biltong101

A Polish expat in Cape Town, South Africa. A somewhat humorous blog. Ha ha.

All Things Polish in Cape Town

IMG_8689.JPGYou’d think that a country like South Africa is quite far away from Poland and therefore there’d be almost no Polish people here. This isn’t true and surprisingly there’s a reasonable size Polish diaspora in Cape Town and a much bigger one in Johannesburg. In today’s post I’ll tell you a bit about Polish people living here and other Polish things you can find in Cape Town.

I have no idea about the actual statistics for Cape Town in terms of Polish people living here. In my years here I personally encountered around a hundred Polish people. Most are female and the story often goes: they left Poland for U.K./Ireland, they met an SA man there, the soetie* misses home and they moved to Cape Town together. Apart from Poles Poles, there are also people who are children and grandchildren of immigrants. Their Polish is usually surprisingly good, especially in case of the first generation.

I’ve met a lot of nice Polish girls but I haven’t met my Polish bff yet. Our Polish connections are initially full of excitement initially as we speak the same language and then sometimes it turns out there’s not much more we have in common. The language incentive is very strong in a country like South Africa, where it’s not every day that you can speak your mother tongue. Still, I have some friends and acquaintances whose way of thinking and being is similar to mine and whose company I really enjoy. I also really liked having Polish coworkers in an international office and being able to gossip about things in the office out loud with no one understanding us.

I guess my biggest problem with relating to Polish people here is the Catholic religion. The Polish community is very much connected to the church. I really don’t mind other people going but it’d be nice if the Polish events weren’t so strongly connected to what’s happening in the church. The afternoon tea or coffee is always happening before or after the mass, close to the church. The Polish library is also located just next to the church and only opens on Sundays (the mass day). Even if the person who helps with the library would like to have it more separated and let people benefit from the Polish culture without necessarily using church services, as much as it’s possible, it doesn’t seem to be encouraged. Polish people I’ve met here, however, are mostly non-aggressive with their religious views. Once or twice someone told me that they’ll see me in church, assuming that I must be a believer and one time a lady was outraged I lived with my husband before marriage. Even though she got married at the ripe age of almost 40 she didn’t live with her husband before getting married because her family (note: not her) was very religious. Whatever floats your boat, my dear. I very much enjoyed the perks of sexual liberation in my life.

From the more formal point of view, there’s a Polish school for kids. There’s no embassy in Cape Town but the Consul comes to visit every two-three months to assist with formalities. I got my new passport via this service but my husband unfortunately had to fly to Pretoria to get his Schengen visa when we were visiting Poland. There’s also a semi-formal Facebook group for Polish women (mostly because Polish men don’t seem to be a thing here).

Polish_gherkins

Apart from Polish people one may also encounter Polish food in Cape Town. There are occasional food events organized by the Polish Association (of course, on the church premises). There’s no Polish restaurant unfortunately but one may still get by. There are ladies making and selling pierogi (=a kind of dumplings) and if you’re more patient you can easily make pierogi yourself from local ingredients. Spar sells amazing crunchy gherkins with the Polish flag on the jar that taste like home. You can buy Polish herring too. Some Polish sweets are also available at Checkers. Once I saw prunes in chocolate but it’s the chocolate products by Wawel that are regularly present on the shelves. If anyone reading it craves an apple pie (=szarlotka), I know ┬ásomeone who’s half-Polish and makes amazing apple pies. Otherwise the Poles here have to rely on packages from Poland, friends visiting the motherland or their own visits to Poland or England to stock up on supplies.

It’s quite nice to have an opportunity to speak Polish from time to time and I really get excited if I manage to eat some Polish food. At the same time, I’m interested in integration more than organizing my little Poland here so I’m quite happy that there are not as many Polish people here as in England or Ireland.

Moving to the (Su)burbs

suburbsCape Town is pumping with things to do and places to go. Many of these places are in town, in the so-called CBD. Many young people tend to live there, because they want to be close to where everything is happening. I spent 6 years moving around such areas. Some of them are a bit up on the mountain, others are closer to the ocean. I had a preference for the latter. I used to pay really reasonable money for staying in such places, but the rental increased quite significantly in the last 3 years (much more than by the 10% annual inflation). Eventually, you reach the point when it’s just not worth it anymore because the money you use on rent could be used on things you like more than being able to walk to a theater (like traveling for instance).

For me, the decision to move to the burbs was maybe more difficult than for some. When I was a teenager my mother had this brilliant idea in which her and my grandmother sold their apartments and we bought a house in a village, which by now is a burb of Warsaw. Of course, my mom didn’t consult me on that. She took me away from my friends and school at a walking distance to somewhere where it took me around 3 hours daily to commute with public transport. I hated it. I hated it even more during my studies when I felt I stayed too close too Warsaw to move out. If I wanted to party I needed to find a friend’s house, or a bathtub, to crash at for the night. I’ve been hating the burbs ever since and now I moved here out of my own free will.

Perhaps the particular place we moved to is not as bad as my mother’s place. It’s more like 15 minute drive from town than 45. My home burb for entertainment had only vodka and incest on offer. Observatory has a number of restaurants, bars, a theater and other activities such as improv comedy classes and kung fu (just to give you the most random examples). It also has a certain bohemian vibe to it which is nice. What’s less nice is that a lot of students are attracted to this vibe and it makes you feel old when you go out. I like the fact that we’re paying less for a house here than we were paying for a flat in the CBD (and much less than we would have been paying had we stayed there after the increase).

