Tuesday, August 07, 2007

They dig their own holes

“They dig their own holes!” he said like he was still amazed by it. "They don't have a Moses* to do it for them, they have to do it themselves". The person speaking is a 28 year old Afrikaans guy from the North West Province in SA, who recently returned from a 2 year stay in New Sealand. There he worked as a construction worker. New Sealand is rather popular among white South-Africans as a place to live; higher wages, less crime, no BEE** (and perhaps no black majority?).

He goes on about how being a construction worker there differs from being one in SA. A "construction worker" in SA pretty much just supervises the black labourers (who are the actual construction workers). This is also the case with miners for instance. A miner doesn't dig out the gold himself; he supervises the black people doing it.
When I asked my mother-in-law for some advice to clean the mildew in the bathroom she said "I use Handy Andy every month to prevent it from growing". Just a tat curious I asked my boyfriend if his mother actually used the Handy Andy herself or if she got the maid to do it. "No of course she doesn't di it herself", he answered slightly annoyed about the fact that I asked questions ' I already knew the answer to'.

* A derogatory name for black people
** Black Economic Empowerment (a system of positive discrimination for black people to undo wrongs of the past)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Traditional healers

The lady in the picture is a sangoma, a South African traditional healer. That is a person who through communication with the ancestors tries to cure a person from both mental and physical ailments. Contact with the afterlife gets made by, for instance, making music or burning certain herbs. In the two pictures below you can see her cupboard full of herbs and other traditional medicine.
Sangomas are very important in African culture. 80% of the black people in South Africa don't go to a western docter, but to their local sangoma. In the battle against HIV/Aids this is not always a desirable state of affairs since most of them don't understand the concept of a virus, don't prescribe ARV's (antiretroviral drugs), and with certain herbs and unhygenic methods abound, only make the problem worse.
Ironically, they could play a critical role in the fight against The Pandemic because of their status in the community. A couple of months ago I visited a pilot project which was aimed at getting sangomas to participate in the struggle against this awful disease. The project leaders had a difficult time in explaining the nature of the virus and that it will never leave a person's body. Sangomas think that when the symptoms of a disease are gone, the disease itself is gone too. Therefore some of them have claimed to have cured Aids, because after they have treated an infected person, that person seemed healthy again.
The sangomas who participated in this project were very open to the 'western' way of fighting Aids. When I asked one of them why, she said " because our people are dying and I cannot help them".

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


"What is that?!?", with eyes wide open my boyfriend turns to me. He is obviously very shocked by something. Its two years ago and we are driving in my car in Amsterdam.

"What's the matter?", I return the question. I don't see anything that could cause so much disbelieve. We're in a one way street, cars parked left and right, some pedestrians and cyclists doing their thing. Basically, an everyday picture in the nations capital. He points at the vehicle in front of us. It's an ambulance...a pet-ambulance to be precise.
"You have ambulances for animals?"
"Do you see with what kind of equipment that thing is geared out? Do you know that in SA most ambulances for human beings don't even have that?".
(Ashamed by this discrepancy I feel the need to apologise for this display of wealth.)

Since then he has shared this encounter with all his friends and family in South Africa. I cannot even count the times I turned my head away in shame being the only representative of my country in the company present.

In the Dutch national elections in November a Party for the Animals participated. It got two seats in our parliament (of the 150 seats in total). Of course all the campaigns of all the political parties revolved around the things that are wrong in Holland. But how bad can it be in a country were a Party for the Animals actually gets into parliament?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


There is a lot of stuff in SA that I love but cannot get in Holland when I go there. Some examples:

- Crushed garlic in a jar. In Holland I have to get smelly fingers.
- Wood to make a braai with at every petrol station. I don't even think I can get wood to burn in the outdoors in Holland.
- Dozens of choices in moisturizers with 15 SPF
- Underskirts for dresses and skirts that are a bit too see through. In Holland they stopped selling them after the eighties I think.
- Cream soda and Sparletta
- Everything from Woolworths (I know, I've written this before, but its soo true)
- Cotton percale linen for the bed

- Parking in city centres
- Dippas crisps in the green bag from Simba
- Threesome chocolate from Beacon
- Fairview cream cheese with black pepper
- Zapiro cartoons (He is just the best)
- Mussels the size of a fist
- Carrot cake and Lemon Meringue pie. No clue why these are not widely available in Holland. I mean, Dutch apple pie does get boring after a while.
Of course there is more, but I know for a fact that most readers of this post don't even get this far.

