Joburg Expat: July 2011

July 31, 2011

My 7 Links - A Blog History Project

During the last few weeks I've seen these "7 Links Blog Awards" floating through the blogosphere and I have to say it made for some very good reading to see the best of the best of other expat writings. Thanks to fellow Joburg blogger 2summers (whose own 7 links make for excellent reading for any prospective expat moving to South Africa; or really for excellent reading period) I've now been nominated to select my own 7 links. Trust me, it took quite some time to go through my entire blog's history to find the most fitting ones, and the selection was quite hard. But it was also a great exercise to better understand my own blog.

July 30, 2011

At Home in a New Country: The Dentist Test

I don’t know about you, but the final measure of whether you’re completely at home in a new place, especially as an expat, is when you’ve found a new doctor and dentist. And not just anyone, but somebody you really like. Just a few days ago I realized that, judging by this standard, we’ve finally arrived in South Africa. Almost one-and-a-half years after we actually set foot on African soil.

If you've been an expat before, you know what makes this process so lengthy: First you actually ignore the whole issue because you've got other, bigger ones on your plate. You've got to battle the Department of Home Affairs because you've been waiting for your visa for three months and no one will sell you a car or cellphone without one. You've also got to chase a bunch of contractors as well as the owners of your house who live in Australia because the fireplace has never been working and the pool pump has broken down. And you make a trip to the school uniform store every other day because you didn't buy the right kind of PE shirt or the one you did buy has disappeared in the bottomless pit of your school's Lost-and-(never-again)-Found. And remember you're doing all this without a cellphone or car, because... Well, you get the idea.

Then you get sick from tick-bite fever after your first ever safari trip and, since you don't actually have a doctor and since you have no stomach to research one now, you opt for the emergency room, which is good to get to know in any case. While you are waiting to be admitted, then waiting for x-rays, then waiting for an ultrasound, then waiting for a blood test (while wondering if it is save to have a blood test in Africa), then waiting for the doctor again who proceeds to tell you that you are the 15th patient today with tick-bite fever but she wanted to rule out anything else with this battery of tests, you pledge that you will search for a proper doctor ASAP when you get home. But alas, the antibiotics have the desired effect so that your busy life can reclaim your attention and once again the doctor search slides to the bottom of your list.

Some time afterwards you're off to your first visit of Mozambique for which you need malaria tablets, so you select the nearest travel clinic where you get great advice on tropical diseases but not so much on the common cold. At this point it occurs to you to ask some friends and acquaintances where the heck it is they go when they get sick. But this is a bit tricky in a new country. They might swear up and down that they have the best doctor, but is it really up to the standards you know from home? Another expat might recommend their dentist but then you pause and think what country they are comparing it to - frankly, if it's somewhere in Europe, I am not so impressed. (Whenever my kids complain about going to the dentist, I pounce on them with stories of "Frau T." who did not believe in any anesthesia whatsoever when pulling whichever teeth she felt like that day). You find yourself surreptitiously glancing at the other person's mouth to get an inkling of the quality of said dentist...

Anyway, to spare you all this, I'm going to recommend our doctor and dentist to those of you who live (or will live!) somewhere near the Fourways area of Joburg:

Family doctor:

Dr. Moray Shirley
General Practitioner

Shop 15 Broadacres Shopping Centre
Cedar Rd, Fourways

011 467 1432
082 898 6748

What I like about this practice is that it's small and that I can always get a same day appointment. There are two doctors (both women), so you don't end up getting handed around like at larger practices. Since we've been there their diagnosis has always been accurate. Note that this is a GP, not a pediatrician (those act more like specialists, typically at a hospital, that you might get referred to by your GP). 

Dentist:

Dr. Richard Lombard

Fourways Mall, one floor up from cinemas (by elevator)

011 465 6410
082 657 6410

Don't be fooled by the cramped and tucked-away quarters. The practice has several good hygienists so I'm able to schedule all my kids at once, and we've gotten excellent advice so far. 