Unfortunately, lower rental prices also mean higher crime rates. We were quite unlucky in our first three weeks of tenancy in Observatory and we had our car stolen as well as experiencing a semi-burglary with someone getting access to one of our rooms through a closed window, despite the burglar bars. This doesn’t mean that a typical inhabitant of the area has their stuff disappearing as often as we did, it is just to say that opportunistic crime is very much present in the area. People hire paid security companies, install alarms in their houses and get electric fences. The rule of thumb is: make your house more secure than your neighbor’s. Perhaps it sounds horrible and pragmatic but that’s what people do around here. Of course, I didn’t enjoy being stolen from. In fact, I was very disturbed, bleak and my anxiety is still increased after these events. I will not go crazy, though and let fear guide me. I am also still not buying a pepper spray!

People associate burbs with the family vibe and indeed, we have here, basically, the whole family of my husband. I was a bit freaked out by it initially but fortunately, they’re chilled and they don’t do unexpected visits, which my mother was famous for in Warsaw after I moved out. I was close to hiding a gentleman in a wardrobe once, as she was insisting on coming upstairs during yet another unexpected call. Eventually I managed to meet her downstairs instead, blaming my flatmate for her inability to visit us on such a short notice. Anywaaaay, the life in the burbs is also associated with starting a family. However, the thought of having a dog and/or a baby still freaks me out. I did have an idea about getting a puppy but then I was lucky enough to puppy sit for someone and I realized it’s a lot of effort and what for? I feel similarly about babies. The stories we hear from our friends who already have them make me feel a bit weak in my knees. I occasionally get broody but the thought of having no time for myself or for our relationship puts me in my place. Also, you can never get rid of a child. What if you don’t want it after you had it? Don’t love it? What if it’s stupid? Or a disgrace? And why do I seem to be the only person who worries about that? No babies for me, yet.

It was certainly a big decision for me, to move to the burbs, but the financial aspect of it was very important to me. As I just started my own business, lowering the cost of living was crucial to me so that I can feel like I’m contributing towards our budget. Will I be happy here? Pfff. Despite all my efforts, I’m not a very happy person in general. I may as well be my sour self somewhere where we pay less rent.

Period Pain by Kopana Matlwa

period-pain

“Period Pain” is the third novel by Kopana Matlwa. The author is a rather impressive woman. She’s not only an accomplished novelist but also a medical doctor. More importantly, she’s still in her twenties! You may find my review of her debut novel, “Coconut” here.

Matlwa’s newest novel focuses on a very important South African issue, xenophobia. South Africa being one of the most attractive African countries in terms of economy naturally attracts many immigrants from other countries on the continent. Even though the immigration policy is getting stricter by the day, there are a lot of migrants in the country. As South Africa struggles with unemployment as it is, it’s also dealing with growing aggression and hostility towards migrants. Understandably, there’s also a strong link between the aggression and one’s economic situation. There have been violent attacks and murders of foreigners in townships, while the better earning immigrants usually just read about such issues in the news. Enough of the background, though!

The protagonist of the book, Masechaba, is a medical doctor. She suffers from a condition causing her painful, almost never-ending periods. As she is a believer, she assumes that this is perhaps some sort of punishment from her Maker and to him she addresses some of her entries in the diary. Her best friend, Nyasha is also a doctor and a foreigner from Zimbabwe. The latter experiences directly and indirectly a lot of xenophobia. Masechaba’s passivity in such situations enrages Nyasha. Eventually, the protagonist decides to do something to protect her friend and other foreigners. Unfortunately this behavior makes her a kwere-kwere (a pejorative South African term for a foreigner) protector and therefore an enemy for some people…

Apart from xenophobia the novel addresses other important issues such as violence against women and the ailing public health system. It is written in first-person narrative which seems to be Matlwa’s strength. It is easy to relate to the characters described and to understand their motivations. The form of a diary allows the author to serve raw emotions on paper to the reader, which is a very powerful device given the events described. The novel reminds the inhabitants of South Africa about the issues that we often don’t think about daily, at least not till another wave of violence happens. The title of Matlwa’s newest novel refers to the protagonist’s condition but is also a metaphor of the pains, which South Africa is going through as a country. May the protagonist’s friend be right in saying that this too shall pass? I guess only the time will show.

The fans of the author (if there are any to be found among my meager readership) may point out that I’ve forgotten about the novel which came after “Coconut”, “Spilt Milk”. I have not. I read it and find it to be an unconvincing and sentimental story of reconciliation. There are too many characters and the reader learns too little about them. The children seem overly mature and the adults overly childish. I don’t see the point of going on about it, though. I’d rather focus on the positive: Matlwa has written two good and important books and that’s more than I or you can say about ourselves ­čśë

Halloween in Cape Town

old zombieSouth Africa doesn’t seem to be too big on Halloween in the traditional sense. Perhaps you can find kids walking from one household to another asking for sweets but I haven’t encountered any. I’d assume that because of safety issues (both paranoiac and factual), it wouldn’t be the case. However, the marketing people use Halloween for their purposes and you do receive all the “frighteningly good” or “fangtastic” offers in you mailbox during this period. There are also numerous Halloween themed events organized nationwide.

