Dirty, Pretty Things



BIG BUSINESS: The sex worker industry is estimated to make over $100 billion per year. PIC: online

Sitting at a table in Long Street, Cape Town, I’m not quite sure who I’m looking for. Her voice was sweet on the phone, yet I found her in one of those ‘call-girl lines’ hidden away in the classifieds.

Cindy (27) finds me straight away.
“I thought that funky colour would match your voice,” she tells me excitedly.
She’s been a sex worker for nine years, but hates the word.
“I’m a call-girl in the week and a real-girl on the weekend.”

Her skin is a beautiful mocha colour and her black wavy hair reaches just over her breasts. It’s hard not to notice them; her red blouse is buttoned much too low, matching the pretty red lace bra underneath.
“Why do you do it?” I ask. Better not waste any time, she seems a little nervous.
“I caught you noticing my broken blouse. Sorry about that… wild client.”
Only then do I notice her blouse is torn and isn’t intentionally buttoned so low. Strange she used the word “broken.”

“Why do I do it?” she continues:

“I ask myself that every birthday, every Easter, every Christmas, every day. I guess it’s fun, you know. I turn guys on by making their wildest fantasies come alive over the phone. It gave me a kick to know I was so powerful. A horny guy is very vulnerable… His heart’s racing. His crotch is throbbing.”

I look down. She notices.
“Does that word make you uncomfortable?”
“No, not at all. I’m surprised you didn’t use something cruder.”
“Oh yeah? I may talk dirty, but here it’s a proper interview, you know.”

She lights up a cigarette. Her hands are well manicured, painted in bright coral.
“When did it become more than just a voice?”
“That high of turning them on soon fell away. I needed to touch them, experience it for myself.”
Her voice quickens:

“I had my first sexual experience at 13. I was swimming in a public pool, minding my own business when I caught a boy about my age staring at me. It didn’t mean much, you know. We kissed and touched under the water. I never asked his name but he was allowed to touch me like no one else had. That’s when the fantasy of reality begins. Nothing beats it.”

silk stalkings

SILK STALKINGS: Prostitution is considered to be the most dangerous female occupation, with a homicide rate of 204 per 100 000. PIC: online

“So, you enjoy having sex with strangers?”
She plays with the ash-tray, avoiding eye-contact.
“It pays my bills, you know. During the World Cup, I made enough to pay off my mortgage and buy a cute car.”
“Don’t you consider itself ‘dirty money’?”

“Listen here, I work hard for what I got! I aim to please!” she says, glaring into my eyes. Her voice then softens again.
“During the World Cup, I experienced businessmen from Germany, family guys from France and sex fanatics from Holland. We played safe.”
“Yeah, but a condom isn’t full-proof,” I tell her quickly.
“I know. I’ve had my scares: six torn condoms and three mistakes.”
“You tell a guy he can tie you up and have fun, but he’ll go bananas and forget to wrap his tool.”
“What then?”

“The guy will always apologise, but he’ll never ask you to call him back and get tested together or offer to pay for the abortion.”

Cindy’s child is three years old.
“Tommy* is the one I didn’t get rid of. I was so close though. It was a bad month. I had taken three morning after-pills in a four-week interval. Stupid. And had an abortion two months before. The gynae told me if I killed it… him… I could never conceive again.”
“Do you know who the father is?”
“No. But, I’m pretty sure it’s one of my regulars. They have the same eyes.”
“A regular?”
“He visits me once a month, when his wife is at her parents. If he wasn’t married, we’d be together.”
“How do you know?”
“We share a bond more than just sex. He’ll talk to me about his job, his in-laws, his stress and then show me a pic of his little boys playing in the garden. I want to show him Tommy, how much they all look alike, but then I freeze. He still asks me about those months I was missing. Those months of freedom to have my child were bliss. I felt real, you know. I was an independent woman, a caring mother, a role-model.”

“Why go back?”


PRIVATE PRACTICE: Although prostitution is illegal in countries like South Africa, it is still common practice. Sex workers like Cindy who practise privately are, therefore, not protected by the law. PIC: online.

“Waitressing doesn’t cut it and I hate sitting behind a desk.”
“What about exotic dancing?”
“Teazers? Haha… had a blast there for a while, but my son needs me in the evenings.”

