All Posts By


Nelson Makamo and security guard

“Joburg is more Brooklyn than Brooklyn.”

Today I took my American friend Bob, who is in Joburg this week for work, to the Maboneng Precinct. Bob passed through Joburg a few times before, back in 2010 and 2011. But this is the first time I’ve had the chance to properly show him around the city, and the first time he’s been to Maboneng.

I parked near the top of Fox Street at around 11:30 a.m. I took Bob over to Curocity Backpackers and introduced him to my friend Bheki Dube. We meandered down Fox Street, admiring the technicolor graffiti murals and browsing outdoor clothing stalls in the early summer sun, and made our way to Market on Main.

Bob marvelled at the selection of dried meats, tasted some fresh bread, and admired the eight-layer red velvet cake.

We stood in the landing on the stairs, gazing out over the crowd and inhaling the tangy scent of paella. Bob grabbed my wrist.

“Heather,” he whispered, eyes shining. “I had no idea.”


“Evolved men” (and one evolved woman) hawking trendiness on the sidewalk outside Market on Main.

We went upstairs and sifted through stylish beaded bracelets handmade by a young man named Lizwe from Soweto. I introduced Bob to iwasshot in joburg and we sipped lemonade spiked with mint. Then we headed down to Origin Coffee Roasting, where we enjoyed iced coffee and engaged with Maq, the assistant manager, in an in-depth discussion about cold-brewing.


Maq (left) and Bob (right).

We stepped back out onto Fox. The street was pumping. Clothing vendors and street performers lined both sides of the road. A yellow VW Bus, advertising something called #Churn2015, cruised around and around the block, blaring house music. A makeshift lounge — complete with a sofa slipcovered in gold lamé, was balanced atop the bus. Each time the bus passed it had more occupants — some dreadlocked, some turbaned, some with just regular hair — rocking out to the beat and flashing peace signs.


I’m not sure what was happening here.

Bob and I took our time walking back up Fox, stopping to listen to a blind guitar player in a shiny purple suit. I slipped an R10 note into his cup, which he promptly pocketed. His name, we would learn, is Radio25.


“This is Radio25,” he boomed at the end of each song. “And the beat goes on…”

While listening to Radio25 belt out a rousing rendition of Hey Jude, we chatted to Radio25’s colleague, Ocean. Ocean and Radio25 are both from Zimbabwe and Ocean was overjoyed to hear that Bob has just returned from Harare.


Ocean and Radio25.

“I make those bags,” Ocean said, pointing at a display just down the street. “Each bag is one-of-a-kind, just like a human being.”


Ocean and his one-of-a-kind bags. Ocean also sells in Braamfontein on Saturdays. You can reach him at 073-133-0944; he also does bookings for Radio25.

The day wasn’t over. We had a cocktail at Lenin’s Vodka Bar and a pita from Soul Souvlaki. We visited the Shadow boxer mural and stopped for a quick drink at the Zebra Inn.

We did an extended photo-shoot in front of the Nelson Makamo paintings along Van Beek Street.


These two guys asked us to take their photo. “Shoot us!” they called. They conveniently match the mural.


We’re probably not the first people to do this.

By the time we got back to the car, it was 5:30 p.m. We never even made it to the Living Room.

“Joburg is more Brooklyn than Brooklyn,” said Bob, at some point earlier in the day.

I confess that although I’ve been to New York City many times, I’ve never been to Brooklyn. But Bob is not the first person to draw this comparison. I take it as a compliment.


Photo: Bob Yule.


Everything in Mauritius is Beautiful.

I went to Mauritius for five days. I’ve concluded that everything there is beautiful.

I have lots to say about the trip and dozens of photos to post. But here’s a 10-photo teaser to prove my above statement.

1) The beaches in Mauritius are beautiful.


The beach at Le Prince Maurice, part of Constance Hotels and Resorts, where I stayed in Mauritius. This beach is particularly lovely because it’s on a lagoon, where the water is completely calm.

2) The hotels in Mauritius are beautiful.


The lobby at Le Prince Maurice.

3) The sunrises in Mauritius are beautiful.


Sunrise from Belle Mare Plage, the other Constance property where I stayed. The sunrise was like this every morning.

4) The sunsets in Mauritius are beautiful.


Pretty stunning. Although from where I was on the east side of the island, the sunrises definitely surpassed the sunsets.

5) The flowers in Mauritius are beautiful.


