Great budgeting software for expats

I’m not an Excel freak (unlike my husband). Really, I’d much rather buy budget software than keep up with spreadsheets.

I started using You Need A Budget last year and I must say, it is by far the most expat friendly budgeting software I’ve found. I keep two accounting profiles: one for my accounts in the U.S., and one for my accounts in South Africa. It’s great to be able to keep track of two different currencies.

There’s currently no way to directly transfer money from my American bank account to my South African account via YNAB, but to be fair I’ve yet to see budgeting software that does that (and I’m afraid of how such software would calculate exchange rates and fees).

I’m pretty sure YNAB still has a 30 day free trial (they did when I started using it last year). It’s worth a look-see.

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This blog is my “dumping ground”

Someone just sent me a very sweet message about a typo in one of my posts. I really appreciate that.

This blog is my “dumping ground”. I currently run two other blogs, and both of those are filled with articles I’ve obsessed over re: spelling, grammar, and ease of readability.

I don’t feel like making this blog in such an academic way. I just want to write as thoughts come to my head and not sweat the small stuff, because I am truly a better editor than a writer – which is problematic for my creative process.

Of course, if you see a typo that changes the meaning of what I’ve written please let me know. But beyond that, this blog is about flaws and emotions and other raw, unrefined things… imperfections shouldn’t be seen as a weakness but rather as an expression of how I feel.


Jazakum Allah Khairan. Thank you very much.

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Confession: I’m a “Bismillah” Muslim

Sometimes I stumble across comments on news articles that are written by paranoid idiots. Things along the lines of:

Aaaaaaah the Moozlums are uniting against the West and they are going to take over our countries and force our women to wear veils and kill our menfolk!

After I double facepalm, I laugh to myself and then carry on with life.

Muslims can’t even agree on what halaal food is. I don’t know how we’re supposed to be forming one cohesive front when the very basics of our religion are sources of suspicion and politics dividing us.

Case in point: I was at the local grocery store the other day. There was a woman in front of me, and I didn’t pay her any notice until she mentioned that my Tinkie (South African version of a Twinkie) in my basket wasn’t “halaal”. She didn’t greet me with salaams; she just dived right into what I was buying. And I of course didn’t greet her with salaams because 1) I didn’t know she was Muslim until she started talking to me and 2) once she started talking to me, I was caught so off guard that it slipped my mind completely.

I should have ended the entire conversation right then and there by saying, “Oh, I’m a bismillah Muslim”, but I thought I’d be more clever than that.

Bismillah Muslim, by the way, is a term for Muslims who eat “questionable” food but say the name of Allah over it before eating (bismillah in Arabic means “in the name of Allah”). It’s a rather silly term because we’re supposed to say bismillah over all the food we eat, the same way most devout Christians say a little prayer before eating as well. Yet that’s what we’re called, so I’ll use the term out of convenience.

Anyhoo, he conversation went something like this:

Aunty: Sorry? Do you know that Tinkies aren’t halaal?

Me: They aren’t?

Aunty: *Picks up said Tinkie*. See? There’s no… Oh wait. It is halaal now. They weren’t last time I checked.

Me: Oh, I don’t check those things.

Aunty: But you must! How do you know if you’re eating something that’s halaal?

Me: I’m from America. We don’t have halaal certificates, so we just look at ingredients and see if it contains pork.

Aunty: *Looks horrified* How long have you been here?

Me: Uhh…. a year and a half?

Aunty: *Raises eyebrow* Well you’ve got to learn to start looking for those halaal certificates, isn’t it?

This conversation was probably also coloured by the fact that I’m white and married to a Muslim man, which of course means that I probably converted just to marry him and I’m not a “real” Muslim*.

Regardless of assumptions and prejudices, I don’t get this overly cautious way of eating. To me, I just look and see if something contains pork. It could be as simple as looking in the pot to see if there are pieces of bacon present (a very common way to cook beans and vegetables where I’m from), or it could be a quick check of the ingredients on the back of the package.

I do make exceptions, such as tortillas and baked goods made by Mexicans, who love pork lard as a cooking ingredient. Thank God I speak enough Spanish so that I can ask about lard… but again, that’s an American situation and not a South African one.

Of course here I eat halaal meat because it’s everywhere. If I’m buying something for other Muslims to eat, I look for halaal certificates. (I once refused to buy a bag of chocolates for my daughter’s class party because I couldn’t find a halaal certificate and I didn’t want to make anyone upset.) But at the end of the day, I’m just not so picky about my food.

Some Muslims see this as a sign of a weak imaan (faith). I’ve been accused of being sinful before, and once someone even told me that I’m “not a real Muslim” because I don’t obsess over every single ingredient (this was in America). The thing is, I’m not the kind of fanatic to refuse to buy a pack of frozen mixed vegetables because they don’t have a halaal sign. (What exactly could make frozen, uncooked, mixed vegetables haraam to eat? Come on people, common sense!)

One of these days I’ll start breaking more out of my shell and explaining to people that even though I’m a Muslim, my beliefs are sometimes very different from theirs. At the same time, I don’t want people refusing to eat my biscuits because my cake flour isn’t certified halaal…. or because I’m known as a bismillah Muslim.

