Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

All About Sani

Well before we moved here, we heard about Sani Pass.  We heard that it was dangerous and scary and that is gives young people gray hair.  Google confirmed all those accusations.  It truly is a treacherous journey when we drive down that direction.  Because the vast majority of you won’t ever experience it yourselves, I thought I’d describe it in detail here.  Just for fun.  

It takes about an hour from our driveway to the top of Sani.  The road between here and there was literally a piece of work the first few times we drove it.  The Chinese had come in and were busy blasting, carving, chipping and chopping away at the mountains to make space for a decent road.  We once were stopped for over an hour waiting to pass because they were blasting ahead.  Before, the road was narrow and unpaved.  Now, the road is smooth, wide and, although windy, easy to drive.  

At the top of Sani is the Lesotho border post.  It is very small and the folks who work there are almost always inside by a fire playing cards.  It is very relaxed and they know us now.  The top of Sani, at approximately 10,000 feet elevation, is chilly even in summer.  In winter is it bitter cold.  The fire inside burns nearly year round.  We stamp all of our passports and pile back into Rocky.  The law states that only 4X4 vehicles are allowed to travel the pass.  Rocky qualifies.  Jono switches the gear box into low range and puts on the difference lock.  There are reasons for this which I don’t fully understand and/or don’t fully want to explain.  But basically it makes Rocky safer to drive down the steep road ahead.  A sign requests that right of way be given to ascending vehicles, as it’s harder to stop and go as you are traveling up.  Many spots in the road are not wide enough for two cars to pass, so you must be aware of oncoming traffic.  

We start down.  Oftentimes you can see far into South Africa with an unobstructed view.  Other times there is a layer of clouds hanging lower than the mountains, which makes it look like a big white blanket is spread across the lowlands.  And occasionally there is fog which means you really can’t see anything.  That doesn’t feel too good.  But we really aren’t nervous.  We turn on some Toby Keith to bump down so our singing voices sound like his.  We figure if we go over, we go over.  What can we do?  We need groceries and want fast food.  The hairpin turns begin immediately.  I believe I've counted 14 major turns with a number of other twists and turns along the way.  They have names like: Suicide Bend, Reverse Corner and Hemorrhoid Hill (gross).  The rapid turning only lasts a few minutes; we drive slowly and carefully.  The road is narrow and there is no guard rail.  Not that it would help if there was one; it’s a long ways down.  A few of the turns are a really close call and Rocky’s tires are closer to the edge than we’d like to admit.  There are small water falls coming from all directions.  Water is coming out of the rocks.  In the wintertime, that water is frozen solid in places that never see the sun.  It is then two foot long icicles. 

When the quick turns are over, we wind down and around and down and around another bumpy 20 minutes to the South African border post.  The road here is essentially a ton of large rocks packed hard into the dirt.  It means a lot of jerking around in the car.  The kids ask why the road is so bumpy.  And how much longer do we have?  And say things like, “Daddy, I just hit my head.”  We drive through a number of streams along the way.  We go fast to try to clean off Rocky.  Free car wash.  The border post provides a much needed bathroom break after all that bumping.  If we’re lucky, we see baboons hanging around high on the rocks above the post.  If we’re unlucky, they chase us.  Just kidding.  Although they are quite aggressive, they do keep their distance.  We stamp our passports again, this time with temporary visas for South Africa, and continue on our way.  There is another 30 minutes of very bumpy, windy road ahead.  The lower area of the road is extremely muddy, which is so dangerous when it is raining (or just after).  Just this past week, we were slip sliding all over the place trying to drive it.  It’s awful.  Rocky very nearly got stuck and we were a little too close to sliding off the edge for comfort.  It’s still very high, even though we are way past Sani pass.  Going over would be a big problem.  We really wish they would pave this part of the road, but alas, it is unlikely.

