Life in S. Africa

Over the past 15 years or so, I've worked on and managed to banish a lot of my fears. 

Fear of great heights is NOT one of them.

As a result, information on the "highest anything" isn't usually on my "Fun Facts to Know and Tell" list. 

So, little did I know that we lived so close to the highest waterfall in Africa, and the second highest in the world!

Nils, of course, knew this, and having discovered friends and neighbors equally interested in the challenge, departed on a hike with eight others last Monday to the top of Tugela Falls, looking over the Amphitheatre, considered one of "the most impressive cliff faces on earth". 


The Three Witches


First peek at the Amphitheatre


Going that 'a way ...


The infamous Chain Ladders of the Amphitheatre. NOT for the faint of heart


Top of the falls looking down the Amphitheatre (1k meters down/3k meters above sea level),


A loooong way down

Magnificent, isn't it? I quite enjoyed this hike from the comfort of our living room.

Today, "G and H are for Great Heights". This posting is part of the A to Z Challenge April 2012


I so looked forward to moving to South Africa for a myriad reasons. Not least was that after 20+ years living in countries where English was not the lingua franca, I could finally speak my mother tongue! While South Africa has 11 official languages, in the province where our farm is, English is commonly spoken, and throughout the country, it's the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial life. 

So big "Yay!" For the first time in nearly two dozen years, I could concentrate on "what" I was saying and not "how" I was going to say it..

Caught with my pants down

It didn't take long for me to understand the naivete and ignorance of that assumption. While I fancy myself well-versed in both American and British English(es), South African English is a whole 'nother kettle of mealies.

I've still got a lot of learning to do, but these are some words that had me completely befuddled and/or that I've found extremely useful. 

Essential expressions

Eish (aysh) – Expresses surprise, frustration, dismay, or outrage. "Eish! The dog just ate all our chickens in the yard!"

Jawelnofine – (ya-well-no-fine). You must say this as one, single word. The meaning found online is "Well, how about that?", but more accurately, it appears to be an expression of surprise that really means things aren't so fine, but you can't do anything about it. You just discovered that someone ate ALL the candy from the gift box you received for Your birthday. You might say, "Jawelnofine." (I would say something else, but you might say this. Not that I've ever experienced such a thing, of course).

Jol (jawl) – Jol can be a noun (a party) or a verb (to have a good time). "I just heard there's a big jol at Barb's tonight!" 

Just now – I'll never forget my first contact with this phrase. Nils and I were online gaming with an international group. The South African player said, "I can play just now." We waited. And we waited. And we waited. If a South African tells you they'll do something "just now", it could mean anywhere from a few minutes from now to several minutes to an extended period of time for which I haven't yet found the limit. It is sometime in the future, but definitely not "now." 

Lekker (lekk-irr, preferably with a nice rrrrrrrrrolling r) – Originating from Afrikaans, it means nice, good, or cool. "The concert last night was lekker, wasn't it?"

Now-now – The only time I'd ever before heard "Now now", was when it was used to comfort, as in "Now, now, don't cry." Contrary to "Just now" (see above), this means what the rest of the world means when they say "now." 

Shame – Every time I think I've got a handle on this one, I hear a slightly different usage. It can be used in the same way that Americans or British use the phrase, "Oh, that's a shame!" However, it's often used as a filler in conversation, much in the same way that Americans use, "Ah, I see!, or even "Uh huh." And then there's this other usage I heard the other day, "Oh shame!  It was a beautiful wedding!" This evidently does not mean that the person speaking was disappointed that it was a nice wedding. Basically, I think that "shame" means whatever the speaker wants it to mean at any given time.

So as not to starve to death

Nils and I are both fairly adventurous when it comes to food, so even when we don't know a word, we're not usually shy to give something a try. But for those who are more prudent:

Biltong (bill-tong) – A (in my opinion) delicious dried and salted meat. Similar to beef jerky, but in South Africa it could be made from ostrich, kudu or other red meat animal as well.

