Completing Courses and Our Stay in Johannesburg
It is a sunny and mild spring weekend at the Wedgwood Inn in Melville as our group of Intercontinental MBA pioneers moves toward the completion of their first international residency. Finals and projects are looming next week, so what appear to be bright, lazy days are divided between cramming, group meetings and power napping. Meals that are meant to be quick, end up leisurely (on South African time) as students try to squeeze in a final visit to a favorite local restaurant for one last taste of a much-enjoyed local dish.
The students shared a bit of American culture with our local friends in their celebration of Halloween. This is a non-event here. The Afrikaners, who have Dutch roots, are Calvinists and eschew the holiday. Without this holiday and the buffer of our Thanksgiving, our environment has taken on a very early Christmas theme. Add to this the current season of spring, the sight of numerous Christmas trees is a bit disconcerting.
Friday evening the IMBA students hosted an American Halloween party at the home of our local host. This was a bit profane, since it was All Saints Day, but this day did not seem of great importance in this diverse community. The students located a few scantly-available decorations (only available at the China Market), food (chips and sausages), candy and, of course, booze. They initially found no pumpkins, but decorated some butternut squash. Subsequently, they borrowed some ornately and artistically carved pumpkins (so beautifully detailed they could have been done by Martha Steward herself) from at an earlier event. Costumes are required and several were concocted on animal themes. We had a cheetah, an elephant, a springbok and more. Initially I was stumped, but swathed myself in African batik fabric and local beadwork.
The party was a Braai. This is a type of local cook-out that involves cooking meat on an open flame. The format is flexible, but the one requirement is a sausage known as boerewors, literally translated from the Dutch as “farmer’s sausage.” For this sausage to retain its designation, it must contain at least 90% meat – always beef and occasionally lamb and pork. The remaining 10% is reserved for herbs and small proportion of grain or filler. It is quite delicious and cooking it is an art. The boerewors is about 3 feet long and it is kept whole and coiled on the grill. It can only be turned once, so the cook must know how long to cook it and at what level flame so that it is neither dry nor raw. Our chefs to date have cooked these sausages perfectly. After cooking, it is cut into portions and eaten on a roll as a local version of the hot dog. Our students served it with sautéed sweet peppers and onions, we have also had it with a tomato, chili and onion relish. A true Braai also has pap, a traditional South African porridge of polenta. But, hey, this was an American Braai and we were stumped in the preparation of this side dish.
The weather was perfect for such an outdoor event and for our final days of study. Similar to our home in the U.S., spring is the rainy season here, but the rain is not perpetual. Often the first half of the day is clear and beautiful and afternoon brings a short, but intense deluge. The trees and flowers are in bloom and we are pleased to have witnessed the dramatic purple blooming of the jacaranda trees that blanket the city. We have adjusted to the quick changes in weather and plan our day accordingly.
It is hard to believe that at the end of this week everyone will be heading back to the U.S. Some days have seemed long, while the weeks have seemed short. It has been gratifying to witness the formation of our small community as we share South African experiences and learn more about each other. The students are already planning their next face-to-face reunion – in Santiago, Chile in January.