April 23, 2012

Guest Post: What is Netball?

In a first for Joburg Expat, today's feature is a guest post. I was cleaning up my hard drive when I came across some files I didn't recognize. Curious, I started reading, and it turns out that Sunshine must have been busy writing her stories, as she is prone to do. I can always tell by the colorful fonts when it was her.

I thought this would make for a nice little guest post, since she has been asking to write one for a while. Plus it will give you something to read while I sort through our Botswana pictures, which might take years for all I know. I almost miss the days when film was expensive and you thought twice before pressing that shutter button. These days I sit there in agony not knowing whether to keep the picture of the elephant with the trunk up or the trunk down or perhaps rather the one with the trunk slightly in between up and down. And don't even get me started on the three hundred leopard pictures. 

What is netball? 
by Sunshine, age 9

Well, a net is something provided for a ball to go through. And a ball is what goes through the net. So my point is that the whole objective of the game is to get the ball trough the net as many times as possible. 

I for one play netball myself and it is a wonderful sport to play. It does get tiring after a little while but if you love it that much you just have to keep playing. I play center and get tired every five minutes because I am running around the whole court like crazy, and can I just say netball courts are quite big.

But you just have to learn that no ball will come to you if you are floating around like a lost fart.

To learn more about netball, check out these previous posts:

April 19, 2012

Just Two Flimsy Pieces of Paper, Yet All that Could Stand Between You and a Prison Cell

For all those of you moving to South Africa or simply taking a trip here, I thought I would share this cautionary tale. It's actually a gem of a story I just happened to stumble upon last night, and ever on the hunt for writing material, I was practically already writing it while I heard it told.

We were all at a "girl's night out" dinner, and the food by the way was fabulous. Then our hostess made us all play a game, in return for the fabulous food, and the game was "write something no one knows about you on a piece of paper and pull someone else's paper from a sock and guess who that fact belongs to."

Some of us, including me, were immediately frozen like a dear in the headlights, with no thoughts whatsoever forthcoming. Not a single embarrassing moment in over forty years of life presenting itself. And then there were those who "spent a night in a prison cell in Cape Town." Are you kidding me? When the friend who this story belonged to was finally revealed, we all hung on her lips. I admit I was wildly jealous of her story. I can't even get the Joburg cops to arrest me for all my traffic transgressions!

So this is what happened: She was living in Asia at the time, in one of those countries that might not have the most professional airline, and the opportunity to visit Cape Town with a couple of friends came up. It was going to be a great trip, made even greater by the prospect of flying business class by ways of a fortuitous upgrade. And all went well until the arrival in Cape Town and the minor hurdle of the immigration checkpoint. Her friends were waved through, but she was detained.


Because she didn't have two consecutive empty pages in  her passport!

We all know how they tell you these things, right? And you think yeah yeah yeah, and it goes in one ear and out the other. Can't be that important, you think. Well, you better think again. It's very important. Except normally you're not put in that situation because the airline will take a look at your passport when you check in and flag you right there, so that you never even embark on your fateful trip. But Hottentot Airlines here didn't do that. So now you know that it is best to take on the task of checking immigration requirements and ensuring compliance your very own self. Unless of course you are hunting for a good story.

While we are at it, when you want to enter South Africa (and most other countries around us) your passport also has to be valid for at least six more months. That's my favorite rule. I mean, why is there an expiration date in a passport if then some countries get to arbitrarily shorten the validity? What could go wrong in those last six months? Well, I guess they don't want to get stuck with you not being able to be deported anywhere when it turns out you don't have two empty pages in your passport!

Which is exactly what happened to my friend. Getting deported, I mean. But since the next flight wasn't leaving until the next day, she had to spend the night in a prison cell first. Yep, a real cell locked with a key on a big bundle of keys, with bars in the front and a guard looking at her the entire night, no privacy whatsoever. She said she managed to not make use of the "facilities" (I imagined a bucked but didn't inquire) for twenty-four hours, a feat in itself very admirable. Her husband, finally summoned out of a business meeting after fifteen failed calls - I could totally relate to that part, as often as I call Noisette at work with all-important questions like what movie should I get for tonight or which credit card should I use - managed to rouse their home country's ambassador from sleep and talk him onto a plane from Pretoria to Cape Town, but alas he apparently didn't have enough clout to make it past the prison guards. There was nothing to do for her but wait it out and be led back to the boarding gate by eight heavily armed guards the next morning.

