On the Beach

Sunday, 27 May 2012

National Identity and Food

I think about nationality and national identity a lot.

I suppose that could be for any number of reasons:

1) I'm a serial expat;
2) I find it interesting;
3) I have too much time; and
4) I have a tendency to navel gaze.

Whatever the cause, I'm always trying to figure out if any choices that I make, any behaviour I exbihit, make me, well, something. Or maybe I'm just me.

The other day was my "namesday" as we call it in my family, or my Saint's Day where all people with my name, celebrate a kind of "birthday". It's compulsory in Poland and also a custom in other eastern and southern European countries. I embrace my namesday every year. This could be for a number of reasons:

1. I feel Polish.
2. I feel Catholic.
3. I relish the opportunity to have another excuse for getting presents.
4. I just love the idea of yet another day being all about ME.
5. It's a family tradition.

I always celebrate my "namesday" with family and, this year my mum (who is an amazing cook) offered to cook me whatever i wanted. I chose kotlet schabowy with potatoes and red cabbage, followed by a baked apple dessert. For those wondering, kotlet schabowy is a Wienerschnitzel made with pork. And because the Viennese gave it a catchier name, people think it's Viennese. Well, it's not, OK? And the German speaking peoples don't have a monoply over cabbage, either- alright?

I'm willing to bet that's the first time anyone has exhibited aggression over a food the rest of the world would hide under a lettuce leaf on the edge of the plate.

Moving on.

So, my brother- with whom I  discuss issues of national identity (seeing as we're both of the same Polish parents, but because of our age difference grew up for different amounts of time in different countries, he's now living with a Catalan in Belgium and I'm married to a Brit, living in South Africa- you can imagine how this topic comes up every now and then.), said that as I chose Polish food for a special day, maybe that makes me Polish?

And I thought about that- maybe, if you cannot find another way, your food choice with a gun to your head determines who you are. Maybe I am, fundamentally, Polish.

And then I thought about that some more. Who were the rivals here for me? British food (or 22 years in a taste-bud vortex, as I like to think of it, from my perspective)? Um, well, sorry to support to be such a cliche but, no thanks. A country that prides itself on a Sunday dinner which may consist of gammon ('Why don't we just boil some salt in a meat shape?" "Yeeaah!"). And I know many world ranked restaurants are in London, but I'm talking about food I don't need to take out a mortgage for.

Norwegian food? Lovely people, lovely country but when you serve sweet brown cheese and fish that is left in cold water for 5-6 days before serving (lutefisk), I'll pass.

South African food? What comes to mind here? Mielepap (maize "pap"-pap a very onomatopoeic phrase here), milk tart (the magic cake with no taste!) and boerewors (I won't have a word said against boerewors, I just ate an excess of it over the summer). But the quality of food and produce in South Africa is stunning, you can eat so well here, so reasonably and pap is easily avoided...

I am sure some would say that Polish food is gross- fatty, meaty and stodgy, all which is probably fair but somehow, I suppose, it tastes of home and family which for me are good things.

On the basis that I am defending stodgy, fatty food- does that make me Polish? Probably a little bit, yes. It must reveal something.

But I can't live without Thai food, pizza, sushi or burgers and there is nothing Thai, Italian, Japanese or American about me.

Back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Dealing with Hawkers when you're 5

My oldest daughter is 5 and now at that age where you need to be careful what you say around her because she listens and repeats. And, shall we say, it's not always stuff that needs to be repeated.It's also the age where she assumes a certain authority, you know she's 5 after all and pretty much seen it all, right? Make no mistake, she knows the way the world works.

This has resulted in some, er..interesting, incidents recently.

I've mentioned before that there are quite a lot of beggars and hawkers at lights (sorry, robots) in certain parts of Cape Town. I don't think I have ever bought anything from them. Mostly, it seems to me, their wares are beaded creatures and I am, frankly, surprised that the market for beaded creatures is not yet saturated. There is a limit as to how many beaded creatures one can have in one's home/car etc. I suppose there is the tourist market, but I'd have thought their luggage was already jam packed with carved masks and wooden representations of "The Big 5". But who am I to judge?

