Into the Wind

It’s calmer today. The wind that whipped us up and down the Cape Peninsula yesterday – from Kalk Bay to Boulders Beach, all the way to Cape Point and back to Noordhoek and Cape Town – is just a pleasant breeze now. At times it’s barely noticeable, but the fresh sea air it carries is so clean, so subtly salty, so perfect, I find myself constantly wishing for another gust.

The sun, paying no heed to the weatherman’s forecast of cool temps, is its strong, African self. Its warmth is matched only by its brightness.

It’s a beautiful day in the Mother City.

It’s also overwhelmingly blue. In the mid-afternoon light, I am surrounded on almost all sides by vast blueness: the shimmering, marine blue of the ocean; the shadowy, gray-blue of the mountains beyond; and the sharp, infinite blue of the sky above. Only a scattering of wispy clouds, now tinted pale orange in the west, offers a counter-chromatic.

If Cape Town was a house, I would be out on the front porch. Behind me, Table Mountain serves as a majestic living room wall, a feature in and of itself, upon which no piece of art is worthy to be hung. The family room, at the V&A Waterfront, is like no other: it has a Ferris wheel. Adjacent, the home office has shelves full of skyscrapers. Tucked away quaintly in the back is the wine cellar of Constantia. The curb appeal here is high.

Table Mountain from the V&A Waterfront

As I sit, sipping a cappuccino, watching dolphins and seals frolic in the bay, I realize, more clearly than ever, that I am ruined for real life. I remember 9-to-5 jobs, draconian vacation policies, gapers’ delays on the Ike, real winters. These memories loom. What happens when they once again become reality?

Better question: How can I shape my new reality? What options will I have? What opportunities will exist? What traditional boundaries will confine me?

I’d like to say that this year (will have) taught me to think differently, to define life unconventionally, to choose my own adventures. But, until the true test comes, I can only aver.

In the meantime, we will enjoy our final weeks in fantasy land, a place not perfect – particularly for those whose eighteen years of political freedom has yet to yield any significant economic freedom – but certainly out of our ordinary. A place where a fresh, fall day feels like a sunny, Chicago summer. A place where I can be a full-time volunteer. A place where Jenny can have straight hair and Indie can live her dog life.

Today, it’s calm. The winds will pick up again soon, though, and carry us in a new direction. We should, I suppose, welcome another gust.

You Got Questions, We Got Answers

Inquiring minds want to know. In our last post, we asked you to ask us…anything. A few of you did, thank you, and we have some answers.

See below for our responses to questions ranging from what it’s like at our jobs to gender differences to fruits, trees, haircuts, politics, what we will miss the most and more. Hope you enjoy!

What does business attire look like in the downtown area? What are the gender differences in clothing?

Ryan: Honestly, we’re rarely in the Central Business District (CBD), so I can’t answer this question specifically. But, if we’re talking business attire at the university, I’d say it’s more relaxed, but that’s true of most academic environments, I think. Except at the stuffier business schools…

As for gender differences, it seems that, as usual, women dress much better than men. Even the students follow suit: the female students are most often in cute little dresses, or at least well put together; the guys are sportier and wear more denim. And the white guys wear waaaaay shorter shorts. That whole “rugby thing.”

Jenny: I like how work attire for women is more flowing and cool, i.e., appropriate for 80-degree weather, yet still dressy here. There is a bit of a girliness here to women’s styles that I’m not completely down with though—lots of lace, ruffles, and floral fabric. Sometimes I think women seem as though they’re headed to a garden party rather than the office.

What was your experience from a working perspective?

Ryan: Well, though I do spend the majority of my “work” time in the offices of the Centre for Human Rights, I’m really a volunteer, so I don’t know if I can truly capture a “working perspective.” However, I will say that in many ways I find the work culture here more relaxed than in the States. That’s not to say that nothing gets done; it does. The Centre has been a well-respected academic institution and international NGO for 25 years…they’re doing something right. In fact, you should go ahead and Like our Facebook page.

I suppose the biggest difference I’ve noticed in my small work world is that there seem to be fewer meetings here. Or, at least fewer scheduled meetings. There are ad hoc get-togethers, but not the kind of regular, block-your-calendar team or staff meetings to which I’m accustomed. It could just be a difference in how this place is run, though.

