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The Albin/Juliars in South Africa

Letter from Susie

1 March 2001

Dear Friends and Family,

I hope that you will forgive me again for writing a group letter. I do miss each person individually - very much!!

I thank you all for your emails. I love getting the news from home - especially your home.

Now to continue about our adventures in Africa -

One of the most startling and exotic aspects of where I live is the climate. It is so blue and sunny. The humidity is just perfect. Nothing seems to get dirty or sticky, even Noah at the beach. The sunsets are spectacular. We watch the moon and stars every night. However, we have gotten a taste of something that Cape Town is very famous for - the wind.

There is a giant mountain in the middle of Cape Town called Table Mountain because it is very flat on top. Sometimes the clouds pile up on the top of the mountain and it is called a "table cloth." What it looks like though, is not a table cloth, but an avalanche of snow that rushes and curls down the mountains. Then the wind comes from the southeast and it blows these clouds away. The wind is unbelievable - perhaps 50 miles per hour. The palm trees bend over, there are white caps over the ocean, the wind whistles through our house. You must hang on to the car door when you open it for fear that it will be torn off.

When I first came here I wondered why the windows were so complicated with latches and set screws. Now I understand. You could not open the window even a little crack without all that hardware when the wind blows.

To my great surprize, no one but us seems to notice this wind. No one talked about it at work; the children told me no one mentioned it at school. Even when the wind blows it is warm and sunny. The cafes (without umbrellas) are open and in full business since they are on the leeward side of the street.

We have no tv and that has improved our lives tremendously. Poker is the game of choice and Michael recently got us real chips. We were using match sticks for ones and candies for fives which appealed to me very much and seemed to take the Las Vegas out of the poker. However, everyone else is thrilled with the chips. Now all we need is green eye shades.

I find job here gratifying and actually inspiring. The students are amazingly dear and make great sacrifices to study. While some are very savy and computer literate and want to know if an MBA is a good graduate degree for an engineer, others come from homes without telephone and maybe without electricity - difficult for internet connection, to put it mildly. Michael and I are treated royally. To our surprise, there was a start of the school year convocation and we were asked to stand and be introduced to the whole faculty and staff.

Now that we are settled and my anxieties about house, car (we bought a 9 year old Honda), and bank account have passed, I can say that the life we lead here is heavenly. For example, yesterday, we got home from work at about 5:15, picked up Noah from after school program, came home, prepared dinner. That part is not too different from my real life. But by 7 pm Noah had finished his homework and we were on the beach. I took a walk, Noah and Michael played frisby on the beach, and Anna explored a little hidden beach where the surfers go. The sun was setting over the water, the mountains were aglow, the palm trees were backlit. There were groups sprinkled over the grass and sand, some lit candles as it grew darker. The cafes across the street were lively. Then the sun set at about 8 and we came home. For six months - no fixing or working on the house, no doctor or dentist appointments, no responsibility except the good ones (Anna and Noah).

This is just a quick story to tell about Anna, the Valentine's Ball, and the new dress. Anna told us she heard of the perfect store to buy a dress for the upcoming Valentine's Ball - a store called the Young Designer's Emporium in the downtown of Cape Town. We called the store, got the address, and found that it closed at 5:00. At 4:00, we jumped in the car, picked Noah up from after school program, and twisted and turned on the steep road over the kloof (mountain pass) from Camps Bay into Cape Town. The store is on St. George's mall, a pedestrian street, in the center of Cape Town. There is a square (Greenmarket) with many African craft vendors and cafes. Then there is this very cool - Soho like store - the Emporium. We arrived at about 4:20. By 4:30 Anna was in trouble. Two great dresses - which one would she choose? Both were on sale (it is end of summer here, fashion wise). Each cost about $15! She went with the low cut black one with little roses on it. For me, if Anna has fun on the evening of the ball it will be just icing on the cake. The dress adventure was fun enough.

My sister Karen asked if my life here is something between normal life and a vacation and the answer is my life here is another thing altogether. In fact, it is better than a vacation.

I have a routine and meaningful work which is for the long term better than a vacation. For example, this week I had several meetings at work. I met with the Dean of Engineering in preparation for his trip to MIT next week. He is looking to create linkages between MIT and Pentech. They have already done a joint project regarding text books (costing only 59 rand, about 8 dollars) for Pentech students. I also prepared for a meeting for the approval of the BS in Quality Engineering. I prepare for two 80 minute lectures and a lab each week. I grade homeworks and lab reports. Plus I correspond frequently with my doctoral students at home, making drafts of papers and dissertation chapters, via email. I also receive all my usual email from work (...the IE honor society has not paid a bill to the national organization for $52....) So I have a regular job except without the stress - just the work.

At home, I do food shopping (such good food here!). I help Noah with his homework. I do laundry - and the dryer takes 2 hours and the washing machine holds about 20% of the one at home. But, I don't look at the walls and worry about a paint job - that is someone else's headache.

The incredible beauty of this place is a joy absolutely every moment. When we drive home from work (about 40 minutes commute) there is a moment when we reach the top of the mountain pass (kloof neck) and the sea appears. I catch my breath every single day.

Anna has been creating like a possessed wild woman. She is playing the flute a lot and painting and especially writing. She is also emailing her friends constantly. In fact her South African friends, Highland Park friends, and summer hiking friends are all emailing each other! She is the Gertrude Stein of cyberspace.

We have been touring every weekend - to Table Mountain, to the Kristenbach botanical gardens, to Haut Bay, Rhodes Memorial and so on. We have seen baboons (parking lot at Cape Point). We went to an art movie house just like the Theater 80 St. Marks where Michael and I used to go in the 1970's. But as much as I enjoy all these places and as lovely as they are, I always remember that most of my students and colleagues were not allowed to visit until 1992 - until then it was whites only. It is hard to believe but delightful to see everybody touring and picnicking now - not really together - but at least everyone can enjoy the exraordinary beauty.

We are all homesick but this experience is a very refreshing break from our regular life. We have more time to spend with each other, to rest, to reflect, and more experiences to ponder.

Love and kisses to all,


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