Category Archives: South Africa

Good ol’ G-Spot, EC

It’s been nearly a year since I finished up in Grahamstown. I was rather keen to leave, when the time came, but I miss it now. It’s the same as missing school though. You know, best days of your life and all that.

Now, I wasn’t particularly fond of Grahamstown. I was a city girl, from Johannesburg, and I somehow ended up in one of the most poorly run provinces of the country, in a town that didn’t even have a McDonald’s. Or a Woolworths Food. When people asked me if I was enjoying it, I would tell them how much I like the University, my course and the overall student life. I would explain how convenient being in a small town was because you can literally walk to any destination worth your while in the town. You hardly needed to worry about having a designated driver, the only time you really wanted a car was when it was raining or when you had to carry your 5L water up the hill (which is closer to 25L by the time you get to the top!). And this is where I would start talking about the problems.

We had no water. We would go for weeks with no running water. In my residence, we had 73 girls all sharing 2 toilets. There were minimal washing facilities – you could go to the gym, but that was so busy and eventually dirty and they ran out of water pressure too from trying to meet the demand. One benefit: the university paid for 2L of bottled drinking water every day. If you were smart, you would let this accumulate so you didn’t have to drink the tap water, which was sometimes brown, sometimes smelled like a chlorine factory blew up.

Water protest gif

One of the water outages was so bad, we held a march in protest. The truck that was meant to come fix the situation went missing, and then was found to have not even left Johannesburg yet. When they got to Grahamstown, they could not install the pump because there was no electricity. The electricity problem was another bad one. Slightly more liveable, because you don’t have to live in each other’s filth, but not cool when you are trying to study. Most of the power failures happened during exam time, naturally. Sometimes even in the middle of your exam. It was tedious, but I guess we all learned to live with it.

High street

The High Street, one of the most lovely views of the Cathedral and the quaintness of Grahamstown. Along this road you will find most of the restaurants, plenty of pharmacies, and plenty of dodgy car guards

I suppose, if anything, it taught us to be grateful. We learned to appreciate when we did have certain things, like water and lights on at home, because after all, these are luxuries that many people do not have access to at all, obviously in Grahamstown, but even in South Africa in general. But, you know, perspective only comes after the hard times… I’m very glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore, but I have new problems that have come about with living back in the city. Now I can just reminisce about the beauty and quaintness that was Grahamstown. I learnt a lot from being there, I had a fabulous experience, met the most amazing people, and met a lot of different people with different backgrounds and different opinions. We were all shoved into one teeny backwards town, forced to live alongside each other, and that is why Rhodents are generally so open minded and fun (but also well-rounded and responsible individuals).

IMG_7000

Once you get over the gnawing absence of things that were once a staple sight in a civilized town, you start to notice the beauty of the old buildings, and the heritage that came along with them. You eventually realise why people would want to keep making the trip down every year for the National Arts Fest (apart from general art-appreciation, of course).

Cnr High Street and Cuyler Cathedral with Jacarandas

Grocott's

Grahamstown is home to some lovely old buildings and some significant South African Heritage. The old newspaper buildings could have something to do with the Rhodes School of Journalism’s reputation perhaps?

High street court

Provost

Provost coffee shop was established here shortly before I left. While I wasn’t a massive fan of their coffee, their location was great – set in an old battalion-related building (or something like that), as were their delicious freshly-baked croissants

Grahamstown grows on you. But that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to stay there forever. I had an awesome time while I was there, great memories, but I am happy to be moving onto other things as well now in my life. For now, I think I will go have a reminiscent mare up in Northam.

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Hidden South African Gems – Port Alfred

I officially graduated from Rhodes University. I am no longer a Rhodent, I now part of the upper echelon of Old Rhodians. Supposedly. But #Rhodent4Life!

My gran was supposed to come down to South Africa from the UK to celebrate my grad, but her goat attacked her. How’s that for an excuse? It was a pretty bad injury, and I’m glad she stayed home and rested and recovered, though it did make some of our “grad-weekend” plans seem a bit dull…

Port Alfred

We figured we could make a beach weekend out of a weekend in Grahamstown, so we booked in a B&B in Port Alfred that was absolutely stunning, right on the beach front. PA is only 40 minutes away (30 if you’re one of the students I tutored last year who did the trip daily), so it seemed convenient at the time. It wasn’t really, because we spent most of our time in GHT, so it was a little bit wasted. But gorgeous nonetheless.

I know my mom will probably hate me for putting this up, but she is beautiful and it's her birthday on Saturday, so all my love to her, lying on some super comfy bed in a really neatly and perfectly finished B&B bedroom

I know my mom will probably hate me for putting this up, but she is beautiful and it’s her birthday on Saturday, so all my love to her, lying on some super comfy bed in a really neatly and perfectly finished B&B bedroom

I was glad to have the opportunity to visit PA again, as beach trips were seriously under-utilized in my time at Rhodes. It made for a great day trip, though one that was difficult to over do, because it was just that little bit too far away. I do regret not spending more time checking out Bathurst as well, which is a quaint little place.

Taught mom how to take a selfie. Not sure if it was a mistake to have done that or not...?

Taught mom how to take a selfie. Not sure if it was a mistake to have done that or not…?

Port Alfred is basically just another one of those gorgeous small towns along the South African coast. It is especially beautiful because it is situated in the Eastern Cape, and somehow most places there are beautiful. It’s a stunning coastal visit that still holds it’s small-town simplicity.

Rock pools

The kind of place that makes you want to attempt to capture each crashing wave and the incredible rows of shells, and the crystal clarity of the water, but its just too beautiful to ever adequately do it justice

We got a local’s recommendation to check out the Three Sisters rock formation just up the coast from Port Alfred, about a 15 minute drive. We were about 45 minutes too late, but if you ever get the chance, make sure to go just before and for the duration of low tide. It truly is a wonder to behold.

This seemed like a good idea in the time before I did it. Then I realised that I am pathetic and spider webs can be icky but it was too late to turn back...

This seemed like a good idea in the time before I did it. Then I realised that I am pathetic and spider webs can be icky but it was too late to turn back… I promise I didn’t Photoshop that sky either.

Port Alfred is just another one of those places that reminds you just how beautiful South Africa is, and how lucky we are to have such simple yet breathtaking places right on our doorstep, and a reminder to take advantage of it before we as humans do the inevitable.

Sisa the Barista

“I did a course and then I fell in love with this once I started go into roastary; the fragrance took me and I fell in love with everything about coffee.”

Sisa likes to experiment. These were a sample of a particularly interesting test involving mint and vanilla (among other secret things...)

Sisa likes to experiment. These were a sample of a particularly interesting test involving mint and vanilla (among other secret things…)

Three years ago, Sisa Mapetu started a journey that he probably never saw leading to a new life in Grahamstown. From initially working as a waiter, to potentially working for a logistics company, to ending up as the friendliest barista on our little campus in Grahamstown, his journey sounds like one of true love.

Since he did his barista course three years ago, Sisa has been developing his skills and competing in barrister competitions. The competitions involve demonstrating a thorough knowledge of coffee and its subtle flavours, as well as a demonstration of your coffee skills, requiring competitors to produce 12 espresso drinks in 15 minutes.

In his first attempt three years ago, Sisa placed second. He hopes to outperform everyone in next year’s competition by developing his signature drink early on, and ensuring he does not underestimate his competition, as he has done in the past. “I just have to know that everyone is a tough competitor, I have to respect that. The guys that are competing for the first time, I must treat them as the same level as me.” From an outsider’s perspective, his drive and enthusiasm for the coffee definitely make him winner material. We shall see what the July competition holds for him.