Hibiscus blossoms floating in a fountain at Le Prince Maurice. Hibiscus are everywhere in Mauritius, along with frangipani.

PS: Because of all the flowers, everything in Mauritius smells beautiful.

6) The birds in Mauritius are beautiful.


I lured this bird to my Prince Maurice balcony with room service. It’s called a red fody.

7) The food in Mauritius is beautiful. It tastes great, too.


Lunch at La Kaze restaurant, on the beach at Belle Mare Plage.

8) The markets in Mauritius are beautiful.


A woman shopping in the Centre de Flacq Market on a Sunday morning. I have many more beautiful photos from this market.

9) The dogs in Mauritius are beautiful.

Belle Mare dog

I never got her name.

10) The people in Mauritius are beautiful (in looks and in spirit).


Yash (left) and Mala (right), a mother and son who run a market stall at Centre de Flacq.

PS: Mauritian people speak French and they also speak English with French accents. So everything in Mauritius sounds beautiful.

More Mauritius beauty to come in future posts.

My trip to Mauritius was provided courtesy of Constance Hotels and Resorts and The Holiday Factory. Opinions expressed are my own.


A Few Words From the Melville Cat

Dear fans of the Melville Cat,

I know that you have been waiting to hear from me, eager to learn how I’m faring in the ordeal I explained to you in my previous post. I apologize for the silence but I’ve had many matters to attend to that are more important than blogging. I’m busy establishing my new domain.


I will explain this photo in my next post. Until then, I’ll let you formulate your own theories.

Also, I don’t have much time to write because Heather, my typing assistant, is leaving today for a place called Mauritius. How rude. Why she would want to leave my magical new domain so soon is beyond me.

But all is not lost. I plan to take advantage of Heather’s absence, cementing my domain and training Ray, my second assistant, to properly meet my needs. He has much to learn.

I will also engage in tree-climbing practice.


My climbing prowess is strong but I need to hone my technique.

Fear not, fans. All is well. Until next time.


Behind the Scenes at the Joburg Ballet

Every now and then, the Joburg Ballet hosts open rehearsal days at its studio in Braamfontein. I went once before in 2013, soon after the Joburg Ballet was started, and although I knew nothing about ballet I was enthralled by both the dancing and the rehearsal space.

Two years later, I still know nothing about ballet. But I think it’s about time I started learning. I went to another open day last weekend and was overwhelmed by how beautiful and fun it was.


A group of dancers during their warm-up session on the top floor of the ballet studio.

The dancing in itself is amazing, but it’s the dancing in combination with the amazing view of downtown Joburg that really does it for me. This has to be one of the prettiest places in the entire city during ballet rehearsals.


Flying leap.


Can you tell that I love these silhouettes?


This is my favorite silhouette because the dancer seems to be mimicking the ballet mannequin hanging from the ceiling. 


I’m fascinated by pointe ballet shoes and the loud “clack” sound they make when a dancer’s foot hits the floor.

The company is rehearsing for its next big performance, Don Quixote, which opens on 28 August.


Rehearsing one of the dances from Don Quixote.


It was fun watching the audience watch the dancers. PS: Look how this dancer is doing a full split IN THE AIR. How is this even physically possible?

I’ll be going to the opening of Don Quixote in a couple of weeks. I’m sure it will be stunning. But I can’t imagine that I’ll enjoy the actual show more than I enjoyed the rehearsal.


I’d like to tell you that I made this shot blurry on purpose, to illustrate the mood and the movement of the dancer. But no, it’s just an accidental blurry photo. For some reason I like it anyway.

If you’d like to attend a future open day at the Joburg Ballet, email [email protected] to get onto the mailing list. In the meantime, book your tickets for Don Quixote.


Art Deco Hunting on the Wild, Wacky East Rand

In February 2012 I went on a tour of Art Deco architecture in the East Rand, organized by the Joburg Photowalkers. I have fond memories of that tour — I loved getting to know this far-flung part of Joburg that I had never visited before. The East Rand was quirky and weird and I liked it. (Read my post about the 2012 tour.)

When I saw the Joburg Photowalkers were doing another East Rand Art Deco tour last weekend, I signed up immediately. I brought my friend Ruth, a relative newcomer to Joburg who hadn’t been to the East Rand before.

The East Rand, now officially called Ekurhuleni, is the municipality east of the City of Joburg. There are several small towns on the East Rand — Benoni and Springs are the most prominent — which were prosperous gold-mining towns in the early- and mid-20th century. During the 1920s and 30s, these towns produced an inordinate number of Art-Deco-style buildings.

