Friday, September 12, 2014

Ten South African expectations demystified

When I landed ZA a week ago, I brought along two full 20-foot containers, 6 big bags and a mind full of false expectations…

1 1-    South Africans do not all look like Charlize Theron… And here I was worrying about my ego and how it would fit in with this long legged community!

2 2-    South Africa.. being in Africa.. is always warm.  I was warned that winter was short but can get quite cold at night. This is not cold. This is brutal icy frigid chill-blain-inducing weather and I can’t manage to get warm inside my house no matter how bright the sun shines through.

4 3- Africaan has nothing to do with English. I listen to people talk for long minutes before I can catch a word I recognize, usually it ‘s something related to Pizza, Coffee, Thank you or Please.

5 4-    Right is not always right. As a matter of fact it feels quite wrong. I’m getting the hang of it, but I still feel like I’m driving where I should be chilling and chilling where I should be steering.

6 5-    South Africans are extremely (as in.. really extremely) polite to the point that I have to remind my kids to stress on the words THANK YOU and PLEASE every time someone talks to them. Appropriate behavior is highly regarded and a wise one would not hesitate to reprimand my kids should she think she needs to. My presence and their shock would not deter a determined disciplinarian at heart.

6- Sexuality is not in the air, just as expected.. However.. The first thing I had to explain to the boys when I landed Sandton was why men need “Penis Enlargement” and why the ads for it are literally on every street corner around our house, all the way to school.  
7-    South African non-whites are not the only ones roaming the streets for a dime or two. The ratio of white beggars is actually much higher than I thought. They are not as witty or sweet smiling as their peers with darker complexions and they don’t inspire you to reach out as much. But they are there; a stark reminder that poverty is color blind does not discriminate. 

8-    In suburban Sandton, the explosive and colorful African cultural realm I eagerly anticipated is actually hard to find.  Whether it is because the area where I live is predominately white or because the architecture and landscape look more like an English countryside – only fenced in - than an African tribal dwelling remains to be discovered.  The first show we attend here was a Canadian Circus that puts Cirque du Soleil to shame. Tickets were quite affordable and yet.. The packed house was predominately white. That is one aspect of Sandton life I totally intend to fully study and observe.

9 9-    They drill you with talk about theft, house attacks, violence, mugging and every petty and un-petty crime you can fathom. You drive into your new residence and you are surrounded by high walls, topped with sharp edges, topped with electric fences and then some.

But then you take a short walk in the streets. You go for a drive around your new hood and there is a false sense of security that is actually quite seductive. You wonder with this great weather (only in the mornings still), why is it that people don’t walk more.  You look at smiling faces all around: gardeners, garbage collectors, housemaids, and you wonder: why all the fencing and the worrying? They can’t be criminals.. or can they???????

1 10- I don’t know where Disney got his inspiration from when he created DUMBO’s stork. Storks are simply not those gracious birds soaring the skies while dropping bundles of babies on whimsical moms. They’re grey and ugly and God they can make a loud screech, something between a long wail and an angry howl.. One week into the house and we still can’t prevent the knee-jerk reaction to jump out of bed and shield our faces from an unseen inevitable danger every morning when they exercise their tonsils.

I I have to confess that only Walid insists those birds are storks.. I'm beginning to doubt his ornithologist claims!!!!!!

As the days pass and we sit back to enjoy our first weekend at home, I look up at my neighbor’s house and a stork is regally standing there, staring down at me. Strangely enough, I’m in awe.. I’m in Africa and I’m greeted by storks every morning. The weather is slowly warming up but I still hold on to my fleece and my furry boots. The joke about body parts enlargement posters never gets old and the kids still find it particularly funny. I can drive without causing too much mental damage to pedestrians or fellow drivers who happen to cross my way.  I pride myself for being neither white nor Indian nor black or anything in between. For once my lack of characteristic features serves me well and I’m accepted everywhere I go.  I will not learn Africaan but I might enjoy a few Zulu lessons when I get the chance.

It’s good to be in Africa. Despite the many challenges this post brings, it just feels like I’ve made a full circle and I’ve found home. Almost!


  1. Storks (at least in Germany) do 'clac-clac' noises with their beaks and are not known to make dinosaur-noises. Not familiar with the South-African trait, but those things sound like something else...

  2. They really don't act like storks should.. i'm questioning my husband's source of info