Joburg Traffic: What Do You Do in a Traffic Circle?

August 31, 2015

Something moved me to re-post an old blog post of mine, DOs and DONTs in Joburg Traffic, on my Facebook page the other day. In it I speak of potholes, street vendors, robots (the working and the non-working kind), minibus taxis, and yes, protecting yourself against smash-and-grabs.

It instantly became one of the most-viewed posts that week. Perhaps it's not surprising that Joburg Traffic evokes such strong emotions - after all, as a Joburger, you spend half your life in it!

Then it occurred to me that there was actually one thing I missed about the dreaded Joburg traffic: traffic circles, or roundabouts.

I don't know if it's an African thing, or a South African thing, or just a Joburg thing, but traffic circles there work very differently - and, once you get the idea, better - than in the rest of the world. Noisette still doesn't understand it to this day, but it is a brilliant concept. Because, you see, you don't indicate with your blinker that you intend to get ONTO the traffic circle, you indicate which way you're going to turn OFF of it.

Let's say the traffic circle has 4 exits, 1 being the one you're using to get onto it, 2 being the next one to the left - after all, you're driving on the left side of the road - 3 being the one straight ahead, and 4 being the one turning to the right after you've made a three quarter turn. It's exit 4 that I'd like to talk about. In most other places where there are traffic circles, you'd blink LEFT to get onto the circle (or right, in right-side-driving countries). You'd go around as far as you wished, and then you'd blink LEFT again to indicate where you're getting off, just before you're getting off. Not really much help to the people waiting on the outside wanting to get on.

In South Africa, in this particular situation you wouldn't blink LEFT to get onto the circle. Duh, everyone knows you're gonna get onto the circle, why should you have to indicate this? No, what you do if you intend to take exit 4 is you turn your blinker to RIGHT as soon as you drive onto the circle. Why? Well, this way the person waiting opposite from you will know that you intend to make the three quarter turn and pass him on your way, therefore making him wait. If you intended to take exit 2 instead (the left turn one), you'd blink left, thereby indicating to the person opposite that you are going to leave the circle BEFORE passing him, therefore allowing him to get onto the circle. Even if you're using exit 3, going straight and not using your blinker, the person opposite could drive onto the circle while you get off at the same exit. Brilliant concept, speeding things up just a tiny bit in a place whose roads are clogged up all too often.

Because I know this all sounds crazy, here is a little back-of-the-envelope (literally) diagram I drew for you while sitting through yet another endless parent night at school:

Joburg traffic circle. Now it all makes sense, right??

I do hope you get it, or I will seriously doubt my artistic prowess.

The person who first introduced me to this novel idea was, unexpectedly, my domestic helper. She was sitting in the passenger seat one day when we were running errands, and suddenly spoke up:

"You should have indicated to the right!"

We had just gone through the Dainfern Valley traffic circle coming home, and the above was the situation I faced multiple times every day. I had dutifully used my blinker as I was taught in my German driver training, which as you can imagine has rules for just about everything. "What does she know," is what I was thinking at the time, "she probably doesn't even drive." But over the next few weeks, going through the same circle day-in day-out, it suddenly dawned on me: She was absolutely right! It made a ton of sense! Just as you would blink right when turning right at a regular intersection, why not blink right at a traffic circle too? It's such a huge courtesy to the other drivers entering from different directions.

I have no idea why I felt so compelled to write this much about one silly such little thing, but somehow I wanted to share. In closing, there is another thing I miss about driving in South Africa: The warning-light-courtesy-blink-a-frenzy. Say you are on a long stretch of country road with a slow-poke car in front of you, and they see you behind them and pull over to the far left so that you can overtake them easily. You pass them, veer back over in front of them, and the first thing you do is fumble for your emergency lights so you can blink them a quick "thank you!" Typically, in response, they will then blink "you are welcome" back at you, and if you want to really be thorough, you might blink a quick acknowledgement of their reply to indicate you appreciate their politeness. This could go on and on except for the fact that you did overtake them for a reason and are probably by now out of sight so that the blinking may have an end. It can be quite distracting but I've found it to be such a feel-good thing to have this visual conversation with strangers on those lonely roads. It's quite the opposite of road rage, isn't it?

I've been told there are other countries where this happens too, but I can tell you this: It NEVER would happen in Germany. The only flashing lights you get in Germany are the headlights from the person behind you who is telling you, no DEMANDING, that you better move over from that left lane of the Autobahn to make room for his fancy and powerful Mercedes or he will climb RIGHT OVER YOUR CAR AND PULL YOU OUT FOR DARING TO BE SO SLOW!

Read more on Joburg traffic here
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First World Problem: How to Spread Two Cars Between Three Teenagers

August 24, 2015

Every once in a while, as an expat blogger - especially an expat WIFE blogger, also known for sipping mojitos by the pool all day while the domestic help works her magic around the house - I'll get a comment from an outraged reader. He - it's almost always a "he" - will accuse me of being privileged, of whining about my "hard" life of having to deal with pool maintenance guys and temporary power outages in my luxurious mansion, and often he'll follow this up with the admonition to "shut up" and take my First World Problems elsewhere if I don't like the life I lead in my guest country. Any attempt to reply with some kind of explanation about the nature of my blog - it's like having to explain the punchline of a joke - usually falls on deaf ears, because said accuser will have already moved on to another blog to wag his self-righteous finger at.

