Over the winter, I grew out my beard more than I’d ever had. I trimmed it short a few weeks ago with one day in between with giant mutton chops on the sides and a short beard in the middle, which is a style that’s surprisingly subtle (at least a few of my coworkers didn’t notice it).
I like it.
Time has been doing weird things lately. Sometimes it slows down and most improbably many things all fit into a short amount of time. It also speeds up and goes by far faster than any atomic clock should allow. I have about a week and a half left in Ingwavuma and a little more than three weeks left in South Africa. That seems like a ridiculously short amount of time.
I saw a guy wearing a Steelers shirt on Friday as I drove through Jozini a pretty small town that one hits on the way to Ingwavuma. I almost drove off the road. This was undoubtedly one of those thrift-store-thinks-it-can’t-sell-it-so-it-sends-it-to-Africa things, so it wasn’t like I’d encountered a fan, but it was still stunning. This would be liking seeing someone wearing an Ajax CT or AmaZulu* shirt in Monte Vista, Colorado.
I’ve been having all sorts of adventures lately. After tutoring Monday-Thursday this week, the school asked if I couldn’t drive to Cape Vidal, in St. Lucia, for their school field trip on Friday, as they were a few spots short transportation-wise. It was about a three hour drive each way but it was a gorgeous beach.
I had already been planing to go to Kosi Bay yesterday, so it looked like two beach days in a row. You go almost to the Mozambique border (<500m—you can see the fence) before turning down a dirt track. Eventually it turns to sand and it's 4x4s-only from there. It's about 5km to the beach. Luckily a family that I know were there for the weekend and I caught a ride down with them to the actual river mouth. It's absolutely gorgeous. There's a very shallow estuary area where you can sit and enjoy the water or go for little dips without any rough waves. And there's a little spot for snorkeling with spikey stone fish and eels and a number of tropical and colorful fish. There are 30m or so tall forested sand dunes, which I've seen nothing like in my life. The Tonga people around there still use traditional methods for catching fish (complicated fish traps that funnel fish in the river into catchment areas). They look like spiraling fences in the river. It's quite a sight. And there are people line fishing on the ocean-side beach as well. I'd love to go back but I don't think I'll have time. And tomorrow I start my hiking safari which runs through Wednesday. I’m quite excited about it.
Last weekend I went back to Cape Town for a friend’s wedding. The Durban airport is a four or so hour drive from here and it’s a two hour flight from there to Cape Town. Plus the travel time on the Cape Town side and the waiting-in-the-airport time, it made for long days on Friday and Sunday. But it was a beautiful wedding and a nice opportunity to see friends.
The other thing was that after six weeks in Ingwavuma, even the Durban airport was a shock. Look at all those lights and all the things you could buy! I mean, the airport has a Woolies so you can get organic Ayershire yogurt in the airport. I can’t even get plain yogurt of any sort in Ingwavuma.
* On the Cape Town-Durban flight on the way back from the above-mentioned wedding, AmaZulu, a major soccer team in the top division here, and Maritzburg FC, a smaller team, were both on the same plane.
It’s been storming here recently. I don’t love the rain, but it’s good for the town because it’s been very dry and there are water problems. And it keeps the temperature down—Monday, the one sunny day this week, was in the 90s.
I’m living in a rondavel on the grounds of the educational NGO that I’m working at. I live alone…except for a lot of ants and a number of lizards and geckos.
I was awakened very early in the morning one day this week. During the heavy rains this week, the rondavel’s ceiling started leaking onto my bed. Of all the places in the rondavel the leak was dripping close enough to my pillow that I could feel the splash on my face. (I moved the bed and put a bucket there. The handyman came later that day.)
I’ve noticed a change in Ingwavuma since my first visit in 2007 and even last year: there’s quite a bit more relative wealth here. There are still many living in abject poverty but I’ve notice more new houses and new cars and nice clothes since last time.
For the first time since it was built (I’d guess 5-8 years ago), the rondavel has been hooked up to running water. It’s only cold water, but a flush toilet and a (cold) running water shower is a big step up from carrying water up the hill 25L at a time. A huge step, in fact.
