africa 2.0 ends

After 7 years of living on the beautiful African continent our 2nd stint (a.k.a: Africa 2.0) came to an end in June. As a way of reflecting on the past 3 years of life in South Africa, Rob and I sat on the couch in my classroom (on the last day of school in June) and wrote down the top 10 things we WILL and WON’T miss about SA (the pictures are just some of our favorites from this beautiful place we called “home.”)
In no particular order, here are the reasons you should visit South Africa:

1. Great friends. The people are beautiful and they’ll get in your heart… forever.
2. Weather. Hot or cold, there is always a blue sky.
3. Travel and safari. There is so much to see in this vast country. And it’s ALL accessible.
4. Cheap. The rand isn’t doing so hot right now, so it’s incredibly cheap for expats. Your money goes A LONG way here!
5. Alcohol. It’s good. It’s cheap. It’s delicious. Why wouldn’t you have bubbles on a Tuesday night?
6. Dog friendly. People love our crazy medicated dog just as much as we do.
7. Our house and pool. If you visited us… you know what I’m talking about!
8. AISJ. The campus is stunning. The grounds are colorful. And the facilities are top-notch!
9. Convenience. If you can avoid going to a government office, then it’s one of the easiest places we’ve lived.
10. Life is easy. Everything is easy to come by—great doctors; fabulous food; flat roads; and a language we ALL know!

This list was MUCH harder to come by…

The things we WON’T miss about South Africa:
1. Traffic. Taxis. Crap drivers!
2. Load-shedding.
3. Being SO far away from our family and friends! It is a LONG way to get out Africa when you are living in the south.
4. Broken robots (aka traffic lights…which lead back to issue #1)
5. Tipping to park… everywhere!
6. Early, EARLY mornings.
7. Purposeless PGCT.
8. “Now, now” and “Just now.” After 3 years, we still don’t understand the difference.
9. Living far away from the kids’ friends. We were isolated from the student community a bit and that was a challenge.
10. Chaos of our lives. Big city = Busy lives!

one direction

…by Anouk

I got to celebrate my birthday early this year. My dad worked hard to get tickets to the 1D concert here in Johannesburg. He got four tickets. Since he and Xavier didn’t want to go, I got to pick 2 friends to go with me and celebrate my birthday.

It was an outstanding concert!!

We started out by getting on the “party” bus and playing “Heads Up” on my mom’s phone. We were SUPER goofy because we were so excited about our first concert. Though we had seen a video about 1D and how girls cry at the concert, I didn’t think girls would already be doing it. But they were! On the bus. There were women crying before we even got to the stadium.

Once there, my vegetarian friends and I had no trouble dashing past the braai (South African word for BBQ) and hamburgers. The line to get inside was very, very, very long, but it felt quick because Cliana, Chloe, and I danced, sang, and goofed off ’til we got to security.

The first person who sang was named Johnny Apple (He won “South Africa’s Got Talent” in 2013). He was pretty good. But when he was over all we wanted was One Direction.
But they were late. So the crowd sang and danced to “The Macarena,” did “the wave,” and clapped in unison hoping they would come on stage. When they did–it was worth it! We danced and sang and screamed until our voices wore out. The people on the ground threw hats, posters, teddy bears, and even a bra on stage! Harry Styles threw water at the audience and I think the girls probably fainted. (Just in case you don’t know their names, they are Liam, Niall, Harry, and Louis. If you know the band well enough, you’d notice I missed one. That’s because Zayn left the band.

I’m SO excited that excited my dad got tickets. Me and my buddies where giggling for hours. It was  a very fun night and the firework display was really good, like a 3 D movie! My first concert was worth tiredness on sundae.

Here are the photos of her adventure!


the karoo and the beach

“Tricia is coming! Tricia is coming!” Those were the words echoing through the house the week before Spring Break started for us. Not only was Tricia coming, but my friend and colleague, Bronny, had arranged for a trip out of the city–hoorah! With a night arrival, Tricia got here just in time to repack so we could head out to the airport to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

Having read about the Owl House in a travel magazine, Bronny convinced me that this was a not-to-be-missed location, but with 5 of us, there wasn’t space in the small town (read: village) of Nieu Bethesda for us to stay. So after a three hour drive inland past views that made us question whether or not we were in Arizona, we weary travellers arrived at Ganora Guest Farm.

This gorgeous sheep farm lies on the bottom of the Sneeuberg foothills where the owners have lived and sheered for the last 15 years. On the site, Hester has educated her children and sold real estate in Nieu Bethesda while her husband Jan ran the farm and fulfilled his paleontologist cravings by walking the riverbeds of his property. Jan took us on a tour of his small museum where the kids held skulls that pre-date dinosaurs by 50 million years. The skeletons of this area belong to a mammal-like creature called the Gorgonopsia. When we weren’t oogling at the 7,000+ year old bushmen cave paintings or playing with the resident water mongoose, we were dining on amazing farm-to-table delights or lying on the grass and gazing at the constellations.

From Ganora Guest Farm, it was a quick jaunt to the “town” of Nieu Bethesda where we explored the Owl House, the home and art garden of the mentally afflicted, Helen Martins. Though she only lived until 1976, the amazing concrete, metal, and recycled glass creations in the garden were so cutting-edge and ahead of their time. Walking amongst the art gives one a sense of hope and excitement, while the inside of her house felt eerily hopeless despite the colorful crushed glass walls and painted glass.

The village of Nieu Bethesda was incredibly charming and abounding with artists known around South Africa and beyond. After shopping at Annette’s The Cow Jumped Over the Moon shop, we heard that The Brewery and Two Goats Deli was owned and operated by her brother. So we headed over there enjoyed delicious hand-crafted brews with homemade beer breads and goat’s cheese. The kids loved The Brewery because the seats were made out of old tires and the hammock was a double-wide bed hanging from the trees which entertained them for hours. From the archaeologist dig at the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre to the pottery creations of  Charmaine Haines–Nieu Bethesda was a total African experience!

After our time in the Karoo, we drove another couple of hours to Port Alfred, a small town in the Eastern Cape. This being the regular vacation destination of my South African colleague, Jackie, we were sent with a list of a dozen places to go, people to see, and locations to dine at. The town is steeped in British colonialism with a contemporary mix of Xhosa artists. The area is home to the oldest pub in South Africa (the Pig and Whistle) and a dozen beautiful craft and artisan shops. The oddest peculiarity of the region is the Big Pineapple of Bathurst. The Big Pineapple honors the first crop that was successfully grown in the region–the pineapple. It was also home to the International Pineapple Symposium in 2005–who knew such a thing existed?!?!

The highlight of the kids’ journey was the downtime spent at the coast in Hangklip-Kleinmond. From our stay at the Purfikt House, the kids were able to play in the cold ocean waters, explore the beach’s tidepools, (attempt) to sand board down the dunes, and dip their feet in the (slightly warmer) East and West River that lie parallel to one another just a stone’s through from the house.

All in all, we had a great excursion and we look forward to continuing our exploration of the outskirts of South Africa!

travelling tales

After 18 months of living in South Africa we hadn’t travelled around much. Though we’ve explored the city’s great restaurants, bars, and shops, we’d never explored the highlights outside of the city–safari, wineries, coastal regions, etc.

So… when Bomma said she was coming to visit us, we decided to get the heck out of town and explore the gorgeous Cape.
As school got out for the holiday, we raced to drop the dog off at the kennel, and zoomed to the airport. Arriving at 5 Camp Street late at night didn’t give us a true picture of all the beauty that lay beyond. In the shadows of Table Mountain, we enjoyed Cape Town, a city quite reminiscent of San Francisco. Small winding streets weave in to one another as we explored the glorious ocean, tourist highlights, delicious restaurants, and amazing wine (my favorite being No. 8). We enjoyed it all! From the penguins at Boulder Beach to the Cape of Good Hope, from the brightly colored houses of the Muslim Quarter to the ocean views at the V&A Waterfront–it was all amazing! We’ve got a list of “must-sees” for next time (to the top of Table Mountain, swimming with sharks, and whale watching).

In December, our dear friends, the Carpenters, came to South Africa to visit us. We had a great time catching up over delicious meals (they live in Moscow and can sometimes struggle to have exciting cuisine) and fabulous wine! The highlight of our time together was our trip to Djuma Private Game Reserve near Kruger National Park. A 6-hour drive from Johannesburg, Djuma is an oasis with its own watering hole. Vastly different than Kenyan safaris, Djuma’s landscape is hot and thick. Spotting wildlife can be tricky, but we didn’t seem to have too many challenges.  We saw 3 of the big 5 in one beautiful photo (elephant, buffalo, and rhino) and came upon a pride of lions at night on our first game drive.

On our first morning game drive, we spent time following a female leopard in hopes that she would lead us to her baby (nobody had yet seen the baby she was pregnant with just weeks before). Though we didn’t meet her baby, we got pretty up close and personal with her (see the video below).

Though the lions, zebra, elephants, and dung beetles were all amazing in their own right, our collective highlight had to be the 100+ vultures eating a dead buffalo. Having never seen the way vultures interact with one another made this experience so truly brilliant. But animals aside, our time celebrating Christmas with the Carpenters made us feel not so alone. It may not have been a “white” Christmas–but it was pretty damn amazing!


