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south africa

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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Heather wearing a COVID-19 mask

Joburg COVID-19 Lockdown Journal: Day 0

Read all my lockdown journal entries. Today is the day: South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown begins at midnight. From this point forward I won’t be leaving my house except to buy food or medicine. It’s just me, the Melville Cat, and Trixie. I bought a mask to celebrate. Today’s lockdown thoughts: As of today there are 927 documented COVID-19 cases in South Africa. There are still no documented deaths, which is remarkable compared with the virus’ trajectories in other countries. What might this mean? I hope it’s a sign South Africans are even stronger and more badass than we previously realized. The South African government has released a 16-page document outlining lockdown rules and regulations. It’s not exactly light reading, but I’ve now reviewed it twice and can’t find any instruction on the rules for when people leave their houses to buy basic essentials. How will the police and military monitor our movements? What do we need to carry with us when we go out? Where are we allowed to go, how often, and when? If anyone has answers on any of this, please comment. South Africans will not be allowed to buy alcohol or cigarettes during the lockdown. I can […]

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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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Couple sitting on a bench in Delta Park during the COVID-19 response in Joburg

Life in Joburg During COVID-19

Yesterday, when I decided to write this, my idea was to make it an upbeat post about things to do in Joburg while “social distancing” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I posted on my social media channels asking for suggestions — especially suggestions for things to do that will help small businesses — and I received quite a few. I also started jotting down my own ideas. Number one on my list was visiting Joburg’s beautiful public parks. Then I saw the announcement that Joburg’s parks were closing. I jumped in my car immediately and headed to Delta Park, where huge banks of cosmos flowers bloom every March. The cosmos form magical clouds of pink and white petals, floating just below the Joburg skyline. I tried to stay calm as I drove, barely able to speak to my friend Julie, who I picked up on the way. I had to get into Delta Park to see the flowers. I had to. I didn’t know what I would do with myself if I couldn’t walk among those pink and white clouds at least once in 2020. The gate was still open. Delta Park was open. Thank god thank god thank […]

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Bamboo Thai, one of my favorite Asian restaurants

Is It Still Okay to Blog About Restaurants?

I’m not trying to be trite or make light of a serious situation. I’m just legitimately baffled and sad and unsure what to say or do about basically everything. For the purposes of this post I’m wondering if it’s currently acceptable to: A) Eat meals in restaurants; B) Order food from restaurants; and/or C) Write a blog encouraging others to go to a restaurant. I have no f*cking idea about about A or B but I’ve decided to go ahead with C. Bamboo Thai is a great restaurant serving solidly good Thai and other Asian cuisine. Also it’s in Melville and three blocks from my house. If there’s any restaurant that it’s still okay for me to go to, and blog about, Bamboo Thai is it. Bamboo Thai is at the corner of 5th Street and 4th Avenue (next to Winner Winner), where the Dizzy Lizzy laundromat used to be. The menu is mostly Thai (pad Thai, green and yellow curry, massaman curry, etc.) but they also have sushi, dim sum, and poke bowls. My favorite dishes are the pad Thai and the salmon poke bowl. The atmosphere at Bamboo Thai is extremely pleasant, with giant windows opening onto the […]

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Thandeka of Sweet Tea and Chickadee serves American biscuits to grateful customers like me

Mouth-Watering American Biscuits, in Joburg

On many occasions I have tried to explain American biscuits to my South African and European friends. “They’re not cookies. They’re savoury…kind of like scones,” I say, grasping for words to describe that dense yet flaky, crispy yet soft, impossibly buttery biscuit mouth feel. “But not really. Actually not at all.” In the summer of 1991 I worked as a hostess at a Bob Evans restaurant in Columbia, Maryland. Part of my job was to lift thick, fluffy biscuits out of the steel oven, arrange the piping hot biscuits onto plates, and set them onto customers’ tables. I consumed so many biscuits that summer. When customers left with their plates of biscuits untouched (crazy people!), I sometimes carried the plate into the back and gobbled them all down. It never occurred to me that American biscuits could exist in South Africa, just as it would never occur to a South African that boerewors could exist in America. Biscuits, like many foods originating in the American South, just don’t make sense outside the United States. Until now. Thanks to Sweet Tea and Chickadee, American biscuits have arrived in Joburg. They totally make sense and they are spectacular. The Story of Sweet […]

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Drinking wine at the "Uncorked1" class at the wine school

How I Became a Wine Guru in One Day

I love wine, especially South African wine. I love to sit outside on warm evenings and sip a glass of rosé. I love wine pairings and wine tastings and wine farms and pretty much everything to do with wine except the hangovers, which I try to avoid by drinking in (relative) moderation. Even though I’ve blogged quite a bit about wine over the years (see here and here and here), I never really knew what the hell I was talking about. So when I met Janice Scheckter at a dinner party and learned she has a course that teaches people how to be a Wine Guru in one day, I asked for an invite. I’ve always enjoyed the delicate, complex flavors of wine and I know generally which types I like best. But I didn’t understand the lingo, at least not before this course. I would go to fancy tastings and wine industry events and cellar tours with prominent winemakers, and the words would go right over my head. Then I would have to write about it later and the best I could muster was: This wine is good! Janice’s business, called the Wine School, was the solution to my […]

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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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My Never-ending South African Visa Journey

I’ve been waiting to write a South African visa post for nearly a decade. Since 2010 I’ve been granted four long-term South African visas of various types, with many three-month tourist visas in between. I’ve been rejected multiple times for different visas. I’ve spent many thousands of dollars on immigration consultants, application fees, flights, medical exams, criminal background checks, postage, passport fees, and printer cartridges. I’ve cursed and raged and cried rivers of tears. I’ve considered giving up. I’ve aggravated friends, family members, and multiple ex-boyfriends with unrelenting angst and hand-wringing. And guess what? My visa journey is not yet over. Also, to the disbelief of most South Africans, my situation isn’t unique. If you’re a foreigner living in South Africa you’re definitely nodding vigorously as you read this. My South African visa story is long, complicated, and at times ridiculously dramatic. Things have finally settled down and I no longer feel like I’m at risk for getting kicked out of the country, so I thought this might be a good time to tell the full tale. Then I realized the full tale would be a book, not a blog post. Also most of the information isn’t relevant to people […]

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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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Boho Cafe & Co coffee

Magic at Rand Steam: Rialheim and Boho Cafe and Co.

I’ve already blogged about Rand Steam and how it is by far the most pleasant suburban shopping center in Joburg. But when I wrote that post I didn’t yet know about Rialheim and Boho Café & Co. — in fact I don’t think they’d opened at that point. As it turns out, this corner of Rand Steam is the best spot in the place. Rialheim and Boho (I’m forgoing the “Café & Co.” from now on because it’s too much funny punctuation) is a coffee shop inside a ceramics shop. Or rather, it’s a coffee shop surrounding a ceramics shop. It’s hard to explain but trust me, it’s delightful. Boho Café & Co. The café is mostly outside, in a little courtyard shaded by a huge, ancient pepper tree with a wooden swing hanging on it. The courtyard is surrounded by greenery and artwork and attractive, cleverly placed structures, allowing guests to almost completely forget they are sitting beside a shopping mall parking lot. I had two americanos at Boho and they were very good, especially served in Rialheim’s mugs. (I forgot to find out where the coffee comes from.) The biggest surprise was the food, which is excellent. Initially […]

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