November 28, 2012

Making Memories

Our moving date is inevitably drawing nearer, although I'm doing a pretty good job of banning the reality of it from my mind. Goodbye parties and coffees and brunches have come and gone and still I haven't uttered a single goodbye to anyone, settling instead on vague I'll-probably-see-you-next-week's instead.

I'm terrible at saying goodbye.

What has kept me from getting too depressed is the simple fact that I've been incredibly busy.

Those parties and brunches have had to be organized.
Pictures from those parties and brunches have had to be processed.
Course descriptions and grades have had to be requested from school.
Powers of attorney have had to be signed at the consulate so that new houses can be bought.
Cars have had to be sold.
Cars have had to be deregistered.
Doctors' records have had to be requested and picked up.
Termination notices have had to be sent to all the service providers.
Appointments have had to be scheduled to follow up with the service providers to confirm cancellations.
Things that could have just lasted two more weeks have gone and broken down on me, as they have a habit of doing when Noisette isn't here to fix them (assuming that he would indeed fix them if he was here).

And about a million blog posts are waiting to be written, because leaving is somehow almost like arriving: you see everything in a slightly different light, and your emotions run sky-high. Which are perfect ingredients for creative writing. If only THERE WAS MORE TIME!

It's just as well that we are moving to a new place where I won't have any social life to speak of, because I'll need about three months holed up away from mankind writing non-stop to catch up.

And to do my own laundry again.

But I digress. I wanted to write about making memories. One reason I've found myself so busy these past few weeks is that Noisette (on Thanksgiving break) and I have been revisiting some favorite places. And new places we hadn't had a chance to see yet. I'll be writing about some of those in the coming weeks.

Okay, I lied. I probably won't be writing about anything much in the coming weeks, seeing as the packers are arriving soon.

Did I mention we're also approaching Christmas? People, if you ever move and have any choice in the matter, please think twice about whether you really want to embark on an international move at Christmas time. Okay, there are benefits. Like you can totally blame the lack of a Christmas tree on the fact that the tree will be packed in a container. (The cheesy fake tree you broke down and bought in year two because the real tree you went and found in year one looked even more plasticky than a fake one). It's packed deep inside of 40 feet of crammed-together household goods tracing their way back via God-knows-where, if our shipment along the reverse route a few years ago is anything to go by. Packed away along with all the ornaments.

And the presents too, come to think of it.

Still, Christmas adds a lot of extra work. Did I ever mention Advent calendars? Well, let's just say, if you are a soon-to-be or new parent, think long and hard about ever committing yourself to such foolish endeavors as custom-made Advent calendars just because your husband's mom used to make them and he thought it was a cute idea. And you can't blame the lack of Advent calendars on the move. Not when some of your kids look at you with big teary eyes and wonder out loud whether St Nicholas won't be confused where to deliver the goods with all that moving going on.

You could argue that with all this stuff happening right now, I needed yet another project on my list like the plague. And yet it is precisely with such a project I've busied myself with these past few days. On one of my recent haven't-seen-that-yet outings, a friend took me to a shop called Amatuli, and I was instantly smitten. They simple have everything Africana there, arts, crafts, furniture, cool decorating props, and none of it tacky. The luxury game lodges get their stuff from them, but regular people like you and me can go shopping there too, on all three vast floors of it. I could spend hours (and a lot of money) in that place.

In fact, you should probably add them to your Christmas Shopping list. I'll be writing about them more in a dedicated blog post.

When I spotted this old steel window made into a photo frame there, I knew I absolutely had to have it. And quickly, because the packers are coming next week, did I mention that?

Hopefully in a few days I'll be able to show you a similar frame with our own pictures in it!

The way it works is that you bring them your photos, cropped and printed to the size of each opening, they will put them in, add glass and some kind of backing as well as strong picture hooks, and voila, there is your very unique wall photo frame.

Sounds fairly easy to do, except going through the last year of photos and figuring out which ones to pick, and then cropping everything to the right size and doing the things one gets sidetracked doing in Photoshop is not exactly an endeavor accomplished in a half-hour. Thank goodness for strong coffee to tide me over from about midnight to two in the morning the last few nights.

When it was finally done, I took a memory stick with the pictures to Detlev at the place I always take my pictures to, because they are professional and fast and by now know me by name. I can highly recommend this place, they are called Photon and are in the Leaping Frog Shopping Centre. I chatted with Detlef for a bit while he was uploading my photos and making sure all the resolutions were good, and might have complained a teensy wee bit about being so busy and having to move and now running around for such unimportant errands such as printing pictures.

"But you ARE doing the most important thing," he said. "You are making memories!"

He was right, of course. From the day we set foot in Africa, we've been busy making memories. It's only fitting that we should end our adventure by preserving some of them in print. 

November 25, 2012

The Birds and the Bees and the Lions Too

[Alert: Graphic images and explicit language].

Good. I can see I have your full attention.

So how many safaris have we been on with our kids here in Africa? Three? Four? Now we go on the first one WITHOUT kids, and what should we get to see the very first afternoon at Banoka Bush Camp?

Mating lions. In fact, it’s the first time we’ve seen anything mate in the wild. If you don't count the odd dragon flies over our pool.

How cool would that have been for the kids, I ask you? And, more importantly, for us? We could have had the entire birds and bees conversation right there, in the 12-15 minute spans it took between bursts of thrusting and roaring. With all four kids at once! Sure, it would have been a bit of a stretch to explain periods and sanitary pads and tampons and masturbation all at the same time, but trust me, I would have pulled it off. All I need is a good hook to begin the conversation. The boys would have rolled their eyes and moaned “Mom, why are you telling us all these things?” but I wouldn’t have cared because they would have been a captive audience with nowhere to go, what with a huge lion guarding the truck.

Oh, what an opportunity lost.

Instead, we just watched, mesmerized. Lions are very efficient maters. First they sleep the sleep of the dead and you think this will be a boring wait. We’ve seen sleeping lions before, and nothing happens, ever. But then all of a sudden she raises her head, yawns, and then you have to scramble to get your camera ready or you’ll have missed it. He gets up, they walk past each other touching perhaps once, then he mounts her, does his business in two or three quick bursts, gets off again and starts roaring his pleasure to the rest of the world, while she starts rolling around and raising her legs in the air. Then they both plop themselves down and fall into a deep sleep once again. If you were busy fiddling with the ISO setting and getting the cap off your lens, you’ll have missed it all.

But that’s no problem, because less than fifteen minutes later the whole thing will start all over again.

