in a month, or when your power goes out, or when you get not one but two flat tires in a foreign country, or what have you. Living abroad, even in a cushy, convenient place like London, is always a challenge. If you and your partner come out  of it still liking each other and wanting to travel together, so much the better. Being here with Al has reinforced what I already knew about him: he’s patient, adventurous, and flexible. He also listens to me when I whine about having to pack up my knitting stuff. He gets it. Getting it is important.  IMG_4334
  7. Being abroad makes me more aware of my Americanness. There are two sides to this coin, of course. Occasionally, I’ll see something that will make me feel smug and superior because I know my country has its s**t figured out on that issue. Walking on one side of the sidewalk, for instance. America has that DOWN. England? Not so much. Another example: Chinese food. England, please take notes on this. And don’t even get me started on Mexican food. But then, there are other things that make me realize how a**-backwards certain things are in my beloved country. There are the obvious examples (healthcare! education! Miley Cyrus!) but there are also subtle things. Like, in London, MOST movie theaters that I’ve been to serve booze. In DC, I can only think of one movie theater off the top of my head (The E Street Cinema) that does that. What gives, America? Also, London’s public transportation system is great, the post office is quick and efficient (which, as an American, is mind-blowing), and they have double-decker buses. Makes me think America needs to get on the ball, and fast. But then I’ll watch an episode of Hens Behaving Badly or see a drunk girl peeing in the street at ten o’clock at night and I’ll go right back to feeling smug and superior. So, it’s a mixed bag.
  8. I am officially too old to stay in hostels with shared bathrooms. There, I said it.

I’ve probably learned other things along the way but those are the big ones. So, I’m just going to continue enjoying my time abroad and figuring things out. Maybe I’ll check back in a year from now and tell you what else I’ve learned.

Goodbye, Johannesburg

I can’t believe I am leaving South Africa tomorrow. I got here at the end of October 2012, which is somewhere between yesterday and a long time ago, and tomorrow I’m departing for London. Weird. I thought, after spending over seven months on the ground in South Africa, it would be fitting to write a piece about what I liked about my experience here, what I didn’t like, and what I learned. So — here goes nothin’.

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It’s no secret that I wasn’t a huge fan of Joburg. From the beginning, I wasn’t psyched to move to this particular city (even though I was excited about the adventure Al and I were embarking upon together), but  I was determined to keep an open mind about this place and give it a chance. I think it’s fair to say, at this juncture, that I did give Joburg a chance. I was prepared to let it win me over. It just — didn’t. I don’t want this to devolve into a long list of things that I hate about Joburg, because no one needs to read that, but suffice it to say that this city and I were not meant to get along.

Bread at Vovo Telo - one of the best parts of Joburg

Bread at Vovo Telo – one of the best parts of Joburg!

For one thing, you need a car to do anything here. Al and I shared a car, our trusty 2008 Toyota Yaris, but he took it most days for work, since he had to go to clients’ offices and meetings and such, whereas I worked from home. Fair enough. But that ended up meaning that on days I didn’t have the car, I was functionally housebound. You can’t walk anywhere here (no sidewalks, dangerous, etc.), and there’s no viable public transportation. So I spent a lot of time by myself. Inside. And until a few months ago, that was okay. I embraced my inner introvert, I got to know the afternoon TLC schedule (Say Yes to the Dress, Rich Bride Poor Bride, Jon & Kate Plus 8), I cooked dishes that required obscene amounts of prep time (including this one, which I highly recommend if you have an afternoon to spend grinding spices), I knit (oh, did I knit), I wrote (duh), I got hooked on several TV shows on Netflix (Being Human UK: life changing), and things were pretty good, overall.

I got REALLY into knitting.

I got REALLY into knitting.

Then, a few months ago, I hit a wall. I just got sick of not having much of a life outside of my house. Part of this frustration was compounded by the fact that Al and I had not invested heavily in our social network here. We made wonderful friends, of course, but most of them worked crazy hours during the week and traveled on the weekends, which meant that during the weekdays and early evenings, I was pretty much left high and dry if I needed social contact with other human beings. The thing is, I’m not someone who needs a ton of time with other people to be happy. But I do need options. I’d like to have the option of setting up drinks with someone, for instance, or the option to just leave the house and go do something by myself. When I lived in Sao Paulo by myself and my friends were traveling or otherwise not around, I used to take myself to the movies, and I could walk to the theater. But here in Joburg, I couldn’t do that. And after a while, I got pretty sick of it.

