The Last Straw

I’ve been in the US for about 2 1/2 weeks.  It’s nice to be home.

Jason and I have decided to sell our house in Utah.  We have owned this home for 13 years.  We bought it 6 years before we joined the Foreign Service.  We rented it out for 6 years with the understanding that our renters had to leave for 4-6 weeks when we came home in the summer.  It has worked well.  Our kids have loved coming back to their childhood home, sleeping in their old beds, in their old sheets; seeing their old childhood friends.  They have been able to come home and be normal American kids for a few weeks every summer.  This house has been a blessing.

But Jason and I both agree it’s time to sell.

I arrived in Utah on July 1st and I have been madly trying to get the house ready to sell.  The house officially went on the market this past Saturday with an open house.  I had been madly running around all morning, taking care of last minute details before the open house started. Everything seemed to go wrong. I was on the verge of a breakdown.  Jason was flying in from Johannesburg and just as the open house was about to begin, I had to leave to pick him up from the airport.

Then, as I went out to the car, I realized that I had a flat tire.  It was the last straw!

Just then, our dear neighbor Dave I. drove by.  He could see I was in major distress and he pulled over and stopped his car.  He didn’t ask if I was ok or what was wrong.  All he said was, “Erin, what do you need me to do?!”

It was exactly what I needed at that very moment.

I told him my tire was flat.  He told me to leave him the keys and he would take care of it.  And he did.

I was able to pick up Jason from the airport and the open house went off without a hitch.  Last night we accepted a full offer on the house.  Just before I leave to return to South Africa in a few weeks, we’ll have movers come and take all our stuff to storage.  We’re hoping to purchase a condo in the next couple of years; something with no yards that will easier to maintain from overseas.

Selling the house has been bitter-sweet.  We know it’s what we need to do, but it’s closing the door on a chapter of our lives.  A lot has happened in this house; a lot of live has been lived here.  It will be especially hard to say goodbye to neighbors; especially neighbors who, many times throughout the years have asked, “What do you need me to do?!”

This is a great neighborhood, and we will miss it dearly.

African Fabrics and a New Side of Pretoria

After living in Pretoria for nearly two years now, I thought I knew the the city fairly well.  Turns out I didn’t.

I’m leaving for the US in five days, and my sister asked me to bring her some African fabrics.  I’ve seen women selling beautiful fabrics on the streets in other African countries, but I’ve never seen it sold on the streets of South Africa, so I wasn’t sure where I could pick it up for my sister.

Then last week at work, a South African co-worker named Nonjabulo was wearing a colorful head-wrap that seemed to be raw fabric.  I asked her if she knew where I could buy some locally.  She told me that she knew a place, but that she would have to take me because it would be too dangerous for me to go by myself.  “Besides,” she said.  “You’d never find it.”  I wondered for a moment if it would be worth taking my life in my hands for my sister’s recent fabric fanaticism.  But then I quickly decided to suck it up and go.

Nonjabulo and I headed out after work on Friday.  I thought the fabric store was in Sunnyside, a neighborhood a few blocks from the USAID compound in Pretoria where I work.  As diplomats, we’re told to be careful in Sunnyside.  After driving 15 or so minutes through Sunnyside, I asked Nonjabulo if we were still in Sunnyside.  The streets had become much more congested and the neighborhood much more … exotic (for lack of a better word).  Nonjabulo replied that we were now in West Pretoria.

Eesh!  As American diplomats, we’re not actually supposed to go to West Pretoria and I knew I could get in a bit of trouble from our security office if they knew I was there, but we continued onward, nonetheless.

This part of town was so different from the Pretoria I know, and I couldn’t believe I was in the same city.  It was a completely different world!

After another five minutes or so, Nonjabulo told me to pull into a parking lot.  The lot was packed but after circling a bit, we found a parking spot.  We then starting walking through a maze of shops, mostly clothing.  I’ve been in markets like this before in both the Middle East and the Far East, but this one was different; much more congested.  Also, in most of the other markets I’ve been to, there have been a fair amount of western tourists.  This market was entirely locals and I was the only westerner for miles around.

