The animals are free to roam
I’m so glad South African conservationists think far ahead of their time. The government, recognizing that tourism can be used to generate funds for conservation, works hard and spends a lot of money to ensure that this incredible country and its flora, fauna and wildlife remain available for everyone’s enjoyment. The South African National Parks (www.sanparks.org) manages 19 or 20 parks, depending on which guidebook or website you’re reading.

More than three percent of the land in South Africa is occupied by national parks, nature reserves and game reserves. The most famous, Kruger National Park, is also the oldest, having been established in 1898. We’re going to tour Kruger, which is in our province of Mpumalanga, but there are plenty of close reserves worthy of a visit.

One is Rietvlei (Reed Marsh) Nature Reserve, established around the Rietvlei Dam, which provides 15% of the water for Tshwane (Pretoria). When they acquired the dam in 1929, the City Council of Pretoria didn’t open the property to the public, but still had the foresight to  bring animals in.

zebras hang out with the herds
We drove about an hour to get there, all dual highway until the last 5 minutes. There’s a nice bathroom, educational center and office where you pay your R40 ($4.50) per person to go in. They give you a plastic card with a number on it, so I’m assuming that’s how they keep track of how many cars go in and come out.

There are blacktop roads and dirt roads, encompassing huge fields of grass with the occasional tree sticking up. The animals are free to move wherever they like, and you can see paths they’ve created. There’s no walking allowed except in designated areas, and even there you have to watch your step. Some of the piles these animals drop are pretty big! There are four bird blinds and at least one panoramic platform where you can stop and sit to see what you can see. There’s a beautiful braai area with restrooms and braais and picnic tables. There’s a restaurant that also has a picnic area.  They offer guided hikes, guided horseback rides, guided tours of the lion reserve.

We haven’t done it yet, but our neighbor recommended taking the horseback rides. She said the wild animals don’t recognize you as separate from the horse, and they don’t mind the horses, so you get some up-close and personal encounters.

I believe these are the easiest animals to spot!
When we got online to plan our day, my eyes glazed over from all the information. But it’s important to know what you’re getting into: First & foremost, do they have bathrooms? Is there a restaurant or are there picnic grounds? Can you drive a regular car or do you need a 4x4 vehicle? Rietvlei seemed like the perfect place to dip our toes into adventure, and indeed it was.
see the ostrich?
Charles is about four years old
no horns!
Four of the Big Five can be seen on the reserve, namely: rhino, lion, buffalo, and leopard/cheetah. The term “Big Five” originated as a hunting term for the five deadliest animals to encounter on a walking safari back in the early 20th century, when Hemingway and Roosevelt were among the big game hunters. Now the Big Five are icons for South Africa.
We took the guided tour to see and hear about the lions. They have an adult male and two adult females who came from a zoo that didn’t have the ability to care for them any longer. In a separate enclosure, they have a young male and two young females who came from an attraction here that allows people to handle and feed the cubs. Once that happens, they can’t be released into the wild. Not only do they not know how to catch their meals, they associate people with food and that makes them too dangerous to be loose on a reserve. The males have had vasectomies because they’re related to the females. They don’t castrate them because, among other things, they need their hormones to grow their manes. To train the lions not to jump on the tour bakkies (trucks), the rangers would ride in the bakkie with water guns and squirt water in the lions’ faces when they came near. The lions don’t jump on the trucks any more, but they sure don’t like them!

We saw white rhino, too. Poaching is such a terrible scourge on the rhinos here, black and white. People kill the animal simply for its horns. They’re trying all kinds of ways to bring the number of kills down: they prosecute poachers with a vengeance, there have been great conferences to educate and try to get the countries where people buy rhino horn to make the purchase illegal. They even cut the horns off at the reserves, so people have no reason to kill them. Neither the number of rhino, black and white, nor their location, is made public in an effort to prevent poaching.

270 species of bird have been identified on the reserve (I recognized the ostrich right away!). There are over 1600 head of game, including blesbuck, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, eland, Burchell's zebra, waterbuck, reedbuck, springbuck, mountain reedbuck, steenbuck and grey duiker. All those “bucks” are antelope or deer, and my untrained eye can’t tell the difference. I think it’s mostly the size and shape of their horns that distinguish one from the other. We saw huge herds slowly moving across the veld (field), and there were usually zebras with them. I expect that I’ll have a better understanding of what’s what by the time we leave.

Steven is the one who always sees animals in the wild first. “Look for what doesn’t belong,” he always tells me. We drove quite slowly and used binoculars to find animals. Then we used the zoom lens on the camera to get the pictures. We took hundreds, and were only really impressed with a few. I opened a picture folder on my laptop that is reserved for five star pictures only! There’s only a couple in there now. The good news is, we’ll have lots of opportunities for photos. I trust that we’ll get better and better pictures.

Rest assured, I’ll share them with you!

This morning was the first day of the New Life Mission Church’s winter soup kitchen. The congregation has been donating blankets and used clothing for the past month. One of the outreach pastors purchases 5 liter buckets of hot soup for R135 ($13.78) each and rolls the size of hot dog buns, Styrofoam bowls, and little spoons.

We met at the church, loaded the pastor’s car with donated goods and soup stuff, then drove out to Klarinet township, to a school the church supports, so we could feed members of the community who had gathered there.

