Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Other Side of the Table

I now understand the crapshoot that is getting hired.  And perhaps I’m rationalizing the times when I’ve applied for jobs and not heard a word back, but since being on the hiring panel for Ikhwezi’s youth project, I think I have a better sense of how the process works. 
Last week, I had my first experience of sitting on the other side of the table and was part of the team responsible for selecting candidates from a huge pool of applicants, creating questions, conducting interviews, and making selections. 
For many of the applications, this was their first real interview and their nerves and anticipation were very evident.  It was all I could do not to reach across the table and give some of them a big hug in their outfits that I’m sure they spent hours agonizing over.  I didn’t realize how exhausting it is to ask people the same questions over and over or to hear the same answers over and over.  By the end of it, we had a group of really deserving and exciting group leaders and a handful of hilarious interview answers and situations that will stay between us!  We are now planning the 3 day training weekend, which sounds like a grown-up version of summer camp!

Speaking of jobs, this blog entry is an excellent opportunity for me to request that everyone help me pretend for the next little while that March 2, the day we leave South Africa, is not right around the corner or in just about 1 month's time.  That bittersweet date has come up faster than I ever imagined and it seems like it’s much too soon for this all to be over.  I’m not quite ready to think about leaving and I just want to enjoy the last bit of my time here.  I have made myself worried enough about what’s next and I am very capable of being my own harshest critic when all I really want to do is soak up everything these last 5 weeks have to offer.  Having said that, if you know anyone who is hiring, please send my name their way!

My Name in Print

On Sale Now!

I’ve always wanted to see my name in print in a glossy magazine and in my pre-departure work plan, I had included working for a community publication as a goal to achieve.  Through connections with Ms. Jordan (the senior editor and mentor), I relentlessly pursued involvement with the Eastern Cape Women’s Magazine. 
The first issue of the magazine (which looks at women of the Eastern Cape with a special focus on rural women) had just hit stores when we arrived in South Africa and after our initial meetings, Sarah and I were brought on board as guest members of their editorial team!  I was excited just to write an article or two, but from layout, marketing, story development, and the actual research and writing, Sarah and I have been included on this exciting opportunity to share our ideas about what we think women want to read about and how that fits within a South African context. 
The second issue, with us as contributors, just hit newsstands and after finding it in our local grocery store, we lovingly changed its position on the shelf to front and centre like proud parents showing off our new child.  We have just submitted our articles for the next issue and are excited to have copies in our hands before we leave.  Don’t be surprised if your gift from South Africa is a crisp copy of the Eastern Cape Women’s Magazine with my name highlighted!


With Mr. Nelson Mandela’s recent hospitalization, the nation of South Africa has been holding its collective breath for the past three days.  I recently finished his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”, and living in the country has raised questions about what will happen with his passing.  Something no one wants to think about, but an inevitable and monumental event nevertheless.        

At the same time as Madiba’s health scare, Walter Sisulu University students went on strike yet again, shutting down registration and closing all campuses.  Mama Ghana gave us strict instructions that under no circumstances were we to go to our office as tempers can flare if employees are seen at work.  As of Friday afternoon, senior management was sitting to discuss the student and student political parties’ grievances regarding tuition fees, the National Student Loan service, and government’s promise of free education. 
But with the discharging of Mr. Mandela and rumours that employees are back to work on Monday, perhaps things will go back to normal...   

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

They like us, they really like us!

Check out the Niagara College website where they featured our recent holiday pics on their blog!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Potholes and a Hole in the Wall

Rush hour

We did it again-two chicks and a Hyundai!  We rented a car (and got upgraded to one with AC and the ability to  climb hills) and headed east to the Wild Coast and Coffee Bay.  We hit the N2, with its rolling hills, clusters of rondavels, stubborn livestock in the road, and drivers that made us feel like we were in a teenage boy’s video game heaven.  I may not have my driver’s license, but I know that a 2 lane highway on an uphill blind curve should not be used for drivers on both sides to pass. 

We left the main road and began our descent towards the coast.  Gas stations and towns were few and far between and it was an absolutely beautiful drive.  I’m surprised our Hyundai still has all four tires and its engine still intact after the massive potholes we encountered--I hope no one from Avis reads my blog.

Along the N2

After a long, bumpy, and hot ride (thermometer read 38 degrees at one point), we made it to the tiny village of Coffee Bay, set along the Indian Ocean and a large river mouth.