Sisa has filled in a wonderful niche on campus. Handmade Coffees is a great little shop, perfectly positioned, but Sisa really adds a wonderful element to the cosy nook. He is friendly, always welcoming passers by, and he really seems to connect with his regulars. His appreciation of the bean is contagious.

“What gets me about it is that there’s always something new comes out, something new motivating me.” Sisa likes to experiment with new flavours, which can be quite an experience for the testers. Mint with my coffee was definitely a first…

Another test turned out like a cookies and cream iced coffee - do you get any better?  That friendly smile, and that loving touch when working on his creations really makes him a truly super local Barista.

Another test turned out like a cookies and cream iced coffee – do you get any better?
That friendly smile, and that loving touch when working on his creations really makes him a truly super local Barista.

Sisa also likes to cook, experimenting with different food flavours as well. He hopes to open his own restaurant one day. “This barrister profession is opening a lot of doors for me to achieve that, because, especially in this company, there are a lot of opportunities where I can actually expand in future.”

“What actually motivates me more, is that every time I get to work at the machine, it’s just it’s just the fragrance just (chuckles) brings me into loving it.”

His favourite coffee drink: Espresso and Macchiato.

“Those are my best because I achieve what I want very quick into it because they are quite short and then they go straight where I want them. I get bored when I drink the cappuccinos and the lattes because I only drink them half and then I’ve achieved what I want but the espressos, the combination hits the spot.

The reason I like the espresso is because I understand every coffee that I make and how it must taste. So I’m looking for those flavours of the espresso in the coffee that I’m making. If you can perfect an espresso, then you can perfect any other drink.”

His view on latte art: It’s good.

“Latte art is good, it’s a lovely cherry on top. But when you get to understand the profession you get to know that the taste is more important. Latte art is good as there, but good coffee doesn’t need good latte art. You can make a good coffee without good latte art, but it’s there to grab the attention of the drinker.”

Best of G’Town: Milkshake hotspot

Mmmm milkshakes. I used to think that Bar One milkshakes was about as extreme and amazing as you could get (there is no disputing that they are fabulous, though). Then I found Red Café, and I was completely blown away.

Peanut butter milkshakes to blow you away, strawberry and banana smoothie (Pam thinks she's healthy). Bar One milkshake next to a peppermint crisp milkshake which tastes just like the dessert.

Peanut butter milkshakes to blow you away, strawberry and banana smoothie (Pam thinks she’s healthy). Bar One milkshake next to a peppermint crisp milkshake which tastes just like the dessert.

They have your traditional chocolate and vanilla, but then they also have Milo, Horlicks, and even peanut butter milkshakes! It’s like a perfect peanut smoothie, but it’s a milkshake, so it’s better. Then they have Dessert Milkshakes, which include peppermint crisp (Peppermint Surprise for those students who live in res at Rhodes University), Bar One and Oreo (cookies and cream is always a winner). They also serve smoothies if you would prefer to appear healthy, but they taste so great that it’s hard to believe it’s healthy fruity ingredients.

They have a charming breakfast menu, but the food menu is dominated by tramezzinis and baguettes. Their tramezzinis are definitely the better option, though, as they crisp up nicely, while the baguettes are rather bland… They also do salads and cater for certain fussy diets.

Breakfast wrap and a breakfast tramezzini, same filling, different outside. The wrap itself was somewhat bland, so it is better to have the cheese, scrambled egg and bacon in it's crispy tramezzini form.

Breakfast wrap and a breakfast tramezzini, same filling, different outside. The wrap itself was somewhat bland, so it is better to have the cheese, scrambled egg and bacon in it’s crispy tramezzini form.

They have a charming breakfast menu, but the food menu is dominated by tramezzinis and baguettes. Their tramezzinis are definitely the better option, though, as they crisp up nicely, while the baguettes are rather bland… They also do salads and cater for certain fussy diets.

