Sunday, March 20, 2011

Come on! Let’s run errands in my shopping town!

I'm showing you pictures of rainbows that have been gracing my sky the last couple of nights. Believe me; you don't want to see photos of my shopping town. Imagine the shopping areas of Preston Highway or Dixie Highway... Yep, that's what my shopping town looks like—U-G-L-Y!

I normally loathe going to my shopping town. Just the thought of the taxi rides coming and going can keep me home-bound longer and eating rice and lentils much longer than necessary. This isn’t so much a South African thing (although the taxi rides don’t help!) as a Karen thing: I’m known to procrastinate and put off shopping trips and errand running in the States too.

I do whine long and loudly about the need to visit Vryburg, my shopping town, when necessities run low. Which is why I was so surprised that, for the first time since arriving in Africa, I actually enjoyed a visit to my shopping town!

• I use my mental crow-bar to pry myself from my home and head for the taxi to town. I have my shopping bags, sunhat, sunglasses, and umbrella at hand. The sun is shining; it will be fine.

• My ride on the taxi can take 40 minutes to an hour, depending on how full the taxi is and how long we have to wait for other riders. I’m lucky: I rarely wait more than 20 minutes for a taxi to fill and head to town. As my taxi heads north to Vryburg, four adult men engage in a spirited conversation about I-don’t-know-what (the conversation is in Setswana) but I’m more than a bit troubled by the fact that the phrase “protective order” keeps repeating throughout the conversation, for the whole of the 40 minute ride, and is met with rousing jocularity and hilarity. (I worry that these adult males think it’s funny that a woman has taken out a legal protective order against one of these men because of battering and that they think it hilarious.)

• I ask to be dropped a the “cemetery,” which is a bit out of the ordinary (for a white, American woman to be asking to be dropped at a very, very large, black South African cemetery) and a quiet falls over the taxi as I climb out of it. I’m not going to the cemetery; I’m going to the State Veterinarian’s Office that is on the same road as the cemetery. (If you’re curious as to why I was going to the vet’s office, see my blog:

• After an entertaining visit with the veterinarian, (he coached me as how to better administer a vaccine and we chatted about a dog’s recovery from the bite of a puff adder!!), I’m walking down the dirt road to the main road and notice a bird of prey perched on a telephone wire. Wait! It’s not just one bird of prey, there’s another… And another… And another! Oh my goodness! There are like 50 of these birds of prey right here! Sure enough, there were many, many southern pale chanting goshawks (Melierax canorus) in the area! What a treat! This is the first bird of prey I noticed when coming to live in South Africa and I delighted watching him “hovering about” over a field in search of prey. They’ll scope, fly to a spot, then hover—much in the same way a hummingbird will, but a goshawk is much, much larger than a hummingbird--and pounce if prey is available or fly to another area if it is not, to hover again. Before this day, I had only seen solitary goshawks. It was a treat to find a field full of them and I stared at them for quite awhile. Then I headed toward the main road and the “sketchy” part of my walk.

• The cemetery and the vet’s office lie just outside of Vryburg and there is a 10-minute stretch I walk by the busy highway. I have the word “sketchy” in quotation marks, because this portion of my walk isn’t sketchy at all: it’s along a major highway full of cars moving in both directions at any hour of the day. As is always the case, a white South African will pull over and offer me a ride because they fear for my safety. If I accept a ride (which I rarely do—it’s only a 10 minute walk), they admonish me severely for walking here. “It is dangerous!” or “It is unsafe!” they tell me over and over again for all of the three minutes I will be in the car with them. “Yes,” I reply, “This is what people tell me.” (White South Africans have told me for two years now how unsafe it is for me to be living with black South Africans and they are just shocked—shocked--that we do so.) Whatever.

• I finish the sketchy, busy portion of my walk and head into the suburbs. I notice a tractor-trailer pulled up beside a grocery store and I can’t keep my eyes off of the cab of it. In the passenger’s side sits an abnormally-large, (not fat or too tall, just LARGE) woman with blonde hair that is smiling like she’s starring in a Broadway musical. She’s dressed like she’s starring in a Broadway musical too: I can see a low-cut, strappy blouse above that million dollar smile. Why in the world is she smiling? I’m mesmerized with the spectacle of this woman. Ha, ha! The joke is on me! It’s a cardboard cutout of a dazzling woman that the truck driver has in his truck to wow his friends. I almost double over from laughing so hard. This is the funniest thing I’ve seen anywhere, not just in South Africa!

