Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Archive for the category “Johannesburg”

Pecha Kucha

Here’s a Pecha Kucha presentation that I gave about my experience in South Africa:

6.7 minutes of me speaking

A couple things:

  1. After watching it, I realized that I should probably hold notes that I don’t say “um” every 2-5 seconds.  That being said, this Pecha Kucha was the most stressful presentation I’ve ever given.  In Pecha Kucha events, each speaker has 20 slides and they’re timed to automatically switch every 20 seconds.  It was amazingly disconcerting to give up control over my slides.
  2. I switched around and edited my presentation many, many times.  As a result, I very obviously screw up in the middle when I look at my slide and realize it’s not what I expected.  Wooo hooo live presentations!
  3. A moment of self-realization: I uptalk.  A lot.  (Obviously I’ve been living the city too long.) The uptalking and giggling makes me extremely annoying to listen to.  Sorry.  I’ll work on that.



Well, this is it. At least for awhile. Perhaps I’ll volunteer in Ghana with Engineers Without Borders and resume this blog in a couple years. Until then, however, this site will be silent.

In summary, here are my favourite posts from my 10 months in Johannesburg. Interestingly, though, they don’t match up with the most popular ones on the right hand side of the page. You can take your pick.



My Job Here
MHA Clarification

Transportation Issues
The Importance of Transportation

Race and Ethnicity
Returning Racist
Vanishing Race
Definitions of African

Development Work
Revolutionary and Counter-Revolutionary Theory
State Power

Back to Blogging
Humble Pie

Until Next Time

I am writing this post with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I’m super excited to move back home and see my friends and family again.  At the same time, however, I’m incredibly sad at the thought of leaving my friends (some who have become like family) in Jozi.

For the past two months, my coworker has asked me every couple days, “You’re coming back to SA, right?”

“Don’t worry.  I’m already plotting my return,” I’ve laughed.

I think almost every day in May she said, “I’m going to miss you.”

“Don’t start,” I’ve warned.  “You know I’m going to miss you too and I don’t want to start crying in the office.”

I’ve been extremely lucky with the amazing people I’ve met here as well as the wonderful opportunities I’ve had to travel and experience this country.

In all honesty, though, the more I travel the more I realize that all those marvelous experiences aren’t really that remarkable after all.  Please don’t get me wrong – I loved hiking the Drakensberg and swimming in Lake Malawi.  But it doesn’t matter how many indigenous forests I explore or pristine beaches I suntan on: it’s the people that are important.

Yeah this is cool…

Yeah this is cool…

...but this is what I'll remember.

…but this is what I’ll remember.

The more I travel, the more grateful I become for the people in my life.

Whether it’s my dad sending me Kyusho Jitsu video clips.

Or my mom’s daily email.

Or my sister’s scolding messages (“Be Be, you shouldn’t drink so much.”)

Or a phone call from a new acquaintance, “Want to hang out tonight?”

Or keeping in touch with friends who are becoming increasingly scattered all over the world.

These people mean way more to me than swimming with tiger sharks or any mountain view.

So thank you, World.  Thank you, Humanity.  Thanks for being awesome!

Thanks for being awesome everywhere.

Celebration Service

Noma, the receptionist for Madulammoho’s Client Services department, who gave me her famous chakalaka recipe, passed away unexpectedly last Sunday.

We all knew she was sick: she had been in and out of the hospital for months.  When I asked my coworkers if the doctors ever determined what was wrong, all I got was a vague, “I think she needed a kidney transplant.  Or maybe a new liver.”

I didn’t know Noma very well since I rarely go into Client Services, but I learned a bit more from her memorial service yesterday.  She started at MHA as a cleaner and was determined to improve her position.  She worked so hard that she would often finish her cleaning duties by 10am.  Afterwards she would go around the office asking, “What else can I do?  Can I do filing?  Or paperwork?”

She was quickly promoted to receptionist.

What an amazing woman.

Yesterday’s service wasn’t like any other that I’ve attended.  It began familiar enough.  We all sat in a church and one of our House Managers acted as MC.  Before any procedures started, however, he asked for two songs.

There was a short pause before someone in the audience started singing.  After she sang a verse, the rest of the crowd joined in.  Except for me and the two Afrikaner directors who attended.

For the rest of the service, there were no pauses.  After each person spoke, someone from the audience would burst into song and the rest of the audience soon followed.  The MC at the front had a fantastic voice and clapped and danced to the music.  Sometimes the rest of the audience would stand up and clap too.

I wish I knew what the songs were about.  They were beautiful.  I hope they were celebrations of wondrous life and a peaceful death.

Go well, Noma.

