Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Grown In South Africa...

My heart is so full. In the last couple weeks, I’ve been diligent to tune in to the growth I’ve experienced in South Africa. It is part of the promise to myself to not take such a wonderful experience for granted. As I sit on the balcony facing lush trees that are a shade of green which is yet to be found in Cincinnati, I reflect. I turn 27 in two days.  I slowly sip the strong and pure coffee and nuzzle myself even deeper into my knitted sweater. So, this is the adventure that I was meant to live out during my 26th year?

I recall the weeks leading to our departure from American soil at the beginning of the year, thinking about all the goals I wanted to accomplish—strengthen and tone my body, make friends, draw/paint more, journal every day, cook as much African food as possible, grow in my faith, read more, and travel… a lot.

We leave South Africa this Friday and I am constantly comparing expat-Christina to Cincinnati native-Christina. Besides the fact that I’ve adopted a few South African phrases, and can (in my opinion) imitate the British accent at the drop of a hat, I’m the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve grown. But it’s still me. I haven’t morphed into a person who can run a half-marathon, or name a dish from every African country. In all honesty, out of all the dishes I’ve cooked here, only three have been from Africa (Ethiopia and Kenya).  In addition, I broke my ankle halfway through our stay which reduced me to sit on my backside for a good 1.5 months. I was hiking the Drakensburg Mont Aux Sources Mountain. The worst part? I had already completed most of the hike and was just shy of 1k away from then car. Tangent—you won’t believe how many random people, after asking what happened, told me I need to make up a new story. First, that’s rude. Second, no thank you, I like my story just fine.

Corkboard map--
DIY Christmas gift for Brian
The other day, Brian asked what goals I accomplished while being here. I bashfully listed off basically everything I did during the day to keep busy. It’s only now that I realize I didn’t do his question justice. I’ve accomplished a goal that I probably would have eventually done in Cincinnati, just not as quickly. I grew more into me. In my experience, to get married young means you grow more as a couple and less as an individual. You learn and experience things as we instead of me. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I quite prefer it actually, but I’ve realized that this is the first time in our three-year marriage that I’ve had so much me time.  It has been a delightful way to really understand what my interest, passions, and goals are for life. 

So here is what I’ve learned about me. I love to read. Prior to embarking on this journey, I did not read much. Five months ago, if someone asked me what type of books I enjoy reading, I’d give a generic answer—novels. I now understand why I wasn’t enthusiastic to read, because I don’t prefer novels! My favorite types of books are memoirs and those written by foodies—jackpot if it’s a memoir written by a foodie! If you knew me growing up, you’d know that the last place you’d find me is on a couch curled up with a book. Now, I’m always looking for the next read. 

I enjoy staying fit but not in the let’s go to the gym and run on a treadmill kind of fit. I enjoy activities such as bike riding, walking, tennis, and yoga. Since I’ve been able to stand again, yoga has become a routine. I’ve decided it’s the way I will find strength in my body again.

I have made friends in far places. I realize that there are a handful of women whom I will miss dearly when I leave South Africa. Thank goodness for WhatsApp and Facebook!
Sketch with Knsna, SA on my mind.

I’ve taken up drawing again. This is the perfect activity to channel some of my creativity.  Naturally I’m not the most patient person when it comes to achieving a task. I tend to search for instant gratification and not read directions well. It’s a flaw that I’m working on. I’ve come to see drawing as a practical method to build patience. It’s a very slow task and it takes patience to get the shading and ratios just right. If I want it to look good, I need to take my time and focus on one object at a time. It is good for me to take my time every now and then.

I’ve grown in my faith. You’ll be surprised how much more you prioritize quiet time when you have, well, a lot of quiet time. It’s been a time to reflect and grow not only on my relationship with the Lord, but to also see life and the people in it differently.  I have to thank my dear friend Stephanie for doing the Brave Journey and skyping weekly with me. Every week, a part of home and familiarity is displayed on my computer screen and provides me with comfort.

As wonderful as this experience has been, I think I’m ready to return home. Cincinnati will always be home.
Cheers!
Christina


