Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Let The Springbok Rest In Peace!

South Africa's national rugby team has been known as the Springboks since 1906 (with the Springbok as its emblem), long before 1948 when South Africa's National Party came up with the despised Apartheid system.

There were no political connotations to that name. On a tour to the UK, the national rugby team captain at that time, Paul Roos, simply chose it as the name to use before the British press came up with their own nickname. Since that time, the name Springbok came to represent excellence and pride.

Yes, there was a period during its history where the SA government applied the Apartheid system to rugby by excluding non-white players from the national rugby team. As unfortunate as that was, it was about politics sticking its nose into sports and not about the Springbok.

Newspapers are quick to report that Dr. Danie Craven, long-time chairman of the SA Rugby Board, once said that a black person will never wear a Springbok jersey. That is true. What the same newspapers usually fail to say is that he changed his mind soon afterwards, and that it was in fact Danie Craven who met with the then-banned ANC in Zimbabwe to discuss a single rugby association for all racial groups, much to then-SA president PW Botha's dismay.

After South Africa's first multi-racial elections in 1994 when Nelson Mandela came to power, the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup twice, and the reputation of the "mighty Springbok" was enhanced even more. After each of these events, the Springbok was embraced by many South Africans from all racial groups!

For the guys who make it onto the team today (except Luke Watson), the Springbok still represents excellence and pride. These are rugby people who know how much work it takes to make the team!

Unfortunately, politics is still dragging South African rugby down, more specifically, the Springbok. People within the current ANC government, who probably don't even know what a rugby ball looks like, and certainly cares more about their own political ambitions than they care about rugby, have been trying to get rid of the Springbok emblem for several years, with the onslaught intensifying a lot recently.

"It symbolizes Apartheid", they say. "Bullsh*t!", I say. It happened to be the name of the team during Apartheid, but it was around since long before Apartheid. If you want to do away with the Springbok because it supposedly symbolizes Apartheid, then you may as well ban rugby too. Wasn't rugby "the sport of the [hated] Afrikaner?"

The problem is, the political meddling won't stop. People in power who, unlike Nelson Mandela, go around with scores to settle at any cost, will continue to attack anything that was also a national symbol during Apartheid.

So I say, drop the Springbok entirely from the national rugby team. Don't let it become a marginalized, commercial symbol that represents political fighting, sitting on the right-hand side of SA national rugby players' chests, subservient to the Protea. Let it ride off into the sunset as a symbol of excellence and pride, and let people remember it that way.

The politicians can then create whatever symbol they want. At least the mighty Springbok will live on intact in people's memories!

Friday, September 05, 2008

12 Years in the US

Today we celebrate our 12th year in the US and next month will be our 10th year in Texas!

At 3.35 p.m. today, at the moment when my oldest son comes out of school, it will be exactly 12 years since that KLM flight touched down on the runway of San Francisco international airport!

As usual, these things let you reflect on the past 12 years and all that has happened in that time. I also reflect on the fact that we left our homeland and family ten thousand miles behind for a new life in a different part of the world.

I have bitter-sweet feelings about it all. The "bitter" is that we are far away from our family and we miss them. Luckily we do get to see them from time to time, and going by some of our American friends, we see our family in South Africa quite often.

The "sweet" is obviously the lives we have here in the US. We can always make improvements, but generally, life is good. Our kids are doing well and they are able to pursue great opportunities in a world where performance is the only measure.

Over the past 12 years we have also become very aware of how lucky we were to win our green cards in the lottery. Ours was a trouble-free entry that led to US citizenship six years later. Some of our friends are still struggling to get their green cards after more than ten years and thousands of dollars.

We are lucky indeed!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

6th Anniversary of Sep 11 Attacks

Today, Sep 11, 2007 is the 6th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sep 11, 2001 where more than 3000 people lost their lives in one of the most cowardly acts in history!

Today we honor the 3000 innocent victims and our hearts go out to their families and friends. We may not know any of you personally, but be assured that our thoughts are with you today.

Last night, Discovery Channel broadcast a show called The Falling Man. It struck me how the people who fell from the top of the World Trade Center towers in some sense became the "forgotten victims" of those attacks. I'm specifically thinking about those people today too. I can only imagine what a horrible choice they faced, a choice they must've known left no possibility of survival.

To all victims and their families, I wish you peace!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

11 Years In The US Today!

Today, 11 years ago, on Sep 5, 1996, we arrived in the US from South Africa! Eleven years! I can hardly believe it!

We left South Africa on Sep 2 and spent 2 days with a friend in London before continuing to San Francisco. Our now-13-yr-old son, Johnny, was a 2-yr-old toddler back then. Today he has a girlfriend and is in his final year of Middle School! How time flies!

Are we happy in the US? Yes, we are! I would love it if South Africa was only a 4-hour flight away to allow for easier flights and more regular visits with family. That remains my only issue with living in the US - we don't see our family regularly enough. The only upside of that is that we can stay out of family squabbles. When we see them, we have a good time. Only good memories!

We've been back (to South Africa) three times. The first was in June 1999, i.e. after almost 3 years. Then again for Christmas 2000. After that, there was a 5-yr drought before finally visiting in July 2006. We'll be visiting there again this coming Christmas. It's always fun to visit the family in South Africa, but I'm always nervous about the crime too. :-(

This has been a long journey with a few bumps in the road, but I think it has nevertheless been a good one for us. We've had some wonderful experiences along the way.

The journey continues...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

How To Make Boerewors

Boerewors... Yes, boerewors is definitely one of the South African foods that South African expats miss the most.

In many ways, there's nothing special about boerewors. It's basically spiced, ground meat stuffed into casings. In other ways, there is a lot that is special about it, especially if you can't simply go buy it at the local grocery store!

