Reflections on guns

While purposefully trying to avoid the news, it’s been hard to ignore the events of the past week in the States; the grocery store shooting in Kentucky; the mail bombs sent by a wacko self proclaimed white supremacist, the massacre in the Pittsburgh synagogue. While Charlotte mentioned that she’d heard about Pittsburgh, children here are not bombarded by negative and scary messages via social media and popular media and discussions in the classroom and online and all around them! With that level of exposure how could children not be experiencing increased levels of anxiety and stress? While South Africa absolutely has its own absolutely horrifying issues and legacies to overcome, the tenor of conversation here – at least among people we have met – isn’t underlaced with fear about mass shootings. In fact, while there is certainly high levels of crime, it is isolated and targets the individual – and our neighbors seem to feel it’s more of an inconvenience that needs to be accommodated. (Conversations about security systems and beams and locks are punctuated with sighs and words like “unfortunate” and “necessary.”)

While we don’t have nagging thoughts in the back of our mind that our school, or our community, might be the next soundbite, the latest statistics, in the never-ending battle with the NRA to get guns off the streets, the real relief is that the news coverage is not the surround sound for our children’s – and our – day. In fact, my American friend and I were just discussing this this afternoon. We were discussing our absence of fear when our children are in school –  when she received a text from a friend in the states. The friend reported that she had just received a frantic text from her high school-aged daughter stating that her high school was experiencing a bomb threat, that people were screaming and running all over, and that she was coming home. At the exact moment we were talking about terror in schools!

Chris and I have talked a lot about it and fully acknowledge that part of our relief might be that our personal media exposure is dramatically less here. We aren’t on our screens all the time, and we aren’t watching TV and hearing about Tweets and viral messages of hate. We absolutely acknowledge that we would not be saying this if we were poor, black or colored and  living in a township rife with gangs, anger, fear and violence, as many are.  The violence and fear in those communities are real, and contribute to the very real risks and adversities which impact how safe children feel.  However, the major difference even in those communities is a lack – as of now – of widespread access to guns, which can quickly shift the focus from individual to mass killing. There are xenophobic, racial, ethnic, religious, fear mongers spouting hate speech and inciting violence everywhere, but here crime, while horrific, is individual and episodic – car jackings, house robberies, kidnappings and, increasingly, muggings of hikers/bikers (a very scary and recent development that is inciting a huge positive collective reaction from the Cape Town community). If one looks at crime statistics for South Africa one would be horrified, but incidence is still at the individual level. We just don’t experience mass shootings.  The other difference – and I don’t think I’m articulating it well – is that the inequality is so obvious – the poverty, the weak economy, the huge racial and economic inequality and prejudice – that there is widespread consensus and both a moral and an economic imperative for things to change for South Africa to survive and thrive going forward. (Although unfortunately, friends have told us that for one group – a not insignificant percentage of older white Afrikaans men, the solution is to go back to the apartheid realm). But for everyone that we’ve met and befriended, and for the youth that Chris is teaching, the future of the country – there is broad-based agreement.  Despite the public’s demand and the cross-the-aisle rhetoric coming from Washington DC, that broad agreement seems elusive in the States, and the mass shootings have continued year in and year out, hurting both the people directly related AND our children.

Apologies for such a bummer of a post and I hope I haven’t offended anyone.  No country manages hatred well, and SA is certainly no exception.  We are thinking of and praying for all of the families impacted by last week’s events, and by every shooting that has occurred over the past several years. . We are also thinking of how all of this is impacting our children, the future of our country and this planet. We welcome your thoughts, and will get back to more fun stuff next post.

We’re Settled – and Learning!

9 weeks into our stay here, we are shifting out of the “get settled” mentality and into “how do we best spend our (too limited) time here” thinking. Beyond all of the remarkable opportunities for adventure (recent escapades have included zip lining, swimming in outside reservoirs, – heaven! –  attending weekend markets filled with colors (see below), goods, delicious food and drinks, and live music; hiking and more trail running) it’s been exciting to shift the brain back into gear, and to become intellectually challenged once again.

Color color everywhere!

It is springtime and color is everywhere – vibrant, expressive, robust, gorgeous. Kudos to Charlotte and Luke for their excellent photography skills. People have come out of their homes with a vengeance…..Cape Town thrives during the summer months, which we understand last until about May (yippee).  Below pics from various recent escapades.



Every day is a wonderful learning opportunity for each of us; everyday we mentally catalog all of the many thoughts we’d like to share with friends and family back home.  One of the more exciting learnings over the past two weeks has been about the work of Johnny Miller, an American photographer who resides in Cape Town. Johnny, featured in this recent Huff Post article, uses drone photography to depict dramatic inequality which can then catalyze conversation and action. While there are lots of technical measurements (such as the Gini co-efficient) to gauge inequality, his work is powerful, stark, compelling, irrefutable, disturbing. See below photo of Hout Bay, a neighborhood of Cape Town about 10 minutes from us.  It is one of many featured on his website. I hope to meet with Johnny soon, and to connect him with @AndyLyons who shares his love for sub-Saharan Africa and uses drones for agriculture and natural resource management (through the University of California system). (And who knows – between the two of them maybe one can help Luke and Chris fly drones straight and not into trees!)

Look at the difference!


Photo credit to @johnnymiller

How is this okay? How is it that hundreds of thousands of black and colored people are boxed into often time unhabitable accommodation, within 1/4 mile of some of the wealthiest real estate in the continent? (And we haven’t even started talking about inequality on a global scale, compared to our standards in the states).   How has an entire country become dotted with these townships and similar aerial views?


