Mystic Monkey

Red-Crested PochardRed-Crested Pochard (1)Red-Crested Pochard (2)MarmosetSpider MonkeyBengal Tiger Paws
Bengal TigerBengal TigersBengal Tiger (1)White LionMeerkatMeerkat (1)
MeerkatsMeerkats (1)Tufted CapuchinTufted Capuchin (1)Ring-tailed LemurGolden-Handed Tamarin
Safety FirstWhite CapuchinWhite Capuchin (1)White Capuchin (2)CheetahCheetah (1)

Mystic Monkey, a set on Flickr.

Today, Jenny and I were treated to a wonderful journey to Mystic Monkeys and Feathers Wildlife Park in Limpopo Province. Our hosts, Yvonne, Danie and Michelle du Plessis, spoiled us with transport and entry to the park, as well as a superb lunch at Tshukudu Lodge.

The highlight of the trip, though, was holding and petting tiny Bengal tiger cubs. Wow. Very cool. Never mind that Bengals are not at all indigenous to this part of the world, it was an amazing experience.

Check out some of the photos from our visit.

Give us our MONEY!

No, you are not allowed to use your own money. Denied. (photo by Steve Rhodes via Flickr)

This is a tirade directed towards the largest bank holding company in the United States, Bank of America. It is a tale of mind-boggling ineptitude and questionable online security. All we want to do is access our funds to purchase a vehicle in South Africa. In 2011 — the age of the interwebs, globalization and Baja Blast-flavored Mountain Dew — we should be able to transfer money from America’s biggest bank to South Africa’s biggest bank. Right?

Not so much.

We started by establishing the vehicle’s seller as a payee in our Bank of America online account. No problem. Then, we tried to initiate the transfer. Oops, there’s a problem: Any transfer over $1,000 requires enrollment in “Safe Pass.”

OK, that’s cool. We like extra online security. Let’s enroll in Safe Pass.

Nope.

After several hours online and on the phone with BofA customer service, it was determined that it is not possible to enroll in Safe Pass from outside the United States. Their suggestion? Have “someone in the US” log in as Jenny and try to enroll.

What?!? How is that more secure? Sure, we trust (certain) family and friends — we didn’t think Grandma Chum was a good candidate — with our info, it sort of seems like fraud to have someone else pose as one of us, doesn’t it? Isn’t it, in fact, the exact thing BofA is trying to thwart with Safe Pass?

Of course, none of this worked. We tried everything the customer service reps suggested. My mom’s husband, better known as My Mike, patiently maneuvered his way through the BofA site and dealt with the delays and hiccups inherent in an international conference call. All to no avail. (Actually, that’s not true. He did learn how to send a text message from his phone. Ironically, though, his first-ever text was the word help.)

After ALL of that, here’s the kicker: The customer service rep said he would have to “escalate” the case. Sounds good, I said, what does that mean? Basically, that means we send your case to someone higher up, and they call you in 2-3 business days.

Again, WHAT?!?

Whatever, we said. Let’s go back to the drawing board and brainstorm some other ideas to pay the seller.

  • Travelers Cheques? Huge fees.
  • Cash Advance? Huger fees.
  • Have someone else wire the money to the seller and pay that person back? A workable idea, but seems unnecessary. Put that idea in the parking lot.
  • Western Union? There are no stupid ideas in a brainstorm.
  • Pay the seller in $1,000 installments? It would take several days to wire all the installments, and there’s no guarantee that each transfer will be immediate. It could take weeks to complete the sale. But there are no stupid ideas…
  • Try this process from the start on Ryan’s account? OK, why didn’t we think of that sooner??

So we tried. “Someone in the US” logged in as me and tried to enroll in Safe Pass. What do you think happened?

Error.

Three days, scores of costly internet megabytes and hundreds of cathartic pushups later, we are still in the same boat. Which is to say, we are still not in our new car.

If any of you work for, have sway with or feel like protesting Bank of America, please let us know. Right now, we could use the support. And a lift to the mall.

UPDATE (8:17pm South Africa Time): On a whim, I called BoA customer support again, just to check on the case number and try my luck with a new person. Luckily, I got the very sharp Katie Preston at the call center. She said, “I think there’s a workaround.” She was right. She solved in 3 minutes what others couldn’t solve in 3 days. Now, the transfer is in process, it should be cleared by Wednesday, and we should have our car by Thursday. Good timing, since there’s currently a petrol strike going on in South Africa with no end in sight. Baby steps.

The Mail is Here!

This was a strong, new box when we mailed it from Chicago.

By some small miracle, a box of books and other educational materials we shipped on June 25 finally arrived yesterday. It’s not a miracle that a parcel was successfully sent from a major American city to a world capital city…it’s a miracle that the box survived the journey.

As a Fulbright scholar, the U.S. Embassy afforded Jenny the opportunity to send 4 boxes through Diplomatic Pouch service, which meant that we could ship certain items all the way to Pretoria by simply sending them to Washington, DC. The State Department would then forward the items to the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria free of charge.

We were warned that it would be a “difficult trip” for any boxes we shipped, so we selected a strong, new book box, packed it carefully and taped it like a grandmother would a birthday present (does she really need to make it that hard to get to a savings bond?). Even after all of that, the box barely survived.

But, it did.

I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere...

Still, for those of who who have threatened offered to stuff yourselves in a box so that you can be shipped to South Africa for a visit, I would not recommend Diplomatic Pouch as a means of travel. You will actually get slightly more leg room and marginally better treatment on United Airlines. And much better treatment on South African Airways*.

