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People waiting in line for food parcels

Lockdown Journal: Day 56 (Melville Food Relief)

It’s Day 56 of the South African lockdown. I spent the morning taking photos at the food parcel distribution program on 3rd Avenue in Melville. I didn’t provide all the details about this program in yesterday’s post. Here’s how it works: The Viva Foundation receives donations for the Melville food program (find out how to donate at the bottom of this post), then sends the money to Tanya. Tanya and Sean source food for the parcels through Pick-n-Pay and Jumbo Farmers, a local produce store in Albertville. Each parcel has about enough food to feed a family of four for one week. This week’s parcels contained maize meal, soup mix, dried beans, cabbage, potatoes, butternut, onions, sugar, salt, soap, and hand sanitizer, among other items. Each food parcel costs only R130 (about $7) to source, which is incredible. On Mondays, Tanya and Sean distribute numbered paper tickets corresponding to the number of parcels they’ll have that week. There are no criteria for who can receive a parcel. This week the Gardiners gave out 300 tickets but wound up giving out about 350 parcels because there was extra food. (The number of parcels has increased each week — it started at […]

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Trixie and me in the bathroom window

Lockdown Journal: Day 20 (Perfect Circles)

If you’re new to this blog series and don’t know what’s happening with South Africa’s 21-day (now 35-day) lockdown, my first post  has all the details. Or read all my lockdown posts. Welcome to Lockdown Day 20. Twenty days, each of which feels like a year. It’s like two decades of lockdown. For me, it’s been a day of circles. I spent the first half of today feeling unproductive and hating myself for it — a mental game I often play even in “normal” times. I didn’t exercise (sorry Xolani), I didn’t follow a routine, I didn’t do my taxes. I tried to make progress with a story I’m working on but mostly didn’t. I did a lot of dishes. (I can’t figure out how I’m generating so many of those lately.) I swept the floor of the swimming pool but the algae wouldn’t come off. I thought about going food-shopping — I haven’t left the house in nearly ten days — but I’ve ordered a lot of food online and realized there’s nothing I urgently need. I felt useless and a bit desperate, like my mind and body were running in circles. The tide started to turn when my bell rang […]

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Heather and Jon in Tanzania, March 2007

Lockdown Journal: Day 16 (My 1000th Blog Post)

If you’re new to this blog series and don’t know what’s happening with South Africa’s 21-day (now 35-day) lockdown, my first post  has all the details. Or read all my lockdown posts. Welcome to Lockdown Day 16, and to my 1000th blog post of all time. Just for today, I’ve decided to put aside all lockdown and COVID-19 talk. We’ve got a minimum of 19 more days of lockdown and I imagine you’re just as tired of reading about it as I am of writing about it. I’ve published 1000 blog posts over the past decade. (The ten-year anniversary of 2Summers is also approaching, on 26 June.) It’s not every day that a blogger gets to say that. So today I’m going to indulge myself a bit, forget about the global pandemic, and tell you a story about how this blog started in the first place. To do that I need to back up to March 2007, when I traveled to Tanzania. * * * * * * * * * * I’m 32 and it’s my first trip to Africa. Traveling to Africa for a writing-related work assignment (I work in communications for and HIV/AIDS nonprofit in Washington) is a dream […]

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Fan Fan the car guard outside Cheese Gourmet

Joburg COVID-19 Lockdown Journal: Day 11

If you’re new to this blog series and don’t know what’s happening with South Africa’s 21-day lockdown, my first post  has all the details. Or read all my lockdown posts. It’s South African Lockdown Day 11. I went outside again. My main task today was to go out and shop for a few things. I heard recently that the Cheese Gourmet — one of my favorite Joburg food shops, which I’ve blogged about here and here and here — was open during lockdown. I have a significant supply of cheese at home so didn’t need to buy any more, unfortunately. But I’ve been craving fresh bread, olives, and spicy chorizo, all of which Cheese Gourmet has. And I’m making it a goal to support local businesses as much as possible during lockdown. So I got into my car and drove to Linden, two suburbs over from Melville. It was my first time driving in 12 days. Normally it would take me about eight minutes to drive to Cheese Gourmet but I took a slow, circuitous back route, because: 1) I wanted to see what was happening around the neighborhood; and 2) I’m paranoid about running into cops (probably an irrational concern, as […]

