This picture was taken at the District Six Museum in Cape Town. Thankfully these benches no longer appear in South Africa, but it was not too long ago that Europeans and the rest of us were segregated in this gorgeous country. To put it in perspective, if Sandeep and I had grown up in Cape Town, we would not have been allowed to sit on this bench. The sight of Ava and Kayan (and tiger, since I don’t think he technically counts as European) sitting here felt like a triumph.
Category Archives: South Africa
I had to make a quick trip back to The States while the rest of the family stayed here in Cape Town. The result was that I spent 40 of the past 72 hours on planes.
Solo travel was a non event when I was working. I had only myself to worry about and enjoyed the alone time. Back then, traveling with the family was what made me nervous. However, after the four of us have spent eight months on the road and taken more flights than I can count, I felt uneasy about embarking on a journey alone. Sandeep wasn’t there to look after my passport. No one was there to goof off at the Duty Free stores. There was no one to talk with on the flight. There were no laps on which to rest my head. Even worse, there we no heads to rest on my lap. I felt a dull but very obvious pain that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. An hour into my first flight I realized what it was. Loneliness.
I had mixed emotions being back in The States. It was somewhat comforting to hear the Delta air hostess’s drawl as she asked, “Would ya’ll pleease sit daawn til we switch awf the seatbelt sain?” I was happy to see George Washington’s face as I pulled out a tip. Central air-conditioning felt so good. But despite the U.S. immigration officer telling me, “Welcome home,” I knew I couldn’t wait to actually be back home in Cape Town. Upon my return, the crisp air welcomed me back with a glorious slap on the face. The lights of City Bowl looked even more beautiful than I remembered. My heart did back flips when I heard the patter of little feet running towards the front door.
After traveling to foreign countries with my family and then going back America without my family, I realized the adage “home is where the heart is” is so true. My face may be Indian, my passport American and my history confusing, but home could be a tent in the Himalayas or a sprawling condo in Penang. It doesn’t matter as long as my family is there.
We have a fascination with odd road signs. In Namibia we snapped many picture of signs that we had never seen before, some of which we never deciphered. We rent a car each weekend in Cape Town and Sandeep drives us around the wineries, ocean routes and mountains. What makes Cape Town memorable for us is its natural beauty, so it’s no wonder than many of the road signs have something to do with nature.
Capetonians seems to defer a lot to nature. The joke about the weather is, “If you don’t like the weather in Cape Town, wait an hour.” The winds off Table Mountain are so strong that the trees surrender in odd angles. One day I literally thought the wind was going to swoop Kayan away. Signs everywhere tell us to take care of nature, be it in the form of penguins or baboons. We weren’t sure if this sign at a Stellenbosch winery was asking us to watch out for ducks or snails. Either way, all four of us obediently had our eyes peeled on the road, although I must say it seems futile to try and avoid snails when driving.
The day after we watched for snails we watched whales along the Whale Coast Route, a stretch east of Cape Town which claims to be the best spot in the world for land based whale watching. Around July, Southern Right Whales migrate from Antarctica. They get very close to the shore, where they rub off their accumulated barnacles on the massive boulders that line the ocean floor. It is still early in the season, but we were lucky to see a few whales in the distance as we sat on shore and ate lunch. We never even knew that the concept of land based whale watching existed and it’s a memorizing experience to be on firm ground while watching these giant creatures out in the vast ocean. We’re planning another trip back in a couple of weeks when hopefully more whales will have migrated.
While there is some marine life we want to see, there is others that we’d rather avoid. The same coast that attracts whales, penguins and seals also has one of the highest concentration of Great White Sharks in the world. Kruger National Park and Great White Shark diving are often cited as the two most popular reasons that tourists come to South Africa. These blue boards educating surfers, swimmers and beach goers about sharks dot the coastline. The last fatal shark attack in these waters was in April 2012, although such attacks are rare. Many of Cape Town’s beaches have official shark spotters and signage that informs people about current shark conditions.
