Well hello there.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been actively writing here for some time. I’m taking a bit of a break from updating this site at the moment. I’m keeping busy with a number of other projects, both personal and professional, but I do hope to start blogging here again in the near future. Watch this space – I still have a lot to say about travel, life, and making a home wherever you are!

– Jenny


US101: Halloween Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin carving is a lot more work than I remembered.

I haven’t done a real Halloween pumpkin carving in the US for a long time. I have memories of late autumn afternoons at my Grandpa’s house, carving my masterpiece on the face of the (slightly lopsided) orange monster that I picked out of hundreds at the pumpkin patch. Drinking hot cider, jumping in recently raked leaf piles, plotting the perfect costume. When it got dark, seeing your pumpkin all lit up was magical. I’m sure the memories are heavily filtered – late October in MN is cold at best, and I do remember breaking out in an allergic rash from the leaf pile one year. But it is still a tradition from my childhood that I miss.

Nick spotted the “party pumpkins” (as they were labeled) at the supermarket last week. I’ve never seen them here before (granted, I’ve never looked) – usually the pumpkins are solid all the way through (really squash, perhaps?) But there they were, lining the shelves! It wasn’t quite the same as picking one out from the pumpkin patch, but nevermind. We invited Nick’s sister and her kids over mid-week to join in the fun, since it wouldn’t be the same without little ones around. The day we picked happened to be the first real summer’s day we’ve had here in Cape Town yet – 80s, no wind, pretty much perfect weather, but it seemed odd to be carving pumpkins in Summer. I got over it – it is much nicer to stick your hands in pumpkin goo when you aren’t freezing.

I seem to have conveniently forgotten all the difficult and gross parts about the pumpkin carving process (ah, selective memory). Even though they’re hollow, there is a lot of “meat” in there that you have to clean out, and no easy way to do it. And pumpkins are thick. Which makes them VERY hard to cut, and we had absolutely the wrong tools for the carving job. It’s definitely not something little kiddos (or I) can do on their own – I think Nick had to cut the lids off all our pumpkins, and the adults did all the actual cutting. The part that I was most excited about (roasting pumpkin seeds, mmm) turned out to be a complete schlep – separating the seeds from the stringy goo is tough. We both collapsed at the end of the evening feeling exhausted. Despite all that, I think we had a blast. And seeing them all lit up was just as magical as I remembered it.

Jack-o-Lantern Masterpieces

So, for anyone lucky enough to find a “party pumpkin” who wants to carve it for Halloween, here’s a little how-to:

  1. Find a pumpkin. A critical first step. Pumpkins must be the hollow kind – beware pumpkin-shaped squash that are solid all the way through. If you get one of those, the best you can do is draw a face on them (trust me, I’ve tried to hollow them out and cut them, it 100% does not work).
  2. Prepare your workspace. Lay out some old newspapers on a table or the lawn – it isn’t so much about keeping the area you’re covering neat and tidy as it is about easy clean-up. You’re going to need someplace to dump all that pumpkin-goo you pull out in step 4.
  3. Cut the lid off your pumpkin. This is the step that every Dad out there dreads. Pumpkins are tough little buggers, and it takes some serious power to get the top off. You should make sure to cut the lid at an angle so that it doesn’t fall through when you put it back on later.
  4. Clean out the pumpkin. This is the gross part. If you’re like me and hate getting your hands dirty, use a metal spoon or ice cream scooper to get the stringy, goopy mess out. I wish I had this pumpkin gutter tool. Scrape the sides that you’re going to carve as much as you can – the more you can scoop out the thinner the walls will be.
  5. Decide on your design. This is the fun part (or the stressful part if you’re a competitive perfectionist, ahem, you know who I’m talking to!) Yes, we’ve all seen the insane designs on Pinterest created by people with too much time on their hands. Relax. You don’t need to go quite as nuts as all that, and besides, those people use special tools (dremels? really??) Keep it simple, especially for your first pumpkin. Curved lines are harder to cut, which is why standard jack-o-lanterns have triangle eyes, square teeth, etc. You can spend time drawing it out on paper, or just jump straight to the next step.
  6. Transfer your design on to your pumpkin. A pumpkin may be round-ish, but there is definitely a better side to carve on – find it. Draw out your design, keeping in mind which pieces you want to cut out and which you will leave intact. If you have a complex design, you can use what you drew on your paper and transfer it to your pumpkin using a push-pin.
  7. Carve! I lied – step 3 isn’t the hard part, this is. But it’s also fun.  Make sure you have the right tools for the job. In the US they sell all sorts of kits with little safety knives for kids and fancy tools for intricate designs. In our (limited) experience where those don’t exist, we found that a short-handled, swiss army-type knife works best. Serrated edges are a must to saw through the thick pumpkin. You can cut roughly and go back and clean up edges later. If you make a mistake and cut off a part you meant to leave on, you can re-attach (kind of) with toothpicks. Just be careful – fake blood and gore is part of Halloween, but real severed limbs shouldn’t be.

  8. Light and enjoy. Fairly self-explanatory – stick a tea light in, light it up, turn off the lights, step back and watch your creation glow. Magical.

OPTIONAL EXTRA: Roast the pumpkin seeds (yum!) The easiest way to get the seeds off the stringy pumpkin guts is to do it right away as you’re pulling them out. Put them into a bowl, and when you’ve collected all you want, give them a thorough rinse in a colander and pick out any big pumpkin bits. Soak them in salt water overnight, and when drained coat them in a little butter or oil. Add any spices, sweet or salty, that you’d like. Lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven at 120° C/250° F for about an hour, shaking/stirring every 10-15 minutes to make sure they’re evenly cooked. Eat. Yum.

WARM WEATHER MUST: Preserve your pumpkin. Something I’ve never had to deal with in MN is how best to preserve a pumpkin once it’s carved. In fact, I’d never thought about it until Nick asked how to keep them from rotting before Halloween. From researching various sources, the consensus seems to be that bleach is the way to go.
Who knew.

SA101: Heritage Day

Today South Africans get the day off to celebrate Heritage Day. But what exactly are we celebrating?

When I first got here, I asked people that question on nearly every public holiday. The meaning behind Heritage Day elicited more blank stares than most, so I looked it up. Turns out it’s not just a long weekend to celebrate the coming Summer weather, and there’s a good reason people aren’t sure why they get the 24th of September off – it’s a relatively new holiday. According to good ‘ole Wiki, Heritage Day celebrates “…the diverse cultural heritage that makes up a “rainbow nation“. It is the day to celebrate the contribution of all South Africans to the building of South Africa.” It was added to SA’s list of public holidays only in 1995.

In 2005 there was a movement to change the name of the holiday to National Braai Day, and although it didn’t officially take hold it is still they name by which what many people know this long weekend. Rather than celebrating all the different cultures that make up the country, Braai4Heritage proposes that South Africans celebrate a tradition that brings South Africans from all walks of life together – braai-ing meat (and maybe other things) over an open flame. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the official patron of the day: he talks below about why he thinks Braai day a positive, “unifying” holiday (and apparently can cook up a mean chop himself.)

On a lighter note, I’ve also dug up some important braai etiquette that you should know, just in case you find yourself in the vicinity of a Weber today.

Happy braai-ing!

You’re going the wrong way.

arrow signJust back from a great (if hectic) visit back to the States for a fabulous conference and some quality time with the fam in MN. Wonderful trip, but I am very happy to be home.