I was slightly jealous of the ambassador part as well. To get your country's ambassador to come specifically to try and rescue you? I wonder who'd come for me - the German or the American one? I'm pretty sure neither. The American one's got bigger fish to fry, and the German one would probably give me a lecture on the virtues of keeping a tidy passport.

And the final insult for my detained friend? Deportations aren't done on business class. Even if your ticket says so. I do suppose being deported on business class would be a bit weird. So back she had to fly, for over fifteen hours, on ECONOMY!

The moral of the story: If you want to avoid flying economy, do make sure there are plenty of empty pages in your passport.

April 17, 2012

A Facebook Page for Joburg Expat

Creating a Facebook page for Joburg Expat has been my "most favorite to procrastinate" to-do for the better part of a year.

I'm not sure why. Maybe because I couldn't really see the sense in it. But every blogger seems to have one. I mean, you really have to have a Facebook page, don't you? Otherwise, people can't LIKE you. I have plenty of FRIENDS, mind you, and I'm also quite pleased that I figured out how people can LIKE individual blog posts, but it seems they also need to LIKE my blog. So I figured I should follow suit so as not to fall behind in the social networking realm (yes, I still secretly worship King Pageview).

Maybe I kept putting it off because I know myself well enough to suspect that even a rather minor to-do like creating a Facebook page would turn into a major undertaking, what with all the irresistible cool gadgets I'd no doubt be discovering along the way, beckoning for me to add to my page to make it even more perfect.

Which it did. Holy cow, there are a ton of interesting Facebook pages out there! I really just wanted to glance at one to see how it's done - a major stumbling block being that I couldn't figure out how to designated it as "personal blog" - and before I knew it I was immersed in a travel blogger's shipwreck in Indonesia story.

But I'm glad to say, 23 newly opened tabs on my browser later, that the page is now there, waiting for you to LIKE.

Go ahead. Click the button. And then click LIKE. I am waiting... CLICK IT!

April 15, 2012

What is the Cost of Living in South Africa?

This post has been incorporated into Let's Talk Money, a newer and more comprehensive look at the cost of living in SA.

April 13, 2012

Just Another Outing in Joburg

It's official: Noisette and I are utter snobs. As recently confirmed on an outing we embarked on right here in Joburg.

This is how it happened: I often feel slightly guilty about my inclination to happily stay at home on weekends, so when an opportunity presented itself to go to Soweto for an event called "The Flyover Show," I suggested it to Noisette as something to do on a recent Saturday. Noisette loves airplanes, having been a private pilot for most of his life, so this sounded like a good plan.

Well. Would you have guessed that the Flyover Show has nothing to do with airplanes? It was just a big concert with various local (and perhaps non-local) groups performing. But still, it would be a chance to see Soweto as a lively place for a change. We've enjoyed touring Soweto before, and there are many interesting sights to see, but to me one of its biggest shortcomings is the lack of street life. When we were there with our kids, I was dying to buy them some food at any street stall, as I imagined there to be hundreds, which is why I hadn't packed any snacks. Okay, to be honest, I never pack any snacks. But can you believe that not a single food stall was to be found in all of Soweto that day?

Anyway, so I brought up all this while seeing Noisette getting tenser by the minute as we slowly progressed through traffic. I could see him thinking, I am in this mess every single day of the week, why am I doing it again on the weekend? I conjured up visions of a party for the ages, an unforgettable day at a lovely open air concert complete with flame throwers and exotic food. Plus, it was such a gorgeous day to be out and about, with a big rain just having swept everything clean and a hint of the first crispness of fall in the air.

Except Soweto disappointed again. I honestly don't think there is any street life to be found in Soweto. You can go into Alexandra any regular day with nothing special happening there, and it is always such a lively and crazy place. A bit scary, yes, but never dull. Soweto on the other hand feels  like the sleepy small German town on a Sunday I remember from my childhood. "Sidewalks flapped up," we called it. Soweto's history? Fascinating. Soweto today? Boring. Unless I suppose I could be talked into bungy jumping off the cooling towers, but don't hold your breath for that story.