A typical afternoon in Joburg.

A typical afternoon in Joburg.

Now, the flip-side of all of this, of course, is that while we were here, we invested heavily in travel, and I am very glad we did. In nine short months (more or less), we traveled to Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Namibia, as well as pretty extensively within South Africa (Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Kruger, the Drakensberg Mountains, Durban, and more). Plus we squeezed in a trip to Italy, and I went to North America twice (first by myself to San Francisco, and then with Al to Ottawa, DC, and Mexico City). So, not too shabby, if you ask me. I am so, so grateful for the experience of living here and being able to travel so widely in Southern Africa and within South Africa, in particular. Joburg, while not awesome itself (in my opinion), is a great jumping off point for seeing all sorts of amazing stuff in this region.

I saw a leopard. With my EYES.

I saw a leopard. With my EYES.

I’m also grateful to have had the opportunity to live in a country — and a part of the world — that I knew pretty much nothing about before I came here. To be honest, I still kinda don’t get it. South Africa is confusing and complex and confounding, but I’ve enjoyed being here and trying to figure out what’s going on around me day to day (that is, when I step foot outside of the house). It’s a country that has a lot of problems (inequality, corruption, wastefulness, racial issues), but it’s also a place with incredible potential and some of the most stunning natural beauty (flora and fauna) that I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a special place.

Kgaswane Mountain Reserve

Kgaswane Mountain Reserve

I probably won’t miss the experience of living in Joburg, per se, but there are definitely some things I will miss about being here. A short list would include the low cost of living (and especially the cheap, high-quality steaks, nom), the incredible (and cheap) wine, my adorable local knitting store, and the great weather.

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I will miss you, knitting store.

So, all in all, these last nine months have been a rewarding adventure. Even for all of my complaints about Joburg, I wouldn’t ever take back the time we spent here, because it afforded us such incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to explore this region. And I will always remember my kitchen table in Joburg fondly, because this is where I launched my fledgling writing career. Me and this table, we have history now.

And now, off to London, our next adventure. Onwards and upwards. Seacrest out.

Jozi Craft Beer Fest

Yesterday, Al and I and some friends went to the Jozi Craft Beer Fest. The event was set up in a field, and consisted of a bunch of tents selling beer and food, plus a lot of watered-down, South African hipsters. Lots of brand-name beanies and skinny jeans and “fun” glasses. Bless their hearts; they’re trying.

Hipster alert

Hipster alert

South African craft beer, in my humble opinion, is okay, not great, but the event was still fun. (Now I can’t even remember the names of the beers that I tried and liked, but I think Devil’s Peak might have been one of them? Sorry, South African beer fans. Nothing made a huge impression.) It was just fun to sit in the sun and drink some beer.

Yay beer

Yay beer

It got a little cold

It got a little cold in the afternoon

So, that was our Saturday. Today, we’re off to the Winter Sculpture Garden at the Cradle of Humankind, where we’ll be sampling food and wine (and sculptures, I guess).

Hope everyone’s having a great weekend!

First(ish) World problems

On our recent trip to Mozambique, we met a lot of expats who live in other countries in southern Africa, including Mozambique and Malawi, and it made us realize, again, how (relatively) easy we have it living in Joburg. When it comes down to it, living here is a pretty cushy developing world experience. Most things work. We have electricity and hot water and fancy shopping malls. There are gyms and knitting stores and nice restaurants. And although Joburg can be irritating and slow and backwards, the annoyances we face are nothing compared to those faced by people living in less developed countries or in more rustic areas. For example, we met a Canadian woman on Ilha who lives in Pemba, in northern Mozambique, and she was telling us how the only fresh produce she can find in the entire city are beat up tomatoes, onions, and an assortment of mixed greens that look like weeds.

I would die.

Well, no, I wouldn’t, because I have lived in places like that before (see, e.g., Cuba, 2004), and it was actually fine, because you can get used to anything, and I ate a lot of ice cream, but man, I devoured vegetables like they were going out of style for weeks after I got back to the US.

Map courtesy of coha.org

We’re in the orange, hooray! (Map courtesy of coha.org)

I have thought and written about this before. A couple years ago, when I was living in Brazil, I wrote this post about all of the annoying little things that conspire to make daily life in Sao Paulo difficult. Joburg is similar; actually, I’d say Joburg is more developed than Sao Paulo in a lot of key ways. Mostly, life here is easy. We have a car so we don’t have to take the crappy (and dangerous) public transport, we eat at good restaurants, there’s plenty of fresh produce, the grocery store stocks fancy products like soy milk and pre-made curry paste, our power only goes out occasionally, and we even have cable and wireless internet.