Coffee Bay beach


After a day in Coffee Bay, we woke up early the next morning and drove to the famous Hole in the Wall, surrounding beaches, and the Boiling Point.

The photos don't do it justice....


The Boiling Point

Roasted mealie-new favourite roadside snack

Thursday, January 20, 2011

East London fun

In between work and planning roadtrips, East London held its own pre-Christmas amusements!

First the Ikhwezi staff Christmas party and then a United Nations-esque basketball game where we showed our skills on the court and in arts & crafts with our Canadian-inspired trophy!

Ikhwezi Christmas party and CIDA intern bonding

Lord Stanley's Bottle of Triumph (complete with Michael Buble photo)

Pre-game pump up run

Such grace while copping a cheap feel

Sarah and I owning the court

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

She can get you free soup

No, I don't have a tracking number

Dear South African Postal Service,
I had faith in you, I thought you might be different than the Canadian Postal Service.  I understand it’s a long way to the Canadian prairies and it still amazes me that you can stick something in a red box in Canada and it ends up in a tiny post office in East London.  But at this point, when the women at our local post office know me and Sarah by name, I think I have to concede defeat and declare that the Christmas packages (2 for me, 1 for Sarah) that were sent in November are never going to be found.  You’ve let me down.

Bomb Threats and Black Beans

It started out innocently enough.  Two girls looking for a can of black beans.  That all changed when the mall sirens started blaring, people started running, and security guards started herding people to the closest exits.  As someone who startles at the slightest sound and is terrified of the thought of being stampeded to death, this was a recipe for Lise to have a heart attack. 
In the madness, I lost Sarah while I scurried out the front door, trying to remember the closest exit and also hoping that armed gunmen weren’t about to come running down the mall corridors.  My arm was then grabbed by an employee who shoved me towards the front door while other customers were pushing each other down aisles to get out.  I found Sarah, held on to her arm for dear life as we watched the Explosive Unit of the South Africa police service enter the mall as rumours flew.  Apparently there had been a bomb threat at one end of the mall and panic ensued.  The entire complex poured out of all the doors as people scrambled to get in their cars and get as far away from the building as quickly as possible. 
Sarah and I basically sprinted across the parking lot, with each of us narrating our worst case scenario and wondering how we were going to get home.  I love living in East London, but I wasn’t prepared to spend my last moments in a South African mall parking lot.  Luckily, a friendly bus mechanic took pity on us and we got a lift straight to our front door in a decrepit old city bus that was on a test drive.  And after all that, we didn’t even get the can of beans.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Forks and Glasses

I love food—eating it, cooking it, and learning about it.  Food on a trip is as important as the cities, historic sights, and natural beauty that you are searching for as a traveller.  I consider grocery stores in a new place as a tourist attraction.  And if I can try the foods of the places I’m visiting—even better. 
After two weeks away from our kitchen, we experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly.  We ranged from homemade picnics on desolate mountain roads to the gas station lunch of Mrs. Balls’ chutney chips and ice cream bars to gourmet dining in Cape Town with Stellenbosch wine tastings and obscure breweries in between! 

While in Lesotho, we were well fed by the women of Malealea village and then had the unique experience of lunch in the home of a Basotho family.  We were welcomed into the home of Imushi and Thebo, where we ate the traditional meal of papa, nama le moroho (pap, meat, and spinach).  On our walk over to their house, we passed the garden where their spinach grew, cut through their maize fields, and kicked chickens out of the way whose relative had just been slaughtered.  What better way to eat lunch than on a stranger’s couch in remote Lesotho with a bowl between your legs, sharing what it’s like to be from Canada!
Papa, nama, le moroho

I sampled the local Maluti premium lager, “expertly brewed for the Kingdom of Lesotho and its People”, but I think it only tasted amazing because I was relaxing on a patio in a Basotho village in the centre of mountains and valleys.   
Brewed for the Kingdom of Lesotho

Aga stove in the lodge
The view from the Basotho house
Our cultural and culinary experience took a slightly different turn upon our arrival in Aliwal North, an inland armpit town where everyone spoke to us in Afrikaans.  Famous for their burgers, we had put a meal at Wimpy’s on our roadtrip to-do list and eating a giant burger alongside the Senqu (Orange) River in +35 degree heat was the perfect setting.  Sadly, it was too hot to take photos!