Orthodontist

Dr. George Thomadakis

Rivonia Rd cnr School Rd, Morningside/Sandton

011 783 8880
082 782 8880

An excellent orthodontist who comes highly recommended in Johannesburg; just be aware that orthodontic treatment is fairly pricey in South Africa, and book early as to get your kids a slot.

July 27, 2011

The Medupi Power Station

Medupi Power Station
Following my previous post about energy, where I somewhat romanticized the notion of poverty and low energy usage in South Africa, I thought I should be honest and show the entire picture.

South Africa, you see, is building the world's largest dry-cooled coal-fired power plant. When completed, the Medupi Power Station will have six boilers powering an 800 MW turbine each. No other coal plant has ever been built on this scale. It is commissioned by Eskom and subcontracted to Hitachi and Allstom, who employ a series of other subcontractors. A lot of jobs are dependent on this project, as well as the other power station built in Kusile.

Who Uses the Most Energy?

I've been wanting to write about this topic for some time and it was brought back to the front burner by the recent fuel and heating gas shortage here in South Africa that I mentioned earlier.

One of the most noticeable difference Americans who move or visit here will notice is the amount of people milling around in South Africa's streets. Many American cities seem deserted by comparison, because everyone is either indoors or in a car. You just don't see people. Here, tons of people are out and about on any given day, either because they need to get somewhere and don't have their own transport, because they're trying to sell something, or perhaps because they have a tiny house that doesn't lend itself to spending any  more time than necessary in it. If you go into a township like Alexandra, the crowds are even  more unbelievable, because everything is so packed together in the first place.

July 26, 2011

Time to Put My Eskom File in the Drawer

So for almost one and a half years I have been indignant.

If you search for "Eskom" on this blog, you will find all my previous Eskom posts and can chronologically follow, if you're so inclined, how I was at first ignorant, then surprised, determined, outraged, foaming at the mouth, and finally resigned at the sheer incompetence and perhaps even malevolence of this flagship of South Africa's bureaucracy.

July 25, 2011

Joburg vs Durban?

Hi everyone - I was hoping for some input from you on this one. Julia, one of my American readers who is relocating to South Africa with her family, is facing a choice: Durban or Johannesburg? My first reaction was envy - what luxury to be given a choice! For us it was just "Joburg or not." But then I was thinking maybe it was easier that way. I think of all the extra research I would have immediately engaged in, and shudder.

Anyway, I was hoping you could help out with your comments. I know almost nothing about Durban, so if those of you who do could jump in with your comments, that would be great. (Of course I'm still hoping Joburg will come out well in the comparison:-). Thanks!

July 24, 2011

Great Local Blogs

As my blog is discovered by more people around Joburg, I'm also discovering their blogs in return. I can't believe I didn't find a single one of these prior to moving here, when I desperately searched for any kind of information. But maybe it's a good thing, because that is precisely why I started Joburg Expat in the first place.

Some of these blogs are very entertaining and shed  more light on life in South Africa, with words as well as pictures, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites with you, in no particular order:
In Joburg - living on the rand: I especially loved this post about the South African Postal Service, a topic you all know I've written about occasionally as well. But where I've written about things that DON'T turn up in the mail, In Joburg found amusing things that DO flutter into your mailbox.
Story of Bing: Bing is from Singapore, the other country I've lived in as an expat, and she sees the world through a similar lens as I do. In fact, we've explored a few places together. But her photography (and her cooking!) are a hundred times better than mine.
2summers: Just like me, this is another American expat and writer in Joburg. And like Bing, she's also a member of the Joburg Photowalkers, a group I'd like to join but just can't seem to find the time for. Very artsy, and great writing.
Elliott and His Sisters: An entertaining account of life in South Africa from the perspective of an American married to a South African with three little children. Not strictly a local blog as she lives in Umhlanga Rocks, Kwa-Zulu Natal, which is actually a tropical paradise on the coast near Durban which our family has yet to check out.
janeyfromjoburg: I just came across this great Joburg blog about the writer's "love affair with Joburg." Wonderful writing and insights. I loved the post about Parkhurst's sidewalk cafe culture and the in-depth information on Soweto.
nothing to do in Joburg besides: Another well-written collection of interesting and eclectic Joburg stories and happenings. I loved this post about cappuccino art - makes me want to go out again and do my own cappuccino research!
Joburg Tour Guide: This lady is an archeologist and passionate Joburg lover who offers inner city tours and more. Another good place for information on places you might otherwise not know about.
Funky Doodle Donkey: Written by a Dutch expat who probably doesn't even remember where she is from, she's lived in so many places. Lots of stories and musings about life as an expat, travel, and life in general.