Village Story

A friend and I constantly complain about Vancouver “No Fun City.”  The weather is gray, the people aren’t friendly, the man-to-woman ratio is highly skewed out of our favour, etc etc etc.  People go to the bar to play board games for goodness sakes!  I love board games, but that’s something you do at home with your friends.  At a bar, it’s so ostentatious it blows my mind.

(On a second date I once played Jenga in Gastown.  Absolutely terrible.)

This friend recently sent me an email asking if I was excited to return to Vancouver.  “I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed,” she wrote.  Then she told me a story:

A man leaves his town for a new town.  When he arrives, he asks the leader of the new village, “How are the people in your village?”

The leader asks the man his own question, “How were the people in your old village?”

The man replies, “They were unkind, unfriendly, selfish, impolite, and unhelpful.”

The leader then says, “Those are exactly the kind of people we have in this village!”

Shortly after, another man moves to the village and asks the leader the same question.

Again, the leader reverses the question, “How were the people in your old village?

The newcomer replies, “They were loving, caring, kind, and helpful.”

The leader says, “Those are exactly the kind of people we have in this village!”

All right, all right – I get the point!

Since I’m voluntarily returning to Vancouver/UBC for at least 2 years (although I’m desperately hoping I can do at least one term of school abroad), I should stop complaining.

And Vancouver isn’t that bad.  It has its charms.  Moreover, even though the city’s culture isn’t particularly approachable, I know there are still tons of amazing people back home.

My response to my friend (written a couple days after being hijacked plus witnessing domestic violence):

How could I ever be disappointed with Van when I’m coming back to so many awesome people!  Furthermore, I’m getting a bit tired of worrying about hijackings, hitting pedestrians with my car as they walk within 2” of my moving vehicle, and whether or not that men yelling obscenities at me is carrying a weapon.  After this last week, I could use some of the tranquility (which I used to call “boredom”) of Vancouver!

Counting down the days until home!

Band-Aid for a Broken Leg

A couple months ago, my friend gave me this book as a gift for chauffeuring her around Johannesburg:

Band-aid for a Broken Leg

“Thank you!  This looks really interesting,” I exclaimed.

“Yeah, I saw the part about being single and it immediately reminded me of you,” she answered.

A short pause.

“I’m single by choice.”

“Sure, sure,” she sniggered.

Regardless of her reasons, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  I could definitely relate to many of Damien Brown’s experiences in Africa.  As a doctor, however, his job is much more exciting than mine and actually interesting to read about.

Maybe this is cruel, but I’m going to give away the ending.

The last page says something like,

“(Oh… and other ways to stay single?  Move back in with your parents.  Then write a book.)”

“Great,” I thought.  I’m moving back in with my parents when I return to Canada (hopefully only for 3 weeks, but still) and lots of people (no publishers, mostly family) have told me I should consider writing a book.  Staying single, however, is not on my agenda.

If you’ve never worked overseas – or maybe even if you have – you might find Brown’s emphasis on being single at odds with the rest of his book.  He jokes about it a few times, but does it really deserve a shout out on the cover?

I think it’s common, though, for development workers to worry slightly about their future.  I turned 25 a month ago and entering my mid-20’s has been more sobering that I thought it would be.  I look at many of my friends and I see successful young adults with high paying jobs and long term relationships.  They’re buying apartments while I’m trying to figure out how to budget for another 2 years of school.

It’s easy for that worry to get slightly out of control.  Occasionally I freak out along the lines of “Oh god, I’m 25 now!  I need to get my act together!  I want to get married!  I want to have kids!  What am I doing going back to school?  Isn’t it healthier to pop out your babies before you’re 30?  I ONLY HAVE 5 MORE YEARS TO FALL IN LOVE, GET A DECENT JOB, AND BEAR 3 CHILDREN!!!!!  If I get a Master’s that’s another 2 years.  And volunteering with EWB would be another year.  And I want to date for at least a year before I get engaged, then it’ll probably take a year to plan the wedding but ugh I hate planning and even if I to schedule my time I’ll probably do it all in the last month anyways and become a total bridezilla.  Then he’ll probably cancel the whole thing and I’ll have to start the whole dating thing from scratch.  And I want to have a good job before I get preggers so that I get decent maternity benefits.  Plus I want a workplace baby shower – they usually give awesome gifts….”

You see?  Absolutely crazy.  Before I even realize that my brain is freaking out, in my head I’m already 52-years-old with a 2ft long beard and living in a mud hut with 80 cats.  It’s not a good image, to say the least.

It can be difficult to go off the beaten path and redefine your own version of “success” and “fulfillment.”  For me, it’s tough not to compare my life to my friends’: it feels like they’re growing into responsible adults while I’m still adventuring and avoiding commitments.

At the same time, however, I recognize that I’m much happier with my current lifestyle than I ever would have been in a “real” job and climbing the corporate ladder.

Also much more broke.

But that’s cool.  It means I can’t afford cats.