But life here is not perfect. Things go wrong more frequently than they do back home in the States. For example, yesterday I spent my entire day – literally, from 8 am to almost 5 pm – doing errands that in the US would have taken me half the time to accomplish — except This is Africa.

First, I had to go to the post office to pick up a package. When I got to the window and presented my package notification slip, the woman asked for ID. I showed her my driver’s license and she said she needed my passport, or at least my passport number. I had neither, so I tried to call Al to get my passport number, but my phone was out of credit AND out of data, so I couldn’t email him either. The post office employee and I argued back and forth about whether or not my passport was necessary to pick up a package in my name, given that I had other forms of ID and my passport number was not in their system anyway, and the discussion ended with her avoiding eye contact and telling me to come back with my passport. The end. Next I went to the Vodacom shop to buy more credit on my phone – which, by the way, you can only purchase based on monetary value rather than on the number of minutes purchased, which makes NO SENSE, Vodacom – but the shop was closed. Then I went to the grocery store to buy some cleaning stuff, and the woman charged me for a bag, which I didn’t need since I had brought my own bag, and in order to void the approximately $.04 charge, she needed to call a manager, but the manager didn’t come, so after five minutes of the cashier trying to flag down a manager, I said forget it, just charge me for the bag, and then she tried to give me the bag but she had already loaded my stuff into the bag I brought and UGH I JUST WANTED TO SLAP EVERYONE IN THE FACE. Then I went to the doctor’s office, and the doctor was running half an hour late, because, of course. Then I came home to do the piles of laundry we had accumulated over vacation, and the washer started spewing water and soap all over the kitchen floor, so I called the plumber. The plumber came and could not fix the washer. Then, I went back to the post office with my passport and waited in a half-hour line. When I finally reached the window, not one but TWO separate people decided to walk up to the window and argue with the employee about various things. By this time it was 4:30 PM, and I still had to go to the pharmacy. When I got home at five, exhausted and annoyed and with a wet kitchen floor, I felt annoyed at how wasteful and inefficient my day had been, despite my best efforts to get things done quickly. I had barely had time to write a blog post, let alone work on other writing projects, and for what? (And our washer’s still broken, by the way.)

But this is what you sign on for when you come to live in a developing country, and the annoyances in my day are so minor compared to what people living in, say, the bush in Mpumalanga put up with day to day, it seems silly to complain. Sure, in general, life in a developing country can be more difficult, annoying, challenging, and slow than life in the cushy developed world – but that doesn’t mean it’s worse, necessarily. There are drawbacks and benefits to living in a place like South Africa. Drawbacks include things not working, power outages, slow bureaucracies, inefficiencies, and the lack of certain creature comforts. Benefits include a much lower cost of living, simplicity, experiencing a different culture, and learning patience.

I am still working on that last one.

Soweto

Al’s mom (Carol) and step-dad (Gerald) are visiting us here in South Africa and we have many exciting things planned while they are here, including a trip to Kruger for a safari and a visit to Cape Town for wine tasting. But when trying to brainstorm things for us to do here in Joburg, I could only come up with the following activities: eat, drink, or leave Joburg.  We opted for all three today and left Joburg — sort of — to go on a tour of Soweto (Southwest Townships), something I’d been meaning to do since I got here.

Soweto shanty house

Soweto shanty house

First, a tiny bit of background: townships were the peripheral urban areas to which non-white South Africans were evicted or relocated from the cities before and during Apartheid. In Joburg, black people were moved outside of the city proper starting in the late 1880s after the 1886 discovery of gold in the area. What is now known as Soweto began in 1904 with the establishment of a township called Klipspruit, which was created to house black laborers (many of whom worked in the mines). More and more black people were relocated to this area over the years, particularly after 1948, when the National Party took over and began the policy of Apartheid. During Apartheid, starting in the 1950s, the government created separate townships for each of the non-white racial groups (coloured, black, and Indian). Soweto grew quickly (and in an unplanned way) over the years and today is home to around 4 million people.

