Everything and Nothing

When we lived here in 2011-2012, every experience was new. Everything was salient. Everything was reportable. We wrote about our first visits to Mamelodi (including the time the gogos wanted a picture of their chickens), our first rugby match, our first hike at the Groenkloof Nature Reserve, and on and on. We shared photos of animals and other pretty things. And when we hit a lull in reporting, we fielded your questions.

This time, I must admit, it’s more difficult to see the (reportable) novelty in our everyday experiences. How much do you want to know about our battles at the bank? Should we continue to keep you in the dark about the regular power outages (called “load shedding”) that cut short our workouts, kill the robots, snarl traffic, and spoil people’s perishables? Are the day-in, day-out doings of life in a (sometimes maddeningly, sometimes wonderfully) young country of interest to you? Really? Then read on.

Here’s what’s been happening:

  • Jenny started her job. She officially began work at the University of Pretoria on 12 January. I know she’s happy to be back in the department, collaborating with colleagues, meeting new faculty, and preparing for her next role. I’ve joined her in the office on several occasions to help with some IT issues, visit colleagues in her department and at the Centre for Human Rights, and to just hang out on campus, which has some really beautiful little spots.
  • I have a job. Well, sorta. My official title is House Husband, which is what our auto insurance company still had in their records from 2011. I’m improving my efficiency in grocery getting, form delivering, errand running, and the like. I wouldn’t say I’m great at this job, which is why I’m excited to have a few other lines in the water, and to start a small, US-based freelance project in the coming days. (Hint, hint: I’m available for consulting jobs. I’ll work while you sleep.)
  • We bought a house. Again, sorta. We made an offer, and it was accepted. Now we’re waiting on the financing/mortgage, which takes longer here than the quick process we know in the States. Part of the delay is that we don’t have a credit history here. So, crazy as it may sound, we were advised to open new credit cards and/or department store cards to build a credit score. So far, the main beneficiary of this strategy seems to be Edgars, a department store with a branch at Brooklyn Mall — a place I know inside and out, thanks to my current position (see House Husband, above).


    Oh, but what about the house, you ask? It’s off of Pierneef Street in a suburb called Villieria, just north of the main university campus. (I’m actually writing this from a coffee shop just down the street.) The house sits halfway up the side of a mountain, so there’s a nice view into the valley below (“the Moot”) from the balcony. We plan to do a few renovations to the kitchen and bathroom(s), but otherwise the place is in fantastic shape. And it has a pool!

    View of the main house from the garage
    View of the main house from the garage
    View of the pool/garden/braai area from the balcony
    View of the pool/garden/braai area from the balcony
    Balcony off of the living room
    Balcony off of the living room
    Perhaps the most important part of any South African home: the braai
    Perhaps the most important part of any South African home: the braai
    The kitchen, which will need some work to make sure we are happy for the next few years
    The kitchen, which will need some work to make sure we are happy for the next few years

    I’ll spare you the sight of the purple bathroom, but invite you to come visit to see the rest of the place for yourself, and to meet the fabulous Jaco Truter, agent extraordinaire. Jaco introduced us to all sorts of new places/neighborhoods/ice cream shops during our quest to find the perfect house.

  • I went to the hospital. Not for me, for Ephney. Ephney is, as you may know, our housekeeper at our university guest house. We met in 2011 and our families have become close. A couple of weeks back, I accompanied her to Steve Biko Academic Hospital for her regular chemotherapy treatment. Her cancer isn’t my story to tell, but I’ll just say that she is doing well and remaining amazingly strong and upbeat, as usual.


    That Thursday, the day of her chemo, was an all day affair. I left the house at 6:00, drove to Mamelodi, then to Steve Biko, where the parking guards had blocked the entrance with plastic chairs. To park, each car in the 15-car queue had to wait until a car exited the lot. I waited for 45 minutes. Ephney was already inside, and when I finally found her, she was being shuffled from cramped waiting room to cramped waiting room, the last of which was also a construction zone. Men in jumpsuits lugged bricks and sand in rusted wheelbarrows through the oncology ward, while Men Without Belts built plaster walls as a woman in a yellow hard hat supervised. Dirty hospital blankets lay like rugs across the linoleum floor. Initially meant to keep the place clean, the logo-printed blankets were clearly just getting in the way of the work, and of the women who rolled their concession carts toward the increasingly impatient patients.


    As a white guy, was I her employer? Her husband? Her friend? Nah, couldn’t be her friend, right? So many interesting looks, and interesting questions, we got that day. I look forward to our next visit, and really look forward to her remission.
  • Advanced reading. This post is already too long, but there’s a lot more going on in Pretoria and South Africa that some of you may want to know. So, I recommend some additional reading:
    • Load Shedding, State of the Nation, AFCON 2015. Here’s a link that will provide some insight on the electricity crisis, the looming State of the Nation speech to be given by President Zuma later this week, and a major soccer event that even SportsCenter seems to have missed.
    • Segregation Nation. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, a Pretoria-area school was discovered to be splitting classrooms by race.
    • Xenophobia. Lots of protests and police intervention lately in townships from Soweto to Attteridgeville to Mamelodi as residents clash with foreign-born shopkeepers.
    • (No) Power to the People. Even more protests are happening in spots all over the country over lack of basic service delivery, such as electricity, water, sanitation, etc. Just this morning, protests erupted in Mamelodi, making it difficult for many residents to get to work.
    • Tower of Dreams. It’s not all bad news. For an interesting look at the evolution of the tallest apartment building in Africa, Johannesburg’s Ponte Tower, read Ryan Brown’s recent article in Slate. Or, read this version, which is prettier. And follow Ryan’s website, you won’t be sorry.

That’s it for now. Notice that I purposefully didn’t mention how hot it is (90 today, 95 yesterday). Some of you may not want to hear about it.

If there’s something you do want to hear about, just let us know.

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