biltong101

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

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 by 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 learn 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? 😳 Can 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  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 when 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 before 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 Alicja 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 “Dzień 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 Skłodowska-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 Grażyna 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 café. 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 😉 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

the ultimate CT view

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?

 

 

My First Yoga Retreat

venueI turned thirty last weekend (whoop whoop?). I felt like I needed a break from my regular bday pattern of drinking with friends on the day and being hangover the day after. This is the reason why when I saw an advertisement of a yoga retreat in my Facebook feed, I decided to give it a go (and slightly bday pressured my husband to go with me).

I was a little bit concerned that I’d meet a bunch of hippies who would try to convince me that crystals are better than Western medicine or something like that. Fortunately, it (mostly) didn’t turn out to be true! This particular weekend yoga retreat was organised by Namaste Yoga studio, based in Llandudno and it took place near Lambert’s Bay, in a venue called Steenbokfontein. When we arrived it became clear that most people know each other, but we did feel welcome. Maybe it’s because most people were older than us and middle-aged people are just less full of shit than our generation.

The retreat started by a visit to a labyrinth in which we did a silent walking meditation. At the end of it, every person had to pick up a stone with a word on it. The word was of course in Afrikaans (the perks of living in the Western Cape), but some members of the group spoke the language and were able to assist with a translation. My word was “speel” which means “to play”. Creepily accurate as in all my seriousness sometimes I forget that life is about fun too. I tend to postpone life enjoyment till this or that thing gets sorted. It’s a vicious circle as the moment one thing is done, the next one needs my attention. This is probably the reason why in the last few years I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of meditation. All that to just “be in the moment”, whatever this evasive term actually means. Even if I didn’t manage to fully achieve that, my levels of stress have significantly lowered and I can see huge benefits for my anxiety and depression tendencies.

Anyway, back to the retreat! Our meditative experience was followed by a slow-paced yoga class in a very nicely decorated area. Afterwards we went to see the sunset and what a view was that! I don’t like the word blessed as it refers to an entity I don’t believe in, but how are you supposed to feel, looking at all that?

sunset wow

sunset beach

By the time the dinner came we greeted it with a lot of gratitude. A little known and easily forgotten fact is that Western Cape has great highways that unfortunately lack food and toilet stops. We made a wrong decision of delaying lunch and failed to find anything that wouldn’t end up in being a lengthy stop. That meant that we ate early breakfast and then a late dinner. Perhaps such a short fast was a good way to remind me how great it is to have food on my plate, instead of mindlessly devouring food. Perhaps. All I could think about was that I was bloody hungry! The day finished soon after the meal, when we retreated to our rooms. The decor of the houses was rather simple, but they were very neat and clean.

The next day started early with a delicious breakfast and an opening ceremony, during which we expressed (secretly, in writing) our intentions for the retreat. We were doing a lot of silly stuff such as chasing other members of the group around and it was actually fun. Then we proceeded to a more challenging yoga class and an hour long meditation class. The guided breathing meditation was much easier for me than the silent meditation that followed. Unfortunately, the quieter it is, the more mind tends to get distracted. The more distracted the mind is, the less quality time one gets out of the experience… There’s no other way than just to keep trying, even if occasionally it gets extremely irritating.

After a long lunch break we had to ourselves, we did some more yoga (it was a yoga retreat after all!). There was even more silliness happening in the yoga movements which were purposefully childish. Despite myself I ended up enjoying letting go. The class left me full of hope for yet another meditation session but it didn’t go so well. Even though we were sitting in a cave in complete silence (yes, we really went to meditate to a cave), I found everything distracting. I much more enjoyed watching a beautiful sunset from the top of the hill, where we found the cave.

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After dinner we played some drums, which I had no idea how to use, but no one could tell in the general cacophony.

