Category Archives: Gated community

Come on over

I can’t believe it has been two months since I have updated my blog – especially as I started the year with such great hopes and dreams for at least weekly – OK well at least fortnightly updates….perhaps I really have settled into African time.

The year did have a very busy start with various trips overseas, planned and not – but I still think I might be slightly affected by the African time phenomenon.  Last week I went shopping with a friend from Hong Kong who was in town.  It is so wonderful to see old friends and pick up exactly where you left off and in this case our gorgeous kids did the same – anyway the story is really about the shopping.  I took her up to the local mall to stock up on all the things that are run of the mill but tricky to come by in Hong Kong – running gear as an example and some surf gear for her family (not too hard to come by but very exxy and everyone has the same!).  We waved goodbye to our five children and a very experienced YaYa  (their nanny from HK who traveled with them) and toddled off to the Mall –

Great – only five minutes to get here – how wonderful. (startled that transit time can be so quick)

OK this is what I am looking for – x,y,z

OK (I said) we will try these shops and if we don’t find anything go to these places

The pace she set off at nearly knocked me off my feet – whizzing around the shops – it made me realise that when I first moved here that is actually how fast I moved.  I realise that I now have the slower feet shuffling movement that would get me knocked off my feet in Central (HK). I also didn’t panic when she wanted to run from the Country Road counter in Woolworths to get something else from another section before the pricing problem with her previous item was resolved, I knew she would have plenty of time, the problem would still be there when she got back, I was right. Makes me think – I may not have that many ring in the middle of the night friends yet – but I am slowly becoming a local.

Anyway – about my brother and mother’s visit in February.  It reminded me of the early posts I wrote about people’s reaction to us moving here and how ‘local’ I have become in other ways – not just time.

Firstly just a pause to say – Yay! Vistors! – Yay!

Now to say to everyone else – come on over.

When I was arranging to pick up my brother at the airport – 6 foot 3 and not the fullback physique he used to have – he said – Don’t leave me hanging too long.  Really, I told him, the only thing that is likely to happen at Durban ‘International’ (one Emirates flight a day) Airport is you are going to die of boredom – it is in no way unsafe, in my mind and I have not googled the crime stats thereof – not worth it as there is a new ‘real’ international airport opening in less than a month so I’ll wait a few months then check them out.

So the night arrived and I went to pick him up – I was waiting when he emerged from the arrival area – so too quick really because we had to pause outside for him to have a smoke.

Once in the car we took off and I locked the doors – Why are you doing that?

Well – a lot of other cars do it automatically now and I am trying to get used to doing it as people say I should.

Has anyone ever tried to get into your car?

No – never. Just RELAX….

I think he may have also been surprised when we arrived at our complex and there were no armed guards with Uzi’s to be seen but just a few friendly fellows trundling the gates open for us.

Is this it?

Yes it is – not too scary right?

And so it continued – everything that I was used to doing every day and take for granted (please note I have no special security precautions in place apart from living in a gated estate and locking my car doors when I remember) was an amazing experience for him.

First of all the car guards – didn’t quite get them.

Why do you need them?

Good question – they generally put all the groceries in my car for me and then guide me out of my parking spot successfully so some Rand and a Coke on a very hot day is only polite really.

Why do they have them here (at the Woolies) and not there (pointing over road to Spar)?

To be honest I think its because it is more lucrative working here in the Woolies car park but have never asked. No it is NOT because I am more likely to be carjacked in the Woolies car park (or at least I think its not – no reports so far)

Whenever I got him to relax a bit I would do something to once again upset his ‘alertness’, like at a supermarket in Cape Town he was walking towards the door with his wallet and money still in his hands so I said – put your money away before we go outside.

Why? (jumps back slightly from door)

The same reason as every country in the world – someone might see it and think it looks easy to get.

The point is – it made me realise that South African crime rates are very high profile overseas – everyone tends to think that if you come here something terrible will befall you.

I know that there is crime and terrible things do happen – I do not wish to take away from those that have had things happen to them – but I do know more people who have been mugged in the Sydney CBD on the way to work (two) than I personally know who have been victims of crime here.  I put the personally in because my husband’s office is in the Durban downtown area where the crime rate is a little higher than the leafy suburbs we are lucky enough to live in to the north – and as regular readers know I don’t have that many local friends – yet.