Halloween is my personal favorite. I don’t know whether you know that about me but I’m a massive thriller/horror/suspense fan. I even used to contribute to one of the biggest zombie websites in Poland, writing about movies. This is why I’m quite bleak that this year me and my husband are moving during the Halloween weekend (again!!!) and I cannot fully participate in the celebrations. Enough about me, though! Let me give you a quick breakdown of what’s worth attending during the Halloween period.

First of all, the City of Cape Town has been hosting an annual Zombie Walk since 2009. Zombie virgins: a zombie walk means a bunch of people dressed up like zombies walking around groaning and roaring for shits and giggles. Even if you’re not willing to dress up yourself, it’s actually quite a fun and occasionally scary event to watch. This year’s zombie walk will be taking place at 6 o’clock on the 28th October. The starting point is 11 Mechau Street. Don’t get confused by the mentions of cover charge on the web: the zombie walk itself is free. You only need to pay if you want to attend the after party. You can find other details about the event here. I try to pop in to the walk annually to at least take a few snaps. Below you can see some of my pictures from the 2012 event.

boo hoo zombieboy zombiezombie wowzombie_walk_2012_unperson

If you’re already dead inside and up for a dress up party, you’re quite spoilt for choice. For instance, you can release your inner clown at the (apparently) Ultimate Halloween party, MCQP Presents Halloween. This year, perhaps not surprisingly, the theme is IT. I hope the organizers haven’t overestimated the maturity of potential participants who hopefully won’t be too scared to attend an event, where their childhood fears come true. If you’re not ready to face your traumas, you may opt for the Day of the Dead party at HQ. You’ll find plenty of tequila and Mexican tapas there to help you cope with your existential angst. I don’t know why you’d like to go to Decodance or Gandalf’s but just FYI they’re also hosting Halloween parties on the 28th.

For horror movie fans there’s an annual SA Horrorfest Film Festival at the Labia Theatre (25th October – 3rd November). You can see both new and old movies during this event. A definite highlight of the festival are the screenings of silent movies with the live soundtrack of Makabra Ensemble. Last year I saw “Vampyr” with their music and it was a really fun experience! This year you can see “Metropolis” at 21:30 on Saturday, the 28th of October. My other personal favorites are short movies, which give you a nice variety of horror sub-genres. This year there will be three parts of such screenings. You can learn more about the festival and check the exact schedule here. Another movie option is the Galileo screening of “The Dawn of the Dead” at Bloemendal Wine Estate. I guess, it isn’t very exciting for real horror fans who can recite all dialogues from this movie backwards. Fortunately, there are some new releases at the cinema as well. If you haven’t seen “IT” yet, I recommend you go watch it and then never go to the circus again. Another scary movies you can see on the big screen at the moment are “Annabelle: Creation” and “The Snowman”. If none of this is to your satisfaction, you can always opt for a scary movie at home. I’ve discovered, for instance, that “Gerald’s Game” (another Stephen King’s adaptation this year after “It” and “The Dark Tower”) is available on South African Netflix.

I know that the choice of events on this blog is not comprehensive and rather subjective but no one pays me for it so I can do what I want. Still, I hope that my short guide will help you celebrate Halloween in style.

Are you big on Halloween, Dear Reader? What’s your favorite horror movie? Please also don’t be shy if you need some suggestions for scary movies to watch or books to read. I could talk about them for hours!

 

Coconut by Kopano Matlwa

CoconutI must admit I haven’t read many books by South African authors. Before I came to the country I’d read some J.M Coetzee (Nobel Prize winner) and aspirationally bought some Nadine Gordimer’s books (also a Nobel Prize winner) but apart from that I’m a greenhorn. That’s why I was very happy to encounter this book.

“Coconut” is a debut novel by Kopano Matlwa. It tells a story of two black girls from different backgrounds living in modern Johannesburg. Ofilwe comes from a “new rich” family. She goes to a mostly white school, has great grades and is doing everything to fit in. She’s ashamed of her family, her roots and her native language. Fikilwe comes from a poor family and works as a waitress. She’s trying to impress white customers and prove to them she’s one of them, constantly working on her English accent. Fikilwe, or Fiks as she prefers to be called, feels she is better than the members of her community and hopes that one day, a (white) customer will help her change her life.

The title of the novel is very telling. The term coconut is used in South Africa to describe people whose skin color is brown but their inside is white and the term could be used for both characters. The girls seem to be rather oblivious that┬áby trying to fit in so badly, they deny their own roots and identity. Perhaps that’s why the novel has been read by some as a critique of post-apartheid blackness. I don’t think that this was the authors’ intention, though. To me the novel was more of an impression of how it is to grow up black in modern South Africa. Both girls are young and they are at the stage of a rebellion. There’s nothing to say that they won’t realize one day that to disown one’s background, means to disown a big part of oneself.

