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Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Freezers

While I've only lived in Joburg for two years, some of the things that I used to find surprising I'm now getting used to. I still consider myself to be a fish out of water in this country but the water is becoming more and more familiar. Hosting visitors gives me the opportunity to see things through the eyes of people who are experiencing South Africa for the first time and their comments remind me of the time when I too was new here. 

Recently, I took my friends visiting from the U.S. to Soweto. Because they were on a tight schedule (of course they were) we planned a half day tour. Unfortunately our guide was on Africa time and was an hour late to meet us making the Soweto visit even shorter than planned. We ate lunch at Tintie's, a Soweto must as far as I'm concerned and after Tintie's we went to Kliptown. Kliptown is an informal settlement where people live in shacks with "borrowed" electricity. In Kliptown hundreds of people share one porta potty and residents collect water for washing and drinking in buckets from a central tap. If they need to heat the water they will likely heat it over a paraffin stove or an open fire. This was my third trip to Kliptown and I find it interesting each time I go. While sad, it's also uplifting because the tour includes a visit to a place called the Kliptown Youth Programme, which provides tutoring, sports, meals and more to hundreds of kids who live in Kliptown. 

Part of the tour of Kliptown includes going inside a shack and seeing the conditions in which people in Kliptown live.  It is a strange feeling to venture inside a shack while the residents are there watching you watch them while you look at their home. Each time, I wonder what the residents think. Are they proud of their shacks because they have worked hard to make them livable? Are they hoping if people from the outside see the conditions it will bring about change? Are they just too polite to say no to visitors? I'm not sure. 

Shacks in Kliptown, Soweto
Where people in Kliptown get their water.

Inside a shack with our tour guide from the Kliptown Youth Programme. A young boy is doing his homework in the background.
A tub for bathing and washing 
After we left Soweto, I drove my friends back to our house along a route that I drive almost daily. First, we drove past a Maserati dealership and then a few minutes later we passed a billboard for a company called Doggy Paddle, which offers hydrotherapy for pets. My friend remarked on both sightings saying "we just saw people living in shacks and meanwhile other people are buying Maseratis and sending pets for physical therapy?" And my answer was yes, that's South Africa.

Quick side note, I don't have a problem with pets. I also don't have a problem with people who love their pets and treat them like children or provide them with physical therapy. As you read on, you might think that I do, but I don't. 

The Maserati dealership and the pet hydrotherapy sign sightings reminded me of the freezers, which I have never written about. I live right near a very large Spar, a grocery store. When I tell people where I live they often say, "you live right near the best Spar" and it's true, I do, this Spar is the biggest and the best in Joburg. At the Spar, in the back corner where the meat section is there are two freezers. 

The first freezer, is nondescript. It doesn't have any signage or any markings on it. If I didn't see people crowding around it on a regular basis then I probably could visit the Spar for years without even noticing this freezer. It looks like a freezer that an American who likes to have a lot of frozen food on hand would keep in his basement only it's smaller than that and square shaped instead of rectangular but it does have a lid that opens from the top. 

There is no way to me to explain delicately what this freezer is so I will just tell you. It's the freezer where the poorest of poor shoppers buy their meat. The freezer is filled with clear plastic bags of what look like bones with maybe a tiny bit meat on them. You might be naively thinking that I could easily just open the freezer and take a look or maybe make some nice soup using the bones or at a minimum take a few photos of the freezer contents for the blog, but I can't. White people simply don't open that freezer.  I am too self conscious that if I open it both white people and black people are going to stare at me. I wouldn't be surprised if the minute I opened it a store employee came running over to ask me "ma'am do you need help" which translates into "you must be confused, your meat is over here."

Directly across the aisle from freezer A is freezer B. I have also never opened freezer B but not because I am self conscious, I just don't have a need to open it. Freezer B has clear signage and sells Bentley Natural Dog Food which contains "synthetic vitamins, trace minerals and antioxidants." Their slogan, ironically, is "affordable gourmet dog food so good you can eat it too." The signage on freezer B goes on to state that this dog food is prepared in a kitchen specializing in gourmet human food and that it is balanced by leading pet food nutritionists. 

Freezer A with Freezer B (in green) in the background.
I haven't compared the prices of the contents of the two freezers because to do so, I'd have to open freezer A, which I'm not going to do. Maybe one day I'll work up the courage. 

Shoppers crowding around Freezer A

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Execution

On Sunday I saw a woman kill a chicken. She cut its head off. Depending on how you look at it I was either in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless, it all started with Mr. T. Yes, the guy with the mohawk. 