I haven’t had any adventure weekends yet but I’m thinking about some of the following in coming weeks: Mozambique beach town, Kosi Bay or Sodwana on the coast in South Africa, Swaziland, and Tembe Elephant Park. This weekend some people and I drove half an hour to watch the Currie Cup semi-finals. My team won their match handily so they’ll be in the final in two weeks time.
Next weekend, though, I’ll be camping in Ndumo Game Reserve with some family friends.
There hasn’t been a lot of work for me on the radio project yet so I’ve started doing some tutoring a few afternoons a week to help students in their final year of high school get ready for matric exams in November. My first day was Thursday and I was honestly shocked at how difficult the example questions were–at least given that I hadn’t touched a lot of the calculus in ten years. But it all started coming back to me pretty quickly.
One thing I love about weekends in Ingwavuma is that after people hand-wash their laundry, they hang it to dry. And because there isn’t really enough time to wash during the week, it’s always done on the weekend. So if you look around on the weekend you seen multi-colored lines waving in the wind all over the place.
After a while the abnormal becomes normal. Recently I’ve been trying to think about all the things that fall into that category as far as living in South Africa goes.
Car guards tend to shock visitors. They’re guys who watch your car (often at night) while you’re in a restaurant or store or whatever. And when your car is still there after eating, you give them a small tip. But to visitors it’s a strange guy running up to their car as they approach it.
In general security is a big concern here. Seeing razor wire and ’emergency’ buttons is the rule rather than the exception. I would call this more ‘usual’ than ‘normal’.
A few weeks ago, I went to see a movie with a large group and it was a bit of a debacle. In this theater, one could book specific seats and because it was a large group, the organizer booked a chunk of seats ahead of time. At the last minute the theater pushed two showings of the movie into one screen. We were delayed while they were reassigning our seats and the movie had already started. The organizer grabbed the manager. “You stop this movie right now and start it over! And give us a proper block of seats!” And that’s just what they did–they stopped the movie, turned on the lights, worked out our seats, and restarted the movie, 15 or 20 minutes after they’d stopped it.
It seemed like an entire situation that I wouldn’t have seen in the US.
I’m getting used to the technology lag here. It’s not as bad as it once was—TV was introduced in 1976. Most of the iPads here were brought from abroad and iPhone 4s are hailed as ‘coming soon!’. The first even moderately affordable uncapped internet plans became available a few months ago (and they’re still slow).
I have no idea when the electrician’s name plate above is from but I think 4 digit phone numbers haven’t been used in the States for a very long time. (Five digit numbers were introduced in NYC in 1930.)
A social costum that I found odd here, though I don’t have that much experience, is that at parties, the drinks you bring are still yours. I’ve always found the social convention in the US America to be that as soon as you bring drinks to a party, they’re no longer yours, but are available for public consumption. Those socialist Americans!
Like Pittsburgh and to a far lesser extent San Francisco, Cape Town’s hillier neighborhoods have named stairs. There are a number in my neighborhood that I used on a frequent basis, some for getting places and some just to go for walks. A road often dead-ends into them and the stairs keeps the road’s name, though there are some places where the stairs are named independently as [name] Trappies/ Stairs.
Though it has something like 4.5 million inhabitants, Cape Town is a small city. Though I know what I feel like is very few people, I will run into people I know when I’m out or I’ll meet people who know people I already know.
Though it’s a small city, Cape Town is a giant city. Geographically, the City of Cape Town stretches very far. I can drive an hour or more in a number of different directions and still be within official city limits.
The other day I was walking down the street and saw a car turning right and thought ‘that car is turning into the wrong lane!’ Nope. But that was the only time I’ve thought of a car driving on the right side of the road for a long time.
A friend, a German citizen, recently got a job offer here so she needed to get a work permit from the Department of Home Affairs. The work permit process takes up to two months. In the meantime, the employee at Home Affairs suggested she work informally (that is, illegally) until the permit came through.
The department in charge of getting immigrants to work legally suggests they don’t?
I wanted to get the telephone and DSL put into my flatmate’s name so I went down to the Telkom office. They had us fill out a form but they realized that the DSL company ‘owned’ our line. Their suggestion for how to get name on the line changed: cancel our DSL, change the name, restart the DSL. Of course that would leave about two weeks in which we wouldn’t have internet while the various ownership transfers went through…
I noticed recently that I’ll say various local words or usages without thinking, such as stoep rather than porch or stoop and toilet instead of bathroom or restroom.
A bit of a continuation of the last World Cup post.
I don’t think I have to reiterate this, but I will: the entire existence of this country is the World Cup right now.
In last Sunday’s church bulletin was a special World Cup prayer. I was a bit surprised that there was one. It was for the country, sportsmanship and fairness–things like that.
The most visible church between the city center and the stadium is a Catholic chapel that has been undergoing upgrades to the foundation. After being closed a year or more, it’s reopening this Sunday, June 13, the first Sunday during the World Cup. I’m sure this is not a coincidence.
Wednesday was Vuvuzela Day. People were to blow their vuvuzelas at noon. I managed to go up onto the road-to-nowhere with the giant vuvuzela there. At noon they sounded it using compressed air, I think. It was pretty amazing. Between that and all the vuvuzelas on the streets below, it was a fantastic cacophony.
There are tourists everywhere now. Everywhere.
The bad part is that whenever I open my mouth now people think I’m a tourist. Before people wouldn’t assume that but now that the World Cup is on, I’m a tourist again.
A giant coke man was erected in Johannesburg. I was pretty jealous until I found that they’re making one at the Waterfront in Cape Town too (see above!).
For the occasion I put together a a post on/ mix of great South African music. Go check it out. I’m happy with how it turned out.
They’re showing some games in 3D. I think I’ll need to go to one of those.
The Big Picture has a nice selection of photos of World Cup preparations.
Look no further. This is the best World Cup calendar.
moments after Tshabalala’s rocket
I walked into town yesterday to watch the game with some friends at a bar that, for whatever reason, the French Consulate was throwing a party at. On the way there people were cheering and yelling out of car and minibus taxi windows. I was greeted and smiled at randomly on the street, which is a rarity here.
The bar was a good atmosphere: lots of people cheering on their adopted country. There wasn’t much action in the first half other than South Africa’s goalkeeper making some great stops. When Tshabalala scored the first goal of the World Cup to put Bafana Bafana up 1-0 on Mexico. The room, already loud and raucous, became absolutely buoyant. It was not to be, however, as Mexico tied up after not too long.
Near the end of the match, there was devastation like earth opening up underneath us when Mphela‘s breakaway ended in a shot off the post.
There’s always Wednesday, Bafana. There’s always Uruguay.
I realized my photoblog turned one a couple days. That surprised me because I didn’t realize that much time had passed. About 325 photos in 302 posts in that time. I’m not sure if my photography has gotten better over the course of theyear but I have definitely taken more photos and seen more of my surroundings because of wanting to constantly post new and good stuff.
I still haven’t written much about my trip to Zimbabwe. It’s been a busy couple weeks here.
The falls themselves are still magnificent (I saw them in 1998 as well). The water was coming so hard now, though, that it was hard to see them through the mist in places.
muscle car, vic falls
Strangely enough, there are a number of vintage cars in the town. I wish I’d caught more of them, but this is a great one.
phone shop, vic falls
high tea at Victoria Falls Hotel
I stayed at the famous British colonial opulence of the Victoria Falls Hotel in 1998 when I was traveling on someone else’s dollar but now that I’m on my own, I stayed at somewhere a bit more price conscious. I still went to the hotel for their afternoon high tea, though, which was lovely. It makes you feel like you should be wearing a khaki safari suit while chatting to Dr. Livingston.
Speaking of dollars, the Zim dollar is not a legal currency anymore—businesses can accept US Dollars, SA Rand, Botswanan Pula and possibly some other currencies, but the default is the US Dollar. It’s quite strange to be in a sub-tropical rural African town spending US Dollars.
Since the Zim dollars went out of circulation, street merchants sell the bills, particularly the high value ones. I now own a 50 Trillion Dollar note. Yes, you’re correct in thinking a bill with a five followed by thirteen zeros looks ridiculous.
Victoria Falls train station
Possibly my least favorite part of Victoria Falls was all the tourists and particularly Americans, who seemed to do a particularly good job of embarrassing our nation.
On the plane there, I saw multiple Americans wearing all khaki, including vests and safari hats. On a British Airways 737. This is not 19th century colonialism, Americans. You can wear regular clothes.
Another particularly embarrassing instance was at a restaurant that served local-flavored dishes. One of them had a description that read: “A Shona dish with dried meat in peanut butter sauce.” Someone asked the waiter “What’s Shona? Beef?” Pro tip: learn the barest essentials about the country before you travel to it.
In the town of Victoria Falls, I was told not to walk around at night, not because of crime. The reason: elephants. As if to prove this advice was sound, one evening two elephant walked right by the entrance to the hostel I was staying.
elephant in the Victoria Falls National Park
On the morning of the day I left, I went on a horse ride through a wilderness area. We saw some elephant, who asserted their territory quite strongly, which was a bit exhilarating. We also managed to get very close to some bushbuck and warthog, apparently because they saw us as other animals rather than humans.
handwritten boarding pass for Air Zim
I was on British Airways to and from Zimbabwe, but to get from Victoria Falls to Harare, where I was headed for a family wedding, I flew Air Zimbabwe. The first signs that it may be an interesting experience was that when I went to check in, they looked up my name on a print out and crossed it off. They then hand wrote out my boarding pass.
Air Zim turbo prop
I’ve flown a lot of regional airlines in at least four continents but it’s been probably 15 years since I’ve flown on a turbo prop. The whole experience was interesting for a few reasons:
1) Turbo props are loud and shake a lot. I rarely feel the urge to drink on flights but I took the wine they offered on this flight.
2) When I booked, they told me the flight time was a bit under two hours. I checked in at the sign that said “Harare” and waited in the boarding area for the only plane on the tarmac. I boarded with everyone else for the only plane on the tarmac. So on the flight, I was in a near panic when they said “This is the flight to Bulawayo.” Another passenger quickly assured me that it was going to Harare after a stop in Bulawayo. But there was no way that the flight could make it to Bulawayo and then Harare in two hours. We ended up in Harare an hour late and I very nearly missed my shuttle to the wedding because of it.
3) Tiny chunks of dry ice fell out of the ceiling onto me during the flight. I thought they were paint chunks but when I brushed them off they were really cold. I suppose the insulation was going up there and CO2 is the first gas to liquify or freeze.
the bride and groom signing the registry
My second cousin’s bride’s family is from Zimbabwe and her mother lives and works at a private school about an hour outside Harare, outside the small town of Marondera. There isn’t a lot of accommodation so all the guests stayed in the dorms (while the students were on holiday) and ate at the school. With guests from five continents, it was an interesting occasion.
The wedding itself was pretty spectacular. The wedding was in a small game park that the school owned; driving to the site of the wedding we saw wildebeest and zebra; apparently giraffe were right there during the rehearsal.
Perched on a large rock surrounded by those typical African wind-swept trees and with an amazing view over the park, the bride was marched in by a marimba band from a local school. We sat on hay bails as a local school’s choir sang the hymns and the ceremony beautifully unfolded before us.
The reception was on the rugby field back at the school. There was some eating, some drinking, some dancing, some chumming around with family and strangers alike.
jet dry cleaners, marondera
The day after the wedding, there were some braais and general relaxing. I went into town for an hour to look around and take some photos. It was bigger than I thought it’d be but it was still, in many ways, a typical rural African town.
a rock and the moon in Gosho Park
I finished off the trip with a quick track back into the game park. I saw a couple animals, but one of the more striking features were the teetering rocks perched around the park.
All in all a fantastic trip.
And I’ve seen lots of strange signs but this may be my favorite. So simply good!
I’m enjoying this piece debunking the air around pro photographers. A quick sample:
I often leave my ISO dangerously high. I get more email about why I shot something at ISO 800 than anything else and that tells me (a) I should get my act together and (b) yâ€™all need to lighten up on the whole ISO issue.
People ask me about how to use their flash in two groups balanced with ambient and I stare awkwardly at them and give them Joe McNallyâ€™s email address or home phone number and beg them to (a) never tell Joe I sent them and (b) never to speak of this ever again.
I have long forgotten everything I knew about the zone system and now expose purely in reverse. Shoot first, look at the histogram, then get it right, instead of the way I learn which was the more sensible â€œmeter twice, shoot once.â€
Yay, I’m not alone in some of those.