Our guide, Willie, would have been a great ally in the sex education talk. He wasn’t the least bit embarrassed describing the whole thing in the most minute detail. The lion’s penis, he said, has spines on it – and yes, we did crane our necks this way and that way to catch a glimpse but couldn’t see a thing, he was so quick – and those rub the female’s vagina, making the whole thing pretty painful for her, especially after 48 hours of this, which is one explanation for all the roaring and growling going on. Or maybe she is just extremely pleased about nature’s equivalent of a bumpy condom.

The guys, I could tell, were a bit jealous. I mean, here was a female who’d get up every fifteen minutes, tell you she’s ready, let you have sex with her without any foreplay, and wasn’t offended when you fell asleep right afterwards, instead patiently sticking around for the next go another fifteen minutes later, my estimate of how long it took for the male to recharge. And after about two days of this, she’d want nothing more to do with you, instead doing her own hunting, inviting you to snack off of it every once in a while. But maybe that was her own reward – being left alone with only female company for a good long time?

Willie, especially, couldn’t tear himself off, even though he probably gets to see this kind of thing much more often than we do. Whereas Noisette and I, after perhaps the fifth round of it, gently suggested we leave and watch the sunset. We felt a bit voyeuristic sitting there, not three meters away, staring and filming and snapping away. I suppose it’s especially fascinating because we don’t often get to watch our own species doing this. When we do watch, it’s called porn.

I actually think Willie has a bit of a one-track mind zooming in on private parts, now that I think about it. Driving in from the airstrip we came across some elephants, and the very first thing that caught his attention was the penis of one of them. Granted, it’s hard not to look. These things are huge, almost dragging the ground. Later he was trying to describe just how ferocious a honey badger can be, given his rather small size, and he illustrated this with a tale of a honey badger who was seen grabbing a Wildebeest’s genitals and pulling down with all his might. Ouch. Oh, and the honey badger also featured in the story of the honey guide, a bird hopping from tree to tree to get the badger’s attention so he will follow him all the way to the beehive, where the badger uses some foul scent from his anus to paralyze the bees so that the both of them – badger and honeyguide – can feast on the honey and comb.

We have a whole more day to go. I’m keeping my ears pricked for more stories about private parts and reproductive rites of the animal world. And I’ll keep my camera charged to collect plenty of footage. Because when we get home, we’ll lock all our kids in a room and show them the movie. Including Willie’s narrative.

The above story is an excerpt from my Botswana Diaries, which I promised you I'd write a book about. Which technically I am in the process of doing. If opening the file every two weeks or so and writing a few more sentences can be counted as writing a book. I felt like I owed you at least a little bit of a preview. With the movie thrown in as a bonus. I hope you enjoyed it!

November 22, 2012

Christmas Shopping in Joburg

The following is a guest post by Barbara Bruhwiler.

Oh dear, how embarrassing, I thought. We’re in the middle of spring, and the Woolworth’s here in the Cresta Shopping Mall still has Christmas decorations along the walls. How could they have forgotten about them?

But then I realized they hadn't forgotten about them at all, that they were actually busy hanging up wreaths. It dawned on me that in South Africa, Christmas comes AFTER spring, and that it sits right in the middle of a long, sunny, and hot summer.

I was in trouble. We had two toddlers for whom Christmas was THE highlight of the year, and we had family visiting from abroad. And I was responsible to whip up a magical Christmas celebration. Under foreign circumstances and without any experience.

Until my husband and I moved to South Africa with our kids, we had always celebrated Christmas with one set of parents first and the other afterwards, and had returned well fed and happy to our own home that was only sporting a few decorations here and there. We’d never had a Christmas tree, but now my family was bound to expect one, in a country where you can’t find proper fir trees.

But it was only mid-October, and I was not in Christmas mood. I was frankly more concerned about keeping the pool blue (instead of an ugly green due to the spring storms) and preventing the junior team from falling into it. Only towards the end of November did I finally take a trip to the home decoration and interior shops. I learned that there were basically three options of decorating your house for Christmas:

Option 1 - dress it up in golden glitter like a Las Vegas show girl.
Option 2 - ‘little English cottage’ style complete with red-and-green checked ribbons, a reindeer, and a red-cheeked Father Christmas smiling benevolently.
Option 3 - beach house design, a cool mixture of turquoise, silver and white.

Our house is a Tuscan style, with yellow walls and terracotta roof tiles, and I couldn't see any of these three styles working in our home. I was lucky enough to secure the last artificial Christmas tree Woolworth’s was selling – South Africans are not only early risers, but they also buy their Christmas stuff early – and realized I had to improvise for our first Christmas celebration in South Africa.

But that was a few years ago, and in the meantime I’ve come to find that the style and variety of the Christmas decorations in the shops has improved. Or has my taste changed? It’s hard to tell. Anyway, and more importantly, I have learned that my preferred interior shops are only one option for Christmas decorations, ornaments and gifts, and that there is much more out there for your Christmas shopping needs.

For instance nurseries cum garden shops:

GardenShop is a chain of stores in Broadacres, Bryanston, Parktown North and Edenvale. They do not only sell plants, but also artificial Christmas trees (aha!) and everything that goes with them. Every year towards the end of October their decorators stage a few trees in different styles, giving you ideas. And of course they also sell the ornaments and fairy lights that are exhibited.
Lifestyle Garden Centre in Randpark Ridge does the same, and their specialty seems to be elaborately decorated Christmas dinner tables.

Christmas displays at Woolworth's supermarket

As you may know, arts and crafts are an inseparable part of life in South Africa, and craft markets are the ideal place to find them. These markets go all out towards the end of the year to display Christmas ornaments and gifts.

The Rooftop Market at Rosebank Mall is a classic address for artifacts and crafts from the entire African continent, but also a treasure trove for pictures and delicatessen. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you will find its 600+ stalls exhibiting and selling a wide variety of Christmas ornaments. I bought beaded angels for our Christmas tree, and friends of ours got a baobab tree made out of wire. This market is open every Sunday from 9am to 5pm.

The Bryanston Organic and Natural Market is another one of Joburg’s must-see markets . In this outdoor market on the grounds of the local Waldorf School, you will find organic food and delicatessen but also many original handcrafted goods like ceramics, shoes and jewelry. I bought beaded leather flip-flops there for my overseas nieces; they make a unique present, but are flat and light to carry in a suitcase. This market is open on Thursdays and Saturdays from 9am to 3pm. Every Tuesday evening from 13 November to 18 December at 5 to 9pm it turns into the ‘Magical Moonlight Markets’.

The Irene Village Market is a delightful exhibition of artists and crafters, home industries, antiques, and collectibles, with over 300 stalls on the grounds of the Smuts House Museum. Awarded ‘Best Market in Africa’ by Getaway magazine, it is a treasure trove for quality products. I couldn't resist the wooden ‘pictures’ they sell, and I loved the distinctive Afrikaans flavour. Normally this market is only open every second Saturday from 9am to 2pm, but from the beginning of November up to 17 December 2012 they will be open every Saturday for Christmas shoppers.