Soweto "hostels" - housing for laborers

Soweto “hostels” – housing for laborers

Soweto is well-known because of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, which represented a turning point in the anti-Apartheid sentiment in South Africa and worldwide. On June 16, 1976, a group of students began to protest the government’s policy of forcing black African students to be educated in Afrikaans, rather than English. That day, as a group of 10,000 students marched in an area called Orlando West, police were called in and opened fire on them, killing adults and children. Soweto was engulfed by riots and by the end of the Soweto Uprising, at least 176 (but perhaps as many as 600) people had been killed.

Sign from Soweto Uprising

Sign from Soweto Uprising

Heavy stuff.

Today, Soweto seems an odd mix of desperate poverty, well-oiled tourism, and flashy wealth. Our tour started with the part of Soweto where the so-called “black millionaires” have moved in. Our guide explained that some wealthy black South Africans moved back to Soweto and revamped certain neighborhoods in an effort to revitalize the township as a whole. There are truly lovely houses there, with fancy cars in the driveways, swimming pools, satellite TVs, the works. And then, you go a few blocks away and you see this:

Soweto shanty town

Kliptown 

The poverty is so staggering that it’s hard to process. How do people live in houses with no running water, no sewage system, no insulation, no cooling, no room to move around or breathe? How do people make this work? I felt dismayed and helpless at the poverty we saw in Soweto, not only because of the depth of the misery but because of its breadth – millions of people live like this.

School wall, Soweto

School wall, Soweto

Within Kliptown, one of the shanty-town areas of Soweto, we visited a nursery school for kids ages one through six called Pastoral Centre. This was the most heartening (and adorable) part of our day. We were greeted by a classroom of six-year-olds who performed several songs and poems for us and it was quite possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Here’s a very short video I took while they were singing:

We met the principal, Pam Mfaxa, a truly impressive woman who started the nursery school to meet a need she saw in her community, giving poor kids a chance to succeed. The school gives the kids three balanced meals a day, allows them to sing and play creatively, and even teaches them computer skills. They’re intervening in these kids’ lives at a time when brain development is critical for success later in life, so the work they do is hugely important. They also have outreach programs for the elderly and other members of the community (including HIV/AIDS awareness and condom distribution). I was very impressed with the entire operation and it was one of the most hopeful things I saw in Soweto.

Cuteness!

Cuteness!

The tour also included a visit to a shebeen, which is the term for the formerly illicit pubs that sprang up in the townships during Apartheid, since black Africans weren’t allowed to visit bars or pubs for white people.  The shebeen we visited was called, appropriately enough, The Shack. They offered us a taste of the local brew, Joburg Beer, which is made with sorghum, maize, wheat, water and yeast. It had the consistency of chunky milk and smelled like bread. I took a pass, but I did get a photo of the carton.

Joburg beer and calabash cup

Joburg beer and calabash cup

We also visited the Hector Pieterson museum, named after the first person shot by the police in the Soweto Uprising. He was thirteen years old when he died. The museum was fascinating and moving and troubling. One thing that I learned today, which I was not fully aware of before, was how central a role the revolt against Afrikaans in schools played in the entire South African liberation movement. I knew that during Apartheid, everyone was forced to speak Afrikaans in school, but I didn’t realize the difficulties it caused or how hated it was among black South Africans as a means of oppression.

Freedom Charter

Freedom Charter

Although the tour of Soweto was emotionally heavy and rather exhausting, I am so glad we went. I really got a look at a different vision of South Africa from the one that I see every day, which is comfortable, walled-off, a bit boring, even. Soweto was vibrant, sad, difficult, and hopeful all at once. I am not sure what I can do to help, but I will be contributing funds to Pastoral Centre, which relies on donations to stay in operation. I’m so encouraged that there are organizations that are trying to bridge the opportunity gap between the poor and the rich in this country by helping those who are most innocent and full of potential: children.

Pastoral Centre - one-year-olds

Pastoral Centre – one-year-olds

By the way, for anyone considering a visit to Joburg and who wants to go on a Soweto tour, I highly recommend the tour company we used, Themba Day Tours. They were very professional and reasonably priced and they struck a good balance between lightheartedness and respect for the place we were visiting.

Tea at the Westcliff

One of my friends here, Mare, had a birthday tea today at The Westcliff, a hotel with great views of the leafy top of Joburg. The Westcliff, being fancy and a wee bit colonial (awkward), serves a lovely high tea, complete with finger sandwiches, scones, sweets, and, you know, tea.