It becomes part of an age-old South African ritual... the opening of the first beer... the lighting of the fire... the drinking of the second beer while staring nostalgically into the flames... placing the braai (barbeque) grid over the coals, and putting the "boerie" where it was born to be... opening the fourth beer... braai-ing the boerewors to perfection (at least in your mind)... and then that magic flavor... you can taste the coriander and nutmeg in the juices... you wonder, "why has it been so long?"

Some South African expats learn very quickly how to make their own boerewors. Others yearn for it, or try to buy it online. For those who haven't learnt how to do it yet, here's how to make your own boerewors...

You're going to need a meat grinder with a sausage-stuffing attachment. We bought ours at Linens & Things for around $100. It has a metal casing (better quality) and comes with 3 grinding plates. We use the grinding plate with the biggest holes (quarter inch or 6 mm) because you don't want to grind the meat too finely. It also came with two sausage-stuffing attachments. We usually use the bigger one of the two to prevent the meat from becoming too compacted.

Next you're going to need a boerewors recipe. Here is a good boerewors recipe to get you going... Our recipe differs slightly from that one because we used it as a starting point and then modified it each time we made another batch until we got the taste that we love. (We don't add the bacon, and we've increased the amount of coriander by about 20%.)

The recipe calls for beef and pork. We found that trimmed brisket works best for the beef. It's cheap and already contains a lot of fat, so you don't have to add extra fat. Get the trimmed brisket because the untrimmed brisket simply contains too much fat that you end up throwing away anyway. We buy any lean-ish pork we can find.

You're also going to need sausage casings to stuff the meat into. Living in Texas, we buy hog casings at HEB, our local grocery store. That works fine. There are also several places where you can buy casings online.

The spices in the boerewors recipe that I mentioned above, are all available at our local grocery store, so I would imagine yours will have it too. The recipe calls for vinegar. We use a 50/50 mix of malt vinegar and regular white vinegar, but I believe white vinegar alone works fine if you can't find malt vinegar. Mix all your dry spices beforehand and set it aside until later.

At this point you should have everything you're going to need, including a sharp knife. Put all the meat in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Cold meat is much easier to cut than room-temperature meat.

Prepare the casings. Casings packed in salt need to be thoroughly soaked and rinsed. We let ours soak in lukewarm water for about 30 minutes, and then rinse with cold water. We also run water through the casings to rinse the inside.

Now you're ready to go...
  1. Cut all your meat into cubes of about 1 inch by 1 inch.
  2. Mix the beef and pork cubes thoroughly.
  3. Let the meat cubes stand for a while, preferably in a container with holes in the bottom. This allows excess blood to drain away. I sometimes run cold water through the meat to help drain away the last bit.
  4. Mix all the dry spices and vinegar into the meat. We find that it helps to spread the meat out in a large, flat container and then adding the spices and vinegar little by little while mixing it.
  5. Grind all the meat using a large grinding plate to get a coarse grind. We use our quarter inch plate. Cold meat also grinds easier than room-temperature meat, so you may want to put the meat cubes in the refrigerator for a while before grinding. This is not critical though.
  6. Grind all the meat.
  7. Remove the cutting blade and grinding plate from the grinder and fit the sausage-stuffing attachment. Pull one length of casing over the attachment. If it's difficult to slide the casing over the attachment, wet the attachment with a little water. We also sometimes blow in the casing to fill it with air. This removes any kinks in the casing and makes it slide over easier.
  8. Stuff the ground meat into the casing. Be careful not to over-stuff the casing. This will cause the casing to burst while braai-ing, and with that, a lot of flavor is lost. This is a two-person job. One feeds the ground meat into the stuffer, and the other controls the speed with which the casing comes off the attachment.
The next part is critical...

Go light a fire, open a beer, and reward yourself with a freshly-braaied piece of boerewors...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I'm 40 Today!

Yesterday, for the first time since I was a kid, I felt a little excitement about my upcoming birthday. I'm not quite sure why... maybe it was because of all the fuss that surrounds a 40th birthday...

Anyway, the day has now arrived, and here I am... 40 years young...

Some would say this is the midpoint of a person's life, and that alone freaks a lot of people out. I'm not worried about that. If that is true, I have another 40 good years to look forward to. I can only hope that they will be just as exciting as the first 40... If there is any truth in "naughty forties", then I guess even more excitement awaits...

I'm new at this. Can anyone tell me about the good stuff in store for me? Can I now fart in public and expect to get only a few polite smiles from bystanders? Do I get a discount at the movies? Will a confused stare get me out of forgetting important stuff? What exactly does this "naughty" mean? There must be something in it for me!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Johnny sliding down golf course hill

Monday and Tuesday, Jan 15 & 16, were pretty cold here in Lago Vista. We had plenty of sleet (ice rain) and even some snow. The kids' schools were closed, and much of the surrounding area came to a standstill as a result of the ice.

The kids made the most of this opportunity to have fun. They were out sliding on the ice all the time. On Tuesday we walked to the Lago Vista golf course to go sliding on its iced-up fairways. Here's Johnny sliding down a section of the 15th fairway of the Lago Vista golf course. Although you can't see it, the only reason why he could slide on the grass is because it's completely iced up.

Michael sliding down golfcourse hill

This is Michael lying on his stomach on his boogie board and coming down a section of the 15th fairway of the Lago Vista golfcourse. One section has a bump that produces a little lift!

Johnny snowboarding down golf course fairway

Johnny snowboarding (standing on his boogie board) and going down the fairway of the 15th hole on the Lago Vista golf course.

Michael snowboarding down golf course fairway

Michael "snowboarding" (standing upright on his boogie board) and going the 15th fairway on the Lago Vista golf course.