April 29, 2015

Promo: FREE Shipping from U.S. With Stackry

*** Update August 2017: This promotion has ended, and Joburg Expat is no longer associated with Stackry. For information about the best way to purchase products in the United States and ship them to South Africa, may I suggest the following reading:

Ordering from Amazon in South Africa, Take Two
19 Things to put on Your Shopping List for South Africa
Your Kindle in South Africa
Project Postal Service: Or, What Really WAS in those Christmas Cards?

April 27, 2015

Save the Rhino... By Shopping?

Before I say anything, will you just take a minute and look at these beautiful creatures* roaming this Earth since time immemorial:

What a privilege for me and my family to have been allowed such close-up views of these magnificent beasts! But how much longer, do you think, will they roam the Earth, if rhino poaching in South Africa alone continues at a clip of one rhino killed every eight hours?

reprinted from www.savetherhino.org, a website you should bookmark. 

It is such a shame. And perhaps only shame, or rather shaming, of the people doing the buying of rhino horn which in turn promotes the senseless killing of rhinos can turn back the dial. Which means we have to share this message with as wide an audience as possible. Please share!

There are some other things we can do as well. Many thanks to Alex Lowe for providing the following list.

If you'd like to help, you can donate to:
the African Wildlife Foundation (based in the US),
the International Rhino Foundation (also based in the US),
Save the Rhino (based in the UK),

You can also buy rhino stationery, part of the funds from which go to Save the Rhino.

If you have lots of time and little money, you can volunteer at a rhino organization. Even if you're not in an area with rhinos, there are plenty of things you can do (just email one or more of the above organizations and ask if they have anything you can help with, being up front about how much time you'd like to spend).

If you're as big a user of Amazon as I am, you can switch to using Amazon Smile and add a rhino charity as your charity of choice. This will donate a small portion of your Amazon purchases to the charity of your choice as long as you shop through Amazon Smile. That's right, you can go shopping and save the rhinos! (There are even extensions for several browsers to redirect all of your Amazon visits to Smile.)

You can purchase high-resolution images of any of the above pictures from me and I will donate the proceeds to Save the Rhinos. Leave a comment or use the "contact" tab above to get in touch.

Lastly, you can LIKE these Facebook pages, which costs you absolutely nothing: Rangers for RhinosPhotographers for Rhinos, and Save the Rhino International.

William, the first (and best) guide we've ever had, at Yellow Wood Game Lodge in the Waterberg,
sharing his passion for (and lack of fear of?) rhinos with us during our first ever game drive.
Our girls may consider themselves very privileged to have this picture of them together with
a rhino in the wild. Who knows how many people will get that opportunity in the years to come?

* As already mentioned, you may purchase high-resolution versions of any of the displayed rhino images from me, and I will donate the proceeds to Save the Rhinos. For further reading on rhinos as well as great white sharks, another endangered species found in Africa, see Shark Fin Soup and Rhino Horn.

April 20, 2015

Should I Bribe South African Cops?

Not much can be so anxiety-inducing as being stopped by the police in a foreign country. Especially in a country such as South Africa, where there is no shortage of horror stories about crime and corruption. I know I may have fueled that fire with my many blog posts about traffic stops, though I tend to think that most of mine are humorous rather than frightening.

The question I get often is this: Should I bribe the cops when they stop me? If not, what SHOULD I do?

If you've read my previous posts on the topic, you will know that I NEVER PAID A BRIBE while in South Africa, and this worked out just fine for me. Granted, I was harboring the secret hope that I might get arrested and see the inside of a South African jail cell so that I could blog about it - this never happened - and perhaps for this reason I acted more boldly than I might have otherwise. But even if the last thing any sane person wishes for is to be arrested, it is still a good idea not to pay bribes. At the least, I saved a bunch of money by not bribing, I lived to tell the tale, and I like to think that I did my small part to combat corruption.