Kamers vol geskenke is a website that calls itself ‘a creative feast of handmade products’, created by a team sourcing fresh, new, and high-end craft products. They will host an exhibition in Irene, Pretoria, from November 25 to December 1, 2012. Opening hours are daily 8:30am to 5pm, except for Sunday (4 to 8pm) and Friday (8:30am to 8pm).

Unica Market 2012 has been recommended by a friend of mine. This craft market helps raising funds for Unica School for Learners with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. It takes place in Pretoria from 30 November to 8 December 2012, and the opening hours are daily from 9am to 9pm, except for Sundays and the last day (Saturday 8 December), when the market closes at 4pm.

Now, before you head off for some serious Christmas shopping, let me give you a word of warning: If you hail from the Northern hemisphere like me, spare some thoughts to how and where you will celebrate the holidays.

We found that we needed a totally new concept for Christmas in summer because we basically live on the patio during the hot season. Which consequently meant that our Christmas tree found its place outdoors, on our patio, too.

The real (well – artificial* of course) Christmas tree, in any case. Because we also purchased an African-style, metal ‘tree’, too… And somehow, after several years in Africa, our Christmas decorations have become an eclectic mixture of traditional and rather exotic ornaments.

Real candles on your Christmas tree – doesn't work. They become lopsided in the heat and look punch drunk. I don’t like it, but we are using chains of light, called fairly lights.

Sending Christmas cards is not really on because the South African post service is so bad, especially around Christmas. There is usually a long gap in our mail delivery from mid-December to mid-January, at which time all of a sudden our mailbox is stuffed with all the letters and magazines that were posted weeks ago. Forget about sending parcels via the post service, they will arrive too late or even get stolen.

Baking cookies is also a bit of a challenge. I usually don’t bother much, it’s simply too hot! We usually bake one set of cookies, just for the kids’ experience.

And now: Have fun Christmas shopping!

*Note by editor: Real trees are also to be had in Johannesburg, if you can find it in your heart to call the sad excuse for an evergreen tree “real.” See Christmas in Joburg and Where to Find a Tree.

Barbara Bruhwiler lives in Johannesburg with her husband and two children. She is an internationally successful author of five books. One of them is the Guide to Johannesburg, a handy reference guide full of practical, useful information and advice for expats moving to or living in Joburg.

November 20, 2012

Like Climbing Kili With a Log Between Your Legs

So it's done. I completed the 94.7 Cycle Challenge.

There was never a question in my mind that I would complete it. It was more a matter of how long it would take. My goal was to stay under five hours. Which I thought would actually be pretty tough to accomplish, based on the few training rides my friends and I had taken out to the Cradle of Humankind the four preceding weekends. It turns out that that terrain is quite a bit tougher than the actual race, so that the real challenge might have been those training rides. And, of course, picking up the race number.

My time ended up being 4 hours and 15 minutes. Which everybody says I can be very happy about for a first race. And I am, don't get me wrong, almost as happy as I am about getting it over with and my butt off that saddle, but I am, by nature, a competitive person. So when I reached the halfway mark after exactly two  hours, I developed ambitions of finishing in under four hours. How cool would that be?

Milling around waiting to start. You see the crowd extending up the hill under that bridge?

Moving forward to the starting pens. Can you believe all those port-a-potties on the side?
(though not a single one with toilet paper, I must add)

The strategy,  however, to accomplish that, is to stay well under two hours for the first part, because the second part is much tougher, taking you through one stretch of five climbs, one after the other, with nothing but the drudgery of the N-14 highway to distract you, the brutal sun beating down on you in the open veld. There was no way for me to accomplish that in two hours, even though I stayed on my bike the entire time (passing a lot of people who were pushing their bikes uphill). Now that I know I can do it, I'd push a lot more during the first part of the race next time, making good speed there. If there is a next time, which is a bit complicated by the fact that I'll soon be living on a different continent.

So, as I was mindlessly pedaling and letting my thoughts drift, the obvious question came to my mind: Was this easier or harder than climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?

I"m not sure. Summit night on Kili is incredibly hard. And you have other factors to battle with that are beyond your control, like the altitude. I did say right after Kili that I'd never do it again (I've since changed my mind), and I didn't feel this way after the cycle challenge. But Kili is spread out over so much more time, with so many more opportunities to rest and take breaks. The cycle challenge is four hours (for some people, incredibly, only two hours and 49 minutes) of constant strain. Oh, and that bike seat. It's like climbing Kili with a log strapped between your legs that for all the padding in the world still presses on all the wrong places, unremittingly. Then again, a few hours of cycling isn't an entire week. It's over before you know it. And no one tells you to cycle Pole Pole. It's perfect for people with a taste for speed.

These are my favorite two pictures. Not because they are...

...particularly good, but because I took them while riding

Before the race, I had visions of stopping frequently, to take pictures for this blog and generally just enjoy the day. But I should have known myself better. Give me a place to get to, and I will want to get there fast. I don't do slow, and I don't take breaks. My kids will be the first to tell you that. When we go on road trips, I don't stop for at least the first three hours, preferably not before we've arrived in a new country. If someone dares telling me after an hour that they have to pee, they get such a murderous look and tirade from me that they won't soon be asking again, unless they're about to burst.

I'm no different on a bike, it turns out. The only times I stopped to get off my bike was at the Mandela Bridge, to get good pictures from different angles (and having almost dropped my iPhone from my slippery hands on earlier occasions where I took pictures while riding, one-handed), and at one of the water points dying for a cup of real water after all those disgusting energy drink sips from my bottles (mental note - bring a bottle of each next time).

Worth getting off the bike for this shot, don't you think?
Maybe you'll understand my obsession with the Mandela Bridge seeing this shot from a while back

Stopping at the water point

But I do regret the opportunities lost to take pictures of all that I saw:

  • The first glorious view of the Johannesburg skyline.
  • The cheering crowds of support along the way, camped out under shady canopies, waving their beer bottles, some of them dancing.
  • The five boys sitting on a curb somewhere in Braamfontein, watching the race in amazement.
  • The cyclists (all of them men!) getting massages at one of the water points.
  • The people handing out Bar Ones in the middle of the road (I did manage to grab one in passing once I figured out what it was)
  • The stunning jacaranda trees in full bloom.
  • The group of boys at the side of the highway amusing themselves by jumping on an old discarded mattress that was very springy.
  • The kids' drum ensemble banging a racy rhythm to the pumping of the pedals.
  • The many Santa Clauses passing me (sometimes I even was the one doing the passing), beard and all.
  • The husband and wife who had a ball shooting water pistols at passing riders (who were ever so grateful but reflexively reached behind them with their hands to cover up their oh-so-water-sensitive iPhones).

The support along the way was unbelievable. People stood and cheered, making it seem as if they cheered just for you, but of course cheering again for the next guy after you and the next one after that, crying themselves hoarse. Some of them made me laugh, yelling "you girls are the only reason the guys are still in the race" or "hurry up, my hands are getting tired of clapping," and some of them almost knocked me off my bike with the power of their high fives. The 94.7 Challenge is yet another one of those events bringing Joburgers of all creed and color together, pulling for a common cause (I wrote about another such time here).

I saw a lot of these "cows" along the way. Read below for more info.

Another great view of the Jozi skyline

Since I was riding on my own (the friend I had come with had an earlier start time), I hung out with different cyclists for periods of time, just to have someone to follow. I fixated on a guy wearing a yellow shirt for a few kilometers, because he was fast, because he was easy to spot, and because the symbolism of the yellow shirt wasn't lost on me. But in the end he was too fast to keep up with. Later, I hung out with a bunch of cows for a while. Not real ones (though I did encounter those somewhere along the N14 as well, with one lost calf almost running into my bike), but guys dressed like cows and pulling a variation of ice cream carts between them. Those people really did the hard work (in my next race I'd like to be the lookout for them, the person who goes in front and yells at people to make room, if necessary even punching them in the side so they move over - I would have LOVED to punch people!). I just read that the charity they support is CHOC, the Childhood Cancer Foundation of SA, and I also just read that a Grade 9 boy from our school, Kallen Browne, was one of those "cows" and is raising funds for CHOC. If you'd like to support his efforts, please click here. He is trying to raise ZAR 6000 and is over halfway there. What an admirable effort.

All in all, I think I should be grateful that I was able to finish (I saw plenty of well-trained-looking dudes being carted away on the "pick-me-up" vehicles) and that I didn't fall off my bike (I heard a scream and a clatter once from somewhere behind me when a woman crashed into a ditch) and that I didn't have any busted tires (though I sort of regret that I never found out if my theory - that I would find a nice-looking guy in no time who'd gladly fix it up for me - was correct) and that I could still walk the next day (didn't even feel sore).

The next time, if I did it again, I'd want to start earlier. Waiting around at the start in the merciless sun until my group (the final group) was called wasn't much fun. Finishing the race before it even gets very hot does sound appealing. Though I have to say, it wasn't so much the sun that bothered me. It was that damn saddle, and towards the end my neck and shoulders as well. Everything in me was screaming "please let me sit up straight and take that thing away from between my legs!"

With my friend right after the race

At home after the race, trying to summon the energy to get into the shower

What I'd also want to do, if there was a next time, is understanding that little trip computer mounted to my handlebars better. Because believe me, when you are sitting on that bike for hours at a time, you need a distraction. And it's a little bit hard to check your Facebook page using one hand (I tried). So the least you want to do is find out how far you've gone. I started out with what I thought was brilliant progress. The first 20 km went by so fast, it was incredible. Already 20% done, I thought after just 10 minutes, I'm doing really well! (Let me just say that solving mathematical problems, when I'm exerting myself, are not my strong suit.) But, alas, it turns out I was looking at my average speed (which from then on was stuck  around 22 forever, though it can't be that accurate because I forgot to reset it right at the start). Similarly, I hit another wall at 59.2, when nothing was moving once again. Until I discovered that this time I had landed on the top speed setting for that day (I have gone as fast as 70 km/hr before, which is a bit scary when I think about it now, but you get used to it, because you cannot bring yourself to brake when it's not absolutely necessary).

And learning the little things also helps you for the next time: Understanding that there are a bazillion port-a-potties along the starting lane, so that you don't have to stand in a line of fifteen people coming from the car park, thinking you better use one while you see one. Although our wait there was quite fun. When the lady in front of us told us her race group was "KK" and that she'd proceed to the start just as soon as she'd done her "KK" here, I just about rolled over laughing.

One final word on the 94.7 Cycle Challenge: I've spoken to many expats who've done it and who have done similar races in their home countries before, and everybody shares the opinion that this is one of the most well-run cycling races, if not large events in general, in the world. I don't have that comparison, but the way I experienced it, I have to agree that it was planned and executed like a charm.

Another huge thumbs-up for South Africa and Johannesburg!

Please consider making a small donation to CHOC here. These guys really worked their asses off (quite literally) in those hot costumes!

I hope there will be another time. The Argus in March, perhaps?

November 18, 2012

From the Horse's Mouth

Hi. I'm Sparkie.

I'm 11 years old and I live at a place called Shumbashaba Stables*, out in the beautiful countryside to the North of Fourways in Johannesburg, South Africa. I'm average size and have big brown eyes, and my favorite food is carrots, though I've been known to chew on a jacket, too.

I used to have a best friend by the name of Suzie, but she died this year. I was very sad. Luckily, I've had  my work to keep me busy and distracted.

Let me tell you about my work, because I happen to think I've got one of the coolest jobs out there. I'm in the Equine Assisted Therapy business. Which is a big word and you are right to ask what that means. Well, in a very broad sense, my job description is to empower people. What can be better than that? I play a unique role in helping children (and adults!) with special needs.They come ride on me, and somehow that helps them with their growth, their learning, and their healing. Sometimes I wonder what the big fuss is all about. All I do is be my regular old self and walk in circles, but for some reason the feel of my body, the gentle rhythm and the motion have a positive impact on disabled people.

Here I am at work

There are many different ways I can carry somebody on my back

This is my place of work. Isn't it beautiful?

And not just disabled people. At Shumbashaba, we help people with special  needs as well as victims of violence, neglect, or trauma, and we work with youth at risk in disadvantaged communities. We even do corporate teambuilding workshops.

I say we because it's not just me. We are an entire team of therapeutic horses. There is Timmy, there is Bella, and there is Beanie, the little guy, there is Comet, who frankly I think is getting a bit fat, there is Mr. Watt whom nothing can faze except when his food doesn't arrive promptly, and we just got a new addition by name of Lucky. He might be lucky, but I happen to think that I'm the coolest of them all.

Me and Timmy, waiting to be shown at an outreach event

Here you can see the township of Diepsloot in the background

I love being the center of attention!

When I'm not busy providing therapy sessions, I get to work my second job, which is giving riding lessons to other kids. The ones who don't come for therapy. Though who is to say they don't get it anyway?

