Expatting vs Backpacking

Disclaimer: The following post is tongue in cheek.   I don’t have any prejudices against back-packers, it was rather a specific comment, by a specific person – known henceforth as Pinhead –  at a specific time, that inspired this little piece. Expat vs Backpack small globe with pin it it

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High Altitude, Dry Altitude

Jo’burg is located up on a plateau, known as the Highveld, which is some 1753 metres or almost 6000 ft above sea level. Yes, we live about a mile high. One of the things you quickly notice is that the air up here is crackling and dry, particularly in the winter months when rain is scarce. This results in dry-wizened-zombie-hag skin which feels like it’s going to crack and fall off at any given moment.

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Star Wars in South Africa

South African Star Wars fans are in for a treat.  DSTV’s channel 109 is going to host a pop-up Star Wars channel for an entire fortnight, starting on August 31st.  The smorgasbord of movies, interviews, documentaries and behind the scenes peeks on offer will ensure that all Star Wars fans can have a total fest.

Star Wars pop up channel

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Awesome Blossom

Spring is in the air here in Jo’burg.  You can tell by the awesome blossom that is beginning to bloom.  I’ve mentioned the phenomenal bird life in South Africa, but the annual techni-coloured flower show we are treated to is also stellar.

Red Tree

Help. Please tell me what kind of tree this is?

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Cultural Conundrums in Constantinople

November 2011 – Istanbul

Sultanahmet is the original heart of old Constantinople, now Istanbul.  This is THE area that draws tourists in the by the coach load.  The magnets being Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and Basilica Cisterns, all located within spitting distance of each other.

View across the Golden Horn of Sultanahmet, taken from Galata Tower.

View across the Golden Horn of Sultanahmet, taken from Galata Tower.

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The Expat Uphill Battle


the expat uphill battle on a steep stepped hill in istanbul

We moved to Istanbul at the back end of 2011.  As can only be expected, there were many hiccups, ups, downs and frustrating moments in those earliest days as we fumbled our way step by step.  But, of course, perseverance is key in the ‘Expat Uphill Battle’ and as each challenge is mastered, slowly but surely you will win the uphill battle.

Istanbul, September 2011

We are mostly settled in and unpacked. A small army of removal men carried our worldly possessions from the road, down 24 steps to our gate, down a further 8 steps to our front door and then distributed them about the house where there are 3 flights of stairs, (which is a further 50 steps). Did I tell you that Istanbul is quite hilly?

Sweetpea has started school, leaving Pickle and I to try and find activities to fill our days. Our first attempt at finding a playgroup was a bit of a wild goose chase. I’d driven to the supermarket a couple of times thinking this would be sufficient practice before heading out into the real traffic.

It was woefully insufficient practice.

I ventured out at rush hour, braving both chockablock artery roads and steep winding side ones.  Matters weren’t helped by the monstrous hire car that I drove for the first two weeks.  It was a cumbersome, tank-weight car with squishy tyres and a put-put 2CV type engine. Going uphill felt like the car was desperately swimming against a rip tide.  Did I mention it’s hilly?

Eventually arriving frazzled and white knuckled at the address I’d been given I plastered on a smile, walked in with an excited toddler in tow and asked about the playgroup. It turns out my map was out of date. We were not at a playgroup, I don’t know what sort to establishment we were at because the staff spoke limited English and my Turkish was non-existent. I think they could see that I was on the brink of total unhingement and kindly googled the place I was looking for, called them and gave me the up to date address.

Returning to the car I had a silent meltdown, lots of deep breaths, reprogrammed the sat nav, ready (not at all ready) for round two in the traffic.  Meanwhile the soundtrack “Go play?  Go play Mummy.  Play now Mummy?” was looping enthusiastically in the back of the car. Giving up was not an option.

We eventually arrived at the right address. Relief! But the playgroup was closed. Momentary despair and annoyance (why didn’t they mention that in the phone call).

Determined not to turn tail and flee home just yet I went for round three. I headed to the supermarket and explored the floors above it where I found a bar, a hairdresser, a gym and a Gymboree (hooray). I signed Pickle up on the spot ensuring a regular weekly activity to look forward to and then went to buy groceries. As well as groceries I found a friend. Basically, I introduced myself to a complete stranger in the milk aisle on the basis that I heard her child speaking English.  “Hi, are you British?  We’re British.  We’re new.”

Rather than treating me like a deranged stalker, the nice lady turned out to be the best possible kind of friend at hand.  She stopped for a chat, gave me her phone number and email address on a scrap of paper and invited me to a an International Family Fun Day. A slightly stressful, but ultimately successful morning.

As we arrived at the Fun Day a few days later (having assured my husband that the invitation was genuine and that I would be able to pick out my new supermarket friend in a crowd), our taxi driver darkly said “problem var” gesturing to the riot police gathering all about and helicopters circling overhead.

Hmmm, not to be quite so easily deterred from our first official social engagement we gamely stepped out and headed to the party. Apparently there are often demonstrations and protests in this area of Istanbul. Mostly they are peaceful, although there was minor drama when we were all herded into the bar area because teargas had been deployed and was wafting our way, it was a novel way to meet new people.”

Yes, the first weeks in a new country are always a bit of an uphill battle (both metaphorically and literally in steep and winding Istanbul). Step by step we get there though and when we have time to stop, catch our breath and look behind us, that’s hopefully when we’ll be surprised at how far up the hill we’ve already battled and how wonderful the view is as things fall into perspective.


A Friend at Hand is better than a Far Distant Relative

“A friend at hand is better than a far distant relative.”

This African proverb of unknown provenance is printed on a patchwork quilt that I won, a quilt made by a brilliant group of expat ladies (which is a story for another time).   It’s not just a proverb, it is a truth, a fact, a mantra that the seasoned expat understands well and one that new expats will learn very quickly if they are going to survive in a strange new place.


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“Roughing” it at Number 1 in Johannesburg

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The City of Gold takes…Gold!

I previously told you about some of Johannesburg’s winning ways in the post: It would be a crime NOT to tell you. Now, I’ve stumbled across some MORE positive news about this thrumming city that we currently call home. Jozi has been ranked in the top spot, the numero uno big banana of cities to visit in 2015 by The Rough Guide.

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