I rode over with Julian, who moved to South Africa from the UK 28 years ago. He was here when apartheid ended in 1994. Julian confirmed that eMalahleni (Witbank) is a city and Klarinet is an official township. During apartheid, black people were only allowed to live in certain places, called townships. Townships are supposed to have municipal services of water, sewer, and refuse pick-up. They also have electricity. Many unofficial townships have grown up alongside the official ones. These are basically shanty towns, with homes constructed of corrugated metal, plywood, cardboard and believe it or not, I even saw some cinderblock and cement homes as we drove through. Julian assured me that even those houses were temporary; that some industrious people found block or cement and brought it back and used it.

There was a recent story in the newspaper about a young pregnant mother and her baby being electrocuted in one of these unofficial townships because the people illegally hook up electricity and run the live wires on the ground. Because there is no refuse pick-up, there are huge piles of garbage all around. Because there are so many people and so few jobs, groups of people are gathered all over. Some of the shoulders of the adults are bent, but the children are happy when they’re in school.

The school we went to is small, maybe 25’ x 25’ with two classrooms, a kitchen and a storage room. The children (60-75 of them) are preschool age and they all wear blue uniforms. As we were carrying the donations to the storage room, they were pleased to start reciting the days of the week in English and they crowded around us and gave us two thumbs up and said “Chop!” Their teachers were making their lunch for them; I’m not sure what they were having.

We came back out to the parking lot and put our soup and rolls on a table that had been set up there. While the school is in Klarinet proper, and is surrounded by barbed wire fences, there are shanty towns on every side of it. Many women and children from outside the fence were sitting on chairs, waiting for food. The director of the school, Imelda, came and spoke to them in a language I’m unfamiliar with, then in English she told them who we were, where we were from, and that God was providing for them and that they should be grateful. They started singing a song of praise, then the director chided them and said next week they should be louder. She then blessed the food.

First the children came, only a few with their hands out, and we were rewarded with shy smiles as theyreceived their soup and rolls. Next, we took food to the older women who were seated and not very mobile. Then the men were fed; and finally, the women. Most men looked me in the eye and said thank you. Very few of the women expressed gratitude, perhaps because they didn’t know the words. I think they may have been grieving that they were getting their food from strangers. I don’t know, of course, what they were thinking or feeling. They came back for seconds and still we had two buckets of soup and a bag of rolls left. Everyone assured me that as the word spread, ten buckets of soup wouldn’t be enough to give everyone who came one bowl of soup.

The director suggested that we take the leftover soup and rolls to a crèche (nursery or nursery school) in another shanty town on the way out.  We loaded our things back into the pastor’s car and I watched the women and children file back into their world through an opening in the fence.

This time we drove into the community, something we wouldn’t dare to do without members of the community with us. Our cars are too nice and our skin is too light for safety. But we had to stop for directions, and when the men who came around the cars learned we were bringing food to the crèche, they pointed the way and stepped aside.

60 more preschoolers in an even smaller poorly constructed building, with a teeny tiny playground. A white Afrikaans woman, Suzette, greeted us. She runs five crèches, spending a little time at each one as she can. She hurriedly told us of all the good things she was doing for the kids (her two minute commercial, or window of opportunity with the hopes of getting additional help): teaching them Jesus songs, teaching them to pray, photocopying writing exercise sheets and reminding the kids to use the back of the page, too, so as not to waste the paper. Sure enough, the kids repeated the Lord’s Prayer, sang several Sunday school songs, recited the alphabet (ending with zed), and counted to 30, following the teacher’s direction. They were so pleased when we applauded and complimented them on their good work.

 When I say the school building is small, please picture 50 children standing so close to each other that they were touching one another. When we prayed and they sang, they faced us. To recite the alphabet, they turned to the back wall. To count, they turned a quarter turn to another wall. Suzette showed us that their uniform shirts had a telephone number on the back so if the children got lost, someone could call the number to bring them back to safety. I admired the shirt and the child wearing it was quite proud. Then another one came to me to show me THEIR shirt, then another, then another. I couldn’t keep from touching them, putting my hands on their face, kissing their heads.

When we got back into the car, I couldn’t keep from crying. So many hungry people, so many children – how can we help them all? Rather than feeling the satisfaction of doing good, I felt frustration at not being able to do more.

A tiny representation of what they have at Fruit & Veg
In NY, Steven and I had a favorite grocery store, ShopRite: it was close to home, they had good produce, and we knew their hours and where everything was located. There were other stores we shopped in, of course, but generally come a Saturday morning we were in and out of ShopRite.

In eMalahleni, there are lots of grocery stores: Checkers, Spar, OK Grocer – and stores that also sell groceries: Woolworths and Game – and grocery stores that also sell other things: PickNPay, Hyper Checkers (hyper here is the same as “super” in the US; Super Target, Super Walmart…). Woolworths, Game and PickNPay are right in the Highveld Mall. There is a very fun plaza at the corner of Mandela and OR Tambo that has Fruit & Veg which sells…..fruits and vegetables! They also have Meat & Fish, selling….meat and fish! Baker’s Bin is also there, selling flours, sugars, cooking trays, baking mixes. I’m certain there are other stores that we haven’t found yet.

Here, each store has particular items we need, so we generally have to hit them all. Our trouble is that when we find something we’re looking for, the next time we need it we can’t remember where we found it the first time!

We go to Spar because, among other things, they have Steven’s favorite treats for taking to work: single serving bags of peanuts & raisins, spicy Fritos, smarties (kind of like M&Ms), Cadbury chocolates and microwave popcorn. Spar also has an endcap dedicated to US imports! There, you can pay $10 for a package of triple-stuff Oreos or $7 for a box of Lucky Charms or Pop Tarts. Sometimes they even have Kraft Mac & Cheese; that gets the phones ringing! (Most foods are not that expensive.) The rule is, if you find something you haven’t seen in awhile, you buy it all, then notify everyone that you have it. Steven prowled around the first three weeks we were here looking for horseradish. When we asked for it, people kept pointing us to red radishes or daikon. Finally, he found jars of prepared horseradish in the US section at Spar and he bought two of the four jars. He expressed his chagrin at not having bought it all to Sarah, so the next day she went and bought the other two jars!

