Getting local

We checked out of the hotel last Friday and moved into the corporate apartment, which is a little further south from where we’d originally been. The two-bedroom cottage is quite cute, with a main room that consists of the kitchen and living room.

Fort Knox

The South Africans like their security, though. Everything has alarms. Most homes and businesses sport some kind of security company plaque with the words “armed response.” Most people live behind stone or iron gates with electric fencing or barbed wire.

Just to get into this apartment, we have to go through a locked gate into a small courtyard, unlock an iron gate at our front door, disarm the alarm with a remote, then enter the house. We do the whole thing in reverse whenever we leave.

While that certainly adds to a sense of security when I’m here alone—this is a pretty quiet side street—it also give me a sense of being imprisoned. There are locked bars on all the windows and even the little courtyard has locked iron bars around it.

Food and Cooking

My general philosophy is that you don’t really a know a place until you have eaten among the locals and have shopped for groceries. My first order of business once we settled in here was to take a complete inventory of the kitchen supplies and equipment. It’s pretty thin. I also have low hopes for the knives, seriously debating whether I should buy a sharpening steel.

It’s obvious that no one who stays here actually cooks any food, so while I expect to cook a little, it won’t be a big priority.

There is a shopping center very near here that has a Woolworth’s, which has no relationship to what we know in the States. Here Woolworths are mostly food stores, similar to a Trader Joe’s in that all the food is packaged, even the fresh stuff. I bought the fixings for making chicken soup—a much-needed simple respite from the two weeks of eating rich meals for dinner every night. I couldn’t even buy fresh garlic—it comes already minced. Most of the vegetables come already chopped in a plastic (compostable, apparently) bag.

For breakfast I picked up meusli, yogurt, milk, bananas, English muffins and jam. That should keep me pretty happy in the morning. There is no coffee set-up…no coffee pot, no filter, no French press, nothing. So we’re going out for coffee in the morning. But at least I won’t be indulging in pastries every morning—delicious but wrecking havoc on my diet.

How you pay for electricity is another interesting concept here. You prepay, then you get a code that you punch into your electric box and that gives you a certain amount of electricity. So you have to keep an eye on the electric box so you can replenish your account before it gets too low and the lights go out.

There’s a certain rhythm here now, and I’m starting to equate certain sounds with this town:

1. The loud ducks that fly overhead toward the Company’s Gardens in the morning.

2. The Muslim call to prayer from the Malay Quarter. It’s such a beautiful, soothing sound.

3. The honking and whistling from the notorious shared taxi drivers and conductors. With no public buses, these enterprising guys in vans drive around picking people up and taking them to their destinations. They’re a bit renegade and if you look lost they’ll pull up next to you offering a ride. They’re generally pretty safe, but seem to be used a lot by people who live in the townships, so I’m avoiding them–lest I end up in a part of town I’d best avoid. Greg and I took one from Table Mountain our first weekend here and it was a pretty wild ride–very colorful driver, too.

4. The noon gun–similar to the air raid signal in San Francisco. The sound of a cannon every day at noon can be startling if you don’t know what it’s for. I prefer the church bells of Italy to mark my time.

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