We got there just as our friends, who had arrived earlier to watch a gumboot dance by the Kliptown Youth Program, were already leaving, because the show had gotten so lame. It turns out that was the highlight of the day, and we'd missed it (to read about and see pictures of it, go to Bing's blog).  Can I just say here that the whole South African concept of time is actually still a mystery to me. Whenever I'm anywhere at the appointed time, nothing happens, and it turns out that I'm way too uptight about keeping to a schedule. But then when I think surely an event will start later because they always do around here, that's the day when the program started right on the dot.

So what to do now? Walter Sisulu Square, a vast space framed by the very seedy-looking Soweto Hotel, conjuring an aura of 1970s Eastern Block, was more or less deserted. [Note by editor: the Soweto Hotel has since then been renovated, check out the Soweto Hotel website.] The only thing showing up en masse was not flame throwers but a long row of porta-potties. I think the event planners might have gotten a little bit ahead of themselves. And the DJ music, presumably tiding people over to the next event, was terrible. The entire scene was depressing, to be honest. Our friends decided to head to the Kliptown Youth Centre to hand out a few donations and perhaps catch an impromptu encore of the gumboot dance, but I knew it was futile to attempt dragging Noisette there. I can barely get him to attend our own kids' various music and sports performances.

A scene one could only dream of at a Bruce Springsteen concert

Walter Sisulu Square, with Soweto Hotel on right and Freedom Charter rotunda on left.
I mean, doesn't it look like people actually made an effort to NOT be there that day?

Leaving nothing to chance: There was definitely enough choice of porta-potty to be had

We'd already visited Walter Sisulu Square previously, and had read its most prominent feature, the Freedom Charter, enclosed in a rotunda at the center. The most memorable part about that, back then, was the guy who could play the South African national anthem on a recorder blowing through his nose. But when that guy approaches you the second time around with a huge whiff of alcohol preceding him from five yards out, then it's not quite so cute and quirky anymore. So after some debate, and after me breathing a huge sigh of relief that our car was still where we had parked it because surely Noisette would have blamed me and my ill-fated outing if it hadn't, we decided to check out the antique stores in Parktown North/Parkhurst.

Drive-by shooting of Joburg

That's when the day started taking a visible turn for the better. I got some good pictures of the Jozi skyline, straight out of the car driving by, and then what should we see emerging out of thin air like an oasis to the thirsty? A sign for the Westcliff Hotel. All we had to do was turn into a side road and it was right there, in all the glory we imagined. And do you know what? With every symbol of luxury and posh-ness that emerged from the minute we turned into their gate - the security gate, the parking guard, the immaculately turned out concierge at the front reception calling ahead to make a reservation for us at the polo bar, the luxury golf cart taking us up in impossibly steep serpentines pas the most gorgeous gardens - our spirits lifted. We were in our world again!

Westcliff Hotel, Johannesburg

(mine was virgin, if you must ask)

Beats Walter Sisulu Square and a row of porta-potties, if you ask me

Sunday High Tea on the terrace of the Westcliff Hotel is a Johannesburg institution, apparently. But you know what? Saturday mojitos and lunch aren't so bad either! We were surprised we even got in. The views from up there are truly spectacular, though I've still got to find the best spot for shooting the Joburg skyline. As you can see, this was more of a view of the woods. Joburg in summer is so impossibly green, which is something most people new to South Africa probably don't associate with living here.

We finished off our outing on another high note in trendy sidewalk-cafe-dottted and antique-store-lined-streets Parkhurst, where we almost ended up buying a new patio table, something we've been looking for pretty much ever since we've arrived in Joburg. But we thought better of it, perpetually undecided, and settled on some to-die-for and much more affordable freshly-baked bread instead.

Rooftop seating at George's on 4th, a Joburg restaurant I can highly recommend

Freshly-baked bread at Vovo Telo bakery on 4th Avenue, Parkhurst

I'm telling you, I enjoyed the second part of our day just as much as Noisette. Two snobs in a pod.

And, what do you know, we ended up seeing an airplane that day after all.