And here some not so local but nevertheless very readable expat blogs:
Life in the Expat Lane: Written by a Dutch/American with wonderful tales from pretty much everywhere around the globe, about pretty much every expat "situation" you can imagine, most recently from Moldavia.
I was an expat wife: Reflections of a Canadian about her former expat life in France and Singapore. Excellent writing that often has me laughing out loud and rereading sentences for their beautiful flow.

Take a peek at some of these - I guarantee you'll gain a better understanding of this great city of Johannesburg and expat life in general. Enjoy!

    July 22, 2011

    Germany Squaring Off Against South Africa

    I have to say, after a year in South Africa where “just now” could be anytime between this afternoon and next month, I sometimes long for German-style efficiency. A place where rumor has it they announce 2-minute power outages on the radio ahead of time. For weeks before the event.

    This just goes to show that reputations don’t always reflect the truth. For instance, you would totally expect your bags to get lost in an African airport, right? But every single time we’ve arrived at O.R. Tambo International (or when visitors have arrived) the luggage was there promptly.

    July 20, 2011

    Is Dainfern Safe?

    As I mentioned earlier, our neighborhood was broken into the other day. According to the bulletin that was immediately posted by our security office, this was one in a string of similar break-ins throughout the Dainfern area (which makes you feel slightly better, somehow). Apparently the thieves knew where exactly the perimeter camera was knocked out due to a storm (corruption IS indeed a problem here), pried off the wall brackets holding the high-voltage wires and squeezed through underneath. Then, so the story goes, they succeeded in getting into a house, tying up the owner, and making off with a few items like cellphones. Incredibly, they got away. The tied-up homeowner was able to call for help and a neighbor untied him and called security, but by that time the attackers had left.

    July 19, 2011

    The Very Boring Hike

    When you’ve done a canopy tour, a bungy jump, and a whale watching tour in the space of just three days, it is very hard to come up with something else which will excite six kids (our own four and two visitors). It is also hard to come up with more money to keep paying for these excursions, so for Day Four during our recent stay in Wilderness on the Garden Route I came up with the glorious idea of going on a hike. Noisette likes hikes and this was Father’s Day, so I thought it would be more fun than spending our last day simply hanging out on the beach as originally planned. Up the hill right behind Wilderness there is a spot where the paragliders take off from, and nearby there is a place called “Map of Africa,” about which I knew absolutely nothing but it sounded promising. Plus there had to be a view from up high.

    July 17, 2011

    Happy Birthday Madiba!

    Photo from an
    exhibit in the
    Apartheid Museum
    Nelson Mandela is turning 93 today, and along with all the other well-wishers here in South Africa I'd like to say "Happy Birthday!"

    I've briefly mentioned Nelson Mandela and his extraordinary life before, like in Cape Town with Kids: Robben Island and A Trip Back into South Africa's History. But I haven't dedicated an entire post just to him, which is way overdue. I was going to do so when I finish A Long Walk to Freedom but unfortunately this is also proving to be "A Long Slug to the Last Page" for me, so his birthday arrived first to force my hand.

    To be honest, when we first set foot in South Africa, I didn't even know Nelson Mandela was still alive. I'd always been interested in the history of South Africa and probably knew more about it than the average American (admittedly my knowledge was gained not by poring over historical records but rather inhaling books such as The Power of One) but still, that whole transition from apartheid to democracy was always a bit fuzzy to me.

