Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘Johannesburg

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May 14, 2014 at 8:04 am

Wordless Wednesday 11 Dec 13

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm

R is for R & R

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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

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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

Adventures with Phineas and Ferb

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It is tough being the sibling of a child with special needs.  It is even tougher if you have some special needs yourself, in a similar-but-different way to your big sister.  Ask Cubby.  It seems like his formative years have been spent watching his sister in therapy, then having to go through the same thing himself.

So when your world is chaotic, and you don’t always have as much attention as you like, you tend to attach yourself to something that you really care about: a special interest.  A thing that marks you out from others.  A way of expressing yourself.  A way of being yourself, independent of all those other demands.

Cubby used to adore Thomas The Train/ Tank Engine, but as he has developed, he has opened up to other interests.  He likes cars (and Cars), super heroes, and Phineas and Ferb.

Although it is shown on South African TV, I had no idea Phineas and Ferb was big here until I heard they were coming to our local mall a couple of weeks ago.  I knew what we were going to do that day- we were going to meet them!

I collected Pudding and Cubby from school, and explained to them what was going to happen.  I explained that there might be bright lights and loud noises.  Probably lots of people and waiting in line.  They still seemed game.

When we got there, I knew it was an experiment in sensory overload.  We waited gingerly on the periphery as I tried to figure out a plan of action.  The queue was pretty big, as families waited in line to get their photo taken with Phineas and Ferb.  It was free, so some older kids had wised up to this, and kept cutting in to go round and round again.

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All fun and games for Phineas and Ferb until we spectrummy three turn up.

Cubby made it clear that he was not going home, and Pudding seemed to be okay too.  We joined the line.  I tried to make as much space around us as possible, as we don’t like being touched by strangers.  That isn’t the majestic plural either- I hate it every bit as much as my kids.  Of course, some scheming local kids decided to take advantage of the space around us by filling in the gap, but as long as we made it (eventually) to the front, I wasn’t too concerned.

One of the unfortunate aspects of hypotonia, is that Pudding and Cubby’s muscles tire easily (except when I want them to tire out, of course), which makes standing around for a long time particularly uncomfortable.  They decided to lie down, which didn’t exactly help with the whole people cutting in front of us thing.  Nor did it do wonders for my stress levels, but we somehow made it to the front unscathed.

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What, you are tying to touch me back?! 

 

I had assumed that Pudding wouldn’t want to actually meet Phineas and Ferb, but she surprised me by telling me that she would- and that she was going to touch them.  For a tactile sensory-seeker, there is no concept of not touching giant felt people.  What she hadn’t counted on, however, was that Phineas also wanted a hug/ handhake/ high 5.

No.

Only Japanese cats with no mouths would be granted such largesse.  As she explained to Phineas, Ferb, and the rest of South Africa:

“NO YOU*DON’T WANT PHINEAS AND FERB- YOU* WANT HELLO KITTY.”

Pudding still has a lot of trouble with her pronouns, but I don’t discount the possibility that she was actually commanding the promoters and people of Johannesburg to replace this duo with her esteemed special interest.

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You might thing this is bad photography, but I swear this is what it looked like.

 

A couple of women rushed on to the stage to help out, but unless I wanted things to get really out of hand, the only way to calm things down was to scoop Pudding up and remove her from the stage.  I was going to let Cubby have his moment!

I left a bewildered Cubby to hold hands with his heroes and have his picture taken.  It was awesome too- but I can’t find it anywhere.  Afterwards we found some beanbags to crash on.  The kids got the proprioceptive fix they needed, and after a few moments, we were all regulated again.

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Take that- sensory overload!

 

We were all calm enough to draw on special Phineas and Ferb paper.  Again, Pudding chastised a confused staff member for not having Hello Kitty paper.

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Ooh, you can see his photo in this picture- told you it was a good one!

All was well.  My breathing had returned to normal.  Pudding decided to tell me then that it was,

“…Pudding’s turn.  Want to go to Hello Kitty now.”

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She knows what we’re going to do today!