Like many small towns around the world, the East Rand’s towns have declined over the last several decades. Most of the beautiful Art Deco buildings are still there, and many of them are nicely preserved. But many of the buildings have decayed significantly. In some cases the decay is strangely beautiful. In other cases it’s heartbreaking.

Anyway, back to last weekend’s tour. We were supposed to meet at Eastgate Mall and then carpool from there to Benoni. (Mark Straw, the leader of the Joburg Photowalkers, had created a map of several East Rand buildings for the group to visit, starting in Benoni and ending in Germiston.)

Ruth and I missed the exit to Eastgate Mall — not once, not twice, but three times. Eventually we gave up and drove straight to Benoni. We arrived early and drove around Benoni looking for a petrol station. The first petrol station was closed and surrounded by razor wire. The second petrol station was open, but the friendly attendant told us they were out of petrol. The third petrol station was open and had petrol.

I’m digressing, but I have to tell you all this. Because East Rand.

We eventually made it to the first meeting spot, 44 Princes Avenue, and photographed the first group of Art Deco buildings.


John Craig Bazaar. I don’t know exactly when this (or any of the other buildings) were built, but it was sometime in the 1930s.


Walco Mansions.


This building also appeared in my 2012 post. It used to be the Benoni movie theatre but now it’s a church. 


So much to see on this decaying locked gate.

As we photographed the buildings on this tour, the reactions of the people around us were just as interesting as the buildings themselves. No one could imagine why anyone would voluntarily come to Benoni and take pictures of these crumbling apartment blocks. We received many bemused stares.


Inside a building called Elgin House. Many of these buildings have problems with overcrowding.


I don’t know the name of this building — it wasn’t officially part of the tour. But it conveys the vibe of downtown Benoni. Shot from the top of Elgin House.

From Benoni we headed to Brakpan and had lunch at the legendary Casbah Roadhouse. I’m not going to tell you about lunch though because I’m planning a special post about South African roadhouses.


Ruth and I happened to spot the Hotel Savoy next to the Casbah. It looks Art Deco but it wasn’t part of the tour and I can’t find it online. Anyway, it seems to be a bedding and upholstery shop now.

Then we drove to Springs, which has the second-largest number of small-scale Art Deco buildings in the entire world after Miami. The Heritage Portal, a popular heritage website in South Africa, recently referred to Springs as “Art Deco’s Love Child”.


Regal House, on Second Street in Springs. 


This guy asked me to take his picture in front of the historic Court Chambers building. I happily obliged.

We parked in the middle of downtown Springs, next to the train station. It was a public holiday and the street was busy. A pickup truck pulled up next to us and the woman in the passenger seat rolled her window down. “Are you tourists?!” the woman asked incredulously. “You shouldn’t walk around here with cameras, it’s not safe.” We chuckled at her concern and kept walking.

We arrived in front of a building called Doreen Crescent, on a crowded block of Second Avenue. Doreen Crescent was the most dilapidated of the buildings we’d seen so far. We crossed to the other side of the street to get a better look, and a few people pulled out their cameras.

Suddenly we were confronted by a tank-like man, well over six feet tall and half as wide, dressed in black. “Why are you photographing this building?” he demanded. “This is MY building. You are supposed to ask my permission!”

A couple of people quietly challenged the Tank, who didn’t take kindly to being challenged. “Get out of here!” he raged, mirrored sunglasses glinting. “I’ll break your cameras!”

I felt a strong desire to explain to the Tank that the streets belong to everyone and we have every right to photograph them. But I also felt certain that the Tank would, in fact, break my camera. Or worse. The men sitting around the Tank grumbled restlessly. We herded the photowalkers together and hurried away, the Tank still ranting.

I didn’t get a photo of Doreen Crescent and I didn’t get a photo of the Tank. Oh, Tank. You made me sad.

We drove to the Springs Fire Station, the town’s most shining example of Art Deco. The fire station is still functioning and perfectly preserved. I also wrote about the fire station in my 2012 post.


Springs Fire Station.


Photowalkers in front of the fire station. 

We were supposed to head to Germiston from there, but Ruth and I were weary and ready for the hour-long drive back home. So we peeled off early.

On our way out of Springs, we passed a huge field filled with thousands of brick doorways. It was so strange. We had to stop for a look.