The platter
We moved on to the heat and desolation of the Karoo desert, famous for the Karoo lamb where we gorged ourselves on succulent monster lamb chops.  In Nieu Bethesda, in the middle of the Karoo desert and Sneeuberg mountain range, down an abandoned road surrounded by cacti, we found an oasis at the Two Goats Deli & Brewery.  I bought a couple bottles of the home-brewed Sneeurberg Ale to wash down the platter of warm homemade rosemary bread, local kudu salami (kudu=African moose), roasted olives and soft feta, beetroot relish, homemade pickles, freshly churned butter, aged cheddar, two hard goats’ cheeses, and three soft goats’ cheeses (one with sweet chillis, one with black peppercorns, and the final with honey, brandy, and rosemary).  We dined under the trees in the backyard of the cheese maker’s home and listened to the bleating of the goats whose delicious cheese we had just eaten!     

What better way to spend your Christmas Eve before a beautiful midnight mass than a big chicken dinner from Nando’s in downtown Cape Town?   

I like to think of our visit to Stellenbosch as a cultural and educational experience that just happened to include copious amounts of booze.  The town of Stellenbosch is a beautiful upscale tourist mecca, surrounded by wine estates and orchards and the centre of South Africa's wine industry.  Sarah and I pulled into the city after a long drive through the desert onto the Vine Hopper bus for our day long tour. 
We started at the Van Ryn’s Brandy Distillery, where we opted for the luxury tasting of 3 brandies (12, 15, and 20 years) paired with chocolates and coffee.  I was more interested in purchasing the chocolate as even the most premium brandy tasted like rat poison and I was given dirty looks by the tour guide for my lack of appreciation of this supposed first-class beverage.  I’ll leave it to the old men.

It all started out so classy

We moved on to Bilton, a small winemaker where we had a 4 wine and chocolate tasting and we almost got kicked off the tour!  While describing the merlot as a “lady’s wine because it’s not too aggressive and something she can enjoy all night” and describing its character as being the perfect mate for a relationship with roast chicken, I found his pretentiousness to be hilarious and could not stop laughing-trying to hold it together made it worse.  With tears streaming down my face, I tried to explain that I wasn’t mocking him and then offered my expert wine opinion that the wine actually smelled like old shoe leather. From there, we moved on to two more wine estates, including an unscheduled and after-hours private stop, which is where the day gets a bit blurry.  I can tell you that we tried a lot of great red wine in beautiful settings and I was lucky to have Sarah guide my purple-toothed body into the van.  Fittingly, our hostel was called the Stumble Inn and I believe after a full day of boozing, I was in bed by 8pm.
The chocolate pairings

Downhill from here...

Our wine tasting group

Monday, January 10, 2011

Elephants, zebras, warthogs, oh my!

I never thought to bring my “Lion King” soundtrack, but I really could have used it over the last two weeks.  We started with Lesotho livestock, (including a donkey cart parked outside a grocery store), peacocks running wild at Malealea, and giant fuzzy caterpillars in our hut.  In Graaff-Reinet and the Karoo desert, we saw meerkats, red bishop birds, the Eastern Cape crag lizard, springbok, kudu, vervet monkeys, big centipedes, and ostriches. 

Our climate and landscape changed as we visited the Cape of Good Hope and saw the vicious baboons and jackass penguin colony.  Who knew the trip would end with me seeing my favourite animals in the whole world at the Addo Elephant National Park?  Six year old Lise teared up a bit while watching my first elephant herd stomp around the park, foraging for water and branches and nursing babies. 
We also saw another variation of huge spiky caterpillars that fall from the trees, red hartebeest, warthogs, eland, zebra, yellow mongoose, black-backed jackal, Egyptian goose, guinea fowl, bokmakierie, and the charming flightless dung beetle.  The flightless dung beetle is growing scarce and I never thought I’d be told to yield to a dung beetle and its home/kitchen/love nest of elephant poop.  Cue “The Circle of Life”.... 
Demon beast

Jackass penguins

Lesotho hut dweller
They fall from trees
Eastern Cape crag lizard


Vervet monkeys


Sarah's photographic brilliance

Buffalo carcass-we wanted to find what ate it

The illustrious warthog

Red hartebeest

Flightless dung beetle