Bobotie (buh-boor-tee) – Some will tell you this is an "everything but the kitchen sink" dish, but mostly it's made with ground beef (minced meat), a lot of spices, jam or chutney, and topped with an egg sauce. I'm told it's of Malay origin. We had it once at friends', and I improvised it once at home. It's a dish I like very much – and come to think of it I might make it this weekend. Mmmmmm. 

Braai (pronounced like "eye" with a "Br" in front of it, and a long "aaa") – This is a barbecue, simple as that, with steak, boerewors (A South African sausage), and maybe chicken. A South African braai seems to consist of mainly meat and meat and meat. 

Bunny Chow - If you're American you're likely thinking Purina and what you'd feed your rabbits. I've recently learned that bunny chow in South Africa is a curry served in a hollowed-out half-loaf of bread. It's cheap to-go food that you'd eat on the road or when backpacking. And no, it's not curried bunny meat.

Mealie (mih-lih) – Maize or corn. Mealie is corn on the cob; mealie meal is corn meal. You'll come across this more often than you'd think; it's a staple in the South African diet.

Sarmie - A sandwich.

This and That

These are some of the words that came up early on that made both Nils and me go "Huh?" We hadn't a single, solitary clue! 

Bakkie (buck-ee) – What we Americans know as a pick-up truck.

Cozzie - I first heard this from an instructor with whom I was taking a course. She was having the class at her home and she said, "It's going to be a very hot day in Durban. Bring your cozzie." This means bathing suit or swimming costume. 

Geyser (gee-zer) - First time I heard this was in a sentence something like, "I've got two old 'geezers' on my roof." I'm not really sure about British English, but for us Americans, this would mean that there are two old men sitting on the top of this person's house. Geyser (spelled like Old Faithful Geyser) in South African English is a hot water tank or boiler.

Muti (moo-ti) – This comes from isiZulu language and means medicine. It usually refers to typically traditional African medicine, but you will hear people using it somewhat generically for medicine. 

Robot - The first time Nils and I heard this was when we were lost and had to stop and ask for directions. We were told, "You'll come to a robot and turn left, continue on past the market and at the second robot take a right." I remember that Nils rolled up his window, we both looked at each other quizzically and one of the other of us eventually said, "Did she say 'robot'???" You've probably already guessed; a robot is a traffic light.

Sangoma (sun-go-mah) – Also from isiZulu, this mean a traditional healer or diviner.

Shongololo – This is a word that you're unlikely to come across, but I like the way the word sounds and feels on the tongue. A Shongololo is a large brown millipede. The word comes from isiZulu.

Stiffy - This is also a word you're unlikely to fall upon as it's now outdated, but it's amusing. A stiffy is a 3.5 inch floppy disk. Can you imagine? "Yeah, go down to Howard in the IT department, he gets stiffies regularly." Okay, that was 6-year-old humor, I know.

Takkies – What are otherwise known as running shoes, sneakers, or trainers. Fat takkies are extra-wide tires (or tyres for British English readers).

I assure you, no matter the difficulties or misunderstandings that come up from time to time with South African English, South Africa's just so lekker! Meet a few of the friendly locals and they'll have you jolling in no time. Come and experience the country now-now! The language might confuse you, but you won't be disappointed by the country and people! 

Today, "E is for English" and this posting is part of the A to Z Challenge April 2012


Today is "D Day". 

First and foremost, D is for Departure. Nils' parents have been with us for six weeks and they headed back to Deutschland this evening. In that time with us, we've grown quite accustomed to having them around, and they've been a big help in the renovation efforts. It will be very quiet here … actually, what am I saying? It will continue to be just as chaotic as ever …

Anyway, due to limited time today, I decided to make this a Diverse Stuff Day and use the opportunity to show (rather than tell) what's happening on the farm.

Please mouseover each photo as you go along.




































































































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and Nils and Shecky, Daisy, Daphne, Esme, Donatello, Waldo & Statler, Guenther & Gaby, Solo & Kazu, and all the babies and new additions that don't yet have names … 






Today, "D is for Diverse Stuff" and this posting is part of the A to Z Challenge April 2012


Yesterday, on arrival at "our"* school, I was disappointed to learn that all 7th graders refused to participate in the after-school homework session scheduled with one of the teachers. They were sent home at 2:05 pm. 

At 2:07 pm, I was sitting in an empty classroom preparing my lesson for 5th graders when four of those "recalcitrant" 7th graders sneaked in. 
"We want to talk", one of the boys said in halting English.
"Oh! Uh, okay." I shuffled papers aside. "What shall we talk about?" 
The boys just looked at me expectantly. 

With quick improvisation, I started a lesson I thought they could manage, shooting questions here and there. Each boy responded hesitantly, but proudly. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another four students enter the classroom; they slid into chairs. I threw more questions; the responses came more naturally. Another group settled in. More questions. Another group. The kids volleyed more answers back. Soon, the entire class was there with me.
No one can tell me these kids don't want to learn! They're hungry … frankly, in my opinion … starved for knowledge and learning. They just need to be stimulated and motivated in the right way. 
Nils is calling me Michelle Pfeiffer. :)
* In brief: Through our in-the-process-of-being-established non-profit organization, "Chrysalis Project South Africa", we are working at the Mankonjane Primary School in Hlatikulu, KwaZulu Natal. In partnership with the Kamberg Valley Rural Community Upliftment (KamVarCu), we have initiated an after-school program for grades 4 through 7. At Chrysalis Project South Africa, we strive to help children in rural areas pull themselves up from the "disadvantaged" category and learn better, faster, and more. In addition, by working with interested local volunteers, we aim to provide adults with training and "practica" to help them discover the world of teaching, and prepare them if they should choose to take this on as a career.
Being in isolated areas in South Africa can, indeed, create a great disadvantage. It can mean limited teaching and classroom materials (some of my kids struggle with pens that don't even write well), teachers with insufficient training, and poor resources — an example of the latter, the Mankonjane School was only recently completely fitted with electricity. Through our after-school program, we and our volunteers provide daily homework assistance and English language learning. You see, "our" kids are native Zulu speakers. At a certain point in their primary education the teaching language across subjects changes from Zulu to English with no preparation or transition period. This can work for children in urban areas where English is commonly spoken. However, in rural areas, some of these children arrive in 4th grade and find themselves face-to-face with a teacher that's speaking a language they've never learned.
Through our work, we hope "our" kids can transform into the "advantaged."
More to come. We're spending so much time in development of this project, and working "in the field" with the kids and volunteers that we don't have the time to provide comprehensive information on our project. I hope to be able to do a better job in the days and weeks to come. 

At 1:12 p.m. (South African Standard Time) yesterday, perhaps you heard my voice in your head? Driving homeward along the N3 highway after grocery shopping for new year's, I said a final goodbye to all my loved ones, and those who've touched my life in positive ways. 

Moments before, I had watched as a tractor trailer truck wheel catapulted onto the highway up ahead, flying up and over a car that was in the passing lane. The monstrosity struck the asphalt at an angle and changed course. I white-knuckled the steering wheel and my sight glued to the tire's trajectory. It was advancing straight at me. 
They say that time goes funny in these situations. It's true. It was exactly as you see it in the movies, or like having the DVD set on slo-mo. As those frames ticked by, I had the time to say goodbye to everyone. 
After that, I don't recall seeing the highway. My eyes just followed that tire. It pounded the road no more than two car lengths ahead, and then seemed to float toward me. I could swear that I caught a glimpse of the design of the tire treads. I braced for the impact, and a black mass passed over me. Instinct had me look into my rear view mirror and I saw the tire bounce off the highway and down a ravine.
My lungs violently expelled air; I realized I'd been holding my breath. 
I'd rather not think too much about the "what ifs", but it is certainly a reminder of the fragility of our lives. 
My sister and I remember well our father saying, "I believe I haven't wasted a moment of my life." Yesterday was my reminder that I'd like to continue on with that family tradition. 
So many things to do, people to cherish, and dreams to dream and to make reality.

p.s. – For those who are curious: though, thankfully, not a common occurrence, flying trailer truck wheels are not unheard of. Two fatal incidents have been reported in the last two weeks in Canada. Some fear that as governments are faced with fewer resources, enforcement of trucking regulations could go the wayside. Please be vigilant, my friends.

Holiday Spirit for us is: 

  • Goin' visitin' just to say "Hey!"
  • Dropping off firewood to a new neighbor so they don't freeze. 
  • Delivering used (Hurray for recycling!) containers that are perfect for chicken nests.
  • Providing a body/mind therapy session on a "someday I'm sure you can do something for me in return" basis.
  • Giving away raspberry jam and overstock of veggies just because you can.
  • Volunteer bartending at a community event. 
  • Giving new neighbors a place to stay for their first days in their new country. 
  • Helping wait tables a bit at the local pub on a crazy-busy night.
  • Providing materials, tractor, and trailer for neighbors building an addition to their home.
  • Baking cookies for neighbors despite the fact that your oven has two temperatures: "Off" and "High".
  • Giving the first hen and rooster to a new farmer to start her chicken flock.
  • Rendering assist when another's electrical mainline is hit by a pickaxe.
  • Spending four hours on country roads delivering cookies to "nearby" neighbors.
  • Including a new neighbor in a family outing to a rugby match (and having the patience to explain the rules of the strange, "new" sport)
  • Supporting friends' children by attending their concerts and plays (all which turned out to be a blast!)
  • Making raspberry ice cream for the neighbor who let you pick several pounds/kilos of berries from her garden.
  • Sending calves over to mow a neighbor's lawn. 
  • Painting the front of a local school that's in desperate need of an uplift.
  • Seeing the ear-to-ear smile on a child's face as she eats your home-made ice cream. 
  • Giving rescue animals a good home. 

… to name a few.

A few of the acts above were happily performed by Nils and me since arrival in South Africa in July; the vast majority were provided to us by our new friends and neighbors.

We're proud and grateful to be a part of this community where "Holiday Spirit" of giving, receiving, and sharing lives in the hearts and minds of many throughout the year. 

And you? Any "Holiday Spirit" you'd like to share here? 

Happy Holidays, Corinne & Nils

It hasn't been for lack of material that I've neglected you here on our blog. Quite the contrary.

Life has been chock-a-block (I learned that adjective here in S. Africa), and while I used to write all my blog postings late at night, nowadays, by 9:00 p.m. the only thing I'm generating is a lot of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzs.

I haven't yet figured out how to get the blog writing done in between tending, feeding and spying on chickens (the last because one was sick, but I couldn't figure out which), making compost, chasing after Solo as he herds the neighbors' cows AND the wild blesbuck, designing my worm farm, establishing two businesses in a "foreign" country, researching sheep and Muscovy duck raising, and keeping up with the laundry and household messes that magically appear out here in the country. 

Complaining? Well, maybe just a little bit, but as proof that we've been busy, here are 

a few things we've learned without our computers

►Never wear "city flats" with shiny metal bits in the chicken yard. I nearly had heart failure when the chickens rushed at me and started pecking at my feet! (ditto decorative flip flops)

►Contrary to what I could've sworn I'd learned in elementary school (did you learn this, too?), if you cut a worm in half, you don't get two worms. You MIGHT get the head of the worm to grow back a tail, but you're just as likely to end up with two halves of a dead worm.

►When you live on a farm, there's NO hope of wearing the same pair of pants or shirt twice. A dog greets you = paw prints on your chest; you lean your elbows on a fence post = bird doo on your sleeves; you slide into the pick-up truck = dried dirt on your backside. Heck, this time of year when it's dry and windy, just lean against a piece of furniture that was just cleaned = you have a brown dusting. Browns and beige are my new fashion color choices.

►When tugging violently at a stubborn, invasive plant in squatting position, make sure there isn't a cow pattie directly behind you (see above). 

►When you've got an important client meeting in the "big city", don't wear your suit, tie and fancy black shoes into the pick-up truck (see above).

►One of my favorite stress reducing exercises used to be using the paper shredder in my office. Pulverizing sheets of paper into teeny tiny flakes really helped to ease feelings of aggression or frustration. However, it doesn't begin to have the same impact as turning nice big tree branches into wood chips! Better than meditation! 

►Everyone in South Africa has an opinion on how to do something; each one of the opinions is different. 

