Sunday, August 28, 2016

A post from Joy

They had cardboard cutouts from the 50s for pictures
at the activity
I think my favorite thing here in South Africa so far is getting to know people in the ward. We attended an activity at church the week after we got here. It was really fun with lots of food and I got to know lots of people. They were all friendly and there was a great spirit about them all. They had put a lot of effort into decorations and the primary party was a welcoming birthday party.

I also enjoyed the ice cream (gelato) we had for Derrill's birthday. The first we tried was a Kinderegg flavor and the second I chose a mix of chocolate, Oreo cookie, and black forest cherry. (We needed more ice cream to go with Derrill's cake we got for Derrill's birthday.)

I have been enjoying SkipBo lately (Pleasant reminds of playing with Heather and Micah in Ithaca) and I have read a few Regency romance novels by Regina Scott who is as good a writer as Georgette Heyer. I hope she writes more. I could have done those things in the US, though.

Another thing I love about South Africa is the vegetation. Trees in some areas like a tropical paradise. Thick, spiny leaves and some cacti (our little girl seeks those out) with sack-like birds nests that hang from the trees. It is nice to have maids again and not many things with us to take care of.

What else is there to see at the Pretoria zoo?

Aside from animals and white people, that is

The waterfall just past the ticket counter

Now THAT is a useful sign you don't see everywhere!
Four blasts mean a dangerous animal has escaped.

Giant fountains that aren't turned on

Rocking cars and some ancient arcade games: about $0.15

John-Thomas did NOT like the ferris wheel

So Superstar took over the rest of his turn

Some animals we actually went to see

The macaw was a general favorite

When the kids said they wanted to see "kitties" this is what I had in mind:

But this is what they wanted. A little kitty snuck into one of the enclosures. Happy kids.

Ohhhh, Grandma! What big teeth you have!

Sleepy koala

In which we are the attraction

Couple weeks ago we went to the National Zoological Gardens. One of the fun parts of the zoo was that you could rent a golf cart (for about as much as admission for the 5 of us) for three hours. Saved us a LOT of complaining.

As we were puttering around the exotic birds, some teenage students noticed us. They did a double-take. Then they ran over and asked if they could please take pictures with our baby, John-Thomas. For the next 10 minutes, one teen after another ran up to us to climb into and on top of us to take pictures and selfies with us and our golden haired children. We were just glad no one ran off with him (as happened in Abuja).

It eventually got to be a bit too much for my personal space and we politely shooed them away.

As it drew closer to noon, though, over a hundred pre-schoolers and early grade schoolers descended on the zoo. They were all in the same school uniform. For the most part we just moved around and among each other, no problem.

The snake pit was a little weird, though. Dozens of them would flow down to get to the BIG snakes, then scream loudly, about face, and RUN, encouraging us to do our best impression of salmon swimming upstream.

Then a gaggle of kids separated Princess off. They were in awe. They kept petting and stroking her hair. I could see Princess was not entirely comfortable with this attention, but she wasn't freaking out so I took a picture or two of my daughter, the zoo attraction. They noticed that I was watching them and gave her some breathing room.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pretoria's alarm clock

The caw-caw sound that wakes us up isn't crows. It's hadeda ibis:

Pretoria reminds me of

The streets of Brooklyn, Pretoria
Pretoria reminds my kids of Santa Barbara and Texas: palm trees, jacarandas, decorative cacti, and homes with plenty of vegetation ... and brown grass.


Pretoria reminds me of Los Angeles.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A funny thing happened on the way to the office hours

Some students needed to counsel with me about the class, so I walked in to the office even though I normally try to work from home Thursdays here. Since there are multiple routes I could take, I habitually randomize which pathway I take and happened to be on the main thoroughfare through the area about 10:30am when I was mugged.

It was a very polite mugging, really. Cost me all of a $1.50, no injuries, and I had really imagined a lot more stress and allyways involved in a mugging.

This fellow walked up alongside me and greeted me. That was only slightly unusual and I figured he would be asking for money - #1 reason strangers say hello to me. So I reached into my pocket to finger through my cards and random small papers to find the beggar money I keep there. Then he held up something long, wrapped up in a plastic bag, that he was holding like a knife. He said,

"I am not going to do any violence today. Please help me keep my commitment."

We kept on walking together while I tried to process what he said. To me he mumbled, but the word "violence" was very clear. He kept talking and demonstratively lifted the long object two or three times in a suggestive way. My fingers finally identified the R20 bill and I handed it to him.

He politely asked for just 10 more so he could get mumble-mumble.
I told him it was what I had on me.
He asked my name so he could go to church and pray for me.
I told him (part of it).

He asked God's blessing on me for helping him keep his commitment to do no violence and walked across the street again.

For the most part I have treated this as a curiosity. "Hunh. That's not normal." Did my student hours like normal, walked back, bought some socks on the way. Didn't even think to tell Joy about it until a few hours later.

