Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Archive for the ‘Foreign Service Life’ Category

Wordless Wednesday 23 Mar 2016

with 2 comments

Obama 2016-1290

When you don’t like being touched by strangers, but you also kind of want to meet the President. Pudding did an awesome job!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 23, 2016 at 10:38 pm

Reinvention

with 6 comments

One of the great things about the expat life, is you get to reinvent yourself every time you move. And by great, I mean necessary, for me at least. Moving to a new country is a surreal, hyper-real experience, even when you have it done it several times before. I find reinvention to be my coping mechanism.

I’ve been walking a lot lately, which is good for me. In Argentina, I’ve reinvented myself as a walker. Walking is good for thinking, which is good for writing. I have many blog posts in my head, I just need to convert them to type in between walking.

I need to tell you about how South Africa said goodbye to us, and what we did in between here and there, and many, many tales of my kids’ resilience, but this is my blog, so first I’ll talk about my reinvention(s).

I showed an early flair for languages, and some twenty years ago I learned Spanish. But then I was sent to the Lowood Institution where my best friend died in my arms of consumption, and French was the only language I developed. Wait, I’m confusing myself with Jane Eyre again. But for some reason I learned more French, and it covered over my Spanish until it was quite buried.

That French was quite handy in Luxembourg, but not at all useful here, when I try and communicate and this whole other language keeps popping out instead. It is at times like these, I marvel at my girl’s ability to express herself. I know it doesn’t come easily, and it takes a strength I don’t have, but she does.

Though I don’t have that strength, I do need to communicate our needs. Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say. I like to pretend that I’m in some kind of reality TV show. It is of course, absurd that I know so little of the language, so I act like it is a challenge: what can my very basic abilities achieve for me today?

In my first week here, it got me wifi installed in my house, which was a necessity, or I wouldn’t be writing to you now. Miming can get you so far, and sometimes words take you further. I needed a Phillips screwdriver, and that is a thing you certainly don’t want to mime (go on, try it), but when you can’t remember the word “screwdriver” or “tool” it becomes a comedic surfeit of words, words, words.

And if I’m confused why I have to pay when my bill reaches 1000 pesos at the supermercado, even though I have more shopping on the conveyer belt, the explanation is more words than I’m able to process. Hold on, give me five or six months to figure out what you are telling me.

Sometimes my reality TV show has a culinary edge. Instead of getting frustrated at the limitations of the welcome kit (essentials provided by the Embassy until our belongings arrive), I’ll instead prepare the most elaborate food I can, as though competing against myself. Sometimes there are unexpected successes, as I find a way to cook spinach in a way that my kids both eat it for the first time. Or we make empanadas together and remember one of the reasons this is all worth it.

The theme to all my reinventions is facing a challenge. It is okay to be tired, but I’ll never win that way. Today, walking to school for a pre-IEP meeting, I felt a little like David against Goliath, if David didn’t have the slingshot of legal rights outside of the US public school system. But dressing myself in leather boots and biker jacket, I felt like this incarnation might show her strength, even when feeling weak. And just as well, because upon finding that a document about Pudding was being sent to her teachers, I needed to be able to demand a copy even if the school doesn’t normally give them to parents. Nothing about us without us.

Perhaps they aren’t really reinventions after all. Maybe it is more about remembering who you are, how you are, even in a world that seems unfamiliar. Sifting through layers of language, understanding cultural norms and making sure our needs are being met.

Deep down I am who I am no matter where we are. Still, if I were being followed by a camera crew these last few days, I’m sure you’d find it to be very entertaining viewing!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Summer Bucket List

with 4 comments

Image

We’re now 9 days away from the mega non-stop flight in economy from Johannesburg back to the USA. A flight so long and tortuous, I need a distraction! So instead, I’m thinking about getting to see old friends, and spending time with family. Still, we have two months of no school, and an awful lot of free unstructured time on our hands.

Spectrummy Daddy will be occupied with language training, so we’re looking for things to do. Luckily, there are lots of free museums to get reacquainted with, and I’ve found a park and a library within walking distance of where we’ll be staying.

But what else? My kids have spent most of their lives living on other continents, and as I’m foreign-born myself, we could probably use a tip or two about how to spend our summer. We were lucky enough to be able to take our two R & R trips to the UK this tour, so we got to eat cornish pasties, take tea at Holyrood Palace, visit Stonehenge, and roman baths, and eat fish and chips on the beach. So now we have to even things up and remind them they’re half-American again…just before they get whisked off to South America!

There is one all-American thing I know is at the top of my list: making s’mores. And this time around, I don’t even have to worry about making them from scratch this time around.

So, please, give us some tips on what we need to do, and I’ll add them to the list. Extra points if they are sensory-friendly and accessible to all (July 4th fireworks are probably still a bit of a no-no for us).

Here we go…

1. Make s’mores

2. Kinetic Sand, suggested by Lisa S. on the Spectrummy Mummy Facebook Page

3. What To Do With Kids In Washington D.C., huge list linked by Emily.

4. Mom in Two Cultures has some great ideas for sensory boxes: How To Survive Winter Vacation.

5. Buzzfeed has great list of 33 Activities Under $10 to Keep Your Kids Busy All Summer.

6. American History in a box from After School Plans.

7. America: The History of US DVD set.

8. Pudding would definitely add another meal at the American Girl bistro.

9. Drink a malt in a diner.

10. Veggie chili-cheese fries from Ben’s Chili Bowl

11. Watch the Nats play baseball, and constantly remind Spectrummy Daddy that it is just like rounders.

12. Ride the carousel after checking out the Smithsonian museums.

13. Take in a county fair or town festival.

14. Enjoy a movie at a drive-in – I still can’t believe I have never done this!

15. Disney! Our home leave point is Florida, and the grandparents have already promised Pudding a repeat breakfast with the princesses, and pirates for Cubby. Disney has changes its policies for guests with disabilities since we were last there, so I’ll be sure to report back on our experiences.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 22, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Storm

with 4 comments

I love a good storm.  The fizz and boom in the air.  The sense of awe in the power of a lightning strike.  It makes perfect sense to me that our ancestors would venerate this energy, make idols of nature’s strength.

I love the feeling after the storm has passed; the air now lighter and purer.  It smells fresher.  The mind feels less fuzzy.  Everything is calm and rejuvenated.

What I don’t like, is the feeling before a storm.  The chaotic, swirling build-up.  The stifling, oppressive air.  The darkness.

Bring it on, I think.  Rage as you will.  We’ll breathe easier when you’ve finished raging.

Cubby is now terrified of storms.  Always sensitive to sound, he cannot take the claps of thunder here, more powerful than any other place we’ve lived.  And when his anxiety is up, when he can’t tolerate another assault, that is when the chime of nearby burglar alarms ring out in unison as houses are struck, foundations shaken.

We are just at the beginning of the stormy season here in Johannesburg, the lightning strike capital of the world.  It is going to be a rough few months for our sensitive son.

His anxiety has swollen now that to the extent that it isn’t just experiencing a storm that scares him, like me, he can no longer stand the build-up.  He’ll perseverate on the darkening skies, the thick clouds, that heavy air that he can’t describe but he feels all too much.  But he doesn’t will on the inevitable, he just wants to escape from something that is everywhere.

It isn’t just storm season, we’re also raging through bidding season.  We have no idea where we’ll be living next year, and trying to match up jobs with the schooling and therapeutic needs of our children is stifling.  This time around it feels harder than ever before.  Instead of excitement at the build-up to another transformation, I feel anxious about the inevitable life-altering changes that are coming our way.  Like Cubby, I want to block it all out.

“It won’t hurt us, ” I tell us both, one stormy afternoon earlier this week.

I have no such need to comfort Pudding.  Incredible, indomitable Pudding.  She cavorts in circles as the storm rages outside, perhaps feeling the buzz in an entirely different way.  Though her ears cannot tolerate mechanical and low-frequency noises, she seems to find natural sounds invigorating.  She doesn’t tell me she enjoys the thunder, but her happy hum indicates it is an entirely welcome sensation.

I pick up Cubby, and copy Pudding’s patterns.  At first she stops, curious as to the game.  Then she carries on, and soon we are all laughing, as we dance around the room, forgetting all about what is happening outside our walls.

Bring on the storm.  Let it rage as it will.  My girl shows us how to frolic and laugh as though the sun is always shining through crashing changes, and remember the excitement of a fresh calm that will be ours soon.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 18, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Here and There

with 3 comments

Tuesday was a really hard day.  We haven’t had a break in a while, and I was itching to escape.  I booked a night away at the weekend, but it has been a relentless run of a couple of months without stopping, and one night away seems like too little, too late.

After another draining day at work, I collected the kids from school, and got ready to head back out- Tuesday evening was the back-to-school open evening for parents at Pudding’s school.  No time for dinner.

To say I didn’t feel like going out there would be understatement.  The school is a 45 minute drive at the best of times, and after dark in Johannesburg?  Not so much the best of times.  I try my best to avoid ever driving alone at night.  But Spectrummy Daddy was staying with the kids, and I felt like I couldn’t not go.

Traffic was even worse than usual.  I left at 5:10 to be there in plenty of time for a 6:30 start, but I soon realized it wasn’t going to be enough.  All in all, seven (7!) traffic lights were out on the busy route, and not one of them policed.  I turned on the radio only to hear that the alternative route by motorway was in the same condition.  As day turned to night, and gridlocked in traffic, I felt a growing sense of unease.  My frustrations darkened my mood further, and I let myself go…there.

There is where I imagine an easier life.  Where we live close to family and friends, and I can count on them to give us a break when we need one.  There is my kids going to a local school and growing up with the same community.  There is building a life for us, and living it- not having to do the same thing over, and over, in far away lands.  There is easy.  Here is hard.

My legs were cramping from riding the clutch for so long that I almost missed driving an automatic.  I did my best to avert my curious gaze from the casual prostitution happening at a particular traffic light where I idled for too long.  I wanted to call my husband and tell him I was done with here, with this whole Foreign Service life, but I know better than to use a Smartphone here while driving alone in the dark.

Finally, finally, at just after 7 pm, I arrived at the school.

The Director saw me first, and gave me a friendly greeting on first name terms.  Next I saw the mother of a child who was in Pudding’s class last year.  We hugged, and I started to feel better.  Next I got to check out her new classroom, where she’d left me a note asking to check out her “portit.”

I left her a note in return, then got to check out her new classroom, taking note of the many accommodations. As Ms. A, her new teacher had previously let me know- these supports are actually beneficial for all kids, and having them available to all ensured that Pudding isn’t singled out.  I felt all my tensions slip away.  My girl, she is right where she needs to be.

Next I got to meet Pudding’s art, music, and PE teachers.  I had to smile as the new teachers shifted from polite interest to excitement as they found out I was Pudding’s mother.  That kid really is a rock star, and I loved hearing all the anecdotes: such as Pudding turning on the music in class- the music teacher convinced it only happens when she talks for too long!  Yes, that absolutely sounds like her.

Though it was getting late after a long day, I couldn’t resist popping in to see Pudding’s kindergarten teacher, who was in the middle of reassuring a new parent that her child (who had some differences of their own, but not like Pudding’s) was in the right place.

I couldn’t agree more.

The drive home was just about the complete opposite- I practically flew.  What was I even thinking on the ride out there?  Of course this isn’t easy, but she is where she belongs, and when we move again, we’ll start up a whole new village.

Here or there, it doesn’t matter.  We are always right where we need to be.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 30, 2013 at 11:05 am

Christmas Traditions

with 3 comments

If someone were to ask me what my Christmas traditions were, up until last week I’d have probably said moping around on Christmas Day lamenting at how it wasn’t traditional.  Bah humbug!helpers

I always loved Christmases growing up in England, and spending the holidays in the heat of the southern hemisphere far away from family has always led to much homesickness.  But this year is different.  Maybe it is because we got to have a trip to England this year.  Maybe it is because we feel more settled here now, with me working, and the kids settled and happy in school.  Maybe because this is the year I decided we’d start our own tradition.

cookiesI have these cookies that I always make at this time of year.  I wouldn’t say they’re the best cookies in the whole entire world, but that is only because I let other people do that.  See, I’m humble!  When I make these, I’m reminded how we can never, ever let our kids near crack, booze, or anything else as addictive, but nearly as wholesome as my cookies.

The kids like to help with making them, almost as much as they like to help to eat them all afterwards.  But this year, after allotting a couple for each member of the family, and Santa his traditional portion, I decided the rest of the batch was going to go elsewhere.

You see, I’m not the only ones who doesn’t get to spend time with their family.  The guards at our consulate work year-round to keep us safe.  We don’t have Marine Security Guards here, so these guys are on duty constantly.  What’s more, they are the friendliest bunch of people on this planet, and always, always, make time for our kids and their quirks.  Because many of these guys’ families are in villages far from Johannesburg, working on Christmas Day means that they don’t get to spend time with their loved ones for the holidays.

So, new tradition- they get the cookies.  We wrapped them nicely, stuck the one nice photo of our family we’ve taken in years on them (which is also masquerading as a Christmas card), put Santa hats on the kids and drove to the Consulate to deliver our goodies.  It felt great- even better than my belly feels with those delicious cookies inside them.  So there you have it- new tradition.

Now, we have one more R & R trip during our tour to South Africa, and we plan on going to the UK for it.  So I won’t be able to deliver cookies on the day here, but I’m thinking that there’ll be a police station, or a hospital, maybe a homeless shelter where the cookies would be appreciated.  I have to do it- it is traditional!

So then I was thinking, because these cookies are too good not to share, what if I gave you the recipe*?  And maybe you’d also share them with someone who has to work, or who is protecting all of us day in, day out, with no holiday break.

So although I’m really not a food blogger, here is the recipe using US measurements:cubbychef

Makes about 3 dozen (ish).

3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
8 oz white chocolate chips (or whatever you want, and it doesn’t have to be precise at all).

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Combine flour, cocoa, soda and salt in medium mixing bowl
3. In large mixing bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
4. Beat in eggs one at a time
5. Blend in flour mix
6. Stir in choc chips / peppermint patties
7. Roll into balls then flatten onto baking sheet
8. Leave space between each cookiewrapped
9. Bake 8-10 mins until set
10. Cool 1 min
11. Transfer to racks with spatula

*Slight note here: this is my adaptation from an original recipe and I have no idea whose.  I found it in an old cookbook at my mother-in-law’s house before I was married.  I have adapted it a little over the years, and it is a very forgiving dough that works at different altitudes and lets your play around with different chocolate chips etc.

I hope you enjoy them, but I really hope you share them.  It turns out that is what Christmas is all about- no matter where you happen to spend it!

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Freedom of Speech

with 6 comments

Sometimes my life seems to have very separate compartments, and you can divide them up quite neatly.  There is my life in the foreign service: as an employee of the State Department, and the wife of a diplomat.  Then there is my home life: as a wife to my husband, and mother to my children.  Then I suppose there is the side where I write and advocate.  Most often I wrote about my children.  Sometimes I write about autism and special needs.  Other times life in the foreign service.  But this is wrong, because I’m always writing about all of those things at the same time.  If they are my experiences, they are a unique blend of my past and my present, personal history and present geography.  In moments of clarity, I understand that the world isn’t black and white, but several shades of grey (not fifty though- get your minds out of the gutter)!

On R&R in England, foreign service life seemed far away.  We visited Durham Cathedral on September 11th, and I showed the kids how we light a candle for those who can’t be with us.  Our children are too young to understand much, but I told them that when things are dark, we have to light the way.

That same day, four of our colleagues were murdered in Libya.  Over the next few days there were violent protests directed at other US embassies and consulates.  It was a strange disconnect, being away from our foreign service community at that time, but seeing images, and reading friends’ status updates on Facebook as the action took place around them.

My brain wants things to be black and white.  It makes things easier to understand  if there are sides and good guys and bad guys.  This is how Cubby likes things to be.  He needs to know who is good and bad, who is right and wrong.  But it is more complicated than that.  It is wrong to make provocative movies, deliberately dubbed to offend religions and communities, to destroy the peaceful efforts and relationship-building that Ambassador Stevens and others lived for; then died for.  And yet without freedom of speech, what do we have?  Every time I post a blog, I exercise a right that many in this world don’t have, may never have.

So too, do those who are hurt or offended have a right to protest.  It isn’t wrong to protest- it is a democratic right.  Another kind of freedom of speech.  But violence against innocents is wrong, even if done in protest against abuses.  When protests came last week to our consulate, I thought more about the fear and potential threat- the dark- than the light of living in a society that permits and encourages the right to protest.

Freedom of speech is an interesting concept to me.  Words come easily to me, and I’m safe to express them.  What then, about my daughter, whose speech does not flow so freely?  How do I protect her rights?  One way, is respecting her expressions of protest.  Pudding can refuse, or dissent, or stay quiet, or walk away.  I’ve explained to her therapists before that her needs should always be respected, rather than corrected.  At times she can articulate those needs quite clearly, when she is overloaded, she cannot.

I’m mindful that this right I have is actually a privilege.  A power not extended to all.  And so, if I abuse that power, intentionally or not, others have a right to protest.  The grey area gets murkier, because words, particularly from those in power, can have unforeseen consequences.  Every time I write about Pudding, her autism, and our lives, I’m mindful of the fact that I’m balancing my freedom of speech with hers.  We’re all Ambassadors, all the time.  When things get dark, we have to light the way.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm

R is for R & R

leave a comment »

Pudding reconnecting with my mum.

One of the benefits to living in (cue ominous music…) The Most Dangerous City in The World, is that the State Department grants us two R&R trips during our – assignment there.  Now, you know that we love Johannesburg, and what we have seen of the rest of South Africa.  But it is equally true that we need that break.  Back when we initially started planning that trip, we really needed it.

Then seasons change, and life alters, and you kind of get on with things.  Pudding has just started Kindergarten, and is doing very well.  I’ve only been working for a few weeks, and it isn’t the best time for me to be out of the office.  I adore Jozi in springtime.  The weaver birds are back, the weather is perfect, and it just feels lighter and happier there.

It reminds me of the early weeks when we first arrived, and just couldn’t believe our luck.  And then when, inevitably, the trip started to look like more hassle than a break, I wondered what kind of R&R it would actually turn out to be.

And then we actually arrived in England for the first time in almost four years, and it was all worthwhile.  It was Cubby’s first time here (outside of the womb) and he revelled in seeing double-decker buses and black cabs in London.  Both kids delighted in spending time by the sea- not the ocean.  And the kids got to meet their cousins, and spend time getting spoilt by their grandparents, and living, and playing, and being themselves.

We are having the time of our lives.  Or a time in our lives.  A time of many R-words.  We’re recharging, and reconnecting.  I’d even go so far as to say we’re resting and relaxing.  I knew we needed it, but I didn’t know how much.  I’ve taken lots of photographs here, and in almost every one, the kids are smiling.

Who knows, the kids might even start feeling so comfortable with their grandparents that we’ll even be able to have another elusive R-word: a few hours of respite.  Because just as we love Johannesburg, but need the occasional break…the same can be said of parenting high-needs children.

And if we can successfully Recharge and Reconnect, we’ll be Ready to go back to Routine.  And nothing to do but plan the next Rest and Relaxation, and make sure we don’t wait for four years next time!

This post is part of my A-Z series.  You can read the rest by clicking >here<.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 5, 2012 at 8:42 am

Meet and Greet

with 6 comments

You may have noticed that I’ve been a little preoccupied lately.  Just two weeks into my new job, my boss let me know that I would be in charge of a Meet and Greet event with the Secretary of State.  So, no pressure, then!

A visit of this magnitude requires all hands on deck, and an incredible amount of effort and organization.  The Secretary has a very full schedule with lots of important bilateral meetings and discussions.  But she also likes to take the time to thank the people who work in the Embassies and Consulates all around the world.  Yesterday was the turn of Consulate Johannesburg.

My little part lasted for only 20 minutes, but it took hours of arranging things to be just right.  Inevitably, some things went wrong leading up to the event, some things went wrong on the night, but all in all, it was amazing!

I’ve long been an admirer of Hillary Clinton.  This wasn’t the first time I’d been in the same room as her, but it was our first official meeting.  She was graceful and commanding, intelligent and inspirational- everything I’d hoped she would be.

The kids, however, were not so much into the whole thing.  I’d written a social story- I hadn’t been able to find one about meeting a Secretary of State or former First Lady!

Pudding got a little pensive.  I think she was wondering why somebody was getting more attention than her for once.  As she got closer, Pudding found things really hard to handle, instead of posing for photographs, she knew she had to get out of the way.  But she did allow Secretary Clinton to touch her face, which is huge!  I liked to think she was perhaps inspired by Hillary Clinton.  And when Pudding took her turn on the stage, it didn’t seem quite so audacious that we might be looking at the first female, autistic and foreign-born President.  Sure, those are some barriers, but I wouldn’t be betting against Pudding.

Cubby was also a little bashful, but The Secretary declared him adorable as he handed her a bunch of flowers.  He wasn’t going to stick around to pose for the official photographer.  And he let her stroke his cheek as well without having a meltdown.  I’m hoping that there might be a better photograph than this one out there- time will tell!

It was the experience of a lifetime.  In fact, those 20 minutes felt like a lifetime!  But what an honor to be part of it, and I’m sure one day the kids will look back on this day too.  If not, I’ll always have these photographs to show them.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Ten Things About Johannesburg

with 23 comments

Johannesburg Skyline

Johannesburg Skyline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband likens Johannesburg to Angelina Jolie.  She is glamorous, wild, and a tiny bit dangerous.  Oh, and if I had Angelina’s income, I’d also be adopting a bunch of orphans here too.  Life in the ‘World Class African City’ is an experience in extremes.  You might love it or hate it here, but you’ll never be bored.

Ten Best Things

1. The Weather.  I may not ever again live in a more perfect climate.  The summer was hot, but not too humid- such a pleasant escape after a DC tour.  We’re in winter now, but only a couple of days has it dipped below freezing.  Oh, and the sun shines every day, restoring vitamin D levels after a rainy three years in Luxembourg.  What’s not to love about that?

2. Community.  From cups of tea and a chat, to getting together for book club and talking about everything but the book- we have felt incredibly welcome here, quirks and all.  Perhaps because it is my first time at a Consulate rather than an Embassy, or perhaps I’d just had an isolating few years, I’m especially grateful for the warm and inclusive support here that comes straight from the top.

3. Children’s Activities.  I don’t know that there is anywhere in the world that is Johannesburg’s equal when it comes to family-friendly things to do.  Just about anything that interests your child is available here, from cutting-edge art spaces, to polo.  The best part for us was finding a swim instructorwho was experienced with special needs children.

4. Dining Out.  It is very affordable to eat out as compared to a domestic tour, and just about every dietary requirement is catered to here.  But the best thing for us is having decent restaurants which not only welcome children, but often have supervised play areas too.  You could still hang out at McDonalds, but there is no reason to do so here.

5. Language.  Okay, so there are eleven official languages, and the people here rightly take pride in that linguistic heritage.  But the official language is English, and almost everybody you encounter speaks it fluently.  Much as I am a language nerd myself, I wouldn’t much fancy trying to find therapists and schools that can support my kids’ special needs in any language other than English right now.  After almost a year, I even like the accent now- which is just as well because Cubby is picking it up a little more every day.

6. Woolworths.  Woolworths is not the same as the former Woolworths of England or the US, but part of the Marks and Spencer family.  To know Woolworths is to love it.  To know their Chocolate Millionaire Brownies is to develop an addiction that makes your clothes stop fitting.  Everything you’ll ever need in one store, and it is still cheaper than grocery shopping in the US.  It will give us Hot Cross Buns at Easter, and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.  Pudding appreciates it as a regular supplier of Hello Kitty products, from clothes to nut-free advent calenders.

7. Tea and Coffee.  I like my tea, and used to have my parents bring huge quantities to wherever I lived, but no need here.  Five Roses tea is wonderful.  Rooibos tea is a refreshing delight.  I can go out to any cafe or restaurant and the quality is equal to what I would drink at home.  Living in the US I developed a certain fondness for Starbucks, so was dismayed to find that it hasn’t made its way over here yet.  Imagine my delight to find several quality alternatives here, from Mugg & Bean to Vida e Caffe.  And they make babyccinos for the kids.

8. Comforts.  I’ve been known to enjoy the finer things in life, and the same can be said of the good people of South Africa.  For instance, it was a little chilly in Sunday morning, so we popped into a coffee shop where I could sip a Lindt hot chocolate while wrapped snugly in the cosy throw provided on the oversized leather chairs.  Bliss.  Did I also mention that South Africa is wine country?  If you like a glass, trust me, you’ll enjoy it here.

9. Wildlife.  Can you believe we haven’t gone on safari yet?  We want the kids settled, and a tiny bit older to fully appreciate it.  But we have been to game parks and wildlife reserves that have taken our breath away.  It is incredible to see such creatures as giraffes and lions up close.  We actually stayed at a crocodile reserve (though alarmingly, it sold crocodile skin handbags).  One of the highlights of my life so far was feeding a family of elephants, and I know we haven’t even really begun our animal adventures here.

10. Scenery.  You don’t always hear about South Africa being a beautiful country, but that just makes it even more incredible to discover.  The Drakensberg mountains are incredible, and I can’t wait to add trips to Cape Town and Durban.  I don’t think we’ll come even close to exploring everything we want to, but if we do, there is always Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique to check out, all (relatively) close at hand.

Ten Worst Things

1. Crime.  You might know that Johannesburg is considered the most dangerous city in the world before you get here, but living it is an entirely different experience.  That feeling of security I’ve always known is absent here, and for all the precautions you can take, you can’t change the amount of crime that happens.  There are sections of this city that I’ve never been to, nor will I.  Even in the suburbs I don’t feel safe at night.  A woman is raped here every thirty seconds.  There was an armed robbery right where our children play.  I’ve held a woman who had just been told her son was murdered, and not had the words to comfort her.  Crime is by far the worst thing about Johannesburg.

2. Driving.  I have to drive a lot here, so my experience is probably a little different to those who manage to avoid school run during the rush hour.  You have your usual big city lack of courtesy, together with potholes and traffic lights that don’t work.  I also have a lousy car, so I’m just grateful if I get through the day without being towed.  This is not the place to have an unreliable vehicle (see above).

3. Kombi Buses. Perhaps they should just come under the driving header, but I hate kombi buses so much that they get their own special heading.  From constantly honking, to driving on the wrong side of the road, to pulling out without looking: a day driving amongst these vehicles feels like you’re in the middle of war zone.  Needless to say, we’re not actually allowed to ride in them.

4. Growing Pains.  You’ll sometimes hear South Africans refer to their country’s struggles as ‘growing pains.’  Indeed, the post-Apartheid nation is still young, but still an interesting way to describe such deep inequality and corruption.  Sometimes living history comes at a cost.

5. Racism. Apartheid may have ended in 1994, and South Africa probably has the best constitution in the world, but there is still disproportionate challenges facing the black African population here.  When you go to a restaurant in the northern suburbs, you still tend to find that most of the customers are white, and the serving staff are black.  There is a reason why ethnic tensions still exist here.

6. Inequality.  The flip-side to living amongst these luxuries, is knowing that you are surrounded by people who will never know these creature comforts.  I find it hard living in relative wealth when I see the extreme poverty of those living in settlements or more rural parts of the country.

7. Poaching.  Rhino horn poaching is brutal and tragic, and actually increasing here.  Although the horn is made of the same material as fingernails, rhino horns nets a fortune for poachers selling to the Asian market.  Poaching is so endemic that some wildlife reserves are actually removing the rhino’s horns in an effort to protect them from slaughter.  There are few things that make me sadder than the thought of this beautiful animal becoming extinct because of man’s greed.

8. Window washers.  With official unemployment rates at 25%, and unofficial ones even higher, I can understand people looking for ways to make money.  That said, the people who clean my windscreen at the traffic lights have been unreasonably aggressive.  Driving alone with young children, I feel particularly vulnerable to their hostility.

9. Disability.  This is another world of contrasts in South Africa.  There is a young disabled black African girl who frequently sits at the traffic lights close to our home.  Who knows how many years she has been doing this, but she certainly isn’t getting a decent education.  Often you’ll see (presumably) family members leading their disabled companions through traffic to beg.  It is inconceivable that the famous disabled athlete Oscar Pistorius comes from this same country, but with a radically different experience.  Likewise, my autistic daughter’s education is entirely different to if she was born here in rural poverty.

10. Distance.  South Africa is a large country, but this is a HUGE continent.  At times it feels really far from home, and the internet doesn’t always behave as kindly as it could to the homesick.  This country has a wealth of attractions, but it can’t always compete with a 17 hour flight when you’re looking for visitors.

So there you have it.  Johannesburg is like nowhere else, but for us it feels like home.  I’ll probably never feel easy living here, but at least we’re very comfortable.  This post was inspired by a fellow Foreign Service Blogger’s contribution: Fabling.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm