6 months in… USA journey

So here we are. We have been proud USA residents for 6 months now!

Needless to say, but with a wife and two kids, but not the dog :-(, it has been quite a change from our somewhat idyllic lifestyle in Boesmansriviermond on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Although there are fundamental political, crime & race issues in South Africa, the main reason we migrated was to explore career & personal opportunities. The US-based company I worked for in South Africa, had earlier indicated that they wanted me to join their team in Malvern, Pennsylvania. I was very happy to oblige, because a) I had always wanted to explore everyday life (like we had in the UK) in the USA and b) it was a great opportunity to further my career hopefully as part of the fantastic company that brought me over. Really the US is where most of the Software Development action is and therefore this is the best place for me as a Software Architect to be.

In terms of adapting to our new life, there have been ups and downs, but all things considered we’re doing well. I had been to the company before on business so I had experienced the horrendous Winter weather as well as the glorious Spring weather and thus had a clearer picture of the overall weather, but my wife and kids were very unimpressed when we landed at JFK International on 8 January – literally the coldest day of the Winter! I could see it in my wife’s eyes… she was thinking: “where have you brought us??!!” We had all the luggage we brought to the US with us on that flight and so we had to rent the biggest SUV the rental agency had. This was at 7pm during a Winter storm after a 48 hour journey. Everyone was tired and we had to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. To top it all off, we took a wrong turn in New York and got bustled slap bang into Manhattan with it’s associated traffic. That was a tough journey that I wouldn’t want to tackle again!

We did eventually make it out of New York without a scratch on our Monster Truck or anything else. We arrived at my cousin’s house at around about 11pm and just like that we had effectively moved to a new continent!

Journey to the US begins
Journey to the US begins

Our first night we were very tired, but they were lovely and to the kids their house was magnificent and I could slowly see some excitement building in the kids. Lené though was in her get things done mode. There was no time or inclination for the excitement I felt and began to see in the kids. Although I respect her for it, it is 100% the opposite of my outlook. That brief excitement along with the anxiousness is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

The next week or so we had to get all our ducks in a row, Move into our new, as yet unseen, house; register the kids into the school along with all the other associated tasks; buy a car; set up bank accounts as so on. One doesn’t realize how much work is involved. But this is where Lene’s attitude was priceless; she was a rock star! And once Elke was enrolled in school and Cara’s school was organized Lene began to feel more at ease.

Now 6 months later the kids are on Summer vacation and absolutely loving it. We joined a very pleasant Swimming Club for the summer and the whole family spends a lot of time there. Both Elke and Cara have made friends aplenty. I would say that Elke’s friendships here are pretty much on par with what she had in South Africa. This is largely due to her joining a soccer team and lucking out with an amazing team with amazing kids and parents. Being a shy child, I would say that Cara has done better than we expected, but she hasn’t quite found the Murray Baxter type connection that she had at Boesmansriviermond. Hopefully that will come. But she isn’t unhappy at all. In fact she adores Elke’s friends and they are very good to her as well. In truth the kids are thriving; I couldn’t have hoped for better. For a parent that is a major component of one’s own happiness.

Lene has also settled in, but in a sense this move was always going to be the most challenging for her. She had three or four dear friends in South Africa (you know who you are!) and they were very ingrained in pretty much all aspects of her life. Now it’s all new and she doesn’t have a job or school to focus on. As I expected though and thankfully, I do think she has made some great friends here already and I think she’ll be just fine. Although the “inner circle” will never be replaced. 🙂 I’m also very happy that she is playing lots of tennis again. We weren’t sure if that was going to be achievable in the USA and where we live.

As far as I’m concerned I love it here. That doesn’t mean I love Boesmansriviermond any less or London for that matter. It doesn’t have to be a competition. I say this because with the political situation in SA there are sensitivities around people moving away from South Africa and I certainly don’t want to offend those. I am fortunate to have a great job and that’s half the reason why I love it here, but there are also other aspects that make this a very good fit for us. If one is able to earn over a certain threshold here, the quality of life is high. Even more so for kids. The education in the good schools is of a high standard and the sports facilities are great as well. Where we live, in Downingtown, it’s still quite rural and yet its very close to Exton (15 minutes), King of Prussia mall (35 minutes), Philadelphia (an hour) and even New York City (about 3 hours).

A big aspect of the quality of life here in the North East is the weather. OK so the Winter is not easy for us newbies from the Deep Deep South, but Spring, Summer (so far) and Autumn or Fall is really brilliant. Warm (sometimes very hot), sunny and long lazy hours makes the Winter bearable. And the same as in Europe, the locals embrace Winter. We’re aiming to really try hard to appreciate Winter next time round.

Heunis family at Marsh Creek with colorful canoes.
Summer fun on the water at Marsh Creek.

There is so much that is really very good about this country and Pennsylvania that a single blog entry is obviously insufficient to cover much. However it isn’t all moonshine & roses. There are also some things that I really dislike. Foremost is medical expenses. Medical services are very expensive. And it’s complicated.

The other gripe I have is with the credit qualification process. I have always had a very good credit record. I remember in the UK I had absolutely no problem to get credit, but here in the US you have to build up to a decent credit score to qualify for any sort of credit. There is no other mainstream way to get credit and that has been a big hurdle for us on a few occasions. Fortunately Volkswagen is the one car manufacturer that does have an alternative mechanism based on the same indicators that one sees in the UK and South Africa. This is how we managed to get a car in the beginning. Since then and somewhat due to that, I now do have a somewhat respectable rating and we are able to function.

Notwithstanding these hopefully minor pain points I am very positive about our move to the US and specifically this area and this employer. I think was a risk that has already paid off, but I’m hoping it doesn’t end here. My employer is going through a very good patch currently and I feel like I can play a very important part in getting us to be giant killers in our industry.

These are exciting times!

Spring is in the air

It certainly was not a cold winter by any means, but it is always exciting when Spring shows it’s colours. This week there was a shift in the air. Not convincingly or completely, but hints of the freshness and warmth. Also the plants in my garden have started flowering. Spring has arrived! There is just something so refreshing about this, right? If our lives go according to plan, we won’t experience a wonderful South African Spring for at least a couple of years so this has special meaning for me.

We went for a typical Sunday morning stroll at the beach when we ran into some great friends. There wasn’t an intention to go swimming, but it was so gorgeous outside that the kids voluntarily started swimming.

Cara word 5

Vandag het ons Cara se 5de verjaardag partytjie gevier. Ek moet sê dit voel partykeer vir my surrealisties as ek dink sy is al 5. Waar het die tyd heen gevlieg?

In ieder geval dit was ‘n lekker partytjie gewees. Al Cara se maatjies was daar en sy – in haar sneeuwitjie rokkie – het dit gate uitgeniet. Sy is mal oor vriende en kuier.

Longwood Gardens

On the advice of my cousin and others I took a trip to Longwood Gardens today. Quite honestly I was blown away. I have visited several botanical gardens, but truly this is was my favourite. It is one of the most impressive tourist destinations I have ever visited. Spectacular colours, deep greens, water works. It really is a worth a visit.

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Makro fotos van my tuin

My tuin is ongelooflik mooi op die oomblik en ek wou nou al ‘n ruk lank ‘n paar fotos van die blomme neem. Vandag werk ek van die huis af so ek het oor etenstyd ‘n paar fotos met my Tamron 90mm Makro lens geneem en hulle opgelaai. Die vetterige plantjie kom van my skoonma af – ek weet nie wat sy naam is nie, maar dis vir my ‘n asemrowende mooi ding.

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Valskermspring in Grahamstad

Saterdag het ek, Stephan & Magdel Fourie en Chris Broom, ‘n vriend van hulle, gaan tandemvalskermspring in Grahamstad by die Joos Vos se EP Skydivers klub. En al was ons almal maar skrikkerig voor die tyd, was dit ‘n fantastiese ervaring – iets wat ek nie gou sal vergeet nie.


Dis iets wat ek al wil doen vandat ek begin 2009 ge-bungy het. So ruk terug het ek op Facebook gese ek soek mense om saam met my te spring, maar ek het toe daarvan vergeet. Maar toe het Stephan dit onthou en gereken dit sal ‘n goeie verjaarsdag persent aan homself wees. Tot my effense spyt het ek toe ingestem voordat ek gevra het hoe duur dit is.

Dit is beslis die moeite werd – eintlik meer waarde vir geld gemeet teenoor bungy wat na 15 sekondes verby is. Die opgaan is ‘n bietjie senutergend want dan besef jy dat jy nie meer kan kop uit trek nie, maar dit vat 20 minute om op 10,000 ft te kom en hier aan die einde wens jy die tyd wil nou aanbreek. As die deur oopmaak en daai koue wind waai in skop die adrenalien behoorlik in. Die vrye val, waar jy teen 240km/h op die Aarde afpeil – is absoluut fantasties!!! Die 1ste sekonde of 5 gebeur alles so vinnig jy weet nie eintlik wat aangaan nie, maar dan, as jy eers gestabiliseer, het is die beste deel van die hele episode. Dit is dieselfde gevoel as bunngy, maar net langer en baie meer intens. Jy wens dit wil langer aanhou.

As die valskerm ooptrek dan voel ‘n mens ‘n geweldige pluk, maar dis nie seer nie – dis maar net onverwags. My springvennoot (die een wat al die werk moes doen) het gedink ek sal dit geniet om te spin, maar dit was die een deel waarvan ek NIKS gehou het nie; ek het baie amper bewusteloos daarvan geruk. Gelukkig het ek toe darem weer bygekom en die res van die rit af grond toe was baie mooi. ‘n mens kan Port Elizabeth (en alles tussen in) vandaar bo sien – dis regtig skouspelagtig.

Ek sal dit beslis aanraai en self ook weer gaan, maar ek sal pertinent voor die tyd se dat hulle my NIE moet spin nie. Ek dink die hele opset is baie professioneel en ek dink al die staf is baie bekwaam. Valskermspring het ‘n boheemse konnotasie, maar ek was heeltemal gemaklik met hierdie ouens en die veiligheidsaspek. Net iets wat vir my opvallend is, is hoedat Joos Vos altyd saam met die vroumense opeindig – dit  is duidelik op sy fotos en ons het dit op die dag ook so ervaar. Joos jou ou doring – wie sou dan nie?

Enigiemand vir Tennis?

Vandat ons 5 jaar gelede terug Boesmans toe gekom het het my suster, Katinka, en haar man Sven aan ons gekarring om aan te sluit by die Kenton Tennisklub. Lene het op skool 1ste span gespeel so sy kan speel en ek het op laerskool ‘n bietjie gespeel, maar ons het gevoel dat ons te veel ander familie- en werksverantwoordelikhede het.

Maar laasjaar toe ek in Port Elizabeth begin werk het, het Lene en Sue, ‘n goeie vriendin van haar, toe wel by die klub aangesluit en hulle het begin om meer gereeld te speel. Intussen het die gogga my en ‘n hele klompie van ons ander vriende ook gebyt. Lene en Sue speel nou al vir ‘n jaar lank en Lene veral begin nou al opgang maak in die Oos-Kaapse plattelandse tennis arena. Mense fluister al haar naam. Nee wat dis net ‘n grap, maar sy en Sue het die naweek die streekkampioenskap vir 3de liga spelers gewen. En 2 van my ander vriende Christoph Groenewald en Douglas van Breda het die manskompetisie ook gewen.

Ek en Greg Baxter het ook deelgeneem, maar ons het nie so goed gevaar nie. Ons was gelukkig nie laaste nie! Ek is nog altyd baie ongeduldig met sport (Gholf is die heel ergste), maar ten spyte hiervan geniet ek die tennis baie. En as ‘n mens in ag neem dat ek nog net so 6 weke of so speel, dink ek nie ons het te sleg gevaar nie. Daar is van die ouens by die klub wat se my tennis het baie verbeter in die laaste 6 weke so ek hoop hulle praat die waarheid en smeer nie net heuning om die mond nie.

In ieder geval, ek besef dat ek nie ongeduldig moet wees nie en net om aan te hou speel. Ek het darem nou al geleer dat dit wel sal vrugte afwerp. Intussen geniet ek dit baie; ek moet net nie myself teen die ander meet nie. Dis maar dieselfde met gholf en sekerlik alle enige sport.

Cara in ons tuin

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Vandag was een van daai spectacular dae wat ‘n mens net weereens laat besef hoe gelukkig ons hier in Boesmans is. Lae 20s en baie min wind. As jy hier bly raak  jy maar gewoond aan die wind, maar as daar dan wel min wind is, dan is hierdie ‘n paradys. Ek het van die geleentheid gebruik te maak om ‘n paar fotos van Cara in ons tuin (wat nou ook baie mooi lyk) te neem. Hierdie is die bestes van die lot.

Springbokke vs All Blacks in Port Elizabeth

Ek en vriend Christoph Groenewald het gister die toets tussen die Springbokke en die All Blacks gaan kyk. Dit was die 1ste keer in 40 jaar dat die Bokke teen die All Blacks in Port Elizabeth gespeel het en was dus ‘n “once-in-a-lifetime” geleentheid wat ‘n mens net nie kon misloop nie!

Dit was die 3de keer dat ek in die Nelson Mandela Stadion was en ek moet nou eerlikwaar sê dat dit ‘n uitsetekende stadion is. Die gees (behalwe vir die onsinnige Suid-Afrikaanse All-Black ondersteuners) was weereens fantasties. Ek is so gatvol vir al die advertensies en hoofstroom-media wat altyd die gemengde wit en swart beeld in ‘n mens se keel afdruk, maar gister op Nelson Mandela Stadion was dit ‘n spontane samesyn. En dit was great. Selfs die relatiewe konserwatiewe Afrikaners saam met wie ons daar was sou saamstem.

Die enigste ou wat uit gevoel het was ‘n ou suurgat All-Black ondersteuner wat vir moeilikheid gevra het. En vir hom het ek regtig nie veel simpatie nie!

Die Volkslied was fenomenaal. Dis mos maar altyd spesiaal, maar ek het eers na die wedstryd op die TV gesien hoe goed dit was. Bobby Skinstad het op die lug gepraat van hoe great die Volkslied geklink het en Bryan Habana en Pierre Spies het daaroor getweet. Ek dink dit was ‘n groot regmerkie in die Baai se kolum by die SA Rugby administrateurs. As ou Cheeky Watson so aanhou mag hy dalk net ‘n bietjie vergifnis genereer.

Die rugby self was ook baie positief. Ons het nou nie bonuspunt driee gedruk nie, maar hierdie was 100% presies wat ons nodig gehad het. As ons te ver gewen het sou dit ook nie ideaal gewees nie. Ons het gedomineer, maar ons ouens sal besef daar is nog baie te doen. Wat wel opmerklik was is hoe geheel-en-al ons die All Black skrum gedomineer het. Ek het dit nie verwag nie.

Die Bokke het verdien om 18-5 gewen.

Verdere opmerkings na aanleiding van die toets:

  • Heinrich Brüssow kan heel moontlik hierdie Wêreldbeker se legende word. Daai Vrystater is net eenvoudig ongelooflik en is myns insiens ons grootste wapen.
  • Bismarck du Plessis is ons tweede grootste wapen. Met hom en Brüssow het ons al klaar twee fetchers in die span en kan ons met groter gemak die baldraers soos Spies, Schalk of Alberts insluit. Peter de Villiers is eenvoudig verkeerd om nog steeds vir John Smit te wil speel. Hy is net nie so goed so Bissie nie. Great kaptein en al daai, maar sy insluiting kan vir ons die wereldbeker kos. Kom nou Divvie; dis nog die een plek waar jy nog dom astrant is!
  • Bakkies is weer terug. Gister was hy “huge” gewees. Hy het fisies gedomineer en is weer “The Enforcer” van ouds. As Bakkies af is, is ons skrum net nie so sterk nie.
  • Morne Steyn moet speel. Ek is mal oor playmaker rugby soos wat Lambie en Butch speel, maar in ‘n Wêreldbeker kies jy jou skopper 1ste. En niemand skop beter as Morne nie!
  • Ek begin al hoe meer van Willem Alberts op 7 hou. Ek, saam met Stuart Barnes (die bekende eenogige Engelse rugby kommentator) reken Juan Smith is/was een van die beste rugbyspelers van ons tyd en ek was baie bekommerd toe hy aangekondig het dat hy nie werelbeker toe gaan nie. Maar selfs as Schalk nie reg is nie, dink ek ons sal oukei wees. Maar sonder Brüssow gaan ons sukkel.
  • Francois Hougaard moet ten minste op die bank wees in elke game. Hy is ‘n masjien. Was Fourie nie die (voormalige) beste skrummie in die wereld nie, was FH ‘n shoe in.
  • Fourie sal sy vorm moet lig, maar hy is die tipe ou wat dit sal doen.

Ek dink sonder om grappies te maak dat ons hier die span het om ons wereldbeker te verdedig. Die enigste reuse kwelpunt is John Smit. Ek wens hy wil die eerbare ding doen en bedank, maar hy sal nie en jy kan hom nie daarvoor blameer nie. Dit is uit die aard van die saak ‘n moeilike besluit en ek dink nie Peter de Villiers het die standvastigheid om so ‘n besluit te neem nie. Dit kan die rugbypublik in SA nog duur te staan kom.

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