When we came for our ‘look see’ to Durbs (see I’m local already – culturally assimilated) we looked in a few neighbourhoods to see where we might like to live. We love the sea so we didn’t want to be too far away – that put somewhere like Kloof or Hillcrest out of the equation but left in areas such as the Berea, Durban North and Umhlanga Rocks. The schools we liked ended up being in the Berea and Umhlanga so that narrowed it down a little further for us. As an expat posting we also have the luxury of a contribution to our housing and school costs so we can choose to live in some of the nicer parts of those areas.
We looked at various kinds of accommodation, seaside townhouses, stand-alone tuscan villas, stand alone non-tuscan-villas and gated communities. Many people including the South Africans that we knew told us initially we should consider living in a gated community for peace of mind with the extra security that it offered and also the fact that it was a community and it would be easier to meet people than if we lived in stand alone housing, behind high electric fences, beams and multiple security alarms with panic buttons that looked just three year old height. If we lived in a stand-alone house I was sure we would meet the local security teams on a pretty regular basis.
Initially we kept an open mind on the gated communities – we came, we saw, we looked at houses in these communities and out and then we decided – we’re just not living in one of those places, and if we did, the last place we would live would be well – where we live now.
So we flew back to Hong Kong sure that we would find something that would suit us sometime over the next four months and everything would work out. My husband flew out here just after that to take up his role and I stayed on in Hong Kong which is when I was indulging in the Festival of Farewells – see other post on this (when I work out the technical part of blogs I will be able to insert the correct link there so you can just click and be taken there, but still working on that skill). To his credit while I was online checking for the latest listings he was doing the hard yards and actually visiting all the houses we found online and through the agents we were using. The agent had met us both and showed him the house we live in now three times before he liked it – and in the end he took it as a compromise as he felt he was running out of time to find something. He tried very hard to find something that he thought we would like – that is the kids and I. How many sane women would let their husband wander around looking at houses in a country, city and area you have never lived in before and make the final choice on what that would be and sign a two year lease? I must have been drinking a whole lot of wine at the time (oh that’s right I was!).
Every time he called and we discussed the latest houses he had seen, he would have some new reason, passed to him by a local or something he had observed from his time here about why we should probably live in a gated community,
OK……lets find one then
Well – I think we should consider the big one with the golf course
But I thought we agreed no on that
Well….I just think we should
It was what he didn’t ever say that actually made me decide in the end that OK – he was here, he had his ‘ear to the ground’ and was in the best decision to make the choice about what was best for the family. I don’t know if there was anything sinister that he was leaving out – but ‘security concerns’ were often cited. Either way we decided OK – lets do it, he had told me about the house he had seen twice and hadn’t taken and now he suddenly liked – or thought it would do. The phrase ‘would do’ was quite concerning to me but by this stage the stress of moving countries with the kids was getting quite high so I deferred to his ‘on site – ness’ and let it ride.
The only question I had was – which way does it face? I am a sun bunny and my moods are affected by the amount of sunlight I have access to on any given day (in my opinion). If the house faced south I didn’t want it – it would have to face North (preferable) or some version of NE or NW otherwise I wasn’t going to live there. He didn’t know – the real estate agent didn’t know but sure there was sunshine it was going to be OK. Luckily it does face East – and my study, where I sit on my computer for many hours a day faces North – so gets the sun for most of the day and is lovely!
So on the first day – fresh off the plane from Hong Kong, before we showered or did anything else, we drove straight to see the new house that we would move into in a couple of weeks in the golf estate to the north of Durban.
Thankfully it faced East, there was no overly offensive architectural features (I am at peace with all the columns now), there were enough bedrooms and room for a trampoline in the yard – so we were able to continue on to our temporary accommodation and a shower without any incident that may lead to divorce or particularly harsh words.
How to describe where we live to others? Those who are fans of the television series Weeds would be familiar both with its theme song Little boxes by Malvina Reynolds and the fictional community of Agrestic…..you don’t have to move far from that to visualise where we live
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one (there’s a red one and a white one)
And a blue one and a yellow one (and another red one and another white one)
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky (to be fair they all seem quite solid)
And they all look just the same
The locals (Durbanites) who don’t live here have been known to call it Pleasantville – I think that’s not a bad comparison, you could also compare it to the Truman show (just add golf carts) and if you are familiar with Hong Kong – its like Discovery Bay on a golf course with accelerant (although of course I am yet to discover any key tossing parties but I believe its just got to be a matter of time 😉
Here is some helpful information about where we live
– you can have any colour roof you like as long as its green
– you can have any kind of windows you like as long as they are white
– you can have your house any colour you like as long as it is red bricks or rendered whitewash or a combination of both(actually not white exactly, more of a creamy colour – perhaps its magnolia?)
– you can’t have a cat (I have absolutely no issue with that as I don’t like cats too much but I understand some people do like them as pets)
– if you have a dog it must be under 20kg (not sure who does the weigh ins?)
– you can’t have a fence unless you have special permission
– you can only hang clothes out in the area of your property that is designated by the building requirements (this generally turns out to be a smallish space with little or no daily sun but its not unsightly to anyone walking , driving or buggy-ing past your place)
– no satellite dishes on the roof (they also have to be ‘hidden’ so they end up in the middle of your garden where passing monkeys can jump on them and change them by .00001 of a degree so you lose transmission and therefore all tv signal until you can get someone in to recalibrate)
– you cannot have anything in your yard without seeking permission first eg a trampoline (we are running the gauntlet on this one)
– you may not have live in help (all helpers must leave the estate before 6pm unless special permission has been obtained for an overnight stay)
– 67890 other rules that are not listed here 😉
Of course with rules come order (which you come to know is a good thing in South Africa because its not always like that) and there are of course many many positives of living where we do once you get used to the slightly surreal aspect of it all.
It is very safe and secure and was an instant community, a large percentage of expats in Durban (and there aren’t that many altogether) seem to live on the estate, classmates of both my children live here so play dates are easy to arrange and execute and there is always the chance you will see your friends while out and about on your scooters and bikes on the weekend. There is also a wide range of wildlife that live on the estate, amazing birds of every colour and description can be found, there are herds of impala that roam the golf course and sometimes the roads of the estate as well as the cheeky and quite bold monkey troops that terrorise the neighbourhood.
More positives include
You always know when you’re nearly home as the children start yelling out – look green rooftops, we’re nearly home Mummy – which was kind of funny the first 150 times, wearing a little thinner now.
If you go to a party at a friend’s house –you can drive your golf cart home and not ever go on a main road to be breathalyzed (if you have a golf cart – we don’t at the moment but the kids are desperate for one). If you don’t have a golf cart you obviously always walk home, always. As an addendum to this one its probably fairly safe to assume that after 10pm on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday night you should be careful on the roads everywhere but also within the estate – drink driving laws are the same here as in other parts of the world, but the adherence to them seems a little sketchy from time to time by the locals.
Three months in and we are enjoying our little community – I have even taken up golf, which I believe to be considered a social skill if you live here, in addition to being an athletic one. Only time shall tell as to how that one works out for me.