*The reality of the situation is that I was a Muslim for over two years when I married my husband, and I was wearing hijab for a year and a half before that as well. So to all you Muslims out there who think I and other married reverts dress this way is because our husbands are forcing us to, get a freaking life OK? I expect comments like that from evangelical Christians and Atheists, not from you. You’re supposed to know better.


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My Woolworths boycott… and driving.

I’ve done rather well since I started boycotting Woolworths back in October, if I do say so myself.

I went to the mall with my husband a couple of times and avoided their store easily. When I went to the Clicks down the road from my house, I abstained from going into Woolworths for a loaf of bread and instead walked across the parking lot to a different grocery store.

But now I have a problem. My daughter needs a new gown, as hers is gone too short.

So I have two choices: I can drive to the mall by myself, or I can order a gown online from Woolworths.

Right? Doesn’t sound like a big deal. Except I hate driving. I never hated driving before, but the culture of driving is so different here in Joburg that I feel constantly tense.

It took me months (literally) to be able to drive to the local Kwik Spar without sweating through my antiperspirant and shaking. I’m finally able to drive the couple of kilometres to Clicks. Dischem? Forget it. Their parking is crazy and I can’t deal with perpendicular bays that were made for Mini Coopers.

I’ve driven to the mall by myself one time. My face was as red as a cooked lobster by the time I made it there.

So I’m stuck. Do I force myself to drive to the mall to buy things I need during Christmas season? Oh sure the positive side is I will pray the entire way and for about 10 minutes after I arrive… but I don’t know if I can do it.

I miss the days of driving my Honda Civic on the open road in America, people staying politely between the white and yellow lines. In a land where stop signs and traffic lights robots are generally not a risk to your personal safety, and the fear of the police causes just about everyone to follow the rules.

I miss being able to listen to music whilst driving, because driving on the American side of the road is just so natural to me. Here? I have to constantly think.

So, am I going to keep my boycott? I have no idea. It depends how much guts I have (and if I can con my husband into going to the mall again). Time will tell….

Funny side note – if I imagine shifting gears in my head, I use my right hand if I’m driving a 5-speed and my left hand if I’m driving a 4-speed! If I imagine shifting a 5-speed car in my head, it’s very difficult to do it with my left hand.

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Welcome to South Africa: Telkom’s service delivery (or lack thereof)

The TV stand the cable was laying on is apparently quite reflective. Who knew?

This is what happens when Telkom comes to visit. They come in, disconnect your phone, open the cable, and don’t even bother to put anything together.

It gets better – the ticket we filed was for the line outside, not inside.

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Trying Kalahari one more time

I’ve been dying for a hairdryer with a diffuser so I can stop scrunching my hair and rock curls properly.

But I can’t find a hairdryer with over 1800watts and a diffuser in the stores where I live. :-/

So I ordered this one from Kalahari. Shipment should be around the 27th of this month. Eish that’s a wait, but I don’t have much of a choice.

(It was rather annoying to try and find it on Kalahari, as for some reason it wasn’t listed under the hairdryer section of appliances…)

I’ll report back on the whole transaction once the dryer is in my hands, inshaa Allah.

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One of the most frustrating aspects of “Islam as a Monolith” propaganda is the fact that we are most decidely not a monolith.

Alice Krige as the Borg Queen in First Contact

You will NOT be assimilated (photo: Wikipedia).

Case in point: haircuts.

In America, Muslim women pretty much accept that getting their hair cut is permissible but plucking the eyebrows is not. Most of the women I knew in America who plucked their eyebrows anyway did so while acknowledging that it is haraam*.

Shockingly, the Muslims where I live in Joburg see the opposite as true, and when people found out that I do indeed cut my hair it was followed with advice about how it’s haraam to do so. Even after explaining patiently to people that I’m not a Hanafi (wallahi this is like my mantra sometimes) the schooling continues. It’s amazing how people who aren’t even a scholar in their own madhhab are suddenly experts at every other madhhab!

Anyway, there are places where I can get my hair cut… in Fordsburg. And that involves parallel parking and crazy traffic and a highjacking hot-spot so nothankyou. And the good thing about hijab is that if my hair is looking scruffy, most people don’t see it…

But I see it. It’s depressing. I really really really need a trim, and yet I can’t find a place on my side of Joburg with private facilities for women where women cut here. There’s a local barbershop that advertises “purdah facilities” (purdah literally means a dividing curtain) but there’s no women there who can cut here, just pluck eyebrows. Sigh.

And when I ask people about hair salons with private facilities, I get 1 of 2 answers:

  1. Oh just take off your hijab in a regular salon it’s no big deal, and men usually aren’t there
  2. You shouldn’t cut your hair, it’s haraam

When we can’t even agree on simple things like hair cuts and eyebrows, do you really think we’re able to unite, take over the world, and “force Sharia law on all the non-M00zlums” (insert redneck accent here)?



*I personally believe that shaving off the eyebrows and drawing them back on is haraam, but everything else within moderation is OK.

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