Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Love on the Rocks

A glorious view from our room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. 
Last weekend was a three day holiday weekend here in South Africa. The holiday is called Day of Reconciliation and it's purpose is to celebrate and promote racial harmony and unity. The holiday was first celebrated in 1995 after the end of apartheid. 

Mr. Deep and I took a trip to Kwa Zulu Natal one of the South African provinces. Affectionately called K Zed N, remember a Z is called a Zed here, Kwa Zulu Natal is in the south eastern part of the country and has a lovely, long coastline along the Indian Ocean.  Last year, we visited Durban in K Zed N, but it was winter and it was rainy and cold. This time, however the weather was perfect. 

We stayed in Umhlanga Rocks, located north of Durban at a fancy schmancy hotel called the Beverly Hills. 

My suggestion is that you run, not walk to the Beverly Hills Hotel. It is luxurious and every room faces the ocean. They give you champagne when you check in. They give you more champagne at breakfast. While you are laying in the sun a guy comes by and asks you if you want your sunglasses cleaned. Then later another guy comes by and asks if you if want a popsicle. If you want, you can also get a massage right there overlooking the beach. 

The rocks in Umhlanga Rocks
It looks like a face
Rock close up
I mentioned in this post that Mr. Deep and I only recently became aware that you can sit around on vacation and do absolutely nothing. Why it took us so long to learn that lesson I am not sure. But nothing is precisely what we did for three days. Because we didn't DO anything this blog post is not going to be chock full of content. But we got some great photos and I wanted to share them. You might notice that most of the pics appear to be taken from the same exact vantage point. That's because I rarely got up from my chair. And what I found out is that if you just sit in the same spot for a while interesting things will actually happen right in front of you. 

I mentioned we didn't move much right? 

A wedding took place out on the pier. Luckily, I had my zoom lens and could remain comfortably seated and still get some photos.


You can probably guess who took the next two photos. 

Eventually, we did get up an explore a bit. But don't worry we quickly returned to the comfort of our chairs. 

It was Mr. Deep's idea that we snap this pic because there were so many shades of blue.

Friday, December 23, 2016

More Confidence

This is part two of my interview with Confidence. If you missed part one you can read it here. 

"Sometimes it was hard to listen in class but I always called my crying tummy to order."
- Confidence Tshivhula

Confidence answers my questions thoughtfully, slowly and carefully pausing to contemplate each answer before replying. I can tell that certain topics are difficult for her to talk about. Here is more of her story.

Eventually Confidence got an electrician to reconnect the lights in her shack but she still had to endure the dirt floor, the holes in the walls, the door that she couldn't lock, the rats and the faulty roof. Because she couldn't lock the door and was afraid, Confidence stopped sleeping at the shack, using it only as a place to store her belongings, and began sleeping in the lecture halls at school. After studying at the library until late at night, she'd go to her hiding spot for a few hours sleep. Other students sometimes noticed that she hadn't changed her clothes from one day to the next but when they commented she told them she "didn't like washing clothes."

Confidence had no money to buy food and went days without eating. At night she would visit a nearby market after closing and search the bins for discarded food. Sometimes she'd find carrots and tomatoes still fresh enough to eat. Sunday was her favorite day as lunch was served following the church service she attended. She volunteered for the task of washing lunch dishes so she could eat the leftover food from people's plates. 

I asked Confidence how she was able to concentrate in class and sleep at night when she was so hungry. She said it was difficult at first, but after a while her body adjusted, "I wasn't used to food anymore." Although now her situation has improved she says she cares little about eating and doesn't have the same appetite that she used to.

One night Confidence returned to her shack to retrieve some clothes and her landlord was there waiting for her. He was tired of her late rent payments and he chased her away. Confidence begged him to allow her wait until morning to move out but he would not and so in the middle of the night she went to stay at the home of her church pastor and his family.