A quick peak into the old days

(Dubble click on the picture to see a bigger version)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The power of long blond hair

(Blondes in Northern Europe are everywhere)

The impact of long blond hair in South Africa is many times bigger than in my native Holland. Spoiled by endless streams of girls and women with golden locks, the average Dutchie doesn’t even look up when a blondie walks past. In SA I find this to be quite the contrary. Natural (!) blonds are pretty scarce. So when you are one, like me, it actually works out as a benefit.

The other day I rented a trailer. The minute I stepped out of my car, ten guys (customers and personnel) turned around to watch me. The man, who checked the trailer I was to take out, had a smile on his face that could not be wiped of. Kindda got the feeling that he was chuft to get the blond-girl-job. After a more then thorough inspection of the trailer, he hooked on my car. I signed and wanted to drive of. But then the manager of the place stormed out and double checked everything. He even went as far as to jump on the trailer the see if it was secure enough. This was much to the amusement of another client who mockingly inquired if he would get the same treatment.

Besides this I had guards walking me down the street, a female fitting room attendant getting me three different sizes (while the other customers had to get their own), colour copies for the price of black and white, a customized fotoprint for free and innumerable smiles and glances.

To be clear; it’s not that I am vain that I notice stuff like this. It’s just that in Holland this never happens to me. So it must be the hair then, right?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Blood Diamond

Leonardo DiCaprio is a quite accomplished actor, but can he pull of a South African English accent in front of a total South African audience?
Yesterday we went to see Blood Diamond, DiCaprio's recent movie in which he plays a South African diamond smuggler. For the part he left home his American accent and learned to talk like an Afrikaner who speaks English. I must admit that it was hard for me to concentrate on the story, because I knew that the whole audience was secretly grading his accent.

The first of many 'all right's went down south, literally; he sounded more like an aussie. A wave of laughter went through the audience because of so much ignorance. Shocking!
The second big roar was when DiCaprio called a soldier 'doos', which means 'cunt'. This time it was more a laughter of pride, as if everybody was thinking 'isn't that a great word we have?'
On the other hand; a shiver of shock went through the cinema when he shouted the K word (k*ffer) to he's his black companion. Maybe because its pretty much the worst thing one can say (like the American N word)? Maybe because they already feared the further stigmatising of white South Africans this movie could cause? Maybe because some of the whites present secretely liked to hear out loud again? Maybe....

But all in all he did a pretty good job pronouncing all the ja's, jaja's, all rights, bru's (brother) and apartheid's.
Well done, Leo. You past the test.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Let's go to the park,ehh... golf course

"I am getting fed up with Jo'burg, maybe we will go to England", a girlfriend tells me over the phone. Although statistically the Western Cape is the most dangerous province in SA, people in Jo'burg seem to be more concerned about there safety. "We never even walk to the stores, although they are around the corner. I just don't feel safe", she continues. Since she heavily pregnant with their first baby I ask her if she will ever take the baby out for a stroll around the neighbourhood. "No! If you wanna walk you have to go to a golf course. I am really sick of it". Last X-mas I was over in Jo'burg and rather enjoyed it. Because houses are cheaper there than in Cape Town people have a nice place with a spacious lush garden, often a pool. Very relaxing. "That's it. Your house is like a safe haven with gates around it, but you can hardly leave it. You are so lucky that you're in Cape Town". The suggestion of moving here is cast aside. There is no money to be made in Cape Town. If they do decide to pack up and go to London, they would be the 2nd couple I know which has done that in the last six months. Another couple left for the safer pastures of England after they were high jacked in Jo'burg with their 3 kids in the back of the car. The only reason they still have their wedding rings is because they hid them in the nappy of the baby.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Every month

This is the amount of medicine (ARV*syrups and vitamins) a 6 months old baby with Aids has to take every month. Since most of the time HIV goes hand-in-hand with a TB infection it usually is even more, because the TB medicine is not displayed. The medicine has to be taken three times a day and causes lots of problems for caretakers.
First and foremost it's the taste. It is very bitter. Most kids don't want to take it and resist fiercely when it is administered. As a result a lot of life-saving medicine ends up being spilled. It also only takes a couple of inaccurate doses of the medicine for the child to develop immunity against it. I don't think I have to explain that that is a bad thing. In South Africa health practioners only have access to two types of ARV medicine for children. So if the one doesn't work anymore, there are not a whole lot of other options.
Another problem is that the medicine needs to be refrigerated. Many people with HIV/Aids are poor. If they do have a fridge, it often doesn't work because of a lack of electricity -so they end up using them as cupboards.
If people don't have a fridge they get capsules to break open and dilute in water, but breaking open capsules almost always causes loss of medicine.
The amount of medicine has to be measured presicely. A lot of kids are raised by their grandmothers who does not possess twenty-twenty vision anymore. For them it is very difficult to read the scale on the syringe.
The ARV medicine for children comes in syrup form. It has a low concentration of the active ingredient, because it is intended for smaller babies. To make sure that older children get enough medicine, the volume have to be increased. To remind you, the amount of ARV's in the picture is for a 6 months' old baby. Just imagine how much that will be when a child is two or three years old.
( A kid has to be at least five years old before it can switch to ARV’s in tablet form)
*= Anti-Retro Viral, the medicine used for treating Aids