Jenny: As far as office climate, people don’t hesitate to make time to be social here. Right away, people made the effort to get to know me, and that felt great. Teatime is a must, both mid-morning and mid-afternoon. My Type-A personality has a hard time with this, but I think I’m getting better at putting the work aside for a few minutes per day. Ryan would say this experience will serve me well back in the States.

How do men treat Jenny?

Ryan: Pass. No, wait! … Sorry, definitely pass.

Jenny: On runs, they are noticeably silent when Indie is with me. (She’s a commanding force!) But when I’m running sans dog, there are more whistles and puzzling comments—more like what sometimes happens in the States.

Describe in great detail all of the trees that you have seen.

Jenny: That’s a tall order. The flora here is a passion of mine. See Ryan’s previous post about the purple jacaranda trees for which Pretoria is famous. I also love the fever trees with their lime green trunks and round, yellow flowers, and the leopard trees with their namesake bark, acacia-like green leaves which turn red in Spring, and spiky yellow flowers.

Babobabs

But maybe my favorite is that decidedly African tree—the baobab. They can live up to 3,000 years (this is true!), and can grow large enough for 40 people to sit beneath one. They look like they’re upside down (their shape looks like their roots are in the air). The story goes that some African tribes believed that, at the beginning of time, the baobabs were upright, and too proud, and that they lorded over the lesser trees. This angered the gods who uprooted them and thrust them back into the ground, but this time with their roots upwards. Now evil spirits haunt the sweet, white baobab flowers, and it’s said that anyone who picks their flowers will be killed by a lion.

Ryan: I don’t see trees; I see forests.

Do you both wear shoes less?

Jenny: Actually, more in the house: Our floors are usually dirty from having the windows open 24/7. But funny you should ask—the Afrikaner children (even some college students) don’t wear shoes, even at the mall, the grocery store, and to class. “No shoes, No service” is not a credo here.

Ryan: Hmmmm…no. About the same. I suppose if I wasn’t going to “work” most days, I would wear shoes less. The weather, since September, has certainly been accommodating enough.

What habits have changed in your daily hygiene?

Jenny: I wash my hair less often.

Ryan: Nothing major. I smell Jenny’s hair less often.

What is Indie afraid of that is strange?

Ryan: Well, she continues to be afraid of thunderstorms, aluminum foil, trash bags, etc., which some may consider strange. The thunderstorms here, by the way, are at a professional level. Chicago thunderstorms are bush league, in comparison. The lightning strikes and thunderclaps are so sharp, so piercing, so percussive that we humans are often jolted.

Jenny: Can I talk about what she’s NOT afraid of? I’m delighted that she’s assertive enough to go after mongooses, cats that wander into the yard, and giant birds with long beaks called hadedas (that are not well-loved here). She’s come into her own in Africa!

Indie is NOT afraid to lie in the bushes outside our flat

What fruit have you had too much of?

Ryan: Ah, this is the beauty and (mild) frustration of SA: It’s difficult to find a fruit when it is not in season. We once asked for limes at a very nice produce shop and they looked at us like we were aliens. “We will have limes in three months, when it is time for limes.” Roger that.

Right now, the mangos, nectarines and Cape peaches are impossibly delicious.

Jenny: Again I want to answer a different question; sorry. I’ve had too many Greek salads. They’re on every (and I mean every; this is not an overstatement) menu.

Ryan: If feta cheese was a fruit, it would always be in season.

What will you miss the most once you return?

Ryan: Everything. The people. The lifestyle. The proximity to outdoorsy activities. The proximity to awesome animals. The weather. The excitement that comes with a young democracy that seems very close to either getting its shit together or falling off a steep cliff.

Jenny: Stella Nkomo, the wonderful woman I work with. Mangoes every night after dinner. 80 degrees every day. Eating dinner outside. The stars in the southern hemisphere. Biking with zebras. Toads hopping around on my kitchen floor. Never having to make my own bed, change the sheets, iron, or do the breakfast dishes. Buildings with hallways that are open to the outside. Our housekeeper cleverly and subtly putting us in our place.

What was the most striking generalization that you had about SA before you left that has changed?