So what should you do when stopped by the police? Here is my advice*:

  1. Know your rights. You are required to show your driver's license (your foreign one is just fine, more on that here), but not much else. Here are some great resources listing your rights: What Are My Rights When Stopped By A Traffic Officer by the AA, and Justice Project South Africa (scroll down a bit for a list of your rights during roadblocks). Both of these websites are good resources for motorists.
  2. To show that you know your rights, it helps to wave around a copy of the South African Road Traffic Act. Most foreigners who get stopped in road blocks are accused of not having the proper license or traffic register number or of even more outlandish things, like not carrying a letter of permission from their spouse (yes, I am not kidding you!), and the best way to show you're not intimidated by any of this is to come prepared. Click here to see which document you should print and carry in your car with you.
  3. Ask for the officer's appointment card. When stopped by a police officer in South Africa, you can ask to see the officer's appointment card (certificate of appointment). This is basically the police officer's ID. They are required by law to produce it on demand in terms of Section 334(2)(a) of the Criminal Procedure Act. If a police officer fails to show you his appointment card, you do not have to show him your license. Furthermore, you can ask to speak to his supervisor or his commander.
  4. Don't get into an argument.  If the officer does not show you the appointment card, take note of it but don't make a fuss. Without making it obvious, try to take a picture or note the license plate of the police officer's vehicle.
  5. Stay cheerful and pretend you have all the time in the world. The worst thing you can do is show that you're in a rush. That's like an invitation to demand a bribe. Instead, just wait things out, and I promise you that sooner or later you will be released, either after having been handed a ticket or without any further consequence. Very rarely do you actually receive a ticket.

Please, whatever you do, don't be tempted to pay a bribe. This will only perpetuate the problem. Some police officers will, quite pathetically, ask for a bribe in circumspect ways, by asking you what you've brought them or if you have any coffee or something to eat. I find this quite comical and don't think it would be wrong to offer them some candy or gum, should you have some in the car.

But do not part with your money.

And now, for the fun part, you can rewind the clock and follow my traffic stop odyssey here:

More on Traffic: When You Get Pulled Over
This is ALSO Africa
Harassment by South African cops
Plan B for When the Cops Stop me Again
My Shining Moment
Narrowly Escaping Jail
I Don't Even Have to Be in Joburg for Another Traffic Cop Story
Welcome Home. And Can I See Your Driver's License?

*Many thanks to Peter Elsmore for kindly sending me extensive information about the Justice Project South Africa and lending his advice regarding traffic stops and the rights of motorists.

April 13, 2015

Top Five Adventures in Southern Africa

Frankly, I feel like our 3-year stint in South Africa was one giant nonstop adventure. I mean, you could already get a nice jolt of adrenaline by simply driving from Joburg to Hartebeespoort Dam and passing the first "hijacking hotspot" warning sign. Just leaving your house felt adventurous, because you ran the risk of being dragged off to jail by yet another overeager traffic cop on any given day. On some days, just looking out the window could make your hair stand on end if you happened to witness one of those Highveldt electrical storms Johannesburg is so famous for.

But I suppose you are reading this because you're looking for another type of adventure. They kind of adventure you can sign up for or book a trip to. And indeed, inspired by the Top Five series of posts by 2Summers as well as Johnny Africa's Top Moments Traveling through Africa, I have decided to put together my own Top Five collection. "Adventure" will be my first installment.

  1. Cage Diving with great white sharks: The best adventures are those you can tell a lot of stories about afterwards, not necessarily the ones that are the most fun while you're immersed in them. Quite literally immersed, in this case. Letting ourselves be submerged in a puny cage off the side of a boat bobbing in the close-to-freezing Atlantic in Gansbaai not far from Cape Town, the stink of lures made from dead fish heads wafting in and out of our nostrils every time we came up for a gasp of air, can't really be labeled "fun" by any stretch of the imagination. Leading up to the event, I couldn't make up my mind whether I was more scared of the gigantic sharks that would be swimming at me head-on and crash full force into the bars of the cage I was trapped in, or rather of the arctic temperature of the ocean. The verdict very clearly came down on the side of the ocean, but perhaps that's just me. Nothing scares me more than being cold. And yet I'd do it again and can highly recommend it. Anyone can do it, no scuba certification necessary. And while you're there, you might also book a diving session among sharks in Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town (this one is only for certified scuba divers). My husband and son loved that part of our trip the most. Read more about cage diving here, and about the aquarium dive here.

