Career advice please?

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Teaching math was my previous career. I graduated from college and joined a 2 year inner city teaching program thinking I was going to save the world by helping give underprivileged kids a quality education, the great American equalizer, and after 2 years I’d head to law school and then work in public interest for the rest of my happy and noble little life. Well 5 years of teaching, reality, a bit of cynicism and a bit of maturing has made me realize that I do not want to teach (btw go and give some appreciation to a {smart, engaged, and focused} teacher you know). I also do not want to be a lawyer. I do miss being able to say that I’m a math teacher though (try it, it sounds so smart and noble, especially fun if you don’t dress like a math teacher). What do I want to do then? It’s difficult to get around my Indian mentality, that I am nothing if I’m not a doctor, engineer, or an investment banker. At least I’ve put the brakes on teaching.

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of jobs I would love to have. It’s not lost on me that reality and what goes on my crazy little mind often do not overlap. I just know that it is possible to get out of bed and love what you do like P does (asshole). Also if one of these is your career I’m not trying to insult you in assuming that I could do it too. I just want to publicly state that I would like to be a:

-Jewelry store owner, curator of badass jewelry made by people like Satomi Kawakita, Belle Costes, Marisa A. Lomanco, and Caitlin Mociun. I would like to make it as good as catbird. Badass women with style would shop there. Like eastsidebride and Patti Smith.

-Interior Designer. I despise that label, is there something else we could call them? I would like to create modern interiors. Eventually I would like to buy a loft apartment with P with grey concrete walls, huge industrial fittings and put subtle pops of color all over the place. I don’t want to go back to school though. I’ve discussed with a friend and I think I instead of school I would need to build a portfolio. Does anyone want to let me design a room in their house? For free? Come on, don’t let my paper-mache rhinoceros scare you.

-Photographer. HA. I JUST got a camera and my pics aren’t good yet. But the interest is there and I’m taking classes. And I’m fairly certain I should be in a creative field. It’s difficult to make money though. Unless you are a badass. Like Chris Saunders. I could be a badass ?.

-Is there a place where I can be creative and work for a non profit or NGO? Like empowering girls to become fashion designers. Does somebody know of that non-profit?

-An education non profit. I know a lot about education and am more interested in policy than in teaching. In this scenario I could do creative stuff on the side.

My time to center and find myself  is coming to a close people as I am starting to get a little bored and want to buy myself every Alexander Wang bag I see and also leather leggings and also CAMERA LENSES feel that I should start pulling my weight financially around these parts (that is my own opinion, as P is being an angel and wants me to do what I want to do and make the right decision because as I mentioned he is a god damned saint).

Do you have any ideas? Job openings? Know of any investors that want to sink their money into my amazing jewelry store? Seriously, what should I be when I grow up? I don’t know how to be in a career that’s not a 9-5. HELP ME.

Buying a car in South Africa Part 1: Manual Transmission Newbies -You can do it!

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

I’m not quite sure how many parts there are going to be to this series, as buying a car in RSA is an exercise in insanity and perseverance. All I can say is that after approximately three months of living here, we are off the company rental and into our own Renault Clio (above). Actually, I’m not even sure there will be a part 2 as I can hardly even bear to think about the whole process, let alone record it (and I wasn’t even the one who had to deal with the Randburg Licensing department)

What I want to talk about right now  is driving a manual having had no experience. Hardly anyone in the States knows how to drive a manual, including us, and we fully expected to buy an automatic. Well it is on average about 20-40,000 Rand (almost 5,000 USD) cheaper to buy a manual (fyi cars are double sometimes triple the price of the same car in the US here). Since we were already irate about having to spend ANY money on a car the decision was made for us. After not even a week into it here are some tips for manual newbies like us.

1. If you are switching the side of the road, (it is not difficult, you can do it!) give yourself a few weeks in an automatic to just focus on driving on the left side, the new road rules, and driving habits in this country. Trying to learn manual and getting used to the new side might be a bit overwhelming.

2. If you have no idea how to drive a manual, book at least one professional lesson. We did that and those 2 hours were invaluable. I can give a hearty recommendation to Johannesburg residents for Patricia’s Driving School. She is patient and nice and has been doing it for 15 years. I mean we didn’t need to go back after only 2 hours with her!

3. Practice just moving off up hill. Yours or a friend’s driveway should do the trick. I spent at least 2 sweaty hours out there (I was so frustrated I took off my pants) and it helped me get to know the car tremendously. Plus a driveway is the most low pressure situation you can be in.