The novel touches upon numerous important topics in post-apartheid South Africa. The racial separation of apartheid caused a situation in which race and class became interwined. Only white people had money, while the rest of the country was living in poverty. The end of apartheid meant that black people slowly but surely started to join the middle class. The problem is that “better” schools are still mostly white and use mostly English. This often means that kids to fit in need to perfect a language that isn’t their native tongue. As the novel suggests such situation may subsequently create an identity clash in young people. Both characters encounter people who’re trying to raise their awareness about such issues but they’re being dismissive of such attempts.

The book is very short and it does mention a lot of important issues, which it doesn’t manage to discuss in detail (such as the character of an uncle used solely to gain a company BBBEE points, incest, infedelity). It may be that writing your first novel, you’re just trying to say everything at once. Even the author said at the end of the book “It is not a piece of literary genius (…) But it is the story we have to tell”. I completely agree! It’s a very important novel and the author has a lot of potential. I’m definitely going to read her two other books “Spilt Milk” and “Period Pains” in the foreseeable future. I also do recommend “Coconut” to anyone who’d like to have a glimpse into understanding the complexity of modern South Africa.

How to Be a Good Guest When Visiting Friends Abroad

IMG_8054Your friend lives in a foreign country, which you have never visited before. This is a great opportunity to cut down on expenses by staying with them and/or┬álearn about the place from an insider. That sounds amazing but it’s important that you don’t abuse their generosity. In today’s post, Dear Reader, you’ll learn how to be a good guest when visiting a friend abroad.

In years of living in an interesting country, I have hosted (let stay with me) and semi-hosted (shown around and taken places) dozens of friends and acquaintances. While some people are grateful gems that with their attitude encourage you to share more and more (and more!) of your time with them, many aren’t exactly at their best behavior. This probably has to do with the fact that unless the host decides to take some time off for you (which is btw a favor you can expect only from the closest dearest friends and family) you have a conflict of interest. You’re on holiday and want to explore, party, sleep to little or too much and in general enjoy your time off. Your host is on a schedule. They have work to go to, friends to see and if they’re in a relationship, a partner to spend quality time with. You may think they could put all of this on hold because after all how often do YOU visit them. This is, however, a rather entitled attitude. People are busy and you surely know that to make that much space in your own calendar, as you expect from someone else should the situation be reversed, would be difficult.

The staying together scenarios are much more challenging, especially if you only have one set of keys. I’ve had people who would slack around in the morning, even though I made it clear I had to leave at certain time to go to work. I always warned my guests about the circumstances so perhaps that’s why I found it so annoying when they’d be surprised that I meant what I said. In general, if you’re staying with someone you should respect whatever silly rules they may have in their house. I’m sure your parents told you that when you lived with them in your childhood! Well, during your stay, your host is a little bit like your parents, only that it’s less embarrassing when they catch you masturbating. Obviously, apart from the rules you should also respect your host’s possessions. Try not to destroy anything. It really is possible! If you happen to break something, don’t hide it behind the curtain and pretend it wasn’t you (true story). Your host may get upset because of a precious souvenir you’ve damaged but they’re probably not that much of an ogre and they will forgive you eventually. Last but not least, please (please, please!) don’t pressure people into hosting you. The argument “I can just crash on the couch” or “I’ll just get a sleeping bag” isn’t that convincing to a host with an established life. Sure, in my student/early professional times I used to be less fussed but having someone on my floor for two weeks or more is actually an inconvenience these days. Like in many other situations a “no” is a no and the answer “because I don’t want to” is enough so don’t get bent out of shape.

The “show around” model is much better for preserving a friendship or an acquaintanceship. I don’t know about you, but I feel much more positive about people when I don’t see them misusing my coffee machine or putting their shoes on my couch! Besides, I really like showing Cape Town to people just like a proud mother hen would like to show off her chicks to others. Having visitors makes you look at the place you live in with a new set of eyes and it can be a very rewarding experience. Even if I can’t (or don’t want to) accompany a guest on each trip during their visit, I try to recommend places to go and sometimes hook them up with others keen on doing things. Now, as much as I don’t expect my guests to be proclaiming Cape Town to be the best city in the world and decide to start their new life here, they should remember it is my home. As you wouldn’t walk into someone’s apartment and criticize it harshly, this also holds true for a country or a city one lives in. A perception of a tourist can be misleading and passing judgment lightly in front of someone who’s been living somewhere for years is, well, a bit silly to say the least. Hint: Don’t say “How can you live here? What a nightmare!”, even if that’s how you feel.

Cape Town and South Africa in general are complicated places. I occasionally have my serious doubts about living here because it really is a mixed bag. I’m not blind about security issues and there’s a lot that I don’t like here. I did choose it for my home and I’m trying to see the best as everyone sensible does in their own country (you know, seeing a glass half-full?). The choices of your friends may not be understandable for you but that’s your problem and grilling them isn’t something you should be doing. I’m particularly sensitive about racist flavored comments. For instance one of the people visiting asked me with audible irritation “Why are they so many black people here???”. I mean, for real?┬á­čś│┬áCan there be a stupider remark to make about an African country? Traveling is supposed to open your eyes. It’s not about going places and relentlessly comparing them to your city, labeling different as bad. Are you honestly looking for a replica of where you live somewhere else? New and different is fascinating! Reading a little bit about a place before you got there isn’t the worst idea ever either. It may lessen the shock during the visit. Being┬á prepared also means being a good guest and so does a genuine interest in new places and a sense of wonder.