Sarcasm, or Lack Of

Last night I was looking through one of my old journals and came across my notes from a telephone conversation I had with the previous MHA intern before I moved to Jozi.

“They didn’t understand sarcasm.”

I should’ve re-read my notes a month after I arrived.  It would’ve saved me a lot of trouble!

One of my friends here is from Ethiopia, but he went to university in Canada and picked up some Canadian sarcasm.  Here’s a story to illustrate how our humour doesn’t quite fit in this country:

A South African girl asked him how he did laundry in Ethiopia.

“That’s why we all have six-packs,” he replied.


He mimed washing laundry on his stomach.

“Oh…” she said, amused but uncertain.

Afterwards he said, “I couldn’t tell if she was extra sarcastic, or didn’t understand the joke at all.”

Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, I told him, “I’ve noticed that subtle sarcasm isn’t part of the culture here.  The humour tends to be much more… overt.”

“I was being pretty outrageous.”

Throwing diplomacy to hell, I said, “Maybe she was just dumb.”

Canadians try super hard to be nice, but we can only go so far.

Or maybe I’ve lived in South Africa too long and turned callous.

Uh oh – how am I going to integrate back into Canadian society?  Forget about getting used to stopping at red lights again… how am I going to relearn sarcasm?


Noma’s Chakalaka Recipe

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1-2 chillies, to taste
5-10 carrots, grated
Parsley, to taste
Knorox (bouillon stock)
Tin of baked beans (in tomato sauce)

Heat oil in a frying pan over medium low heat.  Add onion, peppers, garlic, and chillies.  Cook until onion is golden.  Add carrots, parsley, and Knorox.  Cook, stirring often, until carrots are soft.  Add beans and heat through.  Serve warm or cold with pap.

Some More Visa Complications

This is the letter I sent to my Rooftops Canada advisor yesterday.  I should have known when I went to the Department of Home Affairs that I wouldn’t get my visa: a tree outside the building was on fire.  If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is.


Hi Kamba,

How have you been lately?  Enjoying the beautiful Canadian spring?  My friends and family keep sending me emails describing all the things we’re going to do this summer to make up for lost time and I’m starting to get super excited about moving back home!

I just wanted to send you an update on the complications I’ve had regarding my visitor’s visa.  As you know, I applied for a rectification of my original extension over a month ago.  I received a phone call at the end of April that although they would not extend the date to June 10 (my departure date), they would change it to May 30.

When I went to the Department of Home Affairs last week, I was told to come back the following week (today) because the woman who dealt with rectifications was on vacation.  When I returned today, I was told that my rectification has been rejected.

Unfortunately, operating on the assumption that I would have a valid visa until May 30, I booked tickets to Malawi next week with the intention of receiving a new visa when I returned June 2 to work my final week with MHA.  I discussed the situation with a representative from the Department of Home Affairs was told that I would have to pay R1000 when I leave South Africa, but shouldn’t have any problems when I return.

After listening to similar stories that the other interns went through, may I make a suggestion regarding South African visas?

While still in Canada last year, I applied for a 6 month South African visa.  The process was time consuming and expensive.  In the end, the visa I was issued was only valid until February 17 even though I requested one until at least February 28.  Regardless of whether or not I extended my internship, I would have had to pay another R450 for a visa extension.

On the other hand, if you simply come to South Africa with a Canadian passport, you are stamped a visitor’s visa upon arrival that is valid for 3 months.  Any time you leave the country, you are re-issued a 3 month visa.

I think it would have been easier make sure I leave the country – even just a weekend trip to Swaziland or Lesotho – once every three months than go through the bureaucracy of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs.  I know someone who has lived here for 7 years through that strategy.

Alternatively, perhaps Rooftops Canada should write their letters claiming that the intern’s dates of departure are a month later than planned?  From my experience, the Department of Home Affairs takes about two weeks off the date you request.

All the best,

Travel Buddy

Travelling brings out different aspects of your personality.  Some people find their element in the unknown, and some people… don’t.

I’ve gone traveling in a variety of different dynamics: class trips, large groups of friends, small groups of friends, one friend, on my own.  For the most part, I prefer traveling on my own.  It seems that most of my friends and I can only be together for four days maximum before we start to annoy each other.  Put us together for a whole week and we become slightly homicidal – or maybe that’s just me.

Truthfully, I can be a difficult person to travel with.  I recognize that and accept it.

Last weekend, I went to the Drakensberg to hike Cathedral Peak with a girl that I hang out with but don’t know very well.  I was a little unsure about how the weekend would unfold: a 4 hour car ride together Friday night, 9 hours arduous hiking on Saturday, a 3 hour drive back to Jozi on Sunday (no traffic plus I feel comfortable driving faster in the daylight) could go really badly if we our personalities clashed.

