14 December 2005

View of Betty's Bay from the Mills' deck Posted by Picasa

Tidal river at Pringle Bay beach Posted by Picasa

Brody catches the ball Posted by Picasa

Brody and Shelby play Posted by Picasa

Betty's Bay

Colleen and Ralph lived in Nigeria for a couple of years while Ralph was working for MTN (one of the 3 big cell phone companies here). When they returned to South Africa, they bought a house in Betty's Bay, which is about an hour southeast of Cape Town. They moved back to Johannesburg in June of this year and rented the house for a few months. The renters recently moved out, and the Mills have decided to sell the house in Betty's Bay. They flew down this past Thursday (8 December) to mow, clean, etc. in order to have an open house on Saturday. They invited me to join them for the weekend, so I flew down on Friday afternoon, after the office year end function. Ralph picked me up from the airport, and we drove to Betty's Bay. The drive is not quite an hour. I was glad he was driving, so that I could enjoy the scenery. The drive is right along the coast, and it reminded me a little bit of Highway 1 that goes up and down the California coast. It was really windy that day. Ralph told me that some of the locals say that wind was invented in Betty’s Bay.

He also warned me that they had come into the house to find it infested with fleas. They bought some spray from a veterinarian friend in nearby Kleinmond and hoped that dealt with it. Unfortunately, we battled with the fleas all weekend. But apparently fleas feel the same way about me as mosquitoes, because I had only one bite the whole time. Poor little Brody (Colleen and Ralph’s 23 month old), on the other hand, was tortured by the tiny demons.

On Saturday the estate agent (realtor) had planned an open house from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., so we loaded up the car and drove to Hermanus. First we visited Hamilton Russell Vineyard in Hemel en Aarde (heaven and earth) Valley (http://away.com/features/south_africa_wine_4.html). It’s a really lovely place, and reminded me so much of a couple of vineyards I’ve visited with Ginanni cousins in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California. This particular estate produces only two wines – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I especially liked the Chardonnay and bought two bottles. They also grow and press their own olives to make a very nice olive oil.

We then drove on into the centre of Hermanus, which seems like a real holiday town. Could just be that everyone in the country is on holiday now (or will be soon), so the town was teeming with tourists. We had lunch at a nice outdoor café, did some shopping at the outdoor market, bought some books at a nice used bookstore (new books are very expensive here; it’s the shipping fees), then loaded up the car and started driving back towards Betty’s Bay.

One final stop, though, was at The Wine Village (http://www.wine-village.co.za/default.asp). I’ve been looking for a wine that Colleen and Ralph introduced me to weeks ago – Steenberg Catharina 2002 (a red blend) – and we thought they might have it. They did! I bought half a case. But wow, they had everything! A sign outside announced some accolade the store had won from a South African wine magazine, and did they ever deserve it. The proprietors were very nice, helpful and good sales people. Colleen and I each also bought a bottle of a divine dessert wine that has a good bit of Chardonnay brandy in it. Not too sweet at all.

We arrived back in Betty’s Bay tired but happy. The weather, which had been cloudy earlier in the day, had niced up, so we decided to walk down to the jackass penguin colony (they’re called “jackass” because of the braying sounds they make, which they demonstrated for us). Brody especially enjoyed that, but I did too! It is moulting season for them, which means they can’t swim for a few weeks, so there were plenty of them sitting around. Ralph spotted a few out in the water who must have finished moulting. They were trying to come in to shore, but apparently they don’t do well in shallow water. It was pretty funny to watch them as a wave would wash them in so close to their rocks, but then wash them back out to sea. A little bit closer the next time, then back out. And so on, until they finally got close enough to scramble up onto the rocks.

On Sunday one of Colleen’s older sisters and her family came to join us for a picnic at Pringle Bay beach. Michelle, Kevin and Shelby (Michelle’s daughter) live close to Cape Town. The beach we went to was so nice, and not very crowded. There is a closer beach in Betty’s Bay, but the good thing about this one is that there is a tidal river that borders the beach on one end and flows into the ocean. It is shallow and warm enough for Brody to play in. The beach also has an area that is big and flat enough for a local group to play touch rugby, which Ralph stayed over later in the afternoon to do.

We had such a nice time. We had lunch, I took a brief dip in the ocean, we played in the river, everyone played beach cricket while I read for awhile. Very relaxing. That evening, the Mills and I went to nearby Kleinmond (in between Betty’s Bay and Hermanus) to have dinner with their friends Vanessa and Peter (the veterinarian).

We needed a fairly early start to get to the airport for a 10.40 a.m. flight on Monday morning, but Colleen was determined to have a swim in the really nearby freshwater lake, and she woke me up to join her. I’m glad I went! It was a beautiful little lake. The bottom was very sandy. The tannin content was so high that you could barely see your hand in front of you as you swam. It looked like incredibly strong tea, but the water smelled good and it was so delicious to swim in the cool morning air. We swam out to the center of the lake and back. Then we rushed back to the house, ran around like chickens with our heads cut off packing up and cleaning up, and then dashed to the airport. We just barely made the flight.

All in all, it was a fine weekend, even though I’m not used to being with such a young child full time. But Brody is a sweetheart, and adorable, so it was actually a pleasure. I’m glad I went, and I wish they weren’t selling the house!

