jozi: one month on

Today marks four weeks since I left the UK and the time has absolutely flown. I still feel as green as a new shoot as I navigate my new country of residence, but I’m slowly getting to grips with the commute, the vocabulary, and the way of life down here at the bottom of a continent.

Every day it seems I make a mental note to pass on one or other funny expat observation and then utterly fail to do so, so I’ll try to encapsulate a few of my favorites.

–       This may be a side effect of living without a television for six years in the UK, but our new house came with a satellite subscription and 200+ channels of pure awesome. We get TLC from the US, BBC from the UK, and selectively-bought series from HBO and Showtime like True Blood and Ray Donovan. The airing schedule is a couple of weeks behind the US, but who cares? I can finally watch Eric Northman in flat-screen HD glory rather than a fuzzy download from a Chinese website!

–       Joburg natives are some of the nicest people you could hope to meet… until they get in their cars. I’m losing track of how many social events we’ve been invited to by people we barely know (including the woman who completed the insurance survey and suggested we go out with her friends about five minutes after we opened the front door). In the shops and on the streets people smile and joke and look you in the eye and apologize if they bump into you. But if you need someone to let you into a lane during rush hour? Forget it! Even though very little seems to start on time here, every driver seems to be in an urgent hurry and is unafraid of using the horn to let you know. I still find it hard not to get stressed by the impatience of other drivers, but I’m gradually learning to attribute it to ubiquitous haste and not a reflection on my driving abilities. Check back in three months when I’m bitching about slow drivers hogging the fast lane!

–       Living in an upscale neighborhood, going to nice restaurants and a brand-new gym, and mingling almost exclusively with fellow high-achieving professionals in what is arguably Africa’s most developed city makes it easy to forget that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. I’ve never been comfortable with the humiliating spectacle X-Factor and American Idol make of poorly auditioning contestants (to quote Extras, “we wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multi-millionaires”), but Idols SA – the local incarnation of the franchise – brings a new severity. In the US we laugh at fat contestants with no self-awareness, in the UK we laugh at immigrant contestants singing in broken English, and in Idols SA we laugh even when the contestant’s hometown displayed on the bottom of the screen reveals they’re from an incredibly deprived, crime-ridden, opportunity-barren township. Yeah, maybe they suck at singing, but there’s something pretty sinister about people tucked cozily in front of their TVs ridiculing someone who may very well be headed home to sleep on a packed-dirt floor.

–       Yesterday I saw a city bus that pretty much summed up my experience thus far. The digital readout on the front of the bus, meant to display the destination, instead repeated in scrolling neon: “??????????????” And after four weeks in Joburg, that’s how I feel most of the time – not really sure where I’m going, but happily strapping in for a wild ride.

In non-expat news, it’s less than two weeks until The Striker’s Chance releases from Carina Press! It’s already gotten its first review and I couldn’t be more chuffed. I’ve added pre-order links for ARe and Barnes & Noble so feel free to buy multiple copies for multiple devices. 😉 I’ve got a lot of guest posts all around the blogosphere in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled!


going native

I was moments away from drafting a post about the horrific weather we’ve been having in the UK this spring, when I noticed a massive article about it on the Guardian’s homepage. Not only have the few weeks of wet, cold, and windy weather merited several inches of column space, it has attracted loads of commenters making completely unironic statements about signs of spring (or lack thereof) in their local areas.

The British preoccupation with discussions of the weather is something I’ve noticed in my five-and-a-half years here. And to be fair, the fact that the weather is generally pretty miserable probably makes it worth remarking on – either to bemoan your wet shoes or lack of umbrella or, on very rare occasions, to express astonishment at the sight of a strange, glowing and warmth-emanating orb in the middle of the sky. I suppose if you lived somewhere like Arizona, Nairobi, or Singapore, you’d have fairly fixed expectations about what precipitation may or may not descend that day and find some other fodder for small talk. But in the UK – where last week we had a day that alternated between bright, sunny spells and diagonally slanting hail – the weather is the default topic for those awkward, stuck-in-a-lift-with-a-colleague-I-barely-know situations.

My point being, it occurred to me that writing a post complaining about always talking about weather would be somewhat hypocritical. So best that I end it here, and not dare to point out that on the first in several rainy days that I’ve remembered to carry an umbrella, there isn’t the faintest sign of a drop…

just now

By the time Sky finally transfers our broadband account to our new flat and switches it on, we will have lived there for almost three weeks. Having grown up with the instant-gratification expectations of most Americans my age, a few years ago three weeks without home internet access would’ve infuriated me and probably prompted several hot-tempered calls to the broadband company until I got some kind of recompense. But after almost five and a half years in London, I’ve learned something about the art of waiting.

I’m not a patient person. Not even close. In fact, I’m downright neurotic and quite happy to admit it. My foot-tapping, watch-checking tendencies were undoubtedly made worse by six years in New York City, where you can hit the streets in a blinding snowstorm at 4 AM on a federal holiday and still find a store that’s open and selling exactly what you need. There’s always another bodega, another taxi, another pizza place whenever you need one.

Then I moved to London. And I think it’s fair to say that, by the standards to which I was accustomed, London is not a 24-hour city. I knew the Tube stopped running around midnight, unlike the New York subway which carries on (and gets sketchier by the hour) ‘til dawn. As such I grudgingly learned how to plan my evening transport plans in advance, a lesson made all the more vivid by a few occasions of missing the last train and having to catch a slow, meandering night bus full of people on a drunkenness spectrum that ranged from loud to violent to unconscious.