The last day of the retreat was an early start with the last yoga session and breakfast. Afterwards we meditated and yet again I found myself mostly out of the experience. I had moments of complete focus, though, so perhaps I am progressing! My least favorite activity of the weekend was art making. Drawing with my eyes closed? Sorry, that’s just not for me. After we burnt other people’s art (???) we had a small closing ceremony. Every member of the group received an Om shaped ornament made from shells for their “special” achievements. Mine was the most secret bday, for instance. Then we sat around in the circle passing a mysterious parcel around. It turned out to contain gifts. My husband and I ended up winning the main prize, which was accommodation in the area for another weekend away. Yay! Great timing as well – it was our wedding anniversary that day.

After that it was time to go back to reality and try to retain a little bit of the calm accumulated over the weekend. I really had fun but will I go to a retreat again? Perhaps in a year or so. It was a good experience and I needed to recharge my batteries, but it’s a commitment as well. It also felt for me a little bit like an escape from reality, while what I’d like to achieve it’s to enhance it on daily basis with good habits.

Have you ever been to yoga retreat, Dear Reader? Do you do yoga? Do you meditate? Please tell me in the comments. 

The Ultimate Guide to Sushi in Cape Town

sushipolIf you often feel like sushi but don’t always have an idea about where to go and you’re bored with the same old places, this guide should help you find what you’re looking for. The restaurants are divided into three price categories and grouped by areas for your convenience.

Every Day (or Night) Sushi Consumption – up to 150 pp

Golden Fish

A decent food-wise and price-wise restaurant in Table View. I had better, I had worse. If you want to eat out and you feel like sushi, it’s one of the nicest restaurants in the area. Just say “no” if some random gentlemen insist on getting you and your friend sake. Don’t ask.

Sushi Nori

Another Table View place. I’ve eaten their sushi A LOT. Recommended for bad moods, hangovers and lack of sense of direction in life. Nice sushi and not expensive at all. Mostly a takeaway place but they have a table or two if you really want to eat there.

1890 House Sushi

This restaurant in Observatory is my latest discovery. It’s not pricier than any other sushi spot in the area, but their food is the best. If you eat there, they’ll give you prawn chips to snack on before your order arrives (a big subjective plus). 1890 also has minimalistic but pleasant decor.

Mr Lin’s

Mr Lin’s is a decent sushi restaurant in Observatory. They’re very affordable and have lots of specials to make your food even cheaper. Their sushi is really good and the service is quick. The downside is the unnecessary garnishing on your plate and your sushi pieces.

Blue Marlin

Bleh. I really didn’t like their food and I gave them two chances. Their tempuras pieces were dry, the rice was undercooked… There are other nicer places in Observatory to go to. Also, I was a bit traumatised by them which isn’t their fault at all. A friend of mine and I ordered their crackling duck sushi (couldn’t find it on the menu anymore today) which, well, turned out to have exactly that inside. The problem is we’re both pescatarian. We were hungry so we ate it anyway. The meat we missed so much and we’d been denying ourselves for the sake of Mother Earth and her little children wasn’t even good!

Pine Garden

The place is located surprise, surprise in Gardens. One can easily tell it’s mostly a takeaway restaurant by the lack of decor. It doesn’t look inviting and has low quality menus but these qualities are deceiving. I’ve eaten from and in the restaurant a couple of times and always enjoyed my meal. It’s decent sushi that’s reasonably priced. If you have a craving during the week, it’s just perfect. A big plus is that the place also opens on Sunday.

Nuri Sushi

It’s actually a chain of restaurants. There are two Nuri Sushi Factories in CBD and Claremont and three Nuri Sushi Express restaurants in CBD, Claremont and Sea Point. I’ve only visited the ones in CBD and I was happy with their reasonably priced classic sushi. I wouldn’t risk their chef’s special ever again (picture attached). It included weird pieces with chives and other greenery on them and I could swear that one type of sushi tasted as if it had small pieces of butter inside.

Amrik

Minato Sushi Bar

I should have known that a sushi place in Long Street is bad news. A “friend” (I’m sorry Gerhard, no real friend would recommend it) recommended this place to me and my husband when we were drunk, hungry and I was particularly craving sushi. Going there was a mistake. We paid not less than in any other sushi place and the sushi was disgusting. It was fresh and all but just really not tasty. Ugh. Puking in my mouth now, when thinking about it.