30 November 2005

Guinea fowl and duck at Kirstenbosch Garden Posted by Picasa

Freedom photo on Robben Island Posted by Picasa

Table Mountain cable car Posted by Picasa

Mandela's Gold strelitzia Posted by Picasa

Cape Town - view of Robben Island from Table Mountain Posted by Picasa

23 November 2005

Lipizzaners and Polokwane

I’ve mentioned to a few of you that I haven’t done much writing lately because I haven’t done much travel lately. I still don’t have my work permit and until I get one, I cannot get either a local bank account or, more importantly, a South African credit card. That makes it a little difficult to travel. But I did have a few interesting experiences last week.

On Tuesday, I went to Wits (University of the Witwatersrand) to do a little bit of training for a customer there. Just as I was packing up to leave, one of our local competitors (and a former EBSCO employee) walked up! We chatted for a few minutes – I’d actually been thinking about phoning her to see if she wants to play with our softball team, as we are chronically short of players. I think we made the poor customer a little bit uncomfortable!

Wednesday afternoon was the year-end function and AGM for SLIS (Special Libraries and Information Services group; sort of like a very mini-SLA). It was during this meeting that the Information Specialist of the Year award was presented. Jean and I had both served as judges for that a few weeks earlier, so it was really necessary for us to be there for the presentation. The meeting was held at the Kyalami Equestrian Centre (http://www.knet.co.za/lipizzaner/lipizzanersofsouthafrica.htm and http://www.horseworld.co.za/Articles/lipizzan.htm). It was a poor venue for a business meeting (I’d thought they must have some sort of conference centre, or at least big meeting room, but we met in the stands where audiences watch the horse performances!), but then we did get a special one hour performance from the horses. I thought it was going to be mildly interesting, but it turned out to be quite something! I don’t think I’d seen Lipizzaners perform since my 5th birthday, when Mom, Dad, Claudia and I went to Nashville for dinner at Shoney’s and attendance at the circus. At times I thought that the training those horses go through must be kinda cruel, but they really were beautiful to watch. Afterward, there was a very nice cocktail reception in the courtyard where the horses are stabled. And there was a plentiful supply of big carrots for those of us who wanted to give special thanks to the horses.

On Thursday morning, Colleen picked me up at home, and we met Julia Mofokeng, a customer service rep, at the office to begin our 4 hour drive up to Polokwane to visit the University of Limpopo. Limpopo made the 8th of the nine provinces for me to visit. It borders Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana. It’s one of the hottest areas in the country, too. I’ve been seeing their temperatures in the mid-30s C pretty consistently now. (Here’s my favorite conversion site that I’ve found: http://www.metric-conversions.org/temperature-conversion.htm.)

As we were driving up to Polokwane, I suddenly remembered that I have a young almost-relative who’s living there. Maureen FitzMaurice is the niece of my Cousin John Shine’s wife, Barbara FitzMaurice. John and Barbara live in Sonoma, California but Maureen grew up in Idaho. She is a recent college graduate and is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer here in South Africa! Her experience is going to be very different from mine, I think. She is living right in Polokwane, which is the capital of Limpopo province and, I think, a pretty industrialized area. Apparently, Polokwane gets a lot of traffic, because it is on the Great North Road (the N1) that goes from Pretoria all the way up to Zimbabwe.

Barbara had let me know about Maureen, and I’d had an e-mail exchange with her, but completely forgot that she is there in Polokwane until I was on my way. I called from the Crackberry, and we arranged to meet for coffee when Colleen, Julia and I were on the way back from our appointment. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. Sometime during the drive, my stomach started to hurt. It was okay while Colleen was making her EBSCO Publishing presentation but then became worse and worse as we were driving back towards town (the university is not right in Polokwane). We had arranged to meet two of the ladies from the library at a nearby mall for lunch. We had planned for this to be a working lunch, so that the 3 of us could get back on the road to Jo’burg sooner. But as we were discussing journals business, I had to excuse myself so I could go be quite sick in the ladies’ room. I managed to make it through the rest of the lunch, but by the time we got back in the car I really just wanted to get home. I called Maureen to explain, and promised to call her the next time I’m up that way and to give her more advance notice next time. During the ride back I felt progressively worse. By the time I got home, I had a mild fever and felt pretty achey (in addition to a still-upset stomach). So, I took some ibuprofen, beef broth, tea, and a hot bath, and went to bed at 8.30 that night.

Also last week, I had to take my laptop to the IBM hospital, and my car to the VW hospital. But those stories aren’t very interesting, so I’ll stop here.

21 November 2005

Thanksgiving Dinner

Despite having had a sick tummy since Thursday (17 Nov), I was determined to attend the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the American Society of Johannesburg on Saturday evening. The dinner was preceded by the AGM (annual general meeting) of the society, which I attended because I wanted to get an idea of what they're about, what their activities are, etc. Still not sure whether or not I will join.

The meeting and dinner were held at Sides Restaurant in Dunkeld (http://www.tenbompas.com/Sides.htm), a somewhat posh neighborhood (located between Rosebank and Hyde Park, if any of you happen to be familiar with Jo'burg). We had the whole restaurant for the evening, and 44 folks, including kids of various ages, were expected. There were 2 long tables of 12-14 for grownups, one long table for younger kids, and one long table for older kids. Seems that last year they had kids mixed in with their parents, but that didn't allow the parents much time for socializing. One of the couples brought their housekeeper, Rosie, to watch after the little kids, and they were (thankfully) pretty well behaved.