I refuse to ask how much she makes, but she insists in telling me.
“You’re not exploiting me by wanting to know. Business is business. I charge R500 for a blowjob and between R2000 to R3000 for the full deal. Blowjobs are more popular, but my least favourite. There’s something so much more intimate about it… No kissing on the mouth, ever. Regulars give me extras: jewellery, weekends away or a pretty dress. Never lingerie. They don’t want to picture me with someone else while wearing it.”

She lights up another cigarette.
“That turns men off: to know how many, how often and how… I may objectify sex, but I’m never just the object. I don’t want to be seen as a piece of meat. Cindy is my playful name and that’s how it is. When I’m home, I’m Mommy.”
“How much longer? What about your son?”
“I haven’t really figured that out. On Parents’ Day, I’ll be absent. At his Matric Dance, I’ll be absent. At his wedding, I’ll be absent.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve put him up for adoption. I’m HIV positive. The bastard who gave it to me raped me. No condom. No name. No payment. Just a lifetime of guilt. My little boy is young enough to forget me still. I don’t want him to see Mommy dying.”

She starts to cry and fidgets with the napkin:

“These are dirty, pretty things: my body, my memories and my mistakes. Yet, my little boy was the first man to give me real love. I can’t imagine not seeing him grow up, but I have no choice. And now I’m sick, so I’ve stopped the real stuff and gone back to being a call-girl.”

“That’s how we found each other…”
She smiles and lights up one last cigarette.
“’Don’t fall in love’ was the biggest lie I was told. I’m going to die with no one by my side, because I was too afraid to experience it. Sex, any time. Love, never. Those are two of the dirtiest, prettiest things…”


  • Prostitution has been illegal in South Africa since the 1957 Sexual Offences Act (SOA). The purchase of sex was added as an offence in a 2007 amendment. 
  • Fears of increased prostitution during the 2010 FIFA World Cup led to calls for it to be legalised and regulated; in order to help control AIDS and STIs and for the protection of the sex workers. This, however, did not fall through, although businesses like Teazers were highly popular.
  • Prostitution is illegal in most African countries, except for Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Senegal.
  • “Prostitute” comes from the Latin prostituere; which means to set forth in public and to expose, dishonour or use for unworthy use.
  • Prostitution is regulated as a profession in countries like the Netherlands and parts of Germany.
  • Human trafficking is primarily used for prostituting women and children and is now described as “the largest slave trade in history” and is set to out-do drug trafficking.
  • The homicide rate for female prostitutes was estimated to be 204 per 100 000, higher than any other female occupation.

– police documents
– various newspaper articles
– Wikipedia.org

Happy 31st, Zimbabwe!


bob marley rufaro

NO PROBLEMS, NO CRY: Bob Marley sings to a packed Rufaro Stadium during independence celebrations. PIC: Online

Independence Day

18 April, 1980. The ground shakes in Harare with stamping feet. Buildings tremble with jubilant voices. The crowds rush to see him speak. He is handsome, well educated and a great orator. A person for the people: calm and collected. Prime Minister Robert Mugabe is 56 years old when he is inaugurated, with Canaan Banana as president. But Mugabe is the stern favourite, speaking to the core of the masses.

“Long live our freedom!
Long live our sovereignty!
Long live our independence!”

Mugabe and Banana

CHEERS: Banana steps down as president in 1983, giving the reigns of power to Prime Minister Robert Mugabe. PIC: online

The Shona people claim Rhodesian soil is red with the bloodshed of civil war. They are tired of 16 years of fighting and tired of Ian Smith’s policies. Rufaro Stadium is packed to its maximum capacity. John Moyo*, a civil servant at the time, attended the celebrations. He claims the media went mad: “Long live Mugabe!” and “Good old Bob!” ran as headlines for days.  The Union Jack is lowered and the new Zimbabwean flag soars above the crowd. Zimbabwe means “house of stone” in Shona, with the bird representing a statuette found at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.

rufaro stadium

PACKED: Rufaro Stadium in Harare is packed to its maximum capacity to celebrate Rhodesias transition into Zimbabwe. PIC: online

The atmosphere is electric. The new national anthem Ishe Komborere Afrika “God Bless Africa” echoes through the crowd, in homes and on television screens. Bob Marley sings as the crowd departs with eyes glistening with hope.Mugabe’s address to the nation on the eve of independence resounds today, thirty-one years later, as a haunting echo. Promises lay shattered besides potholes, beggars and hitch hikers. People are unable to read balanced stories, as the media today is constantly monitored by the government.

 Changing faces

From 1965 to 1980, there was a strong focus on the casualties of war, but those who reported on “classified information” had to face the Officials Secret Act and Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA) and twenty years of imprisonment. In 1980, Mugabe kept most of Ian Smith’s media policies, but added the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act, which made it illegal for the media to report on debates in parliament.

The Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT) in 1981 aimed to “give back” the media to Zimbabweans, after being for years under foreign control.


EMPTY PROMISES: Lake Kariba, once bustling with tourists, families and students, now stands most of the year empty. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Media and tourism

According to Cindy Hudson*, a travel agent in Harare, the tourism business is at its worst. She says:

“Thirty years ago, I would have told you all flights would be booked out to see the independence celebrations. Thirty years ago, I would have told you Zimbabwe would have been hosting the Soccer World Cup, not South Africa, its struggling neighbour. Thirty years ago, I would have told you Zimbabwe was a leading nation in African exports and imports. Today, I’m struggling to see the light.”

Embassies have closed down, yet Moyo claims things have improved since the US dollar was officially introduced in 2009. For two years, businesses were working in “units,” a code name for forex. But the cost of living has become very expensive. Petrol is now 1, 28 US$ a litre. The government has also changed the exchange rate at their leisure. 1 US$ = R10.

Empty promises

There are still water shortages and daily power cuts, with some people investing in generators. According to Moyo, Mugabe impressed the world with his “political maturity and statesmanship.”

If one looks back on his independence speech, the hopeful vision was potent: “Zimbabwe is now a free, independent and sovereign state, free to choose its own flight path and chart its own course to its chosen destiny.” Its destiny remains today in shackles, unable to perform with a lack of resources.

Mugabe continued:

“Tomorrow we are being born again; born again…as a viable nation of Zimbabweans. Tomorrow is thus our birthday, the birth of a great Zimbabwe, and the birth of its nation.”

Some will argue it was its death day. From 2000, when the ceasing of farms began and hundreds of farmers were massacred, the country began to fear and mistrust its media and government. Mugabe first turned the Shona people against the Ndebele and later white against black and black against white. So began the birth of a broken nation. In Mugabe’s haunting words: “An evil remains an evil whether practiced by white against black or black against white.”

In the speech, he also said: “Everyone should be a new man, with a new mind, new heart and new spirit.” Today, the majority like Dr Ray Burger* (73), who left the country just before independence, sees this replaced by an old man with a bitter spirit. Suicide of the elderly is a daily occurrence. Pensioners realise years later the pension they worked hard for all their lives is completely worthless through inflation.

Promises of infrastructure have been replaced by the reality of potholes and vacant municipalities. A lack of medical care has killed innocent individuals. Mr George Witman* (62) died last year, because the only cancer specialist left in the country performed the wrong operation. The specialist is 82 years old and removed a chicken-sized tumour before trying to shrink it through chemotherapy.

For Dan Tim,* his best friend, the hardest part to forget is the bulging stomach of his friend, puss oozing from his belly button. He did not get a chance to see Zimbabwe rise to her feet again. The Oncology Centre in Harare claims the cancer rate has increased by 55% since 2001.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai

PARTNERS? Many Zimbabwean people have questioned the coalition government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Is the power truly balanced or will there always be an obstacle between them? PIC: Online

Petty partners

According to Moyo, the coalition government is the weak partner in the “all inclusive government.” Just recently, Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai flew in separate planes to Tanzania. The information was leaked to international media, while national media led everyone to believe “the coalition is going strong.”

But, locals claim things have been rocky in the partnership since ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema publicly rebuked the MDC at a press conference in Luthuli House. He also congratulated Mugabe on his land reform policies saying: “In Zimbabwe, you are already very far. In South Africa, we are just starting.”

Moyo claims there is a definite increase of Chinese traders in the country, forcing local factories to close down. He also claims local taxes at borders (a Visa tax, entry tax for national parks, river usage, road tax, toll gates, tourism levy) make it very hard for tourists to travel. Some hotels still charge three times the rate to foreigners through the two-tier system.