Coincidentally after I had started writing this post a Twitter discussion arose on crime in South Africa from those that had been affected by it and others that knew people who had been affected by it (none of whom are currently living in South Africa).  It reinforced to me that I should spread the word about our positive experiences so far.

Crime and its impact was something that I was terribly worried about when making the decision to move here, especially when you have to consider not only your own personal safety but also the safety of your children – your most precious possessions.  I can happily say in my experience here so far I have not been put in a position where I have been concerned for my safety or that of my family. 

After last week we also now have three sets of live visitors who have been, seen and survived to tell the tale.

With the World Cup only 59 days away I would say I am more worried about the Aussie tent city in Durban and any repercussions from that on the general mild -luke warm response Saffers generally have for the Aussies on my ability to keep befriending the locals.

In the meanwhile – plan a trip, come on over – its really an amazingly beautiful place & I’m here (that bit is just for people I know – other people just enjoy the place).  My brother’s coming back he says, so if he can survive a return trip – no need for you guys to worry!

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Making new friends is hard, almost like being on a constant first date

It is hard to move to a new country. On top of the excitement and the new adventure side of it there is the cold hard reality of various items, for example not having a home phone for nearly three months and not knowing where to get those specific items that you could put your hand on at Kmart or IKEA ‘at home’.  As well there are practical but important things like, which will be my favourite new local sav blanc (no need to worry there, what a selection they have here in SA!) and what does the local chocolate taste like and which one will be your new favourite (Cadbury Whispers hands down)?  

One of the hardest things about moving is making new friends, and I think it gets harder as you get older.  I have been trying to remember all the times I had to make new friends in my life – I am guessing it started in pre-school and primary school – not that I remember too much of it.  High school was a definite for me as I went to boarding school with not a soul from my primary school in sight.   That in turn (along with my HSC marks) may have then influenced my University decision to attend the same Uni as three of my fellow boarders (four in total made 25% of the group I had just lived with for the last six years).  But Uni and college life was a big bad world and I still had to make new friends – that is the first time I really remember the process, making nice with people and taking baby steps to see if you have things in common that may lead to friendship and aborting if it becomes obvious you don’t.  OK most of my friends were made down at the ‘Pink Pub’ I agree but I do remember meeting and discarding or being discarded by some people, for the better in all cases because you do have to draw a line somewhere on friendship.  You can’t be ‘besties’ with everyone or share yourself around every single different group in college – so you choose one or two groups and then go from there.

Then after Uni came the first overseas stint – I went to live and work in a tiny village in Germany, while it was quite different environment again, the whole friends thing was easy because 1. When you are living overseas especially in a small German village you are viewed as a novelty and pretty much everyone wants to be your friend 2. There were only about 30 people in the  + / – 20-year zone around my age so beggars can’t be choosers!

When I returned from my travels and settled down in Sydney to work I didn’t NEED to make any new friends. I had my Uni friends and a work environment always offers up one or two new buddies that you can form outside workplace friendship with.  If someone had just walked in and told me they had moved to Sydney, didn’t know a soul and were looking for mates I would have said – ‘Gosh, that sounds really tough. I hope that you find some.’ Seriously – that’s what I would have said when I was 23, what an ass.  But no – not so silly from someone living and working in their own hometown, where they feel totally at home and have enough friends to feel safe and secure because that is effectively what was said to me last week at a Grade 1 mothers dinner for my son’s class, and these ladies were well out of their 20’s despite their perky chests and creaseless brows I can tell you.  Obviously I may have just blown my chances of ever being friends with them so I can take some blame on from this point on  – and to be fair they haven’t all been down the surgery path (however it needs to be said there is absolutely no stigma to the fake boobs here – everyone is pretty loud and proud about it so I am actually not being too naughty in saying that).

Yes – basically what was said to me, paraphrased in a way that makes it more dramatic to include here was – ‘Durban is cliquey – if you’re only here for four or so years its unlikely you will make any friends.  Good luck’

NOT – Oh you live in MY STREET and our children are IN THE SAME CLASS – maybe we should organize a playdate or you could come over for a braai or a glass of wine…..none of that at all!  They didn’t even say it and not mean it –which I kinda respect. I know I can make an effort too – and I did with a couple of mums (although they say ‘mom’ here) whose children that I know my son is interested in being buddies with but tended to get the ‘that’s nice’ smile look so I gave up and started throwing random ridiculous comments into the conversation that will more or less have me branded from now on as ‘that strange Aussie’ – which they kind of already had me pegged as, because as one of them said to me – ‘Isn’t Australia just South Africa but without help?’