And you know, she was right.  Because it is tough being the sibling of a child with special needs.  It is even tougher if you have some special needs yourself, in a similar-but-different way to your little brother.

In our never-ending game of ping-pong, in which we parents are the ball- it was Pudding’s turn to be served.  I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Ten Things About Johannesburg

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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

Including Pudding

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It had been a long day after another long night.  So long, in fact, that I’m writing about this day in the past historic tense, even though it was today.  Yes, today was that long.

My last task of the day (not really, but my last driving task of the day) was taking Pudding to her swimming lesson.  We go twice a week, and normally I don’t mind taking her.  Seeing her so happy in the water makes up for the inconvenience of going there.  And there is inconvenience.

Sometimes it comes in the form of Cubby, who always feels like he wants to come with us, until we get there and he remembers that sitting on a bench and keeping quiet is the opposite of what he wants to do.  Most times I’ll cave in and take him, but occasionally he chooses to stay with Ms. Leia until Daddy gets home.  Today, thankfully was one of those days, because with a nasty croupy cough, things could have been much, much worse.

Most of the time, the inconvenience comes in the form of driving the mean streets of Johannesburg.  There are all kinds of hazards to deal with, to the point that most days I’m convinced I’ve been sucked into a virtual reality game.  If I’m not avoiding kombi buses as they swerve across the lanes while continuously beeping their horns, I’m trying to avoid the erratic truck in front with about 15 men and building equipment piled into the back, or it could be a mother distracted by her toddler IN THE FRONT SEAT, NO CHILD SEAT OR SEAT BELT!!!

Worst of all, though, are the windscreen washers at the lights in this particular route.  That sounds nice, doesn’t it?  Someone offering to clean your windshield as you wait for the lights to change?  No.  It is an act of aggression.  No matter how you shake your head and say no, one of these guys will pull your wipers up, then soapy water will be sprayed on your clean windscreen.  And then if you don’t pay (because security has advised you to NEVER open your window, or in any way encourage this kind of activity), they will threaten you, try to pull off your wipers so you can do nothing about the fact that you can’t see, the lights are about to change, and the aforementioned erratic drivers are honking at you to move.

But I do it twice a week because Pudding loves it, and I’ve written here and here and here about what swimming means to her, and me by extension.

But today, the longest day after the longest night, the 15 minute journey took 50 minutes.  It had been raining all day, and traffic was even worse than usual.  Even though it was still raining, the windscreen washers were still out.  I managed to avoid an incident this time, but my heckles were up.

Pudding’s lesson is only twenty minutes long, with two boys also on the autism spectrum.  There are other lessons immediately before and afterwards, and it is a tightly run ship.  Even though we’d left the house earlier than usual, we arrived just at the end of the alloted time.  I predicted that Pudding wouldn’t be able to swim, but thought I’d try our luck anyway.

Her teacher graciously allowed Pudding to join the next class.  I wasn’t sure how well she would do.  This class had two other girls and two boys, and they were all neurotypical.  I watched her closely to see what would happen.

“New friends, ” she announced, and didn’t try to touch anyone, even though one girl was wearing a Hello Kitty swimsuit.  So, yes, her attention did wander a couple of times, but perhaps not even as much as usual.

And get this: when the teacher constructed a foam diving board, and had the kids walk and jump off it she…didn’t do the same.  She got down on her bottom and scooched along.  A pretty good method for someone whose balance is challenged and can only jump on the spot, not off something.  I wasn’t the only one who thought so, because Girl in Hello Kitty did likewise.

But then, get this: she did it!  She watched the other kids and imitated them perfectly.  She pushed herself to do something that she has never done before, and I’m pretty sure that was because of her peers in the group.

Now, lately, I’ve been mulling over the idea of inclusion.  Pudding has so far exclusively been educated in autism-specific environments.  There are pros and cons to inclusion, and I’m not certain that it would be The Right Thing for Pudding.  But when I see her step up and take a leap like that, it makes me think I should be ready to do the same.  I’ll write more about why this will be such a battle, but for now, just consider that including Pudding made this long, long day turn out to be not so bad after all.  Still, I’m ready for it to finally be tomorrow.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm