Monthly Archives: July 2011

What is this Place? (by Indie)

In my backyard

With my humans both out for the day, I thought I would take this chance to share some of my first impressions of this new place. Mom is at work, and Dad went to Centurion with my new friend Nikki (she brought me treats!) to help her shop for a new truck. They call trucks “bakkies” here. I do not know that word. Anyway, Dad left his laptop on, so I decided to put my paws to the keyboard and tell you my version of what’s going on here. I read the blog, too, and I think that’s been missing.

First things first, did you hear about what I went through to get here? Sweet Mother of Milkbones! The cross-country drive was one thing (I like car trips), but 22 hours in that cage – including 16 in the belly of that giant metal horse – was the worst! I don’t think I slept at all. I may not have any concept of time, but that was a long time! There were some nice humans along the way that fed me treats from a baggie attached to the cage, but that was cold comfort in the grand scheme of things. What’s funny is that when I saw my people again, I totally forgot it was them that put me through all that. I just needed to piss like a race-Great Dane.

Now that we are here (wherever “here” is), I am beginning to really enjoy myself. There are a ton of new smells. Even the dirt smells different, and the grass is really short and it’s fun to roll around on it. What’s most fun about going outside, though, is finding all the chicken bones on the ground. I’m not a religious dog, but Sirius must have truly blessed this place to make chicken bones so abundant. Sometimes I even find cow and lamb bones! It’s awesome!

Ha, ha…sometimes…this is great…Sometimes I even get them when I go running with Mom. What I’ll do is I’ll stop and pretend like I have to “do my business,” but really I smelled the chicken bone from, like, half a block away and I’ll just pick it up and eat it. She falls for it every time!

Speaking of doing my business, I really like to poop in front of the Iraqi Embassy. It’s just up the street. It means nothing to me, but my humans always get a kick out of it. Once, I heard Dad say that my pooping there was like something he called a “metaphor.” Bakkie? Metaphor? I don’t know these words.

Across the street from the Iraqi Embassy is a vet shop. I usually don’t like going to the vet, but this one has yummy treats and these tasty sinew chew sticks. I eat those. I’ve become really good at dragging my humans into this shop.

My humans also got me these treats called “Beeno.” They’re like regular, little, bone-shaped biscuits, and they taste pretty good. My friend, Nikki, brought me some, too. Every time I get one the humans say, “Take Beeno and there’ll be no gas.” Yeah. As if. Have you seen all the crap I pick up off the street? Even my iron gut can’t handle some of those strange things.

I’ll tell you what else I can’t handle: all these grumpy security dogs behind their giant fences. We’ll be running or just out for a walk, and all these pompous purebreds will start yapping nastiness at us. To tell you the truth, I have no idea what they are saying. One golden lab told me, in a very thick accent, that I had better learn something called “Afrikaans” if I wanted to fit in here. Bakkie? Metaphor? Afrikaans? I don’t know these words.

That stupid Jack Russell that slips through his fence and follows me around…man, I can’t understand him at all. He’s hyper. “Talk to the paw,” I tell him.

Oh, there is a gentle old chow who’s been nice to me. I always thought chows were mean, but this one is pretty friendly. Well, as friendly as you can be through the fortress walls.

All in all, life is pretty good. Again, I don’t know where we are or what this place is called (I’m tempted to name it Chicken Bone Land), but as long as my peeps are here and they keep letting me have most of the room on the bed at night, I am happy.

I just thought you should hear it from me.

Mandela Day Cleanup in Mamelodi

Nelson Mandela.

Image via Wikipedia

As noted in a previous post, Nelson Mandela International Day was July 18, and people all over the world – especially South Africa – were encouraged to spend at least 67 minutes in service to community. In this spirit, the University of Pretoria organized a group cleanup event on Saturday in the township of Mamelodi. We were excited to be a part of it.

The morning started early. We woke at 5:15 to eat, walk Indie and get to campus by 6:45, when the buses were scheduled to depart for Mamelodi. Like university/student events everywhere, things were running a bit behind. By 7:15, though, we were on our way.

We were definitely the only Americans in the group, which numbered about 100, but the group was otherwise fairly diverse. Disappointingly, though, I was one of only three white men.

The ride itself was slightly longer than expected. I’ve been studying maps of Pretoria in anticipation of driving around the city (no car yet…thanks Bank of America!), and I thought Mamelodi was a bit closer to town. The distance further underscored the disparity of the apartheid system that forced most blacks to live so far away from employment, decent education and equality with their fellow South Africans. Mamelodi remains part of that dark legacy.

When we did arrive, we saw the familiar sights of township life: impossibly tiny, one-room houses of corrugated tin; minibus taxis idling bonnet-to-boot, waiting to ferry local residents to jobs in the suburbs or CBD; cinder block shops and shebeens with hand-painted signs declaring their names and touting their wares.

Our bus pulled into the University of Pretoria Mamelodi Campus and we soon found our way to the Arena building, where there was to be an address by UP’s vice chancellor. We were joined there by members of the Mamelodi community, the woman who represents Mamelodi in the Tshwane city council and several dozen school children (“learners”) from the township. Following the address, which outlined Mandela Day and our role in it (recycling!), we were split into groups to receive our cleanup assignments.

Jenny and I – and our new friend, Isolde, a lecturer in the UP law school – found our way into Group E. Also in our group was a quintet (or more) of young, enthusiastic UP students wearing Tuks Football jackets. They proclaimed their arrival by dancing and chanting, “We…are here! We, we are here!” It was to become a familiar cadence.

Group E was tasked with picking up glass. OK, we thought, easy enough. We each took a large plastic bag and a pair of Smurf-blue rubber gloves and followed the herd into the community to begin our 67 minutes.

But, oh, what did we find?

