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africa

Mauritius sunset

I’d Rather Be in Mauritius. (Duh.)

I’ve been invited to participate in a blogger campaign called #RatherBeInMauritius. The point of the campaign is to write about how much I’d currently rather be in Mauritius, where it’s warm and everything is beautiful, instead of in Joburg, where it’s cold and not everything is beautiful. Mauritius, where I’d rather be. (For the record, I did ask the people sponsoring this campaign if they couldn’t just send me to Mauritius for a few days and let me report back on why I think everyone would rather be there. My request was politely ignored. At least I tried.) Those of you who aren’t from around here might be wondering why I complain about winter in Joburg. She’s in AFRICA, you might be thinking — how bad can it be? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s true that a high temperature of 60° fahrenheit (15° celsius) and a low of 35° fahrenheit (2° celsius) sounds like a walk in the park compared to a typical winter day in, say, Washington D.C. But try doing a few straight days and nights of 35° fahrenheit without your heat on and all your windows open a crack. Then you’ll know what it’s like to survive winter […]

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Swazi Werner with his books at the Zebra Inn

Remembering Swazi Werner of the Zebra Inn

I just published a blog post and I don’t normally do multiple posts in a day. But I just heard the news about Swazi Werner, owner of the Zebra Inn, who died last night. Swazi in his basement library in 2014. My hard-drinking days are long gone and I generally hate going to bars. But the Zebra Inn, which you can read about in this article I wrote for Sawubona a couple of years ago, is an exception to that rule. The Zebra Inn is the most iconic bar in Joburg and I’ve always loved going there. Swazi was Joburg’s most iconic bar owner. Last night there was an armed robbery at the Zebra Inn. I know very few details. But Swazi and his friend Johann Botha, a prominent journalist and television presenter, were shot and killed. There are a few short articles floating around about the murders, but the ones I’ve seen so far have only made a fleeting mention of “the owner” of the bar without identifying Swazi. Perhaps this is because Swazi wasn’t his real name. Swazi once explained to me that his first name is Werner (he was originally from Austria), but he used to live in Swaziland and […]

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Cooking chicken at Food Junxion

#Gauteng52, Week 23: Food Junxion

Welcome to Week 23 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Food Junxion, a take-away restaurant in downtown Johannesburg. While visiting Master Mansions last week, I noticed a delicious smell emanating from a street-level restaurant in the building next door. There was a man in the window of the restaurant, cooking chicken over a coal-fired grill, painting the chicken bright red using a thick brush. The restaurant’s name was Food Junxion. On a whim, Gail and I decided to eat lunch there. Grilling bright red chicken. I’m sure Food Junxion has a great story, but I don’t know it. It didn’t occur to me until later that I might want to blog about Food Junxion — at the time my mind was swimming with romantic stories of hat factories and secret Hindu temples. So I didn’t ask any questions or take a ton of photos during our meal. But here’s what I can tell you: 1) Food Junxion is cheap: R30 ($2.30) for a platter of chicken, roti (Indian bread), chips (fries), and salad (a small pile of iceberg lettuce). Next time I’ll skip the salad and substitute […]

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Outside Master Mansions

A Magical Visit to Master Mansions

A couple of weeks ago I attended the book launch for Master Mansions. Master Mansions is the eighth in a ten-book series called “Wake Up, This is Joburg”: written by Tanya Zack, photographed by Mark Lewis, and published by Fourthwall Books. My precious copy of Master Mansions. Just a side note about the “Wake Up This is Joburg” books: If you attend the launch of one of the books, then buy the book and impatiently rip it out of the plastic right away, please do not do so while eating canapés. You’ll risk putting greasy fingerprints on the delicate, un-laminated cover of the book. (I photoshopped my fingerprint out of the picture above.) The “Wake Up This is Joburg” series is fantastic. I learned about it late, after the first five books had already sold out, so I only have numbers six, seven, and eight. (Nine and ten haven’t been released yet.) The narrative in these books — which are more like fancy pamphlets, covered with thick, matte paper and bound with staples — is exceptional and the photography is inspiring. The short stories are required reading for anyone who appreciates Joburg’s beautiful oddity. At the book launch my friend Gail approached Harshad Bhikha Master, one […]