I'm always slightly embarrassed when they approach and  I mostly mutter:" no, thank you" to an area somewhere between the hawker and my steering wheel. They often try to market the item, which leads me to be even more embarrassed (as I say, I have a beaded animal limit and it's frightfully low) and I say: no, no thank you, a bit louder. Some hawkers sell black bin bags and I find it odd when they try to persuade me into these- I mean, a bin bag you either need or you don't, right? Not an impulse buy or something that caught your eye.

Anyway, my older daughter asked me why I say "no, thank you" and I said that I don't want want they're selling but you have to be polite. Her first interpretation was to wind down her window at lights and bellow: "NO, THANK YOU" in the direction of the hawkers generally which does take them rather by surprise (and certainly conveys the message). I explained she didn't need to be quite so eager or generic in her approach.

So, one day, I was turning the car around in a residential street. Very quiet except the odd pedestrian traffic every now and then. Not hawker territory. As I was manoeuvering the car, I became aware of her rapidly winding the window and, suddenly: "EXCUSE ME: NO, THANK YOU!!" with a very serious look on her face. I looked to see a poor, bewildered looking man holding a beaded monkey, which I don't think he intended to sell. He looked rather taken aback and I raced off down the road at an inappropriate speed.

 I managed to deal with generic bellowing, now how to deal with eager..?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Snatched moments in time

Yesterday was a mixed day for me. It started totally fabulously (if you can call 11am a start) with a baby shower  (my first ever) in Queen of Tarts, an amazing patisserie in Obs-  a part of Cape Town that I have not had the opportunity to explore much (this area is pretty cool and boho- 2 small kids in tow is neither cool nor boho, which perhaps explains why I first made it there solo). I hardly knew anyone at all, but as ever in Cape Town, I was made to feel as if I'd known everyone at least forever. The food was- to use a very South African adjective- divine. Although I must stress that this place with its savoury and sweet tarts is not be be recommended for anyone who wishes to retain a waist.

Being the social butterfly that I am (I shall leave a pause so that anyone that knows me well can stop laughing), we headed off as a family to Butterfly World, near Paarl. The name is misleading as it turns out that the place is replete with all sorts of vile vermin, reptiles and spiders (along with marmosets and tortoises- one of which, randomly, my husband was asked to carry) who I would normally pay to avoid, but I suppose the entrance fee was worth it for the delight of the children. We were there with great friends on a beautiful day.

At home, things went downhill. The computer has stopped working. Of itself, this doesn't sound like much a a tragedy. Technology is always sold as making our lives easier, which, I suppose to some extent it does. People are more connected, you can work flexibly (or be available to work at all times, depending on how you look at it) but the problem is, you become so very reliant on it that when it breaks down, it's like the bottom falls out of your world. So, I set about trying to find a solution to the unhelpful repetitive error message. So, me- Miss Knows Nothing About IT- finds herself on various chat rooms for IT geeks. They claim to be in English, but this is a lie. They are incomprehensible. Despite this obstacle of constant abbreviations, I managed to figure out that my laptop was not going to get better soon. I even unscrewed it and had a look at the motherboard (weird name- or is that just me?!). This all took a long time.

My lovely husband had meanwhile fed and bathed the children and was seeking to source dinner for us. I admit that I wasn't that helpful, trying to decipher IT code. Finally, when I grunted consent for a meal, it turned out that the main ingredient was out of date- by some measure. As you can tell, I am a total domestic goddess.

So, we decided on the take-away option. We called our favourite Thai but the phone was persistently engaged. Last week they were not answering the phone because they were so busy.