I don’t know about you, but jet lag is the least of my issues when doing the continental shuffle. You think I’d be used to it by now, but a zillion little things always trip me up when I get to one side or the other. I get in the wrong side of the car. I have to remember to say “zed” and not “zee” or vice versa and tweak other word choices so that people understand me. I spend an inordinately long time studying the pizza delivery menu, trying to remember which toppings they use where (oddly, SAfrican and American pizza toppings arepretty different). I lean in for a hug or a kiss on the cheek at inappropriate moments. But the thing that takes me probably the most time to reprogram are my default settings: do you default left or right? 

Don’t worry, this doesn’t seem to be a problem when driving – the steering wheel on the other side is a pretty good reminder. But it causes me problems for weeks on end when walking down the street,standing on a busy escalator, or most frustratingly, in the grocery store. My sister and I noticed the phenomenon of pedestrian rules of the road when we visited Ireland a million years ago. We kept dancing with people on narrow sidewalks, running into old grannies, having to dodge runners at the last minute. I guess I’d never realized how ingrained your left/right default settings are, even when on foot. And for some reason it’s harder to reset and pisses people off more than many things – I’ve definitely had obscenities shouted at me by little old ladies in walkers more than once in the UK, or had someone simply refuse to cede their side of the sidewalk and push me into the street here in SA. The trickiest bit is that the strength of the right/left default seems to be directly correlated to the propensity to queue. In otherwords, if you’re in a society that dutifully lines up behind that person who really isn’t in the checkout line, than odds are that you’ll experience more forceful opposition to giving in to right of way. What makes this tricky in SA is that some people are queuers, and some most decidedly aren’t. So some people stick rigidly to their side of the grocery store aisle, and others are weaving all over the place. As you can imagine, this makes it tough to navigate and pretty darn frustrating, especially behind an oversized shopping cart.

Rough life, huh? Oh the trials and tribulations of an international life 😉

SA 101: Braai


braai [braɪ]
V: to grill or roast over an open fire
N: an event where something is cooked (usually meat) over an open fire, or physically what you cook on


“Come on over to my place on Sunday for a bring and braai” – come to my place with something to grill (preferably meat, see below…)

“We got together and braaied last weekend” – could also say we had a braai.

“Apologies, my braai is a bit dirty” – he hasn’t cleaned his grill…and will be judged by his fellow (backseat) braaiers.


The Afrikaans word braai (from braaivleis, or grilled meat) is one of the most commonly used words I’ve come across since I started hanging out with the SA crowd. The word has been verbed and its meaning widened substantially. Braaing is quite literally a national pastime: Heritage Day on Sept 24 has also been dubbed “National Braai Day”, as it seems that throwing some vleis on the braai is a form of entertainment that transcends nearly all ethnicities and social backgrounds. I had my first braai with an odd group of South Africans living in South Sudan – never mind there wasn’t meat to braai, they made a plan and imported some, and with plenty of beer it almost felt like home.

Similarly to the American barbeque, there are a lot of social norms surrounding the braai. Traditionally the braai is the doamin of men. That is to say, the men put the meat on the braai and stand around watching it cook, while the women make the salads and sides. Usually one of the guys is nominated as the braaier (either the person whose house the braai is at or the most experienced braair). While there is a lot of discussion over cooking the meat, it seems the rule is to defer to the designated braaier in decision-making (e.g. when the meat is ready to come off). The designated braaier may hand over the braai tongs to another guy if he needs another drink (heaven forbid no one has brought him one) or has to go to the bathroom, but unauthorized braaiers are not allowed to meddle in the cooking.  I can only report on these norms and customs as a third party observer, having never had the opportunity to crack the inner braai circle. Being a woman with fairly progressive male friends I have been allowed to hang around the braai and chat (as long as I have a beer in my hand), but not being much of a cook myself I have not stuck around to press my luck getting involved in the actual cooking ritual. I just chalk it up to a little male bonding.

There’s also the question of what you put on the braai. Boerwors and chops are standard, as are steaks and other red meat. I’ve been looked at like a crazy woman for suggesting we braai hamburgers, though – not done. Chicken is frowned upon (allegedly because of it’s different cooking time requirements) but according to the host of a braai I attended recently, “there’s always one in every group” who insists on  bringing it. Chicken kebabs are better than chicken breasts if you have to have poultry. Veggies generally cause all sorts of confusion. Many braai masters don’t have a clue about how to cook them and would rather send them into the kitchen to be cooked with the other sides. However, I know from experience that veggies CAN be braaied successfully, so I continue to push the boundaries here in SA on that one 🙂 Yes, I am that girl who brings the chicken, too.

Honestly, there’s not many better ways to spend a summer Sunday afternoon than braaiing with friends, drinking some beer and enjoying the weather.

2011: Transition

Reflecting back on the year, the word that sums up 2011 for me is “transition”.

Some of my personal and professional transitions are a direct result of intense self-evaluation, and some has come simply from changes in circumstance. But as the year comes to a close I am realizing that no matter how it has come about, I will start 2012 in a very different place than I was at in the beginning of 2011. It may not have been the most outwardly transformational year, but the changes I’ve made are significant in many ways and will profoundly impact where I go next.

2011 has seen my life transition in so many ways:

from expat –> to local: For the better part of the past decade, I have defined myself as an “expat” – a foreigner living abroad. While that label technically still applies, since moving to South Africa I’ve realized a real shift in the way that I see myself (if not yet in the way that others see me). Living the expat lifestyle has its challenges and benefits, but by-in-large you interact with other expats and often have a special set of privileges (salary, housing, leave) that sets you apart from the locals. You can never really feel permanent anywhere, even if you are there for years, as your friendships are largely transient and your work situation temporary. Here in Cape Town we have put down roots: bought a house and car, have pets and live near family. We really only have friends who are from SA and have no intention of moving on any time soon, and we sometimes talk about things like where we would send our hypothetical kids to school…in short, we LIVE here, we aren’t just BASED here for the next year or two. Granted, my American accent will always set me apart when I meet new people, but I am (slowly) being seen as “one of them”.  More importantly, I don’t always feel foreign. It’s nice to be home.

from aid worker –> to NGO consultant –> to writer & designer: To be honest, my professional transition has been closer to two+ years in the making, but I consciously made the effort to head in a particular direction in 2011. When I left my post in Liberia in 2010 I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do, or even what I wanted to do. I more or less fell into NGO consulting – it was mostly a continuation of the work that I did long-term in the field, although it was definitely rewarding and new territory to conquer. In 2011 I took a long, hard look at what I was doing and where I wanted to head, and took some major leaps towards my goals. I decided to refocus my work on what I liked most about my job – writing. I also actively pursued what had, until this year, been merely a hobby. I enrolled in a graphic design course, honed my technical skills and got my print design portfolio together. I spent the last few months of this year working full steam ahead to set a solid foundation for my new career path; thinking thorough what transferable skills I have and what unique expertise I bring to the table. Though I’m by no means there yet, and I’m not planning to make a completely clean break from my past work, I’m excited to continue my professional transition in 2012.

from girlfriend –> to fiancée (soon to be wife!): This one is still in the works, but we’ve come a long way! We’ve been together for years, so you wouldn’t necessarily think that this would be much of a transition, but I think this is perhaps the most daunting change for me. It is something that I cannot do on my own and that I can’t fully control – scary stuff. We’ve worked hard to lay the groundwork for a happy life together, but you never know the challenges we have to face in the future. I’m so lucky to have an amazing partner going through this transition with me.

from renter –> to homeowner: This is the most wholly satisfying transition I’ve made this year. Despite the enormous amount of work (and money) we’ve realized homeownership to be, it is so worth it to me to come home to a place that is ours, and to make long-term plans on how we can alter and improve our space. I’m really loving it.

from nomad –> to homebody: Again, this transition has been awhile in the making, but now the difference is that I actually have a home! It amazed me how little wanderlust I actually had this year. Every once and awhile I’d get the bug and pour over travel blogs and envy friends who had taken exotic trips, but for the most part I have had NO desire at all to travel just for travel’s sake. No need for endless “adventures” that can turn out to be major headaches. No need to go somewhere just because it is new and novel. Rather I’ve loved being in my house, my office, my town, having less-than-thrilling nights with friends, making plans, just being home. I’m sure I’ll get the bug again, but at the moment I’m just enjoying my new-found love of domestic pleasures.