View from the tea room at The Westcliff

View from the tea room at The Westcliff

They didn’t have the kind of tea I normally go for (i.e., boring, Irish tea) but they did have all sorts of exotic, flowery things, including one tea that opened up into an actual flower when placed in hot water. I went with the least exotic kind of tea. Nothing flowering, blooming, or otherwise germinating in my tea, thank you very much. The serving implements were quite pretty and I felt very fancy pouring tea out of an individual glass pot being kept warm by a votive.

Tea, steeping

Tea, steeping

Tea, steeped

Tea, steeped

I ate some finger sandwiches, a mini quiche, and some fruit salad, and valiantly avoided the scrumptious looking desserts. They even had red velvet cupcakes, a particular weakness of mine, but I resisted.

Toward the end of our tea, it started to get cloudy, and by the time we left, it was pouring down rain, monsoon-style.

Clouds overhead

Clouds overhead

View from inside the car - crazy rain

View from inside the car – crazy rain

All in all, a nice little getaway for a Monday afternoon. Now I’m home, listening to the rain bucket down, and feeling inspired to get back to revising my novel (again).  Sigh. See you tomorrow, and happy Monday.

 

 

Cradle of Humankind and karaoke

This weekend was, and continues to be, packed, hence my lack of blogging.  On Friday, we went to a lovely dinner party at our friends’ house and woke up terribly hungover on Saturday. That afternoon, we bundled off to the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site where they discovered some super old (2.3 million years!) bones from an early human species, Australopithecus africanus.  So I guess it’s the cradle of humanoid-kind, but okay.

We went there for a birthday picnic for a friend. This wasn’t the kind of picnic where you spread a blanket on the ground and eat some sandwiches. It was this kind of picnic:

 

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Schmancy!  The Cradle is very pretty, so it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

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After lunch, we drove back to Joburg and immediately went to dinner with some new friends, which then led seamlessly into a trip to our local bar, The Colony Arms, for some karaoke.  I didn’t sing (I just wasn’t in the mood, and I’ll be danged before I’ll half-ass karaoke), but Al sung “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks, and despite the fact that he and I were probably the only two people in the entire place who had ever heard that song, it was a hit.

Drinks list

Drinks list – remind me to try the Suitcase before I leave South Africa

And now we’re off again, to a lunch at another friend’s house. Who knew we were so popular, right? As we speak, Al is baking some honey-wheat bread to bring along (whereas I am just bringing my sunny personality).

This weekend has been great, full of new friends and nice food and booze, but it’ll be nice to have a chill night in tonight and, hopefully, to plow through the last two episodes of Season 3 of Downton Abbey (no spoilers, but holy crap, Episode 5, you guys).

Happy weekend to everyone!

 

Neighbourgoods

No, I didn’t temporarily lose hold of my senses while trying to spell “neighborhoods” – Neighbourgoods is a fun, partially enclosed market in the central business district (CBD) of Joburg showcasing local merchants selling all manner of goodies: organic wine, raw chocolate, French cheese, thin crust pizza, empanadas, fresh baked bread, fruit smoothies, raw honey, homemade hummus, and the list goes on.  It’s a paradise for people like me and Al (i.e., gluttons).

Neighbourgoods is one of three places in Joburg that I’ve been told I simply “must” visit to experience vibrant city life in this city of malls and walls.  And it was very fun – but true city life, it’s not.  It was more a safe gathering place for hipsters, foodies, and people who enjoy a cold beverage on a hot day.  Al and I sort of fit into two out of three of these categories, if we’re being generous, so we enjoyed ourselves greatly.

We met up with one of my new friends here, Mare, and one of Al’s colleagues, Kitso, for some pizza, oysters, sparkling wine, beer, eggs benedict, and other delicious bites, including beetroot hummus, goat haloumi, and gelato.  We sat outside on the baking roof, ate, drank, and listened to music.  A very nice way indeed to pass a Saturday morning.

Gotta love this beer:

Now we’re back at the apartment, resting up and watching crime shows, until we head out again to watch the Harvard-Yale game somewhere tonight.

Enjoy your Saturdays!

Driving

Big day, guys.  Today, Al and I became the proud owners of a 2008 Toyota Yaris.  We went to the “car dealership” (full disclosure: it’s a repo lot) this morning and then I attempted to drive myself back home, following Al.

