Week 34: Home is Where You “Load-Shed”

Load shedding” in South Africa means that a community’s power is shut down on seemingly random days for a couple of hours by ESKOM, the local power company, to “alleviate stress on the power grid.” It happens on cool days as well as hot days in a manner we cannot begin to understand. We have begun to suspect that the condition is politically motivated and strategically planned to most inconvenience the general public. Conspiracy theories aside, it has allowed us to embrace the philosophy that random intermittent interruptions in expected service is a way to reimagine life and embrace a less encumbered way of being. Shedding old baggage encourages invention and re-commitment to what is important. In addition, this shared experience helps to break down barriers to building community. Welcome home!

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Load-Shedding in Style

For us here in Stellenbosch, the “crisis” happens most often between 6 and 8 PM. There are some practical implications: we cannot get into our garage and most importantly we cannot make dinner. During the first few load-sheds, we paid attention to the load shedding status (which changes by the hour) and learned to either get home before 6 o’clock or to have a back up plan to get in through our front door (two additional keys we don’t normally carry with us) by locking these keys outside the house. Not being able to cook dinner was something we could either plan for by having a prepared dinner that didn’t need heating or respond to by having a braii – South African bbq. Now with several dozen load–sheds under our belt, we have reached a new relationship with load-shedding. We have learned that many restaurants have their own generators – and load-shedding specials that encourage families to come in and spend two hours eating and drinking in company of others with light and warmth that is otherwise not available. In this past week we spent two lovely load-shedding evenings in the communal atmosphere of “Jimmy-the-Fish Restaurant” and at “Flavours Restaurant.” At JTF we got to enjoy a young couple with a cuter than possible one year old whose energy and antics kept them from eating–until the young wait staff (called “waitron” here) scooped up the baby and spirited him off to the kitchens. This allowed Mom and Dad to relax, breathe and eat their dinner.

Sunset from Devon Valley Hotel terrace.

Sunset From Terrace at Flavours

On Friday nights at Flavours, we love to sit with a glass of wine outside on the terrace to watch the sunset or inside by the fireplace.  Entertainment on weekends is provided by Arahundi, a young male vocalist whose deep voice and guitar strumming make us feel at home.  Most of his repertoire are songs that Rich and I grew up with — and he does a particularly excellent job with anything by Billy Jeol.  Last week, we set ourselves up by the fireplace and found ourselves next his girlfriend who became unsettled when she looked over and saw that our wine glasses were emptied. She served us up some red wine that we later learned she had made herself – while her boyfriend sang out his heart for us (or more likely her). Once the hands of the clock turn to 8 PM – the power returns – and we all return home none the worse for wear.

“Welcome home.” Load shedding is, of course, only part of the new normal we are experiencing. “Home” should be a familiar place, and with almost 12 weeks in Stellenbosch we have begun to experience this. Here are some people who make us feel at home:

  • The staff in the pharmacy we frequent have told us how much they appreciate our business, asking with concern if we are enjoying our time and thanking us for our support.
  • Ophelia, who has given us both haircuts, is so tickled that we have become her customers, and has boasted of us to her coworkers – calling us “the foreigners who talk to me.”
  • The wait staff at Flavours who recognize us from our previous visits and will allow us to order things not on the regular menu.
  • Pamela, the campus coffee shop owner, who calls us by name.
  • Daniel, the coffee roaster at “Die Oude Banke” (The Old Bank) who calls us “the strange americans” and has planned a tasting menu for us for the next several weeks that will take us through all his different roasts.

“Welcome home” is a feeling we get when we have seen this town through summer and fall and in it’s entry into winter. Sharing the changing seasons with a community makes you more an inside member of the group.

 

“Welcome home” is a feeling we get when we can carry on a conversation with a local about which of the indigenous birds is more stupid: the guinea hens or the hadeda ibis.

The hens with their painted faces and spotted feathers might look glamorous when standing still, but they have teeny little legs and run in silly groups and can cause each other to get into a big panic just because….. well just because. In the way their little legs scuttle back and forth they remind us of warthogs which we could never watch without laughing. On the other hand, the hadedas might look dignified until they try to fly. Their poor vision causes them to bump into things and crash land into trees and waters in the most unceremonious ways. Their call (referred to by some as “Flying Vuvuzelas“) is raucous and loud, and might help prevent them from crashing into each other. The good news is that they eat grubs and snails from lawns.

“Welcome home” happens when you realize that you are not alone, and that your neighbors are happy to help. After our second aborted bicycle ride (Pat with two flat tires), we arrived back at Nagtegaal Street and were dismayed to find that our garage door opener – that we had carried with us – just decided to quit working. Eleven locks stood between us and entry back into our house. We were not sure what we would do. Our cross the street neighbors had been watching with some curiosity as we struggled with the garage door. “What’s the problem?” they asked. Within a few minutes, a ladder appeared and one of our little neighborhood children was popped over the picket topped 6 foot exterior wall and into our back yard and through to our garage and able to open the door that had refused its remote commands.

As you know, we have been very busy in the past few weeks trying to finish up the work we set out for ourselves, and trying to get ready for a busy tour of New Zealand and Australia. After a late day in the lab, or writing, or planning, it’s been nice to be able to relax in our small house in Onder Papegaaiberg (Under Parrot Mountain). In a manner that reminds us of our time in France, this relaxation extends to a number of public spaces as well. One notable excursion, a spontaneous Saturday afternoon jaunt, took us into the Jondershoek valley and up a short drive to the Stark-Conde Winery. Their wine tastings are held around a small house built on an island in their pond. Sitting on the lawn, gazing at the sheer cliffs looming above us, well-tended by our elegant server, even taking in the blackened areas from the recent wildfires in the area, it was impossible to stay tense.

We recognize that our time here is short, and that we don’t really belong here long-term. However, there certainly seem to be a wide array of people and events that are trying to convince us otherwise. We are grateful for all of them.

Even ESKOM

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