The dinner started with some speechifying by the current president of the society, followed by the social chair who gave a talk to the little kids about the beginning and meaning of Thanksgiving. Then some of the kids made little presentations. We heard some facts about turkeys, a couple of poems, and so forth. One of the older kids said a prayer, and then we were served by the restaurant staff.

The menu:
  • corn bread
  • starter of either roast corn and crab soup with mild chili or grilled pear, roasted walnut rocket (arugula) salad with blue cheese dressing
  • herb seasoned roast turkey with stuffing and creamed potatoes
  • cranberry sauce
  • vegetables (steamed broccoli, roasted butternut squash, and roasted something I never identified)
  • dessert of either bourbon brownie or apple and cinnamon creme brulee

It was all yummy. Given my sore tummy, I didn't eat as much as I might normally have, but I did it justice.

During dinner, my closest companions were: Mark, an Irishman who spent some time in NYC and whose wife's father is American, so they want to introduce their kids to T'giving tradition; Linda, who was mostly raised in D.C. but has an English father and spent a lot of time in England; and Henning (from Germany) and his wife, whose name I cannot remember (from Zambia). I'm not really sure why they were there.

I'm not looking to meet lots of Americans while I'm here, but one reason I wanted to attend this event was not only to celebrate Thanksgiving with some Americans, but to hear some American accents. In this respect, I was disappointed. Seems that many of the members are women who married South African men, and they've been here for so long that they no longer sound like Americans! Still, it was a nice evening, and I'm glad I went.

21 October 2005


I haven’t been anywhere exciting lately, so I thought I’d take time to answer questions that some of you have posed. Wowee, this is long, so don’t plan to read it at one sitting! No pictures, either, since a couple of you have told me that it messes up the formatting of the text itself. I’m looking into loading pics onto a website, or possibly even starting a blog site. Stay tuned…

I started off keeping a list of strange foods that I might come across, but really haven’t seen that many things. On one menu I saw a toasted bacon and banana sandwich (Jean says it’s quite nice, but I’m not so sure I’ll ever try that one), and some of the funny flavors of potato chips (crisps) include fruit chutney, beef, and fried chicken. I’ve also seen iced tea a couple of times, but it’s canned.

I can really get almost anything that I want here. I can’t always get the brands that I’m familiar with, although I did pay a little extra to get some Tabasco hot sauce and some Heinz ketchup (not that I use ketchup all that often, but now it’s there in my fridge when I need it). The fruit and veg selection is even better than what I can get in Alabama, and most of it is grown in this country. Right now, mangos, papaya and paw paws are coming into season. And the naartjes, which I had in Zimbabwe, too, are great. They’re like tangerines only smaller, sweeter and fewer seeds. I can get all the same meats available at home and more. Lots of different cuts of lamb available and I saw ostrich mince (ground ostrich) last week. I’ve seen very little fresh fish, though, and I especially miss fresh salmon and tuna.

There are a few Mexican products here, but no green or chipotle chilies. No anchovies, either (which I use to make puttanesca sauce). Fortunately, those things come in small containers and I plan to bring some back with me when I’m in the U.S. at the end of this month – next week!

I haven’t been to any fine restaurants yet, though I’m told they exist. Close to my house there are a couple of serviceable Italian places, and one of my favorite fast food places (that I also discovered while I was in Zim), Nando’s, is very close to my house. They serve Portuguese style chicken – roasted in a hot, peri-peri sauce. If I don’t get fries (chips), it’s not even fattening fast food! I’m attempting to lose some weight, so have been trying to cook at home more than going out. But if I discover any good restaurants, I’ll let you know.

Oh, I will tell you about 2 restaurants that Jean and I went to while we were traveling in July/August. One was in Grahamstown, where Rhodes University is located. They served traditional Afrikaans food. It was a buffet and you paid by the weight of your plate. I’m sorry I forgot to write down what all we had, but I do remember that there were several different kinds of meat stews, and then some interesting vegetable combination dishes. If I recall correctly, the name of the place is EAT. We did.

The other interesting place was in Cape Town, and I spotted it one afternoon as we were driving back to our guest house. It’s called Africa Café (http://www.africacafe.co.za/). Each room in the restaurant is decorated in the style of a country or tribe in Africa. There was an Egyptian room, an Ndebele room, a Ghana room, etc. Each table is served family style; the server brings out a bowl of each dish to the table and you serve yourselves. And each dish is from a different county in Africa. We had sweet potato and leek soup; couscous salad w/dates/ carrots/coriander (Morocco); several little pasties with different fillings, including chicken/almond, sweet potato/cinnamon (mostly north African countries); spinach/groundnuts/coconut milk (Tanzania); chicken with macadamia nut stew (Malawi); ostrich stew (Botswana). It was fantastic, and if anyone comes to visit me and we go to Cape Town (as you must), I’ll be sure to take you there.

I was, perhaps, more worried about driving on the left than anything else! But it really wasn’t too difficult to get used to that. The bigger challenge for me was learning to drive a stick shift! As I’ve mentioned to some of you, I did know how, but I’ve never owned a manual transmission car and so never got used to it as a matter of course. And, of course, the driving is on the right side of the car with the stick in the left hand. So, it wasn’t just a stick shift to get used to; it was a stick shift at my left hand! It really took several weeks to feel comfortable with that, knowing when to shift up, shift down, dealing with hills, etc. Just last week, I finally learned the hand brake trick when sitting at a stop on an incline!

