After reading the title of this blog post, perhaps you’re wondering if one of us is starting a new career as a rapper. Or maybe Zoe is taking her love of fashion and designing sunglasses? Nope and nope. JB is one of the many nicknames for Johannesburg, and “peeps” are the amazing people we have met here. Each one deserves a blog post all their own, but they will probably be OK to share the limelight with their friends. They are good peeps like that.
When researching South Africa you can find oodles of information about the beauty of Cape Town, the historical significance of Johannesburg, the amazing safaris and beaches and waterfalls and culture. But if you start digging in deeper you’ll find a common theme: it’s about the people. Everyone says that the people here are amazing and after being here for 27 days, I have to say that I agree with them 100%. Here are just a few things that we’ve experienced while here:
Courteous Uber Drivers
Every Uber driver has been well dressed, had a clean car, working seat belts, concerned about our comfort in terms of temperature and music, and very courteous about our desire to talk or not talk. They all wish us a good day when we get out of the car. I know that they are supposed to do this. After all, Uber has a reputation to uphold. But the fact is, they DO it. Every interaction has been pleasant. Some of them have been downright friends by the time we got out of the car. You can learn a lot from an Uber driver. They were all so patient with our American accents and many questions. Haley attempts to wish the driver a good day first when getting out of the car but they usually beat her to it. One day when we went to a place about an hour outside the city, our Uber driver said he’d wait for us (without the meter running) and take us back to town when we were done with our excursion. I know this benefits him – he gets a paid fare back to the busy area – but it was still hugely helpful to us. We bought him lunch.
Instant Mom Friends
The first homeschool event we went to resulted in instant friends for the girls and I (Dan didn’t come so he didn’t make any friends… sucks to be him!). A week later we saw many of those same people at a cooking class we organized, and when greeting them it was instant hugs, and hugs with the new people who were there. I’d only met some of them once before but it felt like I was having coffee with new best friends. Most of them I did have virtual coffee with, from the comfort of our heavily-fortified Airbnb house. In the morning, when I’m the first one up I love to check in with “the network”. I check who’s online and what happened while I slept, what’s up at home and any messages from Daniel from his late-night researching for the next Airbnb. Having friends in my time zone means lots of chats online and sharing news of the day while my American network is asleep. It is one of my favorite parts of the day, getting caught up with local friends and continuing to get to know them.
Making friends is somewhat of an art form mixed with a scientific formula. It really requires repeated interactions over a short period of time, which is not easy when you’re fairly transient. But I somehow managed to see my new friend Mlisska (no, that’s not a typo. Isn’t that a cool name?) 5 times in 27 days. A close second is Kim, whom I saw 4 times. After the first day it felt like we’d known each other forever. Somehow in all those times I never managed to get a picture. We were too busy chatting and connecting. But you can get to know Mlisska from her blog where she writes about women and friendships. Talk about meeting someone in the right place at the right time… Mlisska is an example of people showing up in your life when you need them the most.
After introducing myself in a local homeschool Facebook group, we received an invitation to come to dinner with a fellow homeschooling family. What? You are inviting perfect strangers over for dinner? Yep, that’s how they roll. Debbie and her family have a beautiful home and greeted us with a South African themed gift bag full of yummy treats. Their daughters immediately took our girls under their wings, Debbie attended to Zoe’s hours-old soap-damaged eye, Bernard told us all about the business environment in South Africa and they gave us tons of advice on where to stay and what to do. We hung on their every word.
And then we had dinner. Oh wow, that was probably the best dinner we’ve had in a very long time. As travelers, we eat out a lot and because we are almost always newly settled into an Airbnb or about to leave one, we don’t have a ton of raw foods in the house. Debbie and Bernard made us an amazing home-cooked meal with all kinds of South African dishes. Zoe declared it the best dinner she’s ever eaten. The fact that there were no chicken nuggets in Zoe’s “best dinner” was a minor miracle. I won’t go into detail about the food because Haley holds the exclusive rights to the food blog, but it’ll be a real treat for you when you read about it. I had to take notes, it was that good.