The travel agency claims locals are coming back in small numbers, but the new law on indigenisation has caused financial stress in many local companies. Companies with an asset value higher than 51% have to have a majority black Zimbabwean ownership, hindering the revival of the economy.

Thirty-one years after independence, press freedom comes and goes, according to the government’s temperament. Today, the BBC and CNN can report in certain areas, but are constantly monitored. The Herald, known for its government propaganda, still remains the locals’ favourite. Yet, it hardly speaks about the MDC partnership. It speaks of hope for a new generation, includes articles on music and movies and even has entertaining obituaries. The obituary for musician Sam Mtukudzi (17 March 2010) read: “Sam’s father’s right hand has been amputated and it’s not an easy thing to forget a hand.”

Zambezi river

DIVIDED: As beautiful as Zimbabwe is, it has failed to attract tourists like in the past. This years elections will determine whether things have changed. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Unwritten pages

In thirty-one years, locals have witnessed dozens of robberies and attacks on family members and friends. The media only reported on a small percentage. But, the media could not hide the facts: in July 2007, streets and shops stood empty. Harare became a ghost-town. Locals urged family members in South Africa to bring them food, but half the stock would be taken by police at the border. Still, local media reported on none of this.

Today, the country itself is hungry for change, for tourists and for action. According to Burger, it is an achievable dream:

“Once a Zimbabwean, always a Zimbabwean. The country has a special magic to it. It has the potential to be the best country in Africa, filled with a blessed climate, rich soil and natural wonders.”

Maybe one day the vision will return to a country blinded by bitter memories. The Shona people continue to pray for rain, believing it will wash away yesterday’s dried up hopes. The red dust settles at their ankles. For many, it stopped raining thirty-one years ago.

Current Zimbabwean flag

TALES OF COLOUR: The Rhodesian flag changed with political changes in the country. British colonial rule was extremely important in its founding years. In 1979, it adopted the Pan-African colours of white, red, black and green. In 1980, the Union Jack was lowered at the ceremony, replaced by the new Zimbabwean flag. PIC: Online

Tales of colour: Independence Flag

  • Yellow: the wealth of minerals in the country
  • Black: the heritage of the now combined Shona and Ndebele people
  • Green: the agriculture and rural areas of Zimbabwe
  • Red: the bloodshed during the first and second civilian wars
  • White triangle: peace
  • Zimbabwe Bird: the national symbol of Zimbabwe
  • Red Star: the nation’s hopes and aspirations for the future (as well as ZANU-PF’s socialist beliefs)

 Those who insult the flag face a fine of $1000 or two years imprisonment. 


  • www.wikipedia.org
  • personal interviews
  • people from Human Rights Watch and ex-Zimbabwean journalists
  • Website: Lloyd Msipa’s blog (online Zimbabwean journalist)
  • Website: www.cpj.org – Committee for Protected Journalists

Zimbelican Adventures (2): Lost in Translation


Ich bin in der Übersetzung verloren… Ja, I often find myself lost in translation…

sex and the city

GIRL POWER: Ive employed the ladies from Sex & The City to help me out with my German. Completely dubbed, with English subtitles, makes for fascinating learning skills. PIC: online


No, it’s not what you think. Haha… German is a sehr schwierig (very difficult) language, so difficult that I bought the entire Season 1 and 2 of Sex & The City to help me out (besides my official classes, of course). Shortly afterwards, I realised my vocabulary will be very limited. Oops (or Hoopla! as you say in German). It really was the ONLY series they had in the shop. And it was my favourite series ten years ago, so it helped a lot with feeling all nostalgic in a new town.


bus transport

LETS DO THE BUS-STOP: Public transport is amazing in Germany. You can be at any mall, train station, neighbouring village or big town in just a couple of minutes. Just take the right bus-line. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

I’ve finally figured out the public transport system. Hurra! Busline 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 all go in similar directions and eventually back to the student apartments. So, when I had a late night class and none were immediately available, I did a crazy thing and took Busline 1. IDIOT!

I found myself stranded in the countryside on the coldest spring day, in the rain (nogal!). The bus driver shook his head at me and drove me to his final destination, where he swapped seats with a new driver.