The shark smart board reminded us that we humans are more often encroaching on these animals’ habitats than the other way around. We are so fortunate to be able to enjoy all sorts of animals, from lions to whales, in their natural habitat while in Africa. These experiences have been opportunities for our entire family to really understand that we share this world with so many creatures and that their survival depends on our care and respect.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
– Nelson Mandela
Dear Ava and Kayan,
Today is the Fourth of July, a day when we celebrate our freedom as Americans. We’re observing this day from South Africa, a country that gained its independence in 1934 but continued to oppress the majority of its population via Apartheid until as recently as 1994. We have been traveling around the world for eight months and we have seen the many ways that freedoms are curtailed and enjoyed around the world. All of this has awakened us to freedoms we enjoy as Americans but take for granted.
As an American and as travelers, one of the greatest freedoms we enjoy is the freedom to roam. We are able to visit 10 countries in 10 months because we have the right passport. Many people around the world, even those with the means to travel, don’t have the freedom that you do to hop on a plane and cross borders. At two and four years old, you’re both already running out of pages on your first passports. We hope that you use and wear out dozens of passports in your lifetimes. Use this freedom to roam and explore our world, but always be respectful of wherever you land and defer to your host country’s way of life.
You may find out, as we have in our travels, that you aren’t always happy with how other people live. You are both already well versed with the Internet and enjoy watching episodes of Dora the Explorer on You Tube. However, the world’s second largest economy, China, doesn’t allow its people to access many user generated sites. Even this blog was blocked there, probably because we used the f-word (Facebook). As Americans, you have the freedom to read and watch what you want. Use it to educate yourselves and spread what you have learned.
You also have the freedom to say what you want. Ava, you use this freedom constantly for the 12 hours a day that you are awake. When we were in Myanmar we saw that the only widely distributed daily newspapers were government run and they told the people only what the government wanted them to hear. In contrast, we have been able to share our own travel stories with whoever wants to read it on one the world’s most widely read online news sources. When you grow up we suspect there will be information everywhere in forms that don’t exist today. Every story, even those you will read in school, have a point of view. Absorb as much as you can, but take the time to form your own opinions and then use the freedom you have to speak your minds.
Tell stories about what you currently think and what you foresee, but also share stories of where you have come from. You have the freedom to be be anything you want to be because prior generations fought for both of you to have equal opportunities. Your great-grandmother was denied the opportunity to become a doctor because of her gender. Things have changed. Ava, America chose to elect its first non-caucasian president the year you were born. A woman came very close. Take advantage of the path that has been paved for both of you.
Excel at whatever professions you pursue. But also use your the freedom you have to grow yourself spiritually. As an American you have the freedom to follow whatever religion you want. Even if you choose not to follow any religion, find what connects you on a deeper level to our world. Kayan, at only one year old, you already showed traits of quiet contemplation. You enjoyed every temple we visited in Thailand and seemed to instinctively know that they are places of quiet reflection. We hope that you hold on to this side of your personality as responsibilities grow in your life.
As an American, serving your country’s military is usually a choice. Your great-grand father chose to serve in the Indian Army and in Malaysia and Myanmar we visited the places where he was stationed. In some countries that we visited, such as Turkey and Greece, military service is a requirement. The decision to serve the military will be yours. If you choose not to, be sure you still serve the country by using your freedom to vote, your resources to give back and your education to be contributing citizens.
In Namibia and Greece we were free to appreciate so many natural wonders, from endangered animals to pristine beaches. These marvels are here today but you need to take care of them so that your own kids can enjoy our earth. Remember what we taught you about simple things taking care of plants and flowers so others can enjoy them, putting things in the garbage so our world stays pretty and turning off the water so that there is enough for everyone else.
We will be spending next month in Brazil, where our friend Joe and his boyfriend are going to come stay for a few days. America gives you the freedom to love who you want to love. You are free to commit yourself to anyone of your choosing. Whatever love ends up meaning to you, love yourself first and foremost and know that we will always love you.
As Americans we enjoy many freedoms. However, there are so many things that we can do to continue to enhance freedom within our own borders. You are lucky to have friends from a variety if backgrounds, but the reality is that most of our country still lives in pockets and you will have to make an effort to form relationships with people who are different from you. While we have the freedom to speak, we rarely talk openly about our most sensitive issues. There are things we would like to do but can’t because everybody is worried about getting sued. So even in America we have created our own borders and boundaries and some people would say that we aren’t really free. Freedom is a matter perspective, but take time every once in a while to appreciate the freedoms that you do enjoy.
