I took an Amtrak train from Baltimore to New York City. Upon arrival, I climbed from the depths of Penn Station up into the forest of skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan. I walked to the taxi stand and told the first driver in line that I needed to go to Brooklyn. My cab driver, a friendly young man named Mark, was a New York City original. Mark told me about his troubled childhood, how much he loves the bible, and how he “used to be gay” before discovering Jesus and starting a new life as a straight man. I learned all of this, and more, within 90 seconds of getting into the cab. “Can you hear me back there?” he called, peering in the rear-view mirror. “Move over a bit so I can see you.” Mark spent the remaining 30 minutes of the drive imploring me to read the bible. My guess is 99% of his passengers shut him down rudely (which I was tempted to do), or simply ignore him (which I was also tempted to do), and he was excited beyond belief that I was even listening (I was being polite, and maybe a little curious). I wasn’t sure how to respond to […]
UPDATE (March 2017): I’m very sad to say that Jasmine Syrian Cuisine has closed. I’m not sure why. I’ll post updates here if anything changes. I recently had lunch at a Syrian restaurant, Jasmine Syrian Cuisine, in Joburg’s far-eastern suburb of Benoni. Safaa Jabri Al Rehawi and her husband, Yasir, opened Jasmine last year after moving to South Africa as refugees from Syria. Jasmine’s beautiful wooden front door. Yasir prepares to serve us aromatic Syrian coffee, flavoured with cardamom. A table of delicious food. “Did you run a restaurant in Syria too?” I asked Sanaa as she took our orders and explained the menu in patient detail. Sanaa smiled and shook her head. She was a student back in Damascus, she explained, and Yasir ran a candy shop. “We had to leave…” Sanaa gestured vaguely. “The war. And we had to find something to do here.” I had initially planned to write a restaurant review of Jasmine as part of my #Gauteng52 series. But I’ve decided not to. My friend Marie-Lais, who went to Jasmine with me, has written a fantastic review of the restaurant. Everything you need to know about the food is there. Instead I’m going to talk about Syrian refugees […]
It’s 1:36 a.m. and I’m at my desk, staring at my computer. This never happens. The reason it’s happening now is because: 1) I’m jet-lagged; and 2) I’m sad. I doubt I’ll be sleeping for a while so I might as well do something useful. Two days ago I caught a flight from Washington D.C. to Johannesburg. It was the night before the American election. I arrived in Johannesburg a day later, Tuesday, while the election was still in progress. I couldn’t stay awake late enough to see the results — South Africa is seven hours ahead of the American east coast. But when I switched on my phone this morning, Wednesday, there it was: “Trump looks set to win presidency.” It’s weird that this happened just after I returned from a trip to America. I was shocked beyond belief at the headline above but I think the shock would have been greater — perhaps heart-attack-inducing — if I’d been living my normal life in Joburg for the last two weeks, with my head in the sand regarding U.S. politics. Even though I was there in America, watching hours and hours of news coverage and talking endlessly with everyone about the election for […]
I’m in the United States just in time for Halloween, and also for the peak of American presidential election madness. (Don’t worry, I’ve already voted. I dropped my absentee ballot safely into a U.S. Postal Service box last Saturday.) It’s quite a circus. I’ve been watching CNN for the past hour and other than commercials, there hasn’t been a single second of anything other than Donald Trump coverage. When my dad called this morning and told me Donald Trump was appearing at his new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., I grabbed my camera bag and hopped on the Metro. I wanted to see some Trumpkins — the term Dad uses for crazy Trump supporters — with my own eyes. Trump’s new hotel is in the historic Old Post Office building, which used to house an eatery where I ate lunch back in the day when I worked in this neighborhood. Ben Franklin, America’s first Postmaster General. A Trumpkin from Manassas, Virginia. The sign in her right hand reads “Dogs for Trump”. The Trumpkins in attendance were mainly ladies. Sorry lady, I don’t think Maryland is for Trump. This lady frightened me the most because she seemed really normal. There were some male Trumpkins […]