To sum up, if you want to be a good guest when visiting a friend abroad be grateful for whatever they can give you in terms of time and/or accomodation. Show interest in the place they live in and don’t pass constant judgments. Gratitude and appreciation will make your host remember you fondly and in that way you’ll truly get the best of your experience in the country.

Can you call yourself a good guest, Dear Reader? Maybe you’re a host and you have some nightmarish stories of hosting to share? Go wild in the comments!

Poland and South Africa: Random Differences

randomI’ve lived in South Africa for quite a while but I still don’t stop being surprised by some things. Let’s be honest, the 23 years I spent in Poland was a long time to form habits. Then I spent 6 years somewhere else, slowly unlearning the old ways and experienced a reverse culture shock┬áwhen I visited my homeland. Life of an expat is challenging in many ways! Anywayyyy, without further ado… the random differences between Poland and South Africa.

1.Drinking and Driving 

In Poland it’s considered a very, very bad deed (almost as bad as premarital sex). People in general just don’t drink and drive and those who do are judged. If you think about the number of roadblocks, you could certainly get away with it. At the same time, the belief in the immorality of the act seems to be strong enough to work as an effective deterrent. I guess it’s quite interesting for a culture with high tolerance for alcohol consumption in general… In South Africa drinking and driving is normalized. Of course, there are social campaigns telling people not to do so and occasionally there are roadblocks. Still, most South Africans I know have driven not only after a beer or two but actually drunk. I’m also not talking about young and silly people here but parents or even (!) grandparents driving under (considerable) influence. Even if you get stopped, the police are occasionally lenient. I’ve heard stories of people getting away with it because of some lame, untrue excuse of having been dumped or fired.

2. Cheese

When I first came to South Africa, I got scolded by a friend for going for the already sliced cheese in a supermarket. Indeed, the sliced cheese is much more expensive than the one sold in blocks. I couldn’t really explain where my preference was coming from till I visited Poland a few years later. My homeland, as it turned out, has a strong preference for sliced cheese and you almost don’t find anything else on the shelves. Fancier cheese can be seen in blocks on display but before you buy it, a desired amount will be sliced for you by a shop attendant. Poland also has a much bigger variety of local and international cheese at better prices. Now that I’m salivating, I can move on to the next point.

3. Greetings

South Africans hug and occasionally kiss one time on the cheek and then hug. Polish people only hug when they haven’t seen their daughter for 5 years and even then, some do so reluctantly, like my father (he also tried to shake my hand when I was leaving). In other circumstances we kiss one time on a cheek with friends and two times with family. The really old school type kisses on the mouth. It’s awkward and unpleasant especially if a guy has a mustache. I have written more about hugs and kisses┬ábefore so I don’t want to repeat myself.

4. Abortion and contraception

Abortion on demand is legal in South Africa till the third month of pregnancy. Late abortions for medical reasons also take place. Simple oral contraceptives and condoms are available in government clinics for free. In Poland, the only thing you can get for free in terms of arresting your fertility is ovarian cancer. Abortion is not only illegal but also criminalized unless the fetus is, or is strongly suspected to be malformed, the fetus was conceived in a forbidden act (e.g. rape, pregnancy before the age of consent) or the pregnancy/childbirth puts a woman’s life or health in danger. Even legally allowed abortions are often difficult to obtain (read about the┬áAlicja Tysiac case). Oral contraception isn’t refunded but is available upon medieval…I mean medical checks and often on short-term scripts (partially a money making scheme, partially the belief in the pill being evil). Private healthcare is generally friendlier than the public system. A doctor in Poland is allowed to refuse to write a script for the pill due to his moral views about contraception and the same goes for abortion (because Catholics).

5. Friendliness

It isn’t difficult to beat Polish people in friendliness. There was a point when I thought that perhaps I used to be a more negative person and upon a visit I’d look at the problem differently. Well, no. In general, people are unfriendly on the streets. They don’t smile and if you do, they look at you funny. For example, a friend of mine has been living in France for years. She doesn’t use Polish often so when she heard two Polish guys talking, she smiled. One of the guys stared at her for a bit and eventually asked: “What the fuck are you looking at?” in Polish. I personally have not experienced such aggressive reactions from Polish tourists but the responses to my enthusiastic “Dzie┼ä dobry!” (Good morning) were either none or very cold. The Polish are also not big on small talk apart from lonely old people on public transport. South Africans, on the other hand, are really friendly and helpful! Smiling isn’t uncommon, neighbors more often greet each other than not and engaging in small talk with randoms is a thing.

6. Piracy 

I don’t mean the ARRRRRRR people with parrots on their arms but illegal downloading of movies and series off the Internet. In Poland it’s not completely uncommon bur often frowned upon. South Africans are much more chilled about it. In their defense, I must say that Poland offers more quality movies on TV and in cinema. Hopefully, Netflix will improve its local catalogue even further as it’s an affordable option of legal streaming.

