Thursday, February 4, 2010

Africa - Same, Same...but Different

After 10 days in Cape Town, here are 10 ways Africa is the same – but oh so different.

1. The plugs. Obviously you need a converter. Not only are the little plug thingies a different size (which calls for one converter), but sometimes the voltage is wrong on certain items (hair dryer, Karl’s head shaver, etc.) and you need a second converter. I have a hard time remembering which items require what converter and am likely to burn the house down any moment.

2. The roads. Not to belabor the point, but the driving is on the left side of the road, which means the steering wheel is the right side. I think a few of the knobs turn the wrong way too (but Karl thinks I may be imagining this). I'm all turned around and think I'm going to die everytime Karl makes a left-hand turn.

3. The locks. Every door in this house has a different lock with a different key. You can’t turn a knob to lock it from the inside, as with most homes in the US, you actually have to have the right key for that room. So you go into the bathroom and lock it with a key from the inside. Don't loose a key!

4. Setting up your cell phone:

Setting up your phone in Omaha:
1) Go to the Sprint store, choose a phone, and pick a monthly package.
2) Start calling people.

Setting up your phone in South Africa: a 12 Step Program
1) Make sure you have a GSM compatible phone (used in most of the world except in the United States). They use SIM cards to operate (your average US cell wouldn't work here).
2) Go to the store and buy a SIM card. We bought ours in what I would call a South African TJ Max, but not quite that nice.
3) Register your SIM card with the government. This involves your passport, local address, documentation of residence, and something else I can’t remember. They can decline to register the SIM if they chose to do so, but ours made it through the “screening process”.
4) Install SIM card in phone and dial “100” to activate.
5) Wait 24 hours
6) Go to gas station, phone store, grocery store or someplace like that and purchase “air time” for your SIM card. Everything is pre-paid up front. No monthly packaged phone plans.
7) Enter in the given code for your purchased air time.
8) Wait 8 hours (why 8 you ask and not 9 or 24 hours again – is not clear)
9) To purchase data (for emails or Twitter updates), go back to the phone store to purchase (can’t do this one at the gas station)
10) Wait another 24 hours (some kind of security thing)
11) If this all works, you are done. If not, go back to the phone store like Karl did 2 more times.
12) We now appear to be working. Here are our South African telephone numbers.

  • Karl's # 011 27 (79) 743-3692
  • Julie's # 011 27 (79) 910-4911
5. Setting up internet in South Africa:

1) See above steps #2, #3, #4, #5, #9, #10, #11, #12 (#12 is still in process)
2) That’s it
3) Forgot to mention that you are charged for internet here by the bandwidth. Thus it’s rather pricy to download music, movies, photos and video. Man we miss unlimited internet!
6. Purchasing electricity for your residence. No, they don’t just send you a monthly bill. EVERYTHING in this country appears to be pre-paid. We have been staying at the home of a family for the first ten days. They went back to Holland for a month and told us we needed to buy electricity or we would be in the dark. Here is the process:

1) Take the “electricity card” to you, guessed it, the gas station
2) Purchase the desired units of electricity.

We goofed up a little here. The card we thought was the correct card actually was a card for a different house…a whole different address. Somehow we purchased electricity for some nice neighbor of ours. No refunds allowed. When we explained the problem, the gas station worker recommended that we go to the address on the card (of a complete stranger), explain to them that we accidently bought them some electricity and ask them to give us our 100R (about $13). Hmmm…maybe not.

3) Find the correct card.
4) Go back to the gas station again.
5) Purchase the desired units of electricity again.
6) Go back home and punch in the code in a big black box on the wall in the living room. (This seemed a little like Locke punching in 4 8 15 16 23 42 - for you “Lost” fans.)
7) Turn on the lights!

7. Hand washing dishes and line drying clothes. Not too bad, unless I forget to turn on the backyard hose to the washer (I’ve run a whole wash with no water), or it doesn’t rain (like it did to this batch of laundry after the photo was taken) or the wind doesn’t blow over your line dryer thing and your clothes are dirtier than when you started.

8. Remember to weigh your fruits in the FRUIT SECTION at the grocery store. I think I’ve forgotten 3 times now. I get up to the cash register, expecting them to know the total on my grapes, and they tell me to go back and get them weighed (some lady in the fruit section weighs your fruit and marks it – just like the deli counter does with sliced ham back in Omaha).

9. Tip the parking attendants. Everywhere you go there is a nice man to show you where to park (which slots are open). Even though it seems like this may be one of the few things we are actually capable of figuring out ourselves, someone is there to assist. Apparently it’s best to tip when you return, to ensure your car is still there when you get back.

10. Watch out for baboons. Seriously. The front page article in the paper today was how a baboon purposely pushed a man over a ledge and he plunged to his death (a few miles from our home). Apparently these are very bitter baboons.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Africa - Arriving (a travel recap)

1. Boarding at Eppley – Well, in all our crazy packing, I somehow lost track of “carry on” suitcase rules. Omaha security was not impressed with my 16 oz bottles of shampoo, lotion and hair stuff. I’ve tried to replace the items here - but it’s not quite the same (instead of “bed head” they carry something called “out of bed"). I did manage to inadvertently carry on Jensen’s craft scissors – it disturbs me greatly that my hair gel was detained, but a sharp, metal weapon of potential untold destruction goes unnoticed.

2. On our first layover in Minneapolis – I called my mom on the plane and found out that my dad has to start Chemo therapy for his cancer (lymphoma) right away. He had been in a holding pattern where treatment was not required for about 2 years. He has a check-up every 90 days (when I found out a few months ago that his next appointment just happened to be the day we were to fly out – I had a bad feeling he would get the news to start the dreaded treatments). I am so sad we are not there for this! Please pray for my dad to have few side effects (and some sunny Omaha days - he loves the sun more than anyone I know and actually keeps track of sunny vs. cloudy days on his calendar).

3. On our second layover in Amsterdam - Karl discovered they didn’t have any record of us being on the flight. That was fun. He wasn’t afraid to pull the “special needs kid” card. Emme got us on that flight. Speaking of Emme - unlike most babies - she didn't bother the other passengers with her crying. She did however surprise them a bit with her high-volume laughing - sometimes shockingly LOUD shrieks of laughter.

4. When we landed in Cape Town at midnight and were walking to our car – Jensen kept saying, “I’ve never seen this before! I’ve never seen this before!” You can say that again, Jensen.

Note on time change:
I wisely decided it would be a good idea to quit my job one week before we left. Essentially this translated to staying up till 4 am every night that last week to try to” get it all done.” So after a 24 hour flight (that allowed for a few hours of sleep here and there), we arrived at midnight, exhausted, and all got a full night of sleep. Miraculously – we’ve adjusted to the time change. Cape Town is 8 hours ahead of Omaha time (so noon in Omaha is 8 pm here).