June 29, 2011

Expat Joys - The Sun

I'm not sure of the official tally, but from our experience the sun shines about 359 days a year in Johannesburg. It's definitely one of my greatest joys as an expat here. Even - and especially - in winter, when I'm shivering through the nights, the sun can always be counted on to be up by 7 in the morning. I can see how ancient cultures worshiped the sun, especially at high altitudes, like the Incas. It gets so chilly as soon as the sun is gone that you cannot wait for it to come up again in the morning and the heat gets switched back on.

The sun is so immensely good for our well-being. Sure, you have to protect yourself against its harsh rays particularly here in the Southern Hemisphere and at such high altitude, but I think it has huge benefit for your emotional health. There are even benefits I didn't know about. Did you know that sunlight helps give your kids good eyesight? I just came across this article in the New York Times elaborating on studies that show even kids with myopic parents develop good eyesight if they spend their childhood mostly outside, especially in a sunny climate, whereas children that grow up mostly indoors are much more prone to need glasses.

Just one more reason to turn off the video games and computers and kick your kids out the door. In fact, here in South Africa, our kids seem to go outside more voluntarily, because the temperature is so pleasant year-round (once you get through the cold early morning walk to school), and because all the other kids are outside as well.


Entire Expat Joys series:

June 27, 2011

300 Bucks for Warm Feet

To those of you who are poo-poohing our complaints about the cold in Joburg, here is an update on our harsh winters. It really does get cold at night! So cold, it turns out, that one of our water pipes froze and burst, apparently. At least there is water dripping from the ceiling, and it's coming from a pipe leading to the geyser, which is the South African word for water heater. It took me a while to figure that one out.

And then this morning,  just as I was marveling that our little gas heater has lasted so long already, the flame sputtered and then stopped. Empty gas bottle. I just wish it had lasted through breakfast. The kids shivered and gulped down their food quickly, so that they could get off to school. Although there is no heat there either.

So I took my gas bottle to Builder's Warehouse, got a refund of R171 and purchased a new bottle for R357. There was a quick kerfuffle as the parking guard who had unloaded my empty bottle and the store clerk who had in his hand the new bottle fought over who got to load it into my car and get my tip. The parking guard won, but I felt bad. Will have to remember next time to tip him right after unloading, and tip again for loading. But honestly, I can't keep enough coins in my wallet for all these tips!

Overall, I think that's a pretty good price. Net of  R186 or $25 for about three weeks of not-so freezing mealtimes (although there is always a debate on where exactly we position the heater - the person next to it has the full benefit, but not much of the heat reaches the other side of the table). And even better once I saw my new Eskom bill, where our electricity usage has gone up by 1700 kWh, which at the staggered price we pay translated into over R2000 more than the previous month. And the only underfloor heat we've turned on is in our bathroom, a luxury Noisette doesn't want to give up. Can you imagine? Almost 300 bucks (US$-bucks, not ZAR-bucks) a month for warm feet?

So I'm giving you another expat tip: Even though you might have looked for the perfect house including underfloor heating, don't use it. On your first cold winter night sometime at the end of May, turn on the gas fireplace and, if you are so lucky to have one, the wood burning stove (there's a good expat tip, to look for a house with one of those). And go and buy several gas heaters to help with mornings and evenings as needed. They will cost you a fraction of the electric heat.

By the way, my new gas bottle errand turned into a typical African thing - once home and the new bottle connected, the heater didn't work as before but continued to sputter and only got one panel to heat, not all three. I think they must have mixed air in with the gas or something to stretch it and cheat their customers, or maybe it was just an oversight, but it's definitely not good gas. So another errand to try and exchange it (and hope that the next one is better) will follow.

Since they've announced a cold spell for this weekend - I can already feel it with the clouds moving in - and our fire was sort of sputtering as well last night, I though it wise to go ahead and re-order that gas bottle (a much bigger one, 48 kg) as well, just to be sure. Good thing I did - my supplier has a 3 week waiting list! Luckily we have a spare. That's another thing to remember about life in Joburg - things have a tendency to run out when there is lots of demand for it. The promised beanie hats have still not arrived at McCullagh & Bothwell since my last visit there over three weeks ago and I'm sure when they do it will be summer again. So don't leave things until it's too late!

