adrian is rad


adrian is pretty good

Filed under: — adrian @ 8:16 pm

I went to Adrian, Michigan recently, fulfilling a ~15 year old goal. Here are some photos!


two years

Filed under: — adrian @ 2:33 pm

Two years ago today I arrived in South Africa.

I’m working on a longer essay about South Africa that I was hoping to have finished by today, but I don’t, so I’ll have to share that with you another day.

I wanted to at least mark the day, though. It’s been a strange, unexpected and often wonderful two years.


mugged (months ago)

Filed under: — adrian @ 4:27 pm

I wrote this on January 26, 2010, four days after the incident. It affected me decreasing amounts over about six months. Despite this incident I think that South Africa is a safer country than is often portrayed and that the paranoid often displayed about safety is detrimental to one’s life.

On Friday I got mugged. Walking home from a meet-up at a hotel bar not far from where I lived, three guys, probably around 18 or 20, pushed and held me up against a fence and went through my pockets. They took my debit card and a couple hundred Rand in cash. One who took my ID gave it back when he saw what it was. The street was one I’ve walked many times, both in dark and light. It’s not heavily trafficked, but it’s also not deserted.

Soon after they let me go and moved away, a car guard came up and asked if they’d taken anything. When I told him they had, he started chasing them down the street and around the corner. He came back after a few minutes saying the police caught them around the corner… Sure enough there were three undercover policemen with three guys and a crowd forming.

I suppose “cruel and unusual punishment” doesn’t mean much to those policemen. At least one suspect was hit (slapped) by a policeman. Two were put in the trunk of the unmarked car–a small Citi Golf sedan–for transport to the station. One policeman sparked off a taser repeatedly in the air as a threat. Another policeman told me how they once made a suspect run in front of the van the entire way from Vredehoek to the station–a distance of about two or three miles. I didn’t particularly have any love for the people who mugged me, but I immediately knew that at the very least they should be treated fairly and humanely.

I went down the the station to give my statement. In the end, I could positively identify one of the three people they picked up. Maybe he’ll go to jail or maybe he won’t. Cracking down on robbery is necessary, but not as necessary as creating situations where people in desperately poor situations can improve their lives.



Filed under: — adrian @ 7:22 am

I have a lot of things I want to say about a lot of things, but first I wanted to say something about Ingwavuma and my time there over the last few months (most of October, all of November, basically). And I want to start with that because I didn’t write very much about this trip there, particularly compared to last year.

But first, if you haven’t seen it, watch the video I made about Ingwavuma. Not because I think it’s great, but because until you see what Ingwavuma looks like I don’t think you can understand it.

I’ve written about a number of the instances and events in Ingwavuma, so I’ll say something more about the intangibles.

For me it’s salient characteristic is stillness. Things move and change slowly. People walk slowly. Sounds are laughing and shouting, goats bleating, cows mooing, roosters crowing. Clothes flap gently in the wind. Trees sway.

It’s a really gorgeous region. The rolling hills and valleys of the Lebombo Mountains are covered in lush green trees and accented with slate-grey rocky outcroppings. From the tops of the hills, you can see 20 or 30 miles on a clear day. At one end of town, the dirt road runs along a 700m drop-off looking over Swaziland.

Everyone greets everyone. I’d go for a walk and most everyone I’d pass would greet me and ask how I was.

People are nice. Like really nice.

There is a small non-Zulu community (60?). People tend to know each other and help each other out. It’s a nice community. Someone who arrives might get invited for a weekend away right away. And if you don’t help someone, who will? I found myself being a nicer person because of that. Who else is going to help change the tire? Or act as a courier of a box of books back to Cape Town? And it certainly wasn’t one-sided. I was invited to dinners where I hadn’t even met the hosts before and welcomed into homes when I got stuck without a phone somewhere.

There aren’t any bars and there’s one small cafe but no restaurants. There’s next to nothing in terms of entertainment that one can go out to. It takes away a lot of the social hang-ups. You want to spend time with someone? Invite them for dinner or to go for a walk or hike. And alcohol is not as free-flowing as in cities so you’re more likely to be offered tea or juice at someone’s house than a beer. It’s basically a completely different social paradigm than in most any other place I’ve been to.


the big five aren’t necessarily the biggest, nor are they the best.