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Western Cape

Disclaimer: unfortunately there aren’t any pictures in this post (yet). I know, I know, that’s half all the reason you read this blog. It’s proven to be quite difficult to transfer the pictures from the camera to my computer and was not possible this time. I’ll update this post when I’m able to do so. Until then, please keep reading and don’t exit too soon!
Our trip in South Africa is quickly coming to an end and I am in disbelief that in fifteen days, I will be sleeping soundly in my bed with only memories and photographs to remind me of this adventure. It’s a bit bemusing to think that another adventure in my life will soon be over—it’s bittersweet.
First, let me apologize for not posting after our trip to Namibia. It was a great reason to get out of the country.  We began our trip with a 4x4 sand dune adventure which felt like a rollercoaster in a car. It was fantastic and I (along with the particles of sand) was blown away. Unfortunately, Brian had to work remotely for most of the trip so it ended up being very quiet and peaceful. I’m sorry I don’t have more to report!
Last week, we had the pleasure of touring the Garden Route in the western cape of South Africa.  The minute you step off the plane, the salty scent of ocean along with gusty wind surrounds you. We spent three nights total (one in a different town) traveling from Port Elizabeth to Knysna and back.  We spent our first night in Knysna, a beautiful and quainter version of Cape Town.  We stayed at the Falcon View Manor which embodied both old charm and new luxuries, along with outstanding service.  We ate dinner at the Tapas and Oysters Bar where we tasted miniature dishes from South Africa, the Middle East, Spain, India, and Germany.  The dishes consisted of
  • Hummus—a pureed chickpea spread made with garlic, lemon juice, tahini (ground sesame oil), and spices. 
  • Chorizo and Caramelized Onions—This Spanish dish oddly reminded me of an Italian ratatouille with chorizo. Whole chickpeas dabbled the dish while small bits of eggplant made a sporadic appearance.  The smokiness of the chorizo paired with the onions and vegetables made this dish delectable.
  • Samoosas—an Indian specialty of crispy fried dough stuffed with minced meats, vegetables, potatoes and spices such as caraway
  • Frikkadelletjies—South African meatballs served in a simmering tomato sauce similar to ouma (a sauce served with pap.  It’s subtle with main flavors of onion and hints of garlic.
  • Mini Hot Dogs—Small frankfurters slashed diagonally before grilling.  Served on small white brioche rolls alongside tangy horseradish mustard, grilled onions, and old-fashioned chips

The rest of the trip was similar to the first day—eating, driving, touring, and having our occasional wine tastings when the weather didn’t hold up its side of the bargain.  Two activities that particularly stood out was walking the Storms River suspension bridge, and the Bloukrans Bridge. The Storms River suspension bridge is a two-part narrow bridge that stretches across a large gap of land in the Tsitsikamma National Park. We walked over the ocean and I couldn’t help but feel like I was placed in one of those worship music videos—one that comes to mind is Oceans by Hillsong United. The Bloukrans Bridge was a bit more of an adrenalin rush. Brian bungee jumped off it! It’s the highest commercial bungee jumping site in the world. How awesome is that? Sigh I have quite a brave husband.
Did I mention we walked with elephants? I must say, they are the sweetest-gentle-giants.  They are so humorous.  As you know, they use their trunks as hands so they’re always reaching out for food with them. One of them gave a guest a ride and during the ride, he kept reaching his trunk over his head with a “hello, can I have my snack now?” motion. Like all animals and humans included, they love to eat. They eat eighteen hours a day and sleep very little. Unbelievable!
This weekend we make our final trip in South Africa—Durban. It’s a bittersweet time for us. I PROMISE, I will let you know how that goes next week. Until then…
Cheers!



Friday, April 10, 2015

Cape Town

Cape Town—an amalgamation of mountains and beaches paired with shopping and delicious cuisine.  It is simply gorgeous.  The ocean has a luster that I have not seen in a while.
Our Easter weekend was enjoyable, though not traditional.  We’re used to spending Easter Sundays at church and celebrating with friends and family.  Growing up, my parents would dress me the pinkest and frilliest dresses that I’ve ever seen and we’d waltz in to church only to follow with a luncheon in the church hall. Afterwards, there was always an Easter egg hunt.  More recently, my mother-in-law has treated me to a small Easter basket every year that I’ve celebrated with them. I never cease to anticipate tearing open the cellophane wrapper and initiate trades with those daring enough to partake in my bartering.  This past weekend, we spent our Sunday on a Big-Red-Bus tour while meandering (more like crutching) around to the next bus stop. It was actually a fun experience, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the most limited and immobile that I’ve felt since getting my cast.  It is an extremely active town—there’s even an outdoor gym in the park facing the ocean. That blew my mind and I was wishing I could be one of the people breaking a sweat but having the ocean breeze dry it quickly.  Instead, I was sitting slouched in a seat with my foot up in front of me while listening to a lovely tour of the town.  Once I left my pity party, one similar to when I first got my cast, I was able to enjoy what I could of beautiful Cape Town.

