Monday, March 14, 2011

McKays in South Africa Feb 2011

We've been here for over a month now and things are finally settling down. While the final packup was frantic, the house was left clean and sparkling with piles of boxes and furniture up to the roof in the garage (but waterproof!). After a weekend of wedding celebrations for some of Niall's uni students, we finally packed and we made our flight with heaps of time to spare (2 hr trip direct from Newy on Aust Day). Kids were able to sleep on the plane as there were heaps of spare seats. We arrived early at Johannesburg and were able to spend a day with the Szokolas and see most of the family there. Next day we flew down to Cape Town and stayed with Elaine (Niall's aunty) for a few nights. Soon after we moved into our house with no problems and managed to get the kids into school on the Tuesday. The kids have been brilliant. They've both made friends and are settling into their respective classes well.

Rhenish is a public school, but is very similar to Australian private schools. School starts at 7.45am and finishes at 1pm (Connor) or 2pm (Laura), followed by 'extra mural activities' in the afternoon. Activities are mainly sport-focussed, but also include drama, choir etc.

Laura recently competed at the school swimming gala – they used starting guns even for the six year olds! She made it to the relay gala which is on next week. She has taken on athletics and swimming. Connor has started school swimming and mini-cricket (see him bowling), and has just started soccer. All of this happens on the school grounds (yes, they have a pool) and as part of the school curriculum. Students are selected for school teams, which receive additional specialised tuition – this is very competitive to get into! It seems like a good school.

We finally bought a car after 2 weeks of borrowing Niall's aunty's car or walking. Fi has even managed to get used to driving a manual car (out of necessity). Just as well we had a bit of practise before leaving (thanks Arien and Matt!). Niall also bought a second hand bike, which is in pretty good condition. We can walk to school and some good local shops ('Spar' ie. Grocery store and fruit and veg shop, so we've been able to get around ok without a car, but are very happy in this heat to have a red-french-mobile to get to/from school.

It has been very hot here (although not as hot as Aust. I hear).
However, with no flyscreens or air conditioning, the heat has been
trying at times, particularly at night. We have a winery backing onto our house, which seems to encourage the flies. The pool has been a godsend
and the kids (and us) have made frequent use of it, and with solar heating, we should get even more use out of it. The nights are starting to cool off more now, so looking forward to cooler weather!

We had three long weeks without internet, so we've been spending a lot of time at Nook (Niall's cousin Jessie's cafe), which has been good. We've run into her sister Debbie every time and also seen their other sister Jene.

After a lot of wangling on Niall's part, we eventually got our boxes, so we have officially unpacked! Only 1 suitcase of stuff to come from Johannesburg and it's all here. We've been very lucky that there is so much in the house already. The house is a lot bigger than we thought it would be. It's a great summer house with tiled floors throughout the main areas. Winter will be cold though! The kids love their bedrooms (Connor's is bright green with a soccer ball lampshade and red curtains; Laura's is pale blue with a girl's lampshade!). We have 2 bathrooms (one ensuite, one main) and lots of nooks and crannies. We're hoping that the landlord will be fixing a few problems in the house soon (like the leaking roof!).

The kids have decided on a church for us as they loved the sunday school at the United Church (Uncle Brian's church). Connor was hooked ever since his first class rotation was in the computer room!

Niall has started his Mth and has a reading list, so is busily reading and writing reviews and sat his first oral exam last week (85%!). The Theology building (Kweekskool) is quite an amazing building, as you can see, typical of many buildings in Stellenbosch.

I am starting to look for work in SA, but in the mean time I may have some work for GHD in Newcastle, which will at least keep some money coming in. Not lots of work around Stellenbosch at present, and Cape Town is too far away.

Fiona has been busy making friends with the mums at school and the ladies at the SPICE group (spouses of international students and academics). We've already started entertaining (now that our stuff has arrived!) ensuring good use of the pool including having over an American couple and a German family who have both just arrived in SA, and our housewarming on 13th March, which was a great success! Niall hasn't had the opportunity to meet too many postgrads, so it's just as well Fi is free to meet lots of people. Fi has successfully auditioned for a choir, Schola Cantorum at the university, which seems quite good.

Fi and Niall are both looking for part-time work. Niall has been unable to find any paid ministry placements, so is looking at IT work. Fi is contacting lots of environmental companies to see what work is available.

Things here are very similar to Australia – similar vegetation, very suburban, very relaxed. We are very close to shops, which although different to Aust., they still have many well known brands. We have already had 2 braai's (BBQ over hot coals), the traditional SA thing to do. The main difference between SA and Aust is less automation to keep more people employed (road crews use pick hammers instead of jack hammers)and lots of Afrikaans spoken around us.

The scenery is spectacular in this area – amazing mountains from everywhere in Stellenbosch, beautiful white-washed old buildings and lovely gardens, vineyards everywhere (you can see vines from our backyard) and the ocean view when you get to the peak of Somerset West is breathtaking. Looking forward to exploring some new sights in the next few months as we settle in. Connor loves looking at all the small and large planes that fly over our house (the local aerodrome is only 10 mins away, so there's always lots to see!).

We're looking forward to the school holidays in a month's time (1 week off), then another week at Easter two days later! We've booked tickets to see Cirque du Soleil near the front (in Cape Town), so that should be fantastic and we'll spend a few days at Pringle Bay which will be nice. There are so many great wineries around and things to do – we're making a list so we can get around to everything.

We're loving it here and thinking of you all back home. We've been so busy setting everything up that we haven't had too much time to think about missing everyone (I'm sure that will come). We're so blessed to have Niall's family who have supported us so much when we arrived and loaned us stuff, and fantastic neighbours as well (we even got a chocolate cake and a bottle of wine from them!).

On a sad note we farewelled our beloved cat, Isabelle, last week as she was bitten by a snake and didn't recover. The kids have coped well with the loss. Our friends who were looking after her planted some lovely flowers in all the colours of her fur in memory of her.

Hope you are all well and looking forward to hearing from you soon – remember if we don't email, please email us! We can be called on Skype (nmckay1975) or home phone if you want to call. Best time to contact us on school days is around 4pm AEST, which is about 7am here. On weekends, maybe call about 6pm (5pm out of daylight savings).

Love Fi, Niall, Laura and Connor McKay