Sometimes I can't wait for my riding lesson days because then I get to move much faster, which is something I love doing. Come on, what did you expect from someone with a name like Sparkie? Comet might have to be kicked again and again to so much as break out into a trot, and then only with a carrot dangled in front of his nose, but not me. I love running! I can sense when a rider is ready to canter for the first time - even though they never seem to believe me - and then I just take off. They always cry and sob after I stop again and then I feel bad. But you know what? The next time they come back with a spring in their step and more confidence. Empowering people, see?

Am I not particularly good-looking when I do my second job?

Yeah. I kinda didn't want to jump that one.

You gotta go when you gotta go, even during a show event

She just wouldn't be thrown off, even though I tried!

I sometimes even have to throw these kids off, just a little bit, to get my point across. Once a girl called Impatience was riding me at her very first showjumping event, and I got so excited about being allowed to jump that I got a bit overenthusiastic and galloped all the way out of the arena up the hill and into the trees with her. Oops! They weren't very happy with me afterwards. But I must say she has gotten a lot more patient with me since then.

Come visit me and check out our stables sometime. I'd love to show you around.

Just remember to bring me a carrot or two.

*Please scroll down for more information on Shumbashaba and how you and/or your children can be involved.

SHUMBASHABA - Horses Helping People

Sharon Boyce +27 84 500 0672
Jacky du Plessis +27 82 872 9265

We are in the process of setting up a community trust and once registered will be launching a drive to raise funds needed to meet growing demand, particularly with respect to neighbouring Diepsloot, an economically marginalised township of some 200,000 residents.

In the meantime your assistance in any of the following areas will be most welcome:
  • sign up your kids for riding lessons (proceeds support outreach activities)
  • volunteer one or more mornings a week to help walk horses during therapy sessions
  • contribute your expertise in other areas (accounting, event management, etc.)
  • sponsor a horse either fully or partially by providing a monthly food allowance.

To get a really good idea of what Shumbashaba and horse therapy is about, watch this short video:

Horse Therapy in Johannesburg from Jo Ellicott on Vimeo.

November 15, 2012

The Cycle Challenge Challenge

Just a few more days until the 94.7 Cycle Challenge. The one I so foolishly signed up for, as I told you previously.

I've spent the last four weeks being sort of nervous about it. Like whether I would make it through an entire race, never having done one before, not even a short one. More to the point, whether my bottom would make it through an entire race.

And it might very well be the toughest challenge I've faced yet. But you know what might even be a tougher challenge?

To pick up your racing packet before the race.

Today was the designated day to do that, and so I went on an errand to Sandton, equipped with the race number I had received in an email.

The instructions said to park in Sandton City, right next to the Sandton Convention Centre. Sounded good to me. I didn't know then what I know now: That "right next to" is in the same language family as "just now." It is to be taken with a huge grain of salt.

When you park in Sandton City, you better well bring a compass with you. It's the most confusing parking garage I know. You are well advised to briefly stop and orient yourself before distancing yourself too much from your car, or you'll never find it again.

I don't like parking garages. I will do anything to avoid them. I don't care what the weather is like outside, I'd rather park in the open somewhere than in a garage. Maybe that harks back to a bad childhood memory of mine. Our family was on a visit in some German city, and after strolling around the picturesque streets for a few hours, we were tired and ready to go home again. Before long we had found our car, piled in, and driven a few floors down to the exit. Where my father dutifully put the ticket into the little slot, waiting for the boom to open. Except it didn't. We spent what felt like an hour at that boom, cars accumulating behind us, hooting impatiently, while my father was conversing with a disembodied voice through the intercom, getting more and more agitated by the minute about the fact that our ticket wasn't working. Even though we had just paid for it. I can't remember if I was old enough to be embarrassed by this, or still young enough to be terribly afraid that we'd never make it out of there. Either way, it wasn't pleasant. When we finally made it out, it was only because the attendant had descended from his office and immediately discovered our error: The ticket my father was so furiously inserting, again and again, into the machine, wasn't the one for this garage at all. Who knows, maybe it was a subway pass, or a card from a different garage. But not that one. Oh, the humiliation!

Living in Singapore didn't make me any fonder of parking garages. There you most often had no choice. My least favorite one was that of the Cold Storage closest to our house, where you had to take a really sharp turn immediately upon entering, and then go round and round in the tightest circle to wind your way upstairs where the free spaces were beckoning, up, up, and up until your head spun. Evidently I wasn't the only one with a problem, as witnessed by the many colorful paint marks along the wall. And the reward for my expert maneuvering through such narrow straights? Carrying a stroller with baby back down five flights of stairs, because there was no elevator!

But today, it turns out, parking was the easy part. Not only is the convention centre something like miles away from Sandton City, it is also the most convoluted path that leads you there:

First, through the parking garage.

Then up an impossibly long escalator.

Then across an enclosed walkway winding this way and that (and, admittedly, awarding you with the most beautiful view over Sandton).

Then back down at least five flights of escalators.

And finally into the promised land of the Cycle Challenge, where I discovered, to my dismay, that I wasn't the only one.

I settled into a long queue, cursed myself once again for not having brought my Kindle, and waited. And waited. How hard can it be to hand out race packs to people? Must be extremely hard, judging form the agonizingly slow pace our line was inching forward at.

The one upside of being stuck in a room full of people picking up race packets is that it is a room full of more or less very fit people. Generally pleasant to look at. Not like going to Oceans of Fun in Kansas City and being accosted with rolls of fat bulging over elastic waist bands as far as the eye can see while you wait in line for your slide. No sir, the people of Joburg take their Cycle Challenge seriously. I hope I'll get to see some of the crazy types on Sunday, the kind my cycling friend has told me about. You know, the ones wearing nothing but thongs, the name of their charity fundraiser painted on their cheeks. Yeah, those cheeks.

I finally received my race packet after an interminable wait, and set out to find my car again. The thing I most wished for at that moment was to have unfurled a roll of twine on my way there, so as to better find the way back. Sandton City, as you might agree if you live in Joburg, is the most confusing shopping mall there is. It's adjacent to Mandela Square Shopping Centre, and you can go back and forth from one into the other, but not on every floor. And there are corridors into every direction. If you go to Sandton City, taking your bearings upon entering form the parking garage to take in and file away mentally which store it is on either side of the entrance, is an absolute must, or you have no chance.

And if you ask your way through the shopping center, just remember that this is Africa, and that you might have to ask at least three different people to get a representative sample of the true answer.

I felt the strong need to take a break at Mugg & Bean to fortify myself before the final push back to the car, where I sat and marveled once again how even the longest errand in Africa can be made downright pleasant by that little thing inside of you called attitude.

And by a large cappuccino and chocolate croissant.

South Africa may be the only country in the world where they'll serve you a chocolate croissant
together with grated cheddar cheese. Or is it an English thing? When it doubt, it's always an English thing.