June 25, 2011

Mini-Safari at the Lion Park

Getting up close to a lion at the
Lion Park in Johannesburg
[Note: The Lion Park has recently gotten negative news for the practice of breeding lion cubs that are later sold to game farms to be used in canned hunts. Most visitors - like me at the time - don't know about that darker side behind the faces of those cute cubs, so perhaps before you visit you'd like to inform yourself. Here is a start: About Cecil and those Cute Baby Lions]

If you've got visitors scheduled like we do this year, you can't go on a safari every single time, but you can easily take them up close to some of the big animals, for a fraction of the cost. I've already told you about the Cheetah Centre at de Wildt, but another good way to do this, and even closer to Joburg, is a visit at the Lion Park, just about 15 minutes from where we live on the way to Lanseria. Granted, it's not quite the same, and nothing compares to the real safari and game drive experience, but most of our guests were pretty thrilled to see and even pet lions.

I took our American friend Chet there recently when he dropped in (and delivered lots of goodies for the Alexandra baseball team!). We both got a chuckle at the gate, where there is one single warning sign telling you not to roll down your windows because lions are dangerous animals. No indemnity form, no further admonition. It's easy to be lulled into thinking these lions are harmless, because the most common way you'll see them is asleep, but don't be fooled. People can be - and occasionally are - killed by lions, very easily. I still shudder when I think back to the fenced-in pathways in Madikwe taking you from your cabin to the toilet (the rest of the camp wasn't fenced in) should you have the urge at night. I never had the urge, trust me.

You won't really need your big lens at the Lion Park

If it wasn't for the sign, we would have gotten a better view of this lion!


I love how he stood guard over her while she was drinking
As Chet and I were driving along and snapping glare-filled pictures through the windows, I thought I'd impress him with with my safari and wildlife know-how accumulated over the course of our year in Africa. I elaborated on the habits of lions and was just saying "lions don't actually climb trees." "Uhm - I think they do," said Chet and pointed. Sure enough, there was a white lion giving us a very fine tutorial on how lions in fact do climb trees, up and down and up and down. (There goes my plan to climb up a tree if I'm every pursued by a lion).



You won't only see lions at the Lion Park. There are also cheetahs and wild dogs, giraffes, hyenas, and a variety of different antilopes.




The highlight of our lion park visit was when we got to pet the lion cubs. It's a unique experience. They look like kittens and play like kittens, but sizewise they are more like dogs. And not the small kind of dog either. It's best to pet them on their backs or chests, not like a cat on the head or cheeks. They don't like that, and will take a swipe at you with one of their paws or even nip you. Another interesting fact (our family is always good at learning about the potty facts) is that lions, unlike house cats, don't bury their poop. At least these ones didn't, as was evidenced by little mounds here and there that emitted a very unpleasant odor, to put it mildly.

White lion cubs at play


Sunshine has a way with animals

An inquisitive lion cub
Only so  many people are let into the cub enclosure at a time, and several volunteers are always present to tame cubs that have gotten too hyper. After us, a group of Japanese tourists got their turn and the poor volunteers had their hands full "rescuing" various people from the cubs. It was a very entertaining display.




I can definitely recommend the Lion Park in Joburg if you're just passing through and don't have all that much time, or if you just need to get the kids out of the house. Our older kids didn't want to go, but the younger ones enjoyed it. Prices for our visit were R130 per adult and R70 per child, with discounts for additional children after the first one.

Contact:
phone: 011 691 9905
Open year-round 8:30-17:00


This article is part of Joburg Expat's What To Do in Joburg series. 

June 24, 2011

...Plan B for When the Cops Stop me Again!

Thanks to my reader Brenda I'm now able to share with you what precisely you need to carry with you in your car at all times while travelling on South Africa's roads. It should save Noisette from being threatened to be arrested again for not carrying a passport when driving to the airport, and it should save my other reader Jozie Days from almost being arrested and having to pay a fine for not carrying a marriage certificate, her passport, AND a permission from her husband allowing her to drive the car (is this Saudi Arabia or what?).

What you need is to print out a section from the South African National Road Traffic Act, the full version of which you will find here. The section in question is 110, "Conditions for acknowledgement and exchange of driving licence not issued in terms of Act, and international driving permit." I've pasted that section for you below. It clearly states the rules governing foreign licenses: They have to be in English (or another one of South Africa's eleven official languages, but chances are you won't be carrying around a license in Sotho or Xhosa), and they have to contain a picture of you and your signature. And, of course, they have to still be valid (i.e. you can't carry around an expired license). That's it. Nothing else. Should you become a permanent resident of South Africa, you have a year to apply for a South African license, but until that time, your foreign license is perfectly fine.

Print out the below, highlight the part about the international/foreign driver's license being valid as long as it is in English and contains your photo, put it in your glove compartment or with your license, and shove it in the face of whoever stops you again and is trying to pull the wool over your eyes in hopes of a hefty bribe.

A big thanks again to Brenda for sharing exactly what I'd been looking for!


Paste this into Word and print
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South African National Road Traffic Act
No. 93 of 1996

CHAPTER V
FITNESS OF DRIVERS
Part II
Learner's and driving licences

Conditions for acknowledgement and exchange of driving licence not issued in terms of Act, and international driving permit
110. (1) Subject to subregulation (3), a driving licence referred to in section 23(1)(a) of the Act, issued while the holder of it was not permanently or ordinarily resident in the Republic, shall, for the period for, and subject to the conditions under which it was issued, be deemed to be a valid licence for the purposes of Chapter IV of the Act, if--
  1. (i)  the licence has been issued in an official language of the Republic; or
ii.                        a certificate of authenticity or validity relating to the licence issued in an official language of the Republic by a competent authority, or a translation of that licence in such official language, is attached to it; and
  1. such licence contains or has attached to it, a photograph and the signature of the licence holder.
(2) Subject to subregulation (3), an international driving permit referred to in section 23(1)(b) of the Act shall be deemed to be a valid licence for the purposes of Chapter IV of the Act for the period for, and, subject to the conditions under which it was issued.
(3) When the holder of a licence referred to in section 23(1)(a) of the Act or the holder of an international driving permit referred to in section 23(1)(b) of the Act--
  1. returns to the Republic to resume permanent residence, such licence or permit shall no longer be deemed to be a valid licence for the purposes of Chapter IV of the Act, after one year from the date of return; or
  2. obtains permission in terms of any law for permanent residence in the Republic, such licence or permit shall no longer be deemed to be a valid licence for the purposes of Chapter IV of the Act, after one year from the date on which such person has taken up permanent residence.
(4) Notwithstanding this regulation, a driving licence shall be deemed to be a valid licence for the purposes of Chapter IV of the Act, if such licence was issued in a territory previously known as--
  1. The Republic of Bophuthatswana;
  2. The Republic of Ciskei;
  3. Gazankulu;
  4. KaNgwane;
  5. KwaNdebele;
  6. Kwazulu;
  7. Lebowa;
  8. QwaQwa;
  9. The Republic of Transkei; or
  10. The Republic of Venda.
(5) A licence referred to in section 23(1)(a) or an international driving permit referred to in section 23(1)(b) of the Act may, at any time during the period of validity thereof, be exchanged for a driving licence in terms of subregulations (6) and (7).
(6) (a) An application referred to in section 23(3) of the Act shall, subject to subregulations (7) and (8), be made in the manner contemplated in regulation 111, and an application for the exchange of an international driving permit for a driving licence shall, in addition to the requirements of regulation 111(1), be accompanied by the driving licence on the authority of which the permit was issued.
  1. In the case of an application referred to in paragraph (a) for the exchange of a driving licence referred to in subregulation (4), which driving licence is no longer in the possession of the applicant, such application shall be made in the manner contemplated in regulation 112(2) and issued in the manner contemplated in regulation 112(3).
(7) (a) Subject to paragraph (b), the driving licence testing centre concerned shall upon receipt of an application referred to in subregulation (6)(a), issue or authorise the issue of a driving licence for the class or classes of motor vehicles to which the existing licence relates.
  1. The driving licence testing centre concerned shall authorise the issue and issue the licence referred to in paragraph (a) in the manner referred to in regulation 108 if it is satisfied that--
  1. the applicant is the holder of the licence or permit, as the case may be, referred to in subregulation (1) and (2); and
  2. the licence or permit is still valid.
(8) If there is a dispute as to the class of motor vehicle in respect of which a driving licence has been issued in terms of subregulation (7)(a), the MEC concerned shall determine the class of the motor vehicle.