Ryan: We won’t have to sleep in a tree house? There are no lions in the streets?

I suppose that since we had been here before as tourists, we had something of an idea of what we were getting into. Still, I suppose I thought it would be “harder” to live here. I didn’t think we would have as many creature comforts or opportunities to explore as we have had. I think I was naïve, in a sense.

Jenny: That most white people here were in favor of Apartheid.

Do you stay out of politics in conversation?

Ryan: Ha! No. Jenny probably wishes that I would. Early on, I would introduce the topic just because I was still trying to figure out the players and the histories and the positions, etc. Now, it’s interesting to hear where people fall on the spectrum, what they would change, who they support, whether they harken for the “old days” and what what what, as they say here.

Of course, you often can’t talk politics without talking race. That’s where things can get fascinating. What words do people use? Syntax says a lot, even when people are trying to talk politely or in what they think is a PC style.

I like, for example, when a white South African begins a conversation with a statement about his/her own status as an African, someone whose ancestors came to the continent multiple generations ago, then later refers to black people as “Africans.” Wait…just a second ago, weren’t you all Africans?

On the flip side, many black South Africans seem to be holding on to old stereotypes about whites. See how that white person is dressed? He doesn’t like blacks. White people don’t know how to do things. Good times.

Back to politics…I’d say we have enjoyed many good conversations about the state of affairs here, from discussions about the ANC, President Zuma, Julius Malema, opposition parties, elections, service delivery, etc. And, as you may imagine, having an American president by the name of Barack Obama has prompted a number of exchanges, as well. He would certainly win reelection here.

Jenny: No. See Ryan’s comments. He takes the lead on this.

Were the things that you were fearful of, now just common daily occurrences?

Jenny: Driving stick-shift in a right-drive car. Negotiating prices. Getting people to understand my American English. Walking somewhere.

Ryan: Yeah, driving. Sure, I had driven on the left side of the road in a right-drive car before, including on the narrow, windy “roads” in Ireland and Wales, but Pretoria is a the poster child for suburban sprawl. I’m from Grid-System Chicago, dammit! Don’t give me curlicue streets whose names change from robot to robot!

I was also nervous about Jenny traveling to campus alone everyday. Crime is a big concern here, especially gender-based violence. Fortunately, we live on the education campus and there is a shuttle that runs frequently to the main campus. Even if I wasn’t also working on the main campus, I would feel secure knowing that Jenny had safe transport.

Barbershop experiences?

Jenny: It’s crazy fun. You have the run-of-the-mill gay men, and the young women who can give you tips on everything fashionable. But here you also get all the free lattes, bottled water, and wine you can drink. And they are quite entertained by our accents and try to imitate them. My stylist works hard to try to teach me Afrikaans, and writes on her mirror with a marker so I can see the words spelled out. It makes for a fun afternoon. I try to go as often as I can.

Ryan: That’s what she said. No, really, she said that. And, I agree.

Does the cape really look like CA? If so, in what way?

Ryan: Um, yes? I can’t claim to have a lot of exposure to the California landscape (I think I’ve been to LA once, San Diego once and the Bay Area twice), so I can’t say for sure. But, the juxtaposition of green, rocky mountains/cliffs and blue, shimmering ocean waters seem quite similar. Some call Cape Town “Africa’s San Francisco” because of shared qualities like fog, relative tolerance, scenery and the island prisons off their coasts.

Cape or Cali?

Do Ryan’s jokes work in SA?

Ryan: Do they work anywhere?

Jenny: Big no.

Are there stray cats, I only recall you mentioning dogs.

Jenny: We have one in particular who likes to come into the yard to taunt Indie. She’s a dirty, matted white Persian who we’ve nicknamed Nasty Tinkerbell. She boldly drinks from Indie’s outside water bowl when the sliding glass door is closed.

Ryan:

What does an average bookstore look like?

Ryan: A lot like US bookstores, except more expensive. Trade paperbacks are easily a time-and-a-half more than US prices. I think we paid almost twice as much as we should have for a Lonely Planet guide to Ethiopia, for example.