The new driver grunted at me, whispered something in German, then Turkish and took me to where I had originally got on. I was patient now and waited for the right busline, which eventually came 45 minutes later.

Cold and wet, it was an amazing feeling to be home again. I may decide to do such future excursions on a sunny day. At least then I’ll be able to see my experiences.


Yes, I had a traumatic experience at the post. No, it didn’t come from the sharp edges of envelopes or the messy desks filled with people’s unwanted letters and bills. It came from the DHL owner. I tried posting 24 postcards (for those who had been kind enough to send me their addresses) and a present. The cost came to 19, 77 Euros. I knew I had the exact amount and started digging in my purse. I couldn’t find the darn 2 cents to make up that 7… He soon lost his temper and shouted at me. In future: somehow calculate what each little stamp and gram will amount to… Really now 😉

internet cafe

GERMAN ENGINEERING: You can wait for your washing, while chatting online. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets


I fell in love with a specific restaurant’s freshly pressed orange juice. I still don’t understand why they keep giving me the wrong one. I’ve given up in trying to explain, but the synthetic one has really left a sour taste in my mouth. Arghhh, and asthma attacks at night.

Rule here is: once it’s placed on your table, you can’t send it back. Keep your eyes and oranges peeled…


Do not invade people’s personal space. In South Africa, it may be good manners to help a little granny across the road, but here I would advise you not to. I was at the Internet Café, when the granny next to me couldn’t find the print button. The owner showed her once, but she soon forgot.

I put my hand on her mouse to show her the difference between right-click and left-click and she scratched it quite viciously!

I was in shock. She then printed her stuff and walked away. Not even a ‘Vielen Dank’ or an apology.

German sunset

TASTE OF AFRICA: The beautiful sunsets of Tübingen remind me of home and make every day worthwhile... PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets


Despite these unpleasant few incidents, I have managed to find English classes which more or less fit into journalism. The one on War Photography I’m enjoying very much. We have to write response papers, do a presentation and do a written or oral exam (depending on what your major is). It feels great to know lots of background info on the topic and inform the class about the amazing foursome from South Africa known as the Bang Bang Club. Can’t wait for the movie this April! Sigh…

The other class is called Technological Utopias and asks us to see the pros and cons of living as part of the Technocratic Generation. I was thinking of doing another class on Shakespeare’s poetry and one on racism, just to fill up my time. But, a better idea would be to work for the local newspaper and finish my children’s stories. Yes, it has taken me nearly 12 years to tell the stories I used to tell my brother before he would go to sleep. Nothing leaked about the subject matter just yet 😉

Oh, and not forgetting these Zimbelican stories too… Time to check out the clubbing scene and blog about that, now that all the admin is finally done! PROST!

James Bhemgee’s Great Expectations


Bhemgee wows crowd

PURE POWER: James Bhemgee wows the crowd with his incredible voice on SAs Got Talent. PIC: online

For someone who dared to pursue a dream on SA’s Got Talent, one of the most popular shows on SA television with an estimated viewership of ten million people, James Bhemgee is soft-spoken and humble. In front of an audience of 26 journalism postgraduate students, he is quite confident, taking care to answer each question thoroughly.
He talks about his rags to riches story with such flair, that you almost miss his slight stutter. Although news reports have claimed that Bhemgee is partly deaf, he denies this:

“Maybe now I’m deaf. Maybe they (journalists) can predict such things.”

From that first introduction, it is clear he likes to remain mysterious, enticing us with anecdotes such as: “We grew up fast” or “Dreams don’t make themselves happen.”

Of all the questions our journalism class asks him, the one about his children he answers the most briefly. “They are happy. They are with their mothers. That’s how we do it in the townships: the mothers take care of the children.” He doesn’t go into much detail about their lives, except for his daughter, Roshana (in her early 20s), who has the same singing gift. He also sings with his sister, Dominique Adams. They come from a large family of four sons and five daughters.

Since May 2010, Bhemgee has been singing with his two best friends, Eugene Jephta and Matthew Overmeyer, as the Cape Flats’ Tenors. They even sang for tourists during the Soccer World Cup. “It was our chance to shine,” Bhemgee and Jephta say in synchronisation.  Jephta has accompanied Bhemgee to the interview, even helping him answer the questions. They’ve been friends since they were boys growing up in the Cape Flats, an area known in South Africa for its gang violence.