When we arrived at the fabric shop, my eyes grew large with excitement!  The colors and patterns were AMAZING!  I was specifically looking for African wax fabric, but I also bought a few samples of South African Three Cat fabric.  Have a look:

My sister is going to LOVE me!!! (If I can fit it all in my suitcase.)

Rugby and National Anthems

Last night, we went to a rugby match at Loftus Versfeld Stadium here in Pretoria.

The Springboks pretty much killed the French.  I won’t mention the score, because that would just be mean.

South Africa has three main sports; rugby, soccer, and cricket.  And they take all three very seriously.  But it seems to me that rugby reigns supreme in this country.  Rugby and meat.  Don’t mess with South African’s rugby and don’t mess with their meat.

My favorite part of the evening, however, wasn’t the actual rugby match.  My favorite moment came before the match, when the whole stadium belted out the South African National Anthem.  I love national anthems, and I especially love South Africa’s national anthem, Nkosi Sikelei’ iAfrika.

South Africa has eleven national languages; more than any other nation on earth.  Their national anthem includes five of their languages.  It starts in Xhosa, then Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and it ends in English.

So for your listening pleasure, here it is; not from the match we watched last night, but from a South Africa vs. New Zealand match from 2014.  Enjoy!

We’ve Gone Soft

Jason and I both agree in that in the past couple of years we have gone soft.  I’m not talking soft as in squishy bellies (though we have gone soft there), I mean soft as in not very tough.

Eight or so years ago, when we were checking out the Foreign Service and when Jason was first accepted to the State Department, we talked a lot about all of the sacrifices we would have to make in this major lifestyle change.  Places like Western Europe were not even on our radar.  When we imagined our upcoming life, we imagined going to places like hard-core Africa or other tough Third World countries.

We imagined we would have to give up most of our modern American conveniences.  I pictured myself having to make our bread or our family having to go without power or running water for extended periods of time in countries with infrastructure issues.  I imagined spotty Internet and cell phone coverage; boiling our water and cleaning our produce with bleach.  And we were prepared for all that.  We were prepared for major inconveniences.  We had a “Bring It On” kind of attitude when it came to hardship.

Then our first assignment was Taiwan–very First World.  Taiwan was easy.  The hardest thing about living in Taiwan was that the grocery stores weren’t very good.  But we had Costco, so no one complained.

Then we moved to Jordan–not as First World as Taiwan, but the diplomatic bubble that we lived in was pretty cushy.  No, we didn’t have Five Guys in Jordan, but who needs Five Guys when you have AMAZING humus and flatbread.  Jordan wasn’t much of a sacrifice.  The hardest thing about living there was that we couldn’t drink the water.

Then we moved to Africa–surely we would have to sacrifice here.  But South Africa isn’t typical Africa.  The area where we live and work is as First World as our hometown in Utah.  Every once in a blue moon our power will go out for a few hours and then we remember we live in Africa.  But when that happens, our generator kicks in, making us the only house on the street with lights (we feel a little guilty when that happens).  It’s no sacrifice to live in South Africa.  Our street just got fiber and I just came from lunch at a pretty decent Mexican restaurant with my friends Amy and Mindy.  Pretty much everyone has housekeepers and gardeners.  Anyone who has lived here knows that South Africa is “Africa-lite.”  Woolworths is nicer than any grocery store I’ve been to in the U.S. and we can take our family of six out for steaks for around $40.

So now we’ve been in South Africa for almost two years.  We have just over a year left on this tour.  Very soon we will start the bidding process for our next post.  We don’t have our bid list yet, but we have a projected bid list.  Though it will change a lot before we start the actual bidding process in a few months, we have a pretty good idea of what we have to work with.  And this is where our softness shows.  When we talk about what looks good on the list, it’s places like Geneva, Vienna, Munich and Stockholm that get us excited.  We’re thinking that places like Kiev or Moscow would be too hard.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ADVENTUROUS COUPLE OF EIGHT YEARS AGO?!!

I am determined to toughen up!!!  Bring on New Delhi or Hanoi!  How about Havana, Panama City or Nairobi?!  We could do it!  We’re tough!  We could handle it!

But then we notice Wellington on the list and the thought of living in cushy New Zealand throws all our toughness talk out the window.  We really have gone soft.