 

Beluga

Beluga is conveniently situated in Green Point. It’s a potentially a pricey place but only if you decide to order outside of the times when the special is happening. Fortunately, the special offer is quite generous and you can eat half-price sushi every day between 12 pm and 7 pm and on Sundays all day till 10 o’clock. You can also compliment your sushi with a half-priced cocktail or two. The restaurant offers low-calorie options for those who watch their weight. They also have one of the best wasabi parcels I’ve ever tried. If for whatever reason, you’re forced to go there before or after the special and you weren’t born with a sliver spoon in your mouth, go for sushi plates which have lower prices “all day, every day”. Beluga is also just a nice place to go to. It looks posher than it really is. The only thing I could complain about is the fact that hostesses taking you to your table wear less and less clothes every year and therefore look more and more like strippers from Maverick’s.

Best of Asia

Another Green Point restaurant, which unfortunately can’t be compared to Beluga. You may not be impressed by the look of the place, but don’t let it scare you. It’s not the best sushi in town but it’s not the worst either. It may be too pricey for its quality, but isn’t expensive. It has a buy 1, get 1 free (of the same plate color) promo on every day. Of course, there’s an all-you-can-eat too for a price I would know had I called them but I forgot and it’s time to publish this post.

Sushi Box

It’s a chain with restaurants located in Green Point, CBD and Newlands. They have good sushi that isn’t too expensive. They’re quite quick as well, I’ve managed to squeeze a meal there easily within the lunch hour. I also like the rustic vibe about the place, it makes it look extremely clean and casually elegant.

Shin Thai

You’ll find Shin Thai in Sea Point, opposite Spar. Over the years of me going to this restaurant, the place hasn’t changed prices of food much. It offers a wide range of classic sushi and affordable platters. The food is very decent but the pieces are a bit small so don’t under-order. If you’re wondering whether something is enough, it probably won’t be. Don’t be stingy, order a bigger platter or a few more pieces! A minor disadvantage is that, because of a big number of take-away orders, the service may be a bit slow if you come with a big group of people on a busy night. I know you’re busy reading this blog now rather than hanging out with cool people, so you probably don’t have too many friends and you and your bestie will do just fine there 😉

Wonderful Sushi Restaurant

Another Sea Point establishment. I ordered food from them once and never visited the actual restaurant. If you check them out on Zomato, their menu looks a bit scary with all the low quality images. The food is okay, though. No surprises either way and they’re not too pricey.

Andy’s Sushi Bar

I’ve mentioned in my previous post about sushi that Sea Point is a sushi kingdom. Andy’s isn’t the brightest jewel. Their sushi tastes like sushi, it’s on the cheaper side of things and they’re quick with preparing their take-away orders. In other words, it’s an okay place. 3,5/5 like a guy you never should go on a second date with but you’re sort of horny and sort of lonely and you do it anyway.

Ocean Basket

You’ll find Ocean Basket EVERYWHERE. Their sushi is below average and I would rather go for other food option there, if I were you. I did eat sushi there during sushi droughts, though. As we say in Poland: when there’s no fish around, a crab is fish too.

Make 

I really, really, really like Make. In fact, it’s been my personal favorite for the last two years or so. It’s a Sea Point sushi place that’s not expensive at all but makes great food. The restaurant is pleasant enough to have dinner there, they’re also very quick with their takeaways (ready to pick-up within 15 minutes). They do get quite busy on weekends so try booking in advance if you’re keen on dinner there.

Dynasty Chinese Restaurant

Just around the corner from Make in Sea Point you’ll find Dynasty. I remember it as an expensive place with average sushi. They’ve dropped their prices on platters since I last went there, though. They also have weird pieces I just can’t get my head around, like asparagus or cream cheese maki. It sounds like an equivalent of anal for sushi eaters – most people don’t like it and those who do are too ashamed to admit it, anyway.