Sani is a huge tourist attraction in this area of South Africa.  It is known as the most precipitous (highest climb in shortest distance) pass in Africa.  People pay good money to take a guided tour up and down it in one day.  If you want to spend the night at the top, you can pay a hefty tourist rate to stay at the Sani Mountain Lodge.  Because Sani is an attraction for tourists, thrill seekers, bikers and others, it is unlikely that much will be done to change the rugged appeal to the pass.  It can be annoying to pass so many touring vehicles when we are trying to get to the grocery or a doctor’s appointment.  We also know it is exactly four hours from our porch to the McDonald’s parking lot, so we’re aiming for lunch time.

We can typically accomplish Sani in about an hour.  Then it’s another two hour drive to the nearest large city, Pietermaritzburg.  That drive is absolutely stunning.  It reminds us of Tennessee or Kentucky.  Rolling hills and large dairy farms.  Lots of ponds and lakes are sprinkled around.  The road is smooth and the scenery is lovely.  We’re over the worst of it and on our way to french fries.  It feels good.


Sunday, April 2, 2017


As a child, I used to love to visit my grandparents' house.  As an adult, I still get just as excited.  When I return to that log cabin set beautifully atop a mountain, memories of summer days and winter nights come flooding back.  Having spent a career in the Air Force, my Oma and Opa have collected a variety of unique items which decorate their lovely home.  I enjoy looking at the paintings and carvings from foreign lands.  The house itself is warm and welcoming, but most of all I love the memories I have from many visits over the years.  

The smell of strong coffee fills the house in the mornings.   Slowly but surely family arises and gathers for a simple breakfast.  Some have slept at the Big House, others at the cottage on the backside of the property, some even camp in the side yard in a pop out camper.  Mornings are spent on the front porch if it’s warm outside, or in the sunroom if it’s chilly.  When breakfast is cleared and put away, a family walk is on the agenda.  We spend a lot of time walking and exploring the land surrounding the house.

There is a pond on the bottom of the property where we go to feed the fish.  Walking down is easy, but walking back up is always a feat.  When I was small, it felt like such a long ways.  Now I realize it isn’t that far at all.  We climb trees and inspect moss and collect flowers for a table center piece.  In the heat of summer, we enjoy picking blackberries.  

Games begin on the front terraces during the late morning and after lunch.  Three legged races, bocce ball or softball with plastic bats and plastic balls are included in some of the fun.  We spread quilts on the lawn and enjoy each other’s company in the shade.  The beautiful lawn doubles as a driving range, where Opa practices his long-range shots.  We take rides in the golf cart and hunt for lost golf balls.  Sometimes, if it’s too hot or too cold, we venture down into the basement for more games or a classic movie.  I remember watching Lion King and Riverdance the most.  Those are two of my very favorite movies even now.  I almost always tear up watching Riverdance now because it takes me right back to my childhood in Oma’s basement.  

Summer nights are spent playing outside games.  We love to play flashlight tag.  We dress in dark clothes, set boundaries around the yard, and run to hide in our best spots.  My dad and my uncle often begin the hunting.  Fireflies light up in the dark and crickets are making noise all around.  We do our best to not giggle as they walk right past us. 
During the holidays, the house bustles with people moving about preparing for a big family get-together.  Some set places at the tables, while others are assembling the food on the buffet.  My Oma is a great cook and an even better hostess.  The air is so chilly outside, but sometimes I go out on the front porch swing while the dinner is being prepared.  There is plenty of space to spread out inside, but I enjoy sitting outside and breathing in the fresh mountain air and gazing at the starry night.  There seem to be so many more stars above that mountain than anywhere else.  

When the night is over and we all head to our designated sleeping spots, I enjoy replaying the day’s events before falling asleep.  It never gets old being there.  It’s the perfect place to visit, relax, eat and have tons of fun.  

