How one Expat is Walking the Walk rather than Talking the Talk

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Although I very recently lampooned a fictional stereotypical expat called Charity Charity who is hopelessly devoted to helping all the causes, in reality I have a great deal of respect for the expats who go out and make a genuine difference to their host country.

Expat Leslie Randolph is someone who has done just that.  She is making an admirable contribution to South Africa through her involvement with Lawyers against Abuse.  Leslie is a fabulous individual, warm and kind and great fun to be around.  Here she shares her story and her passion for the cause she has been fighting for:

“I think many expats share an overwhelming desire to give back to their host country.  I know I did upon arriving in Johannesburg nearly three years ago.  I believe we have a responsibility to give back to the country that is hosting us and, if possible, to leave it better than how we found it.  In Johannesburg, the opportunity to give back is easy because the need is so incredibly overwhelming.  The challenge is to figure out where to give your time and talents and how to maximise your impact in the short amount of time you have in this home away from home.

Upon arriving I dove into it!  I was cleaning out my closets weekly, giving away toys my kids may (or may not) have been tired of playing with and donating them to any cause that tugged at my heartstrings.  And let’s be honest, they all did. I quickly signed up to volunteer at a local preschool in the township of Kya Sands and began doing puzzles weekly with the children.  On paper, I was an expat rock star, but in reality I was failing the children I was supposed to be helping and myself.  Volunteering eventually became a box to check weekly versus a passion, and while I was physically with the kids each week I wasn’t emotionally present.  While some volunteers are completely altruistic, I am not. I wanted to find a cause and project that impacted me as much as I impacted it.

I finished out the year at my preschool, and as the kids graduated, so did I.  I told myself to take my time to find a cause that I was truly passionate about so that volunteering wouldn’t feel like an obligation, but a privilege.  Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Lawyers against Abuse (LvA), a non-profit organisation that provides free legal services and trauma counselling to victims of gender-based violence (GBV).

If you’ve lived in South Africa for any amount of time, you know that GBV is endemic, but you might not fully comprehend the magnitude of this crisis.  Continue reading

The South African Hadeda Alarm Clock

The culture here in South Africa is ‘early to bed, early to rise’.  Is it because the sun rises so early?  No, it’s because of the delightful hadeda bird that serves as a daily alarm clock.

Have you ever heard the ear shattering screech of the hadeda as it pierces the the gentle quiet of dawn? This is but a timid sample, yet if you turn your volume up as high as it will go, you too can appreciate this special sound.

Good morning and you’re welcome.

 

You can learn more about just a small selection of birds we’ve encountered in Johannesburg, including the hadeda, the weaver bird and the go-away bird by clicking here.

Ponte Tower – A Tale of Glamour, Garbage and Gritty Regeneration

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Ponte Tower

Johannesburg’s Ponte Tower is infamous, notorious and really really interesting.  It embodies the former decadence, ensuing decay and current regeneration of the City of Gold.  It’s a brutalist, concrete hollow cylinder of a building in the city’s Central Business District (CBD).  The tallest residential building in Africa, it rises 55 stories tall and along with the Telkom tower is an instantly recognisable feature of Joburg CBD’s skyline.

Glamour: Ponte started life in the mid 1970’s as luxury real estate dubbed the ‘Vegas of Africa’, where the plushest apartments spanned three floors and had built in jacuzzis.  To see a smattering of photos from those bygone I only found this one article: Buildings are Geological Agents. There are only a couple of images and you have to scroll most of the way down through the post.

Garbage: When decay set in and the original hipster residents moved out, the empty buildings were broken into and hijacked. Ponte became a complete no-go zone.  It was an overcrowded den of iniquity with a direly severe rubbish problem in the 90’s.   There was no running water, no electricity and when the rubbish collections stopped, residents would lob their waste into the central void.  Unfortunately, there it stayed until it rose a festering 14 stories high (or 2 or 3 or 5 – I’ve read different things and I’m not sure which is factually correct, but 14 is the number given by our guide on the day).  Ponte was a slum in the sky.

Gritty Regeneration: In recent years, Ponte has changed again.  The illegal tenants evicted, the rubbish has gone and the building has been refurbished to a good standard and is now home to a mixture of families, students, working and middle class residents.  It is possible to tour both the inside (marvelling at the views from the top) and the eerie core with a circle of sky high above.   Continue reading

Discover Johannesburg’s Top Hikes

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Hedianga Hike 15km – “We love hiking with dogs.”                                                                                                                                 Photo Credit: Becci Monge

For a city as gritty as Johannesburg, you might be surprised to find out just how many fab hiking spots there are in and around it.  My friend, American expat Becci Monge has kindly written a guest post with her top local hiking picks.

Becci got hooked on hiking last year when she decided (and by the way successfully succeeded – enormous kudos to you Becci and the rest of the Jo’burg based She-Trek team) to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. In preparation for Kili, the She-Trekkers explored (and continue to explore) the best hiking spots on offer in our local area.