This blog post will be right up his alley.

Because what screams privilege louder than indulging your three teenagers with not one but TWO entire cars at their disposal?

But if you live in America, that is exactly the kind of situation your typical suburban mother will wring her hands over. In her defense, she's kicked those three teenagers in their collective butt to go and be responsible and find jobs, and now they need to have transport to and fro. And of course the mother can't provide it, because she's got other sh!t to do. Like sipping mojitos by the pool. Also, she's done a fairly good job raising kids that don't feel completely entitled. If they were, obviously there'd be THREE cars, not two.

This is the situation a good friend of mine found herself in. I've always admired her for her organizational parenting skills - she has taken "color-coded" to a whole new level - and so I was curious as to how she had solved the car conundrum once her three teenagers were of driving age.

Her plan is absolutely brilliant:

  1. There are two cars, both old, but one slightly nicer than the other
  2. The nicer one is the "master" car, the other one the "slave" car (if you are the blog commenter mentioned above, you have permission to now be rightly be indignant about my use of the word "slave.")
  3. The cars alternate between the three kids on a weekly basis
  4. Whoever has the master car may do with it as he/she pleases
  5. Whoever has the slave car gets to drive it but is also responsible for providing rides to that week's car-less sibling
  6. Every driver is responsible for paying for their gas
  7. The car's inside has to be cleaned up before hand-over to the next person

The reason this works so well is that people, like elephants, have a long memory. If you so wish as to totally abuse the poor slave driver, he/she is sure to remember and pay you back handsomely when the positions are reversed the following week. I've tried to poke mental holes into this but couldn't come up with any. It sounds like a sound plan. Lucky for me, I haven't had to try it out, as in our family there is "only" one car to share between two teenage drivers, making the math somewhat easier. I do recall some big eyes the first day son #1 realized that he'd have to share the car with his younger brother. What do you mean, SHARE the car? OMG Mom, I can't be asked to TALK about this with him every morning! Like, I'll have to take him there AND pick him up again? No way, I can't do THAT! 

Needless to say, a way was found. There is nothing like the prospect of walking - or, for that matter, being late to something your mother doesn't care about - to provide an incentive to make a plan.

What are your first world parenting problems? Do share!

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About Cecil, Cute Baby Lions, and American Dentists...

August 17, 2015

Lions have been much in the news lately, as in the story of the American tourist who was killed by a lion in Johannesburg's Lion Park, and more recently the killing of Zimbabwe's beloved Cecil the Lion by an American trophy hunter.

It came as no surprise to me to witness the public shaming of the dentist who is now in hiding after being outed as Cecil's killer. After all, he did set out to kill a lion, even if not specifically that one. If you abhor the hunting and killing of animals, especially endangered ones, then perhaps you have reason to be indignant.

But what surprised me when the first story hit, the one of the woman mauled by the lion through her open car window, was the likewise vicious response condemning the woman not only for being stupid enough to roll down her car window but also for visiting such an immoral and vile place such as the Lion Park in the first place. Surely it was an accident, even if caused by carelessness and a disregard for the rules? Surely wanting to see lions on your African vacation - something all of us lucky enough to have traveled there are guilty of - cannot be construed as an immoral act in and of itself?

There are so many angles to this newfound spotlight on the African lion that I've put off writing a blog post about it until now, and I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. I'll try to organize my thoughts below and hope that you'll read to the end before chiming in on the debate.

Canned Hunting

I can honestly say that I never heard that phrase until a few months ago. I had shared an innocent picture of someone petting a lion at the now infamous Lion Park - barely 20 minutes from where we used to live - on my Facebook page, and woke up to my own version of public shaming the next day. "How could you?" was the consensus of several animal rights advocates who'd discovered my post and appropriated it for their campaign. But it was effective. I followed up on all the links they readily supplied and tried to educate myself about what it was they deemed so reprehensible to prompt such a - so I felt - vicious attack.

"Canned Hunting," according to Wikipedia, is "a trophy hunt in which an animal is kept in a confined area, such as in a fenced-in area, increasing the likelihood of the hunter obtaining a kill." That this happens never really occurred to me. I was aware that lions are hunted, in some countries only and in exchange for large fees, but I thought they were wild. The thing is, there aren't that many truly wild lions left. According to the World Wildlife Fund, around 30,000 African lions remain in the wild today, with a sharp decline seen over the past 20 years. And while the wild lion population is dwindling, the canned hunting industry has grown at an alarming rate. Semi-tame lions are bred and raised in petting zoos all over South Africa (and, I suppose, other African countries too) and then sold off, once they become too big and dangerous to handle, to places that cater to trophy hunters who hail mostly - but not exclusively - from the United States.

Is Hunting Immoral?