What do I hope for 2012? I plan to continue on the paths that I’ve started myself on in 2011, and to successfully navigate the many transitions I know will lie ahead. I’m aiming to have the words fulfillment, contentment and achievement summarize my 2012.

SA 101

As anyone who has ever moved to another place knows, a large part of your initial ‘settling in’ is made up of identifying everything that makes this place different from what you know. Despite many similarities to what I’ve grown up with and experienced in other places, particularly the UK, I’ve had to get used to all sorts of ‘new’ things – strange words and phrases, foods, customs, obsessions, odd habits. Even after living here nearly two years (!) I pick up something new every day, it seems.  As I am inclined to do, I’ve been keeping lists of some of the odds and ends I’ve picked up. Many of them have become part of my everyday life and lingo, so much so that I sometimes forget how odd they seemed when I first arrived. I thought it might be fun to post some of my observations here, in part to give those who haven’t had the opportunity to travel to this beautiful country a little taste of its uniqueness (and equally to explain a little to friends and family in the US since I always get grief when I come home to Mpls for sounding ‘funny’). So, for those of you who haven’t had the distinct pleasure of having a ‘lekker’ ‘braii’ while overlooking ‘the mountain’, sipping some Black Label with your ‘chinas’…ok, enough. If you’re not sure what I’m on about, stay tuned for future SA101 posts…

Some disclaimers:
For you SAfricans reading, feel free to correct me if I get things totally wrong. (If I do, I fully blame it on my cultural translator, Nick. He has been away from SA for awhile, after all…). I also fully admit that my knowledge of South Africa, particularly the language and culture, is heavily influenced by the fact that my family and many friends here are English (speaking) South Africans. I’m sure there are MANY other South Africanisms I am missing out on – I hope my horizons will continue to widen the longer I’m here.

Saying goodbye to Lucy

Nick and I had to make a terrible, awful decision in August last year to put our little kitten, Lucy, to sleep. I wrote here about her getting sick, but just couldn’t bring myself to write anything else as she fairly quickly got much, much sicker.

As Nick and I were coming to terms with the decision we knew we were going to have to make – it was only a matter of time – I wrote down a list of things that I would miss about Lucy, just to make sure I remembered all the little things we loved about her. In many ways, we have come to terms with losing her. In spite of everything, we know we gave our little rescue kitten the absolute best life she could have had for her short six months on earth. She was kissed, cuddled, fed (a lot), and generally spoiled. But most of all, loved. I thought, as a means of closure, I would share that list here along with a few more pics to remember her by.

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Things I’m going to miss about Lucy…
written 8/19/2010

  • Office time – since I work from home, I spend most of my time in our home office that Nick and I share. She has to be on our laps or computers most of the time (typical cat). Her computer skills are impressive – at one point she managed to shift ALL of the text and program windows on my computer screen sideways by sitting on my keyboard. She also sits in the window of the office and watches the world go by – the neighbor’s cats, the people on their way to the train – cowering any time there was the least bit of a loud noise (the kids scare her especially). She only fell out the window once.
  • Roadtripping – we bring her with us to Nick’s parent’s place so she doesn’t have to stay home alone, and that means frequent road trips. As soon as we’re in the car and on the road we let her out of her carrier so she doesn’t yowl. She crawls all over the car, exploring, and ends up in the back window where we’d get such great looks from the people in car behind, perches on my shoulder or sits on Nick’s lap and try to help him drive.
  • Monkey-mode – she gets all riled up, running up and down the house, chasing her favorite toys (cable ties), racing up and down the cushions on the back of the couch, and when she gets particularly hyper she would ‘monkey’ – spreads her toes, poof her tail, hop at you kind of sideways in an attempt to intimidate you, breathing heavily, sometimes giving a little spit – so funny!
  • Blankie – her grey blankie is her favorite thing in the world,  her security blanket. She adopted it from the first day we got her, crawling onto it to suckle and ‘make pudding’. We think she must have been the runt of the litter, the bottom-feeder of the bunch, because she always kneaded blankie way above her head. She’d get so purry and happy, zoning into Stevie Wonder mode where she’d kind of sway her head back and forth in a figure eight. We joke it is the only way to slow her down when she gets into ‘hyper-mode’ is to put blankie into her path, since she couldn’t run over the blanket without stopping to ‘make-pudding’ on it.
  • Her big, Puss-in-Boots eyes that could make me do anything – she just gives me this look and I somehow want to give her food, pick her up and pet her, you name it.
  • When she was a tiny kitten she was absolutely MAD about her food. She would run in circles meowing frantically, climbing Nick’s leg to get to the countertops, a total nut. I’ll miss the way she never quite eats neatly, and has food stuck to her little beard she couldn’t quite get off (she didn’t have a mom to teach her those things, you know). Later she wouldn’t eat unless she was sitting on the scratching post (it is too cold on the concrete floor to sit on for too long), and you HAVE to pet her while she eats or she’ll keep looking around for you. You can’t be too far away! She also LOVES her Greenies, the little treats we give her.
  • I’ll miss her cute markings – her one white foot, one black, the orange leopard spots on her white belly, her little white eyelashes, the whiskers that never quite grew back fully after she singed them, the little crooked-looking smile – she has a half pink mouth which you can especially see when she’s meowing…just so cute.
  • That darn tail – she just can’t get away from it, it keeps following her around! It would come out of nowhere and hit her in the face when she was trying to sleep.  She only recently learned that she has to tuck it under her paw to keep it under control. It also was in a near-permanent bottle-brush state (all poofed up – it would get that way whenever she freaks herself out (a regular occurrance).
  • Sleeping with us – she was so little when we got her, we let her sleep on her grey blankie between our heads every night. She purrs so loud most nights that she wakes me up at some point. Also, if you get to close to her face at night, she will lick and lick and lick your face – especially your nose. You can’t get her to stop until she falls back asleep! When she gets really cold she burrows under the covers and sleeps in the crook of Nick’s knees – ‘prickly side in’ Nick says
  • She couldn’t get enough of people – part of having been bottle-fed from a tiny kitten, I guess. She would perch on Nick’s shoulder as long as he would let her, curl up on my lap for hours on end. The thing I will miss probably the most is the ‘I love you’ look she gives you, looking up at you while sitting on the desk, purring, wanting kisses on her head. Her little head bumps to get you to pay attention to her. Just pure love.
  • I will desperately miss coming home and saying ‘where’s my Lucy?’, only to have her run out of wherever she was sleeping (usually the blankie on the bed) and greeting me with the happiest meows. Sigh.
As I write this it is comforting to have the two newest additions to our household, Mia and Ollie, curled up beside me. But it doesn’t make it any less painful to write these words – after losing our first kitten, Squeekers, just the August before, we had only just opened up our hearts again, and it still hurts. It’s never easy to lose friends, whether furry or otherwise!