Filed under: — adrian @ 12:27 pm

I’m not quite sure the reason for it but I’ve noticed that holding hands by same-sex friends is somewhat common here. I could guess that it could be because there isn’t a visible homosexual community to speak of to the point where the homophobic reactions to same-sex affection doesn’t happen. Or perhaps it’s just cultural.

Tutoring continues. Helping final-years with physics really hasn’t happened so I switched to helping grade 11s prepare for their end-of-year math exam. It’s a different set of things they need to know, so it’s been nice for me working through different problems.

I also started tutoring English and math at an upstart school nearby. It’s sort of grade 2-7 material so it’s quite basic, sometimes to the point where I find it difficult to explain. And English is just generally hard to explain, given that the ‘rules’ were made up based on a highly irregular spoken language.

children's radio project
four of the kids from the Children’s Radio Project broadcasting on the community radio station.

As I mentioned two kids from the children’s radio project (2nd from left and far right, above) were trying to get to NYC for a UNICEF workshop and awards presentation which they were invited to after the program won a regional award from the organization.

Well, the kids got to New York (mostly) without incident and seemed like they had a good time. Not only that, but they/ the program won the global UNICEF children’s radio award, which we’re all very excited about.

Things I can’t get in Ingwavuma includes: plain yogurt, butter, chicken breast (without buying most of a chicken), natural peanut butter; most restaurant-type or pre-cooked food like pizzas, burgers, curries, etc;

Different bugs seem to decide that my place is a good place to be. First it was ants. The least amount of food left out would draw a swarm of ants. Then it was fruit flies. Now it seems to be transitioning to mosquitoes.

Safety is much less of an issue here than in Cape Town. I’ve never once felt unsafe here and apparently other people don’t either: the other day at the market (admittedly on a slow day/ time), someone had left their car unattended and running outside when he went in. Wow.

After being dry and hot for a few days, Friday was muggy. I’m not used to the humidity and after a 15 minute walk up the hill to one of the schools for tutoring my shirt was drenched in sweat. I’m going to bring a change of shirts next time I go.

There’s a chance I’ll get to see some of the next two Steelers games on tape delay. That would be very exciting. So far I have mostly been following the team by reading up about the games and the moves the team is making on the internet, though I did get to listen to a couple of the early games online.

tembe elephant

After a beach weekend trip had to be canceled last minute, I decided to spend a day at Tembe Elephant Park which is nearby. It’s a different sort of park in that most people that go stay the night, a package that includes two game drives with rangers and all of the meals. (It’s a very sandy area so driving oneself isn’t feasible unless he has a stout vehicle.)

The game viewing wasn’t spectacular with the main sights among the big mammals being an elephant (above) and two rhino, but there were some nice surprises like seeing a large number of nyala and the fairly rare and diminutive suni. The food and accommodation and company was all good, though.

Next weekend I’ll be attending a wedding outside of Cape Town. I’m not looking forward to the travel days (driving 4 hours to/ from Durban airport plus the 2 hour flight), but I’m excited about the wedding and the people I’ll see.


hot hot

Filed under: — adrian @ 11:22 am

Today was the sort of day that makes you feel like you’re in Africa. It’s hot. But it’s a special sort of hot. The sun beats down. The red dirt is dry; it’ll be cracked after a few more days like. Gone are the weekend’s cool, stormy days. No, it wasn’t comfortable today. The wind wasn’t cool or crisp or refreshing. It felt like someone blowing a hair dryer in your face*. No one would use a hair dryer on a day like today. I’d just leave my hair wet and try to keep something cool at least. This heat takes away any motivation for movement. Walking across the road becomes a chore. The only thing that seems imaginable is sitting, sitting and hoping it’ll cool down. With every person you pass there’s a commiserating look saying “Eish, it’s hot. But we’re all hot together.”