Animal rights activists decry the practice of canned hunting as shameful because it gives such a huge advantage to the hunter versus the prey. The lions are confined to a small area, and they are also not adapted to live in the wild as they've been reared by humans. But honestly, doesn't the hunter, with his gun or even crossbow, have the advantage anyway? It's really just a matter of time, even if you're going after a truly wild lion. If you're going to be outraged about canned hunting, shouldn't you be outraged about all hunting? And it doesn't even stop there. In my research for this blog post, I came across the excellent headline Eating chicken is morally worse than killing Cecil the Lion. While no doubt controversial, the author has a point. Unless you are a vegan, you are contributing in some shape or form to the breeding of animals purely for our consumption. Und unlike the cute lion cubs who at least get to have fun and play outside while they're little, the chickens might never even see daylight.

It reminds me of the scene in 7 Years in Tibet where Brad Pitt as Heinrich Harrer despairs, when supervising a building project for the Dalai Lama, because the workers he employs make no progress and instead are busy digging up worms so as to relocate them, lest they be hurt by the construction. It strikes you as ridiculous at first, but what truly is the difference between a lion and an earth worm? They are all God's creatures.

While I could never shoot an animal for sport and don't understand what makes hunters tick, I also find that I can't wholesale condemn those who can. I do believe there is a place for hunters where wildlife populations need to be controlled, and it is also true that large fees levied on trophy hunters can help pay for conservation efforts. Yes, we humans are the reason that wildlife populations are out of whack in the first place, but that debate leads us nowhere. We can't turn back the clock, and even if we were able to stop all hunting overnight, we would create other problems.

However, do lions specifically need to be hunted? From what I gather, lions, as the top predators, are the ones already doing that job for us - controlling wildlife populations to preserve habitat. With their numbers dwindling so alarmingly, it's hard to make a case that hunting them serves any purpose other than the hunter's ego.

As I said, I'm no expert, but I have learned that nothing is ever black and white. There is a huge grey area in these testy debates, and I for one need to read much more about it before I can form a firm opinion. From what I've learned so far, I can't support the practice of canned hunting, and will never again walk into a petting zoo such as the Lion Park so innocently, now that I know what is the likely fate of those cute cubs. And I will do my best to warn my readers about what's going on. Scroll to the bottom and you will find a list of links to articles about canned hunting and animal protection websites.

Public Shaming

It's so easy to do. Someone says something inopportune online or commits what you deem an inexcusable crime, and you go and publicly shame that person, setting off an avalanche that might result in them going into hiding. Easily done, since you don't know him or her. I recently read an eye-opening article about this. A writer had actually tracked people whose lives had been ruined by such public shaming campaigns, and I couldn't help but think "what if that had been me?"

We all make mistakes. It behooves us to think long and hard whether we really want to be the first ones to cast the proverbial stone. I have no particular love for the dentist who shot Cecil, but does he deserve to lose his livelihood over it? To receive death threats that have forced him to go into hiding until further notice? And not just him but most likely his wife and kids as well? Does the family of the woman who was killed by the lion deserve to be told, over and over again, that she was stupid and deserved to die? Where is our empathy?

I've never liked self-appointed vigilantes, and that is precisely what the Internet shaming crowd seems to be. Like a posse, like a lynching mob, they move on from one victim to the next, not bothering themselves too much with nuance and second-guessing.

Perhaps there is some good to be found in all of this. Zimbabwe, I've heard, has placed a moratorium on certain hunts and put long-missing rules in place - though I'm sure in the end the lure of big money will continue to prove too enticing for officials of such a poor and corrupt country. Delta Airlines has announced that it will ban the transport of animal trophies. And, as this New York Times editorial so aptly points out, perhaps the recent spotlight on a single lion will rub off on the much larger issue of poaching endangered species such as rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks.

If only we could publicly shame entire countries, like Laos, Vietnam, and China, into submission to stop their insatiable and misplaced hunger for African animal parts.

Further Reading and How You Can Help

An excellent article by Dereck Joubert on not only the morality but also the economics of hunting; National Geographic - Hunting Lions for Fun

To learn more about African lions, why they are vulnerable, and how you can  help, read: World Wildlife Fund: About the African lion

To find out more about the practice of canned hunting, read: Canned Lion Hunting - Mass Commercialization of Trophy Hunting in Africa and 'Canned hunting': the lions bred for slaughter

In case you've found yourself - like me - enjoying the interaction with cute lion cubs at a petting zoo, read: Five lies you need to stop believing about the lion cub petting industry

If you're seeking a ban on the captive breeding of lions for the canned hunting industry, join: Campaign Against Canned Hunting

If you'd like to see all animal trading banned, support: Ban Animal Trading South Africa

If you're looking to visit an animal park but are unsure whether it engages in ethical practices, check out: WASP International - Ethical Wildlife Sanctuaries

If you're looking to volunteer at a place but are unsure whether it truly promotes conservation of animals, see: Volunteers in Africa Beware Facebook Page

No doubt the story of Cecil the Lion has pulled at our heartstrings so much more than the countless statistics of slaughtered rhinos and elephants ever can, because it allowed us to put a face to it. If you can stomach it, here is another way you can put a face to the killing:

Perhaps we can all take this message beyond one lovable lion and do our part to educate the world about other endangered species targeted in senseless killings. While remaining professional and polite about it.