    Going shark diving in Gansbaai

  2. Bungy jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge: This adventure became even more adventurous in hindsight when I happened to watch the video of the Australian woman whose bungy cord ripped when she jumped off the bridge spanning the Zambesi at Victoria Falls and fell into the crocodile-infested waters below, feet tied together and trailing a dangling rope. It was bad enough watching my son hurl himself into the void from a distance. I still can't watch the video that was made from his experience without my knees buckling, it looks so scary. Okay, so add "heights" to cold temperatures in the "stuff she's afraid of" column. Perhaps I picked my Top Five purely on what I'm most afraid of. Overcoming your fears definitely makes for an adventure. By the way, should you live in Joburg without an opportunity to travel to the Bloukrans Bridge (which is labeled the world's highest official bridge bungy jump), you can probably get almost as much of a thrill by jumping off the cooling towers in Soweto. But please forget I mentioned the latter. We're strictly sticking to five things here. Read more about the Bloukrans jump (and watch the video!) here.

    Blourkrans Bridge on SA's Garden Route

  3. Dune buggy riding in Swakopmund, Namibia: If you want adventure, you'll simply have to add all of Namibia to your travel list. It brims with adventure and the rugged landscapes to go with it. Riding around the dunes near Swakopmund scores at the very top of our Africa adventure list, if you ask the boys in our family. They had to be dragged off those fourwheelers when our time was up, they loved it so much, roaring up impossibly steep slopes, only to take the crest so fast they flew through the air and then plunged down the next slope. It's a great outing for the whole family. As far as I could tell there was no minimum age, and even our 9-year old quite happily cranked the engine on her smaller-sized vehicle. While you're there, you should also go sledding off the dunes, using thin greased wooden boards and an individual lift service provided by your guides. Again, I hear you can sled or perhaps even ski down the mine dumps in Soweto as well, should your budget not allow for a trip to Namibia.

  4. Hot air ballooning in the Magaliesberg: See how I keep adding great heights to my adventure itinerary? It might not be so adventurous for you if, unlike me, you can remain totally calm looking down on the world below. It's utterly quiet up there, the views are spectacular, both onto the mountains and the other balloons around you, and you will spot plenty of antelopes and perhaps even some rhinos from above. Read more about hot air ballooning near Joburg here.
    See the itty bitty antelopes below?

  5. Canoeing down the Orange River: This is another adventure that takes you all the way to Namibia. Or, to be precise, right up to the border. The Orange River separates the two countries along a long stretch, and paddling through its winding serpentines (and a few rapids) was absolutely our number one family adventure while living in South Africa. Impatience maintains that it was the worst adventure ever, seeing as she fell into the river in one of the rapids (due to, she claims, her brother's inexpert steering), but that just proves my point. We did our trip with Felix Unite, and you can pick anything from just one day to an entire week, paddling during the day and camping on the banks at night, with your guide cooking for you and setting up the toilet behind a crest at every camp.

    Canoeing on the Orange River

There we go, your Top Five adventures in Southern Africa as recommended by Joburg Expat in a neat (though not-so-short) list. Except... If I were to look at all of Africa, the number one adventure, without doubt, would have to be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. It was enough of an adventure for me that I wrote an entire book about it.

April 9, 2015

Stupid Questions You've Been Asked About Your Home Country

If you've ever been an exchange student or an expat, this will be familiar turf for you. We've all gotten them, the wide-eyed questions from those who've vaguely heard about our country but don't really know much about it. 

You kind of want to give them credit for asking, but you also kind of want to punch them in the face for knowing so very little. But most often you're so baffled with the kind of question you get, you just patiently explain. That makes you a good citizen and a great ambassador for your country, but years later you sort of wish you could have thought of a cleverer answer.

Well, I've had years - decades - to think about some of these answers, so I thought I'd put together a list for you.

Stupid Questions You've Been Asked About Your Home Country...and the answers you should have given

  1. Q: Did you ride here on the bus? – from Sweden, in Mississippi, 1983. 
    A: No, I actually didn't ride the bus. Where I live, there are no buses, and no cars either. I had to ride here on a reindeer.

  2. Q: Are you from East or West Germany? – from Germany, in Mississippi, 1983. 
    A: East, of course! I went to a construction site and stole this crane and strung a long rope from it made from my own hair I had cut off and saved every birthday from the age of 5, and in the darkest of night swung back and forth from it a couple of times until I had enough height to catapult myself over that pesky wall. Oh, and I had to kill a border guard while I was at it. And you? Virginia or West Virginia?

  3. Q: You are from Switzerland? So you speak Swedish?  - from Switzerland, in the United States.
    A: Jawohl! And, contrary to common knowledge, we also all go by the name of Ingrid, not Heidi.

  4. Q: You’re from America? Do you know Dolly Parton? – from the U.S.A., in South Africa, early 1990s 
    A: No, but back home Michael Jackson usually does my laundry. (Incidentally, this is not such a stupid question; I wish someone would ask me now, because I could honestly say, “She lives right across the street from me!”)

  5. Q: You speak English in Germany, right? Like in the movies, just with an accent? 
    A: Yes, as soon as we learn how to talk, we speak English with a German accent. This is due to the fact that after World War II, the only movies they would show in Germany were American movies with Nazis in them, so our parents acquired that accent. No one really knows where that strange accent originally came from. There must have been an ancient tribe called “Germans” or something.

  6. Q: Is a vegemite sandwich, uhmm, a blow job? – from Australia, in Canada, 1980s
    A: No, a vegemite sandwich is a vegemite sandwich. It is much better than a blow job. Only Australians, of course, have the right taste buds for vegemite sandwiches. Most other people think they taste like, uhm... blow jobs.

  7. Q: You are from Germany? I love German Nazis! – from Germany, in South Africa, circa 1980. 
    A: [no words]

  8. Q: In your country, do y'all, like, go out on dates? – in Mississippi 1984. 
    A: No, we don't go out on dates. That only happens in American high school movies. We also don't have sex. We are a species that doesn't procreate at all. For entertainment, girls and boys in our country quiz each other about the capitals of the 50 U.S. states and the Founding Fathers. That is why we know so much more about your country than you do.

  9. Q: Why aren't you black? – from South Africa, Nashville, current times 
    A: What? I’m not black anymore?? Nooooo! I HATE this melting pot of yours…

  10. Q: You’re from South Africa? Which COUNTRY in South Africa? 
    A: Brazil.

  11. Q: What time does the Black Forest close? - from Germany, Boston, 1980s.
    A: The Black Forest closes precisely at 6:00 pm. There are Cuckoo Clocks mounted on poles every 100 meters throughout the entire forest, and at 15 minutes before closing, they all begin to chime so that you can make your exit. If you don’t exit before 6:00 pm, you have to appear the next day at precisely 12:00 pm to receive your punishment, which consists of having to write down 3 pages of “Punctuality is the biggest virtue.”

  12. Q: Can you drink tap water in Germany? – from Germany, in Mexico.
  13. A: No, you really shouldn’t drink the tap water in Germany. If you do, you can catch a thing called Montezuma’s Revenge, which is a really nasty stomach bug that was brought to Europe by the early explorers circumnavigating the globe. Bottled water is safe, though. We source all our bottled water from Latin America and India.