On Saturday evening my father, Tenney Mason, was in downtown Baltimore (my home city in the U.S.) attending ArtScape, a local arts festival. A group of #Afromation and #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators walked past, and Dad decided to check it out. He had his camera with him and although he’s mostly retired, Dad spent many decades as a photojournalist and newspaper editor. When he sees a news story, he follows it. This is one of the photos Dad took of the demonstration. It was shot in front of Penn Station, Baltimore’s train station, which is also right where Artscape was happening. (Photo: Tenney Mason) One of the leaders of the demonstration. I hope he got some good GoPro footage. (Photo: Tenney Mason) I don’t know much about this demonstration and neither did Dad at the time. But after a bit of online research, I have learned that the demonstration was a protest against police brutality and “an affirmation of black life”. (Read a statement by the organizers.) Dad followed the protesters onto an exit ramp to Interstate 83. The ramp was closed to cars due to the arts festival. He saw a larger group of protesters down below, attempting to interrupt northbound traffic on I-83. […]
Over the past month I have been to the following places: Graaff-Reinet, and about seven other small towns around South Africa, Reunion Island, Istanbul (only for eight hours — will explain in a future post), Washington D.C. (I’m here now.) Fall leaves in Washington. I arrived just in time. Johannesburg is the one place where I haven’t been very much during the past month. As I’ve said many times before, I love traveling but I also hate being away from Joburg, especially for extended periods. I’m really grateful to be back in the United States at such a beautiful time of year and to reconnect with my American friends and family, some of whom I haven’t seen for years. Every time I come back to Washington I’m surprised by how lovely it is, how quaint the houses and shops and restaurants are, and how liberating it is to step out onto the street and just walk. Jeez, I miss walking when I’m in Joburg. People in South Africa often ask me if I “miss home”. My usual answer is no. I miss specific people and I miss certain things. But as I go about my day-to-day life in Africa, I don’t […]
Mexican/Latin-American food is one of the things I’ve missed most in South Africa. There are a couple of Mexican restaurants in Joburg, including one in Melville called Café Mexicho. (Read my reviews of that establishment — which I now think were overly generous — here and here.) But Mexican food in this town tends to be mediocre. It’s to be expected. My home country is filled with great Latin American food, but that is because it’s also filled with great Latin American people. Quality Latin American ingredients are available in every U.S. grocery store. In South Africa, on the other hand, I haven’t met a single Mexican. And unless you know how to make your own corn tortillas and salsa, you aren’t going to find anything decent here.
A few days ago I was with my mother in Key West, Florida, watching the sun set from the southernmost point of the United States. Key West is famous for its sunsets. I can see why. I was initially a little disappointed in Key West. When we first arrived I struggled to see through the oppressive humidity and the grimy, booze-soaked, touristy-beach-town feel of Key West’s main drag. But like a lot of other places, Key West grew on me when I looked closer.
Everyone knows that Washington D.C. is a historic city. But unbeknownst to most of the world, D.C.’s history extends far beyond the monuments and museums around the National Mall and the Tidal Basin. Looking south down 16th Street from Columbia Heights, toward the White House (further away then it looks) and the Jefferson Memorial. Last Friday I went running through Meridian Hill Park — in Northwest D.C. between 15th, 16th, and Euclid Streets — and noticed how pretty it is. I decided to go back the next morning to take photos, and my friend Bob graciously agreed to accompany me (rising far earlier than his normal Saturday wake-up time) to provide some historic background on the park.
It’s interesting that I chose this particular time to return to America. Summer is drawing to an end here, while it’s just heating up back in Joburg. It’s around the same time of year that I moved to Joburg in the first place, which is how my blog got its name. I woke up this morning — back in Washington D.C., crashing on Bob’s and Tim’s air mattress — feeling not only between seasons, but also between continents and lives. For the first time since my trip began, I had no particular plans. I kept today open on purpose, thinking I might need a break from the errands and family time and socializing. But the gap in my schedule made me anxious and depressed.
This past weekend I visited my sister Susanna in Middlebury, Vermont. For those of you unfamiliar with American geography, Vermont is a tiny state in the far northeast, bordering New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Canada. Middlebury is a quaint college town in the central part of Vermont. Instagram of my sister’s dog, Finley, on a stone in Middlebury honoring the Dalai Lama. His Holiness visited Middlebury during his tour of the U.S. last year.