Passport trauma

One of the reasons I came to South Africa was that I needed to renew my SA passport. I am delighted to report I succeeded, although I found the whole process very stressful. Of course, it must also be said that the weather has been great, albeit a little rainy, and the social life fun. It has not been unbearably hot, although I did buy a portable air conditioner that I can move from room to room. So far, I have only turned it on two or three times. I appreciate it lurking in the corner, ready for action.

We are experiencing wonderful summer thunderstorms. The black clouds roil across the city, to the accompaniment of drum rolls and crashes of thunder, and the most brilliant lightning. I really enjoy this, something one can do from the safety of one’s apartment. When I go for my daily walk, I can see the gutters filled with the detritus of the city, mostly leaves, but far too much litter. I occasionally pick up empty bottles and dump them at the bottle bank at the church on the corner of the road about 200 m away. The city cleaners have the task of Sisyphus, I always thank them and every so often I press small amount of money into their hands to ‘buy a drink’.

When I arrived the Jacaranda trees were in full blossom. Since then, most of the purple flowers have fallen, but the Flame trees are now making the roads into red streaks. I fear there is not as much birdlife as there was in the past, but I have watched Paradise flycatchers picking at the bark of the Jacaranda, and of course the Hadadas continue to provide a morning alarm call. I think, if anything, the birdlife in Norwich is more prolific and interesting than what I see from the window of the flat.

Since I have been here it has been a season of book launches. These are organised at Ike’s second-hand bookshop. The building has a wonderful balcony running round the outside. Sadly, for the last two events the weather did not entirely play ball. It was quite cool with gentle rain. There have been times in the past when the weather was impossible, so this was not too bad. The bookshop is a Durban institution, having been established by the eponymous Ike, a gentleman who was a book binder by trade. One of the traditions is for authors’ whose books are launched in it to sign their names on the wall and write a short message. I am proud to say that I have signatures in two places. There are many far more notable signatories including the likes of JM Coetzee.

It was taken over by two academics at the University when Ike could not manage it alone. The present owner, Joanne, does a really good job with it. When I was thinking of packing up the flat in May of this year, I invited her to come over and take any books she thought she could sell. She did not take as many as I had hoped but given my change of mind about selling up, I am pleased that I still have relatively full bookshelves, and, of course, I add one book per event.

I have been doing a great deal of walking. This is a great neighbourhood to walk in as there are plenty of hills. I am averaging at least 9 km a day. According to my Fitbit, in the last two weeks I walked just under 71 km per week. As far as I can see this is my record to date. I wish it were reflected in a loss of weight, that has not happened yet, but I certainly am fitter. The Fitbit really appeals to me as a way of challenging, logging and focusing. I was told by a perceptive friend that ‘you deal in facts, I am interested in emotions’. I asked Grahame, the psychologist I talk to irregularly, if this were true. He did not hesitate: ‘I would agree’. This is by way of saying the next few paragraphs deal exclusively in facts.

The triumph of this trip was getting my new South African passport issued. I was dreading it; I hate engaging with any bureaucracy. The closest Department of Home Affairs office, the place one has to apply, with space in their appointment schedule, was in Port Shepstone about an hour and a half’s drive down the coast. I didn’t want to go down; have to find the place; park; and be stressed so I employed a tour guide, friend of a friend to take me. My appointment was at 1 o’clock and I finally got to see the clerk just after three. The hall was packed when I arrived, but it gradually cleared. The reasons for the delay were that one must have fingerprints taken, and there is a lot of computer entry work required. The power supply in South Africa is unreliable and so there were periods when nothing worked, to the frustration of all, staff and public.

To my amazement I got an SMS 10 days later saying that my passport was ready for collection, as requested, in Durban. But which Durban office? I went to the biggest first and was told it was at second. Not a problem as they are very close. Nonetheless I was dreading having to wait, potentially for hours. Not a bit of it, there was a queue of perhaps 15 people, and I was in and out in less than an hour. There was recognition of the grey beard ‘Indoda endala’ in Zulu. I was called up ahead of some other younger people, indeed I had wondered about taking a walking stick, but felt that would be over egging it. In my opinion the staff do a fantastic job, are patient, kind and, most surprisingly efficient, when the system works. South Africa in a microcosm: the problems of reliable power and sclerotic systems, but goodwill and good humour. So, despite the heading on the blog, the trauma was all my own making.

As I mentioned, we have had a lot of rain recently. I have been grateful for the kindnesses shown to me. I walked across the suburb to get a shirt I had made for me, and then walked down a few doors to the Coffee Tree, a brilliant little local café. The heavens opened, fortunately, Judd the owner took pity on me and kindly offered me a lift home, for which I was very thankful. A few nights later I went out for a meal, using an Uber to get there. Again, it began raining and my 30+ year old umbrella collapsed around my ears as I waited beside the road for the return Uber. Two men came out of the restaurant, saw me standing there and asked if I needed a lift. In fact, they asked if my Uber had let me down. When I answered in the affirmative, they very kindly drove me back to the flat.

Neither of these journeys were any distance but it made a huge difference to me. I have noticed on my walks if I greet people politely, and with a quip, the response is always positive. I have not felt threatened, so far. On the other hand, there are two people who are living on the street in the neighbourhood, and they were not there a few months ago. One gentleman sits hunched up below a tree, while a woman squats on the church wall. She is completely covered in layers of material and wears sunglasses and a hat. This is not, of course, unique, but is troubling to see it in my neighbourhood.

The other new, and unfortunate development is that the house next door was sold. About three weeks ago the neighbours from hell moved in. They have endless parties. The worst was one that only finished at 6.30 in the morning. The music is far too loud, and also boring, real head banger stuff. The guests do not understand the concept of talking quietly. If I turn my air conditioning unit on and close the windows I can sleep, but I don’t believe I should have to do that. The police have been informed and if enough people complain apparently, they will take legal action as opposed to just calling to ask people to turn it down. But how do you ask them to talk quietly?

On Sunday night one of the car alarms went off and indeed continued to blare throughout the night. Fortunately, they moved it (the car) to another neighbourhood, although I could still hear it in the distance. I felt very sorry for the people in that neighbourhood. One feels so helpless, and of course there are cultural complexities that must be negotiated. I will be leaving soon and so must hope it will be resolved by the time I get back. Well, that is it for this dispatch from Durban. The next will be from Norwich just after Christmas.

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