    What I've learned since then, more than anything else, is that Nelson Mandela is beloved to all South Africans. Black, colored, Indian, white, whatever you may call yourself, if you live in South Africa, you idolize Nelson Mandela. His large bronze statue on Mandela Square is probably one of the most-photographed attractions in Johannesburg. The best way to understand this love is to watch the movie Invictus, if you haven't seen it yet.

    Today - July 18th - South African school kids of every color and background will dedicate volunteer and outreach activities to the spirit of Nelson Mandela's message, and all of South Africa will once again stop and think about his huge accomplishments to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy, at a time when this was far from being assured. His insistence on reconciliation and forgiveness - an almost superhuman feat if you consider his 27 years behind bars - was instrumental in saving South Africa from civil war in the early 1990s. Sure, others had a hand in it as well, namely Frederik Willem de Klerk, who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with him for their joint and tireless work towards peace. But more so than anyone else, I can thank Nelson Mandela for the chance of even living in South Africa today.

    Me on Mandela Square during our look-see trip 2009

    More reading on Nelson Mandela: How I spent Mandela Day

    July 16, 2011

    Whale Watching in Knysna

    I had promised you the third installment in my Wilderness series, which was our whale watching tour departing from Knsysna.

    As I've mentioned before, this involved me going through gigantic waves in a small boat, which I had vowed never to do again after some friends took us through an inlet somewhere on the North Carolina coast and I was convinced we weren't going to make it. We did indeed have to turn around that time but thankfully we didn't capsize.

    July 15, 2011

    Fuel Shortage in Joburg

    Empty gas bottles
    This post will be a rather long-winded way to give you yet another expat tip. One thing about living in Johannesburg that I find very curious, if not irritating, is that every winter there is a shortage of just about everything you need to stay warm. I should have seen this coming when the frost sheeting for the plants - for Pete's sake - was sold out early on. Then it was the beanie hats for school at McCullagh & Bothwell. Now it is propane gas.

    Remember how I raved about my little gas heater for the kitchen? Well - it won't run without gas, will it? I was lucky in that our bottle ran empty early enough so that I could get a  new one when they still had them. Little did I know I should have bought about ten of them to have extras and to supply desperate friends. By now, you won't find any gas anywhere in Joburg. If someone does, please let me know!

    July 14, 2011

    The Bloukrans Bungy Jump

    I thought hard about the right title for this post. Most appropriately I'd call it "the near-heart-attack incident" but I didn't want to alarm you. However, that is precisely how it felt. I'm not sure how I got pulled into letting my child fling himself off a bridge - the world's highest bungy bridge at that - with me watching the whole thing (I was and still am very sure that I myself will never ever get pulled into doing it myself, but watching is bad enough).

    What happened is that we drove over that bridge several times getting from Wilderness to Tsitsikamma and back. Zax was immediately intrigued. Sometimes I suspect he says he wants to do these things because he believes we will never let him. When we had nothing else planned the next day and offered to take him there, he was almost taken aback. I saw him swallow hard in the backseat a couple of times as we were approaching.

    July 12, 2011

    Family Travels

    I’ve often told Noisette that my ultimate dream vacation would be the one where he tells me the two of us are leaving for the airport in one hour, that babysitting is all arranged, and to bring absolutely nothing as we will just buy whatever we need when we get there, wherever it is.

    Alas, we live in the real world, where our vacations look more like this: About a week before we leave, Noisette asks me if I have packed yet. No kidding! About two days before departure, I print my color-coded 367-item packing list, just to appease him and be able to say “I’ve started packing” without lying. When I do start packing the day before we leave, I’m always determined to work extra hard to show that it can be done. But yikes! I now find myself with about seventeen additional crucial projects that absolutely have to be finished before I go, or the world will come to a standstill. They usually involve having to print something on our inkjet, which will usually go into those funky spooling modes where the job won’t print but can’t be deleted either, or at the least a cartridge will have to be replaced. In addition, the kids will have seventeen projects each that also have to be finished. Which is usually the point where Noisette casually remarks that this is precisely why I should start packing earlier.

