Monday, October 31, 2011

Barbed wire and concrete

Security is an ever-present concern in South Africa, as it is in most places with wide income disparity. In practice, it means that most homes and businesses are protected by substantial fencing and private security companies. For example, here's a photo of the barbed wire surrounding the water tower I posted earlier this month:

Though I wouldn't argue with the necessity of these measures in many instances, it certainly does have a noticeable impact on the country's psyche and aesthetics. More to come on security in future posts, I'd imagine.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A violent event in a Woolworths parking lot

Today, I'm breaking the trend of fairly idyllic imagery on this blog to share a rather violent story that we witnessed a few weeks back. I've been a little torn over how (and whether) to present it but I finally decided to give it a try, because a blog that shows only birdhouses and lawn bowling in Johannesburg wouldn't be telling the whole story.

As we watched the South Africa vs. Australia rugby game a few Sundays back, a commotion broke out in the parking lot. A group of men had pulled another man out of a moving car and were hitting him pretty hard. Rumors circulated that the man being attacked had tried to steal a car and had been caught by the parking lot guards. The general consensus was disbelief - I've been told that in general, parking lot guards tend to be rather disengaged from their job, mainly hanging around parking lots and collecting the occasional rand for helping drivers find a free space. To most present, it appeared to be beyond belief that a guard would step in front of a moving car to stop a theft.

The police arrived just minutes later in full force, followed shortly after by ambulances. They packed the man into the back of the police truck.

As the game ended and distraught Springbok fans headed for their cars to go home, more details about the commotion emerged. The guards had responded so brutally not in response to a car theft, but rather to stop a man who had moments earlier stabbed a woman - thought to be his girlfriend - in front of the Woolworths supermarket.

To be clear, violence like this isn't a uniquely South African thing - even in my home town in Connecticut, a former classmate was killed by gunfire just last year. But to witness such violence, no matter where, leaves a sick feeling in one's stomach. I haven't been able to find any coverage of the event in the papers, so I'm unsure how the woman is doing. I can only hope for the best.

Many joked about the guards finally doing something worthwhile, but really - these very ordinary, very low-paid guys literally stepped in front of a vehicle driven by a man known to be violent. Wow. They also laid into him with a ferocity that would likely have landed themselves into trouble in the states. I'm told this is typical of the self-policing mentality in many communities here. 

I hope never to witness such a tragic event again.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mystery reflection

Here's an interesting reflection I spotted on a building in Johannesburg's CBD the other day. It took me a minute to figure out what all the colors were... Can you spot the subliminal advertising? 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sinister croquet

I had some fun with my photo editing software. Kinda makes croquet look evil, doesn't it?
(These were taken at the Bowling Club)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The one left behind

During a recent trip to Cape Town, we took a sunset hike up Lion's Head, a prominent hill overlooking Cape Town and the ocean. It's a popular site for parasailing, particularly on beautiful, clear evenings. As we rounded a bend in the trail, I spotted a daring man getting ready to launch. While it was certainly interesting to watch him get pumped up to run off a mountain, I thought it was also fascinating to watch his friend, who helped him. This girl held his chute, cheered him on, then once he was off on his daredevil adventure, she calmly turned around and walked back down the mountain. 

Here is her parasailing friend enjoying the views above Cape Town and Camps Bay.

So which are you guys? The one flying off the mountain, or the one walking calmly back down it?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

La Conga Roadhouse

I recently discovered that Johannesburg is home to many roadhouses - the type of drive-up restaurant where waiters bring your order to your car! Admittedly, I'm not wild about these photos but I wanted to share the find regardless. I'm hoping to get back to one at night so I can capture the neat way they're lit up, and the customers parked in the bays. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


This shot is from a recent road trip. Miles from anywhere, this woman was in charge of directing the occasional traffic through a patch of roadwork. Must have been mind-numbing, lonely work, but at least the office has a gorgeous sunset!

Monday, October 24, 2011

More Muti

Here are a few more photos from the Muti shop we visited earlier this week. I wonder what's in the jars?

