Archive for July, 2008

nine & nine

Sunday, July 13th, 2008 at about 2:06 pm

Nine US soldiers killed in Afghanistan today and nine US Army deserters are ordered to leave Canada.

I barely ever read these stories anymore.

Farah Nosh/Getty Images

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by j. android


Tuesday, July 8th, 2008 at about 11:04 am

A common site here

This is a pretty common site here. There’s a sign saying something to this effect on pretty much every house in this neighborhood (and the neighborhood, remember, is surrounded by two layers of fences, one of which is entirely electrified). I have this image of trucks full of guys with machine guns coming screeching up if I accidentally set off the security alarm. Security is a huge industry here, and to be fair it grows out of a real problem: the crime rate here is very high. But South Africa is one of the most economically unequal country in the world, and to a certain extent I get the sense that people are trying to cocoon themselves from this fact. I may be projecting this, however; just because I don’t want to see how ludicrous the relative displays of wealth here are doesn’t mean that the average South African is as squeamish.

I will say this, however — largely I’ve been quite impressed with how friendly everyone has been (and when I say everyone, I mean the largely white, largely Afrikaner upper class I’ve been interacting with on a regular basis). Not to say that there haven’t been hiccups (some people really hate Americans, for example, and there’s often little to be done there). And not that people in casual low-level interactions are particularly open: I smile at everyone, from the maids I pass walking to houses in the neighborhood while I bike to work to guys sitting around on street corners to rich Afrikaners waiting in their cars at traffic lights, and no one smiles back. But generally, and when it counts, people have been quite nice at work & out and about. At the bar on Saturday a guy in a Blue Bulls jersey asked us what we were drinking, but us another round, and never said another word, happy his team won I suppose. And the same guys who blankly stare at me on the street corner are still quick to make way for me to bike by. It’s a society under strain, but not, as of yet, lacking civility.

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by j. android

the gardens botanical

Monday, July 7th, 2008 at about 2:23 pm

A relatively quiet Sunday: woke up late (long night on Saturday, and needed to catch up on some sleep from the week prior), had a leisurely lunch, biked to the botanical gardens. Very pleasant. There’s a long walk they call the Dassie trail, after the small hyrax that lives among the rocks and trees there. They’re related to elephants, of all things. There are some on the CSIR grounds as well. They’re difficult to spot, as they blend in and they’re quite shy. The best picture I managed to get of one is this somewhat blurry brown one. There were also little huts the displays in them about medicinal plants that were quite cute. And outside of them was an enormous aloe plant, which are all over the place here, but I quite like.

hard to believe they\'re related to elephants, they look like guinea pigs so charmingan aloe plant

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by j. android

sharks at bulls

Monday, July 7th, 2008 at about 2:28 am

After going to Faerie Glen I biked back to Villa Africa and had a few minutes before going to meet Avery (another Stanford studentl; we lived in the same dorm this past year) at Loftus stadium for the night’s rugby match. My appreciation for organized sports is limited, but this was actually pretty fun. The game’s aren’t too long, things happen somewhat constantly. I’m not about to become a regular, but it was fun. After the game we headed to Hatfield square, big bar area near the University of Pretoria. Since the local team (The Blue Bulls) had won (over the Sharks, of Durban), there was a lot of celebrating going on. It was a fun night.

Durban Sharks vs. Pretoria Blue Bulls

And here’s the real kicker: Avery brought two friends of his who also work at IDASA (Institute for Democracy in South Africa), one from Columbia and one form OSU. So who do I end up sitting next to? Lauri Feldman’s ex-boyfriend. He knows half the kids I know from Uni through her. Small fucking world.

Avery, of Stanford, and Colin, of Columbia

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by j. android

faerie glen

Sunday, July 6th, 2008 at about 7:45 am

Unexpected, right at the outskirts of Pretoria about a 20 minute bikeride from here, is Faerie Glen, a nature preserve surrounding a stream and steep ridge. It isn’t huge, but for being so close to a city it’s large. Biking around, some parts could almost be Meadowbrook park, so like the prairie they were. But the difference lies in the vertical: stashing the bike behind some trees I scaled the ridge’s rocky embankment, and was rewarded by sweeping views of much of the larger Pretoria area. The haze prevented too great of visibility, but the skyscapers of Pretoria’s center were visible in the distance.

The view from atop Faerie Glen\'s ridge looking towards downtown Pretoria

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by j. android

empire lite

Friday, July 4th, 2008 at about 9:52 am

The remnants of colonial life are funny. Every morning, tea time at 10:00, everybody stops working and goes to have tea in the canteen. Every morning when I get up I’m served eggs (that’s the only cooked option, eggs) while listening to classical music (they’ve got 3 minidiscs of classical music, and that’s all, so it’s the same every morning). It’s all fine, but somehow still feels quite out of place sometimes, like an affectation of some lost civilization in an inappropriate setting. If there wasn’t such heavy history behind it I’d say it seemed silly.

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by j. android


Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 at about 10:52 am

Last night’s romp through a Gothic nightclub behind me (and, thankfully, an early taxi ride home so I could get up for work this morning), I spent today working on the Wireless ISP in a Box project we’ve got going at work. Progress is slow, but noticeable. If I find the time I’ll post a summary of what it’s about, as it’s actually pretty interesting I think (or at least to anyone interested in tech and/or the developing world). But for now, Landman (the guy who remained unnamed in the God’s Window epic) is having a braai at his house, which is quite close to here. I’m curious, and, I mean, who doesn’t love meat. I think it’s the equivalent of Sunday barbeque & beer in the US, but we’ll see.

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by j. android

day to day

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 at about 4:41 am

My existence is transient here — I never know quite what’s going to come next, even to the point of not knowing how I’m going to get to work in the morning. Things just keep working out, though. And what’s more, every time I think I’m about to have a little downtime, which might be the start of a long period of nothing to do (I was beginning to fear, last week, that I’d be bored here, since all there is to do is work and sit around the palace-prison of a house), something comes out of the blue and occupies me thoroughly — whether it’s another guest at Villa Africa, or Hendrik and his friends calling, as they did last night just minutes after I got home and was anticipating a quiet evening (my first in a while). They’re going out, he says, and would I like to join them. I can’t possibly say no, but eventually I could really use some downtime.

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by j. android


Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 at about 4:38 am

The first week here I spent largely with Elektra and Sebastian, two German uber-techs working on the same project I am (Sebastian is essentially leading it). After the weekend, though, they went back to Germany, leaving me to sort of piece through the project and what to do next on my own. That’s been fine, I’m actually enjoying the work immensely. Elektra was at Villa Africa when she was here, so it was nice to have someone to go to work with, etc. That role was briefly filled early this week by Larry, an ineffectual Australian socialist-academic type also working with Meraka to try to get some grant funding for a project. He was kind enough to give me a ride to work every day, which was nice since I didn’t have Sebastian’s bicycle yet, and we went out to dinner on Monday and Tuesday. We got lost in our own subdivision trying to walk to the restaurant on Monday, despite his insistence that he knew the way, but this annoyance was temporary. I got some good recommendations of where to go in Amsterdam, to boot.

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by j. android

God’s Window

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 at about 4:26 am

or “Defining the Roadtrip”

Woke up on Saturday with nothing to do. A pity, but make the best of it: ask for a cab downtown, to go check out the government buildings. “Oh, you want to go on your own? Or do you want a tour? Jaco’s brother, he’s 23, he gives tours”. Sure, why not. Forty minutes later he’s here, Hendrik, in a ten-year-old Mercedes. We head out. “First we’ll stop by my friend Puly’s,” he says. Puly’s a Rastefarian bus driver and mechanic who lives in Mumeradi, the township to the north of Pretoria. We get there around 11am. It looks a little like Mississippi, people in the streets, shack houses next to areas of newer government-built houses.

We drive around the townships some more. We drive all over the place. We stop for a drink at a kind of strip mall, get sodas at the South Afrian equivalent of a KFC. Continue on. As we’re driving through a market in one area we make sure to lock the doors. “I was hijacked the other week,” Hendrik says. We get to see the government buildings I was going to go to originally. Quite pretty, up on a hill with views of the city. Not many people around at all.

We head down towards Hattfield, the student area near the University of Pretoria. Get out of the car and walk around a bit. Stop for a drink at a bar, brandy and cokes while a rugby games blares on the television. Australia vs. France. I don’t know the rules and the announcing is all in Afrikaans, so it makes little sense. We move on.

We go to the downtown center of Pretoria. There’s a lot of people, almost all black just like in the township areas. A group dancing by a fountain in the square. We get a late lunch at a small restaurant on the square, sitting at a table outdoors. Move inside when people start hassling us.

One of our last stops is a park in Pretoria East, near where I’m staying. We walk around for a bit. Hendrik’s been on the phone with a friend of his off and on all afternoon. They’re considering going ot a concert out in the bush, a festival. “You can come if you want”. I’m there.

We stop by Villa Africa, where I’m staying, so I can quickly pack some clothes. 30 minutes later we’re in the car, picking up Hendrik’s friend. The three of us head for mountains, 300km away where the concert is. They have a mutual friend in Nielspruit, quite close to the concert. Hours later when we arrive, after a car ride spent pleasantly but in relative silence (no radio, since it got stolen when Henrik got hijacked). We pick up their friend, drop our stuff at his house, and head for the concert.

The concert is all Afrikaner music. We see the last two bands. One’s pretty standard rock (prime circle), the other a weird hybrid of electronic, rock, and goofy — DJ Ossovald is 4 guys, one in a kind of yodeling getup, one with an accordian, the other two slightly more normal. They sing some upbeat music in Afrikaans and say something nasty about the English during one of the breaks. We make it back to the house in Neilspruit. Around 4:30 I can’t take anymore and crash. The others soon follow.

Wake up at 10 on Sunday morning. After a semi-repulsive breakfast of cold hotdogs with cheese on buttered buns, side of eggs, we go to God’s Window, way out in the bush. It ends up being almost a two hour’s drive from Neilspruit. We get lost a couple times, but mostly need to go slowly because of the incredible mountains. It was beautiful. We first go to Pilgrim’s Rest, a small town near the attraction. 40 kilometers later we’re to the place itself, a tangle of trees way, way up a huge bluff overlooking a long valley. It’s a quick climb to the actual attraction, a series of sites where you can look out over the entire valley below through the trees and some walls of the bluff. It’s stunning.

We then climb back up to where we were and further, past the viewing areas, out onto the actual top of the bluff. We emerge for the trees into the bush proper, just grass and the occasional rock, along with scattered aloe plants. In all directions the land stretches down away from us, to our left slowly sloping, to our right dramatically down the bluff face. The sun is beginning to slant down as the afternoon wears on. We need to head back. We want to get as far out of the mountains as possible before darkness comes on.

We drop Edgar off, have some quick food, and get back on the N4 headed for Pretoria. 300 kilometers later we’re there, at about 11:30 at night. I’ve got to get up for work at 7:30 the next morning. I phone Elaine, talk to her for a while. Half past midnight I finally crawl into bad, illuminated by what I thought would probably turn out to be a boring weekend.

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by j. android