Hout Bay certainly isn’t the only nearby township. About 10 miles east of us is Kheyalitsha, the ongoing legacy of one of the apartheid regime’s final attempts to enforce segregation. Meaning “Our New Home” in Xhosa, the initial plan was to create four towns, each with 30,000 residents. Today, it is reputed to be South Africa’s fastest growing township, with population estimates ranging from 400,000 (in 2011) to 1.5 million residents, depending on the source. Its immensity is breathtaking: 15 square miles, about the size of Alexandria, Virginia. We drove by and kept driving and driving and driving and driving. The fact that it abuts such wealth makes it truly breathtaking – in the worst way.

Innovation Everywhere! 

I have been busy networking and meeting with many folks who are or could be in the early childhood space. I am inspired, confused, and excited about the many things going on. I have met social entrepreneurs, innovators, long standing early childhood educators, philanthropic leaders, policymakers, parents, and business leaders. I am supporting @InnovationEdge, probably the most innovative early childhood investment initiative in the world, and am working with friends to develop a family service learning initiative for our school. I have attended government-convened meetings focused on addressing healthy development during a child’s First Thousand Days, and have met with social entrepreneurs leveraging corporate relationships and assets to ensure economic self sufficiency among poor women.  So much to learn – and hopefully many chances to add value.  So many similar themes and issues as in the States….and, looking beyond the obvious inequity and gross poverty – many things to build upon – such as the love of a parent for their child.

Chris, too, has continued to learn through his time at Elkanah, recently starting to teach 4 classes two days/week, with a focus on public speaking.  Now that he is settled there, he too is looking for other opportunities to engage and is exploring options ranging from schools to regional public speaking challenges.  Check out his blog for more information.

He Said/She Said

The kids have been busy collecting different phrases that mean the same thing – US vs. South Africa talk – and researching their origins.  Here are some:

“Holding thumbs” vs. “fingers crossed.”  Apparently, the origin of the gesture traces back to the biblical Kingdom of Israel. Courts of Mosaic law would often render verdicts with the phrase “May God have mercy upon your soul.” Most judges felt that while they could pass a sentence of death upon a person, they personally did not have the authority to destroy souls. As a result, some judges would cross their fingers whenever they said the phrase as a result of concern for the criminal’s soul as they said it as a prayer.  The German eqivalent of ‘crossing my fingers’, ie wishing someone good fortune, is ‘Daumen drueken’ – holding thumbs.

“Headless chicken” vs. “chicken without a head.”  The phrase originated in England, when chickens were killed by chopping off their heads. Sometimes the headless body would run around for a while before dying.

“Get on with it.”  Not sure of origin – basically means, just move on, carry on.

“Bonnet” vs. “hood”.  A car hood is the metal part that covers the engine of an automobile. The term car hood is a North American term, used primarily in America and Canada. Hood comes from the Old English word hod which means a hood, a soft covering for the head. The term car bonnet is a British term, used primarily in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, India, New Zealand, Australia, etc. Bonnet comes from the Old French word bonet, which means cloth used as a headdress.

“Boot” vs. “trunk.”  The word “trunk” comes from a large travelling chest attached to the back of the vehicle before the development of integrated storage compartments in the 1930s; while the usage of the word “boot” comes from the word for a built-in compartment on a horse-drawn coach (originally used as a seat for the coachman and later for storage).

“Brilliant.”  Cool, awesome. Used very frequently, often times by Luke’s two male third grade teachers (who are brilliant by the way. He’s a lucky lad to have them.)

“Proper” – adjective meaning “very” South African.  For instance:  Because we haven’t mastered the “braai” yet, we’ll be throwing a proper American style barbecue in a few weeks.

“how’s it” – shortened version of “how’s it going?”

“just now” – in a few minutes; as in “mom, I’ll do my homework just now!” (no, you’ll do it RIGHT Now!)

“tomato sauce” – Catsup. This is a very serious word in the Dangel household.  We love catsup – now tomato sauce – a LOT.

Good Friendships

We are continuing to make and deepen friendships with South Africans and other expats alike.  We have found everyone to be wonderfully warm and welcoming, and have enjoyed lots of proper South African hospitality.  It’s time for the Dangels to have an open house for all the wonderful people we’ve met!

Below are pictures of us at a recent MCC Cap Classique* and White Wine tasting with our good friends Mark and Kate Austin.   (*South African sparkling wines made in the traditional French method (methode champenoise) are referred to as Methode Cap Classiques or MCC’s.)  Regardless of their title, they are delicious!



Bye till next time!!!



The Vacation of Our Lives – and Summer is a’comin!!

Sign at our local park


Sunday evenings.  A time to make sure the laundry is clean, the schoolbags are packed, the refrigerator has sufficient food for lunches, the clothes are set out for Monday’s return to school and work. In our case, this particular Sunday evening was about reflection: on our time here to date, on our desired goals for this unparalleled opportunity, on the past week.

On our time here to date – wow, only two months, or wow, already two months!  Can’t be sure…..but we do know it’s been a whirlwind of logistics and basic exploration – housing, schools, transport, food, utilities, neighborhood, etc.  Now that we are settled, we are looking forward to the next phase – figuring out how to best use our time here, to help accomplish our desired goals for this sabbatical.   Choices we have: I have met several non profits eager for my help. I could spend the entire year advising and guiding them.  Is that how I want to spend my time?  How can this experience lay the foundation for future personal growth and career development? It’s all stuff we are thinking about – and will be thinking more about going forward.