You might also like:

Shark Fin Soup and Rhino Horn
Save the Rhino... By Shopping?

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The Essential Expat Support Group: Trailing Spouses Johannesburg

August 10, 2015

After "How dangerous is Johannesburg" and "Which is the best school for my child," one of the most-asked questions I get when people contact me is whether I know of any support groups for expats. Until recently, this was also my most-dreaded question, because I didn't have a good answer.

Somehow, Joburg seemed to be lagging behind other major cities in this department. There used to be the Dainfern Social Club, but I don't know if it still exists. In any case, it never had a website that I knew of. Then there is the International Women's Club, but the one time I went to one of their presentations, I stood out like a sore thumb as everyone else seemed to be at least 70 years old. Not quite my crowd - yet. Not that I mind standing out like a sore thumb, but I just didn't see myself engaging in nature walks and swapping recipes with this bunch. The one group I'm always happy to refer people to is the American Society of South Africa, but it's a bit less support network and more something you join for Cocktail Hour.

In any case, imagine how happy I was when I stumbled across the Trailing Spouses Johannesburg Facebook group the other day, quite accidentally, when browsing reader comments on another expat forum. I commented back, was put in charge with Nicola Beach, the founder of this group, and solicited a guest post from her, which you will find below.

P.S.: If you are in Pretoria, you're in luck: Nicola also just founded a Trailing Spouses Pretoria Facebook group (scroll to the bottom for all the links).

THE Facebook group you need to know about if you are heading to Jo’burg on an expat assignment: Trailing Spouses Johannesburg

by Nicola Beach

There’s nothing worse than starting a new expat assignment and no sooner have you stepped off the plane than your partner disappears on a business trip and your child comes down with a mystery malady in the darkest, most hopeless hour of the night. It’s an unwritten rule of expat life: Things always go utterly pear-shaped when you are at your most vulnerable, when the sole member of your support network is out of town. So, what could be better than a real-time interactive group of expats in the same leaky boat as you, helping you to navigate the choppy waters of your new posting and keeping you afloat throughout your stay?

I couldn't find a lifeline like this when I arrived in Johannesburg, so eventually, while cooking dinner one evening and perhaps emboldened by a sip or two of wine, I decided to set one up. I added around 10 friends. I panicked a little bit. I sipped a bit more wine and then started telling people about it. Over the ensuing weeks it gained momentum and took on a life of its own. I realised that it was really catching on when total strangers started asking me if I had heard about the group, recommending that I should join.

It’s an online group so there are no meetings or committees and yet it has been a catalyst to bring people together. For example, a cycling group has formed, play-dates and coffee mornings have been arranged, expat events and volunteer opportunities have been advertised, and there is currently tentative talk of setting up a knitting club!

The group has frequently come to the rescue of people who have locked themselves out of cars or garages and had flat tyres or car batteries. Members have been able to get hold of out-of-hours doctors and dentists in emergencies.

There is no such thing as a stupid question and we've had posts on a wide range of topics. Aside from practical queries regarding visas and the new travel regulations for travelling in and out of South Africa with children, one of the most popular threads to date covered where to buy the best birthday cakes. Cake is important. So is wine. That’s another hot topic.

All new members are screened to weed out the spammers, scammers and other dubious individuals. Plenty have mistaken ‘Trailing’ for ‘Trading’ assuming that we are some kind of wife-swapping group. (We're not, just to clarify). We’ve had the occasional individual thinking we were a running club. (We're not one of those either, although if you were looking to set one up, it’s a great place to do so). We’ve also had plenty of South Africans wanting to join because they heard “it’s a good place to find reliable house help or sell a sofa.” It is, but regrettably we only accept expats who land up here without friend or foe and desperately need to learn the ropes in a brand new place.

New member requests are checked regularly. However, if you haven't heard anything after couple of weeks, please make sure you have checked your “other” inbox before contacting us. It’s next to your regular Facebook inbox, but a lot of people have never noticed it. As well as messages from long lost loves and school friends you had intentionally lost touch with and forgotten about, there should also be one from us, checking your eligibility to join our merry crew.

The "other" Facebook inbox for your Trailing Spouses notification

If you are a current Trailing Expat Spouse in Johannesburg or will be one soon, you can find us here: very great pleasure, I look forward to welcoming you to our group, helping to smooth the waters and make your stay in Johannesburg plain sailing.

Trailing Spouses Johannesburg’s founder, Nicola Beach, is originally from the UK, but she has also dodged stray bullets in Lagos and stray cats in Istanbul. She is now getting cosy in Jozi and blogs about her expat experiences at

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Join Me for a Live Interview!

August 7, 2015

Mark your calendars:


The thing that's so much fun about being a new author is that there is a first time for everything, much like milestones in your child's life. First sale, first time someone leaves a review for your book, first time you get fan mail, first time you do a book signing. Oh, and the not-so-coveted ones, like the first time someone leaves a one-star review on Amazon. That's kind of like the first time your toddler poops without his diaper but not into the potty. All the same, many tell me a scathing one-star review is when you know you've truly arrived.