The wineries were magnificent. As we went further into the wine countries of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, they got better and better. I was impressed with how well-maintained the grounds were. I couldn’t help but base the amount of pride and quality of the wineries on whether they had cobblestone pathways and manicured lawns. We tasted lovely wines that ranged from pinotage to chenin-blanc. The wineries provided spittoons for people to pour out wines they did not favor. I felt that was an outrage. Even if I was not completely sold on a wine, I didn’t have the heart to pour it out—it didn’t feel right. 
We visited a chocolatier in Franschhoek after visiting the wineries.  After all, wine and chocolate go together like…wine and chocolate.  We watched chocolate making take place and my mind immediately rushed back to the famous I Love Lucy episode when Lucy has the bright idea to work in the chocolate factory. Once I brought my attention back to the entertaining chocolate maker, I was intrigued. We sampled dark, milk, and white chocolate and learned a bit about each.  The man was on my good side until he brutally hated on both milk and white chocolate and those who favored them.  He claimed that those who liked milk were children who have not yet matured.  Here’s a tip (tangent) to everyone out there—don’t be so blunt about disliking anything anyone might favor, especially in regards to food. Food is such a personal and subjective matter. It’s foolish and rude to disregard someone’s taste.  Example—yes, dark chocolate is the purest form of chocolate, but there’s a reason for milk (cocoa combined with *ahem* milk) and white (contains no cocoa, just the butter derived from the bean) or else pastry chefs wouldn’t dream of going near it.  To answer those who are curious, I like all types of chocolate—yes, even white (gasp!)



I made reservations for high-tea at the Table Bay Hotel. I was looking forward to the occasion since before the trip started.  The tea room was beautiful with décor resembling that of a European ballroom.  The view of Table Mountain outside the massive French doors wasn’t too bad either. The food was delicious.  I am a sucker for small sandwiches and finger foods.  There’s something so enjoyable about delicately bringing a small piece of food to your mouth—as opposed to the usual large portions.  Just the act in itself makes me want to bring myself to the edge of the seat and straighten my posture.  The food consisted of quiche, finger sandwiches, and scones. More elaborately— leek and bacon quiche,  Deutsche quiche, smoked trout roll, curry chicken sandwich, cumin chicken wrap, cold beef sandwich, buttermilk scone, and cinnamon raisin scone served with lemon curd, clotted cream, and berry jams.  Dessert blanketed over the center table all in beautiful glass cake trays.  The colors were so rich and appealing to the eye.  Unfortunately, I was surprised to find that the desserts were a bit on the dry side. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful experience and I left more than satisfied.
We topped off the trip by driving along the eastern side (Indian Ocean) of the cape down to Cape of Good Hope then traveled back up the western side (Atlantic Ocean). We were a bit late getting down there but we managed to see a few penguins waddling around the shore.  I didn’t realize how short they are, and which such good posture!  They were adorable.  We finally reached the entrance for Cape of Good Hope (the most southern tip of Africa) and with our trending luck on the trip, we were three minutes late. The guard refused to let us in. We tried every statement in the book and he didn’t budge. We felt defeated and upset. Part of my frustration stemmed from the fact that many rules in South Africa aren’t enforced (i.e. traffic laws) but don’t you dare show up to the Cape of Good Hope three minutes past closing to watch the sunset.  Instead, we watched the sunset from Llandudno beach off of Hout Bay.  It was remarkable. The rest of the drive back was just as breathtaking. 

The last day, we took the cable car up Table Mountain.  The lines were perpetually long each day we attempted to ride the cable car but luckily, my broken leg got us in faster than you can say VIP. We were able to use the elevator immediately after purchasing tickets which surpassed the line up the stairs.  All in all, the trip was delightful.  If I have the opportunity to go back to Cape Town, I will never pass it up.
Tomorrow, we leave for Namibia.  We will be visiting Windhoek and Swakopmund.  The purpose of this trip is so that we can renew our visas (we have to leave the country after 90-days).  I will be writing about that experience upon our return.

Until then, cheers!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Braai

Braai. A lovely event here in South Africa consisting of laughter, merriment, animal grilling, and carbs. It is our equivalent to BBQ’s only slightly different. The men gather around the grill with their choice of beverage in-hand while the women are in the kitchen preparing carbs and sides such as toasted and buttered hot-cross buns (can’t help but hum the song), garlic bread, salad, cut fruit, and dessert. It’s a lovely occasion where friends and family partake in preparing a meal together. Is it just me, or is a meal more delicious when it’s prepared with the joy and help of those you care about?
We’ve had the pleasure of being invited to a few braais in the last couple weeks and have met some wonderful people in the process. Our landlords-turned-good-friends invited us to our first braai. It took place on a Sunday and was such a relaxing event after a morning of church.  It was probably more relaxing for me considering that my part consisted of sitting on a chair in the kitchen while munching on snacks. I have to admit, it was torturous not being able to help in the kitchen, but I embraced every moment.  Dear friends kept asking if I needed anything which is a bittersweet acceptance for me.  Their dog Tessa, a King Charles spaniel kept me company. I think I have the words ‘I’ll feed you’ written all over me when it comes to dogs. It was tough not giving in to her big brown eyes.