Nicest Airbnb Owner Ever
We know a lot of Airbnb owners and our guy in Spain was awesome. The one who rents us our current place is also very very sweet. But we met the WORLD’S nicest one here in JB. Even though we didn’t end up renting her Airbnb (she has two, here and here), this gal has become one of my favorite people in the world. She immediately understood our homeschool lifestyle and offered to put together a cooking class led by her adult daughter. We scooped up some other homeschoolers and 6 kids spent 6 hours learning to cook all kinds of South African dishes as well as homemade pasta. The tree in her front yard and the pool in the back were also stars of the show. She is such a positive person and so ready to help you with anything you could possibly need, it’s like a warm hug just being around her.
World’s Second Nicest Ukulele Teacher
We managed to hunt down a music studio to give Zoe a few extra ukulele lessons and within 24 hours had two lessons scheduled. The teacher was probably the second nicest ukulele teacher in the world (Miguel in Mexico owns the title for First Nicest) and Zoe was beaming with extra confidence after a mere 30 minute lesson. For the second lesson he came to our house to save us the transportation hassle. Anyone who tells you he’s impressed with your kid gets a thumbs up in my book, but he really helped Zoe with her song so it wasn’t all for show.
The Doctor Will See You Now…Right Now
The day we went to Debbie’s house for the BBQ was a tough day in the Sherman Fort. Zoe managed to squirt hand soap directly into her eye (no dilution) due to the soap dispenser being exactly at eye level. We still managed to go to the BBQ and Debbie helped us flush it out a bit. But by the next morning it was looking really bad and I felt like it needed some medical attention.
We did what we have done in Mexico and Panama and Spain: put out feelers. Lots of feelers. You tend to have to ask a LOT of people in order to finally find what you need. Given that it was a Sunday I felt like it would be a minor miracle if we could find an optometrist that day. So we asked 4 different people if they could help us find an appointment. Two of them didn’t see the message for awhile but the other two set up an appointment with a doctor within 1 hour. ON A SUNDAY. It’s an embarrassment of riches, honestly. I was floored with the quick response to help.
A friend of one of my new friends, who we met one time for 5 minutes, picked us up 15 minutes later. He took Zoe and I to a golf course where his optometrist friend was about to tee off. The doctor met us at the golf club parking lot, took a look at Zoe’s eye, wrote a prescription from the pad he carries in his car and off we went to the pharmacy. The friend of a friend knew exactly which pharmacy to take us to (he builds hospitals so he knew where to go!) and we got a prescription. 20 minutes later we were back at home and getting Zoe’s eye the much needed medicine. This friend of a friend even called later to check up on Zoe. I was flabbergasted that all of these people would take time out of their day to help us. And NO ONE would take any money for their time. Who does that????? (Amazing people is the answer!)
Homeschoolers R Us
As we look around the country for where to park ourselves for the next two months, we started to narrow down our search to where we might find active groups of homeschoolers. There are a lot of homeschoolers here and it’s so refreshing to have so many social opportunities. The language is also hugely helpful, as everyone speaks English as either their first or second language (Afrikaans being the other main language in the white population). Before we even arrived we had two JoBurg residents advising us on everything from yellow fever shots to Airbnbs. Since I’ve been here, as I sought out others on FB, I found so many people quick to send me direct messages, inviting me to their town, telling me about meet-ups happening soon, answering my questions and planning get-togethers for days after we arrive. I’ve never met these people! They know we are just passing through! But they are ready to greet us warmly and adopt us as their new friends. It’s astonishing, really. I’ve had rides offered, been invited over for tea and dinner, been invited to stay at various homes and everything in between.
The overwhelming opinion we have heard of JoBurg is that it’s a place to pass through on your way to Cape Town. I can see how people might not want to spend all their time in a busy, crowded concrete city with a overtaxed infrastructure. But you simply cannot leave JB without acknowledging the wonderful people here. I don’t think we will be able to simply “pass through” on our way back. JB might have to be another stop to reconnect with these wonderful people. Beautiful beach views from Cape Town are lovely, but they suck as a coffee date and a much needed hug from another mom.
Those of you reading this blog who were mentioned, you know who you are: Penny, Sasha, Mlisska, Kim, Daniella, Claire, Zakiyya, Debbie, Bernard, Josh, Chantal, Eric… you can’t possibly know how much your friendship and kindness has meant to us. It’s truly made South Africa feel like home.