Today's milestone will be my first live interview. No, not on the Daily Show, I'm afraid. Jon Stewart managed to be leaving just before I got famous enough for him to come knocking at my door. All the same, I'm very excited about this interview. Especially since I won't have to speak in front of people or a camera. For those decrying our modern times and social media, please pause a second to reflect on all the good it has brought into the world. Like giving us introverts a chance to do an all-day interview without having to break out in cold sweats and stammer and be at a loss of words, and without spending the next three days thinking up ways one could have said everything much better.

Instead, I get to do what I love best: Sit on my couch in my pajamas all day and type on my computer keyboard. I'll have time to come up with witty comments and anecdotes and can still get up every once in a while to reheat my tea in the microwave or steal to the pantry for a handful of Lindt balls (psst: have you discovered the coconut ones yet?), which I can stuff in my mouth three at a time and still answer the latest question without a hitch.

Except, what if no one has any questions? So... if you have nothing else to do on Sunday and want to keep me (and my Lindt balls) company, please stop by between 8 AM and 8 PM Central Time and ask away. All you have to do is join the fabulous We Love Memoirs Facebook group and visit their page on Sunday after 8 AM. I promise you won't regret it. WLM has some wonderful fun-loving members who have one thing in common: They all love to read books. Memoirs in particular, but I suspect everyone sneaks in a few Gone Girl's and All the Light We Cannot See's on the side. I get a good chuckle almost every day when I scan the page, I've gotten some great book recommendations, and I've gotten a free book bargain out of it more than once.

Speaking of which, I'll be giving away two ebooks after the interview.


Chat with you Sunday!
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How I Got My Kids to Pay Me to Do Their Laundry

August 3, 2015

I have made a sad progression. I went from being an employer of paid (and therefore professional) domestic help to hiring the new free (and slightly less professional as well as reluctant) domestic help. And now, the final stage:

I AM the domestic help.

Remember the Zits cartoons? I feel an affinity to Jeremy's dad. He, too, is the domestic help.

But in my case it's not really as sad as it sounds. Because, everyone, I'm now getting paid! I have a regular income doing my kids' laundry! Together with my book sales that pays for about two Starbucks runs a week.

So how do you get your kids to pay you for doing their laundry? Here is what I did:

I announced I would no longer provide laundry services. Surprisingly, this elicited no tortured wails whatsoever, not even the slightest complaints. They were probably all thinking "I can't believe she hasn't caught onto that before now." Here is the letter my four kids got delivered to their doorstep one morning:
Dear Children:

This serves to notify you that I will no longer wash and pre-fold your laundry. Pre-folding suggests a follow-up act of actual folding and putting away in your closet, which I can see you have decided to give up on altogether, all my nagging notwithstanding.

I have decided to give up on the washing (as well as the nagging).

As of now, should you wish for clean clothes, you need to wash and dry them yourselves. The hours for the washer and dryer will be 7 am to 9 pm.

Whether you team up for your laundry or each do it on your own is up to you. And whether you end up folding your clothes or just dumping them back into your bin and living out of that (as you have been already, except that they were nice and pre-folded) is also up to you. 

I will be available to teach you how to use the equipment.

Your very loving and housework-tired Mom
I can't tell you how wonderful it felt to see kids scurrying around the house with laundry bins the following week. I'd walk by the laundry room and hear the washer spinning, and say to myself, "how nice that there is work being done in this house, by other people than me, without me having to tell them."

They figured out pretty quickly that if you don't fold your sh*t as soon as it comes out the dryer, it gets more wrinkly than elephant skin. So they each developed a routine:

Zax (18) - had to be reprimanded a couple of times for midnight use of the washer but now washes his laundry during daylight hours as needed (and often) and uses his bin as his portable closet, because God forbid, putting away clothes on closet shelves is just SO YESTERDAY!

Living out of - admittedly orderly - bins

Impatience (14) - being the most compulsive planner among the kids, immediately designated Saturday morning as laundry day and efficiently dispenses of the task. Washing, drying, folding, putting away, boom!

Sunshine (12) - as picky with her clothes as she is with eating, only ever uses about 2 shorts and 3 t-shirts out of her limitless assortment; her laundry pile is so tiny that Impatience, being the nice sister she is, most often just washes it along with her stuff. But Sunshine is our best (if also slowest) laundry folder. In painstaking labor she folds everything down to razor-crisp edges, even - especially - the underwear.

Sunshine's closet. I suppose it's easy if you only ever wear 2 of those t-shirts.

Jabulani (16) - hates, just HATES folding laundry. Mail-ordered a contraption once that he thought might help with the folding but realized the folding still had to be done. Then noticed Sunshine's folding acumen and decided to hire her as laundry folder for $6 a load.

As these things go, Sunshine got through folding half of her first load after she was hired, then got called for a sleepover at a friend's house, leaving behind a dryer-full of Jabulani's stuff. You have to understand, Jabulani's laundry loads are huge. Leaning once more on the Zits cartoons (I couldn't find the exact one I was looking for), Jabulani's room looks exactly like Jeremy's:

Don't you love the pants still in the shape of exactly how they were dropped?