Months ago, I saw an add for Wanderer Bracelets with coordinates from your favorite place.  During this stage of my life, I certainly feel like a wanderer.  I also feel as though I'll never feel completely at home anywhere again.  I've left pieces of my heart in lots of places and I'm only just getting started.  That specific place holds such cherished memories for me, I decided to order myself a Wanderer Bracelet with the coordinates from my grandparents' front porch.  I love knowing a little piece of my heart is with me even here.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Scratch that! Cracker Barrel in Mokhotlong

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, Jonathan and I worked at Cracker Barrel together.  It was a sweet time, really.  Looking back, I have fond memories of heading off to work together at the crack of dawn to serve grumpy old people their coffee.  We used to rock out to Daughtry to wake ourselves up.  It only lasted a few months before we moved to Mexico, but it was fun.  Seven years, a few kids and a few countries later, that all feels like another life.  But I did learn a few things working there.

I learned that people are way too particular about their food.  True story - I had a table send back their eggs not once, not twice, but three times because they were not cooked, "over medium-well."  I distinctly remember how close I was to reminding them that it was an egg and not a steak.  Miraculously I managed to keep my cool.  Another true story - I had one grumpy man refuse to look at me the rest of the time I waited his table just because I wouldn't butter his toast (it was store policy that we weren't supposed to touch the food without gloves or tongs....).  Oh! And one last true story.  I had one woman who would come in with her kids and leave me a great tip if I'd fish out the "soft biscuits" from the biscuit drawer for her picky son.  Seriously?  Biscuits are good.  Soft or crispy, who cares?  Lather some apple butter on it and cram it in your mouth.  People.  I loved waiting tables, but it could be stressful.

I also learned that daily access to unlimited biscuits and sweet tea was hard on my waistline.  If you knew how much sugar they put in their sweet tea, you might consider ordering water next time you visit Cracker Barrel.  And the biscuits are so good.  I've yet to master them like Cracker Barrel has.  I doubt I ever will.

Thankfully, I did learn how they make some of their food.  I used to order the grilled chicken tenders and turn them into a sandwich.  There was a very cheap way of doing that which I won't explain here.  But somehow, someway, I found out that their grilled chicken tenders are just marinated in Italian Dressing.  My life was changed.  It's the easiest and best way to eat chicken.  I make it like this often. Cut chicken breasts into tenders and put them in a bowl.  Pour Italian dressing over them and let them hang out for a few hours in the fridge.  Heat a pan pretty well and put them in, letting some of the dressing drip off first.  The oil in the dressing works great for cooking and if you time it just right, you can get great caramelization on both sides.  Don't worry if the pan starts to look like the bottom is charred, it washes off so easily and creates that nice caramelization.  Cook in batches until you are piled up and ready for a homemade Cracker Barrel feast.

Recipes have their place and I spend plenty of time browsing cookbooks and recipe blogs.  But oftentimes, I just have to make things up as I go.  Pictured above is my trusty coleslaw I mentioned in  a previous post.  I heard that Cracker Barrel's slaw is made with poppyseed dressing.  Maybe that is true, but I don't have access to it here.  So I stick with my simple mayo, vinegar and sugar dressing combo, plus mustard seeds.  Fab!

I also made up a hash brown casserole, which is a Cracker Barrel fave for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I didn't ever order it myself, but I've tasted plenty of bites of Jono's.  Most HBRs (as it's known to the service staff at CB) are made with frozen shredded hash browns.  I've discovered you can just shred potatoes on a box grater and you basically have the same thing.  I mixed the shredded potatoes with cheese (lots), milk, eggs, minced onion, salt and pepper.  It cooked long and hot, until the potatoes were tender.

Growing up, my mom could whip up fried apples in no time.  I make them like she did, using sliced fresh apples, sometimes peeled, sometimes not.  I brown them briefly in a bit of butter before adding some apple juice or water to let them simmer.  While they simmer, I add some brown sugar, a tiny bit of salt, and a healthy shake of cinnamon.  After about ten minutes, I add a small amount of cornstarch dissolved in water to thicken the sauce.  I don't make them as saucy as Cracker Barrel's, but it would be easy enough to do.

Making dinner at home is so much cheaper than eating out, especially for a big family.  Since we don't have the option of eating out, I'm always making dinner at home and it is nice to enjoy comfort foods.  If I can wing Cracker Barrel in my kitchen in Mokhotlong, surely you can whip some up where you are, too!


Saturday, January 21, 2017

There's A First Time For Everything

We first met Danki in 2013 on our initial visit to Mokhotlong.  We didn’t have a place to live here yet and we had only come to visit a colleague, Jayne, and survey the town.  Jayne took us around Mokhotlong, showing us where we could find some groceries and to show us what a rental house might look like.  Along our tour, we met an elderly lady who sat on her front porch and chatted with us for a while.  Sound familiar?  I blogged about her on Christmas Eve.  There were a dozen young kids around, understandably curious of the outsiders who had come to their little part of Mokhotlong.  Jonathan, Kyle, tiny Ellee, Lacy, my mom and myself were there and in our pictures, Danki was there, too.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out that we moved in next door to that elderly lady, MaTopi, and she is now our neighbor.  Because Danki rents a room from MaTopi, he is also our neighbor.  He first moved to Mokhotlong in 2009.  The youngest of ten children, he was born and raised in a village until age ten.  At that point, he moved to Mokhotlong to continue his education in the better town schools.  Eventually, he began renting a room from MaTopi and started high school nearby.  He recently graduated and has since been doing odd jobs around town.  He hopes to go to college and study engineering.  He will have to work to pay his way through school.

Around Thanksgiving, he told us in conversation that he had never been to South Africa.  He said he had a passport, but it had never been used.  He wanted to see the ocean.  We asked when he turned 18, since it’s much easier to take someone across the border once they are an adult.  He said his 18th birthday was the first of January.  So, we told him we’d take him along sometime when we were going to the coast.  When we decided to fly Lacy home out of Durban, we determined it would be as good a time as any to take Danki with us as well. 

Typically when we go to Durban, we’re there for doctor’s appointments and necessary shopping.  We usually stay with friends and oftentimes don’t even make it to the beach.  For Danki, however, the beach was first priority.  Thus, I found a condo right on the beach for an absolute steal and booked it for a couple nights after Lacy’s departure.  Danki was counting down the days weeks ago.  He told us he could barely sleep last week because he was so excited.  On Sunday morning, we packed up and embarked on a trip of firsts.  We knew seeing the ocean would be a first, but it hadn’t even occurred to me exactly how many firsts he would experience during a few days in South Africa.

First ride down Sani.  First border crossing.  First passport stamp.  First monkey sighting.  First ride on a freeway.  He couldn’t believe how fast the cars were going.  First automatically opening doors.  First time in a mall.  First time ordering from a menu.  First meal at a sit-down restaurant.  First shower.  First time seeing a small dog.  First McDonalds.  First traffic jam.  First view of an airport.  First look at the ocean.  Second, third, forth, fifth shower - he’s hooked.  First night in an air-conditioned room.  First time seeing a poodle.  He roared with laughter.  All the dogs in Mokhotlong are mutt herd dogs.  A groomed poodle was just a hilarious sight to him.  We enjoyed his reaction.  First elevator.  First escalator.  He went up and down a few times just because he could.  First time to a movie theatre.  First swim in the ocean.  First swim in a pool.  I couldn't believe he knew how to swim, but he did!  First milkshake.  First parking garage.  First air hockey.  First soda fountain.  I should’ve counted the number of refills he got!  First water fountain. First drive thru.  His reaction was priceless.  He couldn’t believe there was a person behind the screen taking our order and that the food was going to magically appear out of a window.  Jono explained the headset concept.  First bumper cars.  First zebra.  First ostrich.  And I'm sure many more I'm forgetting!

While we were out, the monkeys got in and made a huge mess!  The housekeeper left the window open and this....

It’s so interesting how commonplace all these things are to me.  In fact, for us, coming to South Africa is comforting because it feels like home.  It looks more like America than anywhere else nearby, and the sights, smells and sounds are much like those from home.  It’s still different, but it’s a whole lot closer to American life than we find in Mokhotlong.  Danki, on the other hand, knows nothing of life outside of Lesotho.  Excluding a very short school trip to the capital city, he barely knows life outside of Mokhotlong.  Needless to say, he’s intrigued and maybe a bit shell shocked by life there.  And it was so fun to watch him experience it. 

I don’t know where his bright smile and kind heart will take him in life.  I hope and pray he makes wise choices.  He has the potential to have a bright and successful future.  I suspect this won't be the only trip to South Africa he takes with us.  It really couldn't have been more fun for any of us!


Monday, January 9, 2017

Diaper Duty - River Edition

Last week Mokhotlong experienced the heaviest rain we’ve seen here.  It began with a torrential downpour which caused a flash flood.  The flood caused much damage which included washing away the pipes that feed water to our area from the water source.  Thus, the water has been off for over a week now.  Our tank is still supplying water to our house.  We have been seriously rationing water (....back to the outhouse….) because we have no way of knowing how long it will take to repair the pipe damage.  After inspection today, we see that it is still over half way full.

Washing laundry uses so much water.  I had been letting it pile up in hopes that the water would return.  Yesterday, however, we decided it was time to take matters into our own hands.  Literally.  The sun was shining for the first time in days.  So we gathered up a week’s worth of laundry for six people, and Lacy and I walked a short distance to the river nearby our house.  This river has been running pretty well for the past few months.  However, after all the rain last week, it is running at probably four times its usual flow.  There are always ladies and young girls doing laundry here, so we certainly weren’t alone.  We brought our bucket, some soap, a scrub brush and a lot of elbow grease.  We managed to wash a lot of laundry in about an hours time.  When we brought it back to the house, we threw it in the washing machine for a spin cycle to save our hands from trying to wring it dry.  Then it hung on the line over night and now it’s folded and ready to be put away.  Does it get any more organic than that?  I want to know if all the green, crunchy, eco-friendly folks are doing their laundry this way.  If they aren't, I want to know why not. 

This morning, we headed back over to the river to do the same thing — only today, diapers were our duty.  Someday, I’m going to tell Sadie Kate that Aunt Lacy and I hand washed her diapers in the river in Mokhotlong.  I’m going to tell her that she cannot misbehave because we’ve done too much for her needy little self.  Joy was there helping us, as well as another girl who lives nearby.  We finished the diapers and they are now in the machine for a spin cycle as well.  I will probably spring for paper diapers to use until the water comes back on.  I think she’s worth it.  And I think our hands are worth it, too.  

After washing diapers, Lacy decided to wash her hair in the waterfall.  We have still been taking showers, albeit less often and more quickly.  Nevertheless, running water and sunshine provides a good opportunity to get clean.  I brought shampoo for that very purpose.  She went first, then I followed suit.  The water was so cold on our backs and we might’ve screamed the entire way through it.  But we have clean hair.  And fun memories.  

Kyle or Gollum?

There is no way to estimate how long it will take for the water supply to be repaired.  This is, after all, Africa and nothing happens quickly.  Between river laundry and showers, I think we can manage to make our tank last at least another week.  If it comes to it, we’ll make a plan then.  For now, we are enjoying nature and the simplicity of washing in the river.   Next up, muddy shoes!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve in Mokhotlong

My next door neighbor is feisty and fun.  She's 80 years old and spends all day on her front porch.  She is in better health now than she was five years ago, and she manages to get around pretty well with her walker.  Occasionally I see her walking to other neighbors' houses and it still surprises me.  The first couple of years we lived here, I never saw her leave her yard.  Her property is quite the thoroughfare and she enjoys watching lots of foot traffic go by her porch.  Everyone knows her and stops to visit for a while.  That's something I love about Africa.  No one misses an opportunity to visit.  No one is in that big of a hurry.

