Saturday, May 28, 2016

Do you speak Expenglish?

Two years in South Africa and I already say EEZ It? Yuhh and Shame!
Yoh is when I’m astounded; and Yoh has come out every time I go into a shop and people think I am French!

I have a French accent - he South Africans say..
But the French, despite the flowery compliments know I don’y do their language justice. After all I’m a product of the Egyptian education system and that doesn’t position us well in life in general.

I do however, spend some time everyday in the French-speaking realm and my closest of friends are predominantly French. They speak to me in Frenglish most of the time so yeah, I get it, I picked up the accent and I fused it with some South African English. Add my Egyptian heritage to the mix + 11 years in New York to spice it up and here you have it….


There is no denying that English is the common language of Expats.  And for the fortunate expats who successfully forge the best of friendships beyond their national compatriots orbits…with Italians, Argentinians, Spanish, Germans, Brazilians … and thanks to the French school, also French; we manage to somehow craft our own special accent.

The Intercontinental spice mix gives it a flavor that is unique to expats around the world. We know it, we like it, and best of all.. We can never go wrong with it.

There is nothing that we can utter that can be classified as grammatically wrong! Because it’s all wrong.. And that makes it soooo right.  It makes it sooooo unique and soooooo us – expats, that our Expenglish becomes an inherent trait of our global identity.

Hello, my name is Laila, I am an expat and I speak Expenglish.. an all-embracing, judgment-free English that allows us to use as many foreign words as we need, gesticulate as far as our arms can extend, and make the weirdest of body movements to fill for the vernacular gaps. If I get what you want to say then you are fluent, regardless of what you actually said! I get it..  Don’t ask me how.

You know why we get it?

It’s simply because it’s the only language in the world that doesn’t carry any cultural baggage. It is not heavily impregnated with nuances and connotations. It doesn’t differentiate between old and young, man and woman, rich and poor, old money and nouveau rich or black and white. All you need is your basic knowledge of the English language, and your rich experience as an expat and you’re speaking.. Expenglish!

Two years in South Africa and I’m not worried about being understood any longer. Speaking it like the locals is no benchmark for positive integration. When I’m asked: where is that foreign accent from? I simply smile and say.. Take your pick, it’s Egyptian, American, South African and French. I’m all of those and still more to come. J

Friday, January 8, 2016

How to Live UP your First Expat Year in South Africa

ZA  100 - First Year Bucket List (100)

This isn't another brag post. It certainly isn't another long monologue about being an expat! Although I tend to write a lot of those.

This is a list…. Pure and simple!!!!

If you are into outdoors, you'll meet your bucket list here.. But if you also like to wear a flowery dress and put on a big sun hat that totally matches your pointy shoes, then head out 
for a dainty High Tea, then this list is equally for you.
If you are a traveller at heart and you wish to raise your family flag on each and every province, then HELLO partner :)

The idea is to give you a hint, a clue, a little nudge in a certain direction and a search word to open up the magnificent world of #Google, #Trivago and #Tripadvisor for you.. enjoy and let me know if you have a cool idea for my 2016 list

-    Fifteen hikes 
a.     Saamrus
b.     Vergenoeg
c.      Groenkloof
d.     Windy brow
e.     Tswaing Crater
f.      Robberg Island
g.     Wilderness River
h.     Wonderboom
i.       Rustig
j.       Sugarbush
k.     Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens
l.       Uytipik
m.   Shelter Rock
n.     Mountain Sanctuary
o.     Cape Town Botanical gardens

-    Five High Teas 
a.     The Silver Birch tea garden (disappointing), Go for the Saxon by all means
b.     Michael Angelo – Piccolo Mondo
c.      54 on Bath
d.     Kirstenbosch Tea Garden (Cape Town)
e.     Maslow

-    Nine provinces 
a.     Gauteng
b.     North West
c.      Kwazulu Natal
d.     Mumalanga
e.     Western Cape
f.      Limpopo
g.     Northern cape
h.     Eastern cape
i.       Free State

-    Camping 
a.     Borakalalo

-    Ten cultural places 
a.     Soweto on bikes
b.     Arts on Main (Thursday monthly night market is cool)
c.      Stanley 44 (Lunch)
d.     Melville - Amazing arts scene
e.     Parkhurst - Cool restaurants and galleries
f.      Midlands Meander - Kwazulu Natal, this is a TRUR MUST
g.     Oriental Plaza - Indian heavenland 
h.     Kyalami (nice meanders and artsy shops)
i.       Cradle of Humankind
j.       Fordsburg - Oriental and Middle Eastern hub close to Oriental Plaza
k.     Melrose Arch - Safe Haven in all this chaos
l.       Bryanston Organic Market - a little artsy island worth going to

-    Ten cultural events 
a.     Opera dinner (really cool experience with Gauteng Opera)
b.     Barnyard theater (Cheesy but loads of fun for the whole family)
c.      Jo'burg Theater
d.     PJ Powers (She's a national icon)
e.     Ultra (if you're a late comer to the Rave scene like me, this is a must)
f.      St. Pietersberg Ballet (there is always an international production a year)
g.     Johannesburg Ballet (to compare notes)
h.     Trevor Noah (H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S)
i.       The Little shop of Horrors – Camps Bay
j.       La Traviata (Some classics to balance to the cheesy shows out)
k.     Parker’s Comdey Club (I actually understood most of the jokes)

-    Five Picnics and fruit pickings 
a.     Strawberry Farm (Tangaroa)
b.     Hartbeerspoort Dam (lots of activities)
c.      Wine tasting and Cheese (Cape Town)
d.     Powers Park
e.     Nirox Sculpture Park (worth checking their events calendar)

-    Five Game drives 
a.     Kruger
b.     Pilanesburg
c.      Lion Park
d.     Monate
e.     Pilanesburg (It's close and convenient, that's why we keep coming back)

- Five Touristic Sites 
a.     Red Bus
b.     Apartheid Museum
c.      Satyagraha (Ghandhi's house) +Make sure you combine with lunch
d.     Elephant Sanctuary
e.     Cableway (Hartsbeerpoort)
f.      Bird Garden (Monte Casino )
g.     Ushaka (Durban) a must for kids
h.     Museum of Transport (Cool under explored) + Combine with picnic by lake next door

Five new activities (Done) (You can tell, there is a bit of everything for everyone's taste)
a.     Stand Up Paddling
b.     African Fusion dance
c.      Cuisine Thai
d.     Accrobranch
e.     Cookie icing

Five kids activities 
a.     Avalanche
b.     Surfing
c.      Paddling
d.     Ziplining
e.     Hiking
f.      Quads
g.     Horsebackriding

Five South African books - I've become a D Meyer addict
a.     Deon Meyer .. Devil’s Peak
b.     Deon Meyer,, Thirteen hours
c.      Deon Meyer,, Cobra
d.     Deon Meyer,,  Trackers
e.     Blood Safari
f.      Dancing with a poor man’s daughter

Five sports related excursions 
a.     Canoeing the Wilderness River (Garden Route)
b.     Biking Park (PWC on Main Sreet)
c.      Biking the river path (behind our house)
d.     Quads  (Cullinan)
e.     Horseback riding (Cullinan, North Pretoria)

-   - Five cool restaurants 
a.     Four Seasons Westcliff Brunch with a view
b.     Cube (Atomic and weirdly yummy)
c.      A la Turka (oriental fake palace with belly dancers and the whole 1001 nights atmosphere.. surreal)
d.     The Blue Crane (Pretoria) Better for Sun downers and early lunch, serene and Blue Cranes are in full presence
e.     Col'Caccio (Chain like Pizzeria but I like it cause it's not junk and they give dough for the kids to shape and cook while they wait for their food)

   - Blog about the bucket list at least 10 times :)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

From Nikes to Hikes - Part 3 - Day Hikes in Gauteng - Summer 2016

Year two in South Africa begins and this time I’m not only hiking, I’m actually in charge of the French community’s Hiking trips this year. 

The fact that I’m not French--- that hiking is a…well…..fairly new skill I’ve just added to my Expat profile --- that I’m actually quite unsure on my feet and get what every French lady has explained to me as the VERTIGE whenever I’m edging a cliff path… all of this… has apparently equipped me to lead the group :D

We are a team a four actually, so I’m not the hero-hiker I’m selling myself as here and my co-hikers are experts at it. So why did I undertake the responsibility? Well:

-       I love it
-       I get to do each hike TWICE
-       I engage mild hikers like me who also have to overcome a few phobias here and there to enjoy South African landscapes,, If I can do it, they feel like they sure can! Not very flattering for my skills, but hey, it’s great for social bondages… MISERY DOES LIKE COMPANY!
-       I get to explore beyond the footprints on well marked hiking trails and I just love it!

So far I’ve compiled the first 9 hikes to start with from last year

I’ve left a few really good ones out and I’ll start with them here along with some new.

Here are 8 Hikes to Launch 2016 with …

1- Mountain Sanctuary

Length: varies, maps available online and at site
Activities: Animals, Rock pools and gorges
Child friendly: Definitely
Reservation: on Website
Accommodation: several options, a great camping spot
GPS: 25° 50'.09.42" S (25° 50' 10" S)
27° 28'.33.40" E (027° 28' 33" E)

Was probably one of the most scenic? Be careful with early morning hikes in June in the sanctuary, it can be freeeeeeezinnnnng and I was totally caught unaware!

Did I mention that I also slipped and fell into icy algae -filled water? Still I’d definitely do it again and bring the kids along with sandals and swim suits on hotter days.

2- Shelter Rock

Length: 8 kms to the top (elevation 400 meters)
Activities: Geology and 1000+ year-old vegetation, abseiling, kloofing, rock climbing … .
Child friendly: Yes but long
Reservation: on Website, they allow a limited number of hikers per day
Accommodation: limited through base camp reservations
GPS: 25°50'09.7"S 27°39'09.6"E

This one we did to celebrate a double birthday and it was a fantastic day hike in the Magaliesburg region.. Our picnic was cut short by a “controlled” wild fire that engulfed us and didn’t look that controlled to us!  But we still managed it to the top and we managed the picnic with a few nervous side-glances and the progress of the bush fire! French champagne and sun-melted chees did it’s trick to dull our senses and we lingered enough to call the day a success.

The Hike is steep and I believe that, had the kids not been among friends, they would have started whining half way thru.. But we planned it well and they were happy! We were ecstatic!

Technically the hike is easy, no cliff hanging and no edge hugging. You don’t get that intimate here with the mountain like it’s next-door neighbor Rustig with it’s wood ladders and some short but nauseating edge hugs!

They called it Shelter Rock.. we totally used it as "climbing rock" and a "chill in' rock" and that's when I learnt that chill in' in french is LEZARDER.. as in lay still like a lazy lizard :D 

3- Faerie Glen

Length: varies, maps available
Activities: Bird Watching and City views
Child friendly: Yes
Reservation: No need, you pay 8 Rand at entrance. Unless you request a guided tour in advance
Accommodation: No
GPS: 'S25 46 481 E028 17 484

This is a city/urban hike in Pretoria, 40 minutes away and quite small. Why do I suggest it??? Because in Jacaranda season, it offers a spectacular bird-eye-view on the purple city.  

But since Jacaranda season is highly unpredictable and really really short.. Timing is your greatest foe!

4- Sugar Bush

Length: 8 kms, map online
Activities: Proteas in Bloom
Child friendly: Yes
Reservation: Through Jacana 0861Jacana (0861 522262)
Accommodation: No

Another very close by day hike that doesn’t offer much unless the Proteas (Sugar Bush) is in full bloom.  Not my favorite and the views are good but nothing like the top of the Magaliesburg.  It’s failry easy though and for that and the blooming proteas, it’s worth a visit!

5- Uittkyk

Length: 9 +_ kms
Activities: View on Hartsbeersport Dam
Child friendly: A bit too steep and little shade
Reservation: Through Jacana 0861Jacana (0861 522262) - +27(0)127342978  or
Accommodation: No clue
GPS: S25 42.333 E27 50.714
I remember the warning before the hike: It’s steep and it keeps going up and up relentlessly! Well it was said in French and it sounded more challenging :0

True to its reputation,  Uitkyk isn’t just a very difficult hike to pronounce! It’s a tough walk with very little shelter and a couple of edge hugs along the summit. But It was doable, maybe because by May I had gone up a number of the Magaliesberg summits and I was getting used to the altitude and narrow paths.

But the view on the Dam was just stunning, the best if I compare to the other Dam facing hikes.

I wouldn’t say it’s not child friendly because it’s totally doable if: your child is either passionate about uphill hiking, or resistant to heat strokes or well entertained with friends.

6- Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

Length: 2.5 kms +-
Activities: Walks, picnic, Eagle’s nest restaurant
Child friendly: Very much so
Reservation: Pay at entrance
Accommodation: No
GPS: 27°50'40.7"E 26°05'13.8"S   

The Hike is short and starts behind the beautiful waterfall, so I should be forgiven for dragging the kids along a ridiculously steep hike without enough water or sunscreen. After all, I though we’d be done with 2 kms in less than half an hour.

First, we never saw the waterfalls up close because the hike deviates away from the action. Second, it’s a continuous climb to the top of the ridge and although they say it’s interpretive, it’s not really designed to lure the kids in!

The gardens themselves are impressive and the waterfall picnic area is beautiful. I’d go again with a picnic basket in tow but I doubt I’d do the hike again!

7- Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve

Length: Variable, many options. We did a long multi trail 10 kms hike
Activities: Hiking.. the river looks really unappetizing, so NO drinking or swimming, some animals in sight: Zebras, kudus…
Child friendly: Very much so
Reservation: None, free entrance for a change J
Accommodation: No
GPS: S26 16.961 E28 00.574 (Silent Pool entrance) .. S26 18.207 E28 00.663 (Recreation Center entrance in Kibler Park)

The reserve is known to be the largest nature reserve in Johannesburg.. Yes IN Johannesburg and that’s just one of many positive vibes you’ll get out of this place.

It’s near, a mere 45-minute drive away from Sandton against the traffic the flow. Easy parking and free sunrise to sundown entrance makes it all the more accessible.

There is something to be said about a nature reserve with a beautifully detailed website. It usually reflects how well maintained and well marked the trails are and this reserve stays true to both.

There are several entrances to the reserve and we used the recommended “Silent Pool” one. No clue where the pool is or why it’s silent!

We also did a fantastic trail mix and walked a good 10 kms for about three hours and it was just great. There is a steep incline the minute you cross the river to start the Red trail but it’s short and it leads to a nice lookout point over the Jo’burg landscape. We then walked for a while over the plateau and enjoyed the views all along. Later we descended and crossed the river to go back on the blue trail, a flat riverside finale that merited a huge iced coffee afterwards.

It’s important to load up on WATER on this hike, because there are no vendors and the river looks quite polluted to me.


Length: 8 kms +
Activities: Hiking, Swimming at the foot of a waterfall
Child friendly: Very much so
Reservation: YES, through Jacana Travel
Accommodation: Yes
GPS: S25.5485 E28.5675 (the last 5 kms are on a dirt road)

This is one of Gauteng’s best and most popular hikes. A must do in my opinion.

It’s not far from Jo’burg, very close to Cullinan, noth of Pretoria. It’s not as steep as I thought, but there is very little shade along the way so stock up on those icy cold water bottles.

Right before you reach the waterfall, you find yourself trespassing on a little timeshare resort, where in our case, a retiree couple was happily lounging till a bunch of loud hikers… Yes that’s us.. barged in and flooded their peaceful moment with much unappreciated chaos …

The good news is.. You can stock up from the bar on premises.. The bad news is.. You can’t really dip into the pool and pretend that Oops, you slipped!!!!!!

There is a small double toilet hut right at the entrance of the cascade and if you prefer to change into your swim suit – because it’s simply too hot and stuffy to walk all the way with all this latex melting into your skin – there is your private vestiaires in the bush.

We went in drought season so the waterfall was more of a strong drizzle but the swim was seriously good! I wouldn’t drink that water, I found the greenish tinge unappetizing but to swim, it was just perfect.

If you have soft sole swim shoes, bring them on. I didn’t and it wasn’t that bad, but it helps to walk on those slippery rocks for the few meters till you access deep waters.
Photo credit: Fabienne Perreux

On the bucket list for the first half of 2016 are:
-       Hennops
-       Silver lakes
-       Phalandingwe
-       And the infamous Otter Trail
Stay tuned and happy New year!