Sunday, July 4, 2010


I’ve blogged quite a bit about my family’s trip to South Africa – what we’ve seen, done, and experienced. But I skipped a very important piece – how personally unprepared for this trip I was.

I think it’s a mistake most wives and mothers make… we take care of everyone else before ourselves. In case of emergency, we hear the attendant on the plane instruct us to cover our face with oxygen first, then attend to our children. But in real life, we would instinctually do whatever it takes to save our babies’ life, even to the loss of our own.

All of this explains how I’m in South Africa in the middle of the winter completely unprepared.

The Background Story

I love to watch sports. More than my husband. He’ll try to watch an NFL or NBA game on television, but inevitably, he falls asleep – every time. I on the other hand, sit in rapt attention to my favorite team’s match against an arch rival. I’m not a big fan of NBA play, but I love NFL football and I am newly addicted to soccer.

I had my son record the world cup matches I was most interested in seeing. And at the end of the day, after everyone was fed, the house cleaned, and all of my responsibilities as a wife, mother and business owner were complete… I’d get comfortable on the sofa with my pillows just so and watch all 95 minutes of whatever match I’d missed during the day.

I would yell and shout at the screen – at missed passes, poor ref calls, and inept blocking by the goalies. The goal scored against USA by England in the first 7 minutes of play at the beginning of the World Cup almost sent me to the hospital.

But what does any of this have to do with the weather, you ask. Everything. When I watched all 95 minutes of those matches, I noticed that all of the spectators were wearing scarves, earmuffs and wool hats. I remember seeing Desmond Tutu in a triple fat goose 3/4 coat with scarf, hat and muffs and thinking, I’ve got to rethink my wardrobe for this trip. So I did. I mentally began preparing my clothing choices. The main problem was that all of my winter clothes were packed into storage bins in the basement. It’s the middle of summer in Atlanta, GA. The weather has been a sunny 85-90*F every day. So I waited to pack.

I tried to discuss our travel itinerary with my husband. “Where exactly are we going? How long will we be there?” Stuff like that. Because in my mind, South Africa is a big country and we were going to be traveling to the far north, east, west and south. The weather could be different in every city. I needed to be prepared – especially for my children.

“It’s winter in Africa, not Chicago,” my husband responded. “It’s going to get to 70* every day. Don’t worry about it.”

And I partially believed him. I packed my children’s suitcases with care. Some short-sleeved shirts and a couple pairs of shorts each. But I filled their suitcases with light-weight long-sleeved shirts, jeans, and thick sweatshirts (just in case what I was seeing on television was more accurate than what my husband was telling me). I also pulled out their fleece jackets that could easily be rolled up and stuffed in a backpack. They were good no matter what the outcome.

I, on the other hand, had a bigger issue. How would I put together winter ensembles without the matching boots? Most of my winter-wear including a matching pair of boots and purse. But I knew we’d be walking a lot and I couldn’t wear my favorite Franco Sarto heeled boots on a safari in South Africa, so I opted for fitness clothing. Stretch pants with light sweaters, and jeans with turtlenecks. All things I could wear with my sneakers.

Problem… the turtlenecks and sweaters I wanted to pack were too thick, and I couldn’t get more than 2 of them in the case along with the rest of my clothing, a pair of shoes and my toiletries. So I trusted my husband and left the bulky sweaters and sweatshirts behind, and opted for thin, long sleeve shirts that I could wear under my fitted vests. Instead of a coat or jacket, I packed 2 wraps – one in beige and one in black. They’d go with everything I’d packed and they kept me warm through most of the Georgia winter, so they’d be perfect for the trip.

First problem: my husband forgot the kids’ jackets on the plane from Atlanta to Johannesburg. So there were no fleece jackets for either of my sons from day one of the trip.

Second problem: it was freezing cold in South Africa – North, South, East and West. It got down to 35-40* every evening around 6:00pm and stayed cold throughout the night until about 11:30am the next morning. So my husband was partially correct – it did get warmer in the middle of the day.

Third problem: we couldn’t get adjusted to the 6 hour time change for about 5 days, so we never woke before 2:00pm. Most of our awake time and activities were during the cold-weather hours.

Fourth problem: the only game we had tickets for was in the warmer city of Port Elizabeth along the southern coast. Great. But when we found out that Ghana was playing the US just 2 hours north of Johannesburg, we traded in our game tickets and boarded a plane for the northern, mountainous city of Johannesburg. We then rented a car and drove 2.5 hours north to Rustenburg. Finally, we sat in an outdoor stadium at 8:30pm to watch the 2-hour match. We then stood for 45 minutes in a queue (outside in a field) to board a shuttle to our car. By 11:30pm, I was frozen stiff in my thin turtleneck, vest and black pashmina wrap.

Now, outside of the point of my being a cold-natured person who is rarely warm enough for comfort; and despite the fact that it was truly quite cold in every city we visited in South Africa; and regardless of the reality that it was windy in and around the mountains and off the ocean (which pretty much covers everywhere we went)… I was also upset because I didn’t look very nice.

In case you don’t know, I’m a relatively natural girl. I don’t wear makeup very often, and when I do it’s only eyeliner and lip gloss. I have long “dred”locs and I simply pull them back into a ponytail or let them hang loose. I don’t really spend much time on my appearance.

However, I do like for my outfits to be complimentary and complementary. That means, my clothes have to fit me well and match. Sneakers with stretch pants is not the latest fad in America or South Africa. In fact, it was African Fashion Week in Johannesburg while we were there. So all of the ladies were wearing skinny-leg jeans or leggings with knee-high or thigh-high flat boots. They had several layers of light-weight long-sleeved shirts and it was covered by short, puffy jackets, scarves and smart hats. Ooohhh, how I longed for my boots in the bin in the basement. And I have short, puffy jackets – at home in the states!

Sigh. I know it’s all vanity, but who wants to be out during fashion week in another country and look like a bumpkin. Just not my style.

To further my anguish, my mother protectively suggested to me before we left to leave my rings at home. So I did. All of them. Diamond, wedding band, silver funky costume rings. Everything.

So… I’m a makeup-less, no jewelry-wearing, sneaker with jeans woman. I look so young, the people in all of the hotels where we stayed kept asking me if Malik (my younger son) was my younger brother. They thought I was traveling with my parents (my husband and my mother who looks young enough to be my sister) and my siblings. Only one man thought my mother was my daughter. Sigh. I just can’t win on this trip!

Last thing – I have no purse. That’s right. My mother scared me so bad, I left all of my purses (big, medium and small) in Atlanta. I didn’t want some petty thief to snatch my Coach shoulder bag. So all I have is a small wallet with a wrist handle made out of pleather with a cracked mirror embedded in the side. To make matters worse, the wrist handle broke during one of our excursions and I had to tuck the wallet in the waist of my stretch pants (no pockets and no purse).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am having the time of my life. Literally. The things I’m seeing, experiencing and doing are life-altering. I don’t take it lightly that I’m here with my husband, children, mother and father-in-law. This is an opportunity many dream about and may not ever experience in their entire life. I’m cherishing every sunrise over the mountains and sunset into the ocean. I just wish I looked cuter in the photos.

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