Her children don't live nearby so she has a live-in helper.  The son of her helper is Kyle and Ellee's best pal, Detay.  I often go over there and sit to chat with her.  She's a retired school teacher and she speaks fluent English.  Sometimes it seems she doesn't totally understand me.  She completely understands what I am saying.  But there is no doubt her 80 years in Africa and my 26 years, well, all over the place have been very different.  Our perspectives are different, but we find common ground to talk about.  She loves to talk politics and farming.  I know very little about either.

It isn't uncommon for me to bake a big batch of goodies and take them to her and our other neighbors.  Around Thanksgiving, I baked a huge spread of muffins and took a variety for her to try.  It was then that she asked me if she could gather the ingredients for me to bake muffins for her relatives who were coming into town for Christmas.  Of course I agreed, but then totally forgot about it.  

Yesterday a boy who rents a room from her came in my yard to ask what ingredients I needed.  After a few seconds of hunting through my memory to figure out what he was talking about, I remembered our agreement.  So I gathered up my favorite cookbooks and went to her front porch to see which kind of muffins she was wanting.  We decided on one of my favorite recipes.  I wrote out a list of ingredients, all of which you can now get in Mokhotlong thanks to our new grocery store!  

This morning Detay brought the ingredients to my door and I whipped up four and a half dozen to take back to her.  She was really excited to see them, especially since the recipe made more than I thought it would.  So she's got a whole pile of muffins to give to family and friends.  

It truly is better to give than to receive.  Even in the small things.

Tomorrow we will enjoy Christmas dinner with the World Race team who are here on outreach, along with our neighbors, Ntsimane and his family (Joy's family).  Ntsimane was adamant that we have traditional American turkey.  He found one while he was in South Africa a couple weeks ago and brought it home for me to cook.  The mission guys are grilling a sheep and the lot of us are bringing various side dishes.  It won't be quite the same as a candlelit Christmas dinner by the fire.... unless the electricity goes out.  But it'll be fun anyhow and I'm glad we have friends who are like family we can celebrate with tomorrow.  

Wishing our friends and family all over the world a very Merry Christmas! 


Saturday, December 17, 2016

MaMopeli's Sweet Shop

Many thanks to all of you who expressed such interest in MaMopeli's business venture.  She received quite a few donations and we were able to put together a nice sweet shop which opened this week!

Last weekend was a total whirlwind.  After running around all over the place in and around Durban, we managed to put together the supplies she wanted with the exception of a glass fridge.  Although we did find a few, they were just cost prohibitive.  Nevertheless, she came up with another plan.  She contacted a young guy locally who builds glass displays and we walked all over Mokhotlong gathering the supplies -- metal poles, glass glue, etc.  We found her a cabinet with a sink which she can use to store her supplies as well as wash her dishes.  That was such an exciting find!  We bought her a nice table and six chairs for the sitting area.  And over the weekend, the guy built her the display case.  Her borrowed fridge is in place and her new stove should be connected to the electricity by the end of this weekend.  For now, she's using my small but functional toaster oven.

All day Monday, she and I worked in my kitchen preparing loads of goodies to stock her shelves.  We made over 200 cookies, 50 muffins, 15 cupcakes and 3 cakes.  She opened for business on Tuesday.   So far business has been good and she is encouraged.  Also she received news that the rent for the shop went down by 25% so she was thrilled about that!  We have been battling colds all week, so I haven't been able to do some of the things I want to do for her.  I'm planning to print up flyers she can hand out and/or post around town to raise awareness about what she is selling.  Once her oven is connected, she also plans to start selling pizzas.  I know, that doesn't exactly fall into the sweet category, but she's convinced they will sell because there is only one other place in town selling pizzas.

A sign for her store is still a necessity.  She is looking into that.  And she wants to try more recipes and see what else might be quick sellers.  Currently she is selling chocolate cake by the slice, chocolate cupcakes, ginger cookies, oatmeal cookies, chocolate chip cookies and vanilla muffins.  To drink she is offering homemade ginger soda because it is summer.  In the winter she plans to offer tea and coffee.  If you have any other fabulous recipes which are inexpensive to make, feel free to share them with me!