Empire Asian Restaurant

They keep live sea creatures in aquariums in this Sea Point restaurant, which may spoil your appetite, if you’re sensitive. The place serves standard sushi at very affordable prices. Their special platters from A-H are massive and cost only R129. I can never eat so much at one sitting and always have leftovers for the best thing in the world (after my husband): sushi breakfast. The place can get busy but it’s also big, so you can decide to go there on the spur of a moment.

This Restaurant The Name Of Which is Nowhere to be Found

Opposite Woolies (close to Glengariff) in Sea Point there’s another sushi restaurant but I can’t find its name anywhere on the web. They have an all-you-can-eat special for 149 rand, which limits your salmon roses and sashimi. The food is decent so I have no idea why it’s usually so empty. The staff are extremely friendly.

I Need a Pick-Me-Up – up to 300 rand pp

Village Sushi

Is it worth it to drive all the way to Nordhoek to try sushi in this restaurant? Hell, no. But if you feel like you’re up to a Chapman’s Peak drive or for whatever other reason, you’ll find yourself in this remote part of Cape Town, do pay them a visit. They really have very nice, simple sushi at a not-too-crazy price. The place itself is just lovely and will give you a nice break from the business of central Cape Town.

Saigon

Saigon is conveniently situated on Kloof Street in CBD. It has good sushi but is quite pricey. I only went there once as I didn’t like the vibe. It was a tad too formal to truly relax and enjoy the meal.

OBI Restaurant

You’ll find OBI restaurant in Long Street in CBD. The place belongs to Hatsushiro Muraoka (“Papa San”) who you may know as the owner of Takumi which unfortunately closed last year. It has rather harsh decor but makes up for it with the food. Their sushi is delicious and there’s a big variety. Be careful not to order too much, though, as the portions are quite big. I was also quite impressed with the attentive service.

Active Sushi on Bree

Active Sushi in de Waterkant and Active Sushi on Bree in CBD used to be a franchise but now they’re separate restaurants. I only visited the place once and the food was good. They have similar prices to the other Active Sushi, but more limitations on all you can eat. A fair warning: they give you frozen grapes to put in your wine, because they’re so fancy. I’ve tried to eat them, because I didn’t know. Ouch!

Active Sushi

Active Sushi is the only sushi restaurant in De Waterkant but then De Waterkant is small. The restaurant is clean with a pleasant ambiance. They have very nice and reasonably priced lunch options that made me wonder whether I should even put them in the higher price category. However, if you want to go out for a dinner you’ll end up paying more. The best dinner option is probably their all-you-can-eat for R199. You can gorge on sushi on this deal, even though there are some limitations, I’ve never reached them and I can eat A LOT of sushi. I truly enjoy their food every time I go. Just be warned that their cry roll will make you actually cry and I speak from experience.

Manga

You’ll find the restaurant in Mouille Point. Their funky menu is worth fully exploring. You need to have a budget of at least 200 rand per person to eat (and drink) comfortably. How does Manga Rainbow Reloaded sound like? Three types of fish on one piece of sushi??? Yum! Even the classic sushi has nice additions, if you want to spice up your life a bit. You can try their linefish california roll, nigiri or fashion sandwiches. There’s also octopus nigiri and mantaiko seared salmon handroll. The desserts are also highly recommended. If you’d like to check what I’m on about but don’t want to break the bank, try their buy 1 get 1 free special on classic sushi on Tuesdays. Please learn from my experience and book, though.

Izakaya Matsuri

This little gem is hidden in the Rockwell Hotel building in Green Point. I’ve been there a number of times and I enjoyed the food every single time. If you don’t know what to choose from the rather abundant menu, their knowledgable waiters will surely help you out. I remember particularly enjoying Salmon Dragon Roll, Eel Dragon Roll and Aburi Toro Salmon Roll as well as interesting additions to sashimi and nigiri including: line fish, mackrel, octopus and eel. If you prefer classic sushi, you won’t be disappointed either. Do yourself a favour and leave a little bit of space in your stomach for their desserts. All the options are amazing but to have it all (I’ve always been of the opinion that one can in life!) try three kinds of ice cream at once… I’m literally salivating writing it down! Don’t forget to book a table before you go. The place is tiny and unsurprisingly busy.

