Monday, July 26, 2010

First Impressions

Over the last few days we have had some opportunities to explore the surrounding areas of Johannesburg. We actually live in a suburb of JoBurg called Edenvale. It is a very strange area as it is newly developed with nice condo complexes and homes as well as new shopping areas, restaurants and a mall but right next door is an industrial area and a large hideous power plant (this picture is from the view of a nearby restaurant and shows our condo community with the lovely power plant in the background-Trent says it reminds him of The Simpsons).

Everywhere you go there are people standing in the middle of the street selling things such as sunglasses, socks, stuffed animals, really anything you can imagine and they come right up to your window and pretty much beg you to buy from them. During a 20 minute drive we told about 15 vendors "no thank you" and one even chased the car to the stop light still trying to get us to buy his Adidas socks! It's a bit upsetting and slightly annoying but its something you must just get used to. What I don't think I will ever get used to is the "shanty towns" (spelling ?) which is where the poorest of the poor live. Their "homes" are literally plywood shacks and there is garbage everywhere. It makes you very grateful not only to have a real roof over your head but to live in a country, while not perfect, seems to provide better for it's people. I spoke with a "white" South African extensively today and listened to his view on the politics and mentality of this country and the "black" population. From his perspective it is not an issue of superior/inferior but of a weak government and the unwillingness of a large population of people to put in the work and effort needed to better themselves and grow with the changing times. There are two sides to every story and I plan to get a different view as well before I form my own opinions :)

From what I have seen so far it is very pretty here; however, it is very dry and everything is dead. In the Spring (which begins in September) it rains quite a bit and from what I have been told it will become very green. I am anxious to see this as presently I feel like I am somewhere between AZ and the Big Island. There is a nasty haze over the city which I would love to believe is fog but is actually pollution. There is a lot of people living here and from what I can tell so far "eco-friendly" is not a familiar term in this part of the world! Recycling seems to be a foreign concept and it makes me very sad to throw away my "Coke Light's" (that's what they call Diet Coke) and water bottles into the garbage. I wish I could donate all my cans/bottles to the people living in the "shanty towns" and they could earn 5 cents a can like in Hawaii but here the cans and bottles aren't worth anything :(

They drive absolutely crazy here and although there are rules of the road they don't seem to apply to anyone! Pedestrians do not have the right away and you will get run over if you try to cross the street! Trent has become accustomed to the driving here and has learned to drive like a South African. I have to close my eyes half the time in order to avoid being a back seat driver! I am happy to report it is the law to wear your seat belt here and we are all still alive!

The highlight of the whole trip to date was our visit to the Lion Park and the Crocodile farm. At the Lion Park they have a small section that has gated areas like a zoo and in one section you can actually go inside and pet the baby lions. You can also feed the giraffe's which was a fun but gross experience. Their tongues are like a foot long and they wrap their rough tongues around your hand to bring the food to their mouths.
The kids loved it and the giraffe's were very pleased with their snack. After we left the "zoo" section of the park we got in our car to drive through a small preserve to see an actual lion habitat. What an experience! This picture is the first lioness we met and as you can see she is in a position to pounce, which she did the minute our car got close to her. Photobucket
She jumped on our car and even chased us for awhile! Although, we were safely enclosed in our little car it was still a frightening experience and the kids wanted to leave immediately! We drove around a little longer and saw beautiful lions that were not nearly as threatened by us in fact they didn't even budge when we came near. Unfortunately, we had to drive by the nasty lion again and sure enough she attacked us the minute we passed her! I attempted to get video but when she jumped on the car I freaked out and missed the photo op! After we left that section of the park we drove through the calmer side of the preserve and saw zebras and antelopes which was nice but not nearly as exciting!

On the way home from Lion Park we stopped at a crocodile farm! I held a 10ft Burmese Python!
Aiden and I both held a Milk snake, baby crocodile and a tarantula! We also saw giant crocodiles that were large enough to eat us. Our guide was very informative and it was a fun little tour. Trent kept a safe distance from the reptiles and we were unable to convince him to touch even the harmless ones!

My dear friend Molly, asked some very important questions that I thought I should address for everyone's benefit! They do have places to get pedicures and although, the only beauty salon I have seen so far is for individuals with a different hair texture, Trent assures me that their is a white girl salon nearby! The food here is very fresh and is not full of preservatives and hormones! So things go bad very quickly but the flavor is better. There are a lot of the same foods here but many things have different names, especially the candy. M&M's are called Smarties and Whoppers are called Whispers and they taste a lot better! They call zucchini, baby marrows and BBQ sauce (which is on everything from hamburgers to steak) is called Monkey Gland, appetizing right? The menu's are full of things I have never heard of such as Rocket (which I just learned is a type of lettuce) and my pancakes came with some kind of Greek yogurt instead of butter. I still have a lot to learn before I can eat comfortably! When I made a grocery list for Trent he just started to laugh. Not only are many of the items I requested non-existent (i.e. baked tortilla chips and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese) he would have to go to 3 different stores to get everything I wanted because the stores here carry specific things.

Sorry for the wordy post! Everything is so foreign and new to us I just have to write it all down! What an experience. I am still a little anxious about the prospect of "living" here, but I definitely recommend this place for a visit! We have an extra bedroom!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Making Friends

My little social butterflies have been on the lookout for kids in the neighborhood to play with as a life without friends is meaningless to them. So every time we spot a child out the window the kids will run down the 3 flights of stairs to try and catch them! Yesterday one got away before the kids reached the bottom and they were very disappointed! Today I spotted a little boy and girl that looked to be the right age walking through the parking lot. I yelled to Aiden and Anna that there were kids outside and my little darlings were dressed and outside faster than lightening! It was so fun to watch them out the window slowly creep toward the children trying to find a way to introduce themselves. The little girl walked up to them and they began talking and then she went back to a group of children a building over. Aiden and Anna watched them for quite sometime and kept looking up at our window for reassurance! Aiden finally walked over to the group but just a few seconds later started heading back home. Anna came running after him. When they came back into the house Anna was beaming and said her friend asked her to walk to the little park but Aiden looked crestfallen. He said the boys told him they didn't want to play and then he started to cry. It broke my heart to see him so sad and confused. Aiden would play with anyone and so I know that he could not understand why these boys would respond this way. Anna went back downstairs with her new friend, Kia, and Aiden just stayed inside sulking. When Anna and Kia came inside to get snacks to take to the park Aiden decided he would go with them. I armed them with tootsie rolls and twizzlers and told Aiden that he will make friends instantly if he offers to share his candy! As I watched out the window I was ecstatic to see Aiden and Anna with 2 girls and 1 boy head over to the park (grandparents, I can see them from my window so don't worry). A little while later Aiden came running back to the house to get a drink and to announce that he has a new friend! They have all been playing together for the last couple of hours and it is such an awesome sight to watch them create friendships so quickly, especially with children from other cultures! A moment ago, I heard Anna calling out to Kia to wait up and I detected a new accent!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

22 hours later...

After 22 hours of travel the kids and I arrived safely in Johannesburg, South Africa! The flight from Atlanta to JoBurg was more than 15 hours but it was not nearly as painful as I anticipated. There was a TV in front of each seat with several movies and TV shows to choose from and they feed you constantly. Plus with a little Dramamine the kids slept for probably 9 hours of the flight! When we arrived at the Johannesburg airport we expected to find Trent at baggage but he was nowhere to be seen. I was a little perturbed at first and kind of surprised that he was not there waiting anxiously. It took all my strength to pull off all 6 bags. I put 3 of the largest bags on a cart for Aiden to push, I strapped together 3 of the bags and pulled those and Anna pulled our carry on. I was a little afraid to leave the airport and wait outside for Trent (being in a foreign country and all) so I found a security guard and asked her if my husband might be waiting somewhere else. I was relieved (and annoyed at the JoBurg airport) to find out that non-traveling persons are not allowed in the baggage area and that he could be found waiting outside the exit door. Of course this is a huge airport and it took us a while to get to the exit but once we got through the electric doors there was Trent on time and anxiously awaiting our arrival! Aiden was so excited that he left the cart of luggage and ran to Trent! It had been two long months since we had seen him so it was a much overdue reunion!

We did not get in until 9pm so I have not been able to see much yet. The condo we are living in is on the 3rd story (not fun when you have 6-50lb bags) and has 3 bedrooms. It is a brand new condo with nice but minimal furnishings. We have a very small washer/dryer and oven and no dishwasher! There is white tile and wood flooring throughout the house! I am excited to report we have a cleaning person named Pretty, that comes 3 days a week! I can definitely get used to that! It is a double gated community with security that walks the property 24 hours a day (I just saw him walk through the parking lot for the 3rd time since I woke up this morning) so needless to say I feel very safe here. We have satellite so the kids (and myself) are relieved to know that they have Nick and Disney! I am using a plug in prepaid internet connection which is very slow but I am grateful to still have access to the World Wide Web!

Presently, I am feeling slightly overwhelmed and anxious. The reality of being in a foreign country so far from home has began to sink in. Although, I have access to a vehicle it is a manual transmission and the wheel is on the wrong side of the car! Plus they drive on the opposite side of the road. So with the combination of being afraid to drive and not knowing where anything is I am feeling a little claustrophobic. The kids and I are so used to go go go that we don't know how to stay put. They have asked several times what we are doing today and all I want to do is crawl back into bed. Fortunately, Trent thinks he will be home early today. It is such a funny feeling to be eagerly awaiting for Trent to come home. I have always been so independent and since he has been away for most of the year I have become accustomed to doing everything myself and being alone with the kids. But seeing as he is the only other person we know in this country and he has become familiar with the area we are desperately waiting for his return! Although, I am suffering from jet lag I am excited to see what JoBurg has to offer. I am not sure yet what we are going to do today but the sky's the limit! I am grateful Trent will be our tour guide and body guard! I have already experienced some culture shock and am feeling very naive. It is difficult to know who to trust. Just last night as we were attempting to pay our parking fee at the airport a man came up and offered to get us out of the parking garage for less money then we owed and then began to push our luggage cart and told us to follow him to our car. As I looked at Trent for reassurance I realized he wasn't so sure what the man's intentions were either. Of course my first thought is this man is going to take our luggage and my purse is on that cart. So I grabbed my purse! I was trying to appear as if I needed it as I was worried I would give him the impression that I was afraid! The car was only about three spots away from where we were paying and the man helped us load the truck with all of our luggage, even climbing in to rearrange the bags to make them all fit. By this point I realized he was just looking for a tip and not my belongings and I felt very foolish. On the drive home Trent told me that everywhere we go, there are locals trying to sale things and do things for you to make money and that they are a bit relentless. Oh the things we have to look forward to!

There are two other lineman wives here and it will be great to meet them. I believe they spend the day doing things together so it will be nice to have some friends! We are also excited to attend church and meet people that way. I want to find out everything I can about this country and the culture here. I will also hopefully find out about opportunities to volunteer and how we can be of service. I am planning on homeschooling the children but if I can find a nice school in the area I am tempted to send them not only for my sanity but so they can make friends and learn more about this country. Although it would be easy to treat this trip as a vacation and just relax and sight see I plan to take advantage of this opportunity to grow and become our very best!