Other car-related posts:

Buying a Car in South Africa
Tips on Selling a Car in South Africa
Expat Tip: Always Keep Tire Lock Nut in your Car
Will I need a South African Driver's License (or What to Do When the Cops Stop me)
Six Things to Know about Renewing your Vehicle License Disk

June 23, 2011

The Relativity Theory of Power Interruptions

I shared a good chuckle with a friend today.

She told me that her husband, who is working in Germany at the moment, was listening to the radio while driving through Berlin, and the story of the day was that at 2:00 tomorrow the power in such and such area would be turned off for two and a half minutes. Apparently, this warning had been going out for several weeks, and the announcer was very concerned that people would take heed, because the last time the power had been turned off for repairs was in 1955 (I'm not kidding).

This is where, as a South African, you will find this story extremely funny.

I remember when my parents were visiting from Germany shortly after Zax's birth in September 1996. Hurricane Fran had just struck Raleigh, and we were without power for an entire week. Thank goodness for breast milk is all I can say. But anyway, my parents, who were supposed to help with the new baby, left after just a day, saying that our life without power was just too cumbersome. Even during World War II in Germany, they said, when entire cities were bombed to smithereens, their electricity was always back within a few hours.

But you know what? After I was done laughing about the Berlin power cut story, I reflected on it, and realized this: Instead of feeling jealous of their good luck of living in a place where everything works like clockwork, I felt sorry for them. I imagined worried elderly people sitting in their homes feverishly awaiting the power interruption and planning their day around it, or, God forbid, the ones who didn't get the radio message spending two and a half very frantic minutes trying to figure out what in the world was wrong. I wanted to shout out to them: "RELAX, it's not a big deal! Life is too short to worry! You can live without power for hours! We do it all the time here in South Africa! (And it's not even announced ahead of time!)"

It's all relative, isn't it? Which is why being an expat is such a wonderful experience. It puts everything in perspective.

June 22, 2011

No Twitter SMS alerts in South Africa?

Today is a typical example of why Noisette periodically chastises me for being so busy and never getting much done, even though I have full-time domestic help and a gardener here.

He has a point.

After having such a good day yesterday, actually checking eight things off my Monday morning to-do list (I usually drag that many things with me the whole week, though in my defense I have to say that most things I do never actually get put on the list in the first place), all I want to do this morning is respond to a reader comment. It was about the cops here in South Africa and being harassed by them for no reason, and the comment suggested to follow PigSpotter on Twitter to be alerted to road blocks ahead of time.

What a great idea, I think, so I log into my Twitter account, which basically never gets used. I have no idea what those 29 followers are hoping for. Twitter, it turns out, is very slow, what with revolutions all over the world and mankind busily tweeting (and retweeting) whatever happens every second of the day. So I waste some time just waiting for pages to come up. While I am waiting, I get sidetracked by a tweet I come across on my home screen about Michelle Obama visiting South Africa, so of course I have to go and write a post about that real quick. Then back to PigSpotter - short agony which one to pick as there is a whole list of them - and a quick click on "follow." Done? No. More searching to figure out where the heck the setting is to turn on the SMS/mobile phone alert for someone you follow (am I the only one who doesn't find Twitter particularly user-friendly?). When that's finally done I realize the phone number my new traffic cop alerts will be going to is my old U.S. phone number as I've never changed it since moving here. Piece of cake, I think. So how to change the darn phone number? I click on every setting in the profile section (with the occasional "Twitter is over capacity - please wait a moment" message flashing on the screen) but there is no place to change the phone number. Only after googling "how do I change the phone number on Twitter" (I really have a strong urge to type "the f$%#" between "how" and "do") do I learn that you have to click on a tiny box at the bottom that says "delete phone number." I had seen the box, but I wanted to add/change, not delete, so would not have thought of that. But that is exactly how Twitter has designed their account profile. So I dutifully delete my existing phone number and do in fact get a new screen allowing me to enter my current phone number.