As I type this up, though, I feel decidedly more antsy. I mean, that could have gone badly really easily. He didn't ask for the iPad I was reading from or the computer in my bag. He didn't ask me to turn out my pockets to see my credit cards or if I did have any other cash. Above all, he kept his commitment and I was happy to help. Would've done the same if he hadn't had a shopping bag. ... I may take my walk past the Saudi embassy a little more often, though. Friendly guards there. I wave to them when I pass and they wave back. Nice people, private security officers.

That never happened in Nigeria!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Stranger in a strange land: Food

I've actually had very few experiences where I felt like a stranger in a strange land. In Nigeria, everything seemed to scream out constantly that I wasn't in the US anymore. In Pretoria, though, it's not only clearly advanced/developed/first-world, but everyone speaks English to me. If it weren't for people driving on the left and the stores are a little different, I would forget I was in another country sometimes.

After ten days I have finally found our first glaring thing that will remind me multiple times a day that I'm not in the US:

There is no such thing as pure orange juice.

Every morning at breakfast the orange juice we ask for has tasted just a little off, and sometimes very much off, and sometimes downright nasty, and we couldn't figure out why. Being on the Naturally Slim program means that I don't drink water anymore (hardly). I mix my water with just a little OJ, making "H2Orange". It's delightful. It overpowers the taste of the local water wherever I am. It's delicious. Other program adherents call it the nectar of the gods. It's ... unworkable here.

We went to the store searching for orange juice, and we kind of found it. The label says in big, bright letters "100% orange juice", and then beneath it reads: "orange mixed with apple and grape juice" or "orange mixed with apple and other juices" (or "other fruit" as in this picture).

OTHER juices? What, pray tell, are these mysterious "other" juices? Yak urine? Chewing tobacco spit? There's something not quite right about that juice, this much I know.

In SAfr's defense, everything else has tasted very good. The pizza is different but enjoyable. The lamb at UP was glorious. The meat pies put Nigeria's to shame. They have Hob Nobs and real Nutella and bockwurst. Their butternut squash is amazingly good. The OJ? Not so much.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sleeping in South Africa

The plan, we were told, was that the University of Pretoria was going to rent us a house for these two months. A house that not only had a separate bedroom for each child, but one with a side house for a live-in maid, not to mention a pool! We were astonished and pretty excited.

When we arrived, most horrifically jet-legged, I was informed that there were ... legal issues. Universities are not fast-moving creatures. In the meantime, would you mind if we dropped you at this charming little establishment called the Avalon Guest House? It's walking distance and - while your contract indicates that you are responsible for your own food - it comes with breakfast. We'll talk some more later about when we can get you into the house.

Hey, just point me in the direction of the bed, and I'm good. So we arrive and I have a pair of first reactions. First reaction #1 - This is elegant and beautiful!

First reaction #2 - This is never going to work. It's one big room for us and then this small room with three beds for the kids. We just did a week putting the kids to sleep in the same hotel room in DC to get here, and it was a disaster from start to finish. (Yes, there is a bathroom and a closet and a cupboard with a small fridge and microwave too). But it's simply not going to be possible to contain our three lively children in such a small space for two whole months. Not gonna work.

 Joy and I agreed that first night: if it were just the two of us, this would be an ideal bed and breakfast.

Then after the first weekend, the kids decided they really liked it. They really like sharing a room. There is a lovely patio they can play on. There are all these trees and flowers around, with bird song most hours of the day (and they are quiet at night until about 5am).


*John-Thomas cries*
And now it's time for another ... Tale ... of ... SUSPENSE! *crying ceases*

A man in a foreign country must pop popcorn in a microwave he has never used before!

Will the higher voltage change the cooking time?
What if he leaves it in the microwave too long and it burns?

The man stands at the microwave ... staring relentlessly ... patiently ... counting each pop ... never knowing ... if this pop ... will be the last ..............

This has been another ... Tale ... of ... SUSPENSE!
*John-Thomas resumes crying*

Thank you, son. Your timing is impeccable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

In Qatar

After a 15 hour flight, we have arrived in Qatar. No one slept more than 4-5 hours, but thanks to abundant tv, movies, and DS games, we and the passengers around us were relatively happy.

The Doha airport is nice. A friendly employee saw us shuffling forward and gave us a lift, entry to the first class screening area, and directions to the children's playground. While we had to pay $5 in Dallas for an unwieldy luggage cart we had to return, here in Qatar there are luggage carts and baby strollers by the dozens lined up for free use. When you are a family of five, they make a huge difference.

The first thing we saw past security were these larger-than-us animatronic dinosaurs. They said "Rawr!" They scared JT no end. They also had rather large plush animals, of which the gorilla was JT's favorite.

It's a busy, fully modern airport, and a good sight better looking than Heathrow. I'll reserve judgement until our NINE HOUR layover is over, but So far I'm glad we flew through Qatar Airways.