Thokozani: A Happy Place

Thokozani preschool Diepsloot, Johannesburg, before and after photos of buildings.

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

Child's sketch Mile High Living gives your zombie skin

Mile High Living: High Altitude Quirks

There are a few quirks to mile high living.  I covered the zombie skin you get during Johannesburg’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. 

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Expat Ladies who Lunch

Expat ladies who lunch ladies of leisure on a grafiti tour

It’s what you think we expats spouses do all the time, isn’t it?  Go out for lunch and have a jolly old time. Well, yes, sometimes we do.  After all, we are the expat ladies who lunch.

Here is a group photo of our international ladies social club taking a morning walking tour, followed by – you guessed it – lunch.  It took place on a weekday when our children were at school, our husbands at work and in many cases a house helper was doing the cleaning or ironing in our homes.  I know what you’re thinking…. Continue reading

Wonder at the Wonder Cave

Stalagmites inside the Wonder Cave Johannesburg

The ancient Wonder Cave is North of Johannesburg in the Cradle of Humankind and was discovered by Italian miners in 1898.

This is South Africa’s third largest cavern and there are plenty of beautiful rock formations to see. There are stalagmites (the ones that grow downwards from the ceiling) and stalactites (the ones that grow upwards from the floor).   One formation looks like a giant mushroom, another like a praying Mary.

There are 87 steps from ground level down the lift, which isn’t too taxing, but it does of course mean that when you’re done, there are 87 steps back up.  Continue reading

Discover Johannesburg’s Sci Bono Discovery Centre

Children's party at Sci Bono Discovery Centre Johannesburg

Sci Bono Discovery Centre is situated in an old power station in Johannesburg’s Newtown. We’ve taken our kids a few times and they love it.  We hosted a birthday party there this morning, which included a guided tour of the best bits and an awesome exploding science show.  Quite a few of our guests had never been, which made me realise that plenty of Jo’burgers have never checked this place out.

This is why you should:

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10 Reasons to have a Dog in Johannesburg

Shortly after arriving in Johannesburg, South Africa, we adopted a little rescue dog.  It turns out that despite my initial concerns and reservations, I’m actually quite pleased that we did.

To be fair, most of the reasons I give for getting a dog apply to wherever you are in the world, but prior to arriving in Johannesburg adding a dog into the mix had never been a serious consideration. Reasons 4 and 5 are particularly pertinent to people who have just moved (like expats) and probably reason 6 also.  Reasons 9 and 10 are two specific reasons that meant that getting a dog in Jo’burg was particularly appealing.  Here are my 10 Reason for getting a dog: Continue reading

A Truly Weird Wacky Week in Johannesburg

Life is rarely dull in Johannesburg, but some weeks are definitely more eventful and weirder than others, the week before last was a case in point.


MONDAY:  I nearly got washed off the road during a massive storm.  Water was streaming over the central reservation forming a downhill torrent.  Instead of going shopping, I went and sat in the school carpark.  Grateful to be dry and pleased to have avoided the subsequent traffic, I waited it out.  As the school bell rang, the rain stopped and by the time we got back in the car, the road surface was mainly dry.


Road or River?


TUESDAY:  We had an unwelcome visitor in the garden. Continue reading

The Escape Room Phenomenon hits South Africa

I’m always looking for new things to do and now I’ve found a great way to escape FROM Johannesburg IN Johannesburg.

Escape room johannesburg, keys, codes and mysteries.

Escape rooms (also known as puzzle rooms) are already massively popular in many big cities around the world.  Johannesburg, South Africa is no exception.  Here’s our list of Johannesburg’s Escape Rooms.  Which one will you pick?

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Johannesburg’s China Town: A Taste of Asia in Africa

Like many other big cities, Johannesburg has a China Town.  Commissioner Street in the CBD was the original Chinese hub, but when the inner city deteriorated in the 1990’s China Town relocated to a quiet suburb called Cyrildene in eastern Johannesburg.


Welcome to Johannesburg’s China Town

There are plenty of other places to buy asian foods and spices at shops dotted about Johannesburg, but Johannesburg’s China Town has to be the best place to go for the widest variety and best prices.

Many of the locals don’t speak English, they speak Chinese.  As my Cantonese (not the same as Mandarin) stretches as far as the words for ‘jumper’, ‘watch’, ‘roll call’ and a rude and unmentionable phrase – all taught to me by two Hong Kong school mates at boarding school many years ago, I followed the following advice:  1. Go with the point and smile sign language technique (you’ve got to love those picture menus in some of the restaurants).  2.  Ask one of african shop assistants who will probably speak 4 or 5 different languages and be more or less able to guide you in the right direction.

Derrick Street boasts a selection of shops, restaurants, massage parlours and hairdressers.  The overall feel is Chinese, but there are products available that come from all over Asia, for example, you will find a decent selection of Thai, Indonesian and Japanese goods for sale.  As an interesting aside, apparently many of the Japanese products are actually manufactured in Taiwan because it’s more cost effective and yet, the Taiwanese-made-Japanese-sold products are more expensive in Japan than in Johannesburg.

Get a fix of dim sum or go to the restaurant that has a giant cauldron with a fire at the bottom and small pots of various casseroles stacked inside.  I can’t remember what it was called, but I’m a big fan of casseroles and they smelled delicious.


Casserole Cauldron

The only advice given when choosing a lunch venue and menu was to avoid any dishes including internal organs.


We were advised to avoid anything on this page of the menu.

We popped into a specialist tea shop.    It’s apparently THE place to go if you are doing business with overseas asians (i.e. Asians in Asia, rather than Asians in Africa) and want to gift a good tea to smooth business relations along.  Alongside the attractively packaged gift teas are regular drink-at-home teas and medicinal ones, including ‘dealcoholism tea’ (I’m assuming it’s for a hangover rather than to actually cure alcoholism or more people would know about it?) and rather titillatingly, ‘sex tea’.

There was a glass jar full of surprise tea – the same idea as surprise soup, but you end up with tea rather than soup.  I was thinking about buying some, but was slightly concerned that I might get more than I bargained for – if you look carefully there are a number of other surprise items stocked in the glass cabinet, under the glass jar.


Surprise Tea


You can buy exotic vegetables in China Town, from clusters of oyster mushrooms to flower like dragon fruit.  I’ve lived in and visited various parts of Asia and thought there would be nothing too surprising, but I’d never come across ugly, bumpy bitter gourds before.


Other items you can stock up on in China Town include industrial sized bags of rice, which surprising often come from Australia, you can buy ‘Hell money’ to burn at funerals, face masks (not the pore-cleansing beautification type, the protect-yourself-from-inhaling-polluted-city-air type), dried noodles, dried fish with wizened faces and racks and racks of entirely unidentifiable goods (unidentifiable to me, to the trained eye it’s probably no more complicated than buying a pint of milk or a loaf of bread).  I also found plenty of things I did recognise like soy sauce, prawn crackers and rice wine.


Jozi’s China Town is a thriving community rather than a tourist attraction, but if you’re based in Johannesburg, it’s worth a visit nonetheless to get a small taste of Asia in Africa.  Enjoy an inexpensive authentic exotic meal and stock up on some tasty culinary goodies.  I also hear on the grapevine that Chinese New Year is celebrated enthusiastically in China Town, perhaps that would be a good time to pencil in a return visit?