But! A SOUTH AFRICAN PHONE NUMBER IS NOT AN OPTION!

Lots of countries come up: Afghanistan, Bahrain (duh!), Egypt (of course), Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji (!), Guyana, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Yemen - need I go on? The whole freaking world is on there, but not South Africa!

This pisses me off. So if we in South Africa decide to start a revolution, we can't even get Twitter alerts to each other.

This can't be, I think to myself, so I do some more googling. "How the #$%& can you get Twitter SMS alerts in South Africa."

It is now the end of the day - granted, some tennis, a dentist appointment, and grocery shopping for an entire army were in between - and I still haven't found a solution. I found some very obscure websites ranging from ones that claimed to send free SMSs but only offered bad links, to the Bernie Madoff version that advertised "Send free SMS South Africa (ZA)" and a sign-in screen where you enter your phone number and then someone else's phone number and then that someone else is asked to pay R30 ($4.50 or so) to receive the message.

So if anyone out there has figured how to get Twitter alerts sent to their cellphone in South Africa, please let me know!

June 21, 2011

My Interview for Expatica's "Expat Voices"

I was recently interviewed for the website Expatica on life as an expat spouse in South Africa. Click here for the published interview if you're interested.

Michelle Obama in South Africa

Sorry, I didn't have a picture of Michelle
I'm wishing our First Lady and her daughters a great stay in South Africa this week. From what I've read, she'll be visiting a lot of the places I've written about, like the Apartheid Museum, the Hector Pieterson Memorial, and Cape Town (where I hope she also gets to see Robben Island). She'll also be visiting a daycare center, and I wish it'd be New Jerusalem Children's Home.

I got a kick out of  "...scheduled to meet one of South African President Jacob Zuma's wives." That's got to be plain weird. I wonder how that particular one was picked, out of... let's see... twenty?

We're hoping Michelle and the girls have a wonderful trip in this country we've come to love.

See full article on Expatica.

June 20, 2011

In the Emergency Room - Again!

Our family seems to be destined to make the rounds in Joburg's emergency rooms. I feel like a food critic - "Let's see, which hospital are we sampling today so we can tell our readers about it?"

After Sunshine's stitches at Life Fourways due to her unfortunate encounter with the night stand in Madikwe at the beginning of the year, we recently found ourselves in another Joburg ER, this time at Mulbarton Hospital on the Southside of town. Jabulani was at a soccer match, playing goalie for Dainfern.

He actually hadn't wanted to go that morning after a late night sleepover, but I appealed to his sense of duty, as his team only just had enough players with him (to think that just giving in once would have saved us the entire ordeal!). It was a very one-sided match, with plenty of goals against him but even more spectacular saves, including the very last one. He came out of goal in a one-on-one situation, dove for the ball, and the attacker stepped on his arm. We could all tell it was broken and since of course he was in agony, we drove him to the nearest hospital, with the coach, who fortunately knew this part of town, leading the way.

Mulbarton Hospital
Mulbarton Hospital is part of the Netcare Group, South Africa's largest private hospital network (the other large private hospital operators are Medi-Clinic and Life Healthcare). Having sampled the Life group previously (Life Fourways), my humble opinion is that the Netcare hospitals are older, with somewhat dated facilities. Noisette recently sampled Olivedale Hospital for us, which also belongs to Netcare, and it had a similarly run-down feel. However, that is not to say that you don't receive excellent medical care there. It's just that when you're new in a country, you tend to judge these things by what you see, and when the paint is peeling in your room and the check-in counter is adorned with a sign saying "don't lean on the counter, it may come loose" then you are just a bit skeptical.

I also have to say that the staff at Mulbarton wasn't overly friendly, again ranking Life Fourways higher in my personal opinion. Although I admit my personal opinion  might be colored by the fact that Life Fourways is just around the corner from our neighborhood, thereby qualifying as a "good area of town," whereas the location of Mulbarton seemed somewhat suspicious. It's hard to be entirely unprejudiced! In any case, what irked us in this case was that no effort was made to accommodate a parent (me, as always in these situations) to spend the night with our child. Granted, he is twelve, but coming out of his first ever general anesthesia (the decision was made to operate since both bones were broken, though I've since learned that back in the U.S. this fracture, in a kid, would probably have been treated with just a cast) and in a lot of pain, I wasn't going to just leave him alone. When we asked about it, we were told to wait for the supervising nurse. When we asked her, she said that only the pediatric ward allowed parents to stay. When we asked if he could be transferred there, she said no, because it was already full. In the end, I plain refused to leave and no one came to forcefully remove me, although I did get chased out of the empty bed I had curled up on during the night and spent the rest of it on three plastic chairs pushed together. Trust me, I was very happy to see dawn arrive!

Once again, the overall cost of it all seemed mind-boggling to us - around R30,000 for the entire thing, so about $4,500, including the hospital stay. I can't imagine you could get much more than a toenail pulled in the U.S. for that kind of price, which I do blame at least partially on the whole malpractice craziness (see my post Legal Common Sense for more on that). As always we had to pay everything upfront, and I'm sure we still probably paid more than a local "medical aid" case, plus the paperwork of it all is a nightmare every time, but so far our insurance has willingly reimbursed us. I was a bit irked when the anesthesiologist waved his bill in my face as I was trying to rush to Jabulani's side when he was wheeled out of the OP, but maybe he has trouble getting paid by the hospital. Judging by our experience with South African institutions, I can hardly blame him. By the way, there was a bit of humor as we received some more language training: While we were waiting for the doctor to appear, the nurse informed us that "we'll go into theatre soon." Jabulani's eyes got very big. "We're going to the theater? Now?" Here in South Africa, going to the theater and wearing costumes means you're going to be operated on and wearing a bathing suit. Though not necessarily at the same time.

Strictly medically speaking, however, we have no complaints. The operation went well, the splint was removed after 2 weeks, and just another week later our kid was back at doing this:



I don't think the stitching was the most beautiful job (I thought this is just how my sewing looks when I'm adding name tags to my kids' school uniforms), but it already has improved a lot from the first look we got:


Jabulani, always one to discover the silver lining, was thrilled to set off the alarm at airport security with the 13 screws and 2 plates he now carries around in his arm.


June 17, 2011

Walking the Tightrope at JoziX


Another place I've been wanting to add to my "What to Do in Joburg" list is JoziX, so when Sunshine's birthday needed a venue, I was glad it was her choice. I'm so NOT a kids' birthday party person and tend to procrastinate to the very end, but the prospect of taking some nice action pictures made me not dread it quite so much. Taking pictures would pass me the time. Little did I know that I myself was going to go swinging from bars like an ape (yes, a picture of that is coming up)!






JoziX is a sort of amusement park, but not quite. You don't climb into rides, you climb up high things of which most likely you will fall off again quickly, which will make you want to try again. The falling off part is arguably the biggest fun of it. There are tightropes, trapeze swings, a sort of jousting on a high beam, rock climbing walls, and a tricky rope ladder that has a tendency to move out from under you. In the summer there are also slip-n-slides but they were closed this time of year.




It's conveniently located in Bryanston (corner Sloane/Main, you can see it when turning East onto the N1 from William Nicol). A great place for birthday parties (bring your own refreshments) but also just fun family outings. R120 a person, group discounts available.


Yep, yours truly playing Orangutan

I'm nursing some very sore armpits today!

This article is part of Joburg Expat's What To Do in Joburg series. You might also like:

June 15, 2011

Harassment by South African Cops

I wish that South African drivers' license requirements for foreigners would actually be broadcast to all the traffic cops out there. Or that the traffic cops would quit making up their own stories about the rules.

June 13, 2011

Expat Joys - Legal Common Sense in South Africa

One thing I absolutely love about South Africa is that they seem to have some legal common sense here. At least when you come from America, the differences are striking. I hate to dredge up the much cited cat-in-the-microwave or too-hot-McDonald's-coffee cases, but these are precisely examples of how you can go way overboard in trying to protect the consumer. I have no idea how consumers are protected her in South Africa, and frankly, I don't care. I just love that you get to do things, pronto, without much fanfare.

Fore example, here in South Africa:

  • There will be one sign at the entrance of the Lion Park warning you not to roll down your car window when driving through. No indemnity form, and no other signs explaining what might happen if you do roll down your window (but we all know the stories of the Japanese tourists who didn't heed the warning and got eaten by lions as a result).
  • You will spend precisely 3 minutes at the doctor's office filling out a form with your address and kids' names and birth dates. You will do this once, because from your first visit on they'll have it in their system and just add each child as you visit again. No disclaimers and multiple forms allowing for this and that notification to be sent to this and that person under this and that circumstance.
  • You will have some students visiting from Germany and they will be going to school with your kids and they will be allowed, even encouraged, to fill in on the sports team without much ado.
  • When you go canoeing on the Zambezi River (okay, not South Africa, but the same is probably true for most of Africa), you might be very concerned about crocodiles, while your guide will be much more concerned about hippos (who are much deadlier than crocodiles); but instead of giving you an indemnity form, he will tell you about the dangers of hippos and what to do in case you get too close to one.
  • A child will fall off the monkey bars at school and break his arm, and - lo and behold - the school will NOT forbid the use of the monkey bars in all eternity. Another child will twist her ankle running around at recess, and yet playing tag will continue to flourish and in fact be encouraged by teachers who know that running around is an important part of a kid's school day.
  • When you drive through Pilanesberg National Park, you will be warned to be respectful of elephants and not anger them, because they are stronger than you; but you will be allowed to drive through the park on your own and suffer the consequences of not listening:






And I just got this last one to add to the series (the same naughty elephant 
bull in Pilanesberg, you can recognize him by his missing tail):



Note: I can't credit the preceding images because they arrived in a mass email, but someone pointed me to Elephant Voices as a possible source for these pictures. They were taken in Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa.

Going on a safari is one of the best things Africa has to offer to visitors and residents alike. But it is precisely because of the dangers of mingling with wild animals that it is so fascinating. Can you imagine if we were in a country where everything had to be 100% safe for fear of being sued afterwards by the guy who gets off the safari vehicle to get a closer look at the leopard? We'd have safaris behind fences. 

Here in Africa, you learn to stop at the sign that announces danger (except the signs that say "hijackinig hotspot" - you definitely do not want to stop at those). Most of our South African friends chuckle at the foreigners who don't take such signs seriously, as in "what do they expect?". I guess some of us have come to expect that someone - the law, the government - will protect us against our own foolishness. But not in Africa. 

Previous Expat Joys posts:

June 11, 2011

A Bird Resembling Grandpa and a Crow Picking up Garbage

Since we're booked for the rest of the year with visitors, I figured I might as well enlist them in my quest for completing and enhancing my "What To Do in Joburg" post. This is how I recently ended up at the Montecasino Bird Gardens.

It is actually a very nice park, conveniently located close to where most expats live and part of the Montecasino complex, where you can shop, dine, gamble, watch movies, visit the theater, listen to comedy, even go up for a balloon ride (I'll be writing more about the "Monte" in a different post).

If you like to take photographs, the Bird Gardens are a great place for some colorful shots, and the bird show that's on twice a day is very entertaining. They also offer kids' birthday party packages.


This is the Marabu Stork

Doesn't he resemble Grandpa?

I loved all the colorful birds, like the macaws, cockatoos, and lorikeets. And it seems the lorikeets liked my hair! It actually also liked my teeth, which is when I had enough.




The bird show is done in this amphitheater and features Grandpa (the Marabu Stork who, it turns out, is quite a smart bird) from above, as well as a blue crane (South Africa's national bird), a vulture, an owl, a toucan, and an assortment of different birds of prey.




It also features this crow who is trained to pick up garbage. I wonder if I could get myself one of those and train it to clean out the cat's litter box?




All in all, a very nice family outing that doesn't take too long. And you could finish off your visit by having a coffee or lunch on the Piazza next door or at the Palazzo Hotel.




This article is part of Joburg Expat's What To Do in Joburg series.