The bookstore-with-attached-coffee-shop model is popular, especially in malls. The biggest chain (I think) is Exclusive Books, and they sometimes have a Seattle Coffee Company next door. The biggest differences are that the stores here often will have a significant Afrikaans section (not sure about other official languages) and an insignificant periodicals section. I take that back…the section is big, the selection is not.

What about an art museum, art scene?

Ryan: Yes, there are a couple on campus, but I can’t say that we’ve done a lot of exploring. We have been to some live stage performances in Joburg, at the Market Theatre, and plan to see a production of Phantom of the Opera in the coming weeks.

Guest Post: A Visit to the Cape

The following text is a guest post from my mother, Beverly Kilpatrick, following our recent visit to Cape Town and surrounds. Please welcome her to AfricAnnum.com.

The Cape of Good Hope and the tales of treacherous seas, of sailors lost, and of new worlds discovered upon successful navigation were a subject of 6th grade Social Studies that always fascinated me. NEVER, did I imagine that one day I would visit the Cape, nor was I in the least bit prepared for the experience.

Upon our arrival on Thursday, friends of Ryan and Jenny graciously invited us for the most incredible lunch at their home overlooking False Bay in Simon’s Town. Yvonne and Danie were warm and wonderful hosts whose generosity and welcome got us off to a great start.

The view from Danie & Yvonne's home in Simon's Town

Our home away from home was in Noordhoek at a lovely guesthouse, with a young German couple, Thomas and Antje (and their dog and cat), as our hosts. A five-minute walk to the beach and we were enjoying beautiful sunsets, frolicking dogs, and the intoxicating sound of the sea. Aaah, the beauty of it all.

Interior of our guesthouse in Noordhoek

Sunset at Noordhoek Beach

But, it was on Friday that our venture took us to Robben Island, where the inescapable beauty of the land and sea was overcome by the ugliness of the inhumane treatment of those formerly incarcerated or detained there. I, of course, knew of the story of Nelson Mandela, but could not and cannot comprehend the dehumanization that took place there. To say that it was emotionally overwhelming is an understatement.

Nelson Mandela's cell at Robben Island

Hallway at Robben Island

Across the bay from Robben Island lies Table Mountain. After much thought and an internal pep talk, I was able to join my fellow crusaders as they traversed the mountain via rotating (help!) cable car. Low clouds and a bit of fog did affect the visibility, but still the views of the city and cape below were incredible.

Cape Town city bowl from Table Mountain Cableway

Saturday’s visit to Cape Point was like nothing I ever imagined. I fully expected we would have our picture taken at the sign proclaiming the Cape of Good Hope and the South-western most point on the African continent. I was however, unprepared for the sheer beauty. Magnificent beaches with mountainous cliffs overhanging, wandering ostriches and eland, along with signs warning us not to feed the baboons, were surely indications that we were a long, long, way from Illinois. I thought of the ships that had passed by (or not) and of my own good fortune to have had this opportunity. All in all, another moving experience.

Bev & Mike at Cape of Good Hope

Ostrich at Cape of Good Hope

Lunch at Two Oceans Restaurant (a possible misnomer, as it seems the Atlantic and Indian Oceans do NOT converge at Cape Point) was a fitting end to our visit to the Cape.

Lunch at Two Oceans

On Sunday, we travelled to Stellenbosch, home to some wonderful South African wine. Mike and I, along with Ryan, enjoyed tastings at Delheim and Muratie vineyards. Lunch at Delheim included springbok carpaccio for Mike, who proclaimed it a wonderful dish.

Springbok carpaccio & bratwurst at Delheim

Bottles behind the (intentional) cobwebs at Muratie

Lastly, though surely not least, on Monday prior to our return flight to Pretoria, we experienced a gastronomical delight at La Colombe in Constantia. Our three-hour lunch was of the finest quality, beautifully presented and served. It was a dining experience I will never forget.

Waiter pours a "mushroom cafe au lait" jus on Mom's ribeye

Mike watches as his ribeye is prepared at the table at La Colombe

Our visit to the Cape Town area and all that accompanied it left a lasting impression. The beauty of the landscape, the graciousness of those who hosted us and those we met along the way, the part of the South African story told so painfully here, newly acquired food and wine tastes, along with time spent with family, made this portion of our South African journey “the trip of a lifetime.”

See more photos from our visit to Cape Town.