7. Tertiary education

Public tertiary education in Poland is for free and I believe that this is the way it should be. The drawbacks of this situation are:

  • crazy competition to get into public universities (20 people for one place at my faculty and with the matric results of 190/200 I only got in after reshuffling, with the second wave of candidates)
  • the “normalization” of degrees on the labor market – in Poland even PA’s are expected to have a degree

In South Africa, tertiary education is partially subsidized by the government. There are scholarships, etc, but it’s not enough, given the economic situation of a lot of citizens. Local students have been fighting for free tertiary education since 2015 under the FeesMustFall banner.

8. Nobel Prize winners

Poland has won the Nobel prize 14 times (2 by Maria Sk┼éodowska-Curie), while South Africa, 10 times. Compared to 371 Nobel Prize winners from the USA, both achievements seem a bit lame. Perhaps that’s the reason why both countries like to claim anyone famous they can. Did your great grandfather’s mother come form Poland? You’re nominally Polish. Did your mom give birth on the plane while flying above South Africa? You’re proudly South African!

9. Cars

I’d assume that most Polish families have, or at least had a car. In big cities it’s completely possible to live without one, though. Public transport is well developed and it’s often the preferred mean of transport. In fact, a 30 year old without a driver’s license isn’t particularly uncommon. To many Capetonians* not having a car is unimaginable and public transport is something they just don’t use. These Capetonians are usually middle or upper class (and make up fear-mongering stories about life). They spend ridiculous amounts of money on their vehicles and judge people by the cars they have. I knew someone who used half of her salary to repay her loan, because having the newest BMW was clearly more important than common sense.

10. Mushrooms

In Poland, every uncle Janusz and aunt Gra┼╝yna know that it’s not autumn unless you picked mushrooms at least three times. Mushroom picking is an activity in Poland your parents force you to do all your childhood and then you grow up, develop a liking for it, reproduce and eventually, force your children to do the same thing. What would we do without tradition? In South Africa you need a permit to pick mushrooms. I only did it once here during a foraging event with a very angry and bitter mushroom man, whose business was stolen.

If you’re a Pole living in South Africa can you think of any more striking differences? If not perhaps you’d like to tell me and my Readers how are things in your country in any of the mentioned categories?

* I say Capetonians because I can say they’re just full of shit and one can get around with public transport. I can’t speak for other parts of the country.

Is It Easy to Be a Vegetarian or a Vegan in Cape Town?

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Food from The Hungry Herbivore

I started my journey with vegetarianism around 7 years ago. First I tried to completely eliminate meat but I was struggling with eyes twitching and cramps. As I was unwilling to spend an excessive amount of time focusing on my diet, I chose the easy way out and I started to eat fish. A year ago I dropped (visible) egg consumption, after I learnt about the fact that male chicks are killed as a byproduct of mass egg production (for instance, Woolworths SA admitted in a reply to my husband’s query that the chicks are shredded by hand). I was quite happy with the diet, feeling I’m doing my bit by at least downgrading my consumption of animal products. Nevertheless, a few months ago I saw documentary “What the Health?”, followed it by my own research and then realized that the consumption of modern animal products is not only unethical but also unhealthy. At the moment I’m a vegan during the week and a pescetarian during the weekend but I may take the Cape Town Vegan Challange and perhaps become even stricter with myself. This lengthy introduction leads me to the main question of this post, which is: Is It Easy to Be a Vegetarian or a Vegan in Cape Town?

Eating in is of course wayyyy easier than eating out. South Africa has two main brands of vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives that you can stock up on: Fry’s and Quorn. Fry’s products are vegan but they also use soya as the main ingredient. The opinions about how much or little soya you can safely eat are still divided so do your own research and check what you’re comfortable with. Fry’s has a range of burgers, sausages, pies and other meat replacing products. Their food decent and constitutes a part of my diet. Quorn, on the other hand, has some vegetarian and some vegan products so make sure to check the label before buying. Their products are made from mycoprotein which is a fermented fungus. I have found no significant studies into negative health influence of this protein but it may cause a very rare allergy that can result in serious health consequences. They even put a warning about it on their boxes. Quorn manufactures burgers, sausages, meat balls and nuggets. Their products are delicious!!! The only reason why I’m being cautious about eating too much of mycoprotein, is because it almost seems to be the case of being too good to be true. I have also tried numerous cheese replacements but unfortunately most of them are expensive and not even close to the flavor of actual cheese. Perhaps, I’m yet to find something satisfying in this respect. Apart from the two main brands there are numerous local producers of vegetarian and vegan food. If that’s something that interests you, the Wellness Centre in Kloof Street or the Vegan Goods Market may be the place to go.

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Food from Raw and Roxy

Eating out isn’t too difficult for a vegetarian living in Cape Town. Most places have at least one or two vegetarian options. If they don’t, there’s always at least a few sides that are acceptable for you and will do for a meal. A vegan has a much more difficult situation and I must say I’ve been struggling on my new journey of weekly veganism. I have found a vegan option at IYO Burgers and a vegan curry in Alexander’s Bar. The other times I just ate fries with a salad, because nothing else was an option. This is why places specifically designed for vegans are thriving. My personal favorite is definitely The Hungry Herbivore. It has limited space so making a booking is a necessity. I really like their Chef’s special pizza which tastes a lot like it had bacon on it. My other favorite is Mexicana…because nachos! A second place where vegans can choose anything they want from the menu is “Raw and Roxy”. The place isn’t only vegan but also raw. I’ve only eaten there once so far but I was really happy with my experience. Their choco smoothie was one of the best deserts I’ve ever eaten. Last AND least, is Plant caf├ę. I used to be a regular goer, but after I visited the place three times in a row around a year ago and each time they didn’t have the advertised food to suit my intolerances, I had enough. I even complained to their then manager which is something I almost never do. Their food is good, though, so don’t get discouraged by my experience. Before I stopped going there, I particularly enjoyed their vegan cheese. All three restaurants are on Bree Street. I will certainly have more to say as I continue on my sort-of-vegan journey.

I’d briefly written about the meat culture before. South Africans like to eat meat and if you go to a place like Mzoli’s, you’re struggle as a vegetarian. In fact, regardless of the culture, I’ve heard surprised questions about my eating habits from South Africans. From being asked whether it was my choice (as opposed to?) to long tirades about how they couldn’t live without meat; I’ve heard it all. It just shows that the growing ethical eating movement is still marginalized and meat-eaters dominate the mainstream culture. The only place in Cape Town when an omnivore will feel oppressed is apparently the Department of Philosophy at UCT ­čśë Perhaps the upcoming Cape Town Vegan Challenge in October will help with popularizing awareness about the plant-based diet. Having said that, I don’t think it’s difficult to be a vegetarian in Cape Town. It’s the vegan folk that has a long fight before they can comfortably eat something wherever they go.

Are you an omnivore? What’s the attitude towards meat in your culture? If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, what are your reasons for your dietary choices?

The subjective best of… hiking in Cape Town

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Cape Town as seen from the Elephant’s Eye hike

When I was a kid I used to hate hiking. My parents forced me to go for long walks in the mountains, ignoring my complaints about being tired and sore. As a result, I despised them so much, I’d do and I did almost anything not to go with them. Their forceful attitude has spoilt hiking for me for years and I just assumed it’s something I’ll never like. Things changed after I moved to Cape Town.

Cape Town is known to be full of active people. If you’re an outdoorsy type, you’ll certainly find friends who’ll go hiking with you and even if you’re not so much into it, someone will drag you with sooner or later. My first memories of the activity here aren’t great, honestly. I was rather out of shape (because booze and smoking) and as much as I enjoyed the views, I was rather unhappy with the effort of doing the Elephant’s Eye. But then at the age of 27 I quit smoking and decided to get fit. Hiking was just one of the natural (literally) choices. I won’t lie, Capetonians are truly spoilt for choice. There are at least 10 hiking trails within half an hour from the city centre I could come up with from the top of my head. However, I’m going to share with you only my personal favorites.

  1. Lion’s Head

 

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Lion’s Head is called like this because it allegedly looks like the head of the king of the jungle. I have quite a vivid imagination and can’t see the resemblance, even though by now I’ve been on a safari and I have seen a lion very closely. Oh, well, this doesn’t change the fact that it is my favorite hike in Cape Town. First of all, it’s a very beautiful trail and you don’t have to go all the way to the top to experience its beauty. It’s also important to me that it’s a full body workout with a little bit of climbing on the top. There are two ways to complete the hike: one requires the use of chains and the other one is a slightly longer walk around. I always use the latter as I get dizzy when I think about using the chains. I’m sure you can die doing it or at least break something!

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A fairly fit person can probably do the whole hike (up and down) in just above two hours, if it’s not crowded. This brings me to the only disadvantage of this hike is its popularity. Especially during the monthly full moon hike, there are so many people walking up and down that you feel like an ant. This also means longer waiting times to go past certain narrower passages or to use the ladders. You may get a bit annoyed with stopping to constantly let faster hikers/trail runners go in front of you. Last but not least, taking pictures on the top is a mission with so many posers taking pictures of their asses or doing yoga poses (true story). Parking is a nightmare too so if you’re not particularly patient when it comes to looking for it, rather use an Uber to get to the starting point.

2. Pipe Track

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Pipe Track is a hiking trail which is a by product of a pipeline service built in the late 19th venture. These days people use it to burn some calories and see beautiful views. It’s mostly an easy walk, with the beginning of the trail being the only uphill section. It also helps that there’s a lot of shade and you’re not constantly exposed to the heat.

The trail allows you to walk from the Kloof Nek parking all the way to Camps Bay, so you’re almost certainly end up with sore legs. It’s also a good hike if you want to be social. The Pipe Track allows you to have an actual conversation without panting and heavy breathing, so you won’t sound like a perve on the phone, when discussing your favorite series with your mates. I’m not sure how long the whole hike takes as so far I’ve been ending up taking turn offs or just turning around due to public demand.

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Similarly like Lion’s Head, this hike is quite popular. It makes it a bit challenging to take a nice picture without a human spoiling it. It’s also very popular among trail runners, so brace yourself and be prepared to deal with all these people who are so much fitter than you are.

3. Devil’s Peak

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It’s quite surprising that a hike I’ve only done twice has made it to the list, but I really like Devil’s Peak. That the views are astonishing is a given, but more importantly it gives you a very nice and steady cardio workout. The steps in the beginning of the trail will almost certainly take your breath away. The last time I did it I was lucky enough to hike it also with someone whose fitness level is similar to mine, because I’d probably die of a heart attack if I let my husband dictate the pace. Stops are a necessity for most people but it’s a very satisfying hike that you’ll remember for a bit due to sore calves.