*This particular phrase was taken from a guy named Henry.


more from ingwavuma

Filed under: — adrian @ 5:20 am


Zulus seem to like their meat with fat and bones so lean cuts can be pretty cheap. For instance I’ve been getting fillet for about $3.25/lb. And I’ve been using it for things like curries and stir fries. Fillet! For stir fries!

Tutoring continues. The first matric exam for math was Friday and the other is Monday so this past week has been going through past exams and working through the hard problems. I think some of the students will do well on it.

Visas have been the big story this week. The Children’s Radio Project won a region UNICEF children’s radio award and the goal was to send two kids along with an adult to New York for the awards ceremony. The big problem was that of the six weeks between UNICEF’s announcement and the awards ceremony, that for kids from rural South Africa, they first needed to get passports which took about five weeks. So earlier this week they still didn’t have their visas when the needed to leave today. Wednesday they set off for Johannesburg–a 10 hour drive–to go to the consulate to try to get an emergency visa appointment at the consulate. Somehow they got the visas on Thursday, booked the tickets on Friday and should be on the plane as I type.

Hand washing clothes takes a lot more time than I thought, especially if local water issues demand that water be conserved. While washing my clothes today I thought about how much time the relatively rich save by having things like washing machines, running water, microwaves and cars.

The other day I saw some kids playing on an over-turned, gutted, rusted-out car. I tend to think that parents these days are overprotective and kids should just be allowed to play, but that may be too much even for me.


46 things I saw out the window of a car this weekend

Filed under: — adrian @ 9:08 am

46 things I saw out the window of a car this weekend…

cows; sheep; goats; mongeese; vervet monkeys; a bush buck; the Pongola River; Swaziland; the Indian Ocean; tractors; African Queen Hair Salon; Wenzi and Sister Quick Save; lodges; an Elephant Park; a game reserve; potholes; the clouds during a beautiful sunset; litter; tuck shops; cell phone repair shacks; one-man car repair shops; churches; schools; shopping centres; informal markets; semi-formal markets; “<-- Sodwana Bay"; kids playing soccer; rondavels; shacks; huts; houses; homesteads; white bakkies; boats-on-trailers; Land Rovers with snorkels (that will never be used); new cars; old cars; rusted out car chassis; an ATV spewing smoke; repurposed shipping containers; people walking; people hitchhiking; people carrying water; women carrying sacks of mielie meal or flour; people riding bicycles;


driving on the left…mostly

Filed under: — adrian @ 11:40 pm

The legal side of the road to drive on in South Africa is the left. Well, except for dirt roads. On dirt roads you just drive where ever you think will do the least damage to your car. If another car comes, you move back over to the left.

The other day I was driving slowly down a particularly rocky road and I thought the far right side was the best place to drive. As I was nearing the top of a small hill, another car comes over from the other side, also driving on his far right side. He just flashed his lights at me, as if to say, “Don’t worry about moving back over to the left.” So we passed driving on the right and went about our days.


it’s thunder and it’s lightning

Filed under: — adrian @ 8:30 am

lightning in ingwavuma, by adrian bischoff

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.

ingwavuma homestead
a homestead in Ingwavuma with the laundry hanging



Filed under: — adrian @ 10:21 am

It was a pretty good day, my first full day in Ingwavuma.

  • Radio project work
  • Grocery shopping
  • Soccer on the hospital air strip (again); seeing a number of people for the first time since last year.
  • Driving a guy home and back to get his spare keys because he locked his in his car.
  • Make dinner
  • Blog
    [projected schedule for the rest of the day]
  • Eat dinner
  • Shower
  • Shave
  • Unpack a little bit more
  • Bed

I can’t complain.



Filed under: — adrian @ 8:16 am

goat in the road, Ingwavuma
a sheep in the road in ‘town’ in Ingwavuma

As I hinted at earlier, I am returning to Ingwavuma. I’ll be helping withZisize‘s children’s radio project once again.

I leave Friday and I’ll be there for most of October and November.

I’ll be back in Cape Town for about 10 days in December before heading back to Charlotte, US America. I’ll go to DC before returning to Charlotte for Christmas. I’ll spend New Year’s and some time after in Boston and then some time in Philadelphia. Or something like that. I haven’t figured it all out yet.

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