    Leaving the house is a race against the clock, every time. If Noisette wants to go at 8:30, he will want to leave on the spot, even though he has already built in extra time. Trust me, you don’t want to be the last one in the garage! In the kids’ frenzy to oblige, we’ve had the occasional unflushed toilet greeting us after a week’s vacation – not so very pleasant. Amazingly, we usually succeed in pulling it off and get to the airport on time (not without lots of griping, mind you), where the check-in procedure beckons. Noisette invariably tenses up as soon as we approach the counter. This is typically the moment our kids choose to tell me their life stories, all four at the same time, and I get so busy answering them all that the bags don’t get hustled onto the belt quickly enough, winding Noisette up even tighter.

    Thank goodness there is the security check to look forward to. All the way there, I’m bombarded with things like “when will we get there” and “are we flying business class” and “why do we have to take our shoes off?” and “I can’t wait for the pins in my arm to set off the alarm.” All this wondering, but no one ever really ponders the important questions, like what to put in their backpacks, or, more precisely, what NOT to put there. Let’s just say we’ve left so many scissors at airport security that they could outfit an entire elementary school class. And even odder items have attracted attention, like the light-up bouncy ball Sunshine had stuffed in her backpack after a birthday party. The electronics in it aroused suspicion and the thing had to undergo an explosives test before we could move on.

    On to the gate, and almost there. Except, we always fail to foresee the inevitable squabble over who gets to sit where. There are six people with very specific requirements: One absolutely needs an aisle seat, one must sit next to mom, a third one must NOT sit next to her brother, a fourth hasn’t gotten the window seat three times in a row. It’s pretty much a logistical impossibility to accommodate everyone, which means we usually have to trade concessions now against future promises, which basically just perpetuates the problem.

    Needless to say, once we finally sit in our seats, I go straight for the Chardonnay, and then a refill. After the second glass I close my eyes and imagine, in vivid colors, that dream vacation of mine. If I’m not distracted by the apple juice that just got spilled over my lap, that is…

    July 11, 2011

    Canopy Tour

    Although I'm terribly afraid of heights, I've always been intrigued by these canopy tours where you glide through the treetops on a series of ziplines. They're very popular here in South Africa. In fact, there is a place not too far from Joburg in the Magaliesberg that offers them.

    But the one we did was the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, about a 2-hour drive from Wilderness, where we recently spent a long weekend.

    Will you just look at that flimsy platform, and how high it is off the ground? I'm telling you, I was a nervous wreck. However, the professionalism with which the tour was conducted did inspire some level of trust.

    There was always a guide on the platform you departed from as well as on the next one you were heading to. When you got there, the first order of business was to unclip you from the zipline and hook you onto a steel rope that was wound around the tree, so that you were hooked into something at all times. Still, it looked like a long way down from there! Oddly enough, I only get jittery when I'm standing on something tall. When I'm hanging from a rope and swinging in space, I don't mind.


    We spent a lot of time being briefed on where to put our hands. You get these leather gloves, one of them with a big extra flap for additional padding. That's the one you break with, by pressing down on the rope. But NOT IN FRONT OF THE PULLEY! Yes, I can see how that would be a problem.

    Our romantic weekend for two turned into an adrenalin-fest for eight!

    And it wouldn't have been a truly African experience if we didn't have to ride at least briefly in a game drive vehicle, or rather bounce up and down in one during the short ride to our first tree.


    Sunshine always stretched her arms and legs full out every time, making me extra nervous, although of course the pulley is what holds you up, and there is also a safety cord. But since she is so small, Sunshine didn't need to use her hands to break - she already came up short as it was and had to be pulled up to the platform.

    I had no choice but to trust this construction
    Yep, that's me happy to be moving along like a sack of flour

    Ready to launch...