Checkers is right down the street from Steven’s office and there we buy game meats, like ostrich and venison. They are the store that has the best selection of cheeses; you can buy gouda, parmigiano reggiano, fancy cheese-plate cheeses, and the popular local salty goat’s cheese, haloumi. They also sell the cheeses everyone else sells: feta and mild cheddar, sharp cheddar or extra sharp cheddar. The big signs over the aisles are English on the side facing the front of the store and Afrikaans on the side facing the back.

Woolworth’s is the only place you can buy English muffins and cartons of chicken or beef broth. They have the only ice cream Steven likes, too. Most of the ice cream you buy here has vegetable fat in it and the texture is very grainy, but he thinks Woolie’s brand is pretty good. I like to buy my eggs there, because they usually don’t have any feathers or poop on them. We haven’t purchased any of their bulk packages of chicken heads and feet yet.

PickNPay has a wonderful selection of cleaning products, including Pine Gel, which is the only thing the owner wants our tile floors cleaned with. They have a great selection of baking products. I even bought my mixing bowls and matching measuring cups & spoons there. And you know that since-I’m-already-here impulse buying always happens.

The only thing I have to say about OK Grocer is that when we refill our water jugs at Oasis next door, we think “Since we’re already here, we might as well look to see if they have it.” They usually don’t. The first time we went in there, it was dark! I asked one of the other customers if they were getting ready to close and she said, “No, it’s never well lit.”

Game is South Africa’s Wal-mart. The difference is that you can’t presume that the prices are cheaper. I don’t usually buy groceries there – the aisles are tight, the grocery section is small, the produce and meat selections aren’t that great….But I have been known to take a trolley from Game and use it in all the stores in the mall. Hey, everybody does it!

Fruit & Veg is great. They have stacks and stacks of fresh produce from South Africa. It’s seasonal, and just because you saw it there today doesn’t mean it will be there next week. The people who work there are very friendly and answer your questions even if they think they’re stupid. The first week I went in, I walked behind a lady who worked there asking “What’s this?” “This?” “This?” Now I know what all kinds of tropical fruits are. It’s fall here, so we’re getting apples and root vegetables now. We’ve seen some heads of cabbage that are HUGE! People here eat a lot of pumpkin and butternut squash. F&V has a counter in the back where ladies will peel and cut your veggies to order. Most of the grocery stores also offer fresh, cubed veggie mixes for roasting, soup or potjie dishes. F&V has a great selection of dried fruits and nuts, too.

Meat & Fish has frozen wild-caught fish (kingklip, hake & snoek are popular mild whitefish here); biltong (kind of like jerky, but not); lamb, beef, chicken, pork – smoked, minced, cubed, steaks… You can find huge bags of pieces and parts, including meaty bones, tongue and tripe. They have deli meats in there, too, all kinds of “poloney,” which I’m assuming is similar to bologna. On the weekends, they set up braais outside and grill boerwoers (spicy farmer’s sausage). The smell is out of this world, and it tastes pretty good, too. For R20 ($2.50) you get a footlong sausage on a bun with your choice of condiments: sweet chili sauce, garlic mayo, tomato sauce (ketchup), American mustard (yellow), hot mustard. Because I just can’t stand not to, I usually buy one then make Steven eat most of it. He’s not that hard to convince!

Steven's snack shelf. That jar of Planter's was R140 -- more than $15!
Highveld Mall is only about 5 minutes away
beautiful beads!
Eli enjoys leaning on the doors & playing with the keychains
This is Lily's favorite set of doors. She's constantly opening, closing, opening, closing, opening.....
Some of the key chains are quite elegant, like this gold tassel
Makes sense -- leads to the blue bedroom
that's not all, folks!
When we moved into our new home, I felt like a matron in a 19th century English manor – there were keys for every door! Rather than a large ring of keys to wear on my belt, though, there’s a board full of hooks with labeled keys. There’s also a key in almost every keyhole.

I took a picture of many of them (not all), and you can click on the photo to enlarge it if you like.

In NY we have a key for the front door, the back door, the garage and the shed; here we have 26 keys for the upstairs, downstairs, & outside gates. That is a lot more keys than I’ve ever had to keep track of; and frankly I’m more than a little nervous about misplacing one or more of them.

The doors are beautiful wood, some with windows, ALL with locks. Some of the keys are old-fashioned skeleton keys, with warded locks. You can see through the keyholes, which have a long channel that have projections, or plates, inside them. There are bits at the end of the keys matching those projections and that’s what enables them to lock and unlock the doors. The part that you hold in your hand is called the bow. The part that connects the bow and the bits is the shaft.

 I was surprised to learn that warded locks were invented by the Romans two thousand years ago. Some of the keys were quite elaborate during the era of ornamental metal work and their designs included leaves, crests, seals….Those are the keys that are so popular in decorating today. My keys have plain bows, but I have to say that most of the key chains are quite lovely.

Warded locks are quite easy to pick (from what I’ve heard), so in the 20th century, more secure lock sets were designed. The lock sets on the doors to the outside of the house are more modern and secure; the keys would look quite familiar to my friends in the US.

Already I’ve locked myself out of the house a few times! I have to learn to always carry my house keys in my pocket, because when you step outside, the doors automatically lock. You don’t dare to “hide” your keys outside your home here, so I had a spare key made and gave it to someone I really trust and who lives within walking distance. Our house keys are normal size, but the chain is big and bulky due to the remotes we have to carry: security for the house, security for the complex, garage door, car… That’s my excuse for not having them in my pocket at all times, but it’s not really a good one.

Something that strikes me as ironic is the fact that we no longer have a car key! Our leased white Toyota Corolla has one of those push button starters. It also automatically unlocks when you get close, which is quite handy. There are several other features, but I’ll share my thoughts on driving here another day.

Sarah made me laugh last week when she said you know you’re getting close to a place where there’s a lot of Black & Veatch employees, because the parking lot looks like Toyota vomited white cars all over. I must admit, I’m grateful for the parking lot attendants who notice who gets out of which car. Earlier this week I walked out of the mall and had no idea where my car was and I saw a smiling black man in a safety vest waving at me and pointing to my car. They are totally worth the R5 tip, totally! Perhaps I should let them become the keepers of my keys!

Some keys we don't leave in the door, we lock the door & throw the key somewhere else
This Dutch door configuration has a rather ugly keychain
Clever idea -- use a bracelet on the keyring
More lovely beads
I've seen lots of lizards around the house, but this is the only dolphin
Lily says, "It's all good, Nana!"
When we moved here two months ago, our 2 ½ year old granddaughter, Lily, didn’t have a large vocabulary. I would ask her if she enjoyed her ice cream, and she would hold up her thumb and say “chop!” Huh? Then I would be in public places and ask people how they were and they would respond with two thumbs up and say “chop chop!” I would smile and hope that my utter confusion wasn’t reflected on my face.

So I asked Hannes, our gracious host at Lavender Lane Guest House, what in the world they were saying. It was obviously some positive response, but what exactly were they saying? Hannes explained that they were actually (kind of) saying “sharp,” an exclamation of “good.” Then I asked about “shime,” a laughing response I’d receive from locals when I’d share a story of a humorous misunderstanding while I was out in public. The word was “shame,” which he explained is something South Africans have picked up from Americans. I take it to mean something similar to “oh, dear!” or “oh, no!” or “poor baby!” I also hear “Eish!” as in “Eish! My feet are tired,” which apparently is similar to “Golly.”

Hannes also taught me to say “Dit was lekker!” after eating something delicious. Lekker means nice, but it applies more to experiences than material items; not clothes, for example. And in Afrikaans, the w sounds like v and that r is that deep down clearing your throat sound.

An important thing to know here is that it is terribly rude to not take the time to greet everyone: “Hello, how are you? Fine, fine. And you? Fine, thank you.” It’s kind of like being in the South again! If people are being briefly polite and don’t really want an answer, they’ll say “Howzit?” Also, it takes South Africans awhile to hang up the phone. “Alright, then. Thanks, Rosanne. Okay. Buh-bye.” Mind you, these are habits that are a perfect fit for me, so I’m not complaining, just sharing.

There are other words that everyone here uses and expects you to understand. For instance, if you ask where to buy gas for your pick-up, someone might tell you to “Drive your bakkie (pronounced bucky; truck) to the roundabout (traffic rotary) past the robot (traffic light) to the petrol (gas) station.” Remember to take your jerry can (gas can) for extra petrol for your generator.

Or maybe someone invites you over for drinks and dinner. They might sms (short message service; we call it text) you to “Stop at the bottle store (liquor store) and pick up your favorite sundowner (cocktail) on your way over to the braai (BBQ -- the act of BBQing and the appliance it’s cooked on); we’ll be having lekker boerewors (boo-rah-vorse; delicious spicy farmer’s sausage), kingklip (a delicious local whitefish), mealie (corn on the cob) and potjie (poy-key; stew and the pot it’s cooked in) with some more-ish (something you want more of, I’m not kidding) melktert (milk tart or custard pie) for dessert.” Sometimes you’ll get chips (french fries) with your fish or maybe crisps (chips) with your sandwich.

The babies here wear nappies (diapers) on their bottoms and everyone wears tekkies (sneakers) on their feet. You might give a baby a biscuit (cookie) for being good; or try to stick a dummy (pacifier) in its mouth to quiet it. Grown-ups get offered a cooldrink (soda pop). If you ask for a soda, you’ll get seltzer.

When a lightbulb burns out, you’ll need your torch (flashlight) to change the globe (bulb). Then you’ll throw the bad globe into the rubbish bin (garbage can).

Instead of brainstorming and getting organized, South Africans “make a plan” and “sort things out.” Then they’ll give you a call “just now.” FYI, should anyone tell you “just now,” don’t hold your breath! Ask if they can do it “now, now” instead.

For more, maybe too much, information on fun phrases in this country, just google “South African phrases.” The ones I’ve shared are some that I’ve experienced since we got here.

Mandela's image is on all new banknotes
Currency in South Africa is Rand. Rand is short for the word Witwatersrand, (white waters ridge) which is the gold-bearing ridge where Johannesburg was built in the province of Gauteng. We carry paper and coin; 100 cents in coins equals 1 Rand. It’s not as easy as it sounds, believe me! The conversion rate from USD to Rand fluctuates daily, but I’ve learned to kind of calculate it at about R8.5 to the dollar and that’s pretty close.

