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.