Like our nation’s first settlers, your own grand parents immigrated to America in hopes of giving their descendants a freer future. Today you can embark on whatever journeys you want. Remember that it is not enough for you to be free, you must use your freedom to improve our world.
Dada and Mama
This post was inspired by the Facebook Families on the Move Group. Several members from all over the world chose to write posts today about freedom and travel. You can read their stories below.
Let Freedom Ring by The Nomadic Family
Are we free? by Living Differently
The Freedom to Choose by Living Outside of the Box
Freedom and Straying off the Beaten Path by Barts go Adventuring
Living a Free and Meaningful Life by Flashpacker Family
What is Freedom by Family on Bikes
Do you know what Freedom is by Bohemian Travelers
Free Falling by Break Out of Bushwick
Yesterday I asked Ava a question and she replied, “Ja, ja.” Turns out that a few days in a Cape Town and she’s already speaking Afrikaans. This week has been all about language progress. She also wrote her first full sentence, with a little help from me on phonics.
We’ve thought a lot about how to properly expose our kids to the various cultures we visit. It’s one thing to show them nature, feed them foods and listen to music. However, as adults, we feel that the only way to truly know a culture is to get to know its people. We want to give the same opportunity to our kids and have found play schools to be a great way for the kids to form relationships with their own kind and learn about their new home society at the little level.
We have tried to involve the kids in activities wherever we’ve been, be in a toddler drumming circle in Thailand or a Malayalam preschool in India. Throughout these experiences, Ava and Kayan have never complained that communication was an issue. I suppose kids all laugh, swing and slide in the same language. This exposure has given them the confidence to make friends in random places. They are less shy to go up to another child at a restaurant, even when they know the child won’t speak English. It definitely helps that Ava and Kayan have each other. They give each other courage to be outgoing and confident in new situations.
To give the kids a peer group in Cape Town, we enrolled them at Little Darlings Creche for a few mornings a week. The crèche has a flexible schedule where both Ava and Kayan can be together rather than separated in age appropriate classes. In addition to the social exposure, the kids are indirectly learning about South African life. Last week’s theme in school was fire safety and the teacher lit a braii (traditional South African barbecue) to demonstrate how fire is used to make food.
The kids are learning about modes of transportation now. Africa is one of the few places where elephant makes that list. Perhaps as parents the best thing about a good school is the ability to use it as leverage. When things start breaking down we threaten not to take the kids to school (yes, we bribe them and we’re not ashamed if it). That usually restores peace.
In April we introduced the International Toddler Haircut Index. A haircut is a good way to gauge the cost of services around the world. Our guinea pig is Kayan, whose hair grows at an alarming rate. Besides, Ava wont let us touch her hair, I can’t be bothered with mine, and Sandeep has none. Therefore, Kayan takes one for the team in the interest of travel research. Kayan has had his hair tended to in New York, Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey and today in Cape Town.
This is the hairdo Kayan sported this morning.
Here he is getting his haircut at Scar, whose tagline is “Good Hair for Bad People”. Kayan may be smiling in the picture above, but he is going through a phase of night terrors and tantrums so as far as his parents are concerned, he’s been bad. Scar was calling his name.
The haircut came to 80 South African Rand (US$9.5), which is the most we have paid for a haircut on our journey so far. Istanbul was $5 and South East Asia $2. The hairdresser was very impressed that Kayan stayed followed all her instructions. I realized that Kayan’s last several haircuts were given by people who spoke Thai, Malay, and Turkish. This was his first “English” haircut since leaving New York. “He’s just happy he understands what you’re saying,” I replied. She seem confused but Kayan was brushed clean before I could explain. This is Kayan after.
Now that I look closely, it’s probably time to subject Ava and Taniya to International Toddler Haircut Index research.
Our trip down Cape Town’s Southern Peninsula ended up being an extended safari of sorts. Boulder’s Beach, just half an hour from Cape Town, got its name due to the 540 million year old boulders that are scattered on its shore. In 1982, the relatively calm bay along the beach attracted the attention of two penguins who set up camp here and have since grown their community to over 3,000 formally outfitted birds. Penguins mate for life after a three week courtship. We had a lot of respect for that, particular since Sandeep and my courtship lasted all of a few hours before we knew we’d be together forever. This pair walking along the shores of Boulder Beach reminded us of an old couple taking an evening walk. Perhaps they were discussing their anchovy dinner plans, what to do with their nest and who to frolic with that evening, not unlike humans that have grown into routines together.