At first I was appalled by what seemed to me to be the pointless sacrifice of several hours of late-night fun. How hard can it be to run the trains for an extra hour or two? Don’t we pay enough on our monthly travelcards to warrant our Saturday night lasting later than midnight? But as the years wore on, I realized it’s not such a bad thing. Everyone tends to drift off at the same time for this very reason, so it’s not like I was the only one ducking out early and missing the rest of a great party. And given the British tendency to unattractively binge-drink, encouraging people to call time earlier rather than later probably does no harm and saves some work for the Sunday-morning street cleaners. The final and frankest reality check, as well, is that at 27 and 28 and 29 and now 30, the novelty of lap-dancing crackheads and flashers wearing aviator sunglasses (both true stories) has well and truly worn off, and I would never take the New York subway home after midnight. I would do what I do now, sometimes even before the Tube has stopped running: call a cab.

Slowly but surely I got used to a lot of these little inconveniences. The grocery store is only open for six hours on Sunday? Okay, cool, I’ll make that extra effort to haul myself off the couch in time to get my shopping done. The waitress takes what feels like ten million years to bring you the check? Oh well, good excuse for a longer lunch. Sky is going to take almost three weeks to hook up the internet? Hm, annoying, especially since we don’t have a TV and watch everything online, but doable – time to dust off all those HBO box sets.

I hadn’t even realized how much I’d mellowed until an old college friend, who works as a cutthroat lawyer in NYC, visited and couldn’t believe the shops were only open until 5 or 6 PM on weekdays and 4 or 5 PM on Sundays. “But what do you do if you work full-time?” she asked. “How do you get what you need?” I shrugged, realizing that I’d never given it much thought. “You make it work, I guess.”

Now I’m on the brink of moving to Johannesburg, where life is lived according to what is affectionately termed ‘Africa time’. Punctuality and the incessant go-go-go of London and New York don’t hold the same value in Joburg. Driving into Pretoria we got stuck in gridlock where one section of the motorway was closed, and instead of lean on their horns and try to wedge themselves into the lane that was crawling almost imperceptibly faster than the others, people shut off their engines, got out of their cars, and enjoyed a breath of fresh air and a few minutes of summer sunshine.

Five years ago I would’ve been white-knuckling the steering wheel, drumming my fingers and silently willing the traffic to just move already. But I’ve learned a thing or two in the land of Sunday trading hours and last-call bells. I’m still a long, long, long way from zen, but I’m looking forward to downshifting life’s little urgencies and learning how to linger.

(Of which I will remind myself when I’m on the phone with my South African broadband provider, demanding an explanation for why I’m still without internet after six weeks!)

three zero

Hello world! I’m a Kansan living in London and brand-new romance author, and as today is my birthday, it seemed like as good a time as any to kick off my shiny new blog. As I’ve now entered a new decade that means my age begins with the number three, I thought it was worth taking a look back at some of the highlights from the last ten years. 

22: After months of listening to my fellow college seniors sign six-figure contracts with investment banks as early as Christmas, having my Fulbright application rejected, and lying awake at night fretting that I’d have to leave New York City and move back to Kansas indefinitely, my year of interning for $10/day paid off and I was offered a full-time editorial job at WW Norton & Co, starting just two weeks after graduation. I lived the first six months in constant fear of being fired, but by the end of the year I was breezily returning proofs, executing contracts, and drunkenly hugging people at the office Christmas party.

24: On paper, I had it all: great job, amazing apartment, solid circle of friends, and a long-term boyfriend who was probably on his way to proposing. But I couldn’t shake an underpinning sense of dissatisfaction, and I chucked it all in: quit my job, gave notice on my apartment, broke up with my boyfriend, and moved to London to do my MA at UCL. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and one of my best decisions ever.

25: Just eight weeks into my first post-MA editorial job, I realized that a career in publishing, though hard-won (see 22), was not what I wanted. I took a complete leap of faith based on nothing more than a general interest in people and a friend’s insistence that I deserved a higher salary, and completely changed industries, starting over from scratch in the small but fast-paced world of executive search and talent consulting. Four years, two firms, and what feels like several million candidate analyses later, I’ve never been happier in my job and can’t see myself ever being tempted out of the professional services sector.

29: My twenties decided to save the best for last, evidently, as 29 was pretty much wall-to-wall awesome! I went on an amazing two-week holiday to South Africa’s Western Cape; I traveled to Dublin to see my favorite crazy Afrikaans rappers, Die Antwoord; I pushed (and triumphed over!) my physical limits at the three-day BG Energy Challenge in Dartmoor, at the Survival of the Fittest obstacle-laden 5K in Battersea, and by completing my first half-marathon in Greenwich; I sold my debut contemporary romance novel to Carina Press; and I got engaged to my very own hero, almost nine years to the day from when we first met.

Personally, I’ve always believed that anxiety about getting older results from a youth-worshipping societal construct that not only pressures women to achieve certain false markers of achievement (marriage, kids) according to an artificial timeline, it implies that being younger is unequivocally better than being older. Feminist rage aside (ahem), I just don’t buy it. There’s not enough money in the world to pay me to be 21 again and to re-experience all of that uncertainty, personal discovery, and constant self-analysis a second time. My 30th year promises to be full of upheaval: I’ll be leaving my life in London behind and starting over in Johannesburg, changing jobs, buying a car and potentially a house, and getting married somewhere in between. Yet I’m looking forward to it more than I’m stressing about it, because everything else in my life – my relationship, my self-confidence, and my faith that things always work themselves out – is pretty much nailed down. That wouldn’t have been the case nine or eight or even three years ago. I’m secure in myself, I know what I do and don’t want, and I still get carded regularly, so all in all, a little agedness hasn’t hurt me one bit!

The last decade was great, but I’m ready to see it off. Sayonara, 29 – and roll on 30!