Saturday, October 15, 2011


One of Muizenberg's saving graces is the Blue Bird Garage, a weekly food/goods market a short walk from our house. Among the regular food stands is one owned by an Egyptian gentleman and his South African wife, serving Egyptian soul food and delicious date candies. Emma and I thought it would be a great idea to take our Egyptian students there some time, so we did.

Egyptians operating the pipe
They ended up complaining a lot about the food, apparently it was more Syrian and not really Egyptian at all. But they still made friends with the guy, and one of them succeeded at getting him to light up the shisha that is part of the decoration at the stand.

Mostafa, who mostly stands out by his tendency to sleep through class, turns out to be a very amiable character and settled down for over an hour in the smoking room of the market. The Egyptian girls, who didn't smoke themselves, documented everything very excitedly with their little cameras.

Socializing with our students

 Us two Europeans enjoyed a glass of wine with our shisha, and were instructed by our students as well as the master himself (or "maalem" in arabic), who took a few breaks to to have a smoke with us.

The grand master

Upon leaving I struck a deal with maalem's wife to buy one of the smaller shishas they brought back from Egypt. The next week I returned, was greeted with much hello by the Egyptians -- my students had come back to repeat the whole ritual -- and left with my own proper mini-shisha. Maalem also gave me a free pack of chocolate-mint tobacco on top and instructed me exactly what kind of coal to get.

Home sweet home

Emma and I are as of recently proud owners of a kitchen table (it's more of a garden table, but that's a minor detail), and thus were able to have our little smoking session along with a glass of gin and tonic in the relative comfort of our own home.
Emma with Shisha

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You live, you learn

The weather is getting nicer here, and I decided it was time to try for a run on the beach. Took my phone with me so I could keep time and know to turn around after 20 minutes or so.

I had a lovely little run, went to parts of the beach that have way fewer people on them than Surfers' Corner, admired the landscape for a bit and reversed direction. Just as I was entering slightly more populated territory again I stopped to practice some handstands, cartwheels and other Capoeira shenanigans -- sand is much more forgiving than concrete. Put my shirt on the ground, weighed it down with my phone, and started trying some tricks amongst avid walkers and dog owners.

After a little while a group of five or six boys, maybe 12 years old, appeared on my part of the beach and came up to me. "What are you doing?" -- "Can you do this?" -- "Can you keep your legs in the air for a long time?". At first I was a bit skeptical, but then I started chatting to them and showing them how to do a bridge. "Can you do that for a long time?" -- "Let's see how long you can do it for!"

I'd just managed to drop into a bridge from standing and graciously resolved to humor them. "Five, six, seven..." I saw them upside down, scurrying around me like kids do, running to the nearby dunes. "Twelve, thirteen, fourteen..." At about 18, the one counting out ran off as well.

By the time I'd fully disentangled myself, they were all well out of reach. Still running and looking over their shoulders to see if I was going to come for them. I realized what had happened, spun around, found my shirt still there (thank God!), but no phone. For a split second I was contemplating starting a chase, but it really wasn't worth it for the cheapest phone the local supermarket has to offer. Instead I began trotting back into the sunset over Muizenberg, chuckling at my own idiocy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The other side

Ever since getting to South Africa I've been trying not to get run over. It's difficult! You see, they drive on the wrong side of the road here. When I want to cross the street, I look left - bad news, car coming from the right!

Yesterday, I wanted to buy a bike,  so I decided to borrow my friend Chris's car and drive up to Cape Town. After lunch, he handed me the keys and said "Let's take it for a spin around the block". I hadn't driven in over a month anyways, and only properly mastered a stick shift this past summer, so having the gear shift on my left hand side sent me into a state of befuddlement and confusion. Nonetheless I managed to pull the car out of the parking lot - thankfully the gears are arranged in the same way (reverse is to the top right, and 5th gear is to the top right), and so are the pedals.

Still I managed to stall the engine about five times while trying to start the car at one of those horrible uphill traffic lights that I've come to hate with a vengeance ever since I left the land of liberty and automatic cars. After 3 periods of red Chris realized that I'd had the car in 3rd gear the whole time, and after shifting down everything suddenly worked... Not very encouraging for my trip into the city!

Enter the stage: my Scottish roommate. I informed her that we were driving into town, and that she had to sit in the passenger seat to make sure I didn't hit anything on the left side, and to yell at me if I should drift into the wrong lane. And with almost superhuman calm she navigated me to a shopping center, then to some suburb of Cape Town, and finally back to AIMS. A few times she did have to yell, mostly on right turns when I was about to pull into a lane of oncoming traffic. And once or twice I could hear her inhaling sharply when I was getting a bit too close to the cars parked on the side of the road...

On our way back, we got lost because the navi device ran out of battery, and found ourselves on some small road in the middle of nowhere - luckily we were able to use Table Mountain as a landmark to regain orientation. We even caught a beautiful view of the sun setting over it!

And in the end I dropped the car unscathed at our apartment building, and one of our workmates cooked us a traditional fermented maize meal dish from Ghana called Banku. It was really good, slightly sourdough-like in taste, and reminded me that I should start up some fermentation in Muizenberg.

(I didn't buy the bike in the end. It was too big for me. Maybe this increases my chances of surviving my year of left-hand traffic.)