4. PRACTICE. You are going to stall and it is going to be ok. I spent 10 minutes stuck at a steep uphill intersection sweating it out with the hazard lights on my first solo drive. The cars didn’t even honk at me, just drove around. It made me realize I hate using the hand brake to start and avoid it as much as possible. It is also a bad but easy habit to have, if you have a partner to depend on him or her to do the majority of the driving. Don’t fall into that trap! Be independent! The only way you will be good at driving a manual is if you practice, Make yourself go through the discomfort so you can come out the other side.

5. Enjoy! Driving a manual is so much more fun than an automatic and if it continues to go well we are converts for life. You also have to be a lot more engaged in your driving (at least in the beginning) and that can ultimately mean being a better driver. You are learning a great life skill besides!

PS. Drivers everywhere…don’t ride the back of the car in front of you at a stoplight! It’s probably me sweating it out in my manual wishing you’d back the f*ck away so I don’t hit you when the car rolls back 3 feet slightly during moving off uphill.

A Picnic in the Sky

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Johannesburg has a scary reputation. If you google it you’ll most likely first come across scary forums and murder statistics, stories of smash and grabs and home invasions. And it is true that we must have a healthy respect for the crime here and take some precautions that would seem absurd in a lot of other cities. But after living most recently in New York City and Berlin, Jozi is becoming my favorite home. The weather, the people, the history, the fact that it is so under-rated, the passion people have for their city, these are the reasons I love it. One such example of a Jozi-en’s passion is something called Main Street Walks. It was started by Gregory Solik, his goal being to bring people back into the heart of the city and show them that not only is it not scary, but a beautiful and interesting place. I signed us up for one of their events called Picnic in the Sky since I love a) a picnic and b) a good view.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

You meet at Arts on Main, which was great since that is a normal Sunday activity for us and get your adorable picnic basket and one of the best cooler bags full of things like utensils and drinks, and bread. You walk around and buy some delicious items for your basket from the stalls, then meet everyone outside for your tour. The best part is when everybody in the group introduces themselves. Usually, I just HATE group introductions as people love to go on and on about themselves. What was great about this was that the majority of the group said something like “I’ve lived here for 40 years in XX suburb, and make it a point to avoid the city because it terrifies me.” So right there in the beginning you could see that this tour was a accomplishing its mission, which is to help people rediscover the inner city. It was also nice to have some diversity, not in the traditional sense of the word, but P and I don’t usually hang out with suburban families who stay out of the city.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

You then get into a big van that takes you to the Carlton Centre which is touted as the tallest building in Africa. At the top, you can see Jozi in all its glory. You can see the city center, buildings that were once full of offices and apartments and now abandoned, and beyond the city, the urban sprawl of Jozi’s electric fenced-armed-guarded-high-security-walled neighborhoods. You learn that after apartheid many landlords abandoned their buildings during the soaring crime and now ownership is unknown or disputed, the buildings long since overtaken by squatters. You see the past glory (is glory the right word, since it is stained by apartheid?) of Johannesburg central business district, and since you are accompanied by lifelong Joburgers who are just returning to it now after many years, on a tour being led by confident young Jozien art students of all different colors you can also see the potential and maybe the future of this magnificent city.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

The highlight of the experience for me was one of our tour guides, Bongani aka ‘Bones.’ Bones is a poet. He’s from Soweto and, according to him, he knows this city like the back of his hand. After we were done with our picnic we were treated to three poems. All of them were performed from memory, metered differently at different points, his voice rising and falling with the stories he was telling. My favorite was his last poem about the origin of electricity, according to him. If you go hopefully you’ll have the pleasure of Bones on your tour.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

If you are interested, Main Street Walks does Picnic in the Sky and a few other CBD tours which all start at Arts on Main. The Picnic is currently really popular so sign up early since there is a waiting list (or was when I signed up). They are getting an online booking system in January so that the email sign up won’t be so hectic. They also have plans to expand into tours of other parts of the city, like the townships. I especially recommend this tour to new Joburgers, or life long Joburgers who have until now kept away from the city center. It is a good thing to take your parents or other visitors, or maybe just a friend that is usually jittery in the CBD. 