South African National Parks has created a boardwalk that respectfully passes through the penguin habitat. It’s close enough for humans to see the birds, but far enough that the penguins go about their business of courting, mating, nesting, and regurgitating food. The proximity does, however, mean that extra care needs to be taken.
As we made our way around the peninsula, we saw this sign.
We passed our first ostrich farm, although we have yet to actually eat the bird (despite Ava’s plea).
What we did feast on was a fish and chips lunch at Kalky’s, a Cape Town institution set on the docks of the fishing town of Kalk Bay. South Africa has been home to many different cultures over its tumultuous history and this is one of the few places where we know we’ll get crisp fresh fish and chips along with perfectly made samosas.
We have yet to fully understand the fishing culture in Cape Town, but we have seen people fishing from many points along the water. Some vineyards we passed also promoted fishing on their grounds. I suppose when you have a view so beautiful, fishing is an ideal way to be alone with nature.
We drove back home along Chapman’s Peak, a route dug high into the mountainside above the ocean. Cape Town’s quintessential winter fog and rain descended just as we were prepared to enjoy this drive. Many people warned us that Cape Town’s winters are a dreary affair. We haven’t been to bothered with it yet. On our drive back a rainbow appeared over the water. Ava was the first to notice it. She seemed shocked. “Is that a real rainbow?” It’s the first one she’s seen in real life. We had thought that the animals in Etosha or perhaps the penguins we saw earlier in the day had the biggest impact on the kids thus far on our Africa travels. However, for Ava, a simple rainbow was her most magical moment yet.
For as long as I can remember, my grandmother treated all my ailments with a shot of brandy. I am a strong believer that a good glass of wine cures most pains. We are not the only ones who believe alcohol is medicinal. Jan Van Reibeck, a surgeon of the Dutch East India Company, was charged with managing the supply station in the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutch maintained the area as restocking a midpoint between home and India. One of the leading causes of death for the sailors was scurvy and the Dutch believed that grapes and wine would ward off the decease. The exact date of South Africa’s wine birth can be traced to Jan Van Reibeck’s February 2, 1659 journal entry, “Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape Grapes.” Since then, South Africa has grown to be the world’s eighth largest producer of wine by volume.
We’ve visited vineyards in all corners of the earth but had yet to see a wine country as beautiful as the Cape Town winelands. Even during winter, which the locals say is dreary, the mountains glisten green and the vineyards form blankets along the hills and lakes east of Cape Town. Many vineyards have horse stables, lakes for fishing, and small game reserves or orchards, all of which add to the allure. Wine tasting in South Africa is a leisurely affair. Many tasting rooms are set up as living rooms, with expansive views and inviting fireplaces. Some even have pre-packed picnics so you can enjoy a meal among the grapes. Tastings last over an hour as visitors are there for the atmosphere as much as for the wine.
We are on a mission to expose our kids to anything and everything and see no reason why wine tasting should be any different. By that we mean Ava and Kayan do the wine sniffing and Sandeep and I do the swallowing. We chose to park ourselves at Vrede en Lust, a winery whose history spans over 300 years. We felt very welcome upon entry when this sign greeted us.
As tempting as it was, we decided to forgo the nanny and have Ava and Kayan help with the tasting. As we admired the view over the mountains, the sommelier chatted away about pencil shavings and coffee on the nose. We asked the kids for their olfactory opinions.
For the Rose, Kayan said, “Strawberries and chocolate.”
For the Merlot, Ava said, “roses and rainbows.”
For the Chardonnay, they both agreed, “Gummy bears!”
Just to be clear, they only drank water.
As much as we know what wines we like and don’t we’ve never been able to describe the smells with such flair. It just goes to prove that kids to have stronger and less inhibited senses than adults.
One of the many things we already love about Cape Town is how child friendly it is. The winery offered the kids a set of crayons, a sticker book and paper to busy themselves while we enjoyed our wine. When we asked for a recommendation for another “child friendly” vineyard, our hosts casually assured us that anyone would welcome the kids. I guess there is plenty of love for everyone in the winelands.