• I go to the pharmacist to pick up my first of a three month prescription of birth control pills. Yes, birth control pills. I’m a bit irritated because I’m supposed to take them for three months and Peace Corps will only pay for a month at a time. Are you kidding me? A) I do not want to be taking birth control pills in the first place (my body needs a hormonal “adjustment” and B) I really, really, really don’t want to have to come back for two more times for these pills I don’t want to take. (But I’m being silly, really. I will have to come back to Vryburg for shopping trips and to make another stop in my errand day is really no trouble. But I feel irritated nonetheless.) However, on leaving the drugstore, I burst out laughing at the idea of my taking birth control pills. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve needed any of these!

• I make a visit to the editor/publisher of the Vryburg newspaper, the Stellalander, because they’ve just discovered that I dropped and left my winter hat in their house when I visited last winter. I’m happy to go because I will need this hat in a few weeks, as African winter is headed my way and because these people are happy to see me. I hadn’t realized how much my soul longs for company and companionship of those that seem delighted in me. I miss people delighting in me. So it felt good to exchange pleasantries with these wonderfully kind people who had no idea how kindness-starved I am.

• I leave the office of the Stellalander to go see another woman who delights in seeing me, the librarian at the Vryburg library. Wow, perhaps I should come to Vryburg more often… People actually like me in Vryburg. Elna, the librarian, often sends me inspirational text messages. Here is her latest: “Your dreams will not die, your plans will not fail, your destiny won’t be aborted, desire of your heart will be granted by God, may your life be clean, calm, and clear, like the early morning water. May the grace of the Almighty support, sustain, and supply all your needs according to His riches and glory. You never know when you will be blessed. Good things happen when you least expect them. God is with you this morning. Amen.” Isn’t that sweet? She knows I sometimes fall down in the dumps.

• I move then to a jeweler, to pick up my “faux” wedding ring that I had dropped for repair. I find things that I love in second-hand shops and then spend a fortune on them to repair or refurbish them. I bought a great pair of cowboy boots second-hand, then spent four times what I paid to have them resoled. I bought this ring, the week before I left for Africa, in a second-hand shop, and paid less than $10 for it. It’s sterling and I love its antiqued appearance. The band split on me a few months ago and I debated having it repaired. It was intended to ward off aggressive suitors here (and has somewhat worked) but I’ve grown very fond of the ring and love it very much. I inquired about the repair and having it sized. Sure enough, I paid more for the repair than the ring itself! ($15). I was surprised, and soon dismayed at how different the ring looked when I picked it up: It looked like a different ring! It was bright and shiny, and well, different looking! The lady at the jewelry shop said, “Oh, we cleaned it too.” Cleaned it? They removed the antiquing! That’s why it looked so different! I was upset at first, shrugged it off, then though, “Heck, I’ll rub some black shoe polish or something on it to get the antiquing back.” However, it’s dirtying up nicely on its own.

• Then, lucky me, I had lunch with American friends and they cheered me even more. They too, were happy to see me! .

• Now, the somewhat-urgent-reason I needed to visit Vryburg on this day, in addition to needing to run all of these other errands: I was meeting someone who was bringing me a warthog tusk. A warthog tusk? Yes, a warthog tusk.

In high school, I met and dated the guy that I commonly refer to as “the guy I should have married.” (He was very good to me.) He joined the marines as I finished high school and we lost contact. I hadn’t heard from him in years and we hooked up recently on Facebook. (Yes, Facebook is good for something!). He’s been asking, for a year and a half now, if I could please get him a warthog tusk. Now, you probably can find these items at souvenir type places, but I am very rarely at a souvenir type place. I couldn’t imagine how I would find him one and was even thinking of checking on EBay. (Shh, don’t tell!) Well, I didn’t have to look on EBay, because I met a nice young man on my bus ride back from Cape Town. We were chatting and he told me he was a hunter. I casually mentioned something along the lines of, “Hey, you couldn’t get me a warthog tusk, could you?”

Well, yes he could and he did. I met Rudi, my friend, in Vryburg as he was riding the bus into Pretoria and we knew it would stop in Vryburg. So, guess what I’ve got in my hot little hands? You got it! A genuine warthog tusk!

You just never know what’s going to happen in Vryburg. Perhaps I’ll be happier to go on my next visit!  Perhaps YOU can meet me there!



  1. OMG Double Rainbow! :-)

    anyways.. glad your dog is doing well. I recently was walking 10 minutes home in my town, in broad daylight, on a Sunday. An Africaner in a huge Bakkie with a backloader told me to get in and he'd give me a lift. I of course was asked why "in the bloody KAK" I'd want to walk, why I didn't have a car, and if I enjoyed Greytown. he then started complaining about pension and how if you want to work but are pension age you are discriminated against. It seems all the older Afrikaner's mention this incessantly.

  2. Thanks for the post. I visited my shopping town (St. Matthews) today. Every three weeks or so I must go to that horrible Whole Foods for almond butter. Why people like that store, I do not know.