Muti has occasionally received negative press for allegations of a darker side. There have been cases in recent years where people - particularly children and albinos - have been supposedly killed for their body parts, which some believe will bestow power and success. While I'll admit the shop had a completely different vibe from the Walgreens or Boots pharmacies I'm more familiar with, from what little I saw, muti seems to be more about dried roots and impala horns than anything more sinister.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Muti shop

Muti is a traditional form of medicine in Southern Africa. Many people believe that natural materials such as plants and animal parts hold healing powers and devise treatments and interventions for everything from the flu to an ailing career. We visited a muti shop in the Johannesburg CBD the other day, and the shopkeepers graciously let me take photos to my heart's content. Made for some wild photos, and an interesting afternoon!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Friendly ice-cream

This nice woman - our server at a small restaurant in Joburg's CBD - offered us free ice cream cones after our meal. My kind of gal!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Taxi parking garage

My first post was about the minibus taxis that weave through South African traffic. This garage - in Johannesburg's central business district (CBD) appears to be some sort of taxi hive!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I spotted this 'status' sign on the top of a fairly decrepit building in downtown Johannesburg. I haven't the foggiest who or what it refers to, but it's interesting to ponder, isn't it? 

I was on the way to visit Home Affairs to apply for my 'resident status' when I took this photo, so I like to think it's a good sign...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sloane Fruit and Veg Market

Sloane Fruit and Veg Market in Bryanston has been around for over 30 years. My friends here all recall coming to the same small shop with their parents when they were kids and have a soft spot for the two owners, who would pat them on the head and give them an apple every time they came in. Two brothers (on the left and second from the right) run the shop, and insisted on being photographed with all the staff.

Today, the grocer sits across the street from a Pick'n'Pay and a Woolworths - two of the big supermarket chains in South Africa. Despite the stiff competition, the brothers still seem to do booming business from loyal local customers.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Northcliff Water Tower

Here are a few shots of the Northcliff Water Tower. Located up on a mountain ridge, it has a fantastic view of Sandton and Johannesburg and is a popular spot with the local birds, who ride the thermals there. I've been told it's a great spot to watch the thunder storms. Neat design, huh? 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Artful Soweto cooling towers

The Orlando Power Station cooling towers, located in Soweto (a prominent grouping of townships to Johannesburg's south), were beautifully painted in the run up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup which South Africa hosted. Funded by FNB, a major World Cup sponsor, the now decommissioned towers depict the cultural heritage of the area, and also provide tourists with a variety of thrills. Fearless visitors can now bungee jump, abseil, swing, or even base jump from the towers! What an interesting use for retired infrastructure! 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Guineafowl on the run

Guineafowl are the quintessential African bird - you can find their image on many crafts and drawings at the markets. Their feathers are absolutely gorgeous, though their scrawny, wrinkly blue heads are the sort that only a mother could love. 

Though not native to the US, we used to have a flock of them at a summer camp I worked at years ago. They earned a reputation for being intelligent and loyal with a bit of a mean streak. I can recall a few instances times when young campers would run at the birds and watch them scatter, only to see them regroup and charge the poor, shocked kid moments later. When one bird was killed by a coyote, the flock was visibly upset, gathering around its body and mourning their fallen comrade. This sense of companionship runs deep - Wikipedia tells me they mate for life.

In South Africa they're largely wild. This was one of a pair I spotted on a recent hike.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Murals at the Tannery, Pretoria

We visited the Tannery in Pretoria for lunch, and admired the murals painted around many of the walls. They depict most of the South African wildlife - often in life size.

Apparently the Tannery opened in 1904 as a leather tanning operation, but closed in 1986 because of complaints about the smell. It has since reopened as an industrial park, and also has a great restaurant nestled in one of the old buildings.

Here are a few of my favorite murals:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fun giraffe fact

From yesterday's comments, it seems I'm not alone in my fondness for giraffes - and I agree with many of you - they do have the most gorgeous eyelashes. But did you know they have purple tongues?!