►"It's Africa" is a phrase often said with a shrug and smirk when something goes awry or one's faced with incompetence. While we've had our share of both in South Africa, no more than anywhere else we've lived … France, Germany, Austria, England, the United States … there are problems and joys everywhere.

►When you have a dog, don't bother to clean the bottom two-feet of your sliding glass door. It's a losing battle.

►Sheep are "trunk-sized" ("boot-sized" in British English), which is one of the reasons why lamb is so outrageously expensive. We are going to try raising sheep nonetheless.

►If you're embarking on an adventure like ours, it's good to be married to a German engineer.

►Alpaca are perhaps the most adorable animals I've yet to encounter. I'm trying to justify the high investment required by claiming to use them as "guard alpacas" for our sheep. 







And now, I can only recommend you get away from your computer too; you might learn something new. :-)

This idea that "Africa isn't for sissies" continues to whirl about in my head. 

Coming from a well-established suburb in the United States and having lived and worked in large urban metropoleis in the States and Europe, admittedly, I've been spoiled. Nils, growing up in Hamburg, Germany, the same.

I can think of maybe a handful of times in my life when I've gone without a basic like electricity or water (for a few hours max), and my exposure to animals and nature has been of a relatively gentle fashion. So, indeed, life's recently been throwing us challenges to test our levels of sissiness. 

In pondering that "Africa isn't for sissies", I can't help but look at the path my life has taken and the paths of family and friends, and think … 
  • getting older isn't for sissies
  • having chronic kidney disease isn't for sissies
  • picking up and moving from what has been home and familiar for decades isn't for sissies
  • losing a family member isn't for sissies
  • having unidentified allergies to foods isn't for sissies
  • having any chronic illness isn't for sissies
  • losing your job isn't for sissies
  • ending a relationship isn't for sissies
  • committing to a relationship isn't for sissies
  • dealing with infertility isn't for sissies
  • having children isn't for sissies
And you? I'll bet there are reasons you're NOT a sissy!

During the past two weeks,

  • I lost one of my new chickens to Solo.
  • we went without access to water for a day, 
  • then had only brown liquid come out of the tap for the next two days. 
  • Power lines were stolen in the Lowlands and we, and our entire valley, went without electricity for most of a day.
  • We discovered a buck snare on our farm — evidence that there is, indeed, poaching going on in our own backyard.
  • I had contact with one of the most unpleasant people I've met in a very long time.

The impact

  • I went without a shower for four days (it wasn't pretty).
  • We had to haul many Jerry cans to go fetch clean, fresh drinking water from neighbors' down the road. Imagine!
  • I had already been backed up in doing laundry, and without water, ended up wearing underwear previously delegated to the rag pile. Mom definitely wouldn't have approved (I know, this is too much information).
  • The many seedlings we had started suffered from lack of water.
  • Nils and others missed the South Africa vs. Fiji Rugby World Cup match on television. 
  • I couldn't blog or surf!!!
  • We couldn't do most of the (electricity dependent) things we planned to do,
  • so, we went and spent the afternoon having a braai and fun with new friends. 
  • I was reminded to listen to my own instincts, and do what I know is the right thing to do.
  • I think that Nils and I talked to each other more (unavoidable since I couldn't surf or blog, and there was no television).
  • I learned I can get dishes clean by hand with a small amount of water.
  • We drank less coffee (electric coffee machine) and more fruit juice.
  • We get more exercise since we take slightly longer walks on the farm to survey for traps and snares.
  • I re-started meditation and began putting more efforts into a "Five Elements" exercise course I've wanted to develop. 
Nope, Africa isn't for sissies; maybe that's not a bad thing.
Having nothing to do with anything except it's news for us, and we're both in shock: Nils has lost  8 kilos (17.5 lbs), I have lost … drum roll, please … 10 kilos (22 lbs)!!  I guess Africa isn't for fat people either. :-) … well, okay, so maybe it's the faaaaaarm livin'. Maybe I will be able to wear those size 3 jeans … the ones I just got rid of! Rats!


Hi! I'm Corinne.
After many years of meeting challenges of the corporate world as a (moderately) Type-A city gal, I embark with my DH, Nils, on a completely different adventure in living.

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