5 things I’m thankful for, cheeselessly

Land Of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

It’s probably trite and besides when I think about things I’m thankful for it’s difficult not to get extremely corny. But here are five things I’m thankful for as CHEESE-LESS as possible:

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1. P. Obviously. He is my best friend and he takes care of me to the max, and he is super smart and nice. And sometimes he lets me shop for him and he is extremely grateful whenever I cook him dinner. He also is calm and reasonable, which is a nice counterbalance to my personality which can best be described as totally f*cking insane. Plus, he is tall and has a deep voice and is very ambitious and all of these things are very sexy.

2. My family. I know that not everyone gets a good one in this life. Even though they are also totally insane I know I can always ask my mom to fly in and unpack my boxes even though I’m a grown ass woman count on them to be very proud of me. Also my in-laws because they are  equally as insane very nice to me.

3. Living abroad. I was thinking about this and wonder when ‘abroad’ (the US) became ‘home’ for my parents. I think it just sneaks up on you. If you ever get an opportunity to do it, you won’t regret it. You learn NYC isn’t the only cool place to live in. PS Joburg > Cape Town, yea I said it. We can’t compete in natural beauty but we have the BEST people. Just try and dispute that. I love Joburg. Na Na Na.

4.  This opportunity to figure out my desires and ambitions in life. If I was still in NYC or we had stayed in Berlin I would still be teaching math. And that is not what I want to be doing. I have time to make this blog and be creative. And here we can afford to live on one income. Anyway, having time for photography, cooking, designing our house, and doing multi-media projects ; ) is priceless and I know it.  F*ck me, I sound like an American Berliner.

5. Ugh, this so cliche but I am so thankful for my extended family. They are SO much fun, and last year we brought P to India for the first time and they just gave it their all showing him a nice time. Plus my aunts traipsed all over India with us finding just the right details for my our wedding. Then a few months later they hauled ass across two oceans (and some a few states) just to come parade their diamonds and party watch us get married. All of them. Who gets so lucky as to have a totally awesome nuclear family AND extended family?? Plus I definitely know where my cray cray comes from. And I’m proud of it.

Also, for some levity I give you an Animals Talking in All Caps that might as well be P and me on any given night.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving in Jozi (wonderful, manageable)

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Our first Thanksgiving in Jozi and our third together, came off without a hitch. This is also my third Thanksgiving not flying home to my family, and this time of year is the worst part about living abroad. I miss my family, especially my sister, and I miss the people that we do Thanksgiving with every year. Of course, this year P and I realized that we are officially our own family which was strange and wonderful, though not really different from years past. The weather was cold and rainy which made me feel like it’s fall and not summer and put me in the holiday mood a bit. We were lucky to have two Thanksgivings this year, one cooked by our friends who are half American/half South African  (how amazing is it to EAT and not cook?? or clean??) and one we put on for another group of our friends. A few of them had never been to an American Thanksgiving so I was happy to feed them their first. The night was lovely, the wine flowed freely (but not too freely because we have to drive in this country!), and we talked about…blogging? (haha poor blog widows as Martina’s Rob calls them).

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

This is my third time cooking Thanksgiving dinner and it went the smoothest it has ever gone, and I’ve found a turkey recipe I’m sticking to forever. I thought I’d show you our menu because maybe you’re looking for a manageable menu too. It did take me 8+ hours but besides that 8 hours is normal for T Day, I was literally cooking by myself as P was at work (haha WHO AM I?). Also, it was a super zen 8 hours in which I cooked everything, elaborately set the table, and got dressed (but didn’t shower, it was me or the house that was getting clean). Anyway, ahem:

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Here I’ll show you which recipes I used and any changes I made, this was for 9 people with plenty of left overs:

Figs, roasted and wrapped in bacon stuffed with goat’s cheese and walnuts

Ingreds:

10 figs, halved

5 long strips of bacon, halved

250 grams or about 8oz goat’s cheese

10 walnuts (obviously not in their shells)

Preheat oven to 200 C or 390 F Stuff each fig half with cheese and a walnuts. Wrap with half a strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Put stuffed figs in oven for about 30 minutes, until bacon is cooked through. They will be gone in no time.

Gem squash, scored and roasted with brown sugar glaze. 

Ingreds:

9 gem squash halves

2 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons maple syrup

I used the Foodwishes recipe but instead of acorn, I used gem squash.

Turkey Roasted in a casserole, with butter and white wine glaze and gravy

Ingreds:

1 4 kg or 9 pound turkey
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), melted, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 bottle dry white wine
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red or white wine for gravy (optional)

Materials
Cheesecloth
Kitchen string
Pastry brush
meat thermometer
Toothpicks

I used Martha Stewart’s recipe and I was so happy I’ve definitely found my life long turkey recipe. There was no brining, and the turkey was amazingly juicey. The trick for me was to using a casserole dish and not a roasting pan (it could cook in it’s own juices) and keeping the cheesecloth wet with white wine/butter glaze. I also covered both drumsticks with bacon.