November 14, 2012

19 Lessons Learned from Climbing a Mountain

Not long after I returned from my Kilimanjaro climb, I went to a talk by a guy who jogged the entire length of India and who makes a living going on such daring and exhausting and a bit crazy adventures and then giving speeches about the lessons he learned from them. 

I was greatly impressed until it occurred to me that I also can talk about the lessons I learned from one of my crazy (and while not really daring then certainly exhausting) adventures. 

So here I give you some of the lessons Mount Kilimanjaro has taught me.

  1. Wherever you are in life, it’s always a good idea to plan a new adventure. (But get yourself some good boots and take a few extra packs of wet wipes.)
  2. Everyone needs a mountain to scale in their lives. When you’re younger, life supplies many a mountain – graduation from high school, going to college, landing a good job, getting married. But during the middle years of your life, things get awfully flat (though often rather bumpy). Climbing a real mountain almost certainly helps put things in perspective.
  3. You’re much tougher than you think. I’m not trying to glorify anything we did on that mountain, nor do I have any doubts that overall it was still a very pampered experience, summit night notwithstanding, in comparison to other people’s trail adventures. Like the ones where you hike all by yourself, carry the entire staggering load on your own back, run out of water, lose your way, and perhaps encounter a stray bear a la Bill Bryson on his Walk in the Woods. But still, climbing gives you confidence that you can deal with anything else that is thrown in your path. Moving forward and overcoming an obstacle often turns out to be the simplest solution, and braving the more difficult path brings immense gratification.
  4. Roosevelt was right. The fear of things is worse than the things themselves. I was indeed cold and miserable at five and a half thousand meters, but it wasn’t that bad. Or at least it was totally worth it, given the wonderful memories. It’s kind of like childbirth: Right afterwards you swear you’ll never do it again, but somehow many women end up with more than one child. Maybe certain experiences are only worthwhile when they are as painful as they are uplifting.
  5. I know it sounds corny, but it really isn't about the destination and the summit, it's about the journey. And who we share it with. Always who we share it with.
  6. Whatever it is you take pride in having accomplished, you didn’t accomplish it all by yourself. Not ever. There will always be people you couldn’t have done it without. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s the best part.
  7. A lot of what happens to you is pure chance. Great athletes and the best prepared climbers succumb to altitude sickness on Kili, while people who spend almost no time preparing for it reach the summit just fine. You can’t plan your life to the last detail trying to control the outcome, and in any case it won’t make you happy. Be open to what happens, don’t blame anyone for it, and don’t worry about what might have been.
  8. And yet, don’t leave everything to chance. Whoever remembers to pack enough toilet paper will have the last laugh.
  9. Want the whole story? Buy the book:

    UK customers: click here.
    German edition: click here.
  10. There are people who command our respect, no matter what their station in life. I learned more from our guide, Goddy, in one week, than from some teachers I had for years. Aside from learning to say Thank you my brother in Swahili, I learned from him to believe in yourself and not to worry about what others might think. We spend way too much time worrying about what others might think. A few weeks after our climb, Goddy got to travel to South Africa for the very first time in his life. In fact, it was the first time ever for him to leave his country, Tanzania, and to fly on a plane. A surprise party was organized for him to reunite with previous climbers he had guided, and what did he do at the end of the night? He stood up in an entire restaurant full of strangers and started singing. First one song. Then another. And a third. It brought all our memories rushing back and tears to our eyes. At the end he had the entire waiting staff singing with him, teaching them the Swahili words as doggedly as he had led us up that mountain. Which leads me to the next point:
  11. Everyone needs a little singing in their lives.
  12. If you can’t sing, at least laugh. Everyone needs a lot of laughter in their lives. If you have to make do without a flushable toilet for an entire week to get you to laugh, it’s worth it.
  13. Dirt and bad smell aren't nearly as bad as we make them out to be in our pampered lives. And not looking into a mirror for an entire week is totally liberating.
  14. Relax. And seize the moment. Life is more important than a to-do list. Whatever it is you think you absolutely have to get done today, you can probably still do tomorrow. Especially if today you could rather have coffee with a friend.
  15. You are not responsible for someone else’s happiness. The only person you can make happy is you. Because it is your own thoughts that control whether you’re happy or not. The trick is to discover what brings you happy thoughts. Climbing a mountain is a good start.
  16. Consequently, it’s okay to do what you want or must do, even if it means doing it alone. I felt guilty wanting to climb Kilimanjaro all for myself, but I’ve realized that I have a right to want things and do things and become things all on my own, just as much as I cannot begrudge others their right to do the same.
  17. You can always take another small step. Pole pole. There is almost no limit to what you might accomplish in life if you just go about it pole pole, one step at a time. If you’re overwhelmed by the task (or mountain) ahead, concentrate on the feet in front of you. Or on the garden trowel, if you must.
  18. It’s always good to have a change in scenery. If your life seems drab at sea level, maybe you need to take it to high altitude. At least that’s how it worked for us. The higher we climbed, the thinner the air, the more we laughed.
  19. Having friends in your life that you can literally walk through shit with is the most valuable gift.
  20. Sometimes, it takes a detour over a mountain to find the right path and to know that you’re on it. I started out the week signing my name into the logbook at the end of each day with “housewife” as my profession. I ended the week with “writer.”

  21. Just a small selection of all the people Goddy has had an impact on, through his
     job as a Kili guide but also simply through who he is

November 12, 2012

Culture Shock!

The following is a guest post by Barbara Bruhwiler.

A strange thing is happening to me: Here I've happily been living as an expat in Johannesburg for more than five years, but suddenly I’m suffering from a severe case of culture shock.

My symptoms? I feel cut off from my loved ones; I can’t communicate properly anymore; whenever I ask for something, I am not understood; I have a huge and terribly urgent to-do-list, but not the slightest idea of how I can get these things done, leaving me frustrated and depressed. In short: I feel completely bewildered, miserable and out of sync. Functioning in daily life has become difficult for me, let alone getting things done.

Must be culture shock, right?

I turned to the internet for a diagnosis and looked up the definition of ‘culture shock’ on Wikipedia. Here it is:

Culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, or to a move between social environments; also a simple travel to another type of life. Culture shock can be described as consisting of at least one of five distinct phases: Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment, Mastery and Independence

The problem is, my self-diagnosis might not be completely accurate: While the first part of the definition is spot-on, until ‘way of life’, the rest is not applicable.

Because I haven’t immigrated or traveled or anything like that. What happened to me is that I got a new phone. From my husband’s employer, for free. For security reasons, apparently, but what kind of security reasons I couldn't quite figure out. Perhaps to be able to track my every move? But who cares, the phone is a present, and who am I to argue when I get something for free. Especially if this something happens to be some fancy-shmancy latest Nokia smartphone.