Didn’t they know what I had done prior to this dinner- the witty repartee I had pre-thought in case it was needed, the six wardrobe changes, the at least additional three minutes on make up application? Don’t they know that when you are trying to make new friends in a new country you constantly feel like you are on a first date? The worst thing about it is that – no one really notices or cares, which makes you feel like the whole date was a failure.

Don’t get me wrong – I have taken up their challenge and I will not leave this country without a screaming, howling group of locals who will mourn my departure to brighter shores – whenever that future event occurs.  I will make friends of the locals, perhaps these very same mothers – I will, in a few months time I’ll try again, maybe, in the next school year. I see the café on the school grounds is up for management – maybe I should take that on and hold all their latte’s hostage until they promise to be my friend. 

In the meantime I will stick to my newly found expat community, where I have actually made a few friends and am working on a few more – however it has its own quirks and issues and story for another time, maybe tomorrow.

Ten weeks to get a phone line – I kid you not

It happened but I wasn’t sure it ever would.   It was 10 weeks from request to dial tone – that’s a pretty long time when you are living in a new country and mobile service in your house is quite patchy.

When I arrived in South Africa one of the many pieces of advice I received was – not everything is easy here – even basic things are sometimes difficult to arrange, sometimes we look like a first world country but we’re not really.

So when I trundled into Telkom to ask for a phone connection I didn’t have super high expectations – maybe just medium ones.  Sure, I thought, maybe not same day service – but I was absolutely not prepared for – no phone lines at all I’m afraid madam.  I had to ask again to check that was what was actually said and if that meant what I thought it did – yes, yes and yes.

The guy in the shop asked me – do your neighbours have phones? 

Not sure, haven’t met them yet  – however happy to door knock them and ask crazy questions if it will help me get a phone line at any stage like ever.  

Well, it usually takes 3-6 weeks for a new number to be created at the exchange and we are all on strike from tomorrow (no – we don’t know until when) but you never know your luck lady.  

OK – can I get the order in for the phone line and the broadband then? 

Actually no – well you can but it will cost you 500 Rand extra.  If you get the phone line first and then apply for broadband after its installed that change is free.

OK – how long will that take ?

No time at all – about 3 days after your phone line is in

Why there weren’t alarm bells ringing all over my head at that stage I am not really sure – but I was new and trusting and not yet using TIA (This is Africa) and AWA (Africa wins Again) on a daily basis.  So I dutifully put in the economically prudent request for phone line only – thinking I could brag to my husband of the 500 rand (approx AUD $100 or HKD $500) I had saved our single income family. 

In the beginning I remained relatively optimistic – a mere two weeks after my visit to the Telkom office I had a phone call –

Caller – Hi – can I ask if I am speaking to Mrs M the same person that went into the Umhlanga Rocks Telkom office last week to apply for a phone line?

Me (in anticipation and excitement) – Yes, that’s me.

Caller – We are doing a customer service survey for the Umhlanga rocks office and wanted to know if you could give us 5-6 minutes of your time ?

Me (very deflated) – Actually yes – I would be happy to tell you what I think of the service I received, although I was hoping you were calling to tell me a new phone line had been created at the exchange and I was about to get a home phone. 

Caller (now wary) – OK then on a scale of 0 – 5 where 0 is the worst and 5 is the best tell me about x,y,z

It may have been the day but I just wasn’t ready to give anyone who had yet given me any kind of service except what I now thought was false hope and expectations (perhaps a little unfairly they did after all say 3-6 weeks) anything higher than a 2 no matter what the category.  I may have bought their average down – but I don’t think so after conducting my own unofficial survey of other Telkom customers I have met, and really they should sort out their customer service surveying – how about hand over the files for calling after they have provided promised services?  That store manager doesn’t know what he is doing!