Stuffing

Ingreds:

1 loaf of freshly baked whole grain white bread
1 loaf French Bread, Somewhat Crusty
1 stick Butter
1 whole Medium Onion, Diced
2 cups Celery, Chopped
4 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1 tablespoon fresh Basil
1 teaspoon chopped Thyme
3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary, Chopped
1/4 cup Fresh Parsley, Chopped
Salt To Taste

I used Pioneer Woman’s stuffing with the following changes: I did not use cornbread, but freshly baked whole grain white bread. Instead of leaving my bread out for 24 hours, I chopped it up and spread on the baking trays and put it in the oven on the lowest setting for an hour to dry them out. I used fresh basil and thyme as reflected above.

Steamed broccoli with garlic and salt (boooring, but necessary!)

Ingreds:

3 heads of broccoli

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon olive oil

Cut up broccoli to the size that you want them. Pour olive oil in to pan, mix up broccoli, garlic and a salt, and steam on low heat with cover on for about 15 minutes.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

5 pounds potatoes, whichever kind you like

Half a cup of heavy cream

1 stick of butter

4 oz of cream cheese

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon of steak rub spices

Salt to taste

Boil the potatoes for 45 minutes to an hour in generously salted water with approximately half the garlic. Once the potatoes are mashable, drain them from the water and mash, on the stove over low heat. Add remaining garlic and butter, stir in mix in. Add heavy cream and mix. Add cream cheese and mix thoroughly. Add your steak rub spice, and salt to taste. Don’t tell anyone how much butter or cheese is in it! You can keep it covered over the lowest heat setting you have until it is time to serve. Mix again and put in separate dish before dinner time.

Cranberry Sauce, the triumph of my Thanksgiving dinner

1 14.5 oz can of whole berry cranberry sauce

1 medium onion, chopped

2 sprigs rosemary, chopped

1 pint chicken broth

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, more to taste

Salt to taste

There were no cranberry sauces on the web which were equal parts delicious and last minute and expat friendly so I made one up and it was a delicious compliment to the plate if I do say so myself. Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add onions, stir until they get translucent. Add chicken broth, canned cranberry sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Stir until sauce breaks up, then bring it to a boil for 10 minutes until it reduces a bit. You can reheat it at dinner time.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Luckily I didn’t have to think about dessert, if I did I would have done it the day before, but thankfully (and deliciously) Karen was all over it. And Jenna sweetly offered to bring delicious twice baked mashed potatoes (which, as far as I’m concerned should be our national food) so I had plenty of help. And as of this post, the dishes are already done! Thanksgiving, you are my b*tch.

living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Edit:

Read more about our South African thanksgiving on these blogs:

Story of Bing

Martina in Jozi

A Home Away from Home

Help Portrait: Gogo’s that give back.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

I wrote about my first experience with Help Portrait not too long ago. Yesterday I went back for more, first at a nursery school and then the Ikageng Itireleng AIDS Ministry in Orlando West, Soweto. I had a (photographically) educational experience shooting children during my first Help Portrait shoot, and this time I got to click a bunch of lovely, loud-mouthed, sweet, and all around badass group of grandmas (called gogo’s in many RSA languages). The Ikageng Itireleng programme seeks to look after and support 1,500 orphan-headed households in Soweto who are left parentless because of HIV-AIDS by providing counselling, home-based care, school fees, supplies, electricity, and psycho-social health through a network of volunteers and professional support.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

These gogo’s care for orphaned children through Ikageng and we came to their support group to shoot them. It was such a pleasure to be there- while we were setting up they did their singing, dancing, praying, and the best part: gogo aerobics. These grannys took their exercises quite seriously, calling out anyone who wasn’t putting in full effort, and taking pleasure in the cameras that were there to document.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love
If you feel like helping out financially (which you can do through Ikageng’s website) and want reassurance about where your money would go, you can rest assured that  it will be in good hands as corporations such as McKinsey vet, help and aid this organization, and it is a member of betterplace.org which strives for transparency and accountability in aid for small, lesser-known organizations . If you live in Jozi, you could also donate your time by volunteering at a creche or tutoring math, for instance (again through their website).

*As per usual, these images are not the images that will be returned to the gogo’s, but are my outtakes.