Last week I found out that our friend Gift is a huge fan of Mr. T.  Gift was born in 1980 in Zimbabwe. He grew up in a poor family and he and his siblings did not have a TV in their home. According to Gift, there were only two homes in the neighborhood that had televisions and those were small black and white sets, not the huge furniture-like TVs that many of us remember from the 80's in America. Somehow, Gift, his siblings and the other kids in the neighborhood became fans of the show the A-Team starring Mr. T. In Zimbabwe, the show aired on Saturday and Gift and the other kids would show up at the home of a TV-owning neighbor in hopes of being allowed to watch the program. The TV-owning neighbor, as you might imagine, was less than thrilled to have tons of kids appearing at his house every week. The neighbor would yell at the kids for tracking dirt into the house but would sometimes relent and let the kids crowd into the doorway of the house and watch the television from there. 

Deny a kid anything and it only becomes more magical and so to this day Gift thinks Mr. T. is "a cool American Black actor." Because Gift hasn't seen many movies and he doesn't own a computer, he was not familiar with Mr. T's full body of dramatic work. He had never seen or heard of Rocky III. I felt that he should see Rocky III, Mr. T's breakout performance, even though Mr. Deep pointed out Mr. T's loses the fight with Rocky at the end which could be a major disappointment. Regardless, Mr. Deep and I invited Gift over for dinner and to watch Rocky III with us. 

Unfortunately, we were not able to successfully download or stream Rocky III (thanks a lot Netflix.) Mr. Deep suggested another movie, DC Cab, but we had the same problem so instead we watched the A-Team movie, which starts Quinton Jackson as B.A., the role made famous by Mr. T. Not a bad substitute. 

But back to the chicken. 

I went to Gift's house at 5:00 to pick him up to bring him to our house for the movie viewing and dinner. When I got there, Isaac, Gift's brother-in-law, had just returned home with a chicken. A live chicken. This situation was like hundreds of others that I've faced since coming to live in South Africa. It is a situation where something is entirely foreign yet entirely relatable all at the same time. 

It is foreign, at least for me, to bring home or have someone bring into my home a live chicken with the intention that we will kill it, prep it, cook it and eat it. What was relatable was that neither Isaac, Gift or Beatrice wanted any part in killing the chicken. I am assuming that each of them have probably killed a chicken at one time or another, but all of them said they were now too scared to do it. They asked me if I wanted to kill the chicken but I declined. Gift's youngest sister, Loice, did not have a problem with it. It seems as though Loice is the designated chicken killer of the family.  As the chicken sat quietly in the doorway of their home, Loice sharpened her knife and created a little hole in the dirt out back so that she could position the chicken properly when she cut it's head off. 

Meanwhile, I knew Mr. Deep was waiting for Gift and me to arrive back at home. He was preparing the mashed potatoes and gearing up for a fun night of A-Team watching. But, for a reason that I can't describe I wanted to watch Loice kill the chicken and so we stayed a bit longer and I watched her do it and I video'd it. I knew Mr. Deep would understand the reason for my delay.

I'm not going to post the video because I know there are a large percentage of you who would freak out. There might even be a few people who have already stopped reading because they can't bear to read about the demise of the chicken. But for those of you who are still with me, let me tell you what it was like. 

First, though the chicken sat relaxed in the doorway for a while, as soon as Loice picked it up, the chicken knew what was up and did not go quietly or without a fight. Second, it did not die right away. There is a reason for the phrase "chicken with it's head cut off." Third, Loice is a total badass. As she killed it, some blood dripped on her feet but she didn't let it bother her. She is a pro.

It's now been over 24 hours since I witnessed the killing. I have not become a vegetarian and I have not stopped eating chicken. In fact, I went to Nando's on Monday and ate some chicken without pause. But watching the chicken get killed did impact me.

First, some might chalk this experience up to hanging around with people who might be characterized as backward or third world. But I would disagree with that. I would argue that killing a chicken you are going to eat is actually more natural then going to the store to buy one. Just because most of us no longer have to kill our own chickens doesn't make it wrong if someone else finds it cheaper, fresher or tastier to do so. Just as we wouldn't think having a garden or going to a farmer's market to get the best and freshest produce is strange we should not be offended by or concerned with a person who chooses to kill his/her own chicken. I calculate that over the course of my life I've eaten chicken a minimum of 5,000 times and the number could be as high as 10,000. So how is it possible given my tremendous amount of chicken consumption that I've never seen a chicken die before? Isn't that a major disconnect? Obviously, I know that chickens and other animals are killed for food and if I see chicken on my plate I know intellectually that it was once alive, but now I really know. 

