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The Albin/Juliars in South Africa

Letter from Susie

1 May 2001

Dear Friends and Family,

This month we spread out and about Africa. I went to Nairobi to attend a USAID (US Agency for International Development) meeting about creating cooperative Africa - America graduate programs. The goal is to increase graduate education within Africa. The first meeting of this group was last year in Cape Town. That is in part how I got involved in South Africa and in my school here, Peninsula Technikon.

There were about 100 delegates - half from Africa and half from the US. There were many inspiring stories. A professor from Uganda described how his country doubled the capacity of the university by keeping its doors open from 7 am until midnight. Professors who teach at night receive more pay and therefore it is highly desirable. A professor from Rwanda spent many years in exile in Lesotho, a tiny mountain kingdom enclosed within South Africa. After the genocide years passed he made the long drive home to Rwanda. He dressed up a dummy with an American baseball cap and sunglasses and put it in the passenger seat so that gangsters he might encounter on the roads would not think he was driving alone. He is back in Rwanda now restarting the university which was closed until very recently. There was a professor of economics from Mozambique who speaks eight languages and is just now starting to learn Chinese.

Many of us reported on the progress we are making in these collaborative programs. My colleague Patrick Mclaren and I described the new programs in Quality Engineering that will be offered here at Pentech starting in July. There were many fields represented. Almost all reflected the critical needs in Africa - education, agriculture, public health, AIDS, and engineering - addressing the basics.

I also met a celebrity during the meeting - Reggie September. He is currently a member of the South African Parliament. He is a white person who is a contemporary of Mandela. He was arrested at Rivonia with Mandela and other ANC leaders but he managed to escape the country. His job, for about 20 years, was the chair of the ANC in exile in Europe. He raised money, organized the support of the ANC army camps especially in the (then) communist Eastern European countries. He was at the conference because his wife, a professor at the University of Cape Town, was a participant. Reggie and his wife met when his grandson and her daughter got engaged.

I enjoyed visiting Nairobi - a very green and lively city. It is very diverse with many Indians, Arabs, whites and blacks. I ate at very nice restaurants and walked in the downtown and bought one item ($4.) in the market. My friend Pat is a fierce bargainer. A line of vendors followed him out of the market place and up the street trying to consummate a deal. But Pat kept saying "No man, too late - you should have accepted my offer (10% of asking price) when I first made it."

I had an interesting delay on my return trip. I was not allowed back into South Africa because I did not have a yellow fever vaccination certificate - for that matter I also never had the vaccination. You don't need this vaccination to go to Kenya however if you have been to Kenya you need it to get back into South Africa. At first I thought I would be in quarantine in the Johannesburg airport - but it wasn't so dramatic. For a charge of 300 rand (a lot by African standards) a nurse gave me the vaccination and I caught my connection to Cape Town and was greeted at the airport by Michael and Noah.

During all this time Anna was on a kayaking trip in Namibia. Twenty students (called learners here) from her high school went on this week long trip. Anna had a wonderful time, got very brown from the sun, and in summary is just as captivated by her life here as I am.

We also took a five day family trip during a school holiday to Knysna (pronounced nize-na). It is a 5-6 hour drive from here, east, on the Indian Ocean. It is one of the most beautiful spots on the earth. There is a river that feeds into a giant estuary (called a lagoon here) from which the water crashes into the ocean in a narrow space between cliffs and rocks called the Knysna heads. There have been innumerable shipwrecks in these heads as ignorant sailors seek the shelter of the lagoon and harbor and attempt to pass through.

There are ancient hills and forests all around with enormous trees. There are many dramatic cliffs, especially near the heads, and caves too. Michael and Anna went repelling (jumping with mountaineer's ropes) off some of the 150 foot cliffs. A very impressive father/daughter combination. Noah and I went on a catamaran for a ride through the lagoon and heads. The skipper let Noah steer - it was, after all, Noah's 9th birthday!

We stayed in a wonderful place, the Cranmore Stables. It really used to be a stable for horses (my mother and sisters will surely say leave it to Susie to stay in a stable). The place is a 9 acre landscaped African garden right on the lagoon. The doors are the original stable doors, very wide, made of the indigenous yellow wood - beautiful and typically South African. The place was quite delightful and charming and there was no evidence of the former equine residents.

One of the most fascinating parts of this trip was the car ride. We passed through miles and miles of land either wild or with hops or aloe growing and miles and miles of steep and curvy mountain roads. No towns, no houses, no animals in sight. Yet, there would be Africans walking along the highway. Where had they come from? Where were they going? The distances were so great. Then after so many miles of desolation a township appears. Thousands of little shacks, a few tiny houses, a regular city of poverty in the midst of this emptiness. These are the rural townships - some with no running water and no electricity. To add to the surreal nature of all this - Noah read us jokes for the entire trip from a birthday book sent to him by our wonderful neighbor Joyce.

Many people have asked me if it is true that water drains counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere. I don't know the answer but I can say unequivocally the seasons arrive in a way that I consider out of order. Fall has definitely arrived. There is no central heating and it is cold inside and outside. I wear long johns to bed and a down vest during the day. So much for steamy Africa.

The most critical aspect of the arrival of fall is that the children must now wear winter school uniforms. We thought we had this problem licked but we now start all over again - long grey pants for Anna and Noah, neckties for Anna and Noah (that's right, Anna too).

One last thing that I want to tell about is more personal. My dear aunt, Rose Kleiner, died a few weeks ago. She was a remarkable person, aunt, wife, mother, entrepreneur, social worker, singer, humorist, and letter writer. Due to the ingenuity of my sisters I was able to participate by email in her memorial service in California which helped me a lot - being so far away. Rose and I had a special relationship. She was the first person to correspond with me by letter - the most recent result of this is the "Out of Africa" emails that have given me, and I hope some of you, such pleasure.

I thank you all for your terrific email messages and I love hearing from you.



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