Just another day at the airport

If you’ve never experienced the joy of trying to depart from an airport in the developing world, it goes a little something like this:

The process:

1)   Leave for airport. Two hours early for a flight? Not a chance. The ‘protocol’ team insists you leave 5+ hours early to get to the airport. While it does make some sense given the nutty traffic (that’s another whole story), it is still excessive. You finally track down the driver, negotiate it to a more reasonable 3 ½ hours, and arrive well over 2 hours before your flight is set to depart.

2)   Pay exit tax. It seems straightforward, but there is an unwritten hierarchy (read: who pays the biggest bribe) that makes your place at the front of the line irrelevant. Since you’re not planning on bribing anyone today, ‘handlers’ push in with stacks of passports from either side, pushing yours to the bottom. When the man (or woman? You can’t see their face behind the mirrored glass they stand behind) finally asks you a question, you can’t see or hear them given they are trying to talk to you through a tiny slot just big enough for your passport to slide through. Pay money, leave.

3)   Baggage screening. You walk past a (broken) x-ray machine to a table where a man opens your bag, dislodges everything you’ve neatly packed, checks out your bras, and closes it again. There is no indication of precisely what they are looking for,  but they make a mark in chalk to show that the bag has been searched (which is, I’m convinced, some kind of code to tell others whether there is anything worthwhile in the bag to steal).

4)   Passport check #1. You wander, slightly lost, to find the right place in the cordoned off area around the check-in counters to enter the maze. When you finally find the right place to enter, the man there checks your passport picture to make sure it is you, and sends you through the maze of aisles to the counter.

5)   Check-in (and passport check #2). The man at the counter greets you, takes your passport, checks your name off a list, hand writes a boarding pass, and sends you…somewhere over there for baggage (very unclear).

6)   Baggage check-in (or so you think, and passport check #3). You walk about 3 feet to a table, hand over your passport and boarding pass, and are waved on to somewhere else (again totally unclear).

7)   Baggage screening #2 (and passport check #4). After walking another 2 feet you see a table, where someone who does not look at all like they are working finally makes eye-contact, but only after you stare at him for several minutes and asking multiple times where you need to go. He checks your passport again and makes you open up your bag again to rummage through it…you’re only  about 15 feet from the first baggage screening, and there is nothing in the whole airport you could possibly buy to shove into your luggage. Satisfied (with what?) he sends you forward another 4 feet to the gatekeeper of the baggage check-in.

8)   Baggage check-in?? (and passport check #5). The VERY unenthusiastic woman at the front of the line checks your passport (of course), takes note of your name and makes the obligatory Jennifer Lopez comment (she is apparently the most well-known Jennifer in the world, according to my research), and you wait. Finally she points to a counter with a grunt. You move forward 3 feet.

9)   Finally the baggage check-in (and passport check #6). You wait (impatiently) for someone to acknowledge that you are waiting in their line. There are literally 12 people behind the counter, some looking very busy and others ‘advising’. No one will make eye contact with you. The man in front of you has about 5 very large bags to check. One of the ‘advisors’ tells you to put your passport on the counter, but the woman working there indicates (through mumbles and gestures) that she’s too busy and you should take it back and wait. You do (remember, you’re still 2+ hours early and only have to cover about 20 more feet before the gate, so there is no rush). Finally a baggage guy stops flirting with the woman at the counter next to you, realizes you’ve been waiting awhile, and beckons you to come over there. You do. The woman behind the counter is annoyed. The counter you just left suddenly frees up and three more people rush up. You wait again. Finally the team of women check your passport, your hand-writen boarding pass, check your name off another list, and print you a proper boarding pass. (Just to paint the picture, this set of counters is DIRECTLY adjacent to the first set of counters where they hand wrote the boarding pass in the first place). Your bag gets its tag and is taken away on the conveyor belt.

10)  Getting out (and passport check #7). Now you have to find out where to exit the 15 foot-wide cordoned-off area. You walk around, can’t seem to figure out how to get out other than crawling under. Finally someone stops you to check your passport again and stamp it. They graciously allow you to leave.

11)  Health check. I am reminded that I  have to show the very tired, cranky looking people in booths next to the security check my yellow-fever vaccination card. They are not excited to have to work. They glare at me as I ask them if anyone wants to see it, look at the front page (which has only my name on it) and jam it back into my hands.

12)  Immigration (and passport check #8). There are four booths with passport officials sitting in there, two with signs that read that they are only for protocol passengers (VIPs). No one is waiting at those, but there is a line at the other two. You wait (having been shooed back to line after trying  to approach the woman – shame on you for interrupting her nap). When you finally get beckoned to the booth, the most important question the officer can ask you is what your address in the country you are leaving was. Does it really matter?? You’re trying to leave!

13)  Passport check #9. You stand in a (sort of) line waiting for the man at the front to look at your passport again. He takes it from you, looks at you, looks at the woman next to him, looks back at you, and says “ok”. Ok what? You think he might usher you through to the security screening, but it is so poorly designed that only one person at a time is allowed to go into the air-conditioned screening area. As you walk past the woman (who has done NOTHING) she asks you “what you are going to give me?”. Um, nothing.

14)  Hand luggage screening (and passport check #10). Your bags are pushed through the x-ray machine. No taking out your laptops here – the man isn’t even looking at the screen.  You walk through and it beeps. You look around but no one cares, so you just keep going. The man at the end takes your passport and examines it up and down, reading every piece of information carefully. He hands you the passport, holding on tightly to the end. Quickly before he too can ask you for a bribe, you thank him profusely and snatch it out of his hands.

15)  Phew, bathroom break. You make a quick dash to the bathroom, half expecting your passport to be checked again when you enter. You pile your bags against the door (no lock) and try not to touch anything. There is a woman in a reflective vest waiting for you when you leave the stall – a sure sign she thinks she is important. She rushes to the sink, turns on the tap, then waves her hands incessantly in front of the ineffective hand dryer showing you how to do it. You know what’s coming – the inevitable ‘what are you going to give me?’. You say nothing, and quickly exit.

16)  Boarding call? There are about 3 flights waiting to board at around the same time. They announce (if you can call it that) the first flight is boarding. You try and guess by the passengers who stand and rush the exit which flight it is. Everyone else seems to know. You deduce it’s not your flight but the one which leaves after yours. You sit down, only to get up again 5 minutes later as the rest of the passengers start towards the door – no one has announced anything, but you join the line. No passport or boarding card checks here, you just get on a bus hoping it’s going the right way.

17)  Baggage check and hand luggage screening #2. Wait, aren’t the bags already checked? All the bags are lined up on the tarmac – you have to identify yours for them to load it onto the baggage cart (and then hopefully onto the plane). You walk a few more feet and present your hand luggage for search again, and then yourself for a pat down.

18)   Finally on the plane…

Seriously. I’m sadly not exaggerating AT ALL – this is what I went through to get home this past week from a work assignment. And in an airport not much bigger than my house. Really, it isn’t much different from anywhere in the developing world- although perhaps this was a BIT more over the top than usual (I did hear a number of other passengers joking about the ridiculous number of times they’d been asked for their passport, so I wasn’t the only one laughing). As much as I hate airports worldwide, experiences like these definitely make me think more fondly of airports in the US and Europe – there is something to be said about the relative order of airports in nations that believe in queuing…

So long 2010…

2010 was a good year.