We decided not to open a local bank account, so we use a card to withdraw cash from an ATM. ATM theft is a huge threat here, so people are warned over and over about how to use an ATM safely. The machines have privacy walls on the side, and a shield over the top of the screen so people can’t see what you're doing over your shoulder. At some places, there are queues set up and you stay within the ropes until it’s your turn. At other places, there are footsteps painted where the next person is supposed to stand, to give you an appropriate amount of space. If you have a problem with your card, you’re NEVER to leave the ATM machine unattended. If you’re alone, you call the prominently displayed bank’s number from your cell. If you have a partner, one of you stays with the machine while the other goes into the bank and gets assistance.

Good looking, well-dressed and well-groomed criminals here will sneakily block the slot where you insert your card and then offer to help when they see you having trouble. They’ll tell you to put your PIN in again (another NEVER do), and soon there’s a group of people around you, pretending to be helpful. Even though you’re uncomfortable, because it’s awkward, you don’t want to yell “GET AWAY FROM ME!” But that’s what you’re supposed to do. With the little bit of experience I have over here, I don’t think anyone who really is trying to help would have a problem with you telling them “No, thanks.” That’s because everyone in South Africa is aware of the high crime rate and no one thinks less of you for considering that they might be a criminal; they probably hold you in higher regard for having good sense.

You learn to gravitate to the ATMs that have security guards hanging around them. And you NEVER count your money while you’re at the machine, you just grab your card, your money, and your receipt (if there’s paper to print one) and stuff it into your pocket or bag. You also learn to go to the ATM early in the day, during the week; because after noon on the weekend, not only are the lines horrendous, but the machines run out of money!

Rand is printed in denominations of 200, 100, 50, 20, and 10. The newest banknotes, issued in 2012,  have Nelson Mandela’s picture on one side and one of the Big Five (the wildlife everyone goes on safari to see) on the other. R10 is green, with a rhinoceros; R20 is brown, with an elephant; R50 is red, with a lion; R100 is blue, with a buffalo; R200 is orange, with a leopard.

The older banknotes (issued in 2005) have the same colors and Big Five on the denominations, but instead of Nelson Mandela’s picture, they feature agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, and transportation & communication. They are very pretty banknotes, and I’m totally stealing my daughter Sarah’s idea to keep some old and new notes and have them framed as our “souvenir.”  

Just like in the US, people here call paper currency “bucks.” It’s very easy to just keep tossing 100 bucks out, because you know it’s not 100 USD. But sometimes I don’t realize how much I’ve paid for something until I’m home going over the receipts. For instance, my favorite mascara, Maybelline in the pink container with the green lid, is $4.69 at WalMart in the US. In South Africa, it’s R69 (which doesn’t sound like much, right?) or $7.62.

One reason things cost so much is the VAT, or value added tax. Vendors just include the 14% VAT in the price of most everything, so you don’t think about the fact that you’re paying it until you look at the bottom of your receipt. The list of what’s VAT exempt is pretty short, and one item on that list is basic foodstuffs: brown bread, maize meal, samp, mealie rice, dried mealies, dried beans, lentils, pilchards/sardinella in tins, milk powder, dairy powder blend, rice, vegetables, fruit, vegetable oil, milk, cultured milk, brown wheaten meal, eggs, and edible legumes. That explains why the cost of food is fairly reasonable and the cost of everything else is high.

The seal is on all these coins
Coins still befuddle me. Part of that is because the final price gets rounded down to the nearest tenth (for instance R12,98 gets rounded to R12,90). When the government decided to do away with one and two cent coins, they decided the easiest way to ease the transition was to round the odd amount, always in the payer’s favor. So while I totally get the R5 and R1 coins; the concept of using the fifty, twenty, ten and five cent coins has been hard for me to wrap my brain around. It’s getting a little easier, especially as I’ve just written it down! How amazing that when you’re trying to explain something, you’re forced to understand it first.

Yesterday a young man told me that when they quit using the one and two cent coins, they melted them down and that’s the metal they use in the middle of the new R5 coin. I’m not sure how to verify that, but I’ve got no reason to disbelieve him. R5 coins are very important because those are the ones we use to tip the parking guards after they guide us to a parking space, watch over our cars while we shop, help us load our bags into the boot (trunk), return our trolleys (shopping carts), and then guide us as we back out of the parking space.

There are a lot of poor people here who work for very low wages if they can find a job. I am very aware of the economic disparity and I sometimes feel guilty because we have more than enough money to live on.

Covers to keep little Eli's fingers safe
We knew when we were preparing to move over here that there was no sense in bringing any small appliances or personal care appliances along, as the electric service here is different than it is in the USA. I just didn’t realize HOW different it was!

Being the daughter & sister of electricians does me no good (here or in the USA) because none of the three of them would let me do a mindmeld to share their knowledge. I have a general understanding of how electricity starts out strong at the generating plant, then keeps being reduced in power at various stages of distribution until it gets to your house at 220 volts, which gets split into 110 volt for most of the wiring (lights and receptacles), and stays 220 for some of the large appliances. In every country except the US and Japan (I believe), 220 volt is the standard for residential wiring.

By the way, I have to use (some might say overuse) the word “receptacle,” because that is the part that accepts the plug. I’m as guilty as the next person of calling those things in the wall “plugs,” but receptacle comes from the Latin word receptaculum which means to receive, which is what it does – receive a plug. My thesaurus shows no other words for an electrical receptacle. We can’t even agree to understand that “plug” is being used for receptacle, because I’m going to be talking about those, too!

This house has lots of 15 amp receptacles – but not in the bathrooms, because that’s against the building code. There are single and doubles. Each receptacle has a switch that controls the power to that receptacle, which is quite handy when you’re conserving energy or you want to control an appliance with the flip of a switch. When the power is on, you can see a little red indicator. Every receptacle in our house has 3 holes. The problem is, not every plug has three prongs!