The only thing "flyover" we got to see that day, just a regular Sasol gas station at the side
of the road, as if airplanes on rooftops of gas stations were the most natural thing in the world.

April 11, 2012

Digging for the Water Meter

I’m making my way to another expat tip of mine, if you’ll just bear with me.

We recently had some repairs done to our irrigation system. I know you’ll accuse me of snobbery for daring to complain about such things as pools and irrigation systems, but it just reinforces my philosophy that material things don’t necessarily make you any happier. They mainly create more work. 

In my next life I want to be an irrigation system specialist. Oh how sweet would it be to just go out there and turn one of those sprinkler heads to point towards the lawn and not the road. Or the house. But it is strictly impossible to comprehend the workings of these pesky things. Whenever I can actually get someone to come out and take a look, I hover over them, at the risk of being drenched, to try and discern how in the world he turns that head so it’s pointing the right way. But invariably I lose track after he twists and turns and pushes down and turns again, and I have to admit to myself that I have no idea. The only thing I’ve ever succeeded in doing is ripping the head off completely, which then gives you a fountain in your yard where you really don’t want it.

So we recently had some sprinkler heads replaced and some leaks repaired, and in order to do that, the repair guy had to turn off our water mains. I had no idea where that might be, and he somehow found it on his own. Later, as he was getting ready to leave when all the lawn cycles had been gone through and demonstrated to be working, he mentioned to me that “by the way, I had to dig sort of deep to actually get to the water mains, what with all the grass growing on top of it, and there is no way anyone has come and done an actual water meter reading in the last several years.”

Hmmm. Now at least I know where the water meter is. Apparently, all the water meter readings we've been getting since moving here are pure estimates. We've been faithfully paying an entirely fictitious water bill.

So for the expat tip: Find out where your water meter is, and do a reading as soon as you move into your new house, just so that you have an idea what the starting point is and if your monthly charges from then on out make any sense.

Successful excavation of our water meter. See the toad on the left? And meter on the right?

As for me? Out of curiosity, I trekked down to the road where the meter is hidden under a flap in the lawn and checked it out. I couldn't find anything but a friendly toad and a bazillion ants, but a bit of digging indeed revealed a water meter. Do you think I should check it against our charges, ficticious as they might be? 

Seeing as our monthly City of Joburg bill seems reasonable (around R700 if you take out all the non-variables such as garbage and sewage fee), and considering I've spent a good part of last month on the phone with Eskom and Telkom and am not particularly keen to add yet another government agency to my calling list, and remembering that it took the City of Joburg only about three months to deliver a new trash can, I think I might well opt to let sleeping dogs lie.

April 9, 2012

My Calling as a Lion Sitter

When the call came last Sunday evening, we dropped everything, dinner dishes scattered and house in disarray, and made for a friend's house. She's a vet, and a colleague of hers was staying over with a four-day old lion cub in his care. Which we could come and pet.

That's what I love about living in Africa. I mean, where else are you going to get a call like that?

The excitement in the car was palpable. We don't often get all four kids to want to come on an outing anymore, even when it is for food. So just to have the whole family squeezed into the car, chattering away, was quite the event.

Everyone had visions of playing with this baby lion, one grander than the other I'm sure, so the reality was a bit of a letdown when we got there.

"This is supposed to be a lion?" scoffed Noisette, dangling it in his hands.

"It looks like a lamb!"

You can't usually go by what Noisette says. In fact, I'm surprised he even wanted to hold any member of the cat species, as he's been known to put our cat on a raft in the middle of the pool to see what she might do (jump and swim for her life, if you must know. And yes, I can say these things because he can't ever run for U.S. President, so we don't have to be mindful of stories like traveling to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. Which is something Noisette definitely would contemplate doing if we had a dog).

But in this case, he had a point. That lion cub looked like a lamb and actually had woolly fur like a lamb as well. It had a tail like a rat. And it made little pitiful quacking noises like a duck. The only lion-like feature was its smell (not in a good way).

Next up was Jabulani:

This is the only picture where you do see a resemblance. Maybe it's that
enormous front paw that makes it look like a lion.

As you can see, our lion (a girl, we were told) was a white lion. It had been born at the Lion Park, about which I've written about here, but wasn't doing well and needed to be bottle-fed.

Next in line was Sunshine, our animal lover:

I couldn't believe how human babylike that lion was. It was rooting and sniffing and when no milk was forthcoming, got very wiggly, craning its neck.

Impatience wanted nothing to do with "that smelly thing," but Zax, even though he was probably already thinking about a place to wash his hands, was game:

I love this picture in particular, though I'll admit I
made bazillions and had trouble deleting even a
single one. I'm a sucker for animal babies. 

Finally, it was my turn. I was really dying to hold this lion. It was getting wigglier by the minute and clearly needed some calming down. Just watch and see what happened:

Hello little gal!

Still wiggling...

...and crashed!

I'm hoping I'll be called on next time there is a chance to babysit a lion cub. I could have sat there for hours just like that with a lamb-rat-duck aka lion plopped on my lap, feeling her little paw on my leg, chest heaving with a big sigh every once in a while.

Is it too late to have a career change?

Epilogue: I later learned that, sadly, the lion cub didn't make it. The vet had to give it back to the lion park when perhaps it wasn't quite ready, and there he died over a long weekend. I'm  not sure why this makes me so sad, but I really fell in love with that little gal.

April 6, 2012

Why Traffic Lights When There is a Free Market?

Disfunctional traffic lights are hardly an unusual sight in Johannesburg, but it seems lately the problem has gotten even worse. As I drove into town today I passed no less than seven robots in various states of disrepair – from blinking red to completely out to interesting combinations of in-between states where, say, one side is out and the crossing road’s light is green.

But what I also saw was an unprecedented number of Outsurance guys directing traffic. What are those, you ask? They are actually really cool. Whenever you come across a group of two or three of them with their neon vests and motorcycles parked nearby, you send a silent “hallelujah” skyward, because you now have a good chance of getting through the intersection in no time. Whereas otherwise it could take you all day.

These pointsmen, as they are called, are dispatched to hot spots by an enterprising insurance agency that views the central display of their product at busy thoroughfares as the perfect way to advertise. It’s a win-win all around – traffic flows better, more people have jobs, Outsurance might gain a few new customers, and the City of Joburg never has to lift a finger. Which quite honestly they never do anyway. Just getting them to pick up the phone is a challenge, as I’ve documented elsewhere.

The pointsmen program even has its own website. Do leave them a message of encouragement, I’m sure they’d love that.

Why even traffic lights, is what I want to know? Imagine letting every company out there stake out a bunch of intersections, much as the hawkers already do, and direct traffic in return for free billboard space? And decrease unemployment dramatically in the process? Then you could do away with the bothersome traffic lights that break down at the first opportunity. Or because someone steals the cable leading up to them.

While I originally thought this was just an ingenious idea acted upon independently, some Googling of the topic revealed that there is, in fact, some type of agreement between the City of Joburg (and some other South African cities as well) and Outsurance outlining the program. And apparently it is in jeopardy after six or so years of existence. Even though the City of Joburg pays not a cent for these guys (other than perhaps some training), it has seen the potential riches of selling the rights to the highest bidder.

So might we soon see “This robot brought to you by Fruit and Veg City” or “HiFi Corporation – proud sponsor of William Nicol/N2 interchange” springing up all over Joburg?

April 4, 2012

Hotel With a View

I have to return to the topic of our Singapore Mystery Trip one more time, just to talk about the hotel we stayed in. It deserves its own post because it's like nothing I have ever seen before, as far as hotels go. Even though I probably wouldn't go there again, as you will soon see.

Marina Bay Sands hotel, as seen from Marina Bay, with ArtScience Museum on the right
Side view of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

The most striking two features of the Marina Bay Sands hotel are a) the look of it from across the bay (or from a boat in the bay), and b) the view from the top. Both can be had for free or a very modest fee, so don't despair if you've looked at the room prices and rather decided to invest that in your kids' college education.

A day pass to the observation deck on the 57th floor costs S$19, and in my opinion is a must when visiting Singapore, as the view from up there is truly spectacular, both during the day and at night. Or you could choose to take it in while dining at Ku De Ta or sipping drinks at the Sky Bar. Or you could come up specifically for the nightly chocolate bar in the club lounge, which - unbelievably - must have escaped Noisette's attention while we were there. There's another restaurant up there called Sky on 57, but I suspect its prices might come close to spending the night.

View from Marina Bay Sands towards the ocean, dotted with the ever-present container ships

You can swim right to the edge for a full-size view of those skyscrapers

I found the night time view the most spectacular

I'm afraid of heights, remember? But somehow it's different when you are standing in water

What I haven't been able to find online is an option to buy day passes for the pool, also on the 57th floor. So if you want to experience casually lounging by the pool while overlooking the Singapore skyline from above, I think getting a room is your only option. As you can tell, we did, and tried to suppress our guilt about the college money with frequent trips to the pool. It's really cool up there. Literally. If you've ever been to Singapore, you will remember that the heat is oppressive, and I was very surprised how breezy it was so high up. In fact, I was always slightly chilly at that pool. Which Noisette will tell you I always am, so don't listen to me.

And yet, we might rather stay somewhere else the next time. Yeah yeah, I know what you will say about a gifted horse and all, but Noisette himself was the one who spotted the shortcomings first: The Marina Bay Sands is WAY too big for our taste. When we were coming in from the airport early in the morning, we were slightly puzzled why the movie on the shuttle bus was explaining all the different check-in locations, but we should have paid attention. We trudged back and forth between towers one, two, and three to find the correct counter, and let me tell you, that is a trek right there. I should have brought my Kili hiking boots.

Entrance hall of Marina Bay Sands: huge, glassy, and busy

The entrance hall feels like an airport terminal, and everybody and their brother is passing through it. The high prices don't seem to deter many people at all. I guess we're slightly spoiled by having traveled to the bush in Africa, where you share absolute luxury and peace with a maximum of sixteen people and receive the utmost personal attention of the dedicated staff. At the Marina Bay Sands, you are just one of many people, and the service suffers accordingly, even though you can't say it's bad. 

We also didn't like the feeling of being nickled-and-dimed in such an exclusive place. Like having to pay for the water taxi to take you across the bay, or an early check-in. Or the fact that they still find a way to wring more money out of you by cordoning off a section at the Sky Bar, where the nice comfortable sofas are, and only allowing you in if you purchase two entire bottles of spirits. Standing room only for all those who "just" order two glasses of mojito for $20 each (and yes, mine was virgin, in case you're still keeping track of my lent project, though I did make an exception for our dinner with old-time friends).

The Singapore ArtScience Museum makes for a good movie backdrop at night

Unfortunately, by the time we found our way to it, it was already closed. However, we got
treated to a great personal tour of the Asian Civilizations Museum by our friend Lisa, so
overall we were good in the museum department.

Marina Bay Shopping Centre - more glitz and glass and vast air-conditioned distances. Just
findng our way from the hotel to the waterfront promenade beyond the shopping center was
an adventure every single time.

So, when in Singapore, by all means pay a visit to the Marina Bay Sands. Beyond the observation deck on top there are many other entertainment options to be found, such as a humongous shopping center (with equally humongous prices, mostly), a casino (charging you a S$100 "sin tax" per entry if you happen to be a Singaporean resident), the ArtScience museum currently featuring an Andy Warhol exhibition, and the beautiful promenade along the bay, where you can watch a dazzling light and water show every night.

But I wouldn't get a room there if I were you.

[Click on image for the full-size version]
Okay, I admit it, the edge of the pool came out seriously warped and those Photoshop
connoisseurs among you can feel free to pooh-pooh my attempt at getting you the full
panoramic view of the Singapore skyline. I should have stepped all the way to the edge
but I opted for staying safely in my chair instead.

See all posts in this series here:

Mystery Fantasy Travel Come True
Journey into the Past, and the Future
Expat Homecoming
Hotel with a View

April 2, 2012

Love Triangle: Eskom, Telkom, and Me

Oh the irony.

Just as I receive an email, without having to call them, from Eskom telling me that my account has been restored to a more reasonable balance (just briefly: our meter “cycled” over 100 thousand, but their system can only handle 5 digits, so the intelligent person entering last month’s reading just chopped off the last digit, but then their system miraculously added that back to 100 thousand, somehow now able to handle the 6 digits just fine, thank you very much, resulting in a usage of 10 thousand kwh instead of 2 thousand), our phones go dead and our internet stops working.

