Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My first day of school - Syarra

That morning we got up at 5:45 in the morning and had eggs. Then we packed our bags and left. Our friend who is a teacher at the school brought us there and showed us around. We saw our classrooms and the layout of the school.
How the day went
1. We read a story of a surprising friendship with a tortoise and a baby rhino.
2. Math: they used a deck of cards for times tables by flipping over the top and let's say it is a 9 then you go through the deck, if it is a 7 then you do 9*7 (hint an ace is 1, jack is 11, queen is 12, king is 13, try it.)
3. Then 1st break which is lunch if you pack; we did so I ate.
4. Then was technology class where I made the fish below with 1 paper bag, 1 black cloth, 1 white cloth, 1 string,  and 2 not at all deep bowls
5. Then tuck break. There is a little shop called the tuck shop that serve desserts and snack. If you sign up each term you get a tiny pizza or pretzel so then they can wait until dinner. I got frozen yogurt, chocolate flavered, yum!
6. Then Afrikaans class. The whole lesson was in Afrikaans. I couldn't understand anything, I asked what it meant in English, but they read poems and small books.
7. Then we went home from a day of fun.

Next up: Namibia, Then comes: Marrakesh, And the next place... - Carver

We have decided!

The next place is Namibia!

These are very short paragraphs!

I'm done with torturing you with short paragraphs. Or am I? Anyway, we have decided! The next place is...Namibia! We will spend two weeks on a self driving safari. We will rent a car in Cape Town and then drive through Namibia on a self driving tour. After a couple weeks of camping in Namibia, we will get a house for a week in Stellenbosch. If you don't know where Stellenbosch is, look it up on Google Maps. If you don't know where Namibia is, do the exact same. One hint: Stellenbosch is near Cape Town. From Stellenbosch we will drive to places including L'Aguilhas (The southernmost point in Africa where the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean actually meet), Cape Point, and other places where a car is needed to get to. Look up where L'Aguilhas is if you don't know. And then we will return the car to the airport and fly out of Cape Town.

Our only layover (very surprising): Doha. Why so surprising? Cape Town is a small airport, I would think it would have to go through O. R. Tambo. Where is that? Look it up. Actually, that might be a little unfair. It is the Johannesburg Airport. You still have to look up where the other places are. I'm not trying to explain it in words.

After Cape Town and Namibia is Marrakech. Apparently to get to most cities in Morocco, you must go through Casablanca. There is a train between Marrakech and Casablanca that is only about $12 per person (actually two but one is to leave the airport) The flight has been booked. We have an idea of what houses we want but we haven't booked them yet. We haven't figured much else out for Marrakech.

And after that...we don't know yet.

When we leave for Namibia, I intend to post our current address. I'm not allowed to yet and I think I will be once we have left.

And beware the short paragraphs!

I'm doing it again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

South African Friends - Carver

One of our goals was to meet people and learn the culture of the places we were going. And we are doing well at that. One day, in the Maynardville Park, the first day we went, we played and met some people who invited us to tea. And it was fun. They are the ones who invited us to the braai. That is covered in A Great Day with a Great Braai. Then, the girls went to a Girl Guides Event (What they call Girl Scouts) where they met a teacher who said we could come to her school. It was very fun. Unfortunately, simply writing the events of the day would bore you to death. Text is a dull means of communication. But it was funny when someone was tied to a big wooden xylophone. I'm sorry if I kept you in suspense but eventually a video might be uploaded in a later post. Absolutely no promises, however. I met some friends. And now, I am out of things relating to this post.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Food Shopping in Cape Town, South Africa - Alrica

Well, it’s been almost a month here and we have had the opportunity to shop for groceries in a variety of different places. The easiest is the Pick and Pay Local, which is basically a very scaled down version of a major chain store in the area. It doesn’t have a great selection, but being only a few blocks away is a big advantage when you don’t have a car. When we want more than just the staples though, we make a trek out to one of the bigger stores; about a thirty minute walk.

The options of major grocery stores are very racially divided. The Shop Rite (not the same as the NJ chain) that we went to first had great prices but a 45-minute wait to check out and pretty sad looking produce. We were also the only white people in the store.

Venturing a bit further, we found Pick and Pay and Checkers, both much cleaner and nicer and with more of a focus on customer service and quality of goods. Given that Pick and Pay has both the major branch and the local, we got ourselves a Smart Shopper card and started filling the pantry.

As much as Pick and Pay looks like a US grocery store, the shelves would prove otherwise. Though there is a huge assortment of food, it is not the marketing outlet that we are used to. Rather than 14 different brands of dish soap, there are three, all the same scents, and nothing to distinguish differences between them. When we buy canned goods, we usually choose “no name” brand because it is cheapest. Corn is corn, right?

To make up for the lack of different versions of the same thing is the sugar aisle. Thank goodness for google! Erich and I have to do our research to figure out the difference between white sugar, castor sugar, icing sugar, brown sugar (which is not like our brown sugar), caramel sugar, fruit sugar, treacle sugar, snow sugar, yellow sugar, and muscovado sugar.

Most of the standard US fair is available, including the beloved peanut butter that we were forced to discard at the airport security stop, but it isn’t always what we expect. For instance, a favorite soft drink here is crème soda but it is green and does NOT taste like our version. Yogurt here is a very distinct flavor. Sweet potato isn’t orange. English Toffee ice cream tastes like pistachio. Also, eggs aren’t refrigerated (and taste amazing!) and there is a shelf-stable milk that is nice to keep on hand for when the refrigerated stuff goes bad.

Some things we haven’t found yet, like oatmeal, and other things we can get here more easily, like guava. And almost everything is a lot less expensive than in the states. Most of our quick grocery stops to get milk, eggs, bread, etc. run us about $5.

We have also been introduced to some new favorites like borewores (a sausage that is a South African specialty) and pap (a cooked sticky grain that is use to sop up the curries that are so prevalent here) and ripe fig jam. Since seafood is such a specialty here in Cape Town, I hope to learn to cook that next!

A Great Day with a Great Braai – Erich

A couple of weeks ago, we made some new friends at a local park. I was watching them play cricket. But I had no idea what was going on and I asked some questions. We got to talking, and they invited the four of us to have tea that afternoon.

This past Saturday, our friends invited us to spend the day with them, and at the end of the day they were going to braai. To braai is essentially to barbecue, and it is a big part of the South African heritage.

Our friends are Daniel and Alene, their kids, and their grandkids. The kids range in age, but we spent much of the day with Keziah, she is a bit younger than Syarra, and her brother, Samuel, who is a couple years younger than Keziah.

We had a wonderful time. They picked us up at our home and we went into the main part of Cape Town. We first went to Green Point Park, a large beautiful space. At one end of the park is the gigantic stadium that was built when South Africa hosted the World Cup for soccer. Now the stadium sits empty most of the time. But the park is lovely. There is a biodiversity walk with many different plants one can look at. And it borders a wetland. There are playground areas designed for kids the age of ours, and another for kids younger than ours.

We had a picnic where we enjoyed sandwiches, homemade biscuits (cookies), crunchies (which are like granola bars), and cooldrinks (which is soda or soft drinks). Alene even brought hot water to serve tea.

From there, we took a trip in the car down Beach Road, passing through areas between the mountains on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. We went through Sea Point which has a beautiful promenade that stretches for a couple of kilometres. It is a haven for kids, joggers, and beach goers. And on a warm spring Saturday (it is spring here as we are in the Southern Hemisphere), there were plenty of people on the promenade.

We reached Camps Bay which has a long beach that was crammed full of people. However, almost no one was in the water. The Atlantic Ocean is pretty cold.

We passed between two mountains and entered Hout Bay. It is a bay off of the Atlantic and the city here is actually named the Republic of Hout Bay. Wesley, father of Keziah and Samuel, explained that long ago Hout Bay wanted to be its own separate nation. Of course, it isn't and never was. But somehow the name stuck.

We stopped at the bay itself and ran into the water. Not all the way! I personally let it get up to about my ankles and I could feel the heat being sucked out of my body through my feet. Thank goodness the sand was so warm and soon, like a reptile, I was functional again.

Following the beach, we drove to a lookout along the side of Chapman's Peak. It gave us great views of Hout Bay. I am attaching two pictures. The first is the bay with the mountains on the other side (and a slight bit of my finger. Oops. Well, it adds character.) The second is the same view with my family (and don't worry, no one is choking Carver, he's just being Carver) and our friend Daniel. This Daniel is actually the son of the Daniel I mentioned earlier. I know, a plethora of Daniels.

From Hout Bay we returned to the elder Daniel's home where he cooked on the braai. He made chicken, borewors (pronounced bore-uh-vores, which is a uniquely South African sausage), and ostrich steaks. All three were incredible. Plus, Alene had beets, pasta salad, salad, corn on the cob (which I guess around here they call maize), and then cream puffs for dessert. It was all delicious, and we were definitely well fed.

While the braai was going, it was also the time that the South Africa Springboks were playing against the New Zealand All-Blacks in the Rugby World Cup semifinals. Much like cricket, I needed Wesley to give me some lessons in what was going on. But now I can talk about scrums, rucks, and mauls with the best of them! Except, most every time there was a penalty, I had no idea what happened.

Before the game began, the conventional wisdom was that the All-Blacks were going to crush the Springboks. Sadly, the Springboks did fall, but it was a close game. And we did all learn a lot about rugby and its rules. (By the way, did any of you know that the USA has a rugby team? Our team plays in the Rugby World Cup. Not well, but they exist. Until I came to South Africa, I had no idea.)

Saturday was a day of education, sightseeing, good food, and friendship. I hope there will be many more of those to come in our adventures.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Traffic difference in South Africa – Erich

So far, we have not yet driven in South Africa. We have ridden in vehicles, but not driven ourselves. And a big part of why is the cost, not that renting a car is super expensive, but it is money that we don't need to spend. We are doing well with public transportation. But another pretty big part of why we are reluctant to drive is that the cars here drive on the left hand side of the road.

The cars have their steering wheels on the right side, so I suppose if I could just imagine myself in a mirror image universe, it would all be the same. Though, I'm not sure if the brake and accelerator are mirror image or the same as our own cars. I haven't ducked into a driver's seat to find out.

In the U.S. we have a white line that separates the shoulder from the road. Here, that line is yellow. But all the lines in the driving part of the road are white. If two lanes are going in the same direction, there is a broken white line between them. That is the same as in the United States. But between two lanes that go in the opposite direction there is a solid white line, unlike the yellow of the U.S.

Another thing I have seen is that in some places the solid white line becomes a solid zigzag line. It apparently indicates the approach to and the exit from a pedestrian crossing. You cannot park there or overtake another car in that area as you may not see or you may block someone else from seeing pedestrians.

Traffic lights are just like ours, same colors, same order. Of course, that is with the difference that turning vehicles wait for the right turn arrow instead of the left turn arrow, as the right turn is the one that requires crossing lanes of opposing traffic. However, their walk and don't walk signals are a bit different. They are red and green, just like the traffic lights. The green is a walking man and the red is a standing man.

The roads themselves seem to be in good shape with no potholes. I don't know if this is because of amazing road maintenance or because there is a very mild winter here and little precipitation or a combination of both.

The drivers are quite aggressive and are not shy about coming within centimetres of you when you are crossing the street. This includes when you are crossing legally at the corner. This includes when the person crossing is a nine year old or eleven year old. However, having lived in New Jersey, this kind of driving is not entirely foreign to me. And there is a lot less horn blaring than one hears in New Jersey. Incidentally, they don't call the horn the horn, they call it the hooter. Incidentally to my already incidental comment, what we call the trunk, they call the boot.

There are consistently sidewalks most everywhere. However, there are often cars parked on sidewalks and occasionally driving on sidewalks in order to park or to leave their prime parking spots. But there are many pedestrians, so there is usually some space to get around the cars. Or you have to walk in the street for a bit.

School buses are not big or yellow or even what we might term a bus. They are more like large vans that are white, though they do have letters on the side that say “school vehicle” or “school bus.”

Of course, taxis charge by the kilometre rather than the mile. Speed limit signs are in km/hr, though they actually don't say any units. They are round white signs with a number written in black and then a red circle around the white field. Stop signs and yield signs look the same. Signs that are going to show you that roads merge or split or have an intersection (basically the ones that in the U.S. would be yellow triangles) are the symbol inside an upside down yield signs. By this I mean triangles that point up with a white background and a red border. So if you see a sign warning you that there is a yield ahead, it looks something like Sierpinski's triangle.

Cul-de-sacs are labeled both with the word CUL-DE-SAC written in white letters on the road, and with a green rectangular sign with a letter T on it, but the vertical part of the T is in white and the horizontal part is in reddish orange.

So now you know more than you could possibly need to know about driving in South Africa. If any of you have been inspired to become taxi drivers here, I will take full credit, and really you should give me a cut of your fares, to be fair.

Cultural Differances-Syarra

My title is cultural differences because we have experienced that, now to the point.

I have found that South Africa is very different

  1. Trains: we would never do it, though they do at rush hour. For two hours, the gates are down over the road and only pedestrians and trains can cross.
  2. Locks, gates, and more: we have four locks on our door. At our apartment building there is a gate with electric wires for security like is at every house here, some even make little sparking noises throughout the streets.
  3. Grocery stores were affected by apartheid which is a time where there was law that whites are better than blacks, so either the shoppers are white or black.
  4. Food: who knew McDonald's delivers food just like pizza shops?
  5. Clothes: nobody's just in casual clothes. They wear nice dresses and skirts. They dress up, and not just for special occasions. So we kind of stand out with our t shirts and shorts on, though I have one skirt that I wear a lot and that makes me not stand out as much.
  6. Internet: we expected internet would be the same as at home where we pay each month and have unlimited internet. Here it is how much data do you want to buy per month and of course we didn't know, so we have to figure that out and we are now. So internet is a work in progress that we are handling.
  7. Tables: we have 3 tables, 1 is our dining room table, which is really a coffee table, but it is so low that if your plate is on the table, you are on the floor. 2 are small tables and a desk that we use to put computers on and to put random stuff on. The desk is in my room.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Capetonian Sights - Carver

I was originally going to call it The Sights but then I thought that I might want that name for sights in Egypt or other places. And then I thought that that one I will probably call Egyptian Sights. And then I thought that I would save The Sights for our last destination. And then I thought that would seem weird. (I think too deeply into certain things) But I'm calling it The Capetonian Sights. Capetonian seems to be what it is called. I'm surprised no one else has written about this yet so what should I start with?

The first day we came, the night at the hotel, we went to the V&A Waterfront to eat dinner at Spur. The Victoria Wharf was a big building with many shops. And then the Waterfront stretched farther along the coast.

Once settled, we went to the Cape Town Science Center (Not actually in the centre (speaking as the people here do (it seems somewhat weird to say that, actually)) and then went to a Chinese place.

The next sight we saw was Muizenberg, a town built on the slopes of Table Mountain and famous for its coast on False Bay. We swam at the beach there.

Later we went to Table Mountain. We took the cable car up the mountain and walked a two hour walk to Maclear's Beacon, the highest point. We tried to figure out where places were like Hout Bay and Kenilworth and Cape Town which was quite easy to find with its clump of buildings.

The next time, we planned to do museums but instead did Greenmarket Square where we ate a fruit bowl. It was the fruit I wanted with ice cream on top in an edible bowl. And I was thinking it would be helping eliminate trash until it came in the edible bowl in a plastic container. But I love fruit. I love ice cream. And the bowl was good. After Greenmarket Square we did the Company's Garden which is a garden that goes on for a couple of blocks. So we didn't do museums.

Then we did the tour bus two days later and went to Kirstenbosch, a huge botanical garden with a fun canopy bridge. We did a tour at Kirstenbosch. The tour bus was okay and we ate at the Chapman's Peak Hotel, a restaurant in Hout Bay, famed for having the best calamari. We even had to cross a river to get there (maybe in a different post) and it was good. The calamari was not the best but good. But the prawns! I got calamari and prawns. The prawns had their exoskeletons, legs, and even heads still on. It was interesting to rip them apart.

Two days later we did the Two Oceans Aquarium and the Waterfront again. We ate at Spur again and I had calamari both times. This time I realized the calamari wasn't that great. Two days later the girls went to a Girl Scout event. Then, two days later is today.

Yesterday, we went to Muizenberg again and had fun. And today, I won't bother with it as it has already been covered.

Penguins and Snoek and Sharks, Oh My! - Erich

Today we headed south down the rail line along False Bay. So where is that? Okay, the southwestern tip of Africa is the Cape of Good Hope, a bane of sailors due to the storms that frequently occur there. Back in the day when wooden ships sailed around Africa to get to the far east, they had to go around that. Well, just past that point, when you get from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, the continent has a bay. And sailors of that time would round the mountains of the Cape of Good Hope, and if it was foggy (which it often is there), they couldn't see the mountains at the other end of False Bay. So they would sail along the coast, thinking they were progressing around Africa only to discover they were not in the open ocean. They were in a bay. (This happened to sailors coming from the Indian Ocean hoping to get to the Atlantic as well.) And so it got the name False Bay.

But back to modern times. We took the train to Simon's Town. From there we walked a bit less than 3 kilometers (which here is spelled kilometres) to reach Boulders Beach. Along the way, I read a plaque that talked about how Horatio Nelson, later to be Lord Admiral Nelson, when he was just a midshipman, was injured and being sailed back to England. And during that time his ship was anchored for awhile in False Bay. And it was likely that at some point he had come on shore and been in Simon's Town. The plaque didn't promise that Lord Nelson had been here, just that it was likely. Sort of a George Washington may have slept here kind of thing.

Boulders Beach is an amazing place. You walk out on a boardwalk over the beach itself. But on the beach are penguins. This is one of the few places that you can see penguins in their natural habitat. (At least it is one of the few places that isn't frigidly cold.)

These are African Penguins. It is a species that lives only in South Africa and tends to lay its eggs on some islands off the coast of South Africa. They waddle like the penguins you see in zoos. They dive into the water in a similar way, but in a different way too. Because here, unlike in the aquarium or zoo, the water had waves and tides!