  14. Q: You don’t like crab cakes? Are you sure? ALL Americans like crab cakes! 
  15. A:No, I really don’t like crab cakes. I only eat at McDonald’s. Every single day. Like all Americans.

Got any more? Please do share! 

April 6, 2015

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Kilimanjaro Diaries has been Translated!

It was long in coming - one year, to the day - but now it is done: Kilimanjaro Diaries has been translated into German and is now available in the Kindle store.

Click on image to order from Amazon.de

If you're one of my many German blog readers (Germany just got edged out by Ukraine and is now in the #5 spot for all-time pageviews with South Africa, the United States, and the UK occupying the top three spots), you can now download Kilimandscharo-Tagebuch: Chlorwasser, kein WC, eiskalte Nächte - kurzum, ein Traumurlaub! directly to your Kindle or Kindle app from Amazon.de. Or, for that matter, from Amazon.com or any of the other Amazon stores, should you not actually reside in Germany.

Whew! I'm glad that's done and dusted. Time will tell if it was worth all the effort. I did learn a lot about the German language in the process. That, for instance, just because a comma might be in a certain place in an English sentence, it has no bearing on whether or when it will appear in a German one. Although it is extremely likely it will appear often. Just as likely as it is for your book to be one and a half times longer than the original, once you add all those super long words Germans insist on throwing about. Then again I'm very pleased to have actually shortened that lengthy subtitle of mine in the German edition.

What I'm also pleased about is the fact that this project made the English version better as well. How so, you might ask? Well - one of my German proofreaders, being a good German, was very nitpicky. Why did I say in one place that it was cold, and then two paragraphs later it was warm? (Answer: the sun had warmed up the day, duh!) Why did I have to list so many advantages and disadvantages of each Kili climbing route so as to leave the reader totally befuddled as to which one to take, instead of taking a clear stand? Why did I always have to come back with "...on the other hand one could say that..." type phrasings?

Those were all good questions. Using a precise language, I learned, makes you realize when you haven't been very precise. Often times I could get away with it in English when it seemed glaringly inconsistent in German. Of course, being a perfectionist, this meant I just had to go back and fix the English version as well. At the time, I thoroughly cursed this process. Having both a Kindle and a Paperback file for my originals (in very different formats), I had to not just rewrite it into one file but also copy it into the other one for every single change. And there were many.

Keeping track of my dear friend Hans Meyer - he of "first-to-summit" fame - also proved to be a chore. He wrote his account of the first ascent of Kilimanjaro in both German and English (or had it translated, I'm not sure which, but I suspect, with all the talents he possessed, and being a fluent English speaker due to all his travels, that he himself wrote both versions), and getting the appropriate quotes in the correct language meant I had to go back and find them instead of translating them myself. The problem: His German original looks like this:

Yeah, right? Makes the search box a tad hard to use. As a result, I was forever searching through that document so helpfully scanned by some caring soul at the University of California. It was a royal pain, but also resulted in some unexpected strokes of luck. I came across a few anecdotes I had overlooked in the English version (the very easy to read version on my very own Kindle, no less!) and simply had to include, like what happened to the rocks Hans Meyer brought back from the summit, or what nickname his porters had bestowed on him.

The hardest part: I had to come to terms with taking out an entire chapter - the epilogue. The one where I share all my hard-earned words of wisdom in 20 life lessons from climbing a mountain. They came across as annoying and preachy in German, which made me realize they're probably annoying and preachy in English too. Let the book tell its tale and let the reader come to his or her own conclusions, was the advice, and so I took it, even though it kills you to delete something you've already written.

To the Germans among you: I hope you get to read my new (old) book, and I hope you might be a tad more forgiving than my proofreading team! Nevertheless, I would love to hear from you, even if it's just about a spare comma.

Looking for the English version?

UK customers: click here.
German edition: click here.