I have been trying for a while to be more conscious of not letting food go to waste. It seems like it should be easy...just don't buy it or don't order it if you are not going to eat it. However, most of us know it's not easy for those of us who have plenty of food not to waste it on occasion. Now, I really want to re-double my efforts on this and try to consume the food that I purchase so as to not let it go to waste. And if I can't use it, I will give it away. There is no shortage of people here to give it to. Don't worry, I am not going to start making chicken stock from all of my chicken bones or constructing pillows out of chicken feathers. I have not lost my mind.  But if an animal gives its life for us, we, at a minimum, should try not to waste it. And Netflix should do something about their severe lack of Mr. T movie streaming options.

The chicken after the fact.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Down in a Hole

I love this sign that was displayed in the mine. I want to get one for my house.
This is part two of our adventure into the Cullinan Diamond Mine. Part one can be found here. 

When I last left you, Mr. Deep and I were in a metal cage-like elevator with six other tour goers, George, and a lift operator, descending 763 meters into the Cullinan Diamond Mine. While I was not scared to go into the mine and booking the tour was my idea, it was one of those moments when one wonders if one has made a mistake. I would imagine it might be like flying in a plane for the first time having that strange sensation that your body is doing something that your mind thinks might not be the best idea. I'm not sure how long the trip down took although it seemed like a while. Maybe it was three minutes? 

Me having just arrived 763 meters below the surface of the earth. 
If you've never been in a mine before let me tell you what it's like. First, it's dark. Not pitch dark because there are some lights (as you can see on the wall behind me in the photo above) and everyone is wearing headlamps but certainly dim. It's also warm.  From what I remember George told us the temperature was 26C (79F.) I didn't feel hot, sweaty or uncomfortable though even though we walked the entire time and I was decked out in the suit and the boots. It's also dirty. There wasn't litter on the ground, in that regard it was very clean, but it was dirty as in we were surrounded by rock and dirt being inside the earth and all. The whole purpose of the mine is to transport rock and dirt from one place to another. So there was a lot of dust and everything was a shade of grey. I think they gave us masks in our bags but none of us wore them. There was also a lot of water in spots which I think helped to minimize the dust. The water and dust formed a grey, silky paste on the ground. 

Walking through the mine.

The mine is also very loud. We didn't hear any blasting but there were train-like vehicles that moved through the tunnels. You can see the tracks in the photo above. The trains were smaller than regular trains and were comprised of a series, maybe six per train, of small dumpsters for the purpose of collecting and transporting the rocks. The trains themselves were loud as they squealed and gasped the way that trains do but things really got loud as huge amounts of rocks came pouring down through chutes to fill each dumpster. And we were standing right next to these trains. We were so close that if we reached an arm out we could have touched the dumpster. You can see below how we all stood to the side of the track. Except for George, he got up close and personal. 

We were told how the tunnels were created with explosives and here is proof. 
Standing as the train moves by. 

While at some points during our tour rocks were poured from above into the dumpsters, at another point, each dumpster was tipped and rocks were poured from the dumpsters through some large metal grates. After the pouring took place, we were able to walk back and view the grates and see the rocks that were too large to fit through. 

Standing near one of the chutes

During the tour, George took us into a refuge room. This room is used in case of emergency for workers to congregate. If you've seen the movie The 33 about the Chilean miners, they were gathered in a refuge room as they waited for rescue. Strangely, that movie was on TV the night we returned home from Cullinan. 

 Not sure if you can read this sign but it is a stern reminder that the refuge bay is "not supposed to be used as a tea room." Below while in the refuge bay, George showed us a map of the mine. 

One of the reasons I didn't find being in the mine scary is that there were so many workers there just going about their normal business. I managed to get a few photos of some of them. 

 Train driver

Woman working in the mine. 

Safety is obviously of critical importance and there were safety reminder signs everywhere. Also, the practice of having signs naming the employee responsible for certain areas continued underground. 

After about an hour and a half it was time to head back up to the surface. Some real live miners got on the lift with us and agreed to let me take their picture. I showed the photo to the guys and one guy, the lift operator with the glasses, said he wasn't ready when I took it so I took a separate photo of him.  That seemed to make him happy. 

The only time this tour felt like a tour was when we ended up in a jewelry store at the end. No the Deep's did not make any purchases. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Journey to the Center of the Earth

This is the third post in my adventure series. 