Carver and I watched how the penguins got into the water. It was very interesting. They would waddle out into the shallow water. Then at some point they would lay down on their bellies and begin to swim. But right by the shore, the waves would come in and some penguins would be pushed back to the shallows. The ones who successfully made it out to the water would dive just as the wave was coming and swim under the wave.

After watching this for awhile, we went to a restaurant in Simon's Town called the Salty Sea Dog. Very British sounding name, with a very British looking menu. This was a fish and chips restaurant. But one of the fish varieties that was being served was snoek. Snoek (which I think is pronounced more like snook, rhymes with shook) is a fish found in South Africa that is line caught and has its own distinctive flavor. Both Alrica and I got snoek and chips, and it was delicious. Though snoek has lots and lots of bones in it. So there was a lot of picking the bones out of it.

Next to the restaurant is a short wharf and here someone was filming a movie. I don't know what movie, but everyone was in period costumes from English imperial times (I'm guessing turn of the 20th century). And one of the security people told us they were filming a scene in which the queen arrives to visit. I don't know who was playing the queen. I didn't see that actress. Or if I did, she didn't look royal enough.

From there we headed to Long Beach. Here we swam in the incredibly cold water until we were chased out of the water by a shark! Okay, I made that sound a bit more intense than it actually was. The beaches on False Bay do have shark attacks. The geology of the area is such that beside the beaches are the cities and behind those cities are mountains that have a flat top. Up on these mountains are shark spotters: people who watch the water for sharks. And if they see any sharks, they radio down to the lifeguards at the beach. And the lifeguards clear the water and raise a white flag that means a shark has been spotted in the water.

So when I say we were chased out of the water by a shark, we weren't really. We didn't personally see any sharks. But the shark spotters did and the lifeguard told us to get out of the water. So still kind of intense, right? (It makes a much better story if I say we were chased by a shark and that Syarra was nearly eaten alive! A less true story, yes, but much better.)

So now I can say, with much more certainly than Lord Nelson, that I indeed have been in Simon's Town.

Monday, October 19, 2015

We're All Speaking the Same Language, Sort Of - Erich

Some have said we are jumping into the deep end with this travel, starting in South Africa. I suppose that compared to some places, that is true. But in many ways, South Africa is still sort of getting our feet wet. It is somewhat America-ish.

For one thing, it is a reasonably well developed country. There are traditional grocery stores and malls. There is public transportation. And it is something of a tourist destination, so seeing an American is no big whoop. But most of all, most everyone here speaks English; the same language, right? Well, not exactly.

We often find that though we know someone is speaking English, even though we recognize some of the words as English, we find it very difficult to understand the accent. It's not a British accent, but a distinctly South African one. But that oversimplifies things. Because not everyone in South Africa has the same accent.

I can only imagine that we are as hard to understand for them, though they seem to have no troubles knowing what I'm asking. Until it comes to certain words.

Have you ever noticed that the British (and by extension places that got their English from Great Britain) have some different words for things than we do. And often, they are words we use for something else. It has made me wonder about some of these.

What an American calls...
The British (and South Africans) call...
So what do the British call what an American would call...
My best guess...
French Fries
From the experiences I have had so far, they seem to call them chips. How they know which chips they mean is a matter of context.
Maybe they don't have that kind of baked good. I haven't seen them.
A pharmacist
A chemist
A chemist
Not a clue.
Jelly (this may not be British, I don't know, but it is certainly South African)
Well, so far in the stores we have only seen things called jam. Maybe there is no distinction here between jam and jelly.
I haven't yet seen a pudding quite the same as what we call pudding. Maybe they call it custard. Maybe they call it pudding.

Also, I wonder if some of the idioms we use must be changed here. Do you walk a kilometre in another man's shoes? Is a gram of prevention worth a kilogram of cure? Is it ever so hot that it feels like 43.333333333 in the shade? If you're in for a penny, are you in for a... wait, that one is a British phrase. And we don't change it in the U.S. Maybe they don't change it here either. Or maybe they do. That phrase doesn't come up that often in my correspondence with South Africans.

And sometimes you don't realize that a word here isn't what you know and love at home. We were surprised to learn that napkins aren't napkins, they are serviettes. Which I guess is good, because you wouldn't want to ask your waitress for a napkin, she thinks you want a nappy, and that amuses her, because that's their word for diaper.

I guess a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (Good news, roses are called roses here.) So we just have to learn as we go. No turning back now. We went in for a penny, so I guess we're in for, well, a rand.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tips for travel - Carver

This is mainly for people who are reading our blog and planning to go on a trip similar to ours. We read a lot of blogs to plan our trip. But anyone can read it and understand it. And even make use of it.

Tip one (The main one): If you're counting on wifi, don't get an over-budget house and expect that because it says it has internet it does. We found our house on Airbnb and it said it had internet. We got here and found out that what wifi included meant was apparently a cultural difference. So don't assume that even though it's an American website you get the house on, wifi may not mean the same.

Tip two (I have no good commentary for this tip): Don't trust Google Maps to get you from a train station to your house. We tried from the Kenilworth station and it was wrong about where our house was.

Tip three (The one anyone can make use of): If you can book tickets online, do so. We booked tickets for the cable car to the top of Table Mountain and saw the line (or queue is what it is called here) to buy tickets and it was enormous.

Tip four (The last one): If you don't enjoy spicy foods, don't get grilled calamari. Everyone else disagreed but I thought it was spicy. Spicy enough to make my mouth burn for ten minutes and yet no one else thought it was spicy. How is that possible?

We will learn from these tips and they are not just for giving suggestions. They tell a small piece of our story. I'm very sorry if I kept you waiting to learn more about our trip to Table Mountain but this post just isn't the right post to go into those details.

P.S. (Probably very long but still pay attention) One more thing: In Getting to Africa, my mom said that she has to give up her computer for homeschool because we only have seven devices, I wish to express my indignance. First, only one of those is mine. I only have one iPad where she has an iPad, a phone, and a computer. Second, there are only two computers and I have made the decision that some pieces of my homeschool, I will only do on a computer because it is much more annoying on my iPad. And one thing I will only do on her computer because at the start I thought there might be presentations I needed to make and so having it all on one computer would not cause the problem of the file isn't on the other one. I based that decision on an online course I took last school year that I needed to make many things. But that was when I still had my own computer. I haven't seen that yet in my current one but it might come. (Maybe a little bit off topic)

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Fun House Full of Demons - Erich

In Cape Town, advertising by putting up big poster boards on the light poles along the main roads seems to be quite the rage. I've seen ads for theater, dance, boat shows, and today, newspaper headlines. Sometime overnight last night, someone put up a variety of these posters for the Cape Times. And this one in particular caught my eye.

While I have no idea what the actual article is about, as the poster did not sufficiently induce me to buy a Cape Times newspaper, the headline, “A Fun House Full of Demons” seemed like a most apropos metaphor for Cape Town in general.

Yes, Cape Town is fun. There are several beaches to visit, on the Atlantic Ocean, on Hout Bay off of the Atlantic Ocean, and on False Bay off the Indian Ocean. There are amazing hikes on Table Mountain sporting so many species of fynbos (plants unlike any we know in North America) and unfamiliar fauna as well. There are many museums, flower sellers, a waterfront with a Ferris wheel, sightseeing buses, tours of Robben Island (the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for decades), and more. We haven't done all of these yet, but we are working on it. We've done a few of them. And yes, it is fun!

On Table Mountain with Hout Bay in the background

But it is also a city with demons. Apartheid has ended, but there are still some divisions. First, I should explain that South Africans consider three races: White, Black, and Coloured (I'm spelling it the way they would.) Coloured means there was some mixing of white and black in your ancestry. And these three societies intermingle, but also have some very separate aspects to each other.

When we moved into our apartment in Kenilworth, the agent told us about stores in Claremont to the north. When we asked about Wynberg to the south, she said it wasn't as safe an area. But we have since been down to Wynberg and there is nothing unsafe about it. But it does tend to have a darker skinned populace.

The first grocery store we went to was called Shop Rite. It was jammed with people. There was a 30 minute wait or more just to get through the checkout line. And we were probably the only white people in the store.

The second grocery store we went to was called Pick n Pay. It was not jammed with people. And aside from the employees in the store, pretty much everyone was white. It's interesting, because we didn't find the prices different between the two. So why do lots and lots of black people cram into Shop Rite where they have to wait (and they seem totally used to that) instead of going to the grocery store where there are fewer crowds and less wait? It could merely be geography, the two stores are a couple of kilometers from each other. I can't say for sure it is a sort of self-segregation. But it could be that blacks are used to the stores that they always went to and whites are used to the stores that they always went to and the two groups have no desire to patronize the opposite grocery store.

I'm still learning about the culture here, so maybe my perspective is wrong, or at least skewed by my middle class American life so far. Even in two months, I doubt I can immerse myself enough in the culture to truly see things with the perspective of the South Africans. But I am trying to understand as well as I can.

Maybe I should read the Cape Times.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Getting to Africa - Alrica

With only seven devices between the four of us, I frequently have to give up my computer for the greater good of the kid’s homeschooling. Thus, I’m very behind on my blogging. 

Leaving “home” was hard for all of us. Leaving behind known comforts and family and friends and easy communication. From the start, this has been my dream so the excitement far outweighs the sadness for me, but seeing Carver’s tears brought a few of my own, despite knowing how much he will get out of this. Luckily, by the time we reached the airport, the tears had cleared and the kids’ natural curiosity distracted us all. Seating assignments ended up being no problem, but there was some concern about our lack of return flight. Calls were made and questions were asked about our intentions and our understanding of visa requirements. In the end, they handed over the boarding passes. We talked about lift and airplane wings while we waited to board our first flight to Chicago.

A tail wind brought us into Chicago early luckily because we got to repeat the “no return flight” conversation and exchange our American Airlines boarding passes for British Airlines with not a lot of extra time built in. We got on board our flight to Heathrow with time to spare though. Each of us enjoyed seeing the lay flat Club Seats before settling into coach for the overnight flight. Erich took the seat across the aisle and I got the middle seat between each kid. We played with the in-seat entertainment while we waited for dinner and snacks to be served in the hopes that we would get some sleep that night.

Dinner included some British specialties that we enjoyed trying, including passion fruit posset. 2.5 hours into the flight, the lights finally went out and we tried to sleep. Some of us were more successful than others. When the lights came on again only a few short hours later, morning found us bleary eyed and dragging. The plan to head into London for the 11-hour layover was nixed as we headed off to find bathrooms and the “quiet area.” Settling into the airport gave us plenty to do. With our devices run down a bit, we did the rounds of charging stations where we found that they were either being used or not working. Seeing that other people were just using spare outlets seemed like a good idea, except they didn’t seem to work anyway; until we figured out that outlets in the airport come with switches. Lesson learned. We staked out a spot and played cards and other games while we waited for time to pass. I even got a short nap in there.

The last flight took us from Heathrow to Johannesburg. Checking in involved a final conversation about whether we were going to be deported in South Africa and a final showing of the kids’ birth certificates. We had luckily known ahead of time that birth certificates were required to enter South Africa. This flight found us in the four middle seats of the 747 and I happily got an aisle seat this time. Much easier to get in and out of. For the eleven hour flight, we watched movies, slept a little better, and got fed twice. Quite the novelty for a family that has mostly been limited to domestic flights that rarely include pretzels anymore.

Only slightly better rested, we arrived into Johannesburg Airport and made our way to passport control. After the Spanish inquisition experience regarding our lack of ongoing flights, we expected the worst and were trying to prepare ourselves for it. The passport control agent was friendly, looked at our documents, asked us when we would be leaving, and waived us through! Easy! From there we collected our backpacks and headed out to find an ATM and a Sim Card. The ATM was easy, the Sim Card was a bit confusing. Our first example of difficult communication between two people who are supposedly speaking the same language. We also found that there was no wireless at the airport, something we had taken for granted. We finished that and headed for the Gautrain (the local train that would take us to Park Station).

All of the reviews of Park Station spoke of how dangerous it was, especially to tourists. Carrying everything we owned, we definitely fit that description, and yet, the station was well lit and we took a bench near several families, feeling perfectly secure. There was an hour delay, which we spent snacking and chatting amongst ourselves, and finally we were able to board. The train picked up speed as it carried us on the way to Cape Town.

Friday, October 2, 2015

All that has happened in Kenilworth - Carver

I will cover the time my Express Post passed. Just not yet. This is about all that has happened in Kenilworth which I'm sure you guessed from the title. Now about that period of time I skipped. It was when we were checking in to the Park Inn. They loaded the bellman's luggage cart and we had to sit and wait while my parents got tickets and worked things out. They also gave everyone apple juice that looked like wine. The room was interesting. The electricity for our room was turned on by a card that would go in a slot near the door on the inside. Then we took a Park Inn bus to the waterfront where we walked to the Victoria Wharf. In the morning we ate an interesting breakfast (which I do not feel like writing about) and then took a metro rail train from the Cape Town Station. I call it Kaapstad because Google Maps thinks it is that. However, I haven't seen any sign calling it Kaapstad yet. Cape Town Station is where we came in from Shosholoza Meyl, the train across South Africa. We took an early train because I had read that it was usually very late so our train was at 9:32 instead of 10:23 or 10:48 and we had to meet the seller at 11:00 at the house. Like Selection Bias, which you should read before this post, the people only chose to write about the bad times because it was a waste of time to say everything went fine. It was good that we left early because Google Maps was wrong about where our house was. We searched for a long time and finally found it. The house has some issues but we are now in Kenilworth.