    ...and Whoooopiiiiieeee!
    All in all great fun for the family. My family had extra fun, because for some added entertainment all they had to do is step close to the edge of the platform and lean over so that I would scream. It worked every single time, and so they did it on every single tree (there were ten of them)!

    But little did I know how benign a measly platform in a tree is compared to the Bloukrans Bungy Bridge. Stay tuned!

    July 10, 2011

    Into the Wilderness

    Remember how, when writing about Victoria Falls, I concluded with these words:

    "I suspect Zax will also want to do the bungee jump off the bridge, but if I know one thing for certain in my life it is that I will NOT be doing that! There is, however, also a zipline across the river (called foofie slide or something similar in these parts) which I might be convinced to try on our next visit".

    Well - we haven't yet returned to Vic Falls, but we recently had a spare long weekend when the kids were out of school for four days and we set off to explore the area around George or what's called the Garden Route for the first time, and these words came back to haunt me.

    July 8, 2011

    Netball or Basketball?

    Those of you who have been following my blog since last year will know that I have, despite all my love for South Africa, expressed disdain for one of the staples in the South African school day - netball. 

    First of all, it's only for girls. I HATE when a sport is restricted to one gender. When I was a kid in Germany, all I wanted to play was soccer (which wasn't for girls back then), and when I came to America, the one sport I most wanted to try was baseball (boys only), not softball (the girl version). Why would you throw a huge clunker of a ball when you can use one that so elegantly fits into your hand? And why, oh why, would you want to throw it underhand as if you were in a bowling alley?

    The same is true for netball. Why just  pass a ball around when you can do such a glorious and elegant thing as dribbling between your legs? And hitting a three-pointer with the shot clock expiring?

    However, you can't really judge a sport until you've tried it. Which is precisely what I did last week, when parents were invited to play against the grade three girls. I admit I was a bit apprehensive - after cheering the kids on to try new things - about not wanting to make a complete fool of myself. So while we were warming up I quizzed Sunshine about the rules. Not all players are allowed in all parts of the court, it turns out, and there are rules about which foot you can pivot on - I can't remember - as well as how far you have to stand away when defending a shot (three feet, can you imagine?). 


    When the teacher came around to hand out shirts for the different positions, I seized the moment: Since I had no clue what a center or a wing attacker does, I zeroed in on the one thing that made sense to me - goal shooter. Even if I hadn't just witnessed an entire netball season I would have figured out what the goal shooter does. I donned my little shirt with "GS" imprinted on it, planted myself in the semicircle around the basket that Sunshine told me was to be my area of operation, and waited for passes. 

    What a glorious game I had! Netball, I discovered, is THE perfect game for middle-aged women. You are not allowed in one entire half of the court; therefore, you only run half as much as you would in basketball, which is perfect for a spoiled expat who does nothing but sit around in the sunshine and read all day (Noisette's definition of an expat wife). I remember when I joined a women's basketball pickup team in Raleigh some years back and attended the first session. After running up and down the court three times I was panting with my tongue hanging at my knees, wondering how it was possible that I, who considered myself in good shape, could be so exhausted. And the time that same team was chosen to play against some visiting Japanese semi-professional team because the UNC Women's team wasn't available (a huge honor for us to fill in for the North Carolina women!)? Let me just say that by the time I arrived to play defense, the action had already moved back the other way. (To be fair, those players were half our age and played semi-professionally, after all). 


    Not so in my netball game. I was hanging out contentedly at the half-court line, waiting for the action to move my way. Our goal keeper would get the rebound, pass it to another defender, from there to the center, then to wing attack, and from there to me or the other way around. Between the two of us this other mother and I shot at least 30 baskets, I'm sure. It felt very satisfying to showcase what a nice jump shot looks like, something you don't often see in netball as it's not normally necessary to jump when your opponent has to be three feet away. In every other aspect it was much like basketball. Passing, shooting, and rebounding. Us moms gave a fine performance on how it's done! Granted, we only  had to beat 9-year old girls two heads smaller than us, but as a stay-home mother you take any kind of success you can get, even if it's winning against little kids. Okay, I might be a tad competitive.

    It turns out you can get hurt in netball just the same as in basketball. One mother slipped and fell about halfway through with what was later diagnosed as a torn Achilles tendon. Ouch! I was trying to play that one in my mind - telling Noisette that I'd be out of commission for weeks, if not months, because I played netball with our daughter. But I guess it's better than when I had to tell him I broke my wrist because I wanted to try out a wee little jump with my snowboard in the terrain park. He was very upset with me that time. In any case, I wish this mom a speedy recovery!

    As far as the debate of basketball versus netball: I still think basketball is the superior sport. You have to run much more and need more conditioning and you need more athleticism and ball-handling skills. It's easy to move from basketball to netball once you understand the rules, but a netball-player would have severe trouble having to dribble a ball. What I will say though is that netball makes a great drill for basketball practice: You really learn to get the ball up the court quickly with a few passes and make better use of your teammates, and you really have to learn to get open if dribbling isn't an option.

    Thumbs up to Dainfern College for their netball program and for letting us moms play!

    Also see: What the Hell is Netball?

    July 7, 2011

    South African Press - Part Three

    A recent edition of the Star
    So I've bashed South African newspapers in the first post of this series, and I've warned about the government's assault on South Africa's freedom of the press in the second, but I should also mention something I find positive about the local press: They truly seem to want to help fix problems, not just report them.

    Maybe this is the legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle, in which the press (not all of it) played an enormous role. Or maybe, if you are looking for a more sinister motive, the press doesn’t want to accuse anyone in government of misdeeds if it hasn’t given them a chance to rectify, in fears of being prosecuted for defamation? I hope it’s the former, not the latter.

    July 6, 2011

    South African Press - Part Two

    In the previous part of this series I focused on what I perceive as the poor quality of local newspapers. In this article I'd like to talk about how it could be even worse. At least, as of now, South African newspapers are independent and not censored, but there is a real danger that precisely that could happen.

    The ANC-led government, under Jacob Zuma, has pushed for new press laws, perhaps because it is feeling (and not liking) increased criticism of its performance in light of continued corruption and slow service delivery. It proposed a "Media Appeals Tribunal" sometime last year as a body to prosecute journalists for inaccuracies, and also introduced the "Protection of Information" bill whereby the government is granted broad  powers to classify  information "in the national interest," making publication of any such information a crime punishable with up to 25 years in prison.

    There was a huge outcry from the press over these proposals, rightfully so, and Mr. Zuma seems to have backed off for the moment. One can only hope that he will come to his senses and drop the whole idea. He should just take a look around at countries like Zimbabwe that have equally repressive laws to realize that South Africa can only lose by following that path. Not only that, but does he have no memory? It is not so long ago that the South African press was severely censored under the apartheid government, and it was the ANC, first and foremost, that fought for more freedoms and benefited from newspaper editors who had the courage to report the wrongs that were committed despite the risks they ran.

    It never fails to appall me when the oppressed, having successfully thrown off their oppressors, turn oppressors themselves. How can they look into the mirror? Or are they so convinced of pursuing the right path that they truly believe any means are justified?

    Let's just hope that South Africa's press freedom will survive.

    July 5, 2011

    South African Press - Part One

    South African news on offer in Woolworth checkout line
    When I recently spent the night at the hospital with Jabulani and - sacrilege - didn't have my Kindle with me (but who brings a Kindle to a soccer match), I broke down and bought a South African newspaper for the first time since living here.

    How can you be such a snob, you will say, and spend a year in a country without subscribing to the local newspaper? Well - if you lived here and were privy to scanning the headlines every few days in the checkout line at Woolie's, you would also turn into a snob. First off, every newspaper looks like a tabloid. I'm sure some of them are more serious than others, but judging by their looks, they're all equally bad. The headlines typically scream some kind of crime, either something about police corruption or a horrid murder or perhaps a strange and hard-to-believe love turned kidnapping story. Is it any wonder, then, that everyone thinks there is nothing but murder and bloodshed happening here in South Africa, if that's all you ever read about?