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It’s a really nice trail and surprisingly it isn’t very popular. You won’t have to worry about your safety as you’ll most certainly meet some hikers, but not enough to get annoyed with them. It’s the longest hikes of the ones I’ve enumerated and there’s very little shade. Remember to take a hat with you and enough water. A snack to consume on the top is also a good idea.

I’m sure I’ll have more to share as I continue with my newly discovered hobby. This list is very subjective but it’s important to put it out there, so that more bastards don’t try to make money on people to “guide them” on Lion’s Head (oh, ja, a Cape Town tourist company is charging 700 rand for this extremely doable on your own hike!)… Part of the fun with amateur hiking is that it doesn’t cost you a thing. As long as you have a pair of sport shoes and comfortable clothes you can do it. I’m only going to invest into a pair of hiking shoes now that I’m planning to go on a week long hike called the Otter Trail. I’ll tell you more about it another time.

Do you like hiking, Dear Reader? Any stories to share?

Return of the Poo and Other Stories: Water Shortage in Cape Town

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An empty Cape Town Dam: Picture from Instagram by @shantarella

If you live in the Western Cape I can say nothing more obvious to you than “we’re experiencing a water crisis”. For those who live somewhere else this may be news that Cape Town’s taps are at risk of running dry. Let me tell you a few words about the crisis which started in the beginning of the year.

First there’d been a long long drought. Then around March people started to really worry that we’ll run out of water. It was all you could see on social media. I was doing my best to save water so I tried not to think about the worst or focus on fearmongering. But then I was refused tap water in a restaurant, which is something that never happened before, it made me worry too. Almost everyone drinks tap water in Cape Town so I can see why it’s a good idea for restaurant to have restrictions. At the same time it came as a realization that things may actually end up in a tragedy. When the rain came eventually, it was a small relief. With the depleted dam reserves it’s just enough to get by. What does it mean for a typical inhabitant of Cape Town? Water saving.

The official policy strongly encouraged Capetonians to keep their water usage down to the minimum. This means not to use more than 100 liters of water per person per day. Now to give you some idea, an average toilet flush is between 6 liters in very modern toilets and 15 liters in older ones. An average shower uses around 22 liters of water per minute and you can forget about taking a bath, which uses 150-200 liters. There’s also the water you use to wash a load of clothes which can be anything between 50 and 150 liters depending on how old your washing machine is. If you make your calculations, you can see that you don’t have to be an asshole who doesn’t care to have a usage bigger than allowed.

As I’m high in compliance we try to be within limits in the household. In fact, most people I know use the rule “When it’s yellow let it mellow, when it’s brown flush it down”. However, what the authorities forget about in their guidelines is that toilet paper accumulates due to the lack of flushing. It can get quite stressful to observe the water levels raising above what’s expected during flushing (didn’t notice it? Just look next time!). Will it cope with all the paper and your poo? So far it’s been managing. Having said that, I did experience what I call “return of the poo”. This happens when seemingly everything has been flushed but when you come back to the toilet later, you can see your piece of shit peeping at you from down there. I can almost here the tune from “Jaws” in these situations.

Let’s not forget that peeing on the top of peeing is a bit disgusting and that of course, no one cares when it’s a house party or even when you have guests over for dinner. Because really, City of Cape Town, how many people do YOU feel comfortable enough with to leave your pee unflushed? You also have to keep the toilet seat down to avoid the smell urine or at least remember to close the door. It’s doable but still gross.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m willing to help! Still, it’d be nice to hear something reassuring from the government! Apparently the authorities were already warned last year about the upcoming crisis and no plan was put in place. Apart from encouragements to save water, fines imposed on residents who don’t comply and futuristic plans not much seems to have been done. In fact, the Plan was announced only in August. Thumbs up for a desalination plant project and the use of underground water. Not so excited about increased water rates but I can take one for the team. The poorest, however, will be hit by such changes and it does feel unjust. After all had the plan been made before, there wouldn’t be so much need to make quick plans and to somehow raise additional funds.

Day Zero, when Cape Town will run out of water, may or may not come. Experts say that if nothing is done we’ll reach this point in March next year, but who knows what gods of rain have planned for CT? We should make plans for the worst case scenario. If there’s no water in taps it would, of course, be rather inconvenient. Part of the problem is that a lot of people would struggle to deal with additional costs coming from the necessity to buy bottled water as a substitute for tap water. Someone, who doesn’t have financial issues, jokingly told me that he has enough money to bathe in Evian every day if he has to. It’s not only about money and convenience, though. There are health threats associated with the lack of water and lowered hygiene, for instance, the increased risk of infectious disease spreading. Last but not least, such a situation would cause problems for the already existing infrastructure. It’s not good to have no water going through pipes for a prolonged period of time and then have it flow again. This is precisely the reason why we don’t have “water shedding” – it would do more harm than good. Anyway, I really hope that the worst doesn’t happen and I’ll do my bit to prevent it. If it does, perhaps I’ll write this post apocalyptic masterpiece I’ve always been dreaming about.

What do you think, Dear Reader? Any thoughts?