Picking up recyclables in a vacant lot in Mamelodi with others from UP during the Mandela Day cleanup

Yes, there was plenty of glass in the vacant lot across the street and adjacent to the entrance of the tin-roofed township. But there was so much more: plastic bags filled with rotten food; unspooled coils of rusty wire; single, lonely, mangled shoes; used, disposable diapers; dead rats; what appeared to be the skull and assorted bones of a dead dog; both mandibles of what was likely a dead donkey; the hide and fleece of a dead sheep; and all manner of things not meant to be so close to a community, to a school, to a child.

Don’t misunderstand: this vacant lot was not a sanctioned dump, per se. It was simply a place that collected the remnants of people’s lives, lives that are more difficult than can easily be imagined.

The smell of the place was…not as awful as you might think. It was an assault on the olfactory, to be sure, but it wasn’t the full-on landfill smell you might expect. Again, the place wasn’t a landfill. I suppose the best way to describe the smell is as a combination of many smells. There was the putrid smell of rotting food. There was the dank smell of decomposition. There was the charred smell of recently burned grass. And there was the dusty smell of the dry, red soil that was, by now, tinting our shoes and covering our faces.

The fully intact, green and brown beer bottles were easy to handle and bag. We quickly learned, though, that most of the glass to be recovered and recycled lay in the form of shards – broken bottles, shattered plates, etc. Our 67 minutes was spent avoiding lacerations and other hazards inherent in walking on, picking up and carrying broken glass.

(If our mothers haven’t completely freaked out by this point, this little nugget will put them over the edge: While overturning a pile of brush to uncover more bottles, I found a used hypodermic needle. It was capped and no needle was protruding, but it gave me a bit of a start.)

Jenny and I each filled two bags with glass, or at least as full as possible given that the shards easily made holes in the plastic and compromised its strength. Then, before we knew it, our 67 minutes was up and we were walking back to the Arena. The Tuks Football quintet continued with chants of, “We…are done! We, we are done!” and “We…are walking! We, we are walking!” 

Following a brief performance by the UP Chorale, the group we saw at the sociology conference, we boarded the buses and headed for home.

I didn’t know how to feel.

On the one hand, we did right by the spirit of Mandela Day: we volunteered in service of our (new) community, we cleaned up a blighted area in an impoverished neighborhood and we raised awareness about recycling. On the other hand, we showed up in this community for an hour, made what is probably just a small dent in the overall appearance of the area and demonstrated that “recycling” requires an army of people with special gloves and individual assignments.

So, did we make a difference?

I was conflicted until we saw the news. SABC TV News ran stories in multiple languages about the UP cleanup day in Mamelodi. One of the managers of the guesthouse even said she saw Jenny on TV, though we must have missed that bit. She seemed happy that we were part of the effort.

Later, our housekeeper (and Indie’s buddy) Maria told me that she thought what we did in Mamelodi was “a great thing.” She saw the news report, too, and felt like we showed the community that people care enough about them to come and help. We also showed, she thought, that it is possible to keep the community clean, and to recycle. It was really nice to hear.

At the end of the day, both literally and proverbially, it seems to have been 67 minutes well spent.

Off the Wagon


A South African favorite, biltong is cured meat hung to dry. (Image by sharky2004 via Flickr)

As many of you know, Jenny and I are not what you might call “eaters of meat.” Jenny became a quasi-Hindu in 1988, when she eschewed chewing beef. When we met, in 1997, she had given up all meat attached to bones (chicken breast = OK), and in 1998, when we moved to Lexington, KY, we both gave up all meat except fish/seafood. I guess you would call us “pescetarians.” Or, if you were our nephew, Max, you would call us “weird.”

Pescetarianism is not the easiest way of life to maintain in South Africa. Sure, you can get seafood here from the coasts or prawns from Mozambique (we had sushi for lunch, in fact), but opting for pure vegetarian fare can be more of a challenge.

Case in point: The other day, Jenny was at a mall with a fellow Fulbrighter and they stopped at a café for lunch. Perusing the menu, Jenny found little that wasn’t chicken or lamb or “mince” (beef) or overly fried. So, reading carefully, Jenny selected the Cheese Griller, which included cheese, tomato and sauce.

You, like Jenny, may have expected to receive some form of grilled cheese sandwich. You, like Jenny, would be wrong. A griller, as every red-blooded South African knows, is a sausage. So, instead of a lovely toasted cheese sandwich, Jenny got a sideways-split hot dog sandwich. And the restaurant wouldn’t take it back, basically because she should have known better. Lesson learned.

For me, this whole thing is much easier: I am off the wagon.

Yep, I decided before we left Chicago that I would suspend most restrictions on my diet in order to take advantage of opportunities to sample local, ethnic or otherwise culturally different foods, even (especially?) if they involved giant slabs of meat. So far, the suspension has led only to the usual suspects of chicken, sausage (not grillers) and bacon. I really don’t know how I ever gave up bacon in the first place.

It’s not that I haven’t had the opportunity to branch out past pork and poultry. Oh, no. Just last week, in fact, Jenny and I went out to eat at a nice place called La Pentola – a South African fusion restaurant with an incredibly large and diverse menu. Some of the offerings that night included springbok carpaccio, honey mustard warthog loin and pan-fried crocodile tail (which nephew Max says “tastes like chicken”). Yet, when opportunity knocked, I chose the prawns.

As far as our overall food experiences go, I’d say it’s been hit or miss…



  • Cheese grillers (see above)
  • Pizza (to paraphrase Bono, friend to all of Africa, we still…haven’t found…what we’re looking for)
  • Tuna salad sandwiches (don’t ask)
  • Sweet chili potato chips (sounded good, but…)

I guess that’s more hit than miss, more good than bad. I guess we can stay a little while longer.


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