I don’t know what these doorways are, or were, or were meant to be. I posted the photo on my Facebook page and someone replied with this link, which suggests the buildings are unfinished toilets: But I’m not sure.

You’re weird, East Rand. I like you.

The Joburg Photowalkers are organizing a photographic exhibition for Heritage Weekend (19-20 September). All heritage-themed submissions are welcome. Follow the Joburg Photowalkers on Facebook for more information.


Fun Fish Photography at the Two Oceans Aquarium

Visiting an aquarium is one of those touristy activities that I don’t normally seek out. I grew up in Baltimore, home of the National Aquarium, and I think I subconsciously believed that my home aquarium is the best in the world and there is no point in visiting any others.

This was wrong, of course. Ray suggested visiting the Two Oceans Aquarium during our Hello Weekend trip to Cape Town back in June and it was one of the best activities of the weekend. I had forgotten how much fun aquariums are. I also realized that the Two Oceans Aquarium is a really fun place to take fish pictures.


The aquarium’s entrance hall.


Instagramming the fish.

We arrived at the aquarium about an hour before it closed so we didn’t get to spend a ton of time looking at the exhibits. But we did have nearly the entire aquarium to ourselves, which was great. And I was there long enough to learn that Two Oceans Aquarium, besides being a lovely tourist attraction, is a world-class institution doing great things to conserve South Africa’s underwater ecosystems. (Read about the aquarium’s conservation work and sustainable practices.)


Fish. (Update: Two Oceans Aquarium tweeted me to say that this is an evil-eye puffer fish. Best fish name ever.)


Fish. (Update: South African butterfly fish.)


Fish. (Update: Coachman fish)


Loggerhead turtle! My favorite.

Ray particularly enjoyed his role as Two Oceans Aquarium model.


Ray inside the clown fish tank.


Lord of the Prawns.



I see more aquarium fish photography in my future.

The Two Oceans Aquarium is located at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront and is open every day of the year from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. It’s the perfect Cape Town tourist activity during bad weather, or whenever you find yourself downtown with a couple of hours to kill. Click here for more information.

My trip was provided courtesy of Cape Town Tourism. Opinions expressed are my own.


#TheGodProject: A Catholic Church in Rosebank

A few months ago, my friend Ang at JOZI.REDISCOVERED asked me to partner with her on a blogging project. It would be called #TheGodProject, and the two of us would go around Joburg exploring different places of worship. Ang would interview the various religious leaders and write about the services, and I would take photos.

I’ve always been fascinated by religion so I jumped right on board. It took us a few months to get the project off the ground but we’re finally ready with our first post, about the Rosebank Church of the Immaculate Conception.


The Rosebank Catholic Church, at 16 Keyes Avenue in Rosebank.

I’m not going to say much about the church because the whole point is for you to go read Ang’s post. But I will say that this was my first time visiting this church, which is about 80 years old, and I found it incredibly beautiful and interesting. Here is my collection of photos from the Sunday evening service that we attended.


A statue of the Virgin Mary in the church’s courtyard.


A window inside the church illustrating one of the 14 Stations of the Cross (religious images of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion). Interestingly, this is the second time this year that I’ve mentioned the 14 Stations of the Cross in a blog post.


A full house for the Sunday evening service. It’s technically called the “Youth Service”, although the parishioners were all different ages.


Brent Chalmers, one of the deacons of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Ang will have a lot more to say about Brent in her post. He looks stern in this picture but is actually a very friendly guy.


The cross above the pulpit. Brent told us that the reddish lines on the marble below Christ’s hands just appeared there over the years, and no one knows how. 


The section of the church where parishioners go to light prayer candles.


Maxine, a cute young girl who played guitar in the “youth band”. Maxine was the only youth in the band though. All of the other musicians ranged between 30 and 80.

At the end of the service I approached the priest, Tony Nunes, to thank him for letting Ang and I attend the service and take photos.

“It was a pleasure,” said Father Tony. “And what is your religious faith?”

A logical question, coming from a priest. But I had to pause for a panicky second, thinking of an answer.

“I’m Jewish,” I said.

This answer is 100% correct. My mother is Jewish so technically I’m Jewish too, even though I know next to nothing about Judaism. I was also baptised Episcopalian when I was a baby, attended a Methodist Sunday school as a kid, and now don’t follow any particular religion. But I didn’t want to get into all of that with Father Tony.

“Ah, I’ve just returned from Israel!” exclaimed Father Tony. “Amazing place.”