But first we had to get gas at a specific gas station, because the dealership/repo lot had given us a voucher for 100 R worth of petrol at a nearby filling station.  They told us the station was easy to get to: “You just go right, then right, then right.” That seemed easy enough.  I got behind the wheel of the new car and Al drove the rental and we set off to find the gas station.

Next thing we knew, we were driving through Alexandra (known as Alex), a township in Joburg.  This was not ideal.  It was my first time driving more than a block on the left side of the road (and on the opposite side of the car) in South Africa, and I immediately was forced to navigate through a sea of people, trucks, motorcycles, and general sketchiness.  Our GPS was chirping at me in an Irish accent to “turn left” and “enter the roundabout” but I couldn’t turn left and didn’t see any roundabouts, so we ended up doing several, highly stressful laps around Alex before we made it to the gas station.

Alex

Good times.

After we finally found the filling station, I followed Al back to our apartment building and we managed not to end up in any more slums.

Before leaving for his office, Al told me I did “great” except to watch for left-hand drift. Huh? Apparently, being accustomed to being on the other side of the car while driving, I tend to drift over to the left while driving here, which is probably a nerve-wracking experience for anyone in the lane next to me. Not for me, though – I was blissfully unaware of any such drifting, and will probably continue to be.

There were also a couple times while I was driving, especially after turns, where I had to remind myself, LEFT SIDE. I want to be driving on the LEFT SIDE.

I’m sure all of this will get easier.  In the meantime, since it’s raining lions and dingos today, I have big plans to take the car to the gym, which is one block away.  It’s good to have wheels!

The Colony Arms

Al and I are the type of people who think, if we’re gonna live somewhere, we’re gonna have a neighborhood bar.  We were roundly unsuccessful at finding a Neighborhood Bar in Woodley Park, where we lived for the past three years in DC. The closest thing we had to a Neighborhood Bar there was a foul little establishment called Medaterra whose only redeeming quality was the cheapness and largeness of their martinis.  We went there maybe twice a year.  Not exactly “Cheers” material.

But here in Joburg, it’s going to be different, by gum.  Last night, in search of a good Neighborhood Bar here in Craighall Park, we traveled a block up Jan Smuts Avenue (which Al has taken to calling Jan Smut Avenue given its large number of sex shops) to legendary local bar The Colony Arms.

The Colony Arms, in all of its strip mall glory.

When Al first got to Joburg a month ago, numerous people stressed that he simply must go to the Colony Arms for a “John Deere,” which is a potent concoction of sugarcane alcohol (much like my beloved Brazilian cachaça) and – you guessed it! – cream soda.

(Side note: they LOVE them some cream soda here in ZA.  Al points out that Canadians also love cream soda.  Must be a Commonwealth thing?  God bless the Queen and cream soda?  According to the (highly essential) Wikipedia page on cream soda:

“In South Africa, Creme Soda is often referred to as the “Green Ambulance” (predominantly by students), as it is believed to alleviate the effects of hangovers. Creme Soda is also used as a mixer with cane spirit (an inexpensive alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented sugarcane). This is commonly known as a “John Deer” (cf.John Deere and its green logo), “Cane Train”, or “Green Mamba”. Cane spirit is chosen due its ability to go relatively unnoticed.

Gotta love that. All of that.)

Anyway, we popped into the Colony Arms expecting great things, given the amount it had been talked up, but it was pretty meh.  Despite an advertisement promising two-for-one drinks on Foxy Ladies’ Thursday, we paid two-for-two for our beer and glass of wine.   We stayed for the one drink and then trundled on home.

In doing some research today on The Colony Arms, to see if it had any storied history I should be aware of (it doesn’t), I came across this hilarious article, entitled “Where The Girls Aren’t: The Colony Arms,” which describes the feel of the establishment thusly:

The Colony Arms, or ‘The Colonic” as it’s known by to its denizens, is not high on atmosphere; it’s in a shopping mall for God’s sake. With its bland as tupperware interior, tiled floors and bare walls, the place gives you the impression it gets hosed down the morning after, not swept. The bar staff are friendly enough, and service is quick and attentive.

That pretty much sums it up.  It was fine.  But nothing life-changing.  Not necessarily Neighborhood Bar material.  Then again, on Saturdays they have karaoke, so I could be swayed.  And, according to their website, they also have beer pong.  Despite incorrectly conflating beer pong with Beirut, which is a DIFFERENT AND SUPERIOR GAME (just ask the entire West Coast of America), I like The Colonic’s attitude. This place could win me over yet.