In any case, now Jenny has all the books, files and supplies she needs to start her research, so you probably won’t hear from her again on the blog as she’ll be very busy. (I’ll try to make her take breaks…)

Oh, and if you’d like to send us anything by post (like baked goods, cheaper internet or a car that drives on the right side of the road), this is the best address:

Dr. Jenny Hoobler
Department of Human Resource Management
Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences
Private Bag X20
Hatfield 0028
Pretoria South Africa

No pressure. If you’d just like to send us email or ideas for blog posts or someecards, that’s cool, too.

Baie dankie.

*This marks the second time I’ve linked to SAA, by the way, so one of you needs to click and make a reservation.

The Lion in Winter

Lest some of our midwestern friends think we are already getting soft by complaining about the South African winter, let me just concede that 66 and sunny does not compare to -6 and snowy. It does not. However, let me tell you why it is actually kinda cold here:

Last year's World Cup was held during the South African winter (photo from the Daily Maverick)

First off, July truly is the “dead of winter” in South Africa. Not until late August will we see spring-like temperatures and some promise that warmth is coming. Granted, winter only lasts about 10 weeks here, but it can get to you.

The issue is that everything here is built for summer. Our guest house and Jenny’s office on campus, for example, are built to keep the heat out, not in. In fact, our place, like many houses here, only has heat in one room. Our little kitchen is not heated and our bathroom has a kind of space heater above the door (which seems counterintuitive since heat rises, but…). A middle-of-night wee can be quite a shock to the system.

At night, temperatures can drop into the low 40’s or high 30’s, and only in the midday sun do you see anything close to 70. Combined with thick, masonry construction and lack of internal heaters, your body never really gets warm. In the U.S., the weather outside may be frightful, but the fire (powering the furnace) is usually so delightful — you actually get a chance to warm up before braving it again. Here? Not so much.

And we’re talking about areas of Pretoria and other cities in South Africa where people have homes at all. If the rich and middle class put up with no heat during winter, imagine how poor folks in the townships and settlements and squatter camps do it. Actually, the Economist recently published a post on their Africa blog about winter in Johannesburg that tells the story quite well.

So, while winter here does not hold an icy candle to winter in Chicago, it’s not entirely warm, either. But we’re not complaining. Until it gets hot.

Buy a Donkey? Thank You.

Kylie Minogue at Sun City (Photo: Paballo Thekiso)

It’s a good thing English is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, because I’m not sure we have enough time to learn to speak or understand any of the others. Afrikaans would probably be the “easiest” since it is a Germanic language based in Dutch and has many cognates that we recognize in English. So, by reading an Afrikaans newspaper, for example, we could tell that Kylie Minogue was in town last Friday (Vrydag) and that we should probably care about it. (Of course, like typical Americans, we do not care nearly enough about Kylie Minogue.)

Listening to the radio – at least, to certain stations – is akin to listening to a young Puerto Rican girl in Chicago talking on her cell phone to a friend while riding the El: it’s an utter jumble of languages and interjections and slang that is almost always fun to hear. The difference here is that instead of Spanglish, which we can understand, we are dealing with Afrikaanglish, which is much more difficult (and guttural) and leaves us scratching our heads. The deejay, for example, may be describing a song or an event in English, then switch to Afrikaans to deliver the important details. Oops. You lost us.

When it comes to Pedi, Tswana, Ndebele, Sotho or any of the other languages primarily spoken by black South Africans, there’s just no hope. Unless the conversation includes words that have no equivalent other than English, but, still, I don’t know if my ears will be able to adjust. I hope so, of course, because I’d love to know a few phrases in some of these languages. (Jenny and I have always wanted a secret language so we could talk about things in front of others without their knowledge, so maybe Zulu…)

Now, no discussion of official languages would be complete without including Sign Language. We will sometimes see references to the “12 Official Languages of South Africa”, with the 12th being sign. Television newscasts often include a sign interpreter, and I assume the interpretation is in the same language as the audio, which is most often English, from what we’ve seen in our short time here.

According to a promo for a popular TV drama here, there’s actually a 13th and “Unofficial” language here: Gunfire. Fortunately, we haven’t heard any of that language “spoken” just yet.

Donkey on the trail with us in Morocco

So, by now you must be wondering about the title of this post: Buy a Donkey? Thank You. “Buy a donkey” is the only Afrikaans phrase we’ve learned so far. Actually, it’s baie danke and it means “many thanks.” Baie dankie = buy a donkey. Get it? Now you know as much Afrikaans as we.

Don’t worry, though, we haven’t screwed up and purchased any donkeys (Indie would be really confused). We are, however, very close to buying a car! Details to come…

More from Murray

Just a few more shots from the garden (our backyard):

Gender, Development and Dance!

One of the great things about being a “trailing spouse” is the access I have been afforded to the resources and offerings at the University of Pretoria. Sunday night was a prime example.

Jenny and I were invited to attend the opening of the South African Sociological Association Annual Congress, which included a keynote address by Professor Raewyn Connell of the University of Sydney on Gender and social justice: Southern perspectives. It was a fascinating look at how gender is and has been defined, particularly in the sociological canon and as a result of domination by scholars from the global North (and, in the earliest days, by white men).

Later in the evening, Professor Wilson Akpan of the University of Fort Hare discussed concepts of local knowledge, global knowledge and development knowledge, and posited that, basically, Northern/Western aid agencies often suffer from overactive empathy and inadequate understanding. Local and indigenous knowledge are hot buzzwords in international development circles, but practitioners often can’t see the forest for the trees. Interesting stuff. Both talks took me back to grad school anthropology coursework on the politics of gender & reproduction and cultural issues in development.

But if issues of gender and development don’t get your heart racing (yes, we’re nerds), this will: The conference also featured a performance by the University of Pretoria Chorale, a student choir that represents South Africa’s 11 official languages through song and dance. Here’s a bit of the show, as captured on my iPhone: