Finetastic Adventures

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Random Experiences and Thoughts

Now that we’ve been in South Africa for 4 months, we’ve collected lots of experiences and thoughts to share:

Who needs a kitchen sink? The two basins (one for wash, one for rinse) fit in our bath tub just fine. Plus that’s the only tap with hot water. Doing dishes is easier with two people; since the washer is on his/her knees, the helper can more easily place the dishes in the rack, which sits atop a portable sink/cabinet with no drain.

What is our new standard of clean? When I took a bath two days in a row last week I felt very extravagant. If the armpits don’t gross out its owner, then no bath is necessary. Since water is consistently available since we left the village a bath every other day is standard; in rural areas like the village, or if there is a water shortage, well……Clothes washing is another story altogether. Nothing gets worn only once. Even if an item fails the sniff test, it has to fail the soiled test too to be tossed into the laundry basket. This is due to the manner in which we do laundry….

Do we miss our automatic washer and dryer? Frankly, taking so much time to do laundry is ok; it helps fill the empty night time or weekend hours. Since we decided against the manual washing machine we’ve settled on two different methods of doing laundry. Sunday had become the day to walk the 3 miles or so to the laundromat, then taxiing home to hang the clothes on the line. Now, one or two nights a week we’ve taken to taking advantage of the heavy duty strength of the laundry soap here. In one of our basins we soak some clothes overnight, then in the morning just rinse and hang them out before we leave. That leaves fewer clothes to carry on our backs on Sunday!

What’s with the trash? Ladybird Johnson would have had a field day here. It’s been decades since I’ve seen people rolling down their car windows and tossing out trash. There are major trash piles in public areas all over the country. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood. It’s amazing that people here take such pride in having a clean home, car and yard, but right across the street there’s a huge dump. I’m even talking of clean dirt yards. We see people sweeping their dirt all the time. And it does look nice, plus it gets rid of all the rocks and especially the glass that accumulates. I hope to somehow take on a secondary project involving cleanup. Broken glass is everywhere. Only the large beer and soda bottles are returnable, all the rest of the bottles and cans are tossed into the street or public areas. If all bottles and cans were made refundable, I expect there would be a decline in the trash overnight. And I wouldn’t have to get upset seeing barefoot kids playing and running through the trash and streets full of broken bottles.

Speaking of barefoot….What’s with the no shoes thing? It’s not unusual to see kids of all ages and races, and sometimes adults, in the stores without shoes. I used to go barefoot a lot in the South, but I always had to put on shoes to go to the store. (And we didn’t even have glass all over the street.) Now I know why we don’t see any “No shirt, no shoes, no service” signs here!

So you surf the internet all day? Not here you won’t. You’ve all heard us complain about the lack of bandwidth we have. It’s not just us; it’s the whole country and the way they do it. Doing research on the web is almost impossible. There are a few companies who provide internet connections, but they all sell by the MB, not time. And it’s expensive. So we have to check our status almost daily to see how our usage is running. At the end of the month, if you go over your allotment, you pay per MB. Ouch! We’ll still be using the internet café I think.

What more can we say about transportation? We’ve become very creative. This was even before we bought our bicycles last weekend. You’ve read about how much money we save by taking the bus instead of the taxi, and about while aboard each we learned new standards for personal space. What’s great about public transportation though, is the experience. There are terminals for the taxis and the buses in town; each is called a rank. While waiting in line at the rank, there are hawkers for anything and everything you could want. Even once you are in the taxi or bus you’ll have them at the windows or walking the aisle selling cold drinks and snacks, etc. The taxi won’t leave the rank until it’s full (15 passengers), and most times that’s pretty quick. But once in a while it can take 10 minutes or more for it to fill, so you sit squished in (remember, there’s no ‘personal space’ here), and often times holding your or others’ belongings while waiting in the heat. The rank is surrounded by vegetable stands and tons of people; there’s a mall across the street from the taxi stand and this area is always very busy and loud. Taxi drivers are mostly terrible drivers and I prefer not to look. We often get stuck in the back seat and are the first ones out; sometimes passengers won’t get up to let you out, so you end up crawling over them and their bags. Tight skirts are a definite taxi no-no. We’ve learned that when we board the bus though, we only sit if there are seats up front. You’ve read about our trying to exit the bus when seated in the back. Now that was a lesson in flexibility and humor. So we usually just stand near the front, again because we are among the first to alight. But the strangest thing at the bus rank is the two lines boarding each bus. We had noticed them but not until the third or fourth time did we see that there were men in one and women in another. A mehitza at the bus rank! So now we know to split up to wait in line. And if one of us has the R5 for both of our fares, all we have to tell the driver is that the other R2,5 is for the other white person boarding the bus. More transportation stories are sure to follow!

What’s in a phone call? Here, it’s learning to text. Most everyone has a cell phone; land lines are more expensive and harder to install in rural areas. And most cell phones are prepay. Buy any cell phone you want, then buy a sim card and you now have a phone number and some airtime. Beware that you don’t let your airtime balance get too low, or you’ll be running to Pep to buy more! Actually, you can buy airtime almost anywhere, literally. It's just cheaper at Pep. We signed up for cell phone banking, so if we don’t let our airtime balance almost run out, we can add airtime right from the phone. But calling with that airtime is a lot more expensive than sending an SMS (short message service or text message). Use your airtime balance to buy an SMS bundle and you’re all set to start sms’ing. Become creative with shorthand cuz you’re only allowed a certain number of characters in each message or else it counts as two. I’ve come to really like the SMS. No need to answer your phone right away, just whenever you’re ready. Another nice thing is that you always know from the phone number if it's a cell phone or land line; that means that you know when you can leave an SMS. The downside? You think drivers talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous? Try being in a vehicle when the driver is texting someone! Now you know why I don’t like to see the road ahead.

Til next time, and Happy Thanksgiving!


  • Marti and Dave
    So fun to read about your latest adventures. Like and Unlike Steph's. I still find you all so amazing and proud of Milwaukee's finest as you give so much to the people of South Africa!! Happy Thanksgiving...will you be having...chicken feet?
    All the best!!
    The Frazier's

    By Anonymous Bill and Anne Frazier, at 11:06 PM  

  • Lvd this instlmnt - but wshng on nees? - oy; i like txting 2; can i txt u?

    By Blogger readalittle, at 11:40 AM  

  • Hi Dave, Marti,
    Great to read your 'adventures in daily living!!' Hope you had some sort of T-Day celebration. Send you some snail mail but it got returned as 'b/closed' What's up with that? I checked to make sure address was correct and it was. Anyway, wanted you to know your thought of often here. Will try again.
    love ya,

    By Anonymous chris, at 4:49 PM  

  • Marti and Dave -
    Sounds like such a great adventure! I'd love to hear more about the work you're doing too. And I think the first world/thrid world combination with washing in the tub and text messaging is jus wild!
    Keep on writing -
    and be well,

    By Anonymous gigi, at 8:17 PM  

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