From Old to New, from Known to Unknown, from Simple to Fancy.

And I dived right into the phases of culture shock with my new smartphone, starting with the Honeymoon phase:

When I first laid hands on it, I was in love. It was so nice, so full of promises. I was doing a happy dance.

And when I was a new expat in Johannesburg, I was taking in all the new vistas and smells and experiences, feeling like I was on a long holiday, excited and happy.

Moving on to the Negotiation phase:

The problem with my new phone is that it’s a Nokia Windows-based phone. And it must think in Finnish, because we don’t get each other at all. The problem with me is I’m not good with electronic gadgets. I simply don’t care enough. With an iPhone I might have managed, having experience with iPads, but this was a whole new world I was entering.

The first few days I had no clue how to even answer calls on my new phone. And when I tried to call someone, the button I pressed would result in something completely different from what I anticipated. I still can’t send an SMS. Hell, I can’t even TYPE a proper text messages without my phone wanting to correct me with (Finnish?) words and phrases that I don’t want to type.

When we moved to Johannesburg, I had similar experiences: I had to organise basic necessities for our family like utilities, telephone line, internet, car registrations, insurance, etc. People didn't understand me because I had (ok: have) this thick foreign accent, while I was struggling to understand them, too, because the English spoken in South Africa is a far cry from how the Queen of England communicates. And not only was language a problem, but also mentality: Little did I know that South Africans do not consider something worthwhile unless you have spent time in a queue and diligently waited for it. They must have had a good laugh at that Telkom shop, over five years ago, when I called and asked if they could please come to install my telephone landline cum internet the next day!

Out of pure frustration we typically move up one rung on the culture shock stepladder and enter the Adjustment phase:

After a few temper tantrums (and, I admit, a lot of foul language) I had to accept that my phone would not budge and adapt to me, but that I had to learn how to get what I want. Easy? No. To make a simple call, for instance, I have to slide open this and press that button and tilt the phone towards me until it lets me dial a number. So far, not even the expert, (meaning my neighbours’ teenage son) has been able to install my emails on this phone from hell.

But at least I remembered what is most important in this phase: to get help. Because it was very similar during my adjustment to life in Johannesburg: Through trial and error I found out that there is no point in getting impatient or even shouting at people when you want and need something. The best strategy is to stop being afraid of looking stupid and ask questions. Ask how you can get this done or that resolved. South Africans are very helpful if you apply the right attitude, I found.

And turning to other expats is vitally important, too. To listen to or read other people’s stories or advice, like this blog here. Because we get to know what we need right now; we get ideas of what we could do; and if all fails, at least we know that we are not the only ones struggling, and hopefully we can have a good chuckle.

The Mastery and Independence phase would be the next, but when it comes to my phone, I’m still far from it, I fear. Sigh.

But I know I will get there. Because that’s what happened to me as an expat in Johannesburg: after a while, I knew where to find the tiny globe for my sewing machine, what to do when the garbage removal team asks for a Christmas bonus, who can fix the dent in my tyre rim (hint: it is NOT Tiger Wheel & Tyre, it’s more complicated), and how things are handled with a teacher’s birthday.

The thing is: my new phone has a lot more functions than my old one – and it looks cooler. Same thing with our expat living: Living abroad adds a lot of excitement and new experiences to our lives. It may be a bit of a challenge at first. But please don’t give up. Just try to get over the culture shock, and you will discover how much more interesting, deeper and richer your life has become.

Barbara Bruhwiler lives in Johannesburg with her husband and two children. She is an internationally successful author of five books. One of them is the Expat-Living.infoGuide to Johannesburg, a handy reference guide full of practical, useful information and advice for expats moving to or living in Joburg.

November 8, 2012

Let's Talk Money

Note: This post was written in 2012 and cost of living expenses most likely have gone up in the meantime, as the Rand is now at 10 or 11 to 1 to the US-dollar, compared to 7 to 1 when we lived in South Africa. 

"What is the cost of living in South Africa?"

This is the question I am asked most often by people contacting me through my blog (behind "How safe is South Africa," of course), and it is the one I most dread. Because it is very difficult to answer. Firstly, because we are a family of six with very different expenses from, say, a young couple without kids living in an apartment. But mostly the reason I dread this question is because for the longest time I hadn't quite figured out the answer. I had "make a budget" on my list pretty much since Day One and never made much progress. Every once in a while I'd sit down and crunch some numbers, prompted by Noisette telling me once again we're spending too much and wanting to nip any accusations of "you're buying too many clothes" in the bud (I'm SO not a clothes shopper, if you know me; I still don't even know my size here in South Africa), but then more important stuff landed on my desk and I'd give up again.

I can tell you, however, that we are indeed spending more than we ever thought. I'm pretty sure the culprit is travel, but more on that later.

Having penned quite a few emails with cost of living advice, and having sat down to finally do some rough calculations, I thought it's time to put all of that in a blog post I can easily point people to. If you are an expat contemplating a move to South Africa, I hope you find the below list useful. If you are an existing expat, I hope you can add some of your own insights and advice.

Monthly cost of living averages in ZAR (based on a family of six in 2012) in descending order:

Housing: 40,000. Renting a house in the Dainfern area will cost you anywhere from 35,000 upwards. Bear in mind that this is one of the most expensive areas in Johannesburg precisely because so many expats live there, and many companies are accustomed to picking up the tab. If you want to be in this area, consider Fourways Gardens or Lonehill for more affordable housing, or even Midrand, which has many new developments. I've been told you can find housing in Joburg for as cheap as 5,000 a month, but I suspect that won't be anywhere near the Northern Suburbs. On the plus side, you will get a lot of house for your money, with a nice big yard, the farther you go North. Living closer to Sandton probably won't save you any money because you'll pay a premium for a location close to the business district. Also bear in mind that when living in a secure estate you may have a monthly levy added to your rent. See Finding a House in Johannesburg Part 1 and Part 2 for more information.

Food/Groceries: 10,000. When I actually did crunch some numbers for this I was surprised to see it a bit lower than expected, with most months not much above 8,000 and almost never exceeding 10,000. When we first moved  here, it was our impression that groceries were more expensive than in the U.S., but I no longer think that's true. We are spending more than some years back, but this is probably due to the fact that a) food prices have gone up worldwide, and b) our kids have grown bigger and eat more. After living here a few years, we have adjusted our buying patterns and no longer yearn for some of the difficult to get and more expensive packaged foods, and have found the best places to find the right things. You might take note that if you employ a live-in domestic, you will also have to provide meals, which will be reflected in your grocery bill.

