Two Weeks – Two Cities – Arrival in South Africa

Prior to my arrival in South Africa, I was concerned my fluency in only one of the country’s 11 national languages, English, would limit my ability to communicate with locals. Turns out, I am not even fluent in English – at least not South African English. On my first day in Johannesburg I had to ask for directions. The conversation went as follows:

Me: “Hello, can you tell me how to get to the red bus stop?”

Friendly South African (FSA):“Hello miss, yes you are very close. Do you see those robots over there?”

Me: “Rowboats?”

FSA: “Yes, the two robots over there. Cross the robots and the bus will be on the other side.”

Me: “Rowboats?”

FSA: “Yes. Robots.”

Me: “Okay, thank you.”

I then proceeded to walk in the direction the man pointed having no idea what I possibly could have misheard for the word rowboat. After finding the bus, the thought came to me that the man must have been saying roundabout. I felt very proud of myself for figuring that out and continued on with my day. Then two days later, while in the car with a co-worker I heard her say, “It should be after this robot.” But there were no roundabouts insight. Very confused I asked, “Ummm what does rowbit mean? Did I pronounce it, right?” “Oh,” she replied, “Robot is what we call traffic lights. There used to be people that managed the traffic and when the lights started to replace people everyone called them robots – like robots taking our jobs.”

Robot has so far been the trickiest word for me to figure out, but everyday in my office I come across a new word or phrase. For example, one project report from a school noted that students were “bunking class,” which a quick Google search informed me means to skip a class.

Fortunately, aside from odd word here and there, my transition to part of the JET Education Services (JET) team has been smooth sailing. JET is a South African NGO established in 1992, during the final years of apartheid as citizens began to look toward a more equal future. The original purpose of JET was to provide grants to improve the education sector for black South African students, whose education under apartheid was purposely under-funded by the government. In 2001, JET transitioned from providing grants to providing expert support for other education NGOs and government agencies working in the sector. There are three prongs to JET’s current work: research, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E).

“Fun” Office Trivia courtesy of the JET data analysis team

This summer I will be working with the M&E team on a variety of projects. In my first two weeks I have already contributed work to five different projects. It has been fun to learn about the diversity of projects underway. Project topics include: a principal mentorship program, a national literacy campaign, a youth agricultural careers program, a teacher professional development program, and a whole schools program.

My first week was spent in the Johannesburg office where I was able to meet everyone on JET’s staff and enjoy the nerdy jokes of the data analysis team. However, I will be primarily based out of the Cape Town office, which is much smaller. JET staff at the Cape Town office consists of myself and my boss. Luckily we are not alone, there are several other small businesses that share the office space. I can understand why my boss chose to stay in Cape Town, the city is smaller and there are beautiful views of the mountains all around.

Table Mountain in Cape Town

The one downside of living in Cape Town is the severe water shortage, which means that each person is limited to 50 liters a water a day and everyone tries to conserve as much as possible. Fortunately, I am an expert water hoarder from my days as a Peace Corps volunteer living without running water. After Peace Corps, I frequently would think about how much people with running water take the resource for granted. It is great to see Cape Town residents taking water conservation seriously, but they only did so because of the severity of the situation. (Reservoir water is expected to run out in 2019.) I would like to see a global shift towards greater water conservation. So, to everyone reading this do your part! Below are some ideas courtesy of the Cape Town Government. Check out their website for even more ideas.

Signs promoting water conservation are all over Cape Town to remind tourists to do their part
  • Only flush the toilet when necessary. Let the yellow mellow at home, work, school, gym, shops, etc.
  • Take very short stop-start showers. Wet your body, turn off the tap, soap, then rinse quickly.
  • Collect your shower, bath and basin water and re-use it to flush your toilet.
  • Wait for a full load before running washing machines and dishwashers. The rinse water from some washing machines can be re-used for the next wash cycle.
  • Use a cup instead of running taps in the bathroom or kitchen when brushing teeth, shaving, drinking, etc.
  • Defrost foods in the fridge or naturally, rather than placing it under running water.


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