And I was so happy returning back to Africa and its blue skies, after our mystery trip I was bursting to tell you about. Well, Africa for sure gave me its warmest welcome, didn’t it.

And, alas it was just MY internet and phone. All of our neighbors were perfectly happy.

That is the strange thing about living in Africa. Joint suffering is so easily borne. The robot coming out from our neighborhood hasn’t worked in months. Remember my long story about how I called the City of Joburg to complain about that when it happened the first time? Well, I no longer even entertain thoughts of calling anyone. And I’m sure everyone else feels the same way. Do you realize there is a slight chance that the City of Joburg genuinely doesn’t know it’s down, because out of thousands of people stopping there every day, not a single one has thought of calling them?

But not so with our phone. Ours being the only affected household, from what I could gather, spurred me into action. Not that my action did much good, as we have been offline for almost a week.

What I really need is another Richard. Just the thought of him warms my heart and makes me fall in love with him all over again. Sweet Richard who always answers on the first ring and gives me the verbal equivalent of a foot massage every time we speak.

I need someone like him at Telkom. For now, I’ve just had a succession of customer service reps, one stupider and less-caring than the last – if I’m lucky to get through at all – who usually hang up on me before I can state my case completely. But the question is, can I really handle Richard at Eskom and a new best friend at Telkom all at once? That would be an impossible love triangle. Or rectangle – it now occurs to me that our cable TV with Multichoice has been awfully quiet lately. Not to mention water and trash.

This is what a typical call to Telkom sounds like:

VOICE MAIL: Welcome to Telkom. If you are an existing customer, please press one.
ME: [presses 1]
VOICE MAIL: Please note that calls to this number are free of charge if you are calling from your Telkom line.
ME: [Wonders who would typically be able to call from their Telkom line to report that said line wasn’t working]
VOICE MAIL: For DSL-related issues, please press one; for Internet questions, please press 2…
ME: [presses 1]
VOICE MAIL: Please enter the 10-digit phone number you are reporting the fault for.
ME: [enters phone number]
VOICE MAIL: [music – there is exactly one song in their queue]
ME: [waits]
VOICE MAIL: Please note that a service fee may be charged for the callout if the fault is not related to the Telkom line. Please continue to hold if you agree to that fee.
ME: [continues to hold]
VOICE MAIL: To report a fault, press one.
ME: [presses 1]
VOICE MAIL: [please enter the phone number of the line you wish to report]
ME: [enters phone number again]
VOICE MAIL: [music]
ME: [Switches phone to speaker, lays it next to the onions, and proceeds to cooking dinner]
FEMALE VOICE: [after 10 minutes] This is Mpumulele, how can I assist you?
ME: Our phone line is dead and our internet is not working.
FEMALE VOICE: What is the phone number of the account?
ME: [suppresses “why the hell did I already enter it twice” and instead tells her phone number]
FEMALE VOICE: Let me check in my system… Ma’m, it says that your ADSL line is working. So your internet should be fine. Do you still with to report a fault on your phone line?
ME: But both internet and phone are not working.
FEMALE VOICE: I'm telling you your internet is working, let me transfer you to report a fault on your phone line… BEEP BEEP BEEP [line goes dead]
ME: [hangs up]

I’ve had dozens of these conversations over the last few days. Sometimes I never make it to a real person, ending in some obscure voice mail purgatory in the form of an endless loop of pressing “1” and entering my phone number. Often, when I finally make it to a real person, she hangs up on me just at the crucial moment where I’m expecting to hear what they’re going to do about it. I’ve collected an impressive stack of reference numbers, yet when I call back to check on the status, I’m never asked for any of them.

After briefly restoring our line, it was out again after just a few hours and we’re back to waiting for something to happen. To add insult to injury, after five days of no service, I got a call from Telkom performing a survey about my recent service experience with them. I’m a patient person, I really am, but that was a bit much. Though it was kind of satisfying to dish out a series of “1”s in answer to “on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate…”.

Oh, but I can see it clearly now, it’s just another Richard being thrown at me to soothe and let off steam, without ever solving anything!

I really don’t know if I can handle another Richard.