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Looking up at the sky on Day 1 of lockdown in Johannesburg

Joburg COVID-19 Lockdown Journal: Day 1

Read all my lockdown journal entries. South Africa’s official lockdown started today. South Africa has 1,170 confirmed cases of COVID-19 today. We also had our first death — a 48-year-old woman in Western Cape province. Here are a few thoughts I had today: One benefit to being locked down alone at home is I no longer have to wash my hands 50 times a day. I normally eat very boring food at home and save my splurging for when I eat out. This meal strategy doesn’t work during lockdown. I’m so happy I bought myself some nice food to enjoy at home. I’ve already seen a few stories about the South African police barging into homes and harassing people, spraying tear gas, etc. This is very troubling. I don’t know what else to say without saying the wrong thing. But I hope everyone in this country — especially our leaders and protectors — can be kind to one another throughout this horrible crisis. The world is watching us. My mind is racing with additional thoughts. But it’s 9 p.m. and my brain shuts off in an hour. Lockdown Journal …What day is it again? Oh that’s right, March 27th. Day […]

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View of Joburg from the Melville Koppies

Joburg COVID-19 Lockdown Journal: Day -1

Read all my lockdown journal entries. South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown begins in about 24 hours. As of today, South Africa has 709 documented cases of COVID-19 and no deaths. Yesterday we had 554 cases and the day before we had just over 400. More than half the cases are in Gauteng province. It was beautiful day in Joburg. The streets were peaceful, and when I went to the grocery store nearest my house this morning it was only mildly more crowded than normal. (Although Melville people seem to be a lot more chilled than average in this regard. I’ve heard stores in other areas are packed. We will be able to shop for groceries during the lockdown, but I can also understand why people are nervous and want to get their shopping done now.) A few random thoughts I have today about the impending lockdown: I now feel grateful for the tiniest things, like the opportunity to walk, smell a rose (cliché but true), or smile and say hello to a stranger on the street. I cheerfully greet everyone now, even those who clearly aren’t interested in greeting me back. I take every opportunity to walk outside (while maintaining appropriate […]

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Hand sanitizer bubbles

Joburg COVID-19 Lockdown Journal: Day -2

Read all my lockdown journal entries. At midnight on Thursday, South Africa is going into a 21-day lockdown. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown last night in a speech to the nation. Although the situation we’re in is horrifying beyond measure, I feel much safer after listening to the president’s speech than I felt before. I trust President Ramaphosa to lead the country as best he can, and I’m really grateful for that. Trust in leadership is a luxury many people around the world don’t have right now. I’m proud to be an honorary South African. Here’s a basic outline of what the lockdown will mean logistically, courtesy of the National Department of Health: South Africans will not be allowed to leave their homes except under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or to collect a social grant. Those exempt from the national lockdown include: health workers (public and private sectors); emergency personnel; security services (police, traffic officers, military) medical personnel; soldiers; and other persons necessary for our response to the pandemic. In addition, those involved in the production, distribution and supply of food and basic goods, essential banking services, the maintenance […]

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Sunset from the top of the Hallmark Hotel

Joburg’s Hottest Rooftop Party at Hallmark House

A couple of weeks ago I visited Hallmark House, a hip hotel in downtown Joburg, for my friend Gilda’s birthday celebration. Hallmark House has an interesting story. It was built a few years ago (at great expense) by Propertuity, the real estate company that created the Maboneng Precinct, and designed by acclaimed architect David Adjaye, who also designed the Smithsonian Museum of African American History. Hallmark went up for auction last year when Propertuity abruptly went out of business. The building is now owned by Steyn Investments. Most interestingly for me, the top of Hallmark House has the best view of downtown Joburg in the city. (Okay, maybe the view from the top of Ponte City is better. But only just.) The Hallmark rooftop has now become a bar with the hottest sundowner party in town happening every Sunday. I had already been to the top of Hallmark a couple of times before it was renovated, but this view never ceases to enthrall me. I’m so glad the rooftop is now open to the public. (Most of the best downtown rooftops are open only for private events.) Hallmark Rooftop Sundays is an all-day-into-the-evening affair, with a fancy bar, brunch specials, […]

