February 27, 2017


If you've grown up in South Africa and gone to school there, my guess is you will know (and love) the Spud book series by John van de Ruit:

If you are not South African and new to the country, I highly recommend you get these books. If you aren't much of a reader, opt for the movie with John Cleese instead - a rare instance where the movie is as good or even better than the book. (It's a universal rule: It can never be bad with John Cleese in it.)
Why do I recommend these books?
First off, because they are funny. Sort of like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and movie, except more nuanced. 
But beyond entertaining, they are also educational. In a cultural way. To fully understand South Africa, you have to understand the boarding school experience. To this day, many South African kids, right after celebrating their 13th birthday, leave their homes to live and learn at one of the country's fine boarding schools - many of them with a 100+  year old tradition. If you have a few minutes, Google Michaelhouse or Hilton. I can tell you that you'll come away thinking "Wow, I'd love to be a teenager again and be sent to one of these esteemed learning institutions."
Except it's not all fun and glory. Nothing, at age 13, is fun and glory - it's all about pimples, insecurity, and heartbreak. The Spud trilogy tells it all beautifully, viewed through the eyes of the teenager John "Spud" Milton who receives a scholarship to one of South Africa's prestigious boarding schools. From the beginning, it's clear that he doesn't fit in, but nevertheless he makes friends and has typical boarding-school adventures with them, finding an unlikely ally in his English teacher (played in the movie, of course, by John Cleese). 
Laced with typical South African/ English self-deprecating humor (the kind some Americans struggle with - oh the days when we had a president with a sense of humor!), the story of Spud and his coming-of-age in KwaZulu-Natal will not disappoint, I promise you that. It's not unlike the stories we expats like to write about our misadventures, except in this case the protagonist doesn't have to move abroad for his share of culture shock.
Michaelhouse. The header of their website says it all.

February 20, 2017

Why I am Teaching my Daughters How to Knit

The following is my attempt to make sense of the world we woke up to on November 9, 2016, and then again on January 20, 2017. It is about my country, the United States of America, rather than about expat life, but don't think that it doesn't have anything to do with you. The right of free speech, as exercised by a country's free press, has been under attack in your country just as much as it is now in ours. I reported about this in 2011. So perhaps you can appreciate the parallels.

Who would have thought that in the year 2017 knitting would become a feminist symbol?

Certainly not my grandmother, who was a champion knitter in her day. I can still see her as if it were yesterday, churning out cabled sweaters at alarming speed while watching her beloved Kaiser Franz bring glory to German soccer fans of the 1970s. She was a practical woman who would have felt guilty watching TV without getting something done on the side. I doubt she would have known what to make of a pussy hat, and I'm sure she would have disapproved of such vulgar language.

But here I am with a mountain of pink yarn of various hues and textures, knitting up a storm of rather crude hats Grandma would have disdained for their lack of refinement: simple rectangles you sew together at the sides and across the top, resulting in two "ears" at each corner to poke out from your head.

Not only am I knitting till my fingers bleed, with a permanent yarn-shaped dent in my index finger, I've also taught my teenage daughters the craft. Never have we bonded as much as we do now (thank you, Donald Trump), sitting together each evening clinking our needles while speaking the language of stockinette stitch, purls, and k1-sl1-k2tog-psso. Every so often I have to rescue their work from the destruction wreaked by a dropped stitch. And somehow we do this to ward off the destruction of our country.

What, with knitting? I can see you have doubts. So let me try to explain.

We are knitting pussy hats so we can wear them when we march again. No doubt there will be reason for many more marches.

(We are also knitting pussy hats so that we will not throw our glass at the TV when yet another stupidity or outrageous lie - or most likely both in the same sentence - is reported on the nightly news. It is so much harder to throw a glass when your fingers have yarn wound tightly around them.)

So why do we march wearing our pink pussy hats? Oh, the reasons. Perhaps, first and foremost, because we (still) can. South Africans know a thing or two about marching and protesting, and this is the first time in my life that I fully understand what compelled them to take to the streets.

We march in solidarity with those who are suddenly turned away from our borders simply because of their faith. Don't give me the "keeping our country safe" BS. If you wanted to keep our country safe, you wouldn't sit in plain view of gawkers discussing issues of national security, you would not have nominated an unvetted and unhinged National Security Adviser, and you certainly wouldn't still use your phone to send out your early morning Twitter-diarrhea complaining about petty slights. There are so many ways you can start keeping our country safe, but vindictively forcing families apart simply because you think you can should not be one of them.

We march because we want all our children to have access to good education, because we see the threat of climate change, because we do not think the White House should be like a candy shop for its occupants to help themselves to whatever they feel like to enrich themselves.

We march not as "professional anarchists, thugs, and paid protesters," as our president would have you believe. I am simply a concerned citizen as well as a writer who will never surrender my right to say and write what I think. There are people who died in pursuit of that right, and I will not have it trampled. Of all the threats facing our country, and frankly the world, from this new wanna-be authoritarian government. this is the most dear to my heart.

I didn't use to think of myself as a feminist. Business school graduate, mother, expat, trailing spouse - I've accumulated tons of labels. But feminist? I didn't think about it. Perhaps I thought we didn't need them anymore. But boy was I wrong. As one of my favorite posters lofted by a fellow protester stated: Mr. President, keep your tiny hands off my rights!

Those of us who marched in rallies across the country all had different reasons for being there. I may not have much in common with many of the other participants. In fact, history pitted some of us against each other, as laid out in this excellent article in The New York Times Magazine. But on January 21, 2017, we were all united: young, old, blond, brown, black, thin, fat, immigrant, Muslim, atheist, straight, gay, and more than one pothead. We were united in our opposition to a man who plays dangerous games with the truth.

As conservative writer Bret Stephens wrote in Time Magazine, we now have a leader with this worldview:

"Truth is what you can get away with. If you can sell condos by claiming your building is 90% occupied when it’s only 20% occupied, well, then—it’s 90% occupied. If you can convince a sufficient number of people that you really did win the popular vote, or that your inauguration crowds were the biggest—well then, what do the statistical data and aerial photographs matter?"

I would add: If you can have your home remodeled on the taxpayer's dime claiming it was a "security upgrade" and get away with it, who cares?

I do. We do. We marched because the truth does matter. We're not going to let this man and his entourage of unprincipled aides - the people who now applaud the very things in their anointed they so much decried when attacking his opponent - get away with lying or obscuring the facts. I know logic is not your strong suit, Mr. President, but it's either a leaked story or Fake News. You can't have it both ways.

It's only been four weeks and my daughters and I already have 10 finished pussy hats. In an added twist that cheers my expat heart, this entire first batch is going to Spain as per special order from a group of women organizers. More are in the pipeline, and we're happy to take your orders!

My grandmother, who taught me not only how to knit but also the importance of finishing a work I had started, would likely be puzzled by the notion of knitting as a symbol of resistance.

But she would be proud of me, and of the great-granddaughters she's never met.

We are all feminists.


And now the pictures can tell the rest of the story:

"Friends of South Africa" and friends at Nashville Women's March, Jan 21 2017
Walking up to the Capitol

Note my daughter's t-shirt - oh the good old days of THAT president

More great posters and pussy hats


The Nashville skyline makes such a pretty backdrop

This was my favorite sign (I didn't get a picture of the "Betsy deVos = Dolores Umbridge" one)

Not sure about THAT poster but gotta love, once again, the skyline

The minute there comes  a Muslim registry, I'll wrap my head in our flag just like that and take
us all to be registered

Grab this pussy (hat)! We accommodate any color or pattern preference and will ship
you your hat in exchange for a donation to Planned Parenthood or National Public Radio.