Bhemgee thirsty

THIRSTY FOR MORE: James Bhemgees life has been one of overcoming struggles to pursue an amazing dream. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Bhemgee has been through a lot since the age of four, when his mother left him and his brother, Jonathan, on his stepmother’s doorstep.

“Our mother was in trouble with the police and she made provisions for us before going to prison. Despite all her problems, she looked out for us,” he explains, choking on the last few words.

Born in Worcester, he lived the life of gypsy with his troubled mother, moving from Gugulethu to Heideveld to Retreat and Kalksteensfontein. In primary school, he fell in love with music when a boy from his class serenaded the prettiest girls. Bhemgee decided to beat him, by singing for the girls in his class, then for the teachers. He eventually found himself singing in the streets he swept as an adult.

One afternoon, an elderly woman, Angelique Fuhr, overheard him singing and told him she thought it was the radio. Much like the pages from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, she mentored him and influenced him to pursue his passion and talent for opera. She contacted her daughter, a music teacher, who told her mother that she had discovered “a dear treasure.” He was then taken to the Lloyd Strauss Top Tenors. Being the 1980s, at the height of the apartheid struggle, Bhemgee was hungry for any opportunity he could get.

His courageous spirit and sparkling personality took him to the United Kingdom in 1994, where he appeared on a BBC breakfast television show, after appearing on South Africa’s Carte Blanche. From there, he spent four years singing in Germany in different operas including Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme. He still speaks German fluently, amusing our class with a few words.

Bhemgee and Rieu

GLOBAL TALENT: Bhemgee's talent has allowed him to perform with big shots in the music industry like André Rieu, world-famous conductor, violinist and composer. PIC: online

From 1998 to 2010, there is a gap in his life that the class tries to make sense of. He explains he went back doing odd jobs for the municipality, even collecting rubbish. “It was a humbling experience to go back to being a nobody,” he says, fiddling with his fingers. After Fuhr died, Bhemgee didn’t have the motivation to do things on his own. On her advice, he refused an opportunity for an Australian TV company to film a documentary about his life.

“It could have opened many doors,” he says with a grin, “But my advisors thought they knew better. Maybe I wasn’t ready, like they claimed. Maybe now I am.”

Bhemgee wins

BIG DAY: James Bhemgee finally wins SAs Got Talent in October 2010, 22 years after first trying to be heard internationally. PIC: online

SA’s Got Talent has even opened doors in Bhemgee’s life he would have rather preferred closed. “With fame, comes much rubbish. So many people from my past came back into my life, hoping I could help them in some way.”

Online, his voice seems to have soothed strangers’ lives. The comments on SA’s Got Talent’s webpage read:

“You are better than Susan Boyle,” “You had me in tears from the first night,” “You have showed us what talent really is” and “Please put his voice on YouTube, his talent needs to be shared with the world.”

Bhemgee has even moved the judges of the show to tears. Randall Abrahams, one of the judges, said: “Of all the singers we’ve heard over the past two years, so far, you are the best.” Some have described him as the South African version of Susan Boyle, the middle-aged Scottish woman, who moved nasty Simon Cowell to tears.

He claims the fame hasn’t really affected his personal life.

“Family is what matters when everything else doesn’t anymore,” he tells me, as we are alone.

I cannot help but wonder whether he wishes his children were part of his dream. I ask him quickly as he leaves the room. He replaces the silence with a quick: “Maybe one day. Hopefully one day.” It is obviously the only dream that truly matters when this one is complete.

Zimbelican Adventures: Herzlich Willkommen in Tübingen!



FAR FAR AWAY: Tübingen is a beautiful student town 20 minutes from Stuttgart, filled with miniature castles, canals and dozens of bakeries. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Why Zimbelican? Well, Tintin was already taken… I’m a Zimbabwean Belgian South African. Confused? Yeah, so is my passport. My Belgian parents had me in Zimbabwe (it was paradise in the 1980s), but I’ve lived in South Africa since 1991. And now, I’m back in Europe on a German scholarship…

Tintin would be proud 😉

Tübingen is a beautiful, quaint little town 20 minutes out of Stuttgart, in the BadenWürttemberg province. It’s a real student town, a lot like Stellenbosch through its dozens of coffee and clothing shops, except the apartment buildings are blue, orange or yellow. And the main town is set up in Medieval architecture. It feels like I’m walking in a scene from Joan of Arc as I buy airtime. Absurd feeling.