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Donkeys in Kameel

#10SouthAfricanTowns, Part 2: Kameel

Kameel is the second stop in my  #10SouthAfricanTowns campaign, for which I’m visiting ten small towns across South Africa in 2020. Kameel means “Camel” in Afrikaans. The original farm there is called “Kameel Bult”, which roughly means “Camel Hill”, and I assume the town got its name from the farm. This might make sense if there were a hill in the area, but there isn’t. This land, in the far reaches of South Africa’s North West province, is flat as can be. The sky is huge. Kameel Bult could also mean “Camel’s Hump”. The name could be a reference to the ubiquitous camel thorn trees in the area, or maybe to the mounted police who used to ride camels in this part of the country. No one knows for sure. Like Val, Kameel is technically a hamlet, not a town. It has about 30 residents, two B&Bs, a general store, a bottle store (liquor store), a co-op (hardware store) with petrol pumps, and a post office. (The post office is just a few post boxes in the general store.) Kameel has more maize silos than people. I visited Kameel for three days and stayed at the Kameel Rust & Vrede B&B. […]

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Val train tracks at sunset

#10SouthAfricanTowns, Part 1: Val

Val is the first stop in my #10SouthAfricanTowns campaign, for which I’m visiting ten small towns across South Africa in 2020. After months of talking about it, my #10SouthAfricanTowns campaign has finally begun. I visited Val, a tiny hamlet in Mpumalanga province, on the third weekend in January. Val, which has only 10 permanent residents, is not large enough to be considered an official town. But for the purposes of this project I’m defining my towns loosely. I chose Val because: 1) It was recommended by a couple of my readers; 2) I was intrigued by the idea of such a tiny “town”; 3) The Val Hotel sounded like a fun, quirky place; and 4) It’s only a 90-minute drive from Joburg and I wanted to start somewhere close to home. I spent three days in Val, which is a long visit in such a small place. I really learned a lot, about the town and also about myself. But somehow I still didn’t manage to see and do everything I wanted. I’m considering another visit to Val before the year is over. Rita Britz, the Grand Dame of Val I don’t think Val would still exist without Rita Britz […]

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Top floor of 9 Rose Road, Johannesburg

The Ruins of Rose Road: Photo Bonanza

The Ruins of Rose Road The moment I saw the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation announce this tour — even before I read the description — I signed up. I had never heard of Rose Road. But the tour’s title was so evocative…My mind’s eye quickly filled with images of haunted mansions and stately gardens of a bygone era. My mind’s eye was spot on. The Ruins of Rose Road were everything I could have imagined, and more. Rose Road is a dead-end street at the top of a ridge in Joburg’s wealthy Upper Houghton neighborhood, overlooking the Wilds Municipal Nature Reserve. All the north-facing mansions along the western end of the road, built between the 1920s and 1940s, are — for reasons I don’t completely understand — unoccupied. The land is owned by a property development company and slated for redevelopment, taking into account the historic heritage of several of the homes. But due to South Africa’s stagnant economy there are no immediate plans for this redevelopment to begin. Johannesburg heritage gurus Brett McDougall and Flo Bird took us on an exploration of three houses along the road, each of which required climbing a steep, winding driveway. 3 Rose Road Number […]

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Tswana dancers on Vilakazi Street in Soweto

Touring Soweto with a South African Blonde

Last week I did an all-day tour of Soweto with Eenblond Tours. “Eenblond” means “a blonde” in Afrikaans, which makes sense because that’s exactly what Gilda Swanepoel is. Gilda and I are kindred spirits — we’re the same age and our life stories have many parallels. Gilda spent lots of time traveling solo around southern Africa and used to write a travel blog. She loves getting to know Joburg’s people and cultures in a very intimate way. I’d been meaning to take one of her tours forever and she does lots of different ones, around Joburg and all over South Africa. But I was particularly keen to go to Soweto with Gilda. I’ve been to Soweto — which is technically part of Joburg but really its own place entirely — countless times (browse all of my Soweto posts here), but I’ll never pass up an opportunity to go again. Soweto is so huge, so historic, and so diverse that no one visit is the same as another, even when you go back to the same places. My tour with Gilda was no exception. A Day in Soweto Gilda fetched me at my house and then we went to pick up […]

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