As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve always liked that New Years gives me a chance to reflect on the year that is coming to a close. In the rush of daily life it’s easy to get caught up in the problems, the little irritations. But looking at the year as a whole, 2010 has really  been a banner year for Nick and I (I’m taking liberties here, but I’m sure he’d agree). A friend asked how I would describe my year in 5 words: I’d say change, transition, fear, contentment, and rooted. Yeah, a little contradictory, but I guess that’s my world!

In 2010 we made South Africa home – Nick for the first time in many years and me for the first time ever. We found our feet in the city, exploring new neighborhoods, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones. We enjoyed being close to one part of our family, while finding ways to stay close to the other. I started a new chapter in my professional life, rediscovering some passion in my job hidden under layers of exhaustion and frustration, and learned that I love working for myself. Nick also made strides professionally with his new job. I read some great books, travelled to exciting places, spent relaxing evenings at home doing nothing. We were loved and entertained by our little Lucy, for however short a time. We bought a house – by far our biggest accomplishment of the year, and one that we’ll be able to enjoy for years to come.

For 2011? Sure, I’d like to make some new, healthy habits both for my body and mind. I’d like to create explore even more career opportunities. But mostly I want to continue to enjoy the little things, the small happinesses that fill up the days. It isn’t always easy,  but if we lose track of those little things we miss out on what it’s all about, right? It’s not an earth-shattering resolution, but in the end it’s everything.

Happy New Year!

‘Selinah’ – The Topsy Foundation PSA

If you have a minute, check out this short PSA. It’s really powerful.


It is one of the PSAs that won in the 2010 VUKA! awards, sponsored by M-Net. It aims highlight the talent of SA filmmakers while at the same time raising awareness of some of the most important issues facing South Africa. The first time I saw this on t.v. I was really moved. You can check out the other award winners at www.vuka.mnet.co.za


‘Go get those aliens’

Reading this headline in one of the local neighborhood newspapers, you would think a) South Africans are confused and think that District 9 was real life and that the country has been invaded by aliens, or b) these S’Africans aren’t too fond of foreigners.

Unfortunately, there is some evidence that the latter is true, however this article wasn’t referring to gross creatures from another planet or those of us without SA ID cards, but rather another kind of ‘invasive alien’ altogether: trees. Anti-alien sentiment seems to have reached some sort of a fever-pitch here, and ‘clearing drives’ like this one are common. Nearly everyone who has visited our house has commented on the mulberry tree in our neighbor’s yard which is growing over the fence – apparently they’re nasty, weed-like trees that drop seeds everywhere and take over, but apparently we’d be well within our rights to turn in the neighbors for harboring an alien plant species. One family member (who shall remain nameless in case we ever befriend the neighbor and they read my blog…unlikely) even suggested we tap the tree with an ‘eco-plug’, a small device that you stick into alien trees that poisons them. While this kind of ‘eco-crusading’ seems pretty crazy to me I guess, now that I think about it, I have heard about the plants and animals brought from one lake to another in Minnesota that start breeding like mad and choking off the natural plant and animal life, so I guess this is the same. Apparently a major concern here in SA is also the strain on limited water supplies. As hard as it is to believe in the middle of a rainy Cape Town winter that there is ever any water shortage, when the dry summer wind comes around you remember that water isn’t as abundant as we think it is. Non-native plants like pine trees are apparently thirsty little buggers.

I’m not a botanist, to say the least (let’s just say I’ve been laughed often for not knowing the difference between a weed and a flower). Lucky for me the SA government has taken the time to catalog and post pictures of all the invasive alient plants (IAP) and the different categories they fall into (Remove and Destroy, Need a permit, or No planting, no selling). Ridding the country if IAPs is big business, with 23000 people employed every year to remove them. I also learned that if I want to report the presence of invasive aliens I can contact the City of Cape Town edrr@capetown.go.za. If you’re caught by the Weed Inspector (actual title), the penalty can be as severe as two years in jail and/or R10,000 fine (almost $1500).

Who knew? Now I’m just hoping that people remember we’re talking about plants here and not aliens like me…I’d hate to be uprooted.

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Tying to DIY (in South Africa)

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Home Depot.

I am my mother’s daughter – hardware stores are fun, and bohemoths like Home Depot are just aisles and aisles of possible new projects. Not that I’ve really ever been much of a DIY-er, a combination of not having a home to fix up and a innate klutziness have kept me from following that path. Of course, I have grand aspirations – I constantly read blogs and watch shows about DIY home improvement projects, own drills and tools (granted they’re now ancient and in a storage unit in MN somewhere), and avoid buying things because ‘I could make that!’.

However, fate is conspiring against me ever becoming a DIY-goddess. Aside from the fact that I can’t draw a straight line much less cut one, being in South Africa has rendered the few DIY skills I have learned useless. Even simple things like hanging pictures? Nope, no luck here. The walls here are all brick or concrete, so you need a fancy mason drill which makes a hell of a noise that scares the crap out of me and puts giant holes in the walls, which makes my trial-and-error approach to drilling far from ideal. It also makes  my stud-finding skills are unmarketable. Things like putting in shelving (which shouldn’t be rocket science right?) is made SO much more difficult by the fact that I simply can’t find the materials I need. SA’s version of Home Depot, Builder’s Warehouse, leaves MUCH to be desired. They carry a little bit of everything, but it’s all such low quality and there is no variety at all. We tried to find some simple shelves we could install in our bedroom, but in the massive store there was only one teeny-tiny aisle with about four options to choose from – small, big, bigger. It seems like for anything more sophisticated you have to find a specialty shop which usually involves costly fitting of said shelf. Sigh.

Lighting is another example – not exactly DIY but home-decor rant in general. I must have visited a million lighting shops to find replacements for the hideous wall lights in our living room. They all seem to have the exact same, nondescript stock. Unless I want to spend a million bucks for something fancy, it seems like the ‘umbrellas’ (as Nick calls them) will stay for lack of a better option. I’m probably being a bit harsh, but it feels like I can’t ever find what I’m looking for here. I guess it comes from having grown up in a place with such an amazing variety of everything, and also the fact that it takes time to get to know what brand reputations are, what shops carry which products, etc. Things I’ve spent a lifetime learning in the US.

If I can just find the right materials, I have hope that Nick and I can be a great DIY team. Nick has proven to be darn handy around the house, and also a possible DIY-guru in the making. Seeing as I have no skills myself, I was hesitant to mention projects, not wanting to seem like I was just coming up with a list of things for him to do. But I’ve heard him mutter more than once on a visit to another over-priced furniture shop, ‘I could totally make that!’. Promising. Plus, he’s king of teaching himself how to do things online. I can see this working out well – I do the searching for style ideas, and Nick executes the plans…I’m not sure how he’ll feel about this!

For now, I’ve decided to start with painting. Painting is something I consider myself pretty expert at, having painted more than my fair share of apartments. (Note: I never said color selection was my forte- I now concede that the traffic cone shade of orange I chose for the bedroom of my first apartment may have been a mistake). I might break down and hire someone to paint the walls, but I’ve got all sorts of plans for painting and staining old furniture in creative ways. Now, all I have to do is find out where I can buy the old junk…

A room of my own

I’m writing to you live(-ish) from….drumroll…my very own office! In our new house! Yay!! (yes, over-use of exclamation points, but I thought it deserved the extra excitement).

