Arrival in South Africa was somewhat less than smooth. There were no troubles with customs and no one asked me about my one-way ticket, but the weather was absolute garbage. Jet-lagged, I picked up my rental car (after an hour wait) and programmed my phone’s GPS to navigate to my temporary new home. Darkness set in as I made my way onto the freeway and the rain did it’s best to overtake my windshield wipers. To add an extra level of difficulty, I haven’t driven on the left side of the road in several years. Fun times.
The 45-minute drive stretched into more than an hour by the time I arrived. At the address I was given, there was a large security gate barring entry. This is a very common thing in South Africa thanks to the high rate of home invasion. Even middle-class homes are built like fortresses with electrified wires and security beams and house alarms. I called the number I had to see if I could get the gate opened. I was to be staying at the home of my co-workers’ parents (Joe and Joan), who were currently away in Australia. Their friends Pete and Liz were to show me around the place and get me familiar with the security system.
Their SUV pulled up behind me after 20 minutes and they let me into the driveway. With everything disarmed, Liz started explaining the procedures; which doors had to be shut to arm the system and what buttons to push and the code word if the alarm went off accidentally. My eyes must have glazed over because she looked over at me and immediately decided that I would be staying at her house for the night; I was not about to say no. Between the stressful drive and the long day (I had left Cairo at midnight and it was now well past 8 pm). We loaded my luggage into the SUV and drove off into the rain yet again. Luckily their house was not far and when I got inside, I was immediately served some hot soup and given a sweater. Liz set up an electric blanket in the spare room and sent me to bed. The cold front rolling through had dropped the temperature down to maybe 10 degrees Celsius. With no central heating, the blanket and sweater were greatly appreciated as I was very much regretting leaving my coat in Calgary by that point. Sometimes it’s nice to be mothered, even by a complete stranger.
Liz also had a house like Fort Knox- crime is a proper big deal in this country. Shootings, muggings and car jacking are shockingly common. Before I left home, I was warned to never stop for a broken down vehicle as it is often a trap to rob you. Even if there are bodies on the road, they are likely faking to make you stop to help. Canadians take for granted just how damn safe our country is. South Africa has some serious socio-economic reasons for their high crime rate; the divide between rich and poor is pretty drastic and things aren’t improving any time soon, sadly. The way locals deal with it is by installing the elaborate security systems I described above.
Today, I went to the office I was going to be working at behind yet more gates and bars. A small hitch revealed itself when I arrived, though. The folks there didn’t seem to know I was coming. Hmmm. My grand South African adventure seems to have hit a snag. I will be calling my boss when the time zone allows and hopefully things will be sorted out by Monday. For now, I’m going to see the new Thor movie. Movie theaters have been a standard fallback of mine when things go awry in foreign countries. Nothing like a couple hours of escapism to rest the brain from travel stress. Onward to Ragnarok!