YUMMY: Around Nonnenhaus, you can find a selection of restaurants and shops amongst Medieval architecture. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

On our way to buy groceries, my mom and I met people from China, Gabon, Spain and the Netherlands… My mom was kind enough to join me for the first week of my “big move” overseas.
It’s really like being thrown in the deep-end. I have a few German words to keep me afloat, but once I’m asked to say something, I hesitate. Maybe after a few glasses of Gluhwein, I’ll be speaking fluently.

Not that they’ll be serving Gluhwein this time… It’s spring, which means it’s the equivalent to South Africa’s winter: a mild 10-20 degrees with birds chirping and beautiful cherry blossoms.

Tubingen kitchen

WHATS COOKING? Sharing a kitchen with international students has its highlights: a different countrys delicacies every night? PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

My room is half the size it was in Stellies, about 3X5 metres and I have to share a bathroom and toilet with the others on my floor. They seem friendly enough. A guy from Yemen and a Taiwanese girl were cooking up a storm in the kitchen as I arrived.

Well, the BIG QUESTION: why am I here of all places? My essay on values for the “Projekt Wertewelten (Global Values)” held by various academics, researchers and government members from this region was chosen amongst ten of the best worldwide. Here is their site: http://www.wertewelten.net/schreibwettbewerb.html I wrote about the value of life in Zimbabwe, where I was born.
For those who haven’t read it, here it is: https://vsmeets.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/the-value-of-life-in-zimbabwe/

wertewelten team

GREAT VALUES: The Wertewelten team and winners have breakfast at the Irish Pub. The contestants wrote about how values affected their various lives. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

During the week, I will meet the other students from Japan, Canada and Russia. There’s even a blind girl from India who wrote about the value of her parents since her birth. The other two South Africans, American girl and guy from Ivory Coast have not arrived yet.

We have been given six months to explore, mingle and merge with other students. I will be staying till the end of August, until my next adventure begins (destination will be revealed only in blog 6 or 7). This is a great test to see if I’m ready to ever work or live in Europe.

Also, I finally feel like the journalist Tintin (Tim) was: far away and free to do as I wish. Yet, having a Snowy (or, as they say in German, Struppi) to protect me from potential harm would be nice. I keep looking on the wrong side of the road while crossing it, for instance.

Tubingen walking distance

QUICK WALK: Across the bridge, students can find the supermarket, bank and even an indoor swimming pool. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Everything is in walking distance from my flat: the supermarket, the bank, the stationery shop. Yip, everything except the actual university. I haven’t quite figured out the public transport system yet. And my course is in German! Oh
my, I will be spending hours doing an intensive language course. Thank goodness I don’t have to write any tests or exams.
I’m dreaming of weekends away though: the beerhalls in Munich, the Batman mural in Berlin or the Beatles ex-flat in Hamburg. Wait a minute, it’s closer to just take a train to Switzerland or Austria. Ahhh, the perks of living in Europe 🙂


Strange sights

STRANGE SIGHTS: If you take a bus, you may find yourself eating Italian while watching horses perform at show jumping. Take a bus, any bus... You bound to find something new! PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

  • Registration fee: 103, 50 Euros
  • Clubbing: 3-10 Euros (50 Euros if you have an ‘unlimited’ drinking card)
  • Semesterticket (unlimited bus access): 58, 50 Euros
  • Rent/ month: 230 Euros (if in a ‘studentenwerkhaus’)… Up to 500 Euros+ privately
  • Beer: 2,60+ Euros
  • Learning German: from 120 Euros per semester at the DAF (Deutsch als Fremdsprache)
  • Getting a German sim-card: 15 Euros (O2 is supposedly the cheapest network, although you have to buy various bundles before you figure this out. Internet bundle: 3,50 a day! Phone bundle: 20 Euros)
  • Opening a German Bank Account: FREE (as long as you show your living contract and student number)
  • Getting Health Insurance: FREE (then 15 Euros a month)
  • Becoming a resident: FREE (although you have to fill in various papers…all in German)