Same, Same, But Different

My youngest came home from preschool a few months ago talking about a book his class read. Same, Same, But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw is a wonderful little text that  acknowledges our similarities while still appreciating cultural differences. It has become a phrase our family uses often as we notice how South Africa operates in different ways than America but reaches similar ends. Some of these are trivial (square toilet seats or steering wheel placement) and some are significant (inequality and poverty), but it’s nice to have a phrase with which we can point out differences without passing judgment.

Another excellent sunset over the Silver Lakes golf course.

A major cultural difference is the philosophy of Ubuntu which consistently catches the goal-oriented American in me off guard. Time in America is synonymous with money and if you take someone’s time, you are stealing from them all the potential value of that time. We fill our days with words like hustle and grind and struggle, trying to get ahead of the next guy. Anything or anyone who slows us down is worthy of our contempt. How many times do we see the people around us as a means to an end rather than a human being with dreams and faults and a life of their own? I’m guilty of this many times over. If I was focused on achieving and you couldn’t help me get somewhere or obtain something, you were an obstacle to be overcome. For many years my wife was an attorney in private practice and her time was literally billable. The threat of her dividing her time being a mother and a lawyer was great enough that the firm built a nursery next to her office. While this benefitted us as parents, it also kept her working long days for their profit.

Championed by both the great Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ubuntu feels like a breath of fresh air after the demands of American life. The competitive capitalistic attitudes are considered rude and a social faux pas in place where the expression and valuing of social relationships reigns. How you treat other people is more important than what they can do for you. Ubuntu literally means humanness. More specifically it means that an individual can only be known through others. I am who I am because you are who you are. Ubuntu recognizes that everyone has different skills and strengths; but that people are not isolated, and that only through a mutual affirmation of our humanness can we help each other to reach our fullest potential. Handshakes and genuine concern about how the day is going or how people are feeling takes precedent over outcomes. Time here feels more abundant and if you spend fifteen minutes talking (and listening) to someone about their family, it is not time lost or wasted, but rather invested. Ubuntu. I am because you are. South Africa should export this stuff.

Yesterday we celebrated our oldest son’s sixth birthday. The Menlyn Mall is quickly becoming a favorite hangout spot for our family. In addition to more shopping than anyone could ever want, there is a massive arcade and bowling alley adjacent to the food court. We spent a wonderful afternoon playing video games and cheering each other on to personal best scores

I didn’t even use bumpers.

before witnessing another spectacular sunset last night. Yesterday we also set up our first bank accounts and hope to get cell phones later today. I wouldn’t say that we are fully adjusted to the time change yet (the boys slept till 8:30AM), but we are making progress. I hope that once this vacation ends, South Africa and Ubuntu continue to change us for the better. Same, same, but different is right. Be good and keep in touch.



First Writing Since…

Forgive me if this post seems to start in the middle of our adventure. It is almost 10AM here in Pretoria, but our circadian rhythms are still on Central Standard Time. The flight yesterday was shorter than expected, coming in at just under 15 hours. img_1530.jpg

The boys were amazing travelers and were well supported by Erin, who I don’t think moved from her seat between them for the entire flight. Her strength and capability to endure physical discomfort and exhaustion is a testament to her love for our kids and an inspiration to me as a parent.

While stressful, customs and baggage claim were uneventful, even with our 11 checked bags. Our transfer to Silver Lakes Golf Estate took about an hour. On the way we passed Erin’s new offices and got to experience her evening commute. The infamous Joberg traffic was heavy but moving. It certainly is an improvement on Nashville’s 40/24/65 PM parking lot.

Pretoria Sunset

Our room here is modern and clean with all the amenities of an American golf resort, but lacking the finer points. What’s the saying, the one about how nothing beats German engineering, Japanese design, and American luxury? Holding true. The birds, loud and exotic looking, are up very early. Erin and I had trouble sleeping, so today we are trying to be extra patient with each other and the boys. While the flight felt easier, the recovery so far has been more difficult than on our housing trip last month.

Our apartment for the next six weeks overlooks the tennis courts and is conveniently located next to the restaurant and golf club. I’m writing now from our little covered porch. It is overcast and 20C. Yes, we are working on our conversions. At noon today our driver, Aaron, will pick us up and we will take the boys out to lunch and pick up some groceries. After my second cup of coffee (stronger and more bitter than American) I’m starting to feel up to the task of getting cell phones and necessities.


Building a life is hard. It took years in Nashville to reach what I consider the apex of happiness. Personally and professionally there was a lot to learn, and it took time and mentoring and support. But I did so with only an idea in my mind of what success would look like. In some ways, I think rebuilding might be more difficult because I have a memory of what was, and while I loved the fruit of my time and relationships in Nashville, I want something else for this experience. I don’t want to relive what I’ve already done. The purpose of this great adventure was to get out of our routines and to dedicate more time to what we love, namely each other and our passions. The last few years I’ve tried to improve upon the year before in my teaching and parenting and relationships often only repeating what I did previously with minor adjustments. I feel I was polishing a process rather than experimenting. In a little over a year I turn 40. I’m not ready to resign myself to living the same year over and over again with only minor adjustments. Four years in South Africa is just enough time to build something new before starting again.

It is raining. The Italians who were playing tennis have run for cover. The birds have been subdued by the sound of big drops on little leaves. The boys want to build legos, and it seems like a fitting place to stop. We are good. Tired for sure, but we are optimistic about this new page. We appreciate all the support and love from family and friends near and far. Be good and keep in touch.