Joburg Expat: Frustration Revisited

May 27, 2010

Frustration Revisited

*** Note: I have since been able to find both Swim-Ear and electric toothbrushes, even rubbing alcohol which is called surgical spirits, at a large pharmacy chain called Dis-Chem. ***

Things had been looking up quite a bit, over 2 weeks into our life here, but now I feel like venting again. What seemed to be a promising car yesterday, when I first looked at it after the dealer had brought it to my house to look at, with the prospect of closing on it today, is turning into a rather shady business. It seemed so nice to be able to look at it right here, without having to go anywhere (which you’ll remember I have trouble with since I HAVE NO CAR), but it has the drawback that I’ve never actually seen the car dealership, so it might as well not exist. All I had was a number posted on a website with a name of a dealership no one has ever heard of. I called our relocation advisor (yes, we have one of those, part of the corporate deal) today, just to check on the car registration procedure, and was told in no uncertain terms that I should only deal with one of the official dealership and not “with a bunch of Indians.” Those were the exact words.

Apparently, car dealers of Indian descent don’t have a stellar reputation here. For all I know, I was told, the car could have been stolen or been through a complete wreck, or both. So now I’m unsure of what to do. What I really feel like doing is giving my husband a list of features I’d like to have in a car, sit back and read my book, and let him deal with it. Buying a car is a man’s business, in my opinion. I can’t negotiate for the life of me, and I can’t think of all the things that might go wrong, because I’m a trusting person. But we are talking about considerable money here (cars in South Africa cost about twice as much as in the U.S.) so I get the point. But I also don’t want to turn into a prejudiced person, after less than a month of living here. After all, prejudice was a major building block of Apartheid. There seems to be a lot of it left today.

My other, smaller sources of frustration:
  1. I have not been able to find a thing as simple as rubbing alcohol. What I’m really after is Swim-Ear. Having been through several painful bacteria-induced ear infections (swimmer’s ear in the outer ear canal, often caused by swimming pool water, as opposed to a middle ear infection) with the kids, I’ve been making sure to pour Swim-Ear down all their ears after swimming in our pool, because on top of everything else I really don’t want to be having to look for a doctor (and figuring out how to get there WITHOUT A CAR) at the moment. Maybe I’ll have to resort to a technique that worked for me once when I was travelling abroad as a student and could sense a beginning ear infection: I poured a half a bottle of my perfume into my ear and stank up a storm for 3 days, but it worked beautifully. Alcohol is alcohol. Or maybe our regular mail forwarding shipment from the U.S. office will have to include miscellaneous staples from the home front. We already had to order some World Cup soccer jerseys from Amazon, because there was not a single one to be found in all of Johannesburg, the soon-to-be capital of World Cup soccer. You might think that wouldn’t be a high-priority item with the World Cup still 84 days away and other more important purchases looming (like GETTING A CAR) but it just so happens that the kids’ school has a form of casual Friday called “Football Friday” where the students get to shed their uniforms in favor of a jersey of their favorite team in the World Cup. But if they don’t have one of those, it’s back to the uniform. You can imagine that they all lobbied hard for such jerseys. Hence, the special order.
  2. Equally, electric toothbrushes are not to be had. We have a few that work on dual voltage, but those for the boys don’t, and they are now completely discharged (I’m surprised they lasted this long, which makes me suspicious that teeth weren’t all brushed the length of time they were supposed to). Can’t order them on Amazon either, because of the voltage problem. And the transformers we bought are all in our furniture shipment, which will get here God knows when. I’m not going to get my hopes up on that one.
  3. Same story for night lights. But at least this is an instance where procrastination solves problems. If they’ve been able to sleep without night lights for 2 weeks, they can probably keep doing that for the rest of our expat assignment.
  4. I bought a phone handset today, feeling quite pleased with myself that at least one of my problems would be solved, but when I plugged it in eagerly and made my first call, there was so much background noise that it was impossible to hear a thing. Not sure if it was the line or the phone. Plus, it has a German plug on it, needing one of our few precious adaptors which are already in constant use for other things. How can they sell an electric device here that doesn’t fit into one of their own sockets?
  5. While I’m struggling to acquire much-needed items, hoping to create an inflow of goods we sorely need for daily business, it turns out that we actually have an outflow of goods. Our trash can was stolen yesterday. I’m not kidding. Or perhaps not stolen, but nevertheless it is gone. It was out by the street for two days, because the garbage truck didn’t come when it was supposed to, and then I admit I didn’t wheel it back right after they finally did empty it, because I didn’t have the garage opener at the moment, and then that evening it was gone. What’s with that? This is a completely secure neighborhood with thorough checks of anybody going in or out, so I can only assume someone within the neighborhood took it. I even do remember hearing the tell-tale noise of a trash can being pulled along the road that afternoon, but of course I assumed it was someone else’s and not ours! I’m not really sure how to proceed. I called security several times but got no answer there (now that’s not giving me any level of comfort – what if I really had a security problem?) but otherwise just chose to ignore the issue. But the kitchen trash is getting awfully full, so I’m reluctantly adding “get a new trash can” to my to-do list.
Note: I have now been able to find both Swim-Ear and electric toothbrushes, even rubbing alcohol which is called surgical spirits, at a large pharmacy chain called Dis-Chem.