Monday, June 22, 2015

Say What?

Danger, high voltage.
I've mentioned, but never really elaborated on the level of security, walls and fencing that is the reality at the house where Mr. Deep and I live. This post is about the process involved to allow entry for visitors, workers, deliveries, etc.

If you are not a resident, to get into the neighborhood you have to go through a guard gate and tell the guard who you are visiting and you also have to show your ID. The guard then calls the person you are visiting. If the person wants you to be allowed to enter, then s/he has to enter a a digit sequence using his or her phone. You can't just say "oh yes, please let Bob in." That won't fly. Once that digit sequence is entered a computerized code is generated for the visitor at the gate and the visitor has to punch in that code in on a keypad in order for the gate and boom to open. Upon leaving, the visitor has to again enter that same code to show that he has left the premises.

The front entrance gate. Left is for residents and right is for visitors.
If you have a worker like a babysitter or maid who comes regularly you can fill out a form that contains that person's information, but you will still get a call from the guard and will still have to approve that person's entry each and every time.

It would be impossible to organize a surprise party of any kind in this neighborhood and anyone stopping by or popping in is out of the question.

If you are having anyone come over, then you have to be home. Or they have to have a key because once they get in the complex, the house is so secure, they wouldn't be able to access. For example if you need propane delivered at your house in the U.S. you can likely have the guy come and do that whether you are home or not. But here, I have to be here to unlock the fence to the area where the propane is. I could do the phone part from a distance but not the access part. Fortunately, I have nowhere to be most days but I do spend a large portion of my days waiting for people to come over for various purposes.

Walls inside the complex 
The front of our house
In addition to managing the coming and goings of guests, workers and deliveries, the guards also drive around the neighborhood in a golf cart checking on things and make rounds on foot in the middle of the night making sure nothing is amiss.

One of the guards on the golf cart
I really appreciate the guards who work here. I haven't felt unsafe since arriving in South Africa but I am happy to live in a place that is extra safe even if it does make having people come over and getting deliveries extra a little more complicated than I am used to. Kids play in the streets and ride their bikes around the neighborhood. You can open your windows and doors and enjoy the weather and sunshine. It is a nice place to live and the guards are the ones that make it that way for everyone. Plus, they are very friendly and seem very happy to be here. So that's on the bright side.

On the downside, it is a sad state of affairs if all of the fencing and protocol is warranted. It is hard to know if the guards and the walls and the electric fence is a selling point for neighborhoods like ours or the necessity of a dangerous area. This is not for me to judge. I think it would be disrespectful and wrong of me, after four months of being here, to decide that all of the security is not necessary. Which came first? The guards or the safe community?

Back to the protocol for entry. There are a few major flaws. These flaws may be specific to some shortcomings on the part of the Deep household, I am not sure.

First, you have to answer the phone when it rings. This sounds simple enough. You have probably known that a ringing phone needs to be answered since you were about three years old. But it's not that simple. My cell phone has horrible reception inside our concrete house, so sometimes it doesn't ring at all. It is also a pre-paid, meaning I buy air time in advance and then use it up, so sometimes the phone is out of time and I am not aware. Back when we first moved in we had a guy from the satellite TV company come over and he said he'd be back shortly to set up our TV service. We were thrilled, we would have TV service that day! He never came back and we were baffled. Until the next day when my phone service righted itself and I had 15 (no exaggeration) voice mails from the guards trying to reach me so I could let this guy in. I think this story illustrates that no one can sweet talk their way into this place.

The guards are happy to call additional numbers if the first one doesn't produce a reply. We actually have a land line so I gave them that number and Mr. Deep's cell a while ago. Somehow though they missed entering the land line into their system so they were calling Mr. Deep's cell every time they couldn't reach me which was every time they tried to reach me. For some reason Mr. Deep found it annoying when he was busy at work and in the middle of important meetings to get calls so that he could let the bottled water delivery guy in. So finally that was rectified and now they call my cell, our land line and then Mr. Deep's cell in that order.  

Second, and this is probably the most unlikely to be solved any time in the near future, we can't understand what the guards are saying when they call us. I'm pretty sure that Charlie Brown's teacher works at the guard gate and is responsible for making all of these calls.

The conversation starts out pretty well.
Guard: "Good morning ma'am, how are you?"
Me: "Good morning, I'm fine how are you?"
Guard: " Fine, thank you. I have (inaudible and unintelligible string of words) here at the gate."
Me: "I'm sorry who is at the gate?"
Guard: (makes sounds that sound like words but cannot be translated into English)
Me: "Okay...." (presses digit sequence to let potential serial killer or knife wielding kidnapper into very secure housing complex, thus putting the lives of all residents at risk)

Many times, I know who is on their way here so it's not a big deal, but if I am not expecting anyone, then it becomes tricky. In my daily life, I can understand people when they talk here so I'm not sure what is going on. Mr. Deep agrees and he can't understand this critical portion of the conversation either. It seems like a combination of issues that develop when the guard holds the phone too close to his mouth, has a strong accent and tries to pronounce some one's name.
The gate up close

I measured this wall behind my house. It faces the road and is eight feet high with an electric fence on top


  1. Hi there - coming to visit from Joburg Expat. You are hilarious. I'll be subscribing to your blog. It never occurred to me to elaborate on the entry protocol but of course this makes for a great story for someone who's never seen it. And you are SO right about everything - unintelligible words by guards, and Mr. Deep's annoyance. I think he must be related to Mr. Noisette. Great writing, I hope to see a lot more!

    1. Thank you Sine! I'm so excited that you are reading and enjoying the blog. We love the Ex Joburg Expat blog!

    2. How flattering! Thanks! You'll have to continue the tradition. Excited to hear what's up next on your plate.

  2. Love this! And am so happy you are safe! Can you post more pics of your house? It looks beautiful from what we can see

    1. Thanks Jess for being such a faithful reader! Yes, I will post more pictures of the house and the neighborhood soon.


About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.