That day, we walked to Shoprite and the lines for checkout were huge. We walked to a mall to look at getting an Unlimited Data phone because the house only came with a way to pay to get wifi and not the prepaid wifi it said it would come with. We didn't get it but then we went to a place called Zebro's where we took home braaied chicken. Which is my second favorite kind of meat. Deep fat fried chicken is my favorite. Then the next day (today) we went to Pick&Pay local and got food then went to the Oakhurst Farmstall and the Super Meat Market and then Checkers which was in Kenilworth Square. They are all places to buy food. So, Kenilworth is fun.

Selection Bias - Erich

Sometimes when I teach statistics, I ask my students to look at the website and I ask them to decide if this website is biased or not. The purpose of the site is to discuss high fructose corn syrup and whether or not it is the same to your body as sugar. The articles listed there are well founded scientific studies. But with a click on the About link, you learn that this website is posted and maintained by the Corn Refiners Association. Hmm, sounds like there might be a vested financial interest, right? But the articles are so science-y!

I'm teaching my students about selection bias. Yes, these are all great articles. But the Corn Refiners Association has decided only to include articles that say high fructose corn syrup is no different than sugar as far as your digestion is concerned. They are selecting those articles and purposefully not selecting the equally well written scientific studies that do find a difference. That's a selection bias.

But even knowing about selection biases, it is easy to fall into them oneself. Case in point: Syarra just celebrated her ninth birthday. And I was discussing with her how her year as a eight year old went. I talked about how she was caring, how she worked hard to learn things, how helpful she was, and how much fun it had been to be with her. I decided she had a great eighth year.

At that juncture, Carver pointed out to me that I had a selection bias. I was only listing the many good things Syarra had done and ignoring any time she had been less than ideal. He's exactly right. But in this instance, as a father, I think my selection bias is only natural and good.

Well, let me tell you about some amazing firsts. And you should know I have a selection bias.

I inhaled air in Africa for the first time. (It's actually surprisingly similar to inhaling anywhere else.) I rode on a sleeper train in Africa for the first time. It's actually the first time I ever rode a sleeper train anywhere. But the “in Africa” adds a new element of flair. I bought groceries in Africa for the first time. I saw Johannesburg and Cape Town for the first time. I had a pocket full of rands (which is the currency here, not a euphemism for posies) for the first time.

Of course there were less pleasant firsts (like suffering from jet lag in Africa for the first time) and there were more confusing firsts (like trying to figure out how to use one's tickets to take the Gautrain in Johannesburg.) But I am focusing on the cool firsts and laying my bias bare.

Spur, Spur, Spur, and more about Spur, and did I mention the train? - Carver

Let's start with the Spur, Spur, Spur, and more about Spur part. I'm sure you wonder, "What could he mean by Spur?" And I see why. Spur is a restaurant in the Victoria Wharf, which is a huge building on the ocean with many stores. But Spur was interesting. We went tonight. We all shared three meals and two shakes. The food was good but it was not special to South Africa . But the experience was interesting. The waitress was clearly amused at us not knowing how to use things like the fingerbowl. And it's a good thing we have the Internet because we didn't know what they were. And there was an area to play in and I made a friend who I didn't get to see ever again but it was fun.

And now about the train. You know what I'm talking about, right? By the way, I planned this with Syarra just so you know. So I'm only covering the second day. And the rest of the day? This post is an express post. It skips that piece of time. The train was fun. We played more cards which we did the first day. (Oops! Not saying anything about the first day.) At the end I was watching the stations I recognized. But not much happened on the train. We saw villages of people living in wood stick and metal houses. That must be a terrible life. Also, that night some thing happened. I am allowed to cover it because it was technically 3:30 in the morning in South African Time (Central African Time(UTC+2)) and therefore the next day. We were all jet lagged and we woke up at 3:30 and talked for an hour before we slept until noon the next day. The metal sun block window things were down. In the morning, we kept going through super dark tunnels with no light and Syarra enjoyed turning off the lights for them. So the train was fun.

There was interesting stuff in the skipped piece of time. (Not saying anything else.)


Part 1 starting
I loved my unique birthday yesterday on a train across South Africa. I enjoyed it.
I will probably be the only person in our family to enter a country on their birthday.  

I loved it despite that we got on the train and waited and waited and waited and waited.
We waited for 1 hour and finally moved.  But then, from the train we saw springbok and flowers and birds and horses. After 2 days on planes it was nice to spread out. I loved seeing sights.

Part 2 Fun
Games = fun, fun > games
That afternoon we played many rounds of cards; we made friends next door. We played cards with them. They taught us their card games. We showed devices to each other.

Trying new foods is fun we tried pap which is like porridge and beef curry.

Since that is the end of my birthday, the end is the end