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View and wine glasses at Jordan Wines in Stellenbosch

11 Spectacular Views in Stellenbosch

I recently received an invitation to participate in a blogging campaign called #Stellenblog. #Stellenblog is an annual weeklong event in which bloggers/social media influencers from around South Africa and the world go to Stellenbosch — a university town outside Cape Town that is the center of South Africa’s wine industry — and hang around eating/drinking/having fun. The #Stellenblog crew, clockwise from top left: Fhatuwani, Trudy, Samuel (doing his best to hide), Lauren, Becki, Vuyo, me, and Audrey. Not shown: Ongama, Dawid, and Mark. Sounds like a tough job, right? Okay, I lie. Drinking/eating/having fun is not tough at all, especially not in Stellenbosch. If you go to Stellenbosch, on someone else’s dime, and don’t drink/eat/fun yourself to within an inch of your life, then there is probably something seriously wrong with you. Like maybe you don’t have taste buds. Or your heart is made of stone. So last week wasn’t hard. But the hard part of this job comes now, as I wade through more than 3000 photos and try to figure out how to tell the story of #Stellenblog. I will start with the view. Stellenbosch is drop-dead gorgeous, especially in the fall when the grape vines and grass and leaves […]

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Folded Basotho blankets

#Gauteng52, Week 19: Where Basotho Blankets Are Made

Welcome to Week 19 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Aranda Textile Mills, home of the Basotho blanket. Basotho blankets are not made in Lesotho, the tiny country for which the blankets are named. Originally produced in England, these woollen symbols of Basotho culture are now produced at Aranda, a factory/showroom in the South African town of Randfontein on Johannesburg’s West Rand. I’ve been wanting to visit Aranda since I learned about it in 2013 from the Basotho blanket ladies of Clarens. (Read more about Basotho blankets and the blanket ladies here and here.) I finally got my chance a few weeks ago. The Basotho blanket sales room at Aranda. Aranda’s extraordinary story started several generations ago with the Magnis, an Italian textile-making family in Tuscany. The Magnis’ factory was destroyed by the Germans during World War II, and a South African colonel convinced the family to move their operation to South Africa after the war ended. After several decades of producing a range of blankets and shawls at their mill in Randfontein, the Magnis added Basotho blankets to […]

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Tswaing Crater and lake

#Gauteng52, Week 18: Tswaing Meteorite Crater

Welcome to Week 18 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Tswaing Meteorite Crater. About 200,000 years ago, a swimming-pool-sized rock crashed into South Africa. The collision created the Tswaing Meteorite Crater. Two thousand centuries later, the Tswaing Crater is a nature reserve in the far northern reaches of Gauteng Province. The Tswaing Crater is not to be confused with another nearby impact crater, the Vredefort Dome, which is thought to be the largest impact crater in the world and is about 166 times larger than Tswaing. (The Tswaing Crater is 1.8 kilometers, or just over a mile wide, and the Vredefort Crater is an unfathomable 300 kilometers wide.) Ray and I had been wanting to visit the Tswaing Crater together forever, and I’ve been really excited to feature it on #Gauteng52. Unfortunately our visit didn’t go as smoothly as planned and we didn’t experience the crater as fully as we’d hoped. I have some valuable tips to share that will make your visit to the Tswaing Crater more fantastic than ours was. The Tswaing Crater, looking way less impressive than […]

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View of Joburg from the top of Ponte City

In Transit: Hillbrow Above and Below

I’m about to leave South Africa for a few weeks, which always makes me feel weird. I woke up in a strange, sad mood today, mourning everything about the state of the world. I recognize the feeling now — it’s pre-transit melancholy. (Although there really are a lot of crappy things happening in the world right now, too.) This is going to be a momentous trip for a variety of reasons and I’ll be blogging about those reasons along the way. But before I go, I thought I’d throw out some momentous Jozi photos that I took earlier this month. I tagged along with some friends on a tour of Hillbrow and Berea with Dlala Nje, an organization based in Ponte City. I’ve blogged about Hillbrow, Berea, and Ponte City on many occasions but these places never get old. Dlala Nje has an apartment on the top floor of Ponte City. This is the view through the window of that apartment. Hillbrow has an incredible concentration of satellite dishes. Ponte City (the tallest residential building in Africa) has a hollow core. Here’s the view from inside the core, one of the most spectacular sights in Joburg. Sorry, one more. Fiver sketches inside the Ponte core. […]

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The Box Shop exterior

#Gauteng52, Week 11: A New Take on Vilakazi Street

Welcome to Week 11 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Box Shop, a shopping center and coffee shop on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. A few weeks ago I met up with my friend Andile, a.k.a. @may_i_take_apicture, to talk about a new project he’s working on called Imagine Soweto. Andile is cycling 150 kilometers around Soweto and taking 150 pictures — about four pictures for each of Soweto’s 38 townships. Andile Bhala, a.k.a. the Man With the Red Bag, in his home township of Orlando West. Andile was looking for some advice on blogging for his Imagine Soweto project. I agreed to give him some in exchange for an introduction to a new place in Soweto for my #Gauteng52 project. We wound up having coffee at the Box Shop, a relatively new development built from shipping containers on Vilakazi Street in Orlando West. The Box Shop on Vilakazi Street. Vilakazi Street is legendary as the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners (President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) lived at the same time. Vilakazi is one of […]

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Sanza's jollof rice

Friday Night at the Yeoville Dinner Club

Sanza Sandile isn’t an average chef. Which makes sense, because Yeoville isn’t an average suburb. Looking down on Rockey Street from the Yeoville Dinner Club. Actually I’m not even sure Sanza calls himself a chef — if you ask him he’ll probably say he’s a cook or a journalist or a philosopher or an entertainer. He’s all of those things and more. But above all, as I see it, this man is a chef. Sanza’s story is best told by Sanza himself and trust me, he will tell it to you. His food is as much about story-telling as it is about cooking. I’ll run through things briefly: Sanza came of age as apartheid ended and South African democracy began. He went to university, became a radio journalist, but all the while he cooked. He spent most of his adulthood in Yeoville, which was a gathering place for South Africa’s black intelligentsia in the 1990s and early 2000s. Over the past two decades Yeoville has become an African melting pot, with immigrants flooding in from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other places. Many of Sanza’s peers left Yeoville and relocated to wealthier suburbs like Melville, which Sanza calls Smellville. Sanza […]

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Girls at the top of Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi

10 Insider Tips for Nairobi

I spent seven days in Nairobi. I didn’t go to the Maasai Mara, or Mombasa, or Mount Kilimanjaro or any of the other places that tourists usually fly or drive to after passing briefly through Kenya’s capital city. I suppose living in Johannesburg, which tourists also tend to quickly pass through on their way to somewhere else, has given me an appreciation for African cities. I made Nairobi my sole destination and spent a full week getting to know it. The Nairobi skyline at dusk, viewed from the top of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) downtown. I booked a flight on frequent flier miles and a cheap apartment on Airbnb. Other than that I did zero preparation before my trip, and relied solely on recommendations from my friends once I arrived in Nairobi. My good friend Michelle lives there, along with some colleagues and Instagram buddies. They all made suggestions and took me to some of their favorite places. The result was an extremely enjoyable week. Here are ten cool things that I did in Nairobi, virtually none of which I would have done without the recommendations of my local friends. (Note that I’m going to write a separate post about Karen […]

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Lungi holds raspberries at Field Berry Farm

#Gauteng52, Week 8: Picking Raspberries in Joburg South

Welcome to Week 8 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Field Berry Farm, a raspberry farm in Joburg’s far south. This will be a quick #Gauteng52 post as I only visited this place briefly. But I need to tell you about Field Berry Farm before raspberry-picking season is over. Raspberries from Field Berry Farm. By the way, did you know that the word “raspberry” has a p in it? I didn’t, until I started writing this post and noticed the autocorrect when I typed “rasberry”. A Quick Visit to Field Berry Farm I stopped by Field Berry Farm a couple of weeks ago with my friend Kate, who grew up in the south of Joburg and was giving me a tour of the area. Joburg’s southern suburbs are vast, incorporating densely populated urban areas, bucolic farmland, and everything in between. (I’ll have more Joburg South posts coming soon.) We followed Kate’s GPS along a winding country road and found ourselves in a gravel parking area, with a small warehouse to the right and a large field covered by shade netting to the left. A […]

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