Friday, January 12, 2007

Decadence at its best, part I

Living ON the beach and still having a swimming pool, that is decadence at its best for me.
As you might have noticed in the title; this is part I in a series, because I know for a fact that I will come across more examples of pure decadence in this city, where the gap between rich and poor is the highest in SA.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Spoiled to the bone

I am getting very spoiled in South-Africa.
To start with: WINES. Each and every restaurant has an extensive wine list with a choice between at least 10 whites and 10 reds. Big was surprise when I was in Holland a few weeks ago and ordered wine. The following conversation emerged.
ME: I would like some wine please. (implying: bring me the wine list, please)
Waiter (W): Red or White?
Me: Red
W: Ok. (And he wanted to walk away)
Me: Sorry, but kind of wine do you have?
W: House wine
Me: ....
W: .....
Me: What is your house wine?
W: Ehh...I believe its French. Its very nice.
Me: Ehh...ok...
I didn't have the hart to ask for the kind of wine, merlot, shiraz, cabernet etc..

The second thing is: the service at petrol stations. I won't be the first and certainly not the last Dutchie who goes back to Holland, drives into a self service petrol station and sits there waiting for a person to come and fill up the tank, meanwhile complaining about the slow service.

(If you look closely at the picture you can see the guys in the background chatting and waiting for the man in the red shirt to fill up their tanks. What can I say? Attitudes rub off!)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Kaapse Klopse

Today is the kick off for the annual Kaapse Klopse; the new years celebration of the coloured people in Cape Town that dates back hundreds of years ago. Organised in bands and dressed in colorful satin outfits they march through the streets. It takes thousands of people months of practicing to put on this event. Fortunately for them it is not a once off event. The KK will continue till February.
And as the pictures will show you, its a party for the whole family. At least, if you are on time to get a good spot or when you can climb high enough!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Xhosa Joan Collins

Now, this is obviously a 'Mama'*

"You use 'mama' for women one generation older than yourself and 'sisi' for those who are about the same age", the Xhosa**-teacher explained to his classroom full of pale white students. We had just learned the words for 'hello' (molo) and 'how are you?' (kunjani) and it was time to move on to the proper naming of the Xhosa people you encounter. "But what if you call some-one 'mama' who in fact is only slightly older than you?", one of my co-students wanted to know. Will that person be insulted?

But what about her?

The classroom begins to buzz. Apparently most of them had the same thought. "Once I stood up for an old man in the subway in London and he got angry", a guy says, "and everybody knows that women can be insulted easily if you think they are older than they really are". Are Xhosa women as sensitive about their age as western women? Is it a compliment if you say 'sisi' to a woman who is actually a 'mama'?

And her?
The teacher laughed at this display of westernized thinking. "It is a sign of respect to call an older woman 'mama'; no one will regard it as an insult". A doubtful hum went through the room. Nobody really truly believed it. In our minds we were thinking what would happen if we ever encounter the Xhosa-version of Joan Collins or Cher.
As a safety measure I made sure to learn the word for 'lady' (nkosikazi). No one will ever consider that an insult (I hope).

* picture courtesy of Herman Warnich
** Xhosa is one of the eleven official languages of SA. It is the home language of Nelson Mandela.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The three wise (wo)men

What if the three wise men were women instead?
This Afrikaans X-mas card gives the answer.
It says:

It would have been very different if were three wise women who followed the star.

They would have asked for directions and would have arrived on time, taken pieces of cloth as a present, helped out with the baby, cleaned the stables and prepared food. Then they still would have felt bad for not being able to do more. Merry X-mas.

(Dubble click on picture to enlarge and read the text)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mandela vs Cruijff

Question: who is more famous world wide former SA president Nelson Mandela or Dutch soccer legend Johan Cruijff?

My South-African friends claim its the first one, I am inclined to go for the latter. What do you think?