But let me put the above into some context: my husband gets terrible food rage. When hungry, he is unable to focus on anything and has been known to settle even for airplane food when especially starving. So, his food rage was growing and a could sense a resistance to my fussiness about the food items he was suggesting we put together. So I said I'd drive over the the Thai and see what was up. Am I kind? Not really, we'd had a new car delivered that day, so I'd have driven anywhere and I felt as if I had a hungry T-Rex patrolling the house. In case of a wait, I packed my book ("Why Africa is Poor" by Greg Mills, so far a great read).

I arrived at the Thai to find that the lovely manager had not noticed her phone was off the hook as she had eyes only for the Romeo who only had eyes for his iPad. The wait was only 10-15 minutes, so I ordered and called the ravenous beast at home to say food was on its way.

It was only then that it hit me: I had 15 minutes to myself!

I get a lot of help living here in South Africa, I have a domestic worker who comes in 3 times a week. We have a gardener fortnightly. What work I do, I do from home.

My youngest daughter attends preschool 4 mornings a week and, before she started, I thought that while she was at school I'd suddenly have these swathes of time to myself while she was at school. Turns out, I live a compressed life in those hours she's at school (2.5. once you factor in drop off and pick up), like a person living at triple speed- I do groceries, I run errands, go to the gym, I have meetings and, then, when I pick her up I slooooooow down and the rest of the day happens in real time (picking up her sister, extra-murals, feeding everyone and so on). So, actually, I don't have as much time as I may have thought.

So, back to the Thai. It was just a gentleman and I waiting for our food. A bit of Beautiful South was on the sound system. I ordered a beer, and opened my book. The only problem was, I was so dizzy and giddy with delight at these fifteen minutes that had fallen in my lap so unexpectedly, that I couldn't read. I'm sure I sat there like the village idiot, and I certain they thought twice before bringing me that beer.

As I am sure all parents of young children know, even 15 minutes sat grinning with a beer in your hand in  Thai place is better than no time at all.

Help for Expats in South Africa

I read the other day that as of March 20 there were 160 million blogs in the world. 7 Billion people on the planet, 2 Billion using the internet. That's a lot of people using the internet and blogging.

I met this news with mixed feelings. In a way, I think it's great that everyone can get their views and info out there (including me), it means that information is not filtered by an elite (entirely, at least). On the downside, it means that I am not special. And no one likes to know they're not special. Put starkly, I am one of 160 million people who think they've got something to say and enough people might be interested to read it (although some do have multiple blogs). It kind of makes "one in a million" look like good odds, really.

It got me to think about why I write this blog- well, I like to write and it's a way of letting my friends and family all over the world know how I'm doing without having to violate their inbox. I can be aloof, like, you know, if you want me I'm here but I'm not going to, y'know, stalk you.

As time has gone on, it has transpired that some of the readers who don't know me (thank you for reading), are expats in SA, soon to be expats in SA or SA expats overseas. People who are looking around on the internet for ideas of what life is like here in Cape Town.

With this is in mind, I suspect,  the founder of Expat Blog approached me to publicise some new functionality on Expat-blog.com for would-be or existing expats in South Africa.

Expat Blog has launched a jobs and housing section to help people moving here or already here with 2 pretty fundamental aspects of life if you're moving! Even since we moved here 18 months ago, there is so much more information of the internet about life and resources here

In the Housing Section you can look for or advertise accommodation (rental, sakes, sharing and so on). Where possible, there are photos to browse and you can make contact via Expat Blog: http://www.expat-blog.com/en/housing/africa/south-africa/

The Jobs Sections allows you to upload a mini-CV, contact potential employers and look at jobs by category or contract:  job offers in South Africa.

Even since we moved here 18 months ago, there is so much more information of the internet about life and resources here- information I could have done with at the time, frankly!

If you need personalised assistance when moving to Cape Town, you might want to consider using the services of  Move Me To Cape Town (a relocation and settling in agency focussing exclusively on moves to Cape Town)- click on the  link at the top of this page.

Happy Moving!