Plugs look very different here in South Africa. There are going to be quite a few pictures because I could never even begin to describe everything. Some smaller appliances (blow dryer, curling iron) have only two prongs. BUT two prongs might be flat or round. The good news is, you can purchase extension cords or adapters in any configuration. So a three prong receptacle easily becomes three three prongs, two flat prongs and one two round prongs. Or three flat prongs. Or one three prong, two flat prongs and one two round prong. You get the picture?

Don't look, Daddy!
different plugs on curling iron & blow dryer
obviously men set up the codes for bathrooms
Sometimes you just need two plugs in one spot
my little electronics helper
Oh, and let’s not forget the all-important  adapter for the United States computer and cell phone charger! Seth and Sarah made sure we were each hooked up with this little can’t-do-without-it beauty. It fits every plug imaginable PLUS has the additional luxury of a USB port down on the bottom! Steven was issued South African computer and cell phone, so he doesn’t use his anymore, but believe me when I tell you I depend on this baby!

When there are three prongs on a plug, one of them is the ground, or as they call it here, the earth connection. South Africa has no safety fuses, so an open circuit is supposed to cause a circuit breaker to trip at the breaker box (which is called a distribution board or DB). We know about the DB because when the power goes out, we have make adjustments to the breakers before we can flip the switch for the gas generator to power the house.

Beside the DB in the closet under the stairs is our electric meter. Practically all electricity in the country is supplied by the public utility Eskom (Electricity Supply Commission) and is prepaid. That means we can buy our electricity at the grocery store or the gas station! It also means that the first thought that pops into our heads when the power goes out is “Oh no! Did we run out of electricity?” You can buy any amount of electricity you like. We usually buy R1000, and we get 743.4 kilowatt hours. ($107.68 or 14.5 cents per kwh)

By the way, Steven works for a company that is a contractor for Eskom. Witbank/eMalahleni (which is the Zulu word for coal) and the surrounding area are home to many plants that use coal to generate electricity as well as the mines the coal comes from. Coal is used to generate about 77% of the electricity in South Africa; nuclear power generates about 6.5%. Eskom is building new plants and revamping old plants as they try to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for power.

There’s a big push for power conservation here, and creating energy from renewable resources. It’s a great place to use solar energy to heat water, which is pretty standard. Eskom is providing the labor and materials to put switches on the geysers (geezers), or hot water tanks, so they don’t draw power during peak usage periods. In the evening, there are public service announcements along the lines of “Have you turned off your geysers for the night? Are there any appliances or lights on that aren’t being used?” And I just saw an Eskom ad showing a family getting prepared for winter by buying extra blankets and sweaters, NOT firing up the electric heaters.

We worked to conserve energy when we lived in the USA and we still work to conserve energy here; it’s the right thing to do.
Some of the sugars we've already collected
I frequently commented in the US that there were too many choices of soap, lotion, potato chips…but I never had to worry over different kinds of sugar! Not brands of sugar, kinds of sugar! And none of them are as sweet as I’m accustomed to.

Do you want to make frosting for your cupcakes? You want icing sugar, which is similar to confectioner’s or 10X sugar.

Do you want to make a cake? You could use white sugar, but you may prefer castor sugar, which is unlike anything I’ve come across before, not as fine as confectioner’s sugar but finer than table sugar. Or maybe dark brown sugar, which I think is called treacle sugar. Or light brown sugar, called caramel sugar, which is just what you’d expect. But those are NOT the same as brown sugar….

Do you want sugar for your coffee or tea? White or brown? White is what we keep in our sugar bowls in the US. Brown is similar to turbinado, large brown granules, and seems to be the preferred hot beverage sweetener of the black people here (my favorite, too!).

Here in South Africa, most tables have two suikerpot (soo kray po), one for brown and one for white. Some of them are quite beautiful. They may be part of the tea or coffee service; they may simply be part of a sugar & creamer set. At Lavender Lane Guesthouse, Ester had beautiful pottery sets. She even coordinated the contents with the suikerpot by adding colored sugar to the white sugar, which was quite festive! MY brown suikerpot is simply stainless steel, but it has a lovely decorated spoon.

The spoon really is pretty!
As a side note, the tea spoons here are tiny things, while the table spoons are HUGE! I don’t eat cereal anymore, because I just can’t decide which spoon to use.

Let’s not forget yellow sugar, for making chutneys and other preserves. And since we’re talking color, there are sprinkles (exactly what you’d expect) for decorating cupcakes and ice cream. And the aforementioned colored sugar (which I’ve always used to decorate Mama’s sugar cookies) that you could use to coordinate with your suikerpot.

If you’re looking for blackstrap molasses, you can find that in the baking aisle. While we’re in the baking aisle, you may be curious as to the cost. Apples to apples will be a trick, but with the help of my Google converter, I’ll give it a shot! On a recent trip to the store, I paid R21,99 for 2.5kg of white sugar OR $2.40 for 5.5 lbs. 1kg of brown sugar was R10,99 OR 2.2 lbs for $1.20. Castor and icing sugar each rang in at $2.18 for 2.2 lbs.

Do you want to make candy? Sorry, no corn syrup. Try golden syrup. Which is not to be confused with traditional syrup that is poured over flapjacks (which are not to be confused with pancakes, which are crepes rolled in cinnamon sugar). You can find traditional syrup with maple flavoring, but all maple syrup is imported.

Sweetness in a jar!
Now you know what to use when!
I am not a whiner. When I don’t understand something, I do a little research to see what’s up. The South African sugar story is pretty cool! Here are a few interesting facts I came across regarding sugar:

Sugarcane is a grass that is grown and harvested mainly in the provinces of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Mpumalanga, and the Eastern Cape on nearly 43,000 hectares. Sugarcane directly and indirectly employs 350,000 people and over one million people are dependent on the industry.[i] As with any agribusiness, sugarcane depends on the weather for harvest and profit. 2010 was a hard year for the sugar producers in South Africa due to the drought.

Harvesting sugarcane is a very labor-intensive task. In 1860, British sugarcane plantation owners brought over nearly 700 indentured servants from India to Durban, SA. By 1911, their number was greater than 150,000. According to an 2010 article by James McEnteer, when the (South African) government passed a law requiring registration of the Indian population in 1906, Mohandas Gandhi led a mass protest, adopting non-violent resistance for the first time.[ii] FYI, the Indian population now accounts for approximately 3.5% of all the people in South Africa, and they are represented in every trade and profession.

Even today, the topography of the land defies mechanized harvest, so the cane is harvested by hand; cane cutters using cane knives. On average, a cutter can cut and stack three tons of trashed (unburnt) cane and about four tons of burnt cane. The energy used to perform this task is equivalent to running a standard marathon. EVERY DAY!

There are many by-products including molasses and bagasse (the dewatered fibrous material). Most mills use it as fuel (instead of coal) to produce electricity thus producing clean electricity from a renewable source. A sugar mill is normally self sufficient in electricity and water. The cane plant is 68% water and thus a large quantity of water is delivered to the mill in the cane.[iii]

That’s a lot to think about as I stir my coffee and mix my muffins!

[i] http://www.nda.agric.za/docs/FactSheet/Sugar06.pdf

[ii] http://www.historynewsnetwork.com/articles/134040.html

[iii] http://www.scga.co.za/docs/lifecycle.pdf

 I can’t resist any longer; we have to step onto the patio. You know it’s a special place because there are FOUR ways to get in! Entering through the double doors from the dining room (Entrance #1), you cross a little wooden bridge with rocks and trees growing on either side of it. Lily and Eli love this entrance, but we have to keep it locked when they’re here because the doors get off the tracks when little girls open & close, open & close…..Above the bridge is a glass ceiling (I haven’t hit it yet) with louvered panes on the sides in case the rain gets to be too much for the trees & rocks. To the right (Entrance #2), there’s the door from the kitchen. Another door opens to a closet holding an old freezer that we’ve unplugged (don’t ask me).

There’s a small countertop with a sink and a cupboard next to that closet. We store our drinking water in the cupboard and refill the container on the counter quite regularly. We spend R60 (@ $7) every two weeks for drinking water. We fill a 25 liter dispenser, two 10L containers, and six 5L containers. That’s for drinking and for making coffee and tea. There’s a whole house reverse osmosis water filter outside the scullery that Steven backwashes every two weeks (the municipal water is quite dirty here). And there’s another RO to filter the filtered water under the prep sink in the kitchen. That’s the water we use for cooking and cleaning fruits and vegetables.

Back to the patio…Next to the counter, there’s a built-in braai (BBQ grill) behind the large piece of framed needlepoint. Below the braai there is a cubby full of wood. You would think it was for burning in the braai, but NO! It is for decorative purposes only, thank you. There is a small packet (bag) of wood sitting on the tile floor that is suitable for burning. We haven’t used the braai yet because Steven uses his largest South African purchase to date, his Weber (here they say weeber) gas braai for grilling.

The resin picnic table is covered with a flannel-backed vinyl cloth and surrounded by six resin chairs with cushions that make them quite comfy. This is where I spend a great deal of time. I have my quiet time with God here first thing in the morning. I have breakfast and lunch with Evelina (our domestic worker) and Collins (our gardener) at this table. This is where Sarah and I sit to visit while the kids are playing in the back yard. I read magazines and the Witbank News-nuus out here. If the wi-fi was strong enough, I’d probably do all my computer work here, too!

South Africans enjoy the outdoors. They have beautiful gardens where they entertain. Sarah has a lapa near the pool at her house, which is a thatch-roofed not-so-small outdoor building that holds their braai and refrigerator and a table and chairs. The point is, it’s not in the house.

We don’t have a lapa, but we have this great room. What I love about this place is the glass walls. The sun coming through the glass really keeps the room warm, which is nice in the fall and winter. When it gets too warm, though, you can open the walls (Entrance #3)! They’re accordion panes and you can have an open air patio with a couple flicks and a push. I saw a show on HGTV where they installed these and I thought to myself “How cool is that?” Well, now I know the answer: REALLY COOL!

The double doors from the living area (Entrance #4) were barricaded with houseplants, but Steven and I did a little rearranging and have things situated now so we can get more light into the sitting area and have access to the patio from there.

We bought a stereo system so we could have some music out here. I still haven’t found a radio station that consistently plays music I like, so I’m constantly fiddling with the dials. Steven has a radio in the bedroom that he has set to Jacaranda (that’s a flowering tree here) Radio, which plays kind of easy rock at night. The DJs speak Zulu (I think) a lot at night, and Afrikaans (I’m sure) in the morning. Seth and Sarah have helped me get the music off my computer onto my phone so I can listen to it through the stereo. That way I get to listen to music I know I like: classical, Christian, country.

So glad you could join me for a peek at this wonderful room. Now you know why it’s my favorite!

Entrance #1 from dining room
Entrance #2 from kitchen
Now you see it...
Now you don't!
Some of my resources for quiet time!
Entrance #3 Open....
Entrance #4 from sitting area
Slice of Orange & Almond Upside-Down Cake, anyone?
If you’ve come back to learn about my favorite room (the patio); sorry. I’m in the kitchen today.