I smiled and nodded, praying (pardon the pun) that Father Tony wouldn’t ask me if I’ve ever been to the Wailing Wall or which shul I attend in Joburg.

“It was great meeting you, Father,” I said, backing away. “Thanks so much.”

“Of course,” said Father. “Shalom!”

#TheGodProject is going to be interesting.


Thanks to the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Follow #TheGodProject on 2Summers and on JOZI.REDISCOVERED.


Home in Melville

Exactly five years ago, on August 6, 2010, I landed in Joburg and moved into a house in Melville.

Several weeks before that, when I was still living in Washington, Jon had emailed me some photos of a house for rent in Melville. From the few things I’d seen and read, I already knew that Melville was the Jozi suburb where I wanted to live. And the moment I saw these photos, I knew that this Melville house was the house I would move into.

Old house deck

The deck of the house in Melville, on a winter day in June 2010.

Old house garden

The garden, featuring what would later become my favorite aloe tree.

Jon sent photos of every room in the house, as well as the garden and the house’s exterior. I loved them all. But the photo that really captured me, the one that made me feel certain I would live in that house, was the shot of the lounge (the Americans among you would call it the living room).

The room was huge, with parquet floors, large windows, and heart-shaped burglar bars. A man stood in the middle of the floor. That man’s name was Lucky.

Old house lounge

Lucky in the lounge of the Melville house. 

Lucky was silhouetted and I couldn’t see his face. I knew nothing about Lucky. But there was something about the picture of that room, with Lucky standing in it, that made me know this would be my house.

And it did become my house, exactly five years ago tomorrow. When I finally walked through that kitchen door, at 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday evening after an 18-hour flight, I knew right away that I was home.

A few days after I moved in, I named our Melville house the Lucky 5 Star.

It’s difficult to express what this house has meant to me over the past five years. The Lucky 5 Star is where I fell in love with South Africa, with Joburg, with Melville. The Lucky 5 Star is where I truly fell in love with Jon, who I didn’t actually know until I moved here.

The Lucky 5 Star is where I discovered the horror of Jon’s addiction and devoted my entire being to the hopeless cause of eradicating it.

The Lucky 5 Star is where Jon taught me to take photos and to identify the trees and birds in the garden. It’s where I watched Jon get sick, and get better, and get sick again. It’s where I begged and pleaded and bargained with Jon to stop drinking. It’s where I threw a telephone book across that lounge, as hard as I could, and screamed at the top of my lungs when it hit the wall on the other side, hoping someone would hear me but knowing deep down that no one would.

The Lucky 5 Star is where I lost myself, where I forgot who I was. The Lucky 5 Star is where I lost Jon, and where I mourned him.

The Lucky 5 Star is where I took myself apart — piece by tiny, fractured piece — and put myself back together again. I worked to remember everything that ever hurt me and everyone I ever hurt, then I tried to let it all go. I’m still trying. I’m better and stronger than I was before.

The Lucky 5 Star is where I wrote 90% of the posts on this blog. It’s where I sat on the deck with my laptop and prowled around the garden with my camera. It’s where I cried while I typed. It’s where I discovered that I’m a photographer, a creative writer, an artist.

The Lucky 5 Star is where I met Lucky and Horst, my landlord. Lucky is almost like a brother to me, and Horst is a very good friend. If not for the two of them, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have survived in Joburg. I most certainly wouldn’t have laughed as much.

The Lucky 5 Star is where I met Smokey, the Melville Cat. As with Lucky and Horst, I’m not sure I would still be in Joburg if not for Smokey.

The Lucky 5 Star is where I learned to be alone. The Lucky 5 Star is where I learned who I am.

The Lucky 5 Star is where I first kissed Ray.

Five days ago, I moved out of the Lucky 5 Star. I know it was the right thing to do at the right time. I felt ready to leave and I think Horst and Lucky were ready for me to leave, too. But it wasn’t easy. It’s still not easy.

Ray and I have moved into another house in Melville, just up the street from the old one.


Our new home in Melville.

Jon led me here, in a very interesting way. It’s too complicated to explain in this post. Maybe I’ll tell the story someday. But let me just say that Ray and I were lucky to find our way to this new house, which we haven’t named yet, and to a fantastic new landlord.

The new house is nothing like the old one. There are new things that I’m glad we have and old things that I miss. But I know we’ll be happy here.


Ray in the lounge of the new house.