Willoughby & Co

You don’t even have to look for this restaurant in the Waterfront, just follow the crowd (literally). There’s always a long queue of people waiting to get in to this famous establishment. I’ve eaten there once and enjoyed the food but really not to the point to wait so long to get in. It’s also in the middle of a mall which for me is a boner killer. If you don’t mind a long wait and being surrounded by a lot of people, it may be your vibe. It just isn’t mine. Also, it’s expensive.

Balducci

You’ll also find Balducci in the Waterfront. What can I say? It has everything on offer! Italian food (pizza, pasta, gnocchi), Asian noodles, banting options AND sushi. The food is okay but their sushi is quite expensive. I was happy with the meal I had but never went again. There are just better places around to satisfy your hunger for raw fish and rice.

Codfather

No one really goes to Codfather in Camps Bay just for sushi. Their sushi is nice but their speciality is fish and sea food. I think you should ideally have a mix of both if you want a full experience of the place.

A Super Special Night Out – sky is the limit but I’d say a minimum of 400 rand pp if you want a proper meal

Nobu

Nobu in the Waterfront is bloody expensive but it’s so worth it. It’s the best sushi I’ve ever eaten. Honestly a mouth orgasm in every bite! You can’t compare the quality of their fish to other places and the same goes for the way in which the food is served. They have a variety of fish and dishes, which you simply cannot find in other places. You can taste all different kinds of it:  yellowtail, whitefish, sardine, tamago, tabiko, scallop (TRY THE SCALLOP), lobster, langoustine, salmon eggs… You name it. They also have excellent service and you can trust their recommendations. Now a fair warning: if they ask you whether it’s a special night and you tell them it is, make sure to let them know you DON’T want their “celebratory” dessert, unless you’re ready to pay 70 rand for a piece of a cheesecake and a scoop of ice cream (picture below), that you’ll probably be too full to eat. Oh, ja, they charge you for that without letting you know.

bloody_cheesacake

Kyoto Garden

I was a bit underwhelmed by Kyoto Garden. They have a big choice of sushi and it is better than in your average restaurant, but I guess I expected more for the money. The ambiance is quite nice and the service is good. The cocktails are delicious too. Also, the central location on Kloof Nek in CBD is a big plus.

I’m aware I have not covered all the sushi restaurants in Cape Town but I will continue my exploration and add new places as I go. I hope this guide will be of some use to you. Please let me know if you have any suggestions on expanding or comments on what I said. Which sushi restaurant is your favorite and why?

Safari, safari, safari!!!

As you’ve probably figured out from the title of my post I’ve been on a safari! It was my husband’s idea and a great way to try out our new camera. We went to one of the few places in the Western Cape that boasts the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino), Aquila Private Game Reserve.

huts

Aquila is a two hour drive from Cape Town. The smooth highway isn’t monotonous at all, most of the time you’re surrounded by beautiful mountains. We were lucky to see baboons with their little ones on the road but unfortunately I didn’t manage to take pictures. At some point we even had to stop to let a wounded baboon carrying its baby across the road. TIA, for real.

Aquila is very popular even in winter (yes, readers from outside South Africa, it’s winter here at the moment). For someone who lives in Cape Town it’s just a perfect time to go, because it’s cheaper and less crowded when off season. They offer full day safaris (includes some chill time at the lodge time), quad bikes and horseback safaris and what we opted for, a half-day safari. We weren’t interested in staying over at the lodge but it is an option. The huts and rooms are not stationed in the park itself but just next to it so I had no regrets in this respect.