But first – the vacation.  A bit wierd to be on vaca 6 weeks after starting school but hey – we’re game!  Chris has repeatedly called last week “the best vacation of our lives.”  High praise indeed! We ventured up the Garden Route – an area stretching about a day’s drive east of Cape Town on the coast of the Indian Ocean.  It was magnificent in every way – the spectacular beauty of the landscape, the huge array of outdoor activities available, the friendliness of the people, the unexpected surprises and delights that surfaced every day.  I’ve already written about watching the Southern Right whales in Hermanus on Facebook – check it out on my feed.  They are truly majestic creatures, and seeing the mommies frolic with their babies in such playful, unconcerned ways so close to shore was remarkable. There are about 10,000 Southern Right whales living in the Southern Hemisphere.  They are not as big as some other species; an adult female averages about 49 feet long and weighs 50 tons, although they can grow to be up to 60 feet long and 80 tons.  They spend summers (northern hemisphere winters) in the far Southern Ocean by Antartica.  It blows our mind that we were able to watch these gorgeous creates, who have been following these same behavior patterns for eons – regardless of the shenanigans of mankind.

I also posted about our adventures riding ostriches and crawling and slithering through eons old cave networks first inhabited by some of the first Homo Sapiens on the planet.  I’ve reposted the pics below. Warning to anyone who comes: we want you, too, to undertake this Survivor-like experience!





Other Garden Route “highlights:”

  • Chris’s “yacht” which we rented to puddle through a nature reserve in Plettenberg Bay, the self proclaimed “adventure capital” of the Garden Route. While perhaps not qualifying as bungee jumping, sky diving or shark diving caliber adventures (all of which were also readily available), it kept us busy and laughing for the day as we lounged on remote beaches.


  • Radical Raptors bird rehabilitation center.  This was awesome – a rehab center for birds injured through accident or, sadly, abuse. The guide was the quintessential South Africa cowboy-hat wearing dude passionate about his birds.  We saw all types of majestic creatures – see pics below.


  • Spectacular hikes with amazing vistas one after another.   Below are shots from hikes in Wilderness, Mossel Bay, and Plett Bay.  Hard to decide which is more stunning; all featured gut wrenching drops, glorious views, and trails tended just well enough. IMG_0909IMG_0873Pz7xMqjGTcKRftD3Q+QBcw



  • Gin and tonics on tap.  Gin and tonics with cucumber and mint.  Gin and tonics with Fynbos.  Gin and tonics with rosemary. It’s an entire craze, it’s delicious, and it’s cheap (like $2/drink).


One word about lodging.  The quality of B&Bs here is outstanding. We’ve definitely stayed in our share of mediocre listings in the States; not here, so far (knock on wood). Gorgeous accommodations; here are a few examples:



Summer is Almost Here! The Pool is Open!

Ahhhh…after two months of rain and dampness, the weather is turning delightful.  We are now in a period of two-three months of serious wind, but the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and summer is a’comin.  For the first time in our lives, we have a pool (thinking about you, Sharon and Julie!) and it is already a beacon for other kids in the ‘hood.  Very reminiscent of our numero uno Chesterfield road buddies Vivi and Max, there are always little voices and faces peering over the wall in the back, saying in adorable South African accents, “LUUUUUKE.  LUUUUUKE can you come out and play?”


Also featured in our backyard is Timmy the Turtle, who can seriously haul when there is lettuce available.  After Charlotte carefully fed him one day, I found him in the house making a run for the fridge the next!!!!

And the flowers.  Blooming everywhere.  Come visit!!!




Top Similarities and Differences!

This week we wanted to highlight our top ten lists of things that are different and things that are (seemingly) the same between living in Cape Town and Boston. Before we get into that, however, a few highlights of the last two weeks:

  • Charlotte did it again. Won her second night time trail run, and then we all had a ball with our friends running the Cape Cod marathon 5k.  Both Charlotte and Luke rocked it!
  • Many many more hikes and beautiful vistas.  They are everywhere – and so accessible.
  • Many meetings and networking opportunities for me – at every level (government/systems; philanthropy, grassroots NGO).
  • Inspiration and excitement for Chris as he continues to engage with teachers and students alike at Elkanah House. Above all else, similar to
  • The decision that we would NOT in fact pursue being featured on House Hunters International. (background:  several months ago I reached out; they responded and were interested; we ultimately decided due to security considerations we would not pursue, much to our chagrin.)
  • The realization that, in addition to wine, Cape Town and environs are ground zero for craft gin. The concoctions are deliciously amazing and oh so dangerous!  How to replicate in Margate!


Now on to the fun!


These are things we have noticed as we go about our daily existence. I am working on a separate post that digs more deeply into the issues of poverty, especially through the lens of early childhood policy and practice – and the differences and similarities between the two countries. Although not legally permitted to work, I have begun to engage at various levels – systems, philanthropic, grassroots. While the scope and complexity of poverty and institutional racism here is breathtaking and horrific, I am inspired by the intentionality, good will and strength of community that exists here – similar to the states. More later.

Things that Seem Different (in no particular order):

1. Packaging and Serving Sizes:
• 5 minutes in a grocery store here presents a sharp contrast to the supersized portions we take for granted in the US through places like BJs and Costco – the bigger the better. In general we are grateful – it’s healthier to eat smaller portions, and we (Chris) don’t REALLY need second or third portions of a meal. However, there are a few things we regret – like the “family” size bag of potato chips here which is about half its equivalent at home.
• Similarly, while food is far cheaper here, serving sizes in restaurants are also much smaller. Again, a welcome change. We just don’t need everything we take for granted at home.

2. Driving
• When we first moved here, I was a little worried about driving on the left side. However, we’ve both become quite accustomed to it. One near death experience notwithstanding, we’re all set in this regard. 

  • Another difference:  very few people seem to be texting while driving here (thank goodness) and it is illegal to talk while driving.  We rarely see folks doing either. It’s refreshing and reminds us to be on our best (and safest) behavior as well.