Another braai in which we were invited was a special occasion. Our home church was in South Africa for a service trip. Although we originally intended to help the group out for a day, my injury planned otherwise. However, they still invited us to attend church and an afternoon braai with them.  The church service was longer than we’re used to—2 hours. The vibe in the auditorium was beyond lively, contagious in fact.  I stood on one foot propping the injured one on the chair behind me while doing an embarrassing wiggle/balancing dance while people were in the aisle praising and dancing.  You’d think we were at a rock star’s concert.  It’s beautiful to see the hearts of people for the Lord halfway across the world. 

The braai with our church took place at the lodge in which they stayed.  It was a buffet style which meant that Brian was in charge of filling my plate. It’s a difficult task, but he did a lovely job. It was wonderful catching up with people from our church here in South Africa. Seeing familiar faces and hearing the work they were doing simply made my heart smile.  It made me even more excited to return to such a great community.

We’re going to Cape Town today.  It is one of the few places that every South African we’ve encountered has recommended.  Although it’s going to be a non-traditional Easter weekend for us, we’re delighted for another trip.  There were plenty of adventurous events that sounded appealing—swimming with sharks, 4-wheel/ATVing, hiking, and bike riding.  Unfortunately, we are going to have to miss out and enjoy the more relaxing events (woe is me).  On the itinerary—museums, big-red-bus, beaches, delicious food, penguins, lush wineries, high-teas, and much more.

I will definitely fill you in on our trip! 
Until then, cheers!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bean There, Drank That...

This is the second week that I’ve been on crutches.  It has been quite an adjustment and accepting the limitations was a bit difficult.  That said, I’m blown away by the helpful people in my life making this break more bearable—Namely Brian. 
I should have known that when he threw me over his shoulder and carried me almost a mile on a narrow rocky path, he would also step up to the plate at home.  The first week, he did everything that I couldn’t.  He made it easy to accept help, because he provided it with such warmth. Warning: the next phrase is going to be a large cheese wheel rolling your way—I have fallen even more in love with him this past week. He is a true care-taker and provider. There. I said it.
I’m also amazed with how eager the friends I’ve made here are to take me out of the house and make me comfortable. It’s been a real blessing.  David and Michelle, the owners of the new apartment we moved into turned out to be good friends of ours.  They’re so kind, and Brian and I get along so well with them.  Michelle was the first friend to take me out of what seems now like a burrow, a safety net, my home.  She and David are coffee connoisseurs and have a love for a small coffee roaster/café named Bean There. Although I’m no connoisseur, I love coffee and am always eager to try new roasts, blends, and flavors. In her delicately sweet manner, she asked what I was in the mood for. Unfortunately about 95% of the time when someone asks me this question, I am useless, for I am up for anything and want to make sure they’re happy with the choice as well. I let Michelle take the reins with the menu since she clearly knew what she was talking about.   
She ordered two types of brewed coffee—aeropress, and Chemex.  They were fantastic. Watching the delicate yet ebony liquid drops fall into the pots was like watching a psychologically thrilling movie.  I couldn’t take my eyes off it and was excited to see, smell, and taste the end result.  The man performing the tasting was serious about coffee.  It was like an art.  Hypothetically speaking, if I didn’t have an appreciation for specialty brewed coffee before entering the doorway accompanied with rich Arabica aroma, and seeing this man’s gentle yet intentional movement with every step of the process, I am now.  It was beautiful.  Being a novice when it comes to coffee tasting, I did what anyone would do—faked it. First, I appreciated the rich color of the coffee with my eyes. It wasn’t the unfortunately common diluted coffee that only is dark after the whole pot has been brewed.  I brought the coffee mug up to my nose, initiating a soft whirlpool motion with my hand and inhaled for a few seconds straight. I proceeded to slowly tilt the mug so that I would get a small yet sufficient taste in my mouth.  Moving the back of my tongue in a way that made me look like a bullfrog, I was able to fully taste the body, aroma, and richness of the coffee. It was delectable. It had a hint of pine that I had never tasted in coffee before.
Aeropress
Along with the coffee, Michelle ordered a slice of carrot cake, and a chocolate chip cookie for us to split.  The cake was fluffy, and moist. The shavings of carrot and chopped walnuts made it more of a meal than dessert. The icing was phenomenal and contained more butter than your usual cream cheese frosting.  The cookie was ever so thin with what seemed like a complete layer of milk chocolate—as opposed to chips.  Each bite I took, the paper-thin cocoa layer was present, and it was delicious.
In the middle of Michelle and I sat her adorable 14 month-old son Timothy.  He brought the party.  He was well-behaved and simply wouldn’t allow us to eat anything he didn’t try first. I call it quality control.  He had cheeks for days and aqua blue eyes that were warm and cheerful.  His smooth blond hair turned into curly-cues at the nape of his neck. He spent the hour alternating between grabbing whatever was in sight (to my surprise not throwing it), taking bites of sweets, and giving me high-fives. I’m fond of the little guy.

Cheers!
Chemex
Christina