The half-day afternoon safari is a two to three hour drive. It starts like the beginning of the trip in “Jurassic Park” with the automatic gate linked to a high voltage fence closing behind you. The vehicle you’re traveling in is half-open. Being a neurotic of course I wondered about safety…

GATEJP

It was quite a thrilling experience, I must say. I had no idea that you can get so close to the animals! We saw lazy hippos chilling from far away, but two elephants approached us and they were maybe 3 meters away! It was absolutely amazing to see these magnificent animals so close by. They weren’t doing much, just half lazily staring at the vehicle and rubbing their skin with their trunks. I think all the tourists in our vehicle felt respect for them as everyone went quiet in awe and all you could hear were flies and the sound of pictures being taken with cameras.

elephants approaching

elephant walking

 

As we continued the drive, we saw a pregnant rhino, which also was very close to the car. She didn’t even look at us but I must say her massive horn looked threatening. She seemed to also pay no attention to the nearby ostriches. Speaking of the latter, the overgrown chickens are much more dangerous than you’d think. If you piss them off they can kill you with a few kicks. Our guide gave us a relevant tip: if they attack you lie down, the can bite you but they can only kick at the height of around 0,5 meters. On our way to the lion’s territory we also saw zebras and buck.

zebra closer walking

rhino side

The definite highlight of the whole tour was the lion area, consisting of rescued animals. It’s separated from the other parts of the park for obvious reasons – there wouldn’t be much to see if lions ate the other animals. I assumed we would see them from far away but there was a point when a male specimen was not more than a meter away from where I was sitting. I must say, I recoiled and stopped photographing for a second when he looked at me with what I interpreted as discontent. It was super cool to be so close to them. They were behaving surprisingly docile, mostly lying around, yawning or lazily chewing meat. I think a part of the reason why such drives are safe is that they never let the lions be hungry. They do let them hunt, bringing small animals into their enclosure occasionally.  I was a bit sad to leave them and a bit eager to get away from the potential danger.

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three lions

After the lions we went to visit some giraffes. I imagined them to be bigger, so I was a bit surprised with their size. My memory of the animal from “The Lion King” also suggested that they should be lazily walking and feeding on the grass, rather than climbing mountains to find leaves higher up. This was the only part of the trip when we were allowed to get out of the car to enjoy some snacks and drinks. Surprisingly, the only moment when our guide got a bit nervous had to do with this seemingly docile animal. A member of our group decided to take a very close shot of a female and she kept anxiously moving away. As the guide pointed out, she was expecting and he should just leave her alone if he didn’t want her to chase him.

giraffe

This brings me to an important point which is: What to wear to a safari? It’s important that your wear “natural” colors so that you can easily pretend to be a part of the surrounding. This is a picture of me successfully pretending to be a stone (I know it’s difficult to see a human there, but it’s really me!):

I'm a stone

 

The drive finished soon after the rest of the group managed to find me among stones. After so much excitement, a two hour long trip home seemed even longer. The experience was really amazing and I recommend it to anyone who likes nature and animals.

Btw Biltong101 is now on Instagram, follow me there to see what I’m up to between posts. 

Have you ever been on a safari, Dear Reader? Have you enjoyed your experience? Do you have terrifying wildlife stories to tell?

 

 

Gender Equality and Women’s Rights in South Africa

women rightsOn Wednesday South Africa celebrated National Women’s Day. Everyone is happy to have a day off and I’m not sure whether many people remember that the day commemorates the women’s march of 1956 when plus/minus 20 thousand women protested against a new law of the apartheid era, requiring people defined as “black” to carry internal passes with them. I’m also not convinced that the day off should focus on sending women wishes. It’d be of much more use if we use it to raise awareness about gender (in)equality.

On the surface everything looks great in South Africa. The country has a rather progressive legislation. The Employment Equity Act, No 55 of 1998 is meant to make sure that workplace is free of discrimination. Women are politically active and after the 2014 elections took around 40% of political positions (Cabinet Posts, Deputy Ministers positions and Parliament seats). There are special reproductive clinics in the country where people can get access to free contraception. Abortions are also free in government clinics and hospitals for the first three months of pregnancy. The last two points seem particularly progressive to me as in Poland reproductive rights of women are not respected in a similar way. If you’d like to read more on the topic you can read my post on the issue on my other blog.