For some people becoming consultant or working from home is a conscious choice. Fed up with the 9-5, they choose to give it a go, working from home, being their own boss. Making that step is huge, but it seems to me that most people don’t enter into the choice lightly, and do a lot of thinking about how they will make it work for them. I, however, sort of unintentionally fell into self-employment. All I knew for sure when I left Liberia was that the stress of 12+ hour days everyday, not  having a real home to unpack in, constantly needing to make new friends as your good ones moved onto different assignments – it just was NOT fun anymore. I had to leave my job or lose my sanity (and health). I didn’t give a ton of thought to what I was going to do when I got to South Africa – I had some vague ideas, but didn’t really have the brainpower for the first few months to really do any really thinking.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when it dawned on me that I’ve actually become a freelance consultant. And that somehow I have more work than I want. I know enough not to take that for granted – it’s a fickle world, freelancing. But it does feel nice to have a few clients who seem quite happy (dare I say impressed) with my work, including my former employer.  I’m still not 100% sure what to call myself, though I guess I would say freelance writer – very tentatively, however, because a) my assignments involve writing plus all the random things the client wants help with and b) it just feels odd to call myself a writer.

All that is a long segue into the main topic of this post – my new office. In our last little cottage space was at a premium. I mean, it wasn’t NY apartment size, but for two people who are home an awful lot (and all their ‘gear’) it was a bit tight. Nick and I shared a lovely little office, but the nature of his work is that he can be off quite a bit during the week. And likewise, the nature of my work is such that I don’t really have any set hours, just crazy deadlines for writing projects. And Nick, when he is off, spends a lot of time on his computer, doing research, teaching himself new things or, of course, playing computer games (he’s a nerd at heart). Now, to Nick’s credit, he tried. He really really did. And in fact I couldn’t have asked for a better office-mate. And believe me, I’ve had some crazies. But when I’m deep into ‘proposaling’ or hitting a deadline, I just need quiet. Space to think. I get stressed, and then easily distracted, then cranky…not a good combo. I also find that having my office just steps from the bedroom, kitchen, and other nice distractions is tricky.

But in our new house we have PLENTY of space. Maybe it just feels that way because we have no furniture. Anyway, as of today I officially have my own office, with a door and everything! In our new, fabulous house we have a long, skinny room on the side of the yard with tiled floors and a window opening onto the garden. I’m not sure what the original builders intended for it, but the real estate agent told us it would be the perfect place for our live-in nanny when we have kids (yes, I live in South Africa, things are a bit different than the US). We didn’t really know what to do with it, but after unsuccessfully trying out my office in the front bedroom for a few weeks in the middle of a hectic deadline (only realizing midway through that the room actually didn’t have a door,) I decided that the room out back would be perfect for my office. Nick agreed. So he helped me move everything out here after my crazy deadline was over last night, and this afternoon I’ve gotten to spend my first time here writing.

It needs some work – first off, we have to do something to hide all the ‘storage’ (read=junk) that we’ve piled at the other end of the room. And I need to make it a bit more homey, get some bookshelves, a rug, lamps, etc. There’s a chunk missing from the ceiling cornice, and now that it started raining I hear a loud dripping sound that I think (hope) is outside and which could make me have to run inside for the bathroom every five minutes. But (can I say this again?) – it’s my own office! I love it. Ipod speakers are set up. Internet connection seems to be working well. Computer is struggling by on its’ last legs. I guess that’s all I need! I must say, I’m pretty darn lucky to have this space.

…everything works out


It’s been a strange few weeks.

I rushed off to Liberia at the last minute for an urgent assignment. Then…nothing. It seems to always be a case of hurry up and wait here. The request for proposals I was meant to be working on wasn’t released until the end of my 2nd week here. While I had plenty to do, it certainly wasn’t the emergency that they had led me to believe. Oh well!

It was surreal being back. I’ve been gone just about 1½ years, and I was amazed at how little had changed. Yet so much had changed. After having come and gone from here so many times over the last 5 years, it feels a bit like coming home. And in this case, IRC was the crazy family you sometimes wish you weren’t related to, but love just the same.

I left Liberia in a haze of frustration and exhaustion. My two years here were…well, let’s just say challenging. Although I’d had some good times, I was ready to never set foot in the place again for a variety of reasons. So it was a pleasant surprise when I walked into the IRC office that first morning. So many familiar, smiling faces greeted me, and plenty of new ones as well. In many ways I felt like I was welcomed back as part of the team as if I’d only been gone on R&R for a few weeks. It was nice to be back in a country where I know how things work, or rather where I know how they don’t work. it makes things so much easier.

I gorged myself on Lebanese food while I was here – I ate so much moutabal that I nearly turned into a giant eggplant myself. I think I managed to get my fill, though, so I can survive awhile back in SA where Lebanese food doesn’t seem to exist. I also had plenty tuna sashimi salad from Royal sushi…yum. Who knew the stuff my sushi dreams were made of would be found in Monrovia?? And sundowners and drinks on the beach are pretty idyllic here – I’ve yet to find the same sort of unpretentious, chilled out beach spots in Cape Town. It was great catching up with old friends and meeting new ones – fun colleagues, feisty little Liberian kitties at my apartment building, random friends of friends to chat to over drinks. I had forgotten how easy in some ways it is to live in an expat community like Liberia – everyone is constantly coming in and out, and everyone ‘gets’ what you do, so you quite easily find common ground to bond over. I found myself feeling quite proud of my life choices, though – I got more than one jealous comments about my house and Cape Town and just getting out of the madness of development for awhile.

Some things seem to be inching forward in the country – new buildings going up, banks opening and ATMs, roads being repaired in town – and others seem to have gone in reverse – the roads up country and UN drive, ATMs that don’t work, driving skills, corruption. So I guess if you do the math the place is the same. It’s a bit like the seasons here – you build, repair, make progress during the dry season, and much of the work that you’ve done is washed away or damaged in the heavy rains. But it was good to see the signs of progress and stability.

I’ve ended up being here for nearly a month in all. More than enough time in my book! But who knows, I may have the chance to go back sooner than I think. And at the end, I’m pretty happy to have come back – I needed to exorcise some demons and remember why I actually liked working in Liberia. The best thing a friend told me on this trip about Liberia sums up the place to a tee – ‘In Liberia nothing works, but everything works out’.


On the road again

So, I’m on the road again. After MUCH hemming and hawing, IRC finally gave me the go ahead this afternoon at 2pm to leave. On a flight at 7pm. Talk about last minute.

I’ll be back in my old stomping grounds, Liberia, which I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading. My last few months there were less than plesant, and I won’t have Nick there to keep me sane – but I did have some good times, and I hope I won’t be there long enough for the place to really get under my skin. Plus I get to see some good friends and former colleagues, which is nice.

Of course, timing couldn’t have been worse. When I originally agreed to the assignment a month ago I told them I had to be back by the 1st to move. Unfortunately everything was delayed, so now poor Nick has to move into our new house (!) by himself. I packed as much as humanly possible, but feel really badly. I’m super bummed I’m not going to be around!

Anyways, it’s time for flight #2 of 3. The lovely midnight flight from joburg to nairobi. OR Tambo is the place to be this time of night…Here’s to hoping my window seat isn’t comandeered, that I win the armrest war and that I can actually get some sleep.

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SA Music – The Arrows

Check out The Arrows song Lovesick. I can’t get it out of my head – not exactly sure why, it’s just catchy. It just makes me want to sing along – not pretty, I admit. It’s MUCH better when I’m not drowning them out! I especially love the synth action mid-song – a little Jamiroquoi-esque. Another Durban band, they have been in the US touring over the Summer. I’m looking forward to seeing them back here in SA during our Summer – I haven’t really heard many of their other tunes, but they could be fun live.