Due to paperwork delays, my cats arrived 3 days after I did. They’d had to stay a couple of nights at a kennel in Atlanta, waiting for a document from the Alabama state veterinarian in Montgomery, and then, of course, there was that 17 hour flight in the cargo hold. They were pretty freaked out by the time they arrived at my house (picked up and delivered by a local service). They would walk around, sniffing and exploring a new area of the house, and then come back to me every few minutes for some lovin’. It took them almost three weeks to settle down back to normal. During that time, neither one was eating as much as they should (they didn’t like the new dry cat food, and I finally broke down and started giving them canned food every day), and Maggie kept hissing and striking out at Tessie whenever Tessie came near. But now they are back to being pals, and they sleep curled up next to me every night. And they’re still getting a little bit of canned food every day. Yeah, they know how to work me.

The first week or so that I was here, I thought, “Well, when I get caught up on call reports, emails, etc., things will settle down to normal.” I forgot that with EBSCO, especially when you’re working in the field, calling on customers, there is never a “normal”! I guess that’s probably true in many jobs, huh?

The staff in the office here are terrific. I had that feeling when I’d visited this office a couple of times in the last few years – once when I was in Zimbabwe and I came down to visit Jean during a school term break, the other time in 2002 to do some training. They all have a very strong customer service orientation, and good work ethic. It’s nice to work with folks like that. Because it is a small office, though, they haven’t been able to spend a lot of time letting customers know about some of the additional services we can offer, like interfaces with integrated library systems that make life a little easier for the library, special reports that can help the library with financial or collection assessment of their journal collection, online services that also can help with the processing workflow, etc. Those are all things that I’m pretty familiar with, having been an account services manager for 7 years before I went into Peace Corps, so there hasn’t been a big learning curve for me in coming to work for this office. Jim Stephens, the recently retired president of EBSCO, used to say that your best prospect is an existing customer. Many of the university libraries here are at least partial EBSCO customers, so I’ll mostly be calling on people who are already familiar with some of the things we do. That makes it a little easier for me.

Several of you have asked (and I suspect more of you are wondering) how Americans are viewed here, and how have I been treated/accepted. Well, it’s a mixed bag. One on one, people have been nice, especially customers that I meet. Well, let’s face it – to make a generalization, librarians are a pretty nice lot. The second week that I was here, there was a national holiday – Women’s Day – and my neighbor, a real estate agent, invited me to a luncheon that she had organized. There was a singer, a motivational speaker and a nice lunch. Bunch of middle-aged housewives, mostly, very sort of garden club-ish and not really my kind of thing, but I didn’t have anything better to do, so I went. Some of us won door prizes, and I got a great big basket with all kinds of bath products – soaps, lotions, candles, bath salts, etc. Well, I really didn’t need all that stuff, so I shared with the ladies at my table. One of them said, “That’s why I love Americans! They’re so generous!” Okay, I thought. So maybe I won’t have a hard time here.

Since then, though, I’ve had a couple of very intense conversations where I felt compelled to defend Americans. Not our president or government (sorry to you few Republicans on this list, but I think you all know that I’m a bleeding heart liberal), who I don’t feel a need to defend, but actual U.S. citizens. I told Claudia that I wanted to say to one person (in response to exactly what, I don’t remember), “That’s like saying that your President Botha was a racist, so all white South Africans must be racist and deserve to be punished.” That conversation upset me so much that I had to excuse myself to go have a good cry in the ladies room. Maybe I was also feeling a little bit homesick…

So, when you hear that there is anti-American sentiment abroad, believe it. People have not been hostile to me, individually, but Americans, as a group, are not looked on kindly right now. They view us as spoiled and greedy, and I can’t honestly always disagree with that.

Well, one of you asked if black South Africans view us differently from white South Africans. Very astute question, and the answer, I think, is yes. Some of the black South Africans that I’ve talked with still view the U.S. as the land of opportunity. If they could just get there, they think they’ll be able to make lots more money and live in luxury, as they think most of us do. And compared to the way that some of them do still live, we do live in complete and utter luxury. When I get to give presentations about Zimbabwe and/or Peace Corps (one at EBSCO, a couple of schools, and a couple of Boy Scout troops), one of the things that I share are some statistics comparing the U.S. and Zimbabwe. When I come to the one about the number of television sets, I stop and ask, “If you have a television set in your home, raise your hand.” Pause, then, “If you have two television sets, keep your hand raised.” And so on. Sometimes I get up to 5 or 6 before all hands are down.

How many television sets do you have?

Katy G.

PS After that last little lecture, I feel compelled to admit that I’ve started exploiting the black lower class myself. Last week I hired a housekeeper. I am, however, paying her more than what her other employers pay, which is shockingly low. Her name is Angeline. She’s maybe 10 years older than I and has had very little schooling. Consequently, she has very little English, so I’m going to try to learn some greetings and other words in Setswana, her home language (there are 11 national languages here, have I mentioned that?). I’ll also admit that I love having her here once/week. I wasn’t used to needing to mop all the time (tile floors and loads of dust in the air), or to having no clothes dryer, which requires planning for laundry time.

03 October 2005

Teenage kudu and bird passenger Posted by Picasa

Kruger National Park

In the last update I told you that Colleen, Rehette, Vic and I drove from Nelspruit to Kruger National Park. Going out of Nelspruit, we passed an enormous citrus plantation, the Crocodile Valley Citrus Company. Vic says it’s one of the largest citrus farms in the country.