The framework looks good, but of course this doesn’t mean that things are that great in reality. The biggest hindrance in women fully enjoying their legal rights is poverty. Crime is high particularly in informal settlements and rape in South Africa has one of the highest rates in the world. The statistics are absolutely terrifying, with the estimation that 40% of South African women will be raped in their lifetime. Some forms of rape are: gang rape, corrective rape (inflicted on lesbians to “teach them out” of their homosexuality”) and virgin cleansing rape (rape inflicted on virgins to cure oneself from HIV/AIDS). The transmission of STD’s particularly HIV is another issue related to sexual violence in the country. It’s not uncommon for the rapist to be someone that the victim knows. Sexual crimes are reported more and more often but in rural areas the lack of accessibility to services is one of the reasons why the crimes don’t get reported. Unfortunately, the understanding of what consensual sex is, doesn’t help the situation. According to Medical Research Council  forms of coercion and sexual harassment are considered by many to be just a part of male behavior.

Domestic violence, including but not limited to sexual violence, is also a big problem in South Africa. It was considered a private matter up to 1990s so the movement to effectively prevent it is very new. Here, the attitude of women is as much of a problem as the attitude of men. Many representatives of both sexes hold views that women should obey their husbands. 59% of women reported to have experienced some form of domestic violence. Murder victims are very often victims of domestic violence. Among the “big” domestic violence cases one should mention Oscar Pistorous who murdered his girlfriend most probably because of the fight their had. He was sentenced to 6 years of prison. What sort of message do you think such a lenient verdict sends?

So far I’ve focused on statistics but what have I seen in the last years of living in South Africa? A lot of conservatism. For instance, a hen party in Afrikaans is called “kombuistee” which means a “kitchen tea”. I pointed out to the person who told me that, that it seemed a bit sexist and they (a man) replied “Oh but women LOVE their little kitchen parties! They’re also so happy when they get their kitchen utensils as presents when they get married!”. And indeed a lot of Afrikaans women I’ve met seem to be programmed to believe that their only mission in life is to get married and reproduce. Many women are “kept” as because of their good financial situation they have a bunch of people helping with household chores and children, while the ladies can enjoy their yoga and Pilates. Of course, I’ve met Afrikaans women, who aspire to have both a family life and a career but the do seem to be in minority. I personally once made an Afrikaans man boil with anger as I dared to drink a beer straight from a bottle and “a lady should not do that!”. I rejected the offer of him bringing me a glass and the man just kept mumbling that I should not be doing that. I’m assuming this was because of the phallic associations one may have with a bottle? There’s also a strong belief that a man should always pay for a lady.

Women in general in South Africa are still valued by whether they have a partner or not, they also shouldn’t have too many as “you don’t want to get a reputation”. “Do you have a boyfriend” was a question I was asked by male members of my friends families, who couldn’t be interested in my relationship status for reasons such as learning whether I’m available. When I was single the answer “no” was often followed by a “Why?”. Catcalling is a popular pastime and I was verbally abused numerous times for ignoring such comments. I was also once told by a coworker (not South African) that I should stop wearing short skirts if I don’t want people to behave that way, which just shows that putting the blame on the victim mentality is a worldwide thing.

There are indeed many women in management and women are professionally active in South Africa. There’s a noticeable gap in gender in tech and science, though. Also, inappropriate behaviors from male workers are usually ignored or at least I’ve never heard anyone being lectured for making a sexual comment either. For instance such an exchange took place in one of my workplaces:

A male colleague was telling us about his country another colleague asked him what are the three best things about it. He said: women, food and beaches. Hearing the latter, the person who asked him the question said: You’ve already said that! Some people chuckled, some stayed silent but no one commented on the joke in any way, making the person know that such behaviors are inappropriate. Of course, even the initial mention of women as something to be “recommended” in a country is questionable…

The situation of women in South Africa isn’t great, even though the country has a progressive legal framework. There’s a lot to do to improve the situation. As much as it’s important to also fight inappropriateness in workplace, the most important thing to focus on is to fight sexual and domestic violence against women and children.

 

I’ve used the following sources when writing this post:

https://www.one.org/africa/policy/status-of-women-and-girls-in-south-africa/

http://www.wpaquatics.org/2016/08/09/history-national-womens-day-9th-august/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_violence_in_South_Africa

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_violence_in_South_Africa