School uniforms/supplies/class trips: 3,100: You thought you had it all covered with school fees, but you were wrong. Obviously this item will depend on the number of your children and which school you enroll them in, but I thought it should be mentioned. It should also be mentioned, however, that the expense for school uniforms (as much as I complain about lost uniform pieces) will replace a large part of your expense for other clothing, as your kids will  need very little of that (especially in this mild climate).

Domestic Help: 3,000. This is for a live-in, 5 days a week domestic helper (you'll have to add in food as well as initial expenses to furnish a room, and a 2% monthly unemployment fund payment). You can figure about 1,900 for part-time, live-out (3 days a week) help. Also read Hiring Domestic Help.

Electricity: 2,100. Electricity costs, if not paid for by your employer, are definitely something to be reckoned with. The cost of electricity has gone up dramatically over the last few years here in South Africa, mainly to finance the construction of several new power plants that are sorely needed to satisfy demand. There have been several price hikes between 2008 and 2011 that amount to 260% when compounded annually. Further price increases of 25% each for 2013 and 2013 are on the horizon.As of now, while you'll be able to keep your power bill in the above range or even slightly below during the summer months, expect some big increases to up to ZAR 5,000 and more in the winter  months (June, July, half of August). Your water heaters (called geysers here) and underfloor heating will be the major culprits. Looking for houses with solar geysers (a no-brainer in a country where the sun shines every single day) and investing in gas heaters rather than using the underfloor heating will be a good way to save money.

Water/Waste: 1,500. Obviously this will depend on the number of people in your household and whether you have a sprinkler system for your lawn (in which case your costs will be higher in the winter dry months). Here in Johannesburg, the City of Joburg bills you for water and garbage (called PikiTup). If you want a recycling service, you have to contract that out privately (see Recycling in Joburg for more info).

Fuel: 1,800. This is for a large SUV but one with a Diesel engine that gets a good gas mileage. While gas/fuel prices have come up in the last few years, they are still well below European levels.

Insurance: 1,500. Make sure you cover your household goods, your vehicle, and your kids' musical instruments, if any. Obviously, the size of your car will play a role. The number here is based on one 7-seater sports utility vehicle. You will also have to factor about 180 per month for a vehicle tracking service.

Phone landline/Internet: 1,300. This item has gone down to about 950 for us recently, after I finally decided to drop the landline and only keep Telkom for our Internet ADSL line (after another 2 weeks of the phone getting no dial tone once again and my typical complaints to Telkom leading nowhere). We pay Telkom around 150 per month for the line rental, and 799 to Afrihost for an Uncapped bundle - the only way to go, in my mind, unless you enjoy running out of internet by the 23rd or so of each month.

Mobile phones: 900. Our service is with Vodacom, but I think they are all similar in price. We've got one iPhone and 4 Blackberries. Here in SA the latter is the way to go, due to unlimited browsing and BBM just for R60 a month. All the kids have Blackberries, so the good news is your kids won't be asking for iPhones. You can sign them up for the very cheapest phone plan (R49 or even R29) because they hardly ever use the phone to make calls. It's either BBM or Whatsapp here in South Africa.

Garden Service: 750. We have a regular garden service coming weekly to cut the grass. You can also hire a gardener at a lower cost who will come in on a Saturday, but then you have to supply the tools and lawnmower, whereas a service will come with everything that's needed and takes away your garden refuse. Factor another 550 or so if you want your pool serviced as well. Or do it yourself.

Cable TV (Multichoice): 700. This is something I'd honestly consider not getting. The programming isn't great, and thanks to services like UnoTelly you can configure much cheaper alternatives.

Pest Control: 550. Sometimes this is included in your rental agreement. Ants are definitely a problem in South Africa, particularly during the summer months, so getting effective pest control in place is well worth it, even though it is quite pricey.

These are the obvious expenses I'm able to give you fairly concrete numbers for. But there are a few other categories to consider, some of which you'll have to fill in yourself:

Additional Cost of Living Categories:

Car - while this is not a monthly expense (unless you find a way to lease), you definitely have to factor in the cost of a car. Even if you have a company car, your spouse will need another one, as there is practically no public transport available in most places. Cars are about 40-50% more expensive in South Africa compared to the U.S. See Tips on Buying a Car in South Africa.

Eating out - obviously this depends on your habits and tastes. South Africa has great restaurants, and they are generally very affordable. Sometimes I think it would be cheaper to just eat out than buy groceries. Our monthly average for this is somewhere around 2,500.

Entertainment - going to the movies is also very affordable in South Africa, and there are always great offers for comedy and plays at places like Montecasino in Joburg.

Furniture/home improvement - you won't have to put much into home improvement if you're renting a home, but set aside some funds for the purchase of beautiful African artwork, as well as perhaps an investment in nice patio furniture - after all, you will spend most of your time outside.

Gym: If you want to join a gym, look at 250 to 400 a month for that. Some of the medical aid like Discovery gives you a gym discount at Virgin Active.

Health insurance/medical aid - our health insurance is funded via the U.S., so I have not listed it here. See Healthcare in South Africa for more information.

School fees - most companies employing expats will pay a portion or all of your kids' school fees at an international or private school, but if not, factor 3,000 to 7,500 per child per month for a private school, depending on the age of your child. See International and Private schools in South Africa.

Sports and music: That can be a big expense item that obviously varies with the size of your family and extracurricular engagement. One thing I like about having the children enrolled in a South African school is that it pretty much includes all the sports you could wish for without any extra expense. Nevertheless, we seem to be running up the tab with outside tennis, horse riding, swimming, cricket and gymnastics lessons, which individually are not pricey but add up for four children. It's the same for music - lessons are actually very affordable here and often offered directly through the school, where music typically plays a big role, but your kids might get involved in more than they would have done at home, adding to your bill.

Travel - this is the biggie I mentioned earlier and obviously depends on your travel plans and budget. But let me tell you from our (and our friends') experience that no matter what budget you plan, you will always exceed it. There is simply too much to see and do in Southern Africa, and travel here is anything but cheap. Especially for larger families, because all prices are quoted per person, not per room (my theory as to why this is has to do with the African mindset - allow people to rent an entire house or apartment, and an entire clan including five goats will be moving in). You can easily spend 40,000 on a 3-day trip to the bush, but of course you can also do it for much less if you invest in some equipment and aren't opposed to a little bit of adventure. Also see Help! Which Safari Lodge?

I'm sure I've left out some smaller expense categories, but you get the picture. Yes I know, this is quite a list. Everything adds up quickly, and if you're anything like our family, you might have to dig into your kids' college funds to make this happen.

While you're at it, you might as well make sure to set aside a budget for South African wines and the occasional trip to Franschhoek to replenish your cellar.