On the drive to the Amphitheatre, however, I quickly discovered that we would get along fine.  First, when we stopped for dinner in Harrismith and the restaurant’s milkshake machine was broken, she found my sulky response amusing and didn’t hold it against me.  Second, we drove along a 10km stretch of road construction in the pitch black and she didn’t freak out at me.  At one point we were driving along a section without any potholes and I got frustrated with the slow speed at the car in front of me so I zoomed past.  Right afterwards we went flying off the pavement and onto gravel.  I immediately reduced speed and laughed, “Whoa, I thought we were going to die!”

She started laughing too and said, “The car behind us must think we’re really funny.”

We were obviously a good match for each other.

The next morning we drove to Cathedral Peak hotel and went to the reception to check in for our hike.  The woman told us that weren’t allowed to hike Cathedral Peak on our own.

“Let me see if I can contact the guide for you,” she said as she picked up the phone.

“I’ve done lots of hiking before,” I started to explain, but she ignored me.

“Hello, I’ve got 2 people who want to hike Cathedral Peak… mmm hmm… two… two young girls… mmm hmm… ok… ok I’ll tell them.”

My friend told me later that as soon as the receptionist said, “two young girls” I had a similar expression on my face as when I found out the milkshake machine was broken: pissed off.

The receptionist told us that it was too slippery and dangerous to hike to the peak, but that there are various other hiking trails and to pick one then she’d give us a map.  I chose one that had the same starting point as Cathedral Peak, wrote it down in the registry, and we set off.  As soon as we were outside I told my friend, “We’re hiking the peak.  If worse comes to worst and it’s too slippery to continue, then we’ll turn around, go back to the hostel, and drink.”

She thought that was a great plan.

Unfortunately the signage wasn’t very good and we soon discovered that although we could get to the peak on the path we started, it would add an extra 3 hours to an already 9 hour hike.  My other friend told me that that proves that we needed a guide, but I told him that if we had started on the right path at the beginning we would have been fine.  We still ended up having a great day, however.  It was cloudy and the tops of the mountains were covered so we stayed about 100m below the cloud cover and walked the mostly flat “contour trail.”  For the weather, it was perfect.

Anyways, like I said, I’m a hard person to travel with.  I’m going to Malawi in 6 days on my own for a week and only started looking at what to do/where to stay today.  Last minute planning (also known as no planning and sending a couple emails right before you leave) doesn’t always translate to the best trip – surprise surprise.  At the same time, however, I’ve found that although you can make a detailed itinerary before you leave, once you arrive and actually chat with some locals then the whole plan gets thrown out the window.  So what’s the point in wasting time beforehand?

My attitude drives most people crazy.

However, If you can find someone that you travel well with – that person is worth more than their weight in gold!

I have one friend that I travel well with.  We spent two weeks doing the Garden Route and Cape Town and didn’t want to kill each other once.

Neither of us like detailed plans, we both like meeting people, activities and partying, but can also sit at the beach for an afternoon with a book.  Furthermore, we’re independent enough that we can spend time on our own without having to worry about the other person.  For me, clingy people are the worst traveling companions.

We’re also both a little crazy.  In Cape Town we climbed the Lion’s Head on a night of gale force winds.  We had to crawl on our hands and knees because we were honestly afraid of being blown off the mountain.  The guy with us, an American we’d met on a wine tour that day, told us, “I never thought I’d meet two Canadian chicks as stupid as me in South Africa!”

There's only one way to get a photo like this: risk your life.

There’s only one way to get a photo like this: risk your life.

Like I said, that girl is worth more than her weight in gold in me!

Some people think it’s safer for women to travel with at least one other man – but I disagree.  What are you willing to sacrifice for “safety”?  Whenever I’ve traveled with a guy, I have met way less people.  In addition, I usually have to pay for more of my own drinks – laaaaaaaame!

I’ve also been told that it’s best to go with a lover.

As one friend told me about his trip to India with his girlfriend, “I’ve never had more sex in my life.”

“That…um….hasn’t been my experience,” I responded.

“Then you’re going with the wrong men.”

But, honestly, if attractive young women go partying and stay in hostels – we could still have as much sex as we wanted.  And more variety.  So I deem his argument null and void.

If you can’t find that ideal traveling buddy, however, go on your own.  Go on your own, chat with strangers, and make new friends.  It’s way better than being stuck with someone you don’t get along with.

When I traveled through Spain – my first time completely on my own – I found that I felt intensely lonely whenever I entered a new city.  But that feeling quickly faded as soon as I settled into my hostel and met other travelers.  Sometimes, though, I would experience something and think, “I wish someone was with me right now to share this.”  Even if you don’t have a friend in the moment, however, you’ll eventually have someone to share the story with – whether it’s a stranger at the bar that evening or your dad when he picks you up at the airport months later.

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