I'll take it easy on the giraffe photos for a bit after this, but keep an eye out for more from time to time!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Sooner or later, the truth must come out - I'm a complete nut for giraffes. The way they move, their beautiful colors and sweet faces... they're such fun! I'd imagine today marks the first of many giraffe photos to come. I'm cheating a bit today and posting a photo taken by my fiance at the Lion Park... look how enormous they are!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The colorful crowd at the bowling club

Yesterday I posted photos of lawn bowlers at the Zoo Lake Bowling Club. Here are some of the more colorful patrons of the club's bar. This woman brought three of her pet birds with her to enjoy the beautiful Saturday afternoon there. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The bowling club

The bowling club is a truly interesting place. Set by the Zoo Lake park, its manicured lawns draw elderly lawn bowlers... and its cheap beer draws the younger crowd. The later doesn't always photograph as well, though perhaps I'll post photos of them another day...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bryanston Organic Market

Here are a few photos from the Bryanston Organic Market, held every Thursday and Saturday at the Michael Mount Waldorf School. Since 1976, people have been able to find organic produce and hand-made crafts there, or spend a nice afternoon in the tea garden and wandering among the stalls.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A sad day for the Springboks

With the Rugby World Cup in full swing, South Africa has been fully engulfed in rugby mania, which came to a head in a 7am (!!) quarterfinal game against Australia this morning. Unfortunately the defending champions weren't able to pull off a win, largely due (as I'm told) to some questionable calls by the ref. I won't dare try to explain the details of the game (rugby is not my specialty), however it was certainly exciting.

Needless to say, moods are bleak in Joburg this morning.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hail attacks!

Big storms are a common occurrence here in the summer. Sunny, hot days turn overcast by late afternoon, with massive thunder and lightning close behind. The other day I experienced my first Joburg storm, with an added bonus - hail! 

These guys may not have been the biggest hailstones ever, but they still made a racket! 

On another note, I wanted to say thanks to everyone for the kind comments. I'm a bit slow to work out the intricacies of blogging, but I look forward to checking out all the other daily photo blogs in time, and really appreciate your thoughts in the meantime!

Perspectives on succulents


The other day, my future mother in law took us to the Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre. I've been a fairly enthusiastic gardener in the US and the UK, so was eager to learn more about South African plant life. Truthfully, we all agreed the centre was a bit disappointing - we visited in early spring when things were still quite brown and dusty. Unfortunately, not many of the plants were labelled, so tracking them down will be rather tricky once I'm ready to start a garden of my own.

I'm originally from West Hartford, Connecticut where things are typically lush and green (when they're not buried under snow), so I'll admit I don't have a natural love of the succulents that are common here in the higher altitude and drier climate. That said, I do think their geometry is pretty cool, so maybe I can learn to love them?

More from the Margaret Roberts Centre likely to come...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How to fix a flat

In South Africa, petrol prices are set by the government, so stations compete on service, rather price. In practice, it means that when you pull in, a uniformed attendant will pump the gas, wash your windscreen, check your oil or tire pressure, or in our case - fix your flat when your fiance runs over this with your new car:

I saw it sticking out of the tire (or 'tyre' to you South Africans...) and immediately pictured the hassle and bill coming our way. Imagine my surprise when we pulled into a standard petrol station, asked the attendant to fix it, and 5 minutes and R30 (around US$3.75) later, off we go!

Here are some of the kind gentlemen who helped us out:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Weaver nests at sunset

Admittedly, this photo isn't from Johannesburg, but was taken in the Cederberg Mountains, which we recently drove through on the way back to Joburg. The bird nests you see in silhouette belong to some species of Weaver - a common family of birds in South Africa. In the spring, male weavers put their all into building these nests, with the hope of attracting a mate willing to move in. The females - apparently sticklers for perfection - inspect the precariously dangling nests, and if they find them unsatisfactory, will rip them to shreds. Better luck next time!

My future mother in law is an avid birdwatcher and may be able to weigh in on the particular species. All I know is the ones I've been seeing around Johannesburg are a beautiful shade of yellow...  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Starting a new South African chapter!

Hello all!
After following my dad's daily photo blog for over a year now, I find myself in a new city with so much to explore and learn. Unlike my dad, who's reporting on a city he's known for decades, I'm hoping that by setting up a daily photo blog of my own, I'll be able to take advantage of a great opportunity to get out and figure out what Johannesburg, South Africa is all about! As an American expat here, there's so much that I've been finding exciting, curious and utterly foreign, so I welcome all thoughts, comments, reactions and of course - explanations!

I picked this photo as a starting point not only because to me it says 'road to the unknown,' but also because it shows one of the most common sights on the South African roadways - the minibus taxi. These vans carry around 60% of the country's commuters, mainly from the poorer classes. While many motorists complain of their blatant disregard for traffic rules and their tendency to overload their vehicles, they provide a more affordable alternative to car ownership, improving mobility (and opportunity) for many.