 Anyone who knows me understands that any cooking I do is BY THE RECIPE. Some people (my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, my daughters….) cook by the “a little of this, a little of that” method. That doesn’t work for me. So imagine me coming to South Africa, where they measure with the metric system AND ingredients are called by different names & grown in different seasons AND we’re in a high altitude AND the oven registers in Celsius. What’s a girl to do?

I decided to buy South African magazines! It’s fall here, so the magazines feature recipes with seasonal ingredients. They list ingredients with grams. They tell you to preheat the oven to 170.  They call ingredients by the right names, so when I have to ask for something in the grocery store people don’t get a dazed look and start pointing at the farthest aisle, saying “Look over there.”

Most people try to be helpful. The other day I was looking for cornstarch for my strawberry rhubarb crisp. I carefully searched every label in the baking aisle, even looking for something that offered itself as a thickener. Not a thing. So I tapped a lady on the shoulder and asked “If you were looking for a thickener for a strawberry rhubarb crisp, what would you use?” She looked puzzled, said “I have no idea. But my son’s a chef and I’ll ring him up.” She called him, said some stuff in Afrikaans, then I understood “Ah, Maizena.” Then she marched me over to the SAUCE aisle, where Maizena makes thickener for brown gravies, white gravies and plain CORNFLOUR. Steven squeezed a box and when the white dust flew out the top, he said, “It’s cornstarch.”  Crisis averted.

FYI, when you come to South Africa, they call zucchini “marrow;” eggplant “aubergine” or “brinjal;” ground meat “mince;” roasted red peppers “paprika;” vanilla extract, “vanilla essence;” cookies “biscuits.” Those are a few differences that come to mind right now. These are good things to know if you’re trying to cook here.

I’d be lying if I said my favorite part of entertaining was anything but serving dessert. I like figuring out the menu, picking the music, setting the table – even making the food if it’s for ladies; but I really like making & serving dessert.

Today I had my daughter Sarah and two other ladies who are from the US over for lunch. I loaded up a playlist with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmy Lou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Dixie Chicks…My menu consisted of Grilled Portobello Burgers with Basil Mayo (you’d never know it was Weight Watchers), crudité in a glass, chips, and iced tea (sweet or not). Sarah brought some delicious homemade buttermilk ranch dressing. And, of course, I served dessert and filtered coffee.

Just as a side note, I grilled the Portobello mushrooms and the buns myself. Steven helped me practice turning the grill on and off, and bringing it up to temperature last night. And today I DID IT! It’s so satisfying to learn a new trick.

Back to dessert. There’s a grocery store here called Pick ‘N Pay. They put out a magazine called Fresh Living and it is chock full of recipes. I bought the May issue and was intrigued by a recipe for Orange and Almond Upside-Down Cake. In the description, it says “This dense, intensely orangey cake will become a favourite winter treat.”  That’s when I decided to have some ladies over for lunch – I couldn’t resist the description and couldn’t take a chance that I might eat the whole cake by myself!

It does have a very interesting flavor. I’ve noticed that sweets aren’t as…sweet…here, and this cake follows that pattern.  It is indeed dense and orangey and almondey. It has no flour. It bakes for 70 minutes. I’m not going to keep you in suspense any longer; I’m going to share both recipes with you. Fair is fair; friends in the US will totally get the Portobello burger recipe and will have to puzzle over the cake recipe. I had to do the opposite. Enjoy! Let me know if you try the recipes and what you think.

Orange & Almond Upside Down Cake

3 small oranges, washed

5 PnP jumbo eggs

1 cup (220g) castor sugar

3 packets (300g) ground almonds

1 ½ tsp (8ml) baking powder

½ tsp (3ml) almond essence

Makes a 20cm cake

Line the base and sides of a 20 cm springform cake tin with baking paper and grease with cooking spray. Place oranges into a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and simmer over a medium heat for an hour or until soft. Remove from water and set aside to cool. Preheat oven to 160®C. Thinly slice 1 uncooked orange. Arrange raw orange slices over base of cake tin and set aside. Cut thick pithy ends off cooked oranges and remove any seeds, then blend into a smooth puree and place in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix until well combined. Pour batter into cake tin over orange slices and back for 1 – 1 ½ hours or until cooked through. Cool in tin before turning out onto a plate.

If you’re interested in some other Pick ‘N Pay recipes, go to www.picknpay.co.za (that’s dot c-o dot zed-a)

Grilled Portobello Burger with Basil Mayo

6 ppv; serves 4

¼ c basil, fresh, chopped

3 tbsp reduced-calorie mayonnaise

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

4 medium Portobello mushroom caps (@ 1 lb)

4 sprays olive oil cooking spray

1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste

1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste

4 items mixed-grain hamburger rolls

¾ cup roasted red peppers (packed in water), about 4 pieces

4 slices uncooked red onion

4 pieces lettuce

Heat grill or grill pan. In a small bowl combine basil, mayonnaise and vinegar; set aside. Lightly coat both sides of mushroom caps with cooking spray; season with salt & pepper. Grill mushrooms over medium-high heat, until just soft to the touch, a few minutes per side. To serve, split rolls and toast on grill. Spread a heaping teaspoon of basil mixture on top and bottom halves of rolls. Layer each bottom half with one lettuce leaf red pepper, mushroom and onion slice; top with remaining half of roll and serve.

It’s worth joining Weight Watchers just to get recipes this good! www.weightwatchers.com