Joburg Expat: Coyote Sightings, Ungainly Outhouses, and Other First World Problems

April 23, 2014

Coyote Sightings, Ungainly Outhouses, and Other First World Problems

America, 2014

We now live in a posh upscale suburban neighborhood. A gated one. Though the gate mainly serves to keep adoring fans away from Carrie Underwood and her brethren on the Nashville celebrity circuit, not so much to keep out criminals. (Turns out those already live inside our gates, see here.)

Lately our posh upscale suburban neighborhood has erupted in collective outrage, expressed in long-winded, if not always grammatically correct, discourse on our neighborly social network called Nextdoor.

It all started with reported sightings of a coyote (or perhaps several coyotes, all looking the same, no one really knows). It began as a slow trickle but quickly developed into a stream: Coyote spotted on the corner of X and Y streets, keep your pets inside, was the typical message.

We took note. We kept our small pets inside.

But then someone felt we were not duly impressed with the repeated warnings. Do you know that where I used to live, a small child was mauled by a coyote? one woman wrote. A little dog was snatched RIGHT out of someone's arms by a coyote! another chimed in. More and more coyote sightings were posted, until it seemed like we must have hordes of them running wild on the golf course at night. Curiously, neither myself nor any of my friends have ever spotted one. But no matter, meetings must be held, so we were told, we must get rid of these beasts in our midst, something must be done, for God's sake!


Coyote in our neighborhood. This was taken several years ago in another place we lived, Overland Park, Kansas. But I hate to disappoint. The coyote is not real. After I frantically took like ten pictures of it before it moved away, I  stopped to wonder why it didn't, in fact, move away. It turned out it was a fake cutout coyote, placed there to scare off the  Canadian geese on the golf course, which of course are another whole First World Problem.

What followed then was very amusing to some, and highly offensive to others. A second faction emerged on Nextdoor, which seemed, oddly, to plead for the coyotes. Or, rather, make fun of those on the warpath against them. I say, instead of scrawny coyotes, we need to be scared of mountain lions, the real threat here. They've been known to be moving westward into our state lately, was the gist of one such post, at first glance sounding innocent enough, although the "westward" should have been a giveaway. I just saw a panther in my backyard! responded someone. I'm moving to Florida, said one guy (since debunked as a fake account), to leave you to fight the valiant fight against coyotes and communism. Moves were made to ban THAT member from our network.

All this, of course, infuriated the first faction, which was busy chatting about the merits of a new attack dog one woman was training to ward off the nightly intruders. While the second faction was worrying whether the vicious attack dog might not in fact pose a bigger risk to our children than the coyotes. I won't go into more detail, but it got outright ugly there with some name calling and airing of WAY too much personal information.

It came as a welcome reprieve when someone changed the topic with We need to talk about that ungainly outhouse someone put right by the side of a busy road in our prestigious community.

Africa, 2010

In Africa, a few years ago, we also lived in a posh upscale suburban neighborhood. Not just a gated one, but one with armed guards patrolling at night, and high voltage wires running atop the high walls encircling it. I don't remember any ungainly outhouses, though they must have existed, considering the fact that the gardeners who maintained the pristine landscaping were ferried in by the truckload each morning and taken back to their townships only late in the evening

We didn't have coyotes, but we had snakes. Occasionally, while waiting at the gate to apply your fingerprint, you'd see a picture, helpfully posted on the bulletin board, of a guard hauling away a python from someone's property. I never saw any snakes either, but a picture is better than hearsay, I suppose.

Manicured lawns, outhouses, dangerous wildlife - a scene quite similar to that above. But there was one big difference: The outrage. Or, rather, the lack thereof. The one thing you will not find often in Africa is outrage. The newly arrived Westerner may carry it in his baggage, but will soon learn to get rid of it, or go crazy. Or, as an expat just arrived in Johannesburg once confided to me: I am very Type A. I will leave this country as one cool lady or very medicated. I described this phenomenon in my earlier blog post Welcome to Type A Remedial School.

I remember the early days of settling into our new life in South Africa. I was dropping Sunshine off at school, and chatting to another mother. Our water was cut off last night, I complained, perhaps hoping she would have a remedy for this. Oh yes, she said, ours too. What's more, my kids left their faucets open, and this morning we woke up to our house being flooded. I guess the water must have come back on during the night. Our electricity got shorted and now we have no power either. It could be days before it gets fixed. And then, to my amazement, she shrugged. Welcome to Africa, she said with a smile.

This, of course, became our standard saying as well. It's as powerful as Hakuna Matata, which of course is a problem-free philosophy, if you'll remember. What perhaps helps you become so relaxed is that in Africa you are surrounded, just outside the gates of your posh suburban community, by hardship and poverty, by what seems like unbearable human suffering. Even the most self-centered person cannot gripe about a lost internet connection for too long when she's just driven through the nearby township for what was meant to be a shortcut but turned out to be a two-hour mission to ferry firewood to a woman's house, after she couldn't leave her by the side of the road under a staggering load of half a tree, with her small child strapped to her back.

First World Problems

I suppose you've deduced that I've sided with faction number two re the coyote debate. Not that I spend much time on the neighborhood social network, but we've shared some good glasses of wine with our friends making fun of the coyote scare. Particularly the tongue-in-cheek reference to "coyotes and communism" made me laugh. I love our pet as much as the next person loves theirs, but honestly, I'd also love to spot the occasional coyote after being spoiled by amazing wild animal sightings throughout our life in South Africa.

In our South African neighborhood, the coyotes would have been accepted with a shrug. Much like some of the petty theft going on was accepted with a shrug. They are hungry, after all, and they need to eat. Perhaps someone would have come up with a photo competition for best coyote picture, but I doubt we'd have had a meeting convened. For a leopard perhaps, but even then my bet is on the photo competition.

To me, the coyotes are a typical First World Problem, or at least the excessive outrage over them. Before the coyote outrage, our neighborhood had been overcome with theft outrage in a series of messages complaining about the spate of break-ins and stolen laptops. Now theft is an actual problem, I don't deny it. But it turned out in our case they were not technically "break-ins," as the police informed us in response to the outrage, because in all cases the car doors were left unlocked. I remember thinking at the time, who in their right mind leaves a laptop in an unlocked car overnight? Tell that to someone in Africa and they'll laugh their head off. Incidentally, the reason we park our cars in front of our houses is that we cannot maneuver our big SUVs into our garages, which by covenant have to be tucked on the side of the house so as to avoid the ungainly garage doors facing the road.

Not being able to park in your garage because when building your house you were so greedy for 5000+ square feet that you didn't leave enough room in front of the garage to reverse your car = a real First World Problem.

I'm not the only one making fun of people with FWP, as it is also called. Watch the video below, and you'll laugh. Watch the one after that, and maybe you'll feel ashamed.

Got any First World Problems?