Stuff White People Like: Driving 45 minutes to suburban Johannesburg for an organic farmers’ market

“There’s just nothing in the world like a reusable canvas bag filled with organic kale, locally produced honey and cruelty-free artisanal cheese.”

Spoken like a true white person…

As we all know, white people really like farmers’ markets.

Jenny and I like them so much, apparently, that we drove 45 minutes to suburban Johannesburg to experience the Bryanston Organic Market.

Jenny & Anna buying magical beans at the Bryanston Organic Market

Held every Thursday and Saturday on the campus of the well-to-do Michael Mount Waldorf School, the market has all the usual trappings: slat wood boxes stuffed with leeks, fennel, beets, salad greens, etc.; cardboard kits to grow your own pink oyster mushrooms; handmade soy candles; incense, necklaces and prayer flags from Tibet; and embroidered tote bags sold to benefit unemployed, immigrant women. Capitol Square in Madison, Covent Garden in London, Michael Mount in Johannesburg…it’s all the same.

And not the same.

We are, of course, in South Africa, so the dynamics are somewhat different. But the fact that it did feel like we could have been anywhere in the world is, perhaps, the most notable observation we can make. Here’s why:

With the exception of universals like shopping malls, traffic lights, odd university architecture and overpriced breakfast cereal (a box of Honeycomb goes for about $10.00 at Pick ‘n Pay), the vast majority of life here is uniquely South African. Everything comes with a mzansi twist. However, had there been stick juggling or hacky sack at Michael Mount, I would have been hard pressed to tell you whether we were in Asheville, Boulder or Corvallis. Or Johannesburg.

All of this is not to say the day wasn’t incredibly fun. It was. Joined by new friends and fellow Fulbrighters Anna and girlRyan, we meandered Michael Mount for the better part of three hours, sampling goat cheeses, buying black beans and gorging on savory and sweet pancakes. It was enough to make us repeatedly say, “Good times…” in our best NPR voices.

And it was enough to justify “Farmers’ Markets” as the #5 item on the list of stuff white people like.

I’m certain we will be back.

(Coincidentally, the first draft of this post was written in something else that white people like: a Moleskine notebook.)

How Many Fulbrighters Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Sandton. The town of sand. The desert trading post beyond the shimmering oasis.

OK, not really. Not really, at all.

Sandton is a posh suburb on the north side of Johannesburg that is, in fact, considered home to the “richest square mile in Africa.” The Sandton City mall and the retail stores in the adjacent Nelson Mandela Square constitute the largest (or second-largest) shopping center (or centre, if you prefer) in the southern hemisphere.

What better place to convene an indaba of Americans?

Not just any Americans, mind you, but smartypants Americans. As in, the entire delegation of Fulbright scholars and students in South Africa. Plus one from Swaziland. The purpose: to share progress of research and projects, to discuss the practicalities of life in South Africa (and Swaziland), and to EAT.

While I managed to avoid most of the sessions, the reports were glowing. Jenny’s fellow Fulbrighters are doing some absolutely amazing, impressive, important things. The projects range from farming to fisheries, journalism to gender, political history to public health, and all points in between. There’s even a herpetologist who seems to have discovered a new species of lizard. Apparently, though, scientific etiquette dictates that he not name the little critter after himself. Shame.

While the brainiacs were seated around their formal, U-shaped table in the “Diamond” conference room, chatting about new and exciting ways to save the world, I was holed up in room 255 reviewing a funding proposal for the Centre for Human Rights and destroying my iPhone. That’s right, I killed my iPhone.

Was it the energy of Steve Jobs' departing soul that zapped my iPhone? No, it was just me being a nerd.

My iPhone and Steve Jobs died on the same day.

(I later learned that a colleague at the Centre thought her MacBook died on the same day, only to see it miraculously revived the next morning.)

I simply got greedy. I thought I could throw a quick update onto my jailbroken iPhone. I screwed up. It turned into a brick.

Now, the Phone That Jobs Built is in the capable hands of folks nerdier than I, at a shoppe appropriately called iFix. My touchscreen-swiping fingers are crossed.

I felt naked without my iPhone in Sandton. For better or worse, it has become, as Jenny aptly observed, “an extension” of my hand. Still, I managed to recover from my iFunk to join the group for dinners and performances of two very unique plays at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg: Death of a Colonialist and The Girl in the Yellow Dress. Both were very…thought-provoking.

Perhaps as interesting as the plays was the Market Theatre itself. Founded in 1976, it became known as South Africa’s “Theatre of the Struggle” during the apartheid years. The posters, playbills and photographs on the painted brick walls tell the story of how the theatre and its performances used a cultural medium to challenge the status quo. The patrons on the two nights we attended were refreshingly diverse in age, race and gender.

Meanwhile, back in Pretoria, Indie had her very own girl for the week. Antoinette, a student in Jenny’s department, stayed with Indie while we were away, and even taught the old gal a new trick. I suppose I need to teach her to bark at me when I’m about to do something dumb, like brick my iPhone.

This is what a Fulbrighter's lightbulb looks like

More importantly, how many Fulbrighters does it take to change a lightbulb? I’m not sure I’m smart enough to truly comprehend the real answer, so I’ll say this: The group of Fulbright scholars and students we met with this week is capable of not only changing the lightbulb, but of providing a historical analysis of the lightbulb. Of describing the lightbulb’s significance to modern political struggles. Of mapping trends of the lightbulb’s future use. Of using the lightbulb to teach students a new concept. Of writing insightful newspaper articles about the pros and cons of the lightbulb. Of discovering new forms of the lightbulb. Of finding innovative ways to use the lightbulb that benefit communities.

Of not only changing the lightbulb, but changing the world.

Just give them a ladder.

How do you say…

So I realized that we’ve been sharing all sorts of new words and names of places here on the blog, but we’ve not described how you actually say them. I remember how surprised I was to learn that Havmandsvej Street in Herlev (suburban Copenhagen), where I was to live during my college semester abroad, was not have-MAN-dis-veg in HER-lev, it was HOW-mands-vie in HARE-lou. (Tusind tak til Familien Jørgensen for undervisning mig lidt dansk.)

HOW do you say Gauteng?

To this point, most of the new words we are using on an everyday basis are rooted in Afrikaans, which derives primarily from Dutch. For example, the province that includes Pretoria and Johannesburg is called Gauteng. Not GOW-teng with a hard g, more like HOW-teng. But since we are talking about a relative of Dutch, the g sounds are more like ch sounds in English words like school, or the proper German pronunciation of Bach, or borrowed Scottish words like loch. As the sound comes at the beginning of the word, it isn’t quite as hard a sound as school or loch, but softer and more “throaty” — like if someone from Chicago said (in a derogatory way??) that they spotted Hanukkah Harry in Highland Park.

There are quite a lot of these g sounds in our life these days:

  • The new, high-speed train between Pretoria and Johannesburg is called the Gautrain (HOW-train).
  • The main road behind Menlyn Mall is Garsfontein (HARS-fon-tayn).
  • The suburb, the nature reserve and the name of the campus where we live is Groenkloof (HROON-kloof)

As “ugly” as the sound may seem to an American English speaker, The Starry Night remains just as beautiful as painted by Vincent van HOCH as by Vincent van GO. But I digress…

Another consonant sound that differs slightly from English is the Afrikaans v. Take the word Voortrekker, which is a big word here, for many reasons. Voortrekker literally means “those who trek ahead” and has great historical significance in South Africa. The Voortrekkers were the Afrikaners who left the Cape Colony (on the west coast, where Cape Town was settled) under British rule in order to find independence in the interior. Many ended up in the area where we live now, formerly part of the Transvaal, as well as the (Orange) Free State. [Of course, there were already people living here at that time, but that’s another story…] Anyway, the word is not pronounced VORE-trekker, as we might want to say it in English; it is FOUR-trekker.

If you visit us in Pretoria, we might see you staring off quizzically into the distance before asking, “What, on Earth, is that giant toaster-looking thing on the side of that mountain?” We would smile, nod, chuckle knowingly and say, “Eish. That’s the Fourtrekker Monument. Shame…”

Vowels can be equally tricky, actually. In English, by and large, when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking (I eat pie on the boat!). In German, when two vowels go walking, the second does the talking (Ich liebe Fleisch!). In Afrikaans, it’s every vowel for itself! Run for your lives!

Examples:

  • Jenny likes to drink a Windhoek on the front stoep after a nice meal of snoek. (VIND-hook, stoop, snook)
  • Ryan likes to buy koeksisters from the oumas at the tuisnywerheid. (COOK-sisters, AH-mas, TIES-nee-vehr-hide)

See the inconsistency?

Now, for an added degree of difficulty, there are the African names and words, which can be derived from any of a dozen or more languages and dialects. My attempts to learn a few words in Sotho from our friend and former housekeeper, Maria, have not helped me greatly in attempts to pronounce names of cities, surnames, etc. Some can be tackled in a fairly straightforward, phonetic manner (Polokwane =  po-lo-KWA-nay), but others follow rules we don’t have experience with just yet (Tshwane = TSWA-nay).

These last two examples are indicative of something that’s very interesting here: Since 1994, when the ANC became the governing party and the majority black population gained more influence, many cities and areas were given new names to replace — or in some cases coincide — with their Afrikaans or English names. Polokwane was formerly called Pietersburg; Bela Bela was called Warmbaths; and Tshwane was just kinda made up

Perhaps our favorite pronunciations, though, are our own names. Tannie Elsje, who manages our guest flat at Groenkloof, is a lovely auntie with a strong Afrikaans accent. “Jaynie!” she yells. “Are you and Keelpatreek OK here?”

Yes. Yes, we are. Buy a donkey.