    July 3, 2011

    Crime and South Africa's Bad Reputation

    Most people around here tell us we've been lucky not to have been the victims of any assaults or robberies here in South Africa in a little over a year that we've lived here. Especially Johannesburg, as our latest visitors were quick to inform us, is known as the world's crime capital.

    July 1, 2011

    Things to Buy Before You Move to South Africa

    *** UPDATE: There is a newer version of this blog post: 19 Things to Put on Your Shopping List for South Africa. ***

    Prospective expats have asked me what they should buy before moving here, and it is an excellent question. Some things are just too expensive in South Africa, some are impossible to find, and some are at least so cumbersome to track down that it's easier to buy them abroad or have friends bring them when visiting. I'm sure by publishing these items here I will get a flood of protest from South Africans who will assure me that indeed those things can all be bought in South Africa (probably from a street vendor!), but all the better. Then at least I will have found out where to get them! Also, please note that my suggestions are mainly for expats from the U.S. - my German shopping list is different yet again (and includes, for instance, Schokomüsli).


    Here is what's on my list:

    • Ziploc bags - believe it or not, these are hard to find here. You can get some Glad products here, but sandwich bags are not typically among them, and the local sandwich/freezer bags don't come with the zip part, not even a fold-over closure. I did end up finding some really nice ones in Chinatown, but not everyone will want to go there.
    • Sneakers/tennis shoes - very expensive in South Africa; if you have kids, buy several sizes up; if they play any sports, like soccer, I would by cleats as well.
    • Starbucks beans - even you can now order Starbucks coffee in a few places, you can't buy the beans here. Hint, hint, to our next visitors from the U.S.!
    • Power cord adapters/multi-strips/transformers - as mentioned in My Top Expat Tips.
    • Advil/Motrin - I haven't yet found any Ibuprofen in South Africa; the most common pain medication, especially for kids, is Paracetamol, which has the same ingredient as Tylenol. I was bummed when I wanted to stock up on Children's Motrin during our last US trip and couldn't find any, only to learn later that it had been pulled off the shelves due to a recall. But Advil did the trick as well.
    • Chili powder - isn't that the silliest thing? But plain old chili powder has been impossible to find, and I checked all the grocery stores. I made do for a recent pot of chili with some ground chili flakes, cumin, and oregano, but it still wasn't the same. Mexican food in general is hard to find in South Africa.
    • Amazon Kindle - great to have in a country where books are unusually expensive; read more at Your Kindle in South Africa.
    • Pepperoni - okay, a bit dodgy to wedge a few pack of pepperoni between your underwear, but my kids have lamented the fact that you can absolutely not find a pepperoni pizza in South Africa. Pepperoni just isn't sold here in any form. Salami yes, and good variety too, but pepperoni no.
    • Battery-operated alarm clocks - if you're an American, one of your first errands will be buying an alarm clock, because none of your old ones will work. However, they don't have much selection here on radio alarms, and the ones they do sell are often not good quality (one friend of mine swears that all the 2nd choice products that didn't pass muster in Europe end up with us in Africa). In any case, you don't really want something to plug in anyway, as often as the power seems to be interrupted, so what I would do is order small battery-run alarms for the entire family from Amazon before you leave. That way you'll be covered and can strike one post-move errand  off your list.
    • Plastic coat hangers - I'm all good on those, thank you very much (in case you're a prospective visitor:-) but I do remember from my early days that those are not as abundant as back home. They're not impossible to find (I bought mine off a street vendor almost the first day  here, which started a long tradition of buying hard-to-find things off street vendors) but definitely more expensive here.
    I'm sure there is more to add to this list (and, like I mentioned above, perhaps things to take off it as well), so I invited all your comments!