Nan and Walt's 1999 - 2000 Sabbatical
Report #8, March 2, 2000
Part II - South Africa ( map)

While we arrived in Johannesburg around noon, we didn't actually get to Grahamstown, where we are living, until about six P.M. Peter and Louisa Clayton kindly met us at the Port Elizabeth airport with a trailer in tow - they'd heard about all our luggage! :-). It's a lovely hour and a half drive to Grahamstown, along the coast and through the hills. We even saw some enormous termite hills and a wild antelope herd on the way.

Peter and Louisa's Patio.

We're associated with the Computer Science Department at Rhodes University and are housed in the "VIP Flat" in the Union Building. A view from our apartment's patio is shown above. The apartment is fine, except its pretty noisy when the students are partying, about half the evenings of the week, or when there's a game on in the Great Field. If you'd like, you can take a virtual tour of the campus.


We've had two different offices since we arrived. Both had superb views as can be seen above. The nest in the palm to the right is that of the Cape Weaver. We've been told that the male builds the nest and if he doesn't do it up to the female's standards, she makes him do it again. :-)

Interesting approach to parallel processing in building painting on campus! Actually this approach is taken in lots of situations from road repair to gardening. Manual labor is paid less than $10 a day so in many cases it is cost effective to hire lots of workers rather than employing technology. For example, one often sees men with pickaxes (lots of men with pickaxes) tearing up pavement to do some kind of repair or another.


Grahamstown is lovely; the area feels a bit like the southwestern United States or California: cacti and palm trees (OK, so there is SOME moisture!) It is HOT though - high 80's/90's, except when it rains (There is more rain than normal, this summer - you've undoubtedly heard about the severe flooding in northern South Africa, Mozambique, etc.).

The photo on the left above shows the downtown area from the train station. Grahamstown boasts the largest cathedral in South Africa; it may be seen in a distance. The photo on the right shows the protective walls and rolls of barbed wire that can be seen frequently around the city.


Grahamstown also boasts of the only camera obscura in the southern hemisphere. It is situated on top of a victorian era house located in the center of town. It was in this house as well that the first diamond that was found in South Africa was identified to be one.

A panorama of the city from atop the museum.


Here we see Walter talking about the camera obscura on the left and on the right a Xhosa woman carrying her shopping.

Grahamstown is quite small and quite isolated. South Africa has 1/3 the area and 1/10 the population (38 million) of the U.S. It is also strange being a minority ethnically. There are lot's of people begging and selling on the streets. We've heard an unemployment figure of 80%. This is the most uncomfortable aspect of the visit for me, the two tier society: haves and have nots. There are so many people living in much less than ideal conditions that it is hard to know what help is reasonable to provide. If you give to a beggar, you are immediately surrounded by others in need. Where is it reasonable to start? When do you stop?

By the way, everything locks up tight here on Saturday afternoon, except for a few grocery stores. Things are open Monday morning though unlike in the Netherlands. South Africa is an interesting combination of British and Dutch and indigenous tribe cultures. Lot's of names are very Dutch (e.g., Dordrecht and Oudtshoorn), others are definitely have a British (e.g., Port Elizabeth, New London, and King Williams Town) root. Most official things, such as newspaper, phone books and TV shows come in three languages: English, Afrikaans, and whatever the language is of the largest local tribe. Here it's Xhosa; the Xh is pronounced as a click!

Walt got sick shortly after we arrived - a Montezuma's revenge sort of thing - and after 2 1/2 hours of solid illness, he started bleeding from both ends! That scared us both. I tried the emergency number but they kind of put me on hold and didn't get back to me, so I called Peter and their family doctor came to see Walt! (I didn't think I could get him away from the bowl long enough to get him to the office.) The doctor thought it was a virus. He gave Walt an injection and some pills to take for the nausea - (I had imodium D with me). The house call, a followup visit, a shot and meds cost less than $46! Walt was fine the next day with only a little residual pain from all the heaving. Fortunately I didn't get it!

Shortly after Walt's illness, we decided to rent a car for the rest of our stay. The University is able to get a discount for us, so it works out the same as buying a car of the same vintage as the CRX (of course, without getting money back in the end). However, it is not possible to rent a car with unlimited mileage and our mileage limits are quite low, just over 4000 km. We could have gotten more miles on our own, but for a lot more money. (The cost is a little less than sending the CRX here! Incidentally, we sold the CRX to a junk yard for $37.50 before we left the Netherlands. It cost $20 to send the plates back to the U.S. However, we received four times as much back from the car insurance as received for car!)

We can truly recommend South Africa; it is really inexpensive here right now (other than phone calls!). The dollar is worth more than 6 rand and buys at least twice as much as in the States. The limit on ATM withdrawals is about $400 and I had to get special authorization the other day to spend $70 on my credit card! We've never spent more than $10 a person for a meal, even at an "expensive" restaurant. My chiropractor charges 80 rand ($12) a visit and eye glasses and hearing aids (yes, I broke down and am trying one) are about half what they cost in the States.

There is a swimming pool (60% olympic size) just outside our flat which we have been enjoying immensely. We were swimming every morning (Walt still is), but I have been attending an 8 AM class, which has limited my swims to the weekends.

Also, we got a (free) temporary membersip in the local yacht club and went sailing on one of their small boats, showing the sailing students how not to do a lot! We didn't capsize, but had lots of rigging problems! :-)

Grahamstown is known as the festival city. The Arts Festival is the biggest ones held here mid-winter (ZA time). I had the opportunity to attend some of the local auditions that are going on now with Louisa. Although the venue was quite dark, I was able to get some photos. Some of the acts were marvelous and the children are especially friendly and beautiful.

The varieties of plants (over 10,000) and animals are more plentiful here than in the States. Most of the big game is located in game reserves and national parks. We've taken two day "safaris" in reserves close to Grahamstown and plan to do another soon. We're trying to see the big five in the wild: elephant, lions, leopards, buffalo, and rhino. I'd also like to see giraffe. Links to our flora and fauna pages follow:

When I'm not involved at Rhodes University (I'm sitting in on two courses at the moment), we try to do a little touring in the area. Having the car gives us the flexibility to do so, espeically on the spur of the moment. Links to those pages follow:

We hope you've enjoyed a vicarious look at our travels here. Until next time greetings "out of Africa"!

Go back to Part I - Lisbon

Back toNan Schaller's and Walt Bankes' Sabbatical Page


Nan C. Schaller
Rochester Institute of Technology
Computer Science Department
102 Lomb Memorial Dr.
Rochester, NY 14623-5608
telephone: +1.585.475.2139
fax: +1.585.475.7100

26 March 2000