Another view of the outside. There are so many awesome things in our new garden; I haven’t been able to capture them all in pictures yet. Expect further garden updates from the Melville Cat. (Yes, he did move with us although he hasn’t been introduced to the garden yet. I’m sure he’ll keep you posted.)

On my last day at the Lucky 5 Star, I was packing and trying to figure out what to do with some of Jon’s stuff. For more than three years I’ve been gradually shedding Jon’s things: clothes, appliances, books, magazines and newspapers, camera equipment. I gave most of the clothes to Lucky, who is the same size as Jon, and most of the rest to Junkie Charity Store. I kept some stuff for myself.

But there were a few things left that I just couldn’t figure out what to do with. Those things stared me in the face on the very last day.

I uncovered a delicately woven African basket, which had been buried under a pile of extension cords. At the bottom of the basket was a motley collection of objects: stones, seeds, feathers, shells, pods, and a tiny vial of red sand with a dead beetle floating inside. Jon’s stuff. I don’t know where it all came from and I’m sorry I never asked him.

I put the beetle vial aside — that’s a keeper. Without thinking, I walked the basket and the rest of its contents out into the garden. I scattered the stones and seeds and feathers into the dirt, in the flower bed up against the house. They looked like they belonged there. I took the basket back inside.

Perfect. Goodbye, Lucky 5 Star. Goodbye, Jon. And thanks.


Iris-like flowers in the new garden. 

PS: Today is Lucky’s birthday. Happy birthday, Lucky! Thank you for helping me move and for being such an amazing friend over all these years. I’ll miss you, even though I’ll still see you all the time.



Melville Newsflash: Print for Sale at Mzansi Gallery

This is a quick speed-blog to let you all know that the Mzansi Gallery, a quirky art gallery on 7th Street in Melville, is getting ready to close for several weeks while it transitions to a new space. Before closing its doors on Friday, Mzansi is doing a two-day mini exhibition of two art works, one of which is mine.

The main work on display is a wall-sized masterpiece called “No Land No Love” by Joburg artist and the founder of the Afrikan Freedom Station, Steve “Kwena” Mokwena. Can’t afford the wall-sized masterpiece? You can also buy a smaller print version.


A glimpse of “No Land No Love”, both picture and print. That’s Kwena’s niece, Bontle, in the background.

The second work is my limited-edition print, “Brixton on Fire”, which I blogged about a few weeks ago.


Bontle hanging out in front of my print.

Brixton edited resized2

Here’s a better look at the picture.

I have seven prints left in the series and this is the only framed version.

The Mzansi Gallery has several other works available and I think there are good deals to be had. If you feel like buying some art (especially mine), pop in before 12:00 p.m. on Friday. Visit the Mzansi Gallery Facebook page for more information.

Peace out, art-lovers.


On a Beach in Zanzibar

Three weeks ago, I was on a beach in Zanzibar. It was nice.


Sunset on a beach in Zanzibar. 

My friend Michelle and I stayed on the northern end of the island, near a village called Nungwi, at a hotel called Sazani Beach Lodge.


Our room at Sazani Beach Lodge.


My amazing four-poster bed at Sazani. Every hotel bed in Zanzibar looks something like this — Zanzibari woodwork is magnificent.

Our stay at Sazani Beach Lodge was interesting. The hotel’s website says “Feel like a castaway at our 10-room beach lodge…” We really did feel like castaways because we were the only two guests at the hotel for the entire four days we stayed there.

(Incidentally, the entire island seemed relatively empty of tourists, despite the fact that it was the beginning of high season. Michelle was there at the same time three years ago and said it was way more crowded back then. So I’m not sure what’s going on — we asked several locals and no one had an answer for why tourism seemed down. I hope it picks up because this is an amazing place to visit and the island relies heavily on tourism.)

Being the sole guests was cool in a way — we had the entire deserted beach to ourselves, with hardly a boat or a pedestrian in sight — but it was a bit creepy sitting alone in the restaurant for every meal, with no one to interact with except Mwenzi the cat, Juakali the dog, and each other. Eventually we also befriended a chicken out of desperation.


Mwenzi the cat. Don’t be deceived by the cute face and spindly legs: Mwenzi is the supreme ruler of Sazani. 


Juakali the dog. He liked to walk with us on the beach. He also liked to eat scraps from our plates, but only when we distracted Mwenzi long enough for Juakali to eat. Otherwise Mwenzi chased Juakali away and kept the spoils all for himself.