Darren enjoyed a chicken mayo tramezzini, which was full to bursting with more than just a chicken mayo filling - there was cheese and I think they even crammed some mushrooms in there. The chocolate brownie was one of the greatest in Grahamstown for sure

Darren enjoyed a chicken mayo tramezzini, which was full to bursting with more than just a chicken mayo filling – there was cheese and I think they even crammed some mushrooms in there.
The chocolate brownie was one of the greatest in Grahamstown for sure

My first port of call, though, is the sweets and treats, obviously. Brownies, millionairs shortbread and an assortment of cakes go down a treat. My latest delight there was a chocolate brownie that was delicious. I couldn’t figure out if it was a especially gooey brownie, or slightly under-done; either way, it totally worked.

Red Café is definitely under-appreciated, though it does receive a steady amount of business by the sounds of things. It’s a pity about their open times, but it is understandable for a café to not be open for dinner; their menu doesn’t lend itself to that as much. Their food is consistently improving, providing reliable deliciousness – keep it simple and you’ll definitely get it right more often. Their location and set up is also ideal – the balcony overlooking the high street is quaint and cool (under the shade at least) for a hot summers day with a shake or a smoothie.

They have a unique balcony with a charming view. Here I enjoyed a roast chicken and cheese baguette with an Oreo milkshake.

They have a unique balcony with a charming view.
Here I enjoyed a roast chicken and cheese baguette with an Oreo milkshake.

Jay Bay for a Day

Although I am not a huge fan of staying in the remote isolation that is Grahamstown, staying in the Eastern Cape does have a few perks. It can be especially beautiful, and staying in G’Town means I’m not too far away from places that offer much in the way of aesthetics (well, until I go back to Gauteng, which happens to be this coming weekend).

One weekend, we casually decided to pop on over to Jeffrey’s Bay. It’s less than two hours away, so it is perfect for a day visit (or a night over, if you have the time). Unfortunately, we went on a day that was particularly dull, so we didn’t get to see J-Bay in its true glory.

Let's go to the beach, beach, let's go get - oh wait...

Let’s go to the beach, beach, let’s go get – oh wait…

Obviously, I was most excited to have new foods to try. I was in my element, and I nearly bought a brownie at every place we stopped. But that is why we have budgets. It was a charming and new culinary experience, and J-Bay certainly had a bit to offer.

Love Food Cafe had a perfect menu for my tastes, but unfortunately don't cater for gluten intolerant folk

Love Food Cafe had a perfect menu for my tastes, but unfortunately don’t cater for gluten intolerant folk

The motivation for going to this beach town, known to me for its surfing reputation, was the factory shopping. RVCA, billabong, and other cool outlet stores were calling (after all, summer was meant to arrive soon, which means bikini season!). I am almost as obsessed with bikinis as I am with brownies and food, so endless cheap bikinis was like a tiny slice of heaven. Bikinis tend to be more expensive than brownies, which is unfortunate, but not too much so when you’re in J-Bay! Though, you can’t have both at the same time with maximum effectiveness, if you know what I mean. Why can’t we have our cake and eat it? Because there are only so many hours in a day that one can spend exercising.

Factory shopping is the best kind, am I right?

Factory shopping is the best kind, am I right?

I love to shop, but I never buy anything. I think I have a fear of the commitment to the clothing, because I just love to look at it all, but I am scared to try new things. So I didn’t buy anything, but that doesn’t mean that the retail therapy didn’t work.

We were also fortunate enough to see a little bit of a surfing competition, but by this stage the weather was really rubbish, so we returned to our backwards little G’Town.

Junior Surfing competition

Junior Surfing competition

Eastern Cape life – Grahamstown Flower Festival

Who doesn't love a goodie bag of free stuff?

Who doesn’t love a goodie bag of free stuff?

My gran lives on a farm. My mom seems to love the farm. My brother wants to live on my gran’s farm in England because it is so clean. And I’m over here like, “Ooh look! A plant!” Meanwhile it’s actually a weed, not even part of the flower show.

All the pretty flowers

All the pretty flowers

Ok, I am exaggerating, but I consider myself to be very much a city girl, and this farm-life is not one that I am used to. I went to the flower festival motivated by the fact that I knew that a certain coffee company was coming to town, and their coffee is pretty amazing. I figured that if they were going to be there, there was bound to be other delicious goodies and interesting stalls selling loads of useless things that I will fall for and spend far too much money on. I was not disappointed, but I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the things that I found.

Some girls were selling some hippie pants

Some girls were selling some hippie pants

There were flowers, of course, and a number of other plants that I won’t even try begin to name. In short: plants. Some local Eastern Cape greenery in celebration of summer (the first day of the festival was a real stunner) as well as some flowers that I do actually recognise.

This is an example of the types of sales-folk surrounding the local Botanical Gardens

This is an example of the types of sales-folk surrounding the local Botanical Gardens

Gorgeous sunflowers being sold out of the sun...

Gorgeous sunflowers being sold out of the sun…

There were getups that I know would look great in my house… My house that I don’t have… So I settled for a cute succulent in a teacup and saucer. It now belongs on my windowsill, and is the closest thing to a pet that I have ever had to look after independently. Writing that just reminded me that I have yet to water it. Clearly it’s not looking too good. It is cute, nonetheless.

My new plant!

My new plant!

There were R5 pancakes (sold by a dear bunch of women), bacon and egg butties [‘rolls’ for those of you who need the translation] (that I purchased from the Dean of Students, and they were amazing!), and a Chip’n’Dip too (which I thought was majorly out of place, but hey). And then there was the coffee of course, truly splendid coffee.

Unfortunately I did not buy another bag of their coffee because I haven't opened my first one - their sample sachets were great, though, and they also supplied Lindie's brownies, which can be seen on my Instagram feed

Unfortunately I did not buy another bag of their coffee because I haven’t opened my first one – their sample sachets were great, though, and they also supplied Lindie’s brownies, which can be seen on my Instagram feed

I also ended up buying myself a few necklaces, and a gift for a bestie back in Jo’burg.

New jewellery! Because I basically have none

New jewellery! Because I basically have none

I did not attend any of the talks because I do not own a farm and I don’t garden just yet. I probably won’t for a while, and whatever I need to know when I do decide to make my plants all pretty (and keep them alive) will probably be available on the Internet. I do think the presentations most likely went down a treat in this little town of Grahamstown, because there is quite a substantial farming culture in the Eastern Cape, from what I have gathered.

Lovely water feature and plants for my house of the distant future

Lovely water feature and plants for my house of the distant future

These are just adorable to look at

These are just adorable to look at

Overall it was a lovely day. Day 2 was a bit wet and rainy, but a decent event overall. Farmers’ markets are quaint, but I look forward to returning home to my Metropolitan Johannesburg in the next seven weeks.

A little perspective

Sometimes we get caught up in our own lives, and we tend to easily forget that there are people with more struggles than our own. Sometimes we’ll realise this, and, in a moment of inspiration, we decide we are feeling really charitable, and we perhaps make a large donation of money, or we go on an outreach excursion, feeding some animals in a shelter, or making tea for the elderly. That’s great and all, but you know what they say about giving a man a fish…

This year, my journalism course has been encouraging us to get hyper-involved with the surrounding Grahamstown community. Our projects are required to make a lasting impact on our target groups. Rhodes students apparently tend to be somewhat poor at maintaining these relationships, and often will provide a service purely because it is the requirement of the course. I suppose I feel like I have done a similar thing with this assignment I’m about to share, but, at the same time, this one was a profile, not a suggestion to get actively involved.

I was in Port Elizabeth over the Vac, so I went in search of a local reading group in that city (long distance profiling just isn’t smart for this type of thing) so that I could profile someone/the group itself. After driving up and down Main Road, Walmer, a number of times, I finally found Walmer Methodist Church, and asked if they could help me. I was put in touch with Hannah Bayley, the co-ordinator of their church reading group outreach program that they have at John Masiza primary school.