3. Security
• This is a huge one, which we’ve discussed earlier. The concept of security systems – beams, locks, keypads, codes, security companies – was entirely foreign to us in the beginning, and a constant reminder of how lucky we are in Milton to not have to consider it constantly. Since moving into our home, we have joined our local “crime watch” and befriended many of our neighbors, and are much more comfortable knowing that a) crime is rare within our neighborhood and b) when it occurs, it’s isolated. One neighbor, who has lived on the street for 7 years, reports that the only crime with which she is familiar was a theft at another neighbors house of a few laptops – during a party they were hosting.

4. Water
• Our degree of consciousness regarding water usage has changed dramatically. While we historically were nominally conservative, choosing not to water our lawn, for instance, we certainly were far more liberal in using water for showers, baths, toilet flushing, washing machines, etc. We arrived in Cape Town in the midst of a severe drought, and were immediately forced to change life-long habits…….perhaps not showering every day, using the shower water to only wet ourselves and rinse off, wearing clothes multiple times, using excess shower water to flush toilets, and only flushing when absolutely necessary. Seeing people line up at water distribution centers to gather their allotted 30 liters/person, which they sometimes carried in jugs on their heads, reinforced the stark reality. While we did the best we could, we have no idea – still – how much we used out of a budgeted 50 liters/person/day – and what the associated bill will be. Cape Town is sighing with relief that its dams are nearly full and day Zero has been avoided but there is an urgent need for more strategic long term planning in anticipation of the next drought – which is inevitable.
• It has been interesting to process the collective sigh of relief we  feel when we travel outside of Cape Town to areas with better water management policies. While committed to using only what we need, we have all enjoyed taking longer showers once in a while!

5. Running race souvenirs: As we’ve discussed, we have jumped right into the road/trail running scene here. And while it’s the same basic concept –using legs and cardio systems to propel bodies forward – we’ve noticed some big differences:
• Registration fees. Typically fees in the states start at $20-$25. Here, one recent 5K was $3 per person, while trail runs have been in the $10 range.
• Swag. This has really been interesting! The trail runs hosted by vineyards offer free wine at the end, along with a free bottle of wine for every (adult) finisher. (I know this would be especially appreciated by some of my more “cultured” friends!) If you search a finisher area long enough, you might find water and/or some type of Gatorade-type drink, but the big focus is on wine.
• Hydration/water stations. There have been none during any of the races we have done to date. At the end of one 5K, rather than paper cups or bottles we received little bags of water. See pic below.


6. The broader concept of liability:
• None. Zero. We have marveled several times at the beautiful lack of liability. Trails that claim to be “AAA easy” would be identified as “moderately challenging” in the States, with associated liability limitation clauses. There is every possibility of imminent death on some of the trails that Chris and I have stumbled upon, yet it just doesn’t matter. I don’t sense that this is unique at all to South Africa – many countries I have visited are similar. The absence of liability protection here just highlights for us its omnipresence in the US.

7. Gas stations and parking lot attendants
• Petrol is expensive here, and the recently announced recession has pushed prices up even more. We estimate average prices at around $4/gallon and rising. There is no self-serve, and it is customary to “tip” the gas attendant anywhere from $.50-$1.00.
• All commercial parking lots are filled with uniformed attendants who ostensibly are there to “protect” cars but spend most of their time sheparding cars in and out of spaces and “helping” shoppers load packages. These attendants, too, depend on tips which makes complete sense when put in the broader context: there is currently a proposal being considered at the national level to establish a $1.00/hour minimum wage. Imagine.

8. Hair dresser
• This might resonate with friends who might need a little “touch up” now and then. Highlight treatments are executed by two hair dressers working together….one manning the foil and the (lead) actually applying the treatment. The fact that one is supporting two salaries makes the price – less than 1/3 of what one would pay in the States- even more striking.

9. West Coast Light
• As New Englanders, we are used to seeing the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean and set over (the very far away) Pacific Ocean. We experience East Coast light – which, for anyone who follows Georgia O’Keefe, knows is quite different from the light of the Southwest, or of the West. Here, at the very southern tip of Africa, we benefit from that crisp clear light all the time. We are still getting used to the sun rising over the Indian Ocean, and SETTING over the Atlantic. It’s a mind blower.

10. Chocolate chips
• Last but certainly not least! Because we jumped into entertaining immediately upon moving into our house, I needed some “go-to” recipes. Thanks to my sister Jeanne, I was armed with our family’s secret Banana Chocolate Chip bread recepie several weeks ago when shopping at our local grocery store. After wandering the aisles for 30 minutes, I finally zeroed in on the “chocolate chips” – packaged in a box similar to a Band Aid box in the states. Of course, any chocolate would work perfectly in this recipie, which calls for about a pound of butter! It’s a huge hit here!

Things that seem (but aren’t quite) the same

11. Friendliness of the People
• Bar none, the South African people have been remarkably warm and welcoming. While they wonder at our politics (so much to say about that!), they seem to love Americans, and the concepts of openness and opportunity for which they believe America stands. Whether in our neighborhood, within our school community, within our respective networks (mine early childhood, Chris at Elkanah School) and/or road tripping – people have gone out of their way to welcome us, to invite us into their homes, to provide recommendations and advice – everything. One of the hardest things to leave at home was our incredible network of friends and family; and while we can’t recreate that we are so grateful to have been accepted with such open arms here.

12. Language
• One of the factors we considered in coming here was language. Experiencing another culture is arguably easier when one can understand packaging in stores, road side signs, etc. And while the kids and Chris might have thrived in a French-speaking environment, I would have been utterly clueless! We knew that English was a primary language spoken here. What we didn’t appreciate is that English is just one of 11 official languages, although it is the language of education and business. (This was not always the case; some of the most tragic student uprisings during the Apartheid era were to protest the use of Afrikans as the language of instruction.) Other languages include Afrikans (with Dutch origins) and Xhosa, one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages composed of a series of “clicks.” We hope to learn more of it.

13. Natural Beauty – everywhere.
• We are fortunate to live in New England. We love the rolling mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, the white beaches of Cape Cod, the dense forests, inland rivers and jagged beaches of Maine. All of that – and more – is combined in South Africa – and we have only explored a teeny part of it. While Cape Town is the most beautiful city in the world (IMHO), we are just beginning to experience the wonder of the rest of the country – and it is wonderous.

14. Uber
• While we haven’t had to rely on it much, it’s comforting to know that it’s just an app click away. Interestingly, every Uber ride we have taken has been driven by a Zimbabwean drive. We have a sense there are many Zimbabweans living in the townships, perhaps taking jobs, etc.  Need to better understand.

15. WAZE
• It’s hard to articulate how Waze has facilitated our ability to explore Cape Town and its environs. While necessary to have a sense of direction (and to avoid any particularly dangerous neighborhoods), Waze and Google Maps have been completely instrumental in virtually every adventure upon which we’ve embarked. Special call-out to brother Andy – the road atlas you gave us is an invaluable reinforcement to our reliance on technology!

16. Recycling.
• It’s here, but not omnipresent yet. We pay extra to have a recycling company collect rubbish once/week. Congrats to @Amy Robins and all our friends on Milton Town meeting for the recent progress in recycling!

17. Wine and Cheese
• As anyone reading this blog knows, they are here…..we knew they would be. But we had no idea just how accessible and affordable and absolutely delicious the wine and cheese options would be here. We freely admit we are in trouble; while it has been winter and rather rainy here, the spring and summer are quickly approaching. How to survive? (I personally am exploring an internship at a vineyard as a learning experience!)

18. Fortnite
• It’s here. It’s everywhere. Luke continues to be “the only kid in the world” without it. Enough said.

19. Premier League Soccer.
While I’m sure it would have been as readily accessible at home, for some reason/s – combinations of Bruins fanaticism and Pats worship? – we never paid much attention at home. Luke has adroitly expanded his encyclopedic knowledge of all things NHL to encompass all there is to know about Manny U, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, etc. etc. (An aside – I frequently check and am completely dismayed that the preponderance of headlines and coverage is about the Pats: Belly and TB12, Gronk, etc. A good excuse to diversify my news sources!)

20. Dramatic Income Inequality. WE are as equally privileged here as we are at home. We are white, we are well educated, we are an intact family unit, we are healthy and were raised in loving environments, we hold US dollars – a huge advantage as the Rand continues to struggle. Much more to come on this front.


The theme of last week was Adventure – running adventures, middle school social adventures, wine tasting adventures, hiking adventures, teaching adventures.  A few of the highlights:

ON WEDNESDAY Charlotte and I ran a 5K trail run with headlamps in the pitch dark through the vineyards of Groot Constantia, the oldest wine producing estate in South Africa.  It was an absolutely crazy, hard, exhilarating, unique, unforgettable experience.  We literally were running in the dark with just a stream of lights ahead or behind us, or, depending where we were on the course, on trails above or below us. The lights of the city were far below.  Up and down crooks and valleys, well marked paths and less well marked paths, over hill and dale.  At the end? A free bottle of Groot Constantia wine for the adults (not the kids), discounted burgers and chips and a huge party.  These South Africans know how to do it!  Best of all – Charlotte won not just the Junior girls age group, but came in second in women overall!!! (I was behind – but just slightly; very proud of myself). It was nuts and perhaps my favorite thing we’ve done so far.   And we are doing it again this week – this time with the boys!


IMG_0678 2IMG_0676

Charlotte also experienced her first middle school “social.”  I’ll leave it to her to reflect on it; let’s just a whole cadre of girls came up and hugged her goodbye when we picked her up, and she seemed quite pleased with herself as she remarked that she was the only one in the entire school that could actually do “the worm.”  Brief reflection from a parental perspective:  seemed like a really nice group of kids; it’s a tiny class with maybe 40 kids in the whole grade.  Boys and girls all seem to hang out together, and to learn from each other.  Apparently there are 30+ some countries and languages represented at the school. SO COOL.

LUKE’s adventures occurred throughout the week – from his enthusiastic embrace of all things sports – hockey, soccer, rugby – to his outstanding performance in school. Recognition included two Student of the Week awards for Responsibility of Choices and Communication in Language (which probably doesn’t surprise anyone who knows Luke from home).  He is an avid rugby fan (hallelujah, the Springboks finally beat the formidable New Zealand All Blacks!), soccer aficionado (Ronaldo really should have made that hatrick), and a diehard champion for the Bruins (we can pop home quickly for a game this winter, can’t we mom?)  One of the big debates Chris and I had was about television – to have it or not.  He won, mostly for the sports programming, which excites both him and Luke.

Luke  has also, to his extreme delight, secured his first iPad, ostensibly for use in school.  While we haven’t escaped the Fortnite craze (the influence of which his teachers have warned parents about repeatedly), he is “the only kid who doesn’t have it.” (of course).  He has embraced texting, and do so eagerly with his self-proclaimed posse of “The Dutch Union” consisting of one American, one Japanese, and two Dutch boys.

He also VERY enthusiastically embraced our wine tasting adventure in Franschhoek, one of several of South Africa’s most famous wine areas about an hour from our home.  We took advantage of Franschhoek Uncorked, a “spring awakening” festival offering free tastings to about 15 wineries for a whopping entry fee of $10 per adult.  That’s $10 for two days worth of free tastings at as many wineries as we can handle.  Even better – most of the wineries sought to make these family events, offering music, food and treats, lawn games, bouncy houses, etc.  Taking advantage of this, we let Luke guide our wine tasting adventures (which he did by prioritizing food offerings at the various places).   Some of our favorites were Rickety Bridge and Mont Rochelle (one of Richard Branson’s properties.) Between tastings we ventured up Franschhoek Pass to an absolutely unexpected stunning hike with amazing vistas and revisited a restaurant we went to 13 years ago to celebrate Chris’s birthday.  We cannot wait to visit again.




Charlotte and Luke entering a cork counting contest at the Allee Bleue wine estate. Stay tuned to see if they win a free night!!!


Finally – Chris’s adventure – SCHOOL. Incredibly enlightening, different, fun insightful, inspiring,  He has been tracking his experiences at Elkanah House through his own blog –  Visit today!!!




Africa Lite

Week Four…… that all it’s been? It’s truly remarkable how settled we feel. The kids have fully embraced their school and the community it offers them. They have friends from all over the world, and have very interesting perspectives on school and friendships here versus in the US.   I’ll let them tell that story in their own way although highlights from Luke’s perspective:  he still feels like the only one who doesn’t have Fortnite and everyone is SO nice.” We are also lucky enough to be forming friendships with several South African families which are really special.  All four of us are learning about the culture, the people, the politics, the culture, the best places to run/hike/bike/sip wine/watch rugby/swim with penguins/swim with sharks/watch whales from people who have grown up here.   Through these friendships we have been exposed to perspectives we would never have access to if we just lived in the expat bubble.  And one of the great benefits of our home is that we live on a street filled with South African families with children and dogs and life; whenever we are in the backyard it feels a bit like lord of the flies, as there always seem to be little faces peering over the walls bordering our property, talking with Luke and Charlotte and asking them to play…..All four of us are excited to see how those friendships blossom over the next year……


Speaking of bubbles, have we mentioned the wine? We are feeling overwhelmed – it’s everywhere we look – and so gloriously affordable! (for us).  This weekend’s activity: Franschhoek Uncorked, a spring festival at the nearby Franschhoek wine region.  We spent Chris’s birthday there 13 years ago and are returning to the scene of the crime!  We can’t really say we are going to wine country, because we actually live smack in the middle of it – in Constantia. We’ve become quite friendly with another American family here on sabbatical – the four of us have already engaged in some shenanigans and look forward to many more! Here’s Chris and our friend Mark engaged in some horticultural exploration along with some other pics from recent escapades:


Now to the heart of this post:  Africa Lite.   Our experience is akin to “glamping.” Although we live in one of the poorest continents in the world, we are among the most fortunate.  We have a lovely home, cars, clothes, food, and, as a result of the strong dollar, unbelievable purchasing power.  Everything is crazy cheap; we continue to be amazed.  Yet, we are in a small country which is veering dangerously close to a recession (topic for another post), has among the most egregious and outrageous economic and civil rights inequalities in the world (see below) and experiences far more crime than we’ve ever known in the US, set within a region which is slowly recovering from an unprecedented drought.  We have become way too familiar with home security systems – safety beams and locks and beeps and lights. Our first night in our new home, the system wasn’t working – and we freaked out.   While we thought we got that addressed immediately, the system continues to send alarms at various points of the day – alarms caused not by theft but by system intricacies.   And while it might be annoying, the security folks certainly know us – since we seem to inadvertently set off the alarm 3-4 times/day. While our neighborhood is a safe one, and not necessarily a target for theft, “Dorothy, we’re no longer in Kansas.”  While using common sense and not going overboard, we have to be vigilant – always.  We must lock our houses and our doors and children don’t walk to school alone here and no one walks at night.  This isn’t just expat hysteria – this is what our South African friends tell us.   It look me a few weeks to accept the reality that it’s not safe for women to hike alone, although it is certainly fine to run in our neighborhood (again, since we live in the wine country, not so shabby).   Yet it all depends on perspective – for friends coming from Joburg, Cape Town is a breath of fresh air in terms of crime.  For us – it’s different.  As our friends say, “we must continue to live our lives.”

Dealing with the water crisis has been interesting.  Households are granted a certain amount of water per person; utilization above that rate results in fines.  The challenging part is there is no meter to help monitor usage. So, while we’ve been minimizing shower water (only using to wet and rinse off), and catching shower water in big bins to use to flush the toilet, and minimizing flushing the toilet (if it’s yellow keep it mellow), and not washing clothes too often, and so on and so on – we really won’t know until we get our first bill how effective we’ve been. Coming from our land of plenty I can’t help but think that while we have certainly made progress, we are not as efficient as we should be. Very fortunately, given all the rain the limitations on usage are soon to be lifted.  It hasn’t been a problem though – it’s actually felt good to not be as wasteful as we are in the “land of plenty.”

Shopping is also an adventure.  In every parking lot there are parking attendants, who ostensibly are there to ensure cars are safe and who rely on tips for their livelihood. While at first we weren’t sure whether to tip them, we’ve become quite comfortable at tipping 5 or 10 Rand each and every time we shop (ranging from about $.30-$.75).  Woolworths is their Whole Foods here – which, for those of us who remember Woolworths in the states, is pretty funny.  Packaging is small – no oversized BJs here.  There is far less packaged food, far fewer sweets, and the average cereal selection in the supermarket might be 10, vs. 50 brands.  Not surprisingly, there is no evidence of the obesity rampant in the US.  And although we can access US brands – Heinz Catsup, for instance, it’s expensive. I’m trying to segue the family off that stuff – we are in Africa, and should explore all that Africa has to offer.   Another benefit – no crazy commercialization; very few stores are open on Sundays, and many close mid day on Saturday.  I think we’ll really come to appreciate that on Thanksgiving day, as we think about the “pre-black Friday madness” in the US.  People definitely choose to live their life outside of stores here.

All of our experience is rooted in the reality that this country continues to experience profound racial and economic inequality – the legacy not just of apartheid but of gross fiscal impropriety and poor economic policies of past President Zuma who squandered and funneled billions of rands (and land) to his cronies.  The poverty and inequality is everywhere – on the streets, in the media, in the very fabric of the society.  It is evident in the townships to which black folks were forcibly relocated during the apartheid era, composed of thousands of tin shacks, sometimes without running water and sporadic electricity, satellite TV dishes notwithstanding;  in the senseless crime that is reported on a daily basis in the papers; in the pairs of eyes that peer at us as we – and others with resources, both white and black-skinned – enjoy open air markets replete with music, food, beverages and goods in the stunning sunshine. The very essence of the “haves vs. the have-nots” which makes each of us feel very very uncomfortable.

Yet while there is definitely a sense of resentment and anger, there is also a palpable feeling of optimism – across racial and religious and ethnic lines, among both the white and black, Christian, Jewish, and atheist South Africans (and, we hear, among the various ethnicities – Xhosa, Zulu, etc)- because of the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa.  Although he was deputy under Zuma, his rhetoric and early actions are far more inclusive and promising. The country is watching and waiting, and very aware that their currency and economy are, unfortunately, also linked inexorably to the tweets coming out of Washington.  They anguish and wonder how this could be.  We continue to consider how we process the reality here; how we think about our own biases and experiences in the states (which absolutely has parallels); and how we can make the most impact in a culturally respectful, safe and impactful way.   We are having lots of discussions with friends and colleagues from the NGO, education, health and philanthropic sectors here. Lots of updates to come on that front.





Stay tuned!!!





Amazing New Digs!

After two weeks of living in a nice but small two bedroom flat, we are in our new home and it is out of this world. It is a lovely, lovely home with incredibly fun and tasteful decorations and an absolutely fabulous outdoor space – including two fireplaces, multiple seating areas, an outdoor bar and grill, etc.   We cannot believe we live here.  See pics below – and note the special guest suite.

Of course we are still getting used to the ways of doing things here – the security beams, the internet, the TV, etc. etc.  but we think we are going to be VERY happy.  The neighborhood is wonderful. We’ve already met several neighbors, all of whom have children.  We will likely be hosting our own  version of a “braai” later this week.

Come visit us!






The Balance of the Blog….

Writing a blog chronicling one’s life is hard.   I never really thought about it before. It needs to be a blend of “this is what I did” in a new culture and “this is what we are learning/experiencing about living” in a new culture, all the while being of interest to friends and family who hopefully have a few moments to read it.  This last week, our third here, was another whirlwind – both in terms of “what we did” as well as “what we are learning/feeling/thinking about” this new culture.  The week ranged from experiencing dental care in South Africa (Luke – minor tooth ache; diagnosis: lay off the gum and sweets) to attending an early childhood meeting sponsored by the municipal government on the 1st 1000 days of life (felt very familiar) to successfully opening a bank account after multiple attempts (felt very unfamiliar), to being totally blown away with the awesome beauty of this place and the friendliness of the people, to absolutely loving all the outdoor adventures it presents; to struggling to make sense of the crime, the walls, the wires and the sense of vulnerability we are feeling; to trying to understand the underlying anger that lies at the heart of the violence that one hears about – anger caused by gross inequality resulting not just from the vestiges of apartheid but the senseless policies of the last presidential administration;   to rejoicing over the fact that, after several weeks living out of a suitcases, we will be settled in our own absolutely stunning house tomorrow.  Our backyard and pics from a recent local wine tasting here. IMG_0565 3IMG_0567IMG_0568 2

Over the past week we’ve settled more into daily living, and the realization that we are not in fact tourists but actually will be living here for a year.  Totally crazy. The kids have settled into their classes and seem incredibly happy at the American International School of Cape Town.  Everything is different – the school day, the sense of academic rigor (?), the composition of the school body (so cool), the number of languages spoken, the after-school sports.  We are delighted so far. Luke’s undying passion for all things hockey have found a home in a most unexpected space – field hockey. He joined his after school team and seems to have found his niche.  (funny – they don’t refer to it as “field,” just “hockey.” Charlotte, too, is exploring new and different things. There is no lax here…..but there is ample soccer.   Not surprisingly, even as a beginner she’s quite good.  She is really enjoying it and all the new friends she is making. We are eternally grateful and blown away by how easily both of them have transitioned to this new life we are leading.

Here’s Luke and his (field) hockey team:

Chris is also really enjoying his volunteer teaching work with high school kids, having taught his first official class this week.  As in Arlington, he marvels at his students – their energy, dreams, curiosity, senses of humor – and is particularly tickled by their perceptions and questions about the US.  Our president is a very common topic of conversation here.  🙂

Everywhere we go we are overwhelmed with how friendly people are. Everyone invites us to bike or run or drink wine or surf or come to their home for a playdate and a “braai.”   It’s really remarkable – more people have given us their numbers to call them then we’ll ever be able to call.  The closest comparison I can think of – without the evidence of abject poverty everywhere – might be Portland, Oregon: stunning scenery, tons of outdoor activities and fit and friendly people, vineyards, coffee, beer, food, etc.  We are just beginning our experience here, but so far we absolutely love it.

Today’s adventure was a 1.5 hour hike up Table Mountain.  Stunning, challenging, invigorating – the kids nailed it.



Where’s Waldo? Ooops, I mean Chris.  See if you can find him!



