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The Albin/Juliars in South Africa

Letter from Susie

1 February 2001

We have now been in South Africa for about 3 weeks and it has been an exciting and wonderful experience so far. Let me fill you in on the details:

Up until yesterday we lived in a coastal village called Llandudno with fabulous houses tucked into the mountainside above a pristine beach. The house belongs to an artist whose husband was a visitor at Rutgers and that is how we met. All the tiles in the walls were crafted by Elsa and the place, though filled with treasures, was very impractical and spooky and dark. We were glad to find our new apartment in Camps Bay. It is light and airy and spacious. The decoration is a bit weird - sort of gothic. But we are very comfortable here.This is also a seaside town, about 10 minutes from Cape Town and much more lively. Our place overlooks the ocean and two blocks away there are cafes and little stalls that sell African crafts and the Pick and Pay which is exactly like Stop and Shop in New Jersey right down to the last fruit loop. Tall mountains, called the Twelve Apostles, rise up directly from the sea.

Anna and Noah both go to public schools in Camps Bay and Anna's school is within walking distance of our house. Both of them look very fetching in their school uniforms though the amount of effort that goes into putting these outfits together is crazy, especially in a country where all efforts should be going into worthwhile enterprises. Anyway, Noah wears grey short trousers, a white shirt, grey knee socks and brown shoes. Anna wears a green skirt and blazer (with school crest on the pocket) with white shirt, white little socks, and brown shoes. Her hair must be tied up - no mermaid looks allowed. Academically the schools, though tops by South African standards, are not too challenging. Anna has a wonderful teacher in music theory and in physics and is learning to make the clicking sound that is in the Xhosa language. Noah's teacher is quite nice and the children stand when she enters the room and say "Good Morning Mrs. Nott."

Michael and I are working at Peninsula Technikon which is a mostly coloured (that means descendants of the aboriginal Khoi-Khoi, Malaysians, and Indians) and black (mostly Xhosa and some Zulu) engineering school with about 10,000 students. The former vice chancellor of the school was the South African ambassador to the US. The current vice chancellor, who invited Michael and I to tea, is very charismatic and intelligent and I expect he will soon join the diplomatic corps too.

I teach a small seminar class and my students are very dear and sit in the first row - something I have never seen at Rutgers. For many, English is their third language after Xhosa for example and Afrikaans and I am always worried that they don't understand me. Michael and I have been treated royally at this place. My office is lovely and looks out over the green and well tended campus and the mountains beyond. One always marvels when remembering that only 7 years ago most of the faculty including the vice chancellor were not allowed to vote in this country.

South Africans, black and white, have this culture of hospitality that derives from when they lived on lonely farms, hundreds of miles apart. We have been invited to more outings, parties, braai (barbeques) in our time here than during one year at home. You meet people on the beach and they invite you to their houses and then they call you and make sure you come!

Just for example, when we arrived my former student Patrick, a faculty member in Peninsula Technikon, met us at the airport with a borrowed van to carry all of us and our 8 boxes to his house. He lives in the vineyard area which is breathtakingly beautiful. We had a great African feast with aunts uncles and cousins to welcome us and slept over (he has a giant house) and then he escorted us to our first apartment in Llandudno. This is a far cry from the more American style - give us a call when you get settled.

About crime - there is crime in the townships and if you leave a camera on your car seat in Cape Town (which is very reminiscent of San Francisco, by the way), there is a chance someone will steal it. Women walk all around, carrying purses, chatting in sidewalk cafes and wearing tons of gold and diamond jewelry. I don't feel in danger but I do lock my car and my house.

This place is truly awesome in its beauty - mountains, oceans, flowers, and shrubs. But, there is terrible poverty. There are many middle class blacks (teachers, information technology people, lawyers, bankers) but not many when you realize that 85% of the country is black. There is terrible AIDS. There is terrible unemployment and you see people coming in from the country to the city and living in these shacks in the townships - very much like Mexico City and Rio. Drugs and the ensuring violence are prevalent too. Also, this is a place searching for a new identity - very complicated.

Anna and Noah have been brave and full of good humor. Michael has been our fearless leader driving effortlessly on the left side of the road and handling the uncertainties of every detail with grace. I have been enjoying the adventure but I do get anxious at times - will we find an apartment? will our non-resident bank account ever work? will we find brown shoes for the children? will my students learn anything?

We are all homesick and miss you very much.



© 2001 by Michael Juliar. All rights reserved.
Last updated: 15-May-2001