Confidence loved and admired the pastor and his wife and she was happy for the chance to live with them and be a part of their family. But instead of treating her like family she says that they treated her like a servant. While she was allowed to live in their house rent free, she was expected to do all of the cleaning and housework. The family had a washing machine but Confidence was not allowed to use it and had to wash her own clothes by hand. They also did not share any of their food with her. When she talks about this time I get the feeling that living with the pastor was a more difficult experience for her than living in the shack as she was so hurt and disappointed by people she thought were nice but proved not to be genuine. After three months Confidence moved out of the pastor's home and she no longer attends that church. 

She was also disappointed and surprised by behavior displayed by some of her fellow classmates. She witnessed students dressed in fancy clothes and shoes that she describes as "breathtaking" being dropped off at school in expensive cars. At first she thought these students were being dropped off by their parents but later she realized that some of them had much older boyfriends who were paying for a high end lifestyle in exchange for sex and younger companionship. 

Since her first year at varsity (she is now in her third year) Confidence's financial situation has improved a bit thanks in part to a monthly stipend of R500 (approximately $35) that she she receives from the Edu Fun Further Education Program (FEP.)  Edu Fun is the same organization that I volunteer with at the Diepsloot Combined School (DCS) helping younger children with their English. Through the FEP arm, Edu Fun supports approximately twenty varsity students all graduates of DCS. The students receive a stipend to help them with food, transport and living expenses while they are at university. Confidence didn't learn about FEP until she was in her second year of varsity. Edu Fun's website seems to be under construction currently but here is a link to the Facebook page.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Spoiled in Joburg

Sometimes I write blog posts that cast me in a good light and use the blog to give myself a public pat on the back. This is not one of those times. Recently I noticed some things about myself that aren't all that flattering. If you live or have ever lived in South Africa I am hoping you can relate. Part of me can't help but think that what is happening to me is South Africa's fault. At least a little.

I am becoming lazy and spoiled. Not lazy like I don't go to the gym. I do go. Not lazy like I sit around and watch TV all day. I don't. Not spoiled like I don't appreciate how wonderful my life is. I do. It is not lost on me that I have just written about a young woman who is trying her hardest to improve her life by going to university but that in order to do so she has had to go without food or a safe place to live because she has so little money. 

When we first arrived and Christine began coming to clean for us twice a week, I was a little freaked out. Not that I wasn't incredibly excited to have a clean home, as that is all I've ever wanted in life, but I was worried that it would be strange to have someone cleaning while I was home and clearly doing nothing of importance. In the beginning, because I'm American, on the days that she came to clean I would do a little pre-work before she arrived and make our bed. Really, it was just a display (refer to beginning of this post) to reassure her that I was not a useless spoiled brat who couldn't or wouldn't make her own bed. I soon noticed though that Christine was remaking our bed even after I'd made it, so after a few months, I conceded to the power play and stopped. 

It gets worse. For about a year I hurriedly washed the blender containing our morning smoothie and the glasses that we used to drink the smoothie before Christine arrived. Sometimes it would really get down to the wire and security would call to say she had arrived and I would have to use the five minutes that it takes her to walk from the gate to our house to wash these items. I did this because after making a smoothie the blender is gross. It's covered in a thick green pulpy film. While very healthy to drink, it's yucky to clean especially if you didn't make the smoothie and you're not quite sure what the green slime that you are touching actually is. But then I heard from other people that they were leaving their dinner dishes from the NIGHT BEFORE for their cleaning lady to wash upon arrival the next day and while this news shocked and horrified me it did make me think that washing a small freshly used blender and two glasses wasn't so bad and that was the end of my blender washing.

As I write this, Christine is on vacation for several weeks and so I am left to clean my own house and do my own laundry. As the best offense is a good defense, my strategy is to make as little of a mess as possible and try to keep the house looking presentable for as long as I can without really having to clean anything. If I see a smudge or an area that needs to be wiped, I will wipe it, but my goal is not to have to break out any heavily machinery such as the vacuum or a mop. When this inevitably fails I will enter phase two of my plan which is to ensure that no one comes over and sees what a mess we are living in. The first two phases of my plan should get me to within a week or so of when Christine is due to return at which point I will either break down and clean the house from top to bottom myself or stick it out for the duration. 

This is our second holiday season spent in South Africa and I am now realizing why so many people from Joburg go away during the holidays. It's not because they love the beach or viewing the big five but it's because their domestic staff have left town and it's no fun to sit around at home in squalor for three weeks. 