We had gotten a late start, so it was 4.30 pm by the time we arrived at the Malelane Gate. The gates close at 6.00, and there is a fine if you’re late, so we wasted no time in starting our drive.

We probably hadn’t gotten 200 metres inside the park when we saw a bakkie (Afrikaans for little pickup truck) pulled over, and most of the folks inside were peering into the bush with binoculars. Colleen was driving; she mouthed, “What is it?” to the other vehicle. “Leopard,” they replied. LEOPARD?! Sighting a leopard at that time of day is nearly unheard of! We spent several minutes straining to see something when Rehette finally spotted it. And it was so close to our car I couldn’t believe it! I did see her, but didn’t get a good photo before she finally walked away.

That was an auspicious start to the drive. We didn’t see loads and loads of other people. Sometimes when we did, they were already pulled over, and we’d try to see whatever they were seeing. Or, we’d be pulled over, and the other car would ask us, “What do you see?” There was a nice spirit of camaraderie, of helping each other out.

We were so very lucky to have Vic along. He loves game parks, and has spent a lot of time in them, including Kruger. He had advised through which gate to enter, and which drive to take. And he spotted more animals than any of us. He was very patient as he helped us find, with our eyeballs or through the binoculars, the many animals he saw.

It’s not a particularly beautiful time of year for Kruger. It’s just barely spring, so it’s still pretty brown, dry and dusty. There were still some stunning sights, driving up into the hills and seeing the waning sun shining on some rocks. But even though it’s not especially pretty right now, the lack of vegetation on the trees and shrubs means that it’s a whole lot easier to spot animals. Here is a list of what we saw, pretty much in order:

Crocodiles, barbels (like catfish), tilapia, saddle billed stork, goliath heron, greenback heron (all these were actually in the river just before we passed into the park), leopard, buffalo herd, guinea fowl, impala herds (these are a dime a dozen, like deer in the U.S.), horn bill, kudu family of 4 (I had no idea they are so big!), lourie, giraffe, dwarf mongooses (or is it mongeese?), francolin, fork-tailed drungo, lilac breasted roller, 2 white rhino, elephant family (including a baby!).

The elephant was really special. We’d just seen the rhino and were happily racing to the gate (didn’t want to be fined), and Colleen said, “Okay, Vic, we’d like an elephant, please.” Not 10 seconds later, I swear, he said, “Okay, stop. Back up.” And there was a little elephant family!

Wow, what a day. I thought it was going to be fairly interesting but probably not something I’d want to do over and over. I was wrong! When my first visitors come, I’m going to purchase a WILD card. It’s only R350 and gives you a year of free entrance into any national park. What a bargain.

Who’s going to be first? :)

On Friday, we decided to do a little sightseeing before driving back to Jo’burg. I won’t go into great detail about that, as I’m afraid these missives are getting too long. But I will say that Mpumalanga Province is very beautiful, and I look forward to spending more time there. It is one of the biggest producers of timber in the country, and driving through seas of pine was somehow comforting to me! A lot of nuts are grown there, too. When we stopped for gas and a quick run through a gift shop, several vendors approached us to sell bags of roasted cashews, macadamias and peanuts. We visited an overlook at The Pinnacle, and then on to another one called God’s Window. The drive back was boring in comparison.

30 September 2005

Jean Smith, Alpheus Makena and Rehette Spaanderman in EBSCO booth at LIASA Posted by Picasa

Zandi (R) and her friend Posted by Picasa

Tea tent and exhibits tents at LIASA Posted by Picasa

Nelspruit and Liasa

Jean Smith (general manager) and Rehette Spaanderman (sales representative) left in one car, and Colleen Mills (regional sales manager for EBSCO Publishing) and I left in another on Monday morning (9/26) for Nelspruit to attend Liasa.

Nelspruit (nel’ sprate) is a medium sized town and is the capital of the Mpumalanga province. Spruit is an Afrikaans word for river. Nel is a surname. Nelspruit is pretty much due east and a little bit north of Johannesburg, about a 4 hour drive. It's not very far from either Swaziland or Mozambique. I think I’ve mentioned that we need rain right now. Driving away from Johannesburg, the dust in the air was so thick you couldn’t see very clearly. At one point, when the wind was blowing particularly hard, it was so dark that Colleen had to turn on her lights. After an hour or more, the air cleared a bit, but as we approached Nelspruit, the air became thick again with smoke due to recent forest fires in the area.

For the first couple of hours of the drive, we went through gently rolling hills with fields that haven’t yet been prepared for planting. About an hour from Nelspruit, the landscape suddenly changed, and we were in a canyon or valley surrounded by pretty tall hills/mountains. It reminded me somewhat of the drive through the Feather River Canyon in California that my friend Sam and I made up to the High Sierra Music Festival in July, 2000. Lots of rocky, arid land, but some greenery, too and very beautiful.