"Friends"

“Friends”

The very next day, I was traveling into the Walmer Township with Hannah, to observe what goes on around the school, and find out how their reading group runs. It was very interesting. Attached is the profile that I wrote about the reading program, and how it is actually so much more than that.

The small groups of learners huddle down the corridor outside the classrooms

The small groups of learners huddle down the corridor outside the classrooms

I was impressed by the amount of learners that they actually manage to reach out to. What else struck me was that they are very focused on enabling and empowering, rather than just charitable giving. Hannah mentioned how she is often encouraging companies to use their reading group as an outlet for their corporate-social responsibility, whereby they would normally just throw money to needy groups, and solve current problems, but not providing sustainable solutions for groups in need. And that is where Hannah comes in.

Some Grade 3 learners very eager to have their photo taken

Some Grade 2 learners very eager to have their photo taken

Hannah Bayley worked as a primary and preprimary school teacher before she got as heavily involved with co-ordinating the reading group. This gives her an advantage when running the group because she has experience with teaching younger children. She also helps out in the preprimary section of John Masiza, a section of the school that looks to be on a promising road to improvement.

The preprimary learners of John Masiza

The preprimary learners of John Masiza, with their teachers and Hannah Bayley

Something that concerned me about the visit was the lack of a library. Hannah explained that there were school mothers who were eager to get involved in running a school library (though lack of action suggests lack of enthusiasm to get this done), but that, for the time being, there is no school library running. There is also no local library, with the closest one being the Walmer library, 2km away. 2km isn’t particularly far, but it is a lot further than the newly-built community centre (less than 800m away from the school) that is supposed to be home to the community library, but which stands empty for lack of people to run it. This in a country which faces a massive unemployment problem. It is baffling. How are the children expected to do research projects? The high-spec computer labs that I was not able to get a look at (they were locked) were reserved for Grade 7s. What about everyone else? And where do they learn computer skills?

The reading program uses the Fantastic Phonics reading program, which Hannah and some of her colleagues feel is one of the best series for this type of project

The reading program uses the Fantastic Phonics reading program, which Hannah and some of her colleagues feel is one of the best series for this type of project

The grounds and facilities at the school were also a bit of a worry. It’s great that Hannah and her team are working to beautify the school and that some of the teachers were very much on board with all of this, but the school is still messy, goats roaming freely outside the classrooms, endless broken chairs stacked and stored wherever there is space, and dangerously broken-down classroom buildings: the broken glass is a huge hazard.

Goats roam casually around the grounds of John  Masiza. The week previous to my visit, Hannah and a team from her church had been to cut the grass on the fields

Goats roam casually around the grounds of John Masiza. The week previous to my visit, Hannah and a team from her church had been to cut the grass on the fields

Where else are the chairs supposed to go? Apparently the principle won't get rid of them (through recycling etc.) because they are government property, and you can't just get rid of things that aren't yours to get rid of

Where else are the chairs supposed to go? Apparently the principle won’t get rid of them (through recycling etc.) because they are government property, and you can’t just get rid of things that aren’t yours to get rid of

An abandoned classroom used as storage for broken desks and chairs

An abandoned classroom used as storage for broken desks and chairs

The school most certainly faces many challenges, but somehow they seem to manage. There are good people involved in the school, and I think that the work that Hannah and her team is doing is really great. The manner in which they help is certainly more sustainable than many other projects. I enjoyed getting a tour of the school, and it made me feel really lucky to be in the position that I am in: I went to a good school, and I am now able to study at a good University. It also means that now I feel a responsibility to people like the learners at John Masiza, and I think I really need to get more involved in projects like this. Holding thumbs for the future!

Children are generally so much friendlier than adults, it's heartwarming. The poses that they pick up from older folk is less encouraging though: Deuces!

Children are generally so much friendlier than adults, it’s heartwarming. The poses that they pick up from older folk is less encouraging though: Deuces!