Lucy the parrot

Lucy hasn’t been feeling very well lately. Her eye was a bit cloudy, so we took her to the vet a couple of times who put her on medicine for it, but it didn’t get better. Meanwhile, she was sleeping more than usual, had little energy and didn’t want to eat. We decided to bring her to an eye specialist just to get it checked out, assuming that the infection was causing all the other issues too.

Unfortunately, he didn’t give us very good news. It seems like little Lucy has what is known as Feline Infectious Peritonitis – Nick could only remember it because he thought that might be what was making her sit on our shoulders like a little parrot! All jokes aside, FIP is a mutation of the very common coronavirus – most likely she got it from her mother before we ever met her. It is incredibly hard to diagnose, since it presents with all sorts of different symptoms, but the vets say they are about 99.9% sure it is what she has. The worst part is that it is pretty much always fatal, especially in kittens her age and size.

We don’t know at all how long we have with her. The vets assume she doesn’t have the acute form, since she would probably already have died from it, but even the chronic form probably doesn’t give her much time. She is going to go on a course of steroids to help prolong and improve her life, but again it doesn’t give us any guarantees. We’re trying to stay positive and focus on the fact that she has had a very happy 6 months living with us, and that she has made out lives richer for being in it. But the truth is both Nick and I are heartbroken at the thought of having to lose another little kitten. She is more than just a pet, she is part of our family. I’m trying to enjoy however much time we have left with her and not focus on the future, but it’s not easy.

Music Monday – Farrel Purkiss

Normally being stuck in gridlock traffic just blocks from my house does not make me smile. Quite the opposite, in fact. But today I was actually a bit sad when the traffic started to break up and cars began to move.

Farryl Purkiss’ live acoustic set on the radio was the reason I was smiling.  Oddly, I first ‘discovered’ him in a similar way – driving through the mountains on the way back to the city the local station was playing this fabulous live studio set. I had no idea who the it was, and couldn’t quite catch his name, but I managed to hear the name of one of the songs I particularly liked called Monkey’s Wedding (for all you non-South Africans reading  monkey’s weddings are a sun showers). I forgot all about it until I saw the lineup for the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts, which included the odd name I couldn’t make out from the radio. We saw him in concert, and his music was as rich and intricate as I’d remembered. Sitting out in that beautiful venue surrounded by the mountains and listening to his tunes on a beautiful summer evening was pretty amazing.

Purkiss is a Durban boy, South Africa’s East Coast, and the beachy, laid back, surfer vibe that the area is known for is evident in his music. He has been around in South Africa for awhile, and apparently has been featured commercially overseas quite a bit  lately. On the show today he was talking about an Audi campaign he did in the UK  covering a Bob Dylan song, and he also had a song featured on Private Practice recently. But although his studio tracks are good, I really love his acoustic sets where he just jams out on stage by himself.

Here are a couple of songs – you can check out more on his MySpace page...hope it’ll make you smile too!

Monkey’s Wedding https://jlgeib.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/06-monkeys-wedding.m4a
A Million Grains of Sand

International House Hunters, Cape Town Edition

I was starting to feel a little like I was starring in a Cape Town edition of my Mom’s favorite TV show, International House Hunters. Despite the fact that we don’t actually get HGTV, we did manage to follow the plot pretty well – we’ve recently moved to the country, don’t know much about the real estate market, our real estate agent found us three houses to view, and we made a decision to buy one of those! Though that wasn’t at all how we had seen it play out in our heads…

Since we didn’t know much about buying a house in South Africa, we used SA Homebuyers. A few days after we contacted them, our agent contacted us to show us a few properties. On that Friday we saw one that had all we wanted in terms of bedrooms, garden space (when they say garden here it doesn’t necessarily mean it has flowers…it can just be grass or a pool, basically what we call a yard), but it was a bit odd in that there seemed to be a second house tacked on to the first that you arrived at through a narrow, galley-like kitchen. The second was a ‘cottage’ just down the street where we are now – it seemed like it would be a great place if you were willing to do some major rehab, but it was a bit daunting to us first-time home buyers. We managed to see a third property on Saturday – this one wasn’t even on the market yet! We literally walked in and were sold. It has a really great open plan living room/kitchen/dining room area, two bedrooms downstairs plus an addition of a master bedroom upstairs, not to mention three baths. It has a big garden but it looks pretty low maintenance, has a back patio PLUS a deck off the upstairs bedroom. The best part might be the gorgeous mountain views from the bedroom deck – SO nice, or maybe that the living space is north facing so gets great light.  It is located in pretty much the same neighborhood we are in now, which we love. We’d expected we would have to look for quite some time to find something we loved in our price range, so we weren’t prepared – at first we thought we should hold off and look some more, but the more we thought about we realized we wouldn’t be able to find anything comparable. So we called up our guy, and said we wanted to make an offer. That was on Sunday.

After a tense few days of negotiations (how do they always manage to do it in just an hour on HGTV?!) our offer was finally accepted on Wednesday! It all happened so fast – I almost couldn’t believe we’d just bought a house! Well, in reality we hadn’t – they do things a bit backward here, so rather than being pre-approved for a loan of a certain amount, you can only apply once you’ve agreed to buy a place…so it took us another couple of very tense weeks to jump through all those hoops. Many of the banks didn’t want to give us the loan because I am a foreigner and apparently too much of a risk, or because I don’t have a credit rating here (well, duh – we just moved and plus they won’t give me a credit card here…). I’d given up hope of being able to finance this great house, when we found out today that luckily our own bank saw the sense of giving us the loan. So now we’re officially homeowners!!

I’ve added in a few pics we took – since the place wasn’t really on the market, the owners were nice enough to let us take some to share with you all, so pardon the laundry.

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Music Monday – Shake Your Pumerela!

‘Shake your pumerela, hey!’

I woke up this morning shaking my pumerela to the song stuck in my head. I’ve had the chorus stuck on repeat for the past several weeks, even though I was pretty sure I didn’t know what they were saying. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a song on the radio that I actually had the desire to call in and request – normally they just play them to death so that even really good songs are killed within a week or two max. But for some reason I can’t understand, they haven’t over-played this one yet.

Check out the tune (and the oddball video) here. It’s really named called ‘Bang, Bang, Bang’ and it’s a collaboration between Mark Ronson, Q-tip and MNDR. It actually has nothing to do with shaking your pumerela (whatever a pumerela is), but is actually based on the lyrics from Alouette – ‘je te plumerai la tete’. But I’ve decided I like my version better, of course. Come on, shake it. You know you want to.

10, 9, 8, 7…



I heard someone the other day asking ‘where are you going to be on New Years Eve?’ and it took me a few minutes to realize what they were talking about. People here have been referring to the World Cup as ‘2010’ since it was announced it was being held here in SA, and since it’s now over that means that 2010 is also over, hence the New Years! I thought it was pretty funny.

It has been really amazing to be here for this World Cup. Whether or not you’re a soccer fan, it has been great to see South Africans really rallying behind their team and also welcoming all the visitors. I’m really, really proud of the country for pulling this off – there were so many naysayers along the way. It’s been pretty moving watching South Africans put flags on their cars, wear their yellow Bafana Bafana jerseys every Friday, doing the fan walk by the thousands down to the stadium on game days, packing the bars and fan fests, singing their national anthem on the trains home from games and just generally showing their gees (spirit). I’m pretty darn happy with the outcome (viva España!!) but no matter who had won it would have been pretty cool to be part of all this. I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but seriously, it’s been great! Who knew soccer could give me such a warm, fuzzy feeling? 😉

4th of July, CPT style

The 4th of July has never been my favorite holiday. Mainly because I seriously dislike fireworks, and that’s kinda the main event of the day. Ok, it’s probably more accurate to say I have a desperate fear of fireworks – who knows why, but I can’t seem to get over it no matter how old I get.