So I casually inquired as to who would be folding the rest of the laundry now that Sunshine had left the premises, and would the payment by chance be transferable to a subcontractor? Yes, was the answer, it was. And thus I earned my first $$ folding my son's laundry.

Now we have a routine: He leaves his laundry bin in front of our bedroom when it has become absolutely impossible to squeeze even one more piece of clothing into it. Again I refer to Zits for an illustration:

I then take his bin and pry out solid blocks of the sweat-soaked-then-dried-into-cement-like-substance out of it - this is by far the most labor-intensive part of the process - and proceed to wash, dry, and fold, then go up to him to collect my $6 payment for a 15-minute job.

Considering the state of the bookselling market and by extension my opportunity cost, I would have done it for less.

Pssst, don't tell anyone.
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It's Like Camping Without the Hassle

July 28, 2015

I recently came across an article on Jozi Kids called "100 Benefits of Load-Shedding."

One hundred? Okay Jozi Kids, I think you might have gone just a tad overboard. There are not even one hundred benefits of Nutella. Or central heating. Or indoor plumbing.

But I do get their idea. Rather than stressing out about something you can't change - might as well embrace it and turn it into positive thinking. So, instead of once again complaining about Eskom - my favorite blog topic the first year we lived in South Africa - I here give you:

Top 10 Benefits of Load-Shedding for the Expat Wife

  1. It gets your 13-year old off the xBox, pronto. He will run into your kitchen in a huff. He will be outraged - OUTRAGED, I'm telling you - at this interruption of his routine. And you will be giddy with glee at this intervention from on high over matters you can't be expected to have any control over. This is Africa.
  2. It absolves you from cooking duty. You were going to prepare a three-course dinner, you really were. But now your oven isn't working, and your dishwasher won't work afterwards either, so it's everybody fend for themselves with whatever cold cuts they can find in the fridge.
  3. Alternatively, your husband will do the cooking. There is that problem that once your fridge and freezer are out of power, the stuff in there will go bad. What a golden opportunity to fire up the braai, which of course is man territory, to have the most delicious steak prepared for you without you having to lift a finger. For bonus points: Get to know your neighbors by inviting them over to the steak dinner.
  4. You get a good night's sleep. No lights in the evening means you go to bed early. Which, this being South Africa and the hadedas sure to wake you at 4:30 in the morning, will ensure that you sleep long enough. It has the added benefit that you might beat the infamous Joburg traffic by leaving the house at 5:00 AM.
  5. It's like camping without the hassle. S'mores over the fire, watching the sunset, spending time with your family without electronic distractions... Oh, the bliss! If it weren't for pesky mosquitoes, the hard ground under your sleeping mat, and the less-than stellar ablutions facilities. Load-shedding is the perfect solution: You get to have all the fun but sleep at home on your comfy mattress under the mosquito net with a perfectly fine toilet at your beck and call around the clock. 
  6. You have a better chance of not reaching your capped internet limit. Nothing is more annoying than living in a country where your internet is capped at 9 gigabytes per month. At a speed of, I don't know, the Flintstones' first car. What better way to conserve your bandwidth than, uhm, not using it?
  7. You get excellent story material for your blog. If your trash were always picked up with mind-boggling regularity, if all the traffic lights always worked, if your mail would actually get there, what in the name of sweet Jesus would you write about on your blog? Except, hold those thoughts. Until the Internet comes on again so you can share them.
  8. Write a letter instead of sending an email. This will be an excellent opportunity to see if the "out of order" sign has been removed from the slit in the mailbox at your local post office. Bonus opportunity: Put some cash into the envelope. It will make your local postal clerk very happy.
  9. You briefly get to return to the real world. This gives you an opportunity to take pictures and gather material you can later post as a Facebook status update.
  10. You get to binge-watch your favorite TV series later. This is so much better than having to see them in real time, one at a time. Bonus: microwave some popcorn while you have power.
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The Price Tag of Safety

July 23, 2015

If you could do everything in your power to keep yourself and your children safe, wouldn't you do it?

Duh, you will say. Of course!

But not so fast. I'm going to show you that there is a price you pay for safety. Or, conversely, that you get unexpected benefits when easing up a little on the safety. It's the age old question of freedom versus security: It's not possible to have 100% of each at the same time.

Take crime. It's definitely an issue to take into consideration when contemplating a life in South Africa. But it's just one issue. You'd make a mistake to base your decision only on that. In the case of South Africa, most expats there will tell you, it's worth taking on a little risk for the great life you get in return.

While this is true about crime, it's also true about safety in general, and South Africa makes for a wonderful case study. Some examples:

  • Seat belts often seem to be optional in South Africa. Children can be seen climbing around inside moving cars all the time. But that's actually tame compared to when you see children riding around on roof racks of 4x4 vehicles. When we first arrived, Noisette and I both swore we'd never let our kids do that. Until they were invited by friends to their car's roof rack and had the time of their life.
    Children enjoying a rooftop ride in South Africa
  • I also don't think I ever contemplated letting a 13-year old drive around on regular roads for hours at a time. But when that same thirteen-year old has had to perform the adult task of changing a flat tire - three times in a row, I might add - then your view of what is and isn't appropriate might change. Most of our local friends' kids knew how to drive a manual, and their cars showed the scars of the learning process.
    40 miles on a godforsaken gravel road in Namibia - perfect
    opportunity for a 13-year old to 
  • I've already told you about the lion park in Joburg, and the fact that you never once sign an indemnity form before entering. And yet people have been killed in that park. You might have heard of the American woman, just weeks ago, who fell victim to a lion attacking through the open car window. It's tragic, and I cannot condone the verbal attacks I've seen online targeted against this woman and her lack of judgment, but it's also true that what makes safaris so great, or even possible, is the fact that there are no fences, no warning signs, no indemnity forms. All that stands between you and a lion is the talk given to you by your guide, which you'd do well to pay attention to.
    South African school children at school sport, barefoot
  • South African children run around the school grounds barefoot all day long. Entire cross country races are completed by hordes of barefoot kids. Are there, miraculously, fewer pitfalls awaiting bare skin on African soil, you wonder? Not likely. And yet I know of no edicts against bare feet in South African schools.
  • A friend told me a story of a fundraising event at their school. Someone had brought in a wrecked car and a sledgehammer and deposited both in the middle of the rugby field. For a per-minute fee, kids could climb onto that car and smash it to pieces. Needless to say, the field was subsequently covered in glass shards, but cleaning it up didn't occur to anyone until the next match was well underway. I can't quite imagine this activity being offered at your average American school.
    Thinking back, I can't believe we were this close to the lion,
    not even a sleeping one, when I took this picture in Madikwe
  • Not one of my kids made it through their South African school's Design and Technology class without cuts or other injuries. Even the younger children are entrusted with knives and hammers and drills so as to learn how to handle them. And there isn't even a school nurse on hand.

Now I'm not advocating for anybody to be reckless. Seat belts, for instance, are non-negotiable, especially on the roads of Johannesburg. Access to guns, such a huge safety hazard in the wrong hands, should be tightly restricted. Airline pilots, it turns out, should have more stringent psychological evaluations.

And yet there is a limit on restrictions and precautions before you pay too big of a price.

Yes, you can ban the use of the monkey bars at your school forevermore and save a few kids from the fate of a broken arm, but isn't losing the joy and thrill of climbing high and swinging wildly too high a price to pay?

Yes, you can ensure school kids eat a proper lunch and sit down quietly in an orderly cafeteria monitored by ten parent volunteers, but what about all the other fun things they could be doing instead at break time? Even if that means they forget to eat their lunch?

Yes, you can put rules in place that force children to include everyone on the playground, but aren't you robbing them of a learning ground to improve their social skills?

Yes, you can put fences around all the wild animals and eliminate any risks to the visitor, but what a tragedy that would be for Africa.

There is a price you pay for safety. Often it's worth it. And I would argue that nowhere have we had to endure such stringent safety measures (but not indemnity forms) as in Africa. They get it when it matters. No one wants you to fall off a tree during a canopy tour. Stand up in a safari vehicle for a closer look at the sleeping lion right in front of you, and you will be dressed down very sternly by your guide.

But the price you pay for more safety isn't always worth it. In general, South African kids seem to grow up with more opportunities to injure themselves than your average American child, but also with more opportunities for experimentation and personal growth. The approach of those in authority seems to be that of letting things move along and dealing with the consequences when they arise, instead of trying to anticipate all consequences ahead of time and eliminating them by imposing draconian rules.

In many people's minds - particularly someone like me who grew up in Europe - the United States is a land of golden opportunity, of personal freedom, of relatively few government restrictions. But to many South Africans, life there would seem unduly restricted.

Getting back to the issue of crime in South Africa: Yes, it would be wonderful if the country was safer, with fewer break-ins and carjackings, without the need for high-voltage fences around neighborhoods, less violence against women, less violence in general. Perhaps one day it will get there. But in the meantime, don't let crime define the country. There is so much more to life in South Africa that you wouldn't want to miss out on. You might start with this list: Top Ten Reasons You Should Move to Johannesburg Despite the Crime Rate.

You might also enjoy: Legal Common Sense in South Africa
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Healthcare for Expats in South Africa

July 19, 2015

Perhaps you'll remember that it didn't take long for our family to make the acquaintance with a hospital after moving to South Africa in 2010.

  • Less than a month in I was struck down by tick bite fever, except I didn't know it, and ended up going to the emergency room. 
  • About a year later, over New Year's, our  youngest daughter Sunshine made an unpleasant acquaintance with the corner of a night stand when jumping on the bed with her brother Jabulani and needed several stitches in her forehead. 
  • A bit later, that same brother in turn made an even more unpleasant acquaintance with the foot of an attacking soccer player when trying to save the goal, and needed surgery on his arm. 
  • Not to mention getting the whole family vaccinated for yellow fever, getting tested for concussions after rugby matches, and keeping an orthodontist busy around the clock with three out of four kids with more wiring in their mouths than behind your cable box.

The good news in all that? Let's just say that we definitely got our money's worth out of our global healthcare plan!

Are you moving to South Africa? Then you better get yourself such a plan too. The following is a guest post sponsored by Medibroker International, a company providing broker services for expats looking for international health insurance. 

Expat Healthcare in South Africa

You might have chosen South Africa as your expat destination for a dazzling job opportunity, the warm climate or for the expat lifestyle; but chances are you have a few concerns about your move.

Safety is a daunting issue for most expats planning a move to South Africa. Just as you take steps to protect yourself, it’s also important to get protection for your health and finances by purchasing private medical insurance. It’s boring, it’s unavoidable; but Medibroker International can make it simple.

Looking after your health should be your number one priority when moving to a country with an infamously fragmented health system. There is a vast gap between public and private health facilities in South Africa which makes a comprehensive health insurance plan essential if you’re going to be living there for any length of time over 12 months.

Johannesburg Healthcare

While the City of Gold has the most medical facilities in South Africa, the standards of these hospitals and clinics vary. In fact, Johannesburg has a long way to go before it fulfils its ambition to be ‘One City One Health System’.

Public Healthcare and Local Health Insurance in South Africa

It’s wise to avoid relying on South Africa’s public healthcare system if you are an expat. At present it is overburdened by locals and seriously underfunded. Things like poor sanitation, substandard housing and unjust social conditions have put a real strain on publically funded healthcare in the country. Public hospitals are generally understaffed, lacking even basic supplies.

Local health insurance can also be unreliable in South Africa – there are horror stories of local insurers cancelling cover when a policyholder notifies them of required treatment. This leaves the policy holder uninsured in their time of need and faced with the near-impossible task of finding a plan that will cover them for a condition which is then classed as pre-existing.

Private Healthcare in South Africa

Fortunately, expats can benefit from private healthcare systems in South Africa of a world class standard. In fact, Johannesburg’s private healthcare is the most robust in all of Africa.

Private healthcare currently accounts for around 55% of the country’s spending on healthcare. To access the best facilities, you will need private health insurance. Buying a policy before you go will help alleviate any apprehensiveness you may have about seeing a medical professional in a new country because you are usually able to choose your Doctor. Staff in private facilities are highly trained and you will benefit from shorter waiting times in addition to an increased quality of care.

In South Africa expats will typically pay for medical bills as they are incurred and each service is usually paid for separately. You can then use your receipts to claim a refund from your insurer by submitting a claim.

Health Insurance for South Africa

An international health insurance plan is often the best option for expatriates living in South Africa, particularly if they will be travelling outside of the country or would prefer to receive medical treatment elsewhere. International cover has become more sought after among Brits now that the NHS crackdown will affect repatriates.

Steve Nelson, sales advisor at Medibroker says:  “With many international plan providers to choose from it is important that you get the right level of cover for you and your family. It is important to consider benefit levels, scope and cover and of course any exclusions. Getting this wrong can leave you exposed to hefty medical bills that you will have to meet yourself.”

If you are working in South Africa or are on an international assignment and your company does offer a benefits package that includes private healthcare, you should question the extent of that cover. Does it include maternity? Are your family covered? What about medical evacuation cover?

Medibroker provide a completely free and impartial broker service to expats looking for international health insurance. They will make sure they understand your needs before recommending a suitable health plan from a portfolio of over 30 providers. Request a quote today.

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The Expat Shopper in Johannesburg

July 16, 2015

I'm not the world's biggest shopper. I don't love the excitement of going out there to hunt for bargains. I don't revel in waiting with bated breath for the grand opening of a long-awaited store. And I don't go all crazy over finding my favorite brand-names far from home.

Because I don't love shopping, I've become really good at making it efficient. Especially as a newly-arrived expat, you need to know where to buy your steaks, your chocolate chips, your converter plugs. Especially your converter plugs, if you live in a country like South Africa where all the power outlets are wrong, no matter where you've come from.

I've come a long way from my first shopping trip in Johannesburg as a newly-arrived expat, that day I found myself staring at an empty fridge that needed to be filled before the kids came home. I somehow learned the ropes of shopping in Johannesburg, painful trip by painful trip, and even though I'm not a bright-eyed Mommy blogger who inundates her readers with links to all the things they absolutely must own, I have put together a surprisingly long list of tips on where to buy all sorts of different stuff in Joburg. So I thought, why not share it with you all in one place to save you the trouble.

You may have to do a bit of work and scroll to the bottom of some of these posts to get to the place where I reveal where you should go or XYZ, only because I learned the painful way. I apologize if you have to read through some of my complaining to get there.

In Johannesburg, this is where you buy your...

Baking supplies
German sausage (for Germans only:-)
Good bread
Electric appliances
Drugs and beauty supplies
School uniforms
GAP clothes
Picture frames
Gardening and building supplies
Gas bottles (and refills)
Sporting goods
Sports, Health, and Wellness
African crafts
Stone art from Zimbabwe
Christmas trees (the real deal)
Christmas tree (the fake kind)
Goods on Amazon (not really)
Anything you can't find anywhere else (aka street vendors)
Used stuff
Used cars
If you have to ship it from the U.S.

I'm sorry if this picture is misleading; this is all the stuff I had trouble finding in South Africa. 
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