Over to Becci: Continue reading

Scorpion on the Line

 

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Did you ever hear the story about Thomas the Tank Engine and the scorpion?  It’s got a sting in the tail.

This is a passenger announcement.  Regular blog services are running late.  Normal service has been severely disrupted by The Christmas Holidays…and a scorpion on the line.

Regular service will resume shortly.

In the meantime, just incase you missed them the first time around, the most popular 5 posts on Expatorama in 2016 were:

  1.  Why Expats are Like Dung Beetles
  2.  The Escape Room Phenomenon hits South Africa
  3.  10 Things I’ve learned from running and Expat Facebook Group
  4.  Ladies who Lunch
  5.  Which School? An Expat Parenting Dilemma

 

The scorpion has now thankfully left the building and I’m busy working on some brand new posts for 2017.

We Four Expats Travel Afar

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Happy Christmas – Here’s a little Expat Christmas Ditty to the tune of We Three Kings….  

 

We four Expats travel afar

Metro, funicular, airplane, car

Veldt and fountain, fynbos and mountain

Always seeking the next bright star

Continue reading

Johannesburg’s CBD – Crime, Burglary and Decay or Culture, Business and Delight?

Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD) was once the heart of gold rush pioneer town Johannesburg.  This is where  all the biggest, best and most beautiful buildings were built.  Many years later, after first the rise and then fall of apartheid this area deteriorated significantly.  Residents and businesses moved out in droves as buildings were hijacked quickly becoming overcrowded with squatters.  The area became a dangerous and crime ridden no-go zone in the 1990’s.

 

But what’s it like today?  I joined an inner city walking tour to find out more. Continue reading

Thokozani: A Happy Place

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There is a great deal of poverty in South Africa and some expats choose to use their time here to do what they can to contribute to improving and empowering local communities through a variety of volunteer programs, fundraisers and initiatives.  All in all there are some fantastic expat projects going on. Today’s guest post is written by expat Mona Brantley with input from Annabel Newell. Mona currently heads up the Friends of Diepsloot volunteer team that has invested an enormous amount of time and love in Thokozani Preschool over the last few years to great effect.  Over to Mona…..

Where is your happy place? Have you found a place in your current location that makes you smile, where only good memories are made? For me and many other Joburg expats that happy place literally is Thokozani (a Zulu word for “a place or state of happiness”).

Four years ago, in April of 2012, Laurence Braeckman, a Belgian expat, went into Diespsloot township to look at schools, day cares, and preschools. When she discovered Gogo and Thokozani, she knew she had found her happy place.

Gogo (Zulu for grandmother because no one calls her by her name Miss Lizah) had already been running Thokozani for six years, primarily as a day care and a place of safety for the very young children of Diepsloot.

The facilities then were very basic. They were making food for 200 kids on a two gas hob cooker in a kitchen that doubled as the office. The children sat and ate on the floor. They practiced writing letters on the backs of their classmates. The classrooms were little more than shacks: hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The food, though made with love and care, was not nutritious enough for growing children. While the kids were safe and in a loving environment, so much more could be done, and Laurence and her cohorts set to work. Continue reading

10 Things I’ve learned from running an Expat Facebook Group

I am THAT woman.  I don’t know how it happened, but I am the mug that runs our local expat Facebook group.  I assumed there would be one (an expat Facebook group, not a mug) when I arrived in Johannesburg.  After all, I’m sure every major city has had at least one of these groups for ages.  I searched for it before I arrived, I asked around when I got here.  I got tumbleweed.  So eventually, I stepped up to the plate and set one up.  It took all of 10 minutes to pick a name, write a description, add a photo, select the settings and add a few friends.  I think I started off with about 10 people.

On the back of the initial 10 minutes that I invested, not much happened for the first couple of weeks.  Then a lot happened.  It’s become a bit of beast.  A much needed and generally much appreciated beast, but a beast nonetheless.

Here are 10 things I’ve learnt from running an expat Facebook group (and yes, there are links at the end of the post).

Continue reading

Mile High Living

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As established in the post Happy Expat Wife, Happy Expat Life, I’m rubbish at drawing.  Sweetpea has kindly contributed this doodle of a sunburnt zombie family waiting forever for their breakfast eggs (or brains) to boil.

There are a few quirks to mile high living.  I covered the zombie skin we get in Jo’burg’s crackling dry winter months in the post High Altitude, Dry Altitude, but there are are other things about life on the Highveld that you might be interested to know about. 

Dry Altitude

In addition to zombie skin, dehydration is something to watch out for. Unlike more humid climates where you find that your sweat glands have sweat glands, the dehydration here is stealthy. Because your sweat evaporates so effortlessly (rather than running down your back or into your eyes) you probably won’t realise how much moisture you’re losing. Dehydration IS very real though, so be sure to drink plenty of water, especially if you are enjoying any of the local wines or craft beers.  If you don’t, you will look AND feel like a zombie. Continue reading