The lodge was satisfactory in most respects: The rooms were spotless, the beds were comfortable, the food was fresh and well prepared. But the place also felt neglected and forgotten. The staff initially put us in a cramped room directly next to reception, which made no sense as we were the only guests. We eventually got ourselves moved to a spot closer to the beach, which was lovely.

But then there was the bathroom. I wish I’d taken a photo of the bathroom because it’s hard to explain how woeful it was. Peeling paint, taps coming loose from the wall, minimal water pressure, and a toilet that…well….a toilet that wasn’t up to the job. I’ll leave out the graphic detail but let me say this: Each day Michelle and I made a morning pilgrimage to the upscale hotel next door, for the express purpose of using the upscale toilets.

All that said, we had a lot of fun at Sazani and I’m glad we stayed there. The beach, despite Sazani’s mediocre beach chairs (all three of them), is incredible.


Sazani Beach at low tide.

I spent my birthday at Sazani and celebrated with my first-ever henna tattoo.


A lady named Salama paints my arm with henna. It took less than five minutes and the tattoo lasted for about ten days.

When we got bored at Sazani, and when Michelle wasn’t scuba-diving, we took a $5 taxi ride (or walked 20-30 minutes) to Nungwi Beach village. Nungwi is normally a big party spot on the island, but it was quiet when we were there. We passed the time watching Wimbledon on TV at a beachside bar or sitting at one of many restaurants by the water, eating cheap but delicious seafood curry and pizza topped with prawns.


Soccer on Nungwi Beach. The only problem with this beach is it’s impossible to walk on it without being accosted by “beach boys” trying to sell you souvenirs and sunset cruises. Most of them left us alone after one polite decline, but it was sometimes necessary to decline more aggressively. 


A shop on the beach in Nungwi.


“Good Life Never Come Like a Dream.” Our favorite shop sign in Nungwi Village.


Magdalena (top) and Jetfeder (bottom), whose mom works at the “New Happy Tailoring & Gift Shop” in Nungwi. I bought myself some Dutch wax print fabric there.

All in all we loved our stay in Nungwi and I would definitely go back, although I’m also curious to try out some other beach spots in Zanzibar. And next time I’m going to try to find a hotel with better toilets.


I miss you, Zanzibar.


Statement From the Melville Cat: I Am Not Moving (and Neither Is 2Summers)

From the Melville Cat:

It’s been many months since my last post. I’ve grown tired of blogging and prefer to pass the time sleeping, or eating, or pacing around the house meowing mournfully in the night.

But the time has come for me to speak. I must make a public statement about “the move”.

Heather has threatened me with moving before. A few years ago she told me that we would move next door to her landlord’s cottage. But then I had a talk with Horst, Heather’s landlord, and that move was called off.

Now Heather tells me again that we’re moving, and this time it’s for real. Not far, she tells me, just a few blocks up the street. But we are going to a different house, says Heather. We will no longer live at the Lucky 5 Star Commune.

Heather is insistent about this move. She follows me around in the garden, taking pictures. She says that I won’t be living in this garden much longer and she wants to document me.


Me in my garden. MY garden.


This is my favorite spot under the giant palm frond.


Sitting on MY chair, on MY deck.

My answer to Heather’s insistence about this move is — to put it simply — no.

I move houses only when I feel like doing so, when I fancy a change of scenery. That is what happened three years ago, when I decided to move from Ms. M’s house to Heather’s house.

However, I do not move on command.

To be quite honest, I can’t fathom the meaning of this move. I’ve never left this block. This is MY block.

What if the new block belongs to a different cat? How will I make it mine?

No. I shall not move.

In recent weeks I have adopted various disobedient behaviors to illustrate my position on this move. For example, while Heather was in Zanzibar recently, I showed my displeasure by going into hiding for the week. Ray was responsible for taking care of me while Heather was away, but I disregarded his calls for me in the evenings and instead opted to sleep outside.

I do like Ray, but he is partially to blame for this supposed move; Heather says that one of the reasons we’re moving is because she needs more space to live with Ray. I have no choice but to punish him.

Some nights I behave erratically, hiding under the bed or in the bathroom. Some nights I come home at 3:00 a.m. Some nights I meow incessantly and demand to be let out, even when it’s raining.

Sometimes I go into Horst’s cottage next door and spray my musky cat scent around. Spreading my scent is the best way to make it clear that I am not moving. I also want Horst to know that I refuse to move.