Anyways, I’ve actually really enjoyed the last few 4ths. We celebrated one in Liberia, (no fireworks), last year in Louisiana (with fabulous music to drown out the fireworks), and this year we had our first 4th of July party in SA (again, no fireworks). I was excited to share a uniquely American day with my new friends here in Cape Town.

There were a few problems. First, it’s winter here. I wanted to have a good ‘ole hot dog and hamburger BBQ (NOT braii), but I wasn’t sure if the weather would cooperate. Very luckily, it did – it was sunny and warm the whole day! Second problem – food. You can’t just go buy normal hot dogs. I had to navigate amongst all the many types of ‘viennas’, sausages, etc. I found some tasty chicken viennas, but they weren’t the same as a big, juicy dog. And I almost had a little meltdown trying to make chocolate chip cookies. I tried explaining to Nick that I didn’t know how to make them unless I had the recipe on the back of the Toll House chocolate chips package – I’d never thought to write it down, because I never imagined a world without Tollhouse! Luckily I managed to find them in a shop that has a lot of American import stuff, so the cookies were a hit. And yes, I did actually make them – I only saved a little dough to eat 🙂 Third problem –  beer. Nick had requested some genuine American brew, but alas nothing could be found. We did manage to find some Miller (brewed by SAB but still American), some Coronas (not American but close enough) and some Boston lager, a local micro-brew. Did the trick!

After all that, we had a great day. Just a few friends enjoying the unseasonably nice weather, the patio doors open wide, little Sarah dunking everything she could get her hands on into the pond (almost including Lucy) – it was a great day.

Another victim of ambiance

This time curiosity didn’t kill the cat, but it didn’t do her any good, either.

Picture this – hyped-up Lucy tearing around the house, as usual. As she completes her first circuit, she comes to a screeching halt in front of the small, flaming thing in the center of the coffee table. Inching closer, then closer again, she wants to make sure she gets a good look. Sniffing, she suddenly starts blinking furiously and backing up, shaking her head back and forth.

I laughed at her antics as usual, only later realizing that three or four of the whiskers on the right side of her face were curled up and singed from her encounter with the candle. Oops. They’re growing out a bit, but she still looks a bit lopsided. I don’t think she’s learned her lesson, though. She nearly roasted herself on the braii the other night, and she has made a habit of sitting dangerously close to the flames coming off our gas heater. Brilliant.

World Cup hangover…

Whew. I never realized that being a sports fan could be such hard work.

I’ve followed all sorts of sports over the years when I’ve been able to – watched Wimbledon religiously, sat glued to the tv for even the most obscure Olympic sports, gotten up at odd hours to watch March Madness from halfway across the globe, sat on the edge of my seat while my team failed to make the Superbowl (again), cheered madly for the underdog at the World Series, danced in the streets as the local team won the European Cup, egged on rowdy hockey players, and cheered my adopted country on to victory in the other World Cup (rugby). I’ve even met friends to have a pint and watch the soccer before work during the last World Cup.

But I’ve never been as caught up in the sporting event fever as I have been here in SA. It’s almost impossible to ignore it, actually. Even friends who are avowed soccer haters have gotten into the spirit. We’ve taken the train into town with blowing vuvuzelas and joined the masses heading to the matches, staked out our spot with the rowdies at the fan parks, and spent numerous afternoons and evenings at sports pubs cheering loudly for our teams. As much as I love a big event, however, I must admit that it’s taking a lot out of me. It’s hard work having to go out and watch the games with friends every night, drinking a few pints and cheering loudly. I’m still watching all the games, but they’ve worn me down a bit. Maybe it’s the fact that all the teams I was cheering loudest for are out of the tournament already – it was heartbreaking to see Bafana Bafana lose, even though it wasn’t a surprise, and then the US’s loss last week – while I was happy that Ghana was able to keep the hopes of the continent alive and I’ll definitely be cheering for them in their match against Uruguay (my least favorite team), it was sad to see all the US supporters looking so dejected at the loss! But it’s actually been a bit of a relief not to have as much of a vested interest any more – now I can just sit back and enjoy the party! I’ll be ready when July 11 rolls around, though – the World Cup has really been all that anyone has been doing/talking about/watching for the last few weeks (actually, longer – the build up here in SA has been going on for at least a year). And unlike the tourists here visiting, we actually have to try and hold down our day jobs at the same time!

Ah, tough life, hey? Don’t you feel sorry for little ‘ole me? Ok, I’ll stop complaining. I have a match to watch tonight!


We headed over to the British Embassy club to watch the USA-England soccer match the other night – I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea, but I was assured that it was more like the Anglo club and that there would be plenty of USA supporters there. That first goal was pretty painful to watch – I had visions of a complete blowout. I was VERY glad when we tied it up (albeit with that pathetic goal) and played pretty well. USA! USA! The only other upsetting moment in the evening was when I was ordering a drink at the bar, and the little American kid next to me asked me if I was supporting England – he seemed totally surprised to hear that I was American! Um?? Really, I know I sound a little funny (I blame the South Africanisms I’ve picked up), but I am still very American! And this wasn’t the first time this trip I was asked by a fellow American where I was from – another guy sat in meetings with me for days and kept making comments to US pop-culture, ending them with comments like ‘well, Jenny, you might not understand that…’. I can’t win – to foreigners I’m super American, and apparently to other Americans I just sound weird.

More Lucy pics

Due to popular demand, I’ve added a few more pictures of Lucy! Nick has been giving me kitty updates while I’ve been gone – she got her vaccines, visited the Grandparents and met the other cats and dogs, and this morning apparently dove headfirst into the pond in our garden! Pretty funny stuff. I’m looking forward to getting back and witnessing her antics in person – though apparently she doesn’t let Nick get much sleep these days…

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DRC beers

Ok, enough about work – time for the important stuff.

I was surprised on my first night here that there were so many beers on the menu that I haven’t tried before – Mutzig, Skol, Primus, Tembo, Turbo King, Legend, Castel..and of course there is the ubiquitous Heineken (barely worth a mention). At our hotel, which thinks it’s pretty posh, they serve us our beers in wine glasses. My favorite was eating at an outside ‘restaurant’ (there are vendors all around selling chicken, goat, beer, peanuts, etc. and they’ll bring them to you at your plastic table and chairs crammed in on the sidewalks and over the covered-sewers) and seeing all the buildings around brightly painted like different beer labels – very fun. I know, it seems like I’ve been partying a lot, but really we’ve been working hard! We just managed to fit a beer tour into our busy schedule – it was a priority.

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World Cup Madness…

The World Cup has finally arrived.

Ever since I moved to SA, the WC has been on everyone’s minds. Most people I know were more irritated than anything about the event – traffic, tourists, high airfare, etc. But now that the opening day is here, I’m so glad that everyone seems to have embraced the madness! I SO wish I was there for the opening matches – Nick sending me updates and pictures from where he is watching it down at the Waterfront with friends, and he says the vibe is just electric.I’m sporting my bright yellow Bafana Bafana shirt (supporting SA’s team) today, and will catch the US-England match at the Brit club tomorrow, but it’s just not the same as being in SA. Especially since I’m supposed to working – I have to try to figure out how to get back to the hotel to catch the match!

I hope all of you back in the States watch a match or two – especially the ones in Cape Town! You’ll get to see a bit of the beautiful country I call home. If you haven’t already, check out photos and updates on fifa.com. I can’t wait to get back on Monday!