Since then have met other newcomers to the estate through my newly found interest in golf – just in it to make some friends and fill up some time on Wednesday mornings – but who knows I could become addicted. I have also discovered that golf seems to be a social skill should you live on a golf estate as we do. Anyway I discovered some people who arrived after us that had a phone line before we even had a number allocated.  I was of course very interested in their strategy – what did you do? 

Oh – we went in and threatened to take back our 700 Rand ‘foreigner deposit’ and complained and asked to speak to the manager.  OK – I can do that – after all what did six years in HKG teach me if not to be a demanding expat wife?

Telkom office – next day – I would like to check on my phone line please?  Sure let me have a look – hmm note here from last week saying that no lines.  I would say it would be another 4-6 weeks. 

But it has already been four weeks.

Possibly but that particular community where you live is a nightmare – not sure what’s going on but there is never enough phone lines. 

Thanks – however I would like to know why people who live in the same estate as I and applied for a phone line after me since have one.

That’s impossible – what is their phone number?

As luck would have it I didn’t have the said phone number at hand so was slightly wrong footed and they were able to tell me that it was absolutely impossible that someone who had requested a number after I had could have had one allocated before me.  These are the same people that didn’t know if other people in my street had phones….how could they possibly have the comparative information about when my neighbours and I had applied for our telephone lines?

Fine then (my husband knows to always look for trouble when I start using the word fine – these people seemed oblivious). Can I have my money back?

Of course you can – will that be cash or cheque? (Again – not the response I was looking for)

What I really want is a phone line and would love it if you could just arrange one for me

Have you tried Neotel?

(side note for non SA residents – Neotel is the first ever competitor to Telkom across their product base, these guys are telling me to go and speak to them – sadly I already had and they couldn’t help me – Not rolled out in your area yet madam)

Yes I have – they can’t help. I would like to wait then please.

Roll forward several weeks

Random man turns up at my front door

Hi there – we are here to connect a phone line

(YAYAYAYYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY) Of course – come on in.

Can you tell me where it is?

Sure – well there are all these connection boxes on the walls – 2 in this room, 2 in this room, 2 in this room – take your pick

(Telkom men – note there are 3 start wandering around the house – once they have checked out all my things and looked at a couple of walls)

Umm – there’s going to be a problem.  It doesn’t seem that there has ever been a  phone line in this house before?

Well there were previous tenants – there must have been.

No – we just ran a check and there was no previous line.

I am wondering if this check had been run say 8 weeks ago when I applied for a phone whether that would have been helpful?

Yes – it might have.  I tell you what – I am just going to call it in, they will be here in a few days to run a line into the house from the street.

Sure sure sure

Two weeks later there is a flurry of activity with three visits from ‘contractors’ in a week. They of course can’t tell me what is happening, as they are contractors, I will need to call Telkom to actually find out if we are ever going to get a phone line.

I was never given any notice of these appointment times and invariably would have to race back from whatever morning activity I was attending to speak to them and show them where eventually I hoped the phone line would be connected to the house.

On one occasion I had to call the landlord while they were there to find out where the lines were meant to come into the house and had to cop an earful from him on how terrible Telkom were – he didn’t need to tell me – I already knew.

Finally after 10 weeks I get a call one Friday afternoon – hi this is xxx from Telkom, your phone line will be installed on Monday.

OK – I’ll believe that when I see it – I know its not your fault but I haven’t come to have high expectations of the process so far.

The lady calling was obviously used to such discussions as she laughed as it was water off a duck’s back.

Can you tell me what time I might expect them?

No – we can’t give you any time

Well please note I won’t be home in the morning

Yes we will do that

8.30am Monday morning – guess who knocks at the door?

I have to say now they were actually down to it – umpteen visits and phone calls later it only took about 15 minutes and it was in.  We tested the phone and received a dial tone – made a call to get the phone number and then the technician told me – you won’t be able to make calls for about an hour – however you will be able to receive calls straight away and then he left.

Five minutes later the phone rang – Hello – is that the (community that I live in) Shop?

Ah no – not so much

OK thanks

Two further minutes pass – two more phone calls for same shop.

Hmm – might be time to change my number………………….

Not one hour not one day but three days later is when we could eventually dial out.  I think we have made about three calls and received several more for the local shop – but I’m somehow old fashioned and sleep better at night knowing we have our very own phone line.

Broadband to follow – ETA at this stage unknown.

…and they all look just the same

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.