Last weekend Mr. Deep and I visited a town called Cullinan located in Gauteng near the border of Mpumalanga province about one and a half hours from where we live. While we were there we took a fascinating tour inside the Cullinan Diamond Mine.  Prior to this adventure my knowledge of mining was limited to what I learned while watching Coal Miner's Daughter. I had never been near let alone inside a mine. The Cullinan mine is well known because the world's largest diamond was found there in 1905. Today, pieces cut from that diamond are found in Queen Elizabeth's crown and scepter. The Cullinan Diamond mine remains operational today.

We booked our tour with a company called Cullinan Tours. They offer numerous surface tours (you stay on the surface of the earth instead of going inside it) throughout the week but the only time the underground tour is held on the weekend is on Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. Even though Mr. Deep and I don't sleep all that late these days, it was still an effort to get from where we were staying about 35 minutes away from Cullinan by 8:00 a.m. When we arrived, we were also confused about exactly where to go and had to call the tour company for clarification. Luckily, we were just around the corner from where we needed to be and we managed to arrive by 8:00. When we got there they were just opening up shop and we quickly realized there had been no need to rush. 

Mr. Deep standing next to a replica of the Cullinan Diamond Mine.
Once the doors opened we were told that they were unable to accept a credit card for payment. They had a credit card machine but the lady there didn't know how to use it and so Mr. Deep had to run to the ATM so that we could pay in cash (tour cost was R550 per person.) Once all the tour goers arrived and paid, we got suited up. It likely won't surprise you that the main reason that I wanted to visit the mine was because I wanted to wear the suit. Each of us were given a jumpsuit with a big belt, thick socks, rubber boots and a hard hat. There were lockers to store our clothes and personal belongings. Once everyone was dressed and our items were locked up, we were told that we could not bring cell phones into the mine (it makes sense as they have explosives down there) so everyone had to go back to his/her locker to put the phones away. Next, we were told that we couldn't bring bags into the mine, so everyone had to go back to his/her locker to put their bags away. 

We were introduced to George our tour guide. Mr. Deep and I estimate that George is at least 80 years old. He said he worked in the mine for 38 years and retired in 1993 - thanks to Mr. Deep for his help with the math on this one. George is what Mr. Deep accurately described as a hoot. In addition to having a great personality George was extremely knowledgeable about the history and workings of the mine. He was the best tour guide I've ever had at any museum or anywhere as his presentation and the information he shared with us was not canned at all. The guide and the tour were 100% genuine. As we visited the mine we observed what would have been happening on that day had we been there or not. 

George gave us a short tour of the Cullinan Diamond museum and educated us about kimberlite, which is a blueish rock where diamonds may be found.
Finally, after about an hour of paying, dressing, locking things up and listening to George, we got into a vehicle and headed down the street to the mine. We had a quick tour of the surface before it was time to finalize our preparations and go in. 

Cullinan Diamond Mine. 
Every few minutes huge dumpsters full of rock are brought to the surface via these shafts. I am not sure how much rock they bring up each day but they get 65 carats from each 100 tons of rock. 
I told you this tour was genuine! 

As haphazard as things began with our tour, once we reached the mine, everything was extremely organized with tremendous attention to detail and safety. We had to watch a mandatory safety video to learn how to use the Afrox pack, a self contained breathing apparatus to be used in case of emergency. There are SEVEN steps involved in getting the Afrox pack to function. While it seems self explanatory that if a mask drops down in front of you while on a plane your going to "place it over your nose and mouth a breathe normally," trying to remember the seven steps involved to get the Afrox pack to work while you are breathing poison gas seems like it could be challenging.  Following the video an Afrox pack, encased in a metal box, was attached to each of our belts. We were also fitted with our headlamps. 

The Afrox pack.
The seven steps.
The Afrox packs are the silver boxes and the lights are the blue bulbs and the blue packs. Regarding safety, notice how there is a sign with the name a person who is responsible for maintaining the items on this particular rack. These types of signs were visible throughout the mine. I think it makes great business sense to clearly display who is responsible for what given that working in a mine is extremely dangerous.

Mr. Deep getting his Afrox pack. 
The Afrox pack. Step one is to open the box. I do remember that. 
George helping me with my headlamp.   
Ready to go in! 
This is the cage that took us down into the mine. 
We were going to 763 level. That's 763 meters down (2500 feet.) They are currently mining at level 763 and level 839 is still under construction.
Safety warning in the cage. While important it was a little bit funny. 
To be continued....

About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have moved from the U.S. to South Africa for three years. We moved due to an exciting opportunity my husband had with his job. Second, I won't be working anymore. I'm actually not allowed to work so that will be different given that for the past twenty years I've been somewhat of a workaholic. I'm excited to share our adventures with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.