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 CafĂ© (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.