It’s been a difficult week for the world as Madiba takes his final walk to freedom. But we are all much better for his presence on Earth and that is clearly evident in all we have witnessed in the last four days here in Johannesburg. Beyond the constant radio tributes and commercial spots paying him homage, the city and all of South Africa seems to be stopping to give thanks, smile more genuinely at one another, and pay their respects by striving to live his lessons. Even at 7 am on a Sunday morning, his house in Houghton (not his museum  house in the township of Soweto), was teeming with people grieving for our world’s loss.

At school, my students and I read Chris van Wyk and Paddy Bouma’s abridged children’s story Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom while trying to figure out what the zulu word, UBUNTU meant. The word ubuntu is one that Mandela referred to often and literally translates to “human kindness.” During Apartheid, ubuntu developed in to an ideology called Ubuntuism but became commonly used internationally once Mandela became president in 1994.
As a philosophy, ubuntu is something we should all achieve for. To look for the virtue, goodness, and kindness in one another’s human nature. To that end, my students and I reflected on how WE could demonstrate ubuntu. According to them, it doesn’t take much:
  • “Be caring to people.”
  • “Hug a person when they’re sad.”
  • “Say, ‘Thank you!'”
  • “Don’t judge people.”
  • “Be principled even when it’s hard to do the right thing.”

the good, the bad, and the soaking wet

As I sit here on the last days of my October holiday, I have time (mixed with the desire to procrastinate on report card writing) to sit back and take stock of the amazing adventures we’ve had in the last few months. I do this while my senses are at their peak: my tongue is teased by the delicious mixture of grapes from the Southern Cape while I drink one of South Africa’s brilliant wines; my nose and eyes are burning with the smoke of our braai (the SA word for BBQ) as Rob prepares the charcoal for our regular weekend cook-out; and my ears are reaching for the distant sound of thunder as the summer storms (with their amazing light shows) are only about an hour from descending and deluging our humble abode.


We are lucky! We may be overwhelmed by the new move and the chaos of it all, but we know we are lucky.

Here is some of the chaos we are finding particularly challenging:

  • our HUGE school, which is going through an array of development transitions, is so big we don’t know who to talk to about what. That, and the changes it’s going through, makes the answer to nearly every question, “Well, it used to be…”
  • new colleagues, new rules, new curriculum, new students, new parents, and a TON of new names!
  • buying a new-to-us car
  • commuting 20-30 minutes to work (when, for the last 5 years, we’ve usually just been a short walk away!)
  • waiting [sometimes not so patiently] over 8 weeks to get internet, satellite, and working phone service
  • organizing essential tasks (like making dinner, doing homework, and organizing lunches) around our crazy schedules that has the four of us leaving the house by 6:00 am and getting home around 5:30 pm–we have had it really effortless for quite some time!
  • sharing the road with ridiculous taxis (which you may remember as matatus from the Kenya days) who abide by no road rules and stop in front of you without warning
  • trying to find a semblance of patience when the robots (or traffic lights) are out and the already terrible traffic jam becomes a near stand-still 4-way stop
  • the awareness that this is NOT Kenya and so our idea of, “The settling in process will be easier…” had to be laid aside
  • making new friends (a comment from the kids)
  • and the list can go on and on and on…
But all that noted, we are also quite amazed by the great things that bring us joy:
  • our school is physically lovely. Additionally, they have a brilliant vision and mission to give back to the country of South Africa, specifically to our local community of Diepsloot . They do this in a variety of ways, but I am most proud to work at a school that offers scholarships to 5-7 local township kids in 7th grade and pays their tuition (as well as room and board) through to their high school graduation!
  • how quickly our dog gained back weight and confidence once arriving here in our new home (though if her crazy wacky ways return, we have also made friends with a dog trainer!)
  • making new friends
  • having a pool at our house
  • the kids have their own rooms (though the current décor has left a lot to be desired)
  • the lightening storms are brilliant
  • variety! After spending 3 years in Indonesia we are amazed at the variety you can find here. Everything you can imagine is available (at a price). From breads, wines, and cheeses to game meats, pool equipment, and animal skins–most things can be purchased just minutes from our house (and even from the convenience of our own car!)
  • and the list can go on and on and on…
All those great things, though, cannot undo the number of unforeseen (and noteworthy) challenges we’ve faced. Getting internet, satellite, and a car proved far more complicated than we had anticipated. The satellite saga was so funny, I shared it with my students as way of modelling how to write a story in which the problem gets worse before it gets better. And internet. Ugh! Though we have it now, we’re still waiting for a refund from a company who said they could offer the service but couldn’t once they came to the house. But now that we have internet at home it has lessened some of the work strain and helped us reconnect with all of you loved ones!
But nothing was quite as challenging as the Friday we came home from school to a nanny who left early, the furniture company delivering our new bookshelves, a son with a high-fever, and a busted stop-valve in our master bathroom. Having never dealt with this in any of the homes we’ve lived in before, I must say, Rob and I did surprisingly well. After figuring out how to turn off our water main, we then we used the ever-popular “stomp-and-collect” method of soaking up water (think about Lucy and Ethell when they are stomping grapes and it should give you a visual of our cleaning method) and then twisting out towels in the bathtub. It was quite a feat (especially trying to get water out of the carpet), but also something we laughed about instantly (with a glass of wine in our hands!).
Over our holiday break we also made a pledge to do (virtually) no work. In lieu of work we lazed about, read books, made Halloween costumes and went on a short trip to Pilanesberg National Park. One of only 3 alkaline volcanoes in the world, Pilanesberg was formed over 2,000 million years ago when a huge volcano (even taller than Mt. Kilimanjaro) began erupting. The amazing geological aftermath is pretty staggering for those interested in geology. For those of us more interested in animals, visiting Pilanesberg is fascinating because its concentric rings and hills have created a number of different vegetation which, in turn, provides safe haven for a variety of animals. On our first-ever self-drive safari we were able to see giraffe, kudu, duiker, impala, springbok and klipspringer antelopes, zebra, wildebeest, warthog, baboon, a herd of elephants with two babies, two cheetah with a kill, and the elusive jackal. To top it all off, we camped–like real camping! After 13 years of marriage, we have never really camped. Yeah, we’ve done the tented camp thing on safari in Kenya, but with heated water bottles at the foot of the bed and running water that’s more like the the Shangri-La of camping. In Pilanesberg, it was real camping–tents, sleeping bags, annoying toads that belched all night, and RAIN! We (as well as our sanity, our marriage, and our children’s lives) survived. And we’re already planning the next camping adventure.
 Now, with just hours before bed and the start of another crazy week at AISJ, I will sign-off. I promise my next blog will be sooner and it should include some nice reminiscing details about adventures of our time with grandma and grandpa!

alive and well in Africa

Sorry about this delayed blog post. The internet “dongle” we are using at home doesn’t seem to like our house and it can’t regularly find a wireless connection to tap in to. Additionally, I think our house is in a vortex of communication suckage in that we can’t seem to get a great connection on our mobile phones either. No worries– that will all come in time. In any case, I’m at school now. I’m connected. And here’s the update:

The landscape of Johannesburg is dramatically different from that in Nairobi. Remember how we all envisioned Nairobi to be arid and dry upon arrival? Well, winter in Joburg is just that. Apparently, the combination of weather, altitude, and air pressure stagnate all the vegetation during the winter so everything stops growing until Spring (which begins in late September/early October).

The roads are such a contrast to those in Nairobi–these are flat, beautiful, and HUGE! We have moved to a massive metropolis. The city is bustling, the roads are robust, and the music is bumping. The one oddity we’ve seen thus far is that the shopping (including most grocery stores) close by 6 pm when a mass exodus begins and the taxis (which we remember from Kenya as matatus) all escort the local workforce back to their communities.

The house we are in is amazing! It’s a new build in the area of Fourways. Our house is just minutes away from grocery shopping, restaurants, good shopping spots, and a MASSIVE casino! We are in a lovely community a stone’s throw from old friends and new. The kids have met others they will go to school with next year and those that will be their neighborhood friends. We feel like we live at the UN with the number of accents and nationalities we live and work with—it’s wonderful to be part of such a diverse community.

As you may be able to see in the pictures, the house has a nice size living room and dining space with a gorgeous fireplace that’s getting a bit of a work out. Off the living room are three bedrooms and 2 baths. They do not compare (in size) with the bedrooms in Indonesia but the finishing is lovely and the house needs very little preparation for our shipment’s arrival. Just off the living room are two doors that open up on to a spacious garden. The covered area behind our fire place houses a built-in braai (the South African word for BBQ) which we tested out tonight. We are on the hunt for some outdoor furniture as we can envision many a dinner outside next to our pool. Yes, you heard that—we lucked out and got a house with a pool! Though some may consider it a fish pond, we believe that it will cool our weary minds after a long hot day at school!

The back garden is beautifully landscaped and the side garden has a lemon tree in hibernation. We are on the prowl for an outdoor dog house for our little Mele who will arrive here on the first day of school (if, of course, the pet movers don’t screw up the paper work… again!) It appears as if we won’t have regular house help so Mele is going to have to learn how to be an outside dog!

Walking in the front door and up the stairs is a family room space which is soon to house our couch, TV, piano, etc. The room has lovely windows that overlook the back garden and an indoor balcony that looks down on the living space below. But the pièce de résistance is the huge balcony built on top of our 2-car garage. The balcony overlooks the city of Johannesburg with little obstruction! Without a doubt, this space will come in handy whether it’s for enjoying the view and a glass of Merlot during a sundowner or doing some yoga early in the a.m.

Anyway, it’s time to get back to work.

Next update will be about our school which is…AMAZING!