SA Sunday: What American 5th Graders Want to Know About South Africa
Fiance’s sister is an elementary school teacher in Seattle, WA. She told them that her big brother had, oddly enough, picked up and moved from Portland, OR to Cape Town, South Africa and they had a bunch of questions about the place. Here is a little of what they asked us and our responses, which were written by both Fiance and I. I thought they asked some pretty insightful questions – the last one is by far my favorite!
How is daily life in South Africa different from here?
Daily life is different in many, many ways! There are countless “little things”. For example, “now” doesn’t mean “now” the way it does at home. If someone says they’ll be with you “just now” they mean in a few minutes, but if they say “right now”, they mean “right now”. People drive a lot more aggressively, and on the other side of the road, for that matter! Pizza here has been a huge disappointment, it’s nothing like the pizza at home. We buy our electricity in line at the grocery store and people here are a lot more careful with it because there’s not as much to go around. Sometimes our power goes out simply because there isn’t access to any. The thing that affects us most on a daily basis, though, is very, very slow internet.
Although most of the people in Cape Town speak English, the cities and roads often have Afrikaans (a local language) names, which can be really hard to pronounce! For example, we went to a beach the other day called Bloubergstrand (bl-ow-berg-strand) and another one called Smitswinkelbaai (smits-vink-ell-by). Lots of household objects have different names and that was hard to get used to at first. Ketchup is called tomato sauce and tomato sauce is called tomato puree. A barbecue is called a braai, a sausage a boerwor, and Diet Coke is Coke Light.
There are lots of good things about daily life here, too! The weather is almost always great: “cold” here is 65 degrees and windy. Everything is a little slower which forces us to sit back and enjoy it more. I’ve noticed this the most at restaurants, which was annoying at first, but I like it now. The US’s currency is worth a lot more than South Africa’s, so we get more bang for our buck. The best thing of all is that there is always something new to do, like going to the beach or waterfront, hiking, game reserves, and festivals.
Do they have any unusual foods?
We’ve eaten lots of food that you wouldn’t normally see in the US! Since we’ve been here, we’ve eaten ostrich and springbok (kind of like a deer) and seen meat like warthog and crocodile on menus at restaurants. They have different varieties of fish than we do at home. The most popular fish eaten are hake (pronounced hay-ck), line fish, and snoek. The sausages that they call boerwors are eaten regularly, and are absolutely delicious. There are tons of different fruits and vegetables: cape gooseberries, dragon fruit, litchi, baby marrows (tiny squash!). They eat a lot of avocado, mangoes, and corn. Corn is relied on very heavily here and a staple food is called maize meal or “pap”, which is kind of like grits. South Africa’s cuisine is really fun because it’s influenced by so many different cultures: the Dutch, the Malay, the British, different local African cultures, and tons more.
What are the animals like there? Have you seen any wild animals?
The animals here are really fun! There’s a beach not very far from our house that has penguins on it! It’s a beautiful, warm beach and the penguins are just roaming about with all the people picnicking and swimming. It’s so much fun to go there!
The other day, we were stopped while driving to let baboons cross the road, which was really exciting. A lot of the areas we have been hiking in have baboons and there are warning signs not to feed them.
What are the houses like?
A lot of the houses here are really pretty. In our neighborhood and the ones surrounding us, there’s a lot of “Cape Dutch” architecture, named for the Dutch colonists who constructed many of the area’s oldest buildings. The buildings are typically made of cement and painted white, with really pretty details.
There’s a famous neighborhood in Cape Town called Bo-Kaap that is known for its brightly painted houses. The Bo-Kaap neighborhood is the center of Cape Malay culture (one of many unique cultures here!) in Cape Town.
Not far from Cape Town’s city center are a number of “townships.” Townships, urban residential areas largely populated by low-income black South Africans, are characterized by serious underdevelopment; residents often have unreliable access to clean water, electricity and waste treatment. They are a very visible legacy of centuries of economic, legal and political racial inequality in South Africa, and, in particular, the laws which regulated where people of different legal racial classifications were allowed to live. Millions of South Africans reside in the the country’s many townships.
What is the culture like?
South Africa is a very, very diverse country, and as a result, it has lots of different cultural traditions rather than a single “South African” culture. Rather than try to summarize each of them, lets say this: South Africa has 11 official languages! The most widely spoken include many with roots throughout southern Africa (Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Tswane are examples) and a couple that come from parts of Europe (Afrikaans, English)! Its cultural diversity is one of the things that make South Africa such a unique and wonderful place.