Nelspruit and area is a little bit greener, and it is absolutely lovely. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting it. The guest house we stayed in, The Rest Country Lodge, is 9 kilometres outside of town, and it is fantastic. The owners are a South African man and his Austrian wife. He is a medical doctor and she runs the guest house. They have 11 hectares (10 acres in a hectare, I think). Jean said she bet it used to be a farm. “So hilly!” I said. She guessed cattle, and Anita (the owner) confirmed that later. The main house is absolutely gorgeous. There are three main sections, each with one section of circular walls. One section is the private quarters for the family. There’s also a large, airy, light-filled dining room, similar lounge (den or living room), a lovely deck and small pool. The décor is perfect; lots of African art and artifacts, but not over the top. The guest rooms are in separate cottages. Jean and I were in a double A-frame cottage but with completely separate rooms. Walk in the front door and there’s a little kitchenette and full bath to the right. Keep walking straight ahead and you come to a HUGE bedroom with cathedral ceiling and French doors onto your own private deck. There’s also a small loft with twin beds. It is so nicely appointed. Lovely cotton sheets, ceiling fan, portable radio/CD player with a small but varied CD selection, little bottle of sherry on the dressing table, etc.

At 7.00 every evening, Anita puts out food to feed some semi-tame bushbabies and genets (a type of wild cat, related to the mongoose). If you sit very quietly on the deck or patio, you can watch them. There are also quite a few louries (a big, colorful bird) around, and lots of other birds too numerous to know, let alone mention. I have GOT to get a book about South African birds.

Tuesday, the first day of the conference, was sooo hot and humid. It really reminded me of summer in Alabama. Don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet, but Johannesburg is VERY dry. I have used more moisturizer and lotion in the few weeks I’ve spent here (including my time in July-August) than I might use in several months in AL. But it’s a different story in Mpumalanga. Most of the vendors were complaining, but I welcomed it. My nasal passages felt better after a day of that!

When I told Steve “Smartypants” Murden that, “I’m in Nelspruit for Liasa,” he asked, “Is that English?” I’ve explained Nelspruit. Now let me explain Liasa. It is an acronym (they seldom capitalize acronyms here, which drives me crazy because EBSCO is an acronym and I hate seeing it spelled as Ebsco!) for Library and Information Association of South Africa. We are in Nelspruit for the annual conference. “Gee,” you might be thinking, “Nelspruit doesn’t sound big enough to host the annual conference of the biggest library association in South Africa!”

(For those of you on this list who are not librarians, let me give you some background information. The American Library Association has two conferences each year, Midwinter and Annual. Midwinter has grown in recent years and now has around 12-14,000 attendees. Annual has always been larger, and attendance there is between 18-24,000 depending on the convenience and popularity of the venue. There are just a handful of cities in the U.S. that can now hold ALA.)

So, back to the question. Is Nelspruit big enough? At just around 400 delegates, you bet it’s big enough! It’s actually quite a shame. The main reason for this low attendance is that a few years ago, Liasa decided to “take the conference to the people.” Instead of having it in one of the larger cities (Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, even Port Elizabeth), they’ve held the conference in more remote towns in more remote provinces so that the people in those areas will be able to attend. I admire the reason, but it hasn’t been very successful. Apparently, Liasa used to draw 800-1,000 participants, but it has been falling off for the last three years and this year is the worst. Another problem with having the conference in these smaller towns is that there is not always an appropriate venue. This conference is being held on one of the campuses of Tshwane University of Technology. Tshwane used to be a smaller technical college, but as a result of a number of higher education mergers earlier this year it is now a university level institution. This particular campus has only one hall large enough for all of the delegates to meet together, so they’ve put us vendors in tents on a sports field. It sounds a little primitive, and it wouldn’t have been too fun if it rained, but it has turned out to be okay. Tuesday was beastly humid, but the weather on Wednesday and Thursday has been quite lovely. A wind came through on Tuesday night and cleared out the smoke (remember the forest fires?), and it’s been clear, sunny, not too hot, and a bit of a breeze all day.

Exhibits ended on Thursday afternoon, and Rehette, Colleen, another vendor friend named Vic, and I drove up to Kruger National Park for a quick game drive. I’ll tell you all about that in the next update.

22 September 2005

Jacaranda tree near my house Posted by Picasa

Details -- no travelogue this time

Hi folks,

I still owe you an update from my trip to Cape Town at the end of August! Maybe I'll get to that this weekend. In the meantime, I want to send you my contact information, now that I have it! Just went to Telkom and the post office this morning.

(I had the pleasure of seeing some of you while I was in Birmingham and Murfreesboro, so forgive me if any of this is repetition.)

While I was here in July/August, I rented a fully furnished townhouse that is just a few kilometres from the EBSCO office. Sheets, towels, kitchen supplies -- really, I brought almost nothing from home except for sharp knives. It's furnished very nicely, too. The woman who owns it bought it when she and her husband separated a couple of years ago. She bought the townhouse, furnished it, and lived there for 3 months before they reconciled. So, it's not full of junk for renters. It's also in a very secure complex, with an 8 or 10 foot wall around, electric fence on top of that, and 24 hour security guard at the gate. Please don't worry about me.

Addresses below. Today I rented a post office box. That should be used for most mail to me. If you send something by an agent that requires a land address, use the office address.

The cats (Maggie and Tessie) were not able to fly with me (paperwork delays), but they will arrive tomorrow morning! No quarantine, either. I'm excited, but I'm afraid they will be upset with me for a few days. Fortunately, cats don't have good long-term memory, so they'll get over it. :)

I arrived to spring here. We still need rain -- the grass is brown and it's dusty -- but the trees are greening up nicely, including the gorgeous purple jacaranda trees. I'm sure I'll be sending a photo of those eventually. I love them.