The other task I am handling while Christine is away is our laundry. In the grand scheme of household chores I really don't mind doing the laundry but Christine not only does our laundry...she irons and she irons everything. She irons our sheets, our gym clothes and our t-shirts. She may even iron our underwear. She also perfectly folds every item like they do at The Gap. She stacks the ironed clothing in our drawers and cupboards and the piles look so beautiful that I only want to wear the top article of clothing so as to preserve the perfection of the stack.  

When South Africans visit America the first thing they must notice as they get off the plane is how wrinkled every one's clothes are because in America most people do not iron t-shirts or jeans. When I lived in America I didn't even own an iron. If something was wrinkled I would send it out to the dry cleaners. If I didn't have time for that I would take the wrinkled item with me on a business trip and then use the iron in the hotel. 

So while the festive season is merry and bright, it is also a hard slog as I wait until January when Christine returns. Mr. Deep by the way is completely oblivious to my struggles. He is not trying to maintain our inventory of freshly ironed clothes. He is taking the approach of wearing as many of his clothes as possible in any given day and then after removing them he is throwing them on the floor to quickly wrinkle. I am running after him trying to catch his still presentable and wearable clothing item in mid-air before it hits the floor but I don't always get there in time.  He also doesn't take his clothes from the top of the pile. Instead, he grabs a shirt from the middle painfully disrupting the zen that Christine has created for us. She'll be back on January 9. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

With Confidence

"I was just a tennis ball. Even when people press me down I will always bounce back and the more I felt pressed down I would bounce back even higher."
                   - Confidence Tshivhula

Confidence Tshivula is 22 years old. She grew up in Diepsloot and graduated from the Diepsloot Combined School (DCS) which is the school where I volunteer twice a week. 

Confidence is studying accounting at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and she will graduate with a diploma in March, 2017.  A few months ago I read an essay that Confidence wrote about her experiences as a varsity student. I was fascinated and asked if I could interview her for my blog. I told her that my blog has a relatively small readership as I didn't want her to get overly excited thinking a book or movie deal would be forthcoming. Fortunately she agreed to talk with me anyway. 

When I saw Confidence for the first time she was standing outside of the Mugg & Bean where we had planned to meet. She was dressed in a black dress and a short sleeved black shrug sweater.  I was immediately struck by how cute she is. She's short with a pretty heart shaped face. 

In many ways Confidence is similar to other 22 year old women. She grew up in a family with her mother, father and two younger brothers. She has big hopes and dreams for her future. Sometimes she gets frustrated with her parents but she never argues or fights with them as that is not permissible in her culture (that part is definitely not similar.) She wants to get her driver's license, loves art, likes to draw, paint, sew and make pillows. She can also play the guitar.

The first question I asked was about her name. I learned that her African name is Ndivhuwo and her English name is Confidence. She told me that it was her father that named her. It is not unusual to meet African people with all kinds of interesting and quite honestly AWESOME names like Beauty, Surprise, Polite, Blessing, Sonnyboy, Tears and more, but I have never met anyone named Confidence and Confidence told me that she has never met another Confidence either. 

In 1999, when she was five, Confidence came to live in Diepsloot from the rural South African province of Limpopo. She'd been living with her grandmother as her parents had come to Joburg to look for work. When she arrived and joined her parents she only spoke Venda, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, but she attended a creche (nursery school) and quickly learned to speak Zulu, Xhosa, Sepedi and English.  

In Limpopo, the family lived in a large shack with three rooms. In Diepsloot, their shack was much smaller. They lived in the small shack until 2001 when they were granted an RDP House in Diepsloot. RDP stands for Reconstruction and Development Programme which in addition to other things, provides government subsidized homes for poor people as part of a larger plan to try to address the consequences of apartheid. Confidence still remembers how excited she was to move into a real house and to have her own room. Her parents still live in the same house and Confidence still has a room there although her family has turned it into somewhat of a storage area as she is living away from home much of the time attending university. 

As a child Confidence wanted to become a doctor. This dream began when she and a childhood friend were playing and the friend fell and cut herself. Confidence cared for her friend and bandaged her cut. From then on everyone told Confidence that she should be a doctor when she grew up and so she decided that she would. 

Although she enjoyed attending DCS school was not easy and she says she was only an average student. She worked hard but when she applied for university she was told that her grades were not good enough to study medicine. She and her father went to a meeting with an admissions officer who made this point clearly and definitively pulling a stack of transcripts out of a drawer and showing them to Confidence and her father saying, "look at the grades of these students, these are the people who can become doctors, not you." 

Confidence thinks that her dad was disappointed to hear this news but Confidence quickly bounced back and decided she would study to become a fashion designer.  At DCS she was known to be an excellent artist. She was so good that the principal gave her the keys to the art room so she could access it at any time. In addition, leading up to the 2010 World Cup there was an art contest at school. The student with the best drawing would win a ticket to the event. Confidence was the winner. 

But when Confidence told her father that she wanted to become a fashion designer he said no, that there was no money in it and it was then decided that Confidence would study accounting. As a person who possesses absolutely no mathematical skills, I am impressed by people who can do even simple calculations. But when I asked Confidence if she liked accounting she only replied "I am doing accounting. I am doing accounting." As we talked, I mentioned that I agreed with her father, that it might be difficult to earn money as a fashion designer or an artist. I felt badly immediately after I said it because her whole face changed and she looked really sad. I guess I forgot what it's like to be 22.

After graduating from DCS Confidence was excited to begin attending university. You would think that if one could somehow survive life in Diepsloot with all the drugs, violence, dirt and crime and if one could achieve grades good enough to be accepted to university that things would then be o.k. Unfortunately this is not the case. Even if students from Diepsloot are accepted to university and even if they somehow manage to find the money to pay their school fees through financial aid and bursaries, they still have no money for books, transport to school, student housing or food. Many talented students have had to drop out of university because they simply can't afford to live while going to school.

Confidence attends university at the UJ campus located at Klipspruit Soweto. Klipspruit is about 45 kilometers from Diepsloot so in her first year she had to live near campus as she had no money to pay for transportConfidence and a friend rented a small one room shack with one window and a dirt floor in Klipspruit. The landlord promised them that he would put down a real floor with tiles. He also promised that he would fix the holes in the roof and the walls but he never did. Every time it rained water poured into the shack and all of their books and clothes got soaked. Rats entered the shack through the holes in the wall. Eventually the roommate moved out taking all of her furniture with her. Confidence was left with nothing except for the rats, who she admits she talked to when she was lonely, and a dirt floor to sleep on. 

Confidence continued to have problems with the landlord as her rent was due at the end of each month but her parents did not get paid until the 2nd of the following month. She tried to explain this situation to the landlord and also tried to earn her own money by offering her services as a hair stylist but there was never enough money to close the gap and she never paid the rent on time. After her roommate moved out the landlord cut off the electricity to the shack and he took away her keys so that Confidence could no longer lock the shack door. She studied by the light of her cell phone but she was too scared to sleep in the shack with the door unlocked. Dogs from the neighborhood would chase the rats and the noise would wake her up at night. She would often wake up to find the shack door wide open.  

More to come from my conversations with Confidence in my next post.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Adventure in Hartbeespoort

View of the Hartbeespoort Dam from the aerial cableway
Mr. Deep and I know that sometime in 2017 we will be leaving South Africa. When this will happen and where we will go are questions that we don't have answers to. Living with this uncertainty is not easy. This is the part of the story when the lead characters realize that their script only has a few pages left but they are not ready to exit the stage. 

We simply aren't finished with South Africa. We have an endless list of places that we still want to visit, restaurants where we want to eat, neighborhoods to explore, markets to browse. We haven't even spent enough time enjoying the roof deck at our own house. Regardless of all of our efforts to maximize our time here and our constant and consistent knowledge that living here was temporary we, it turns out, wasted too much time watching TV, sleeping, surfing the Internet and doing who knows what else. 

Because I'm the kind of person who relies on lists and goals to get me off my ass, I've come up with personal challenge which I'm calling 20 Adventures. The goal of 20 Adventures is for me to have 20 South African Adventures. Likely I will have to have more than 20 because a few might end up being too boring to warrant a blog post. Mostly, I will try to explore new places and experience new things but as 20 Adventures was designed solely by me and for me, I can return to places that I have been before if I want and still count it as an adventure. Mr. Deep will be roped into joining me for some of these adventures but I alone am responsible for achieving the goal of 20. 

This past Saturday we had our first official adventure (19 to go.) We visited Hartbeespoort in the North West province located 45 minutes from our house. We have been to Hartbeespoort before when we visited the elephant and monkey sanctuaries but usually we are just passing through on our way to Pilanesberg or to Madikwe. We haven't made the time to explore the area. Located in the Magaliesberg Mountain Range, there is a man made dam in Hartbeespoort called (of course) Hartbeespoort Dam. 

The Ops team planned the whole adventure. First, we took a ride on the Harties Area Cableway for great views of the dam and the surrounding areas.

A little massage parlor at the top of the mountain
Deep relaxation in the grass
Photo by Mr. Deep. The cloud and its shadow.
Live music. There are also several restaurants and bars at the top. 
Following a period of relaxation at the top of the mountain we drove about 20 minutes to lunch at a place called Die Ou Pastorie. You might think it's strange for a restaurant to have the word die in the name but Die in Afrikaans means "the." Die Ou Pastorie translates to the old rectory which was what it was before it became a police station and before it became a guest house and restaurant. We sat in the garden and had a lovely lunch. Side note there are so many restaurants where you can eat it gardens in this area of South Africa. Maybe one of my adventures will be a post about eating in various garden settings. 
In the garden
In true South African fashion the adventure we planned turned out to not be the real adventure at all. After lunch we were ready to head home when my car wouldn't start. The battery was dead. We knew it was the battery because the day before I had taken my car in for service at the dealer and it was suggested that I purchase a new battery. As I had not any any issues with the battery, I declined. Fortunately the always prepared Mr. Deep sprung into action and the ResQ battery charger saved the day. As we headed for home we discussed when we might be able to take my car back to the dealer for a new battery. The challenge was that Mr. Deep's Jeep was in the shop and we were sharing just one car. 

As we drove we saw a gas station with a garage. Mr. Deep said "what the hell" and we drove in to see if they could possibly replace our battery. Sitting in front of the garage were four workers. Mr. Deep explained our situation and two guys immediately got to work removing our old battery and searching their inventory for a new one. Within 20 minutes we were on our way home with a new (or possibly used so lets just say working) battery. As they worked on my car, I noticed the employee work schedule posted to the wall and I'm pretty sure they two guys who helped us were named Surprise and Respect. 
Surprise and Respect working on Schmool
Sometimes we use the phrase T.I.A. which stands for This is Africa to remind ourselves not to get frustrated when things don't work correctly. But the phrase can also be used in a positive and loving way. It's not every day that you can you take in a gorgeous view, eat lunch in a fancy garden and then pull into a garage only to find people who are just waiting to help you with a smile? More adventures to come...

For some reason there were several shelves of these pumpkin chews for sale at the garage.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Doctor Doctor

Before I moved here I wondered, what would going to the doctor in South Africa be like? What if I became seriously ill? Could doctors in Joburg successfully treat me? What if they couldn't properly diagnose me until it was too late? 

I know some expats who have their annual physicals when they make visits back home. But live away from home long enough and eventually you will need to see a doctor. And, if like me, you actually look forward to getting your teeth cleaned every six months then you will certainly need to see a dentist or a hygienist while you are living away. 

Fortunately throughout our stay in South Africa, Mr. Deep and I have remained healthy. However, I counted the number of receipts that we have for doctor visits and combined Mr. Deep and I (although mostly Mr. Deep) have visited doctors and dentists 35 times in less than 22 months! I know what you're thinking, that it's amazing that we were able to squeeze in any travel or safaris given the significant amount of time we are spending receiving medical attention. Mr. Deep asked that I clarify and tell you that most of these visits are for physical therapy or as it's called here biokinetics.

The first time I visited a doctor in Joburg I completely over complicated the situation. It was April of 2015, two months after we arrived. I had been feeling sick with a stomach bug and despite my best efforts to treat the illness with ginger ale and tums, I wasn't getting any better. 

Upon arrival I checked in with the receptionist. She told me the name of the doctor I'd be seeing and said I could "go through." Coming through or going through is South African terminology for "go on in." What I wasn't sure of was did she mean go and wait in the waiting room or go right in and see the doctor? Maybe I was delirious from sickness but I decided that she must mean that I should go directly in to see the doctor. 

I walked down the corridor and found the door with the doctor's name on it. It was slightly ajar so I entered the office. The doctor seemed a little surprised to see me. I explained that I wasn't sure if the receptionist meant that I should go right to his office or not (although it was becoming clear not.) He said that usually, and by usually I think he meant always, patients wait in the waiting room until they are called. I am sure he was wondering where in the world I was from where it's normal for patients to barge in to see the doctor. He was really nice about it though and proceeded with my appointment rather than sending me back to the waiting room. 

Overall I have found the medical system here to be quite good. While I don't know if the care I am getting is any better or worse than what I would be receiving back in the U.S., there are certain aspects here that are definitely better.

First, the wait times are very short. In South Africa I don't think I've waited to see a doctor for longer than 15 minutes. In the past I have waited over two hours even with a scheduled appointment.

Second, it's easy to get an appointment. If I were to call my doctor's office right now, they would ask me if I wanted an appointment today. I would not have to beg or cough dramatically into the phone in order to be seen. In the U.S. if I were to call a doctor today and ask for an appointment, I would be given the earliest available appointment which would be in March, 2017.  

Third, the doctors here are not afraid to prescribe drugs. Some people think this is a bad thing, but if I am feeling poorly enough to visit the doctor then I am looking for fast relief in the form of tablets. 

Fourth, results are given quickly. When I had annual blood work, I was called with the results the next day. When I needed a chest x-ray for my visa I got the films right away. When I had a mammogram the results were provided to me before I left the hospital.

For a year Mr. Deep and I paid for all of our medical expenses in cash. While visiting private doctors is sadly cost prohibitive for a majority of people in this country, to us the visits often cost less than our co-pay would back home. Although we were aware that we had some type of insurance for expats neither of us researched the matter. I am sure that this task was supposed to be handled by the Ops team, but it wasn't and eventually Mr. Deep got tired of seeing money fly out the window and requested that I submit the paid invoices to insurance to see if we might be reimbursed for any of our expenses.  

He handed me a stack of invoices and gave me the Cigna Global Health Benefits log in information. Of course I procrastinated the project for a while as I was busy with other things. Finally, I sat down to complete my assignment. The whole process was quite simple and straightforward. In fact, the only challenge I had was that in order to successfully submit photos of the paid invoices I had to install a "photo shrinker" app on my phone. Once that was done, I was able to quickly submit each claim.

The process for submitting claims via Cigna Global Health Benefits is as follows. First, register on the website (have your Cigna ID card handy for this.) Next, enter banking details for what is called ePayment Plus to allow reimbursement to be deposited directly into your bank account. After selecting which family member you are filing on behalf of, type a few sentences explaining the diagnosis/symptoms. For example, "visit to doctor for stomach illness" or "biokinetics for knee pain." Next, from a drop down menu choose the country where the expense was incurred. Upload a photo of the invoice you paid (remember you may need to shrink the size of the photo first as it must be less than 6mb.) Finally, agree to the terms and submit the claim. The whole process takes about 15 seconds.

As I submit claims Mr. Deep receives three emails from Cigna. The first, when a claim is submitted, the second when we are reimbursed for an expense, and the third when a new explanation of benefits has been posted to the website for our viewing. There is also an app called the Cigna Envoy App that can be downloaded to track claims but I have yet to try it.

A few days after I completed my claim submissions a miraculous thing happened and we started receiving payments from Cigna into our bank account. Nothing (not even birds) makes Mr. Deep happier than money appearing into his bank account.  

This post was sponsored by Cigna Global Health Benefits. All opinions expressed and experiences shared are my own.

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.