What is the coolest thing you have seen since living there?
Chelsea: The coolest thing I’ve seen since we’ve been here is the city from the top of Table Mountain. Cape Town is shadowed by a mountain that is stunningly unique: it’s completely flat on top! That’s why it’s called Table Mountain. They have a tram that takes you up to the top, which has it’s own unique set of wildlife, including lots of lizards and beautiful flowers. I’ve never experienced something like getting to view a city as beautiful as Cape Town from such a cool vantage point. (The penguins are a close second, though!)
Fiance: Cape Town is at the very southwestern-most tip of South Africa and the African continent. In fact, the city sits on a peninsula (a large land feature which sticks out into a large body of water, usually an ocean!) called the Cape Peninsula. Chelsea and I visited the very tip of the Cape Peninsula. It was a very exciting sensation to be entirely surrounded by ocean and to know that there was nothing but water between me and the South Pole! It’s also been fun to see wild baboons and penguins, too!
What do you miss most about the U.S.?
Chelsea: Besides my family and friends, of course, I really, really miss a fast internet connection. I never knew how much I depended on it! Often times, our internet will just go out without warning or get so slow that we pretty much can’t use it. It’s hard because that’s the only way we can communicate with friends and family at home, and we’ve pretty much only been able to text or email because our internet connection can’t support a phone call or Skype very well. I’m also blogging full time, so I really depend on the internet to keep me busy! I also miss TV more than I thought I would. We only have four channels, and they’re often showing TV shows that are in a different language or soap operas, which I don’t really enjoy.
Fiance: Boy, doesn’t Chelsea sound a little bit spoiled?? (Kidding!) I miss my folks and friends mostly. It would also be nice to watch with my favorite basketball team, the Portland Trailblazers, in the NBA playoffs, but I’ll have to settle for reading about their games online!
What is the money called?
South Africa’s currency is called the Rand. When prices are displayed, it looks like this: R17.99. About 10 rand are equal to one US Dollar.
All the paper bills in South Africa feature a portrait of the country’s first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, on the front. On the back are pictures of “the Big Five” animals that live here: the lion, leopard, Cape Buffalo, rhino and elephant.
What is the government like?
South Africa’s government is very different. The biggest difference is the fact that the country is more-or-less what is called a unitary state, which means that almost all authority is held by the national government. On the other hand, the US uses a federal system in which power is shared between the national (or federal) government and the states (like Washington or California).
Another major difference is that South Africans don’t actually elect their president! Instead, voters cast their ballots for a specific party. Seats in the country’s parliament (like our Congress) are then distributed to each party according to the proportion of the vote it received. Finally, the parliament elects a president!
This kind of “electoral system” is called proportional. One side effect of this kind of setup is that, unlike in the US where there are only two parties represented in Congress, the South African Parliament has 13 parties represented!
Are there different jobs?
There are the same jobs, for the most part, it’s more that there are a lot more or less certain types of jobs than at home. For example, here there are a lot more security guards employed than at home, because people rely on home and business security a lot more. Most public parking areas even have “car guards”. Fiance and I didn’t know what these people were doing when we first got here, and it was very confusing. They guard your car and help you park and hope for a tip when you come back to your car.
There are also a lot more people employed on “private game reserves” than at home! These reserves are privately owned places where endangered species like lions, rhinos, elephants and cheetahs can be protected from habitat destruction and poaching.
Still, for the most part, jobs are similiar!
Are the schools like schools here?
The elementary and secondary schools here are a bit different. A lot of schools here are separated by gender and most require that students wear uniforms each day. A lot of the schools, especially those outside the big cities, are a bit run down and need fixing up. Some schools don’t even have access to toilets.
Do they play different sports?
Yes, they do! They don’t have professional football or basketball here. The really popular sports are soccer, rugby, and cricket. Cricket is a weird, distant cousin of baseball, and rugby is like a mix of soccer and football. We’ve been fortunate enough to attend both a rugby and cricket match and believe me, South Africans love their sports!
What pets do people have?
People here have the same pets as in the US! Mostly cats and dogs. We haven’t seen any exotic pets yet, but if we do, we’ll let you know!
Did you watch the Seahawks win the Superbowl?
We didn’t get to watch the Seahawks win the Superbowl 🙁 I so wish we could have! We had just gotten to Cape Town a few days earlier and didn’t have internet set up yet, and they weren’t showing it on local TV. We did read plenty about it after, though, and look at lots of pictures!