Hope you are all well. More later!

Katy G.

Katy Ginanni
PO Box 4845
Cresta 2118
South Africa

EBSCO Information Services
1st Floor, EBSCO House
299 Pendoring Road
Blackheath 2195
South Africa

Phone numbers:
+27 (11) 794-7301 - home
+27 (11) 678-4416 - office

18 August 2005

Kit Kat drinking from tap. Posted by Picasa


I want to tell you about the trip last week and weekend. Tuesday, 9 August was a national holiday – Women’s Day. Pretty cool, huh? On Wednesday we flew down to Durban. I’ve already told you a little bit about Durban. Let me tell you about the guest house we stayed in. More specifically, let me tell you about the house cat. She was a stray who adopted Murray, the owner. She was very friendly and I think she knew I was missing some cat lovin’. She came in my room and slept on my bed the first evening. I thought that perhaps I shouldn’t let her stay on top of that pretty white duvet cover, but she was sooo sweet… The funniest thing, though, was that she drank from the tap in the bathroom sink! Really! She jumped up on the counter, and I was going to stop up the sink and run some water in for her. But when I turned on the water, she stuck her head under the stream of water and started drinking! I have photographic proof.

We were there two nights, and she stayed with me both nights.

On Friday, we drove north up the east coast, and called on the library at University of Zululand. It reminded me a little bit of Alcorn State University, a HBCU and former customer of mine in Mississippi. As we drove north, we passed many a field of sugar cane. It is one of the primary crops in KwaZulu-Natal. It’s pretty to see growing. It looks a little bit like corn only taller and more slender. When it’s blooming, as much of it is right now, it has long, willowy blooms that are whitish, but in certain sunlight, it looks almost lavender. The rolling hills that we drove through are covered with it.

As we drove further north, one of the other crops that we saw a lot of is timber; specifically, wattle or blue gum trees (or what we mistakenly, I think, call eucalyptus trees). The blue gum trees are native to Australia, and were brought here because they grow so quickly. But now the country is trying to get rid of them, except where they grow in controlled areas for timber. Apparently, they have enormous roots that really suck up water. As I think I may have mentioned before, or you probably know if you’ve read much at all about southern Africa, water is a scarce resource in many parts of the country. But I loved driving past the blue gum forests on the way to Mtunzini.

So, after all of this traveling around for the last three weeks, Jean thought that we needed a rest. She was right! She booked a cabin for the weekend in Mtunzini at the Mtunzini Forest Lodge. It is adjacent to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. The lodge, which has 15 or so time-share wooden cabins and a small conference center, is also one small mangrove forest, one reed-filled river and one sand dune away from the Indian Ocean! Remember that it is still winter here, but most of you know how I love the ocean. I was excited and happy to be there.

Our cabin had a small but complete kitchen, a small lounge (den or family area), two bedrooms, and a deck that overlooked the forest. And even though we couldn’t see the ocean, we could hear it just fine. We shopped for groceries on Friday afternoon in nearby Richards Bay, a growing industrial area 40 kilometres north of Mtunzini. On Saturday, Jean’s cousin Denise, Denise’s husband Billy and their two girls, and Billy’s brother David joined us for a braii (barbecue or cookout). David lives in nearby Gingdlovu, and Denise’s family was there for the weekend. Both Billy and David work for sugar companies, and they both talk a mile a minute, so I learned all about the sugar industry. For instance, depending on the soil, climate and rainfall, sugar is harvested every 12 to 24 months. It grows about 8 feet high. Here in SA, human workers still harvest it. They cut the stalks down with a scythe, throw them into bundles, and a truck comes around and scoops up the bundles until the truck is loaded. There is a processing plant nearby. The smoke that Jean and I had noticed is actually steam. Billy says it’s a pretty clean and environmentally-friendly process. Both Billy and David scolded us because we hadn’t bought any sugar for tea (because Jean doesn’t take sugar in her tea; I do, but I didn’t think about it when we were shopping).

After our braii (pork ribs, lamb chops and boerwors {Boer wurst, or sausage}, plus several salads), we all walked to the beach. The 2 young girls and men played at the edge of the ocean for a bit, but the wind had picked up a lot, so it didn’t take long for all of us to decide that we’d had enough. The sand blowing in rivers over the beach looked like what I imagine the Sahara to look like. August is a windy month here, everyone says.

Apparently, having guests all day wore us out because Jean and I both slept until 9.00 the next morning. We had a leisurely breakfast, and then walked back to the beach. Jean sat and sewed (she’s a quilter) while I went and walked into the ocean a little bit. I didn’t go far, though, because the waves were almost knocking me down as they came in; I imagine they were just as strong going out! Also, there was a sign posted prominently warning that this beach had no shark nets. Okay, you don’t need to tell me that twice.

We had a lunch of leftovers when we came back, and while we were sitting on the deck, I heard, then saw, two fish eagles! I was so excited. The fish eagle is the official bird of Zimbabwe, and I never saw one while I was there. Also, it looks very much like an American bald eagle, and I’ve never seen one of those out of captivity, either. It was exciting. Too far away for meaningful photos, though.

After we cleaned up and checked out of the lodge, we drove through the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. We saw 7 or 8 zebra just standing around, a little klipspringerbok, some ibis, herons, and a monkey. The reserve has some nice car camping areas and beach access; might be a good place to take visitors.

We flew from Richards Bay back to Jo’burg on Sunday night. Jean dropped me off at my townhouse. When I walked through the front door, I almost called, “I’m home, girls!” Then I remembered that Maggie and Tessie aren’t here yet. I’ll be very happy to have them with me. SA doesn’t require a quarantine, and if I find out that the U.S. does not require one upon my return (whenever that will be), then I’m planning to bring them with me when I come back here in September.

I think that’s enough for now, hey?

15 August 2005

Unimaginatively named update #1

Hi y'all,

I've decided not to try to change my accent. At first I thought, "Maybe I should try to say 'bah-NAH-nahs' and 'bahth' and the like, but what's the point? People will always know I'm an American, so why try to change my speech? I will try to use the correct local terminology (e.g. robot for traffic light, torch for flashlight, hoot the car horn instead of honk, and so on), but I'll say it with an American accent, by golly.

Whew, have we been busy! Since Jean knew that I'd be going back to the U.S. at the end of August, whether to stay or pack up and return, and because this is busy selling season for us (transferring from one subscription agent to another usually occurs at the beginning of a new calendar year, so now is the time to be making a decision), she made full use of my time by booking appointments almost every weekday, and all over the country! There are 9 provinces in South Africa, and I've been in 4 so far - Gauteng (in Afrikaans, the 'g' is a hard, guttural 'h'; so Gauteng is pronounced "how-teng" only with that throat-clearing h), Free State, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal.

Last week we were in Eastern Cape, and the first night we stayed in Port Elizabeth. PE reminded me very much of beach resort towns in Florida. Lots of hotels and development along the waterfront, similar vegetation, and lots of older, retired folks in the subdivision where we stayed at a guest house (B&B). One afternoon, when we were finished with appointments, we drove through a beautiful, old, tree-lined neighborhood with many colonial style houses. We had planned to take a walk on the beach, but it was far too windy and a bit chilly. Still, our guest house was only 3 or 4 blocks from the beach, and I could hear the waves breaking in my room that night

On Thursday of last week we visited Rhodes University in Grahamstown. I really liked the look and feel of Grahamstown, and Jean tells me that they have a big arts and music festival there every July, with a big field for camping. Don't know if they'll have any bluegrass bands, but guess who I'll be calling on next July? J I also liked the Rhodes campus. It is by far the prettiest we've visited. Many of the universities that we're calling on were built in the 1960s and '70s, and the buildings are almost uniformly ugly. Mostly concrete. Ugh. Rhodes, though, is old, ivy-covered brick buildings - I'm sure it's close to what Plato thinks a college or university ought to look like.

That afternoon, we drove down to Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred and did take a short walk on the beach. We saw penguins sitting on a rock! The ocean is very fierce on that part of the coast.

On Friday (5 Aug), we visited Fort Hare University, which is smack in the middle of nowhere. It has the distinction of being the oldest black university in SA. It also has the distinction of being the university that Robert G. Mugabe attended. Just so happened that the library archives, which we visited (and which also hold the ANC archives), has an exhibit of famous Fort Hare graduates. Interestingly, Uncle Bob's (as we called him while I was in Zimbabwe) photo was not among them.

I did most of the driving last week; I told Jean that I needed the practice and it would be good to do it with someone else in the car. On the way between Grahamstown and Fort Hare, and then between Fort Hare and East London (from which we flew back to Jo'burg), I had to dodge, at various times, monkeys, goats, and one lone cow who decided to cross the highway. Ah, rural South Africa.

The driving is coming along quite well. I still maintain that the left side driving hasn't been a problem. The only silly thing I keep doing (and I'm almost over it) is to begin to reach to my left for the seat belt, instead of over my right shoulder. I did make my first big left side driving boo-boo last weekend (turned out of a parking lot into the wrong lane), but fortunately it was a Sunday afternoon with little traffic, and it was at a 4-way stop where there were other drivers who hooted at me loudly to let me know of my gaffe. I really think I need to get a sign for my rear window that says, "CAUTION - U.S.A. driver!" Driving the manual transmission is coming along pretty fine, too, except that really big hills still give me a fright.

This week, we've been in KwaZulu-Natal. We flew down to Durban on Monday morning, and left there on Friday morning. Durban is a big city, and like any big city anywhere in the world, parts of it are pretty, and parts of it are not. Some of it reminded me a touch of San Francisco - hills next to a bay, and some of the vegetation.

Okay, now it's time to leave the office and go call on the next customer - Potchesfstroom University. Whew, learning Afrikaans is not going to be easy.

Soon, more on this past weekend at Mtunzini Forest Lodge, adjacent to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve on the east coast, north of Durban.


Katy G.

02 August 2005

E-mail updates, anyone?

Dear friends,

I will be sending out occasional email updates about my time in South Africa. I don't want to bore anyone unnecessarily, so I will add you to my distribution list only if you reply that you'd like to be added. Several of you, in the last few days, have already told me yes, so no need for you folks to reply.

For a starter, here is a good source for basic facts about South Africa.


Johannesburg proper is about 3.2 million; if you include nearby Pretoria, it's more like 5.8 million. The whole province of Gauteng, where Jo'burg is located, is about 9 million. The altitude here, which someone asked a few days ago, is around 6,000 feet, and the terrain is pretty hilly. This is where I'm learning to drive a stick shift on the left side. :)

Warm regards,

Katy G.