I must make Heather understand that I will not move. And neither will she.


This is MY window — the window that I use to enter and exit my house approximately 25 times each day. I love this window and I won’t leave it.

Oh, and one more thing. I would like to remind you, my fans, that I have my own account on Instagram. Today I am celebrating my 100th Instagram post. Please follow me.


My 100th Instagram post.

This concludes my official statement. Good day.

lionsrock lions fence

Wild Cats Belong in the Wild: #AnimalRightsInTourism

I hadn’t planned to write a blog post today, and I don’t normally use my blog as a soap box. But then I woke up this morning and heard about the #AnimalRightsInTourism campaign.

If you live in South Africa or the United States, you probably saw last month’s terrible story about an American tourist who was killed in the Lion Park. The Lion Park, about 30 minutes north of Johannesburg, is a zoo-like game reserve where tourists go for an up-close look at lions and other big cats. One of the biggest attractions at the Lion Park is lion-cub-petting, in which visitors enter enclosures with big cat cubs (up to six months old) and are invited to interact with them. (The tourist was mauled by a lioness in the drive-through section of the park. Despite warnings to keep car windows up, the woman had her window open.)

I confess that I’ve never been to the Lion Park. But about four years ago I went to the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, not far from the Lion Park, which offers similar activities. I knew nothing about these cub-petting programs at the time, but while I was in the reserve I saw a couple interacting with a tiger cub and felt really unnerved.

First, the cub looked way too big to be interacting with people. Second, the keeper in the enclosure was handling the cub very roughly, slapping it hard when it got too playful with the guests. And third, I couldn’t stop thinking about what kind of life that cub was going to face once it outgrew its babyhood job.

tiger cub

A tiger cub at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve in 2011. I wonder where that cub, which would now be a massive tiger, is today?

It’s been well documented that the cubs involved in these petting programs — which exist all over South Africa and are 100% legal — are frequently sold into the canned hunting industry. Canned hunting farms — which are also all over South Africa and totally legal — buy up captive-bred animals at auctions, or breed the animals themselves, and then charge big bucks for tourists to come to their farms and “hunt” the animals.

The Lion Park denies ever selling its lions into canned hunting, despite evidence to the contrary. (Since the tourist-mauling incident, the Lion Park has also announced that it will end its lion-cub-petting program in 2016. Let’s hope the park follows through on that commitment.) I’m not sure of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve’s official stance on canned hunting, but according to the reserve’s website its so-called “Animal Crèche” is still going strong. (Read more about cub-petting on my friend Meruschka’s blog.)

I’m not against hunting in general, although why people enjoy shooting animals and watching them die is beyond me. Many of my friends and colleagues will disagree, but I think hunting can be done ethically and I also believe that ethical hunting brings big financial and ecological benefits to local communities in South Africa.

But I am against canned hunting and cub-petting, as well as any tourism activity that puts human beings into physical contact with wild animals. This includes elephant-back safaris, which my friend Kate wrote about on her blog today. As far as I’m concerned, South Africa’s tourism industry would be better off without these activities and I believe they should be banned.

I have one more confession. A couple of years ago I was invited on a media trip to a high-end private reserve in South Africa’s Waterberg region. During that visit, I pet a pair of cheetahs. I justified my actions back then by telling myself that these cheetahs, who had been hand-reared by the couple who managed the reserve, were family pets and would probably never be sold to a canned hunting farm.

But I realize now that my justification was wrong. Those beautiful cheetahs were purchased at an animal auction that almost certainly catered to the canned hunting industry. By petting those cheetahs I was indirectly supporting that industry, and that was uncool.

Heather and cheetah

Me and a cheetah. Cute, right? But I’ll never do this again, no matter how much peer pressure I feel.

 Blood Lions, a documentary about the canned hunting industry in South Africa, is premiering this evening in Durban. I watched the two-minute trailer earlier today and couldn’t get through it without crying, so I don’t think I’ll watch the whole film. But the Blood Lions release is the main motivation behind today’s #AnimalRightsInTourism campaign. To show your support, please follow Blood Lions on Facebook and Twitter and voice your own opinions about unethical animal practices using the #AnimalRightsInTourism hashtag.

lionsrock  lions

This photo and the one at the top of this post were shot at Lionsrock, a sanctuary for formerly abused big cats in South Africa’s Free State. I visited Lionsrock in 2011.

Also, please don’t pet cubs. The end.