Uniforms, Vistas and (More) Sauvignon Blanc

Wow – what a week.  It’s incredible looking back on the past seven days on this (very rainy) Saturday night.  The kids started – and completed – their first week of school at the American International School of Cape Town.  They were amazingly adaptive and resilient – jumped right in without hesitation….uniforms, wierd lunches, field hockey (for Luke) and all.  They were brilliant, even though we are still very much in transition mode – living in an Airbnb, improvising on transportation (thank goodness for Uber), living out of suitcases, not having private space, etc.   Even though it’s early on, we are already doing things I had hoped – like reading a LOT – although we are also starting to focus on things I hadn’t thought as much about – like the latest rugby scores and games.  (The oldest rugby stadium in Africa, and the second oldest in the world, is about a mile from our temporary lodging.)


Regarding school, the language and the curriculum are the same – but so much is different: their classmates (Luke’s new buddies are from Nigeria, South Africa and Denmark while Charlotte is hanging with kids from Greece, France and other parts of the states), the flow of the day, the homework (where exactly is it?), and the athletics (none of the go-to options of lacrosse or hockey, but we are diving into field hockey and soccer). We are still trying to figure out a lot – the appropriate level of French instruction, the right level of math, how to clean incessant grass-stains off Luke’s two pairs of sanctioned school uniform pants, when they do and don’t have after school sports and the required equipment on each day, how to coordinate playdates, what role parents are supposed to play, etc.  It’s going to be really fascinating to observe the American educational experience abroad vs. at home……and then to add onto that what Chris experiences at the Elkanah School, the private school where he’ll be working two days / week – and then hopefully to see how schools serving more disadvantaged children operate.   We’ll keep you posted!

Chris and I have been incredibly busy as well.  He spent two days at Elkanah, getting the lay of the land and figuring out how he can be of most value.  He’ll be teaching an AP course and serving as a resource overall to the English department. We signed a lease for a lovely home; arranged through a local South African car dealership to purchase two used cars; became familiar with our local scene, executing successful shopping excursions, a dinner or two out, and some amazing hikes up the back of Table Mountain.   I mistakenly assumed we could hop up the back, cruise over the top, and come down the cable car – all in time to pick up the kids for school.  We had no idea how vast Table Mountain actually is; who knew there were multiple dams up there and it takes 4-5 hours to hike across it? (The picture below is of a dammed lake on top of Table Mountain; the mountains in the distance are actually on the other side of False Bay, which is on the Indian Ocean side of Cape  Point).


We had no idea how gorgeous this area truly is.  It’s impossible to articulate.  Even though this is the (very) rainy season – a very good thing, given the recent drought – it is truly spectacular – verdant green hills, jagged mountains, azure blue seas – it is all breathtaking.  Combined with the very low cost of living (for an expat) the friendliness of the people, the delicious wine and food, the ability to help – it’s all a recipe, we hope, for an amazing year.

Lessons Learned – so Far.

  • It’s cold here in the winter.  Not bone chilling, White-Christmas cold like in Boston, but wet, damp, rainy cold (high 40s to low 60s).  I focused so much on packing for all the sun-filled African days and cool African sunsets and accompanying sundowners that I neglected to pack many essentials for Cape Town “winter” – boots, sweaters, shoes.  Of course there are stores here – including H&M and Woolworths – but we prefer not to have to spend $ on things that we’ll only need for a month or two more.
  • The natural beauty of this place is breaktaking.  We live in the Napa of South Africa, for heavens sakes.  How lucky can we be?
  • Poverty and inequity are everywhere.  Everywhere we walk, there are people in the streets, people begging, people sleeping  – and one can’t go more than a few miles before driving by a township of hundreds (if not more) of tin shacks.  It’s upsetting – for all of us – to witness.  While the reasons for this are complex, all those with whom we have spoken – black and white, Christian, Jewish and Muslim South Africans – have strong and vocal opinions on apartheid.
  • Security is no joke.  Walls, wires, beams – they are everywhere, and they are necessary.
  • It feels good to ration water.  If one thinks about it, it’s not hard to limit showers, toilet flushes, dish and clothes washing.  We live around the corner from a water collection site, which permits every individual to carry away 25 liters of water (about 6 gallons). Thankfully, the drought is almost over….dams are now at more than 62% capacity, with significant rain in the forecast.  The major dam serving Cape Town is now 93% full.
  • The cost of living is really cheap compared to Boston. From $3 (big) glasses of wine to my $10/day rental car, we continue to be amazed at how far the dollar will go here.
  • The opportunities to help are unparalleled – and I can’t wait to jump in!!!  Just a few more days of dealing with cars, houses, insurance, banks, phones, etc – and I can get to it!

And most heartening of all – the warmth and friendliness of the South African people has already blown us away.  We are pumped to spend as much time with the locals as possible over the next year, to truly understand what it means to grow up in a different culture.  We’ll keep you posted!

(Me with my “snowflake” rental car.   While Chris laughs at it, I far prefer a smaller car, especially since we are driving on the left side of the road). IMG_0715 2








Penguins, Capes and Sauvignon Blanc…..

It is crazy how much we are able to pack into each day……following school orientation on Friday (look out American International School, Charlotte and Luke are coming!)  today we spent the day hanging out with penguins, drinking (again) Constantia Sauvignon Blanc and visiting the Cape of Good Hope – the most southern point  in Africa.   Living in Boston, our frame of reference for distance might be traveling to California……or, closer to home, New York.  The continent of Africa is 5,000 miles from North to South.  It takes about 9-10 hours to travel across it – enough for 4 or 5 movies! Crazy that we are on the very bottom of it.


Even Crazier ….

is the sense of rendezvous we had – since Chris and I were in that exact spot 13 years ago, when Charlotte was just a 6 month old!!! Crazy!!!