Friday 29 June 2012

May and Junes letter home

We've been in a whirlwind the past couple of weeks. The house move didn't go as smooth as we could have hoped for. The tenants moving out, hadn't even packed on the morning they were due to move and made 100's of small journeys by car. By 9pm they were ordered to move all their remaining stuff into the garage so we could unload and put our boxes in the house and hand the keys over. The boys spent the night with their friends and Peter and I stayed at the rental agents house over night.
We were all unpacked, boxes and rubbish sorted and just settling down when we got a phone call to say my dad had had a heart attack and I flew back to the UK on the 13th June, returning home on the 22nd. Dad will be fine, but it was a huge scare for everyone and I'm glad I went back to see him and everyone else, catching up with Steph, Andrew and Jamie also which was a bonus.
I arrived back to be greeted with the visa renewal so it's been a mad rush getting police checks and xrays and providing certified copies of every document we've ever owned.

Weather is still very cold at night, lovely and warm in the day as long as you don't step into the shade. We've invested in electric blankets now as hot water bottels just weren't enough. Still adjusting the mindset 'electric blankets = old age'

The cat has settled in well, we only kept her in for a week as she was going stir crazy and now we have to throw her out on occassions as she'll spend the day on our bed, eat and return to sleep. I never knew cats were this lazy.

Still no word on the London Olympics, not even an email to say thanks for your application and sorry you weren't chosen. TBH I'm more than slightly fed up at the moment, it's been the one thing I've focused on to keep me going since we moved her after giving up my career and studies...oh well, time to focus full time on the volunteer work.

The kids are on mid winter break as from today and return to sit their exams. Dan is doing equivilant to A/S levels and Alex has mid year tests.

Dan passed his theory test last week, so he's now driving my car. I can't wait for him to pass his test (can't apply to sit it till he is 18) and then I won't get dragged along on the school runs, 3-4 times a day. There is no extra charge on the insurance to learn to drive and his excess is...wait for it....just under £200.

We have no visitors lined up until maybe February, Summer starts back on JSeptember 2nd (September 1st is the only day of spring)

The boys will be back in the UK in December and I'm yet to decide if I will be back with them, it will be nice to have some child free time and the opportunity to travel with Peter.

Well that's it for now, I'm sorry if I didn't reply to the last lot of emails, but moving, my dad, the visa and then the endless power cuts buggering up the internet box, it's not always an easy thing to do.

Hope the family are well and love to all.

Suzanne, Peter, Dan and Alex

The grass isn't greener

I had a bit of a wobbly this morning on twitter. According to some, what makes you a good person, a popular person, a fun person, a person others aspire to be all comes down to the dress they wore at the ... event. And I find this very sad, sad that people think that getting the outfit right equates to being successful, popular, wonderful, brilliant etc, etc, etc.

We all need and seek attention and in our own minds it is justified. Sometimes we just want to let off steam about something, other times we geninually want help and other times we just want to know we are not alone.

The trouble is in 140 characters it's hard to express what the actual message is.

I deal with things with humour. I'll tweet a serious issue, concern, rant and at the end of the day when it's all come to an end I'll blog it.

You can read my blogs and tweets as informative, as a cry for help as someone who has had a very difficult time and just wants to let off steam or as someone who is attention seeking and wants people to say 'well done you, you've coped so well, aren't you wonderful and btw I love your dress'

And tbh I'm not actually seeking any kind of response from anyone. So why Blog? why tell everyone how hard your life is or how well you've coped. Keep an old fashioned diary if it helps just to write your feelings and frustrations down in.

Well that's what I'm doing but I do choose to publish it, my family and friends back in the UK only get to hear about the outcome, the lovely new house we've moved into or the wonderful trips we've been on and I was hoping that blogging it all would help them to understand, the grass isn't greener, I'm not lucky. I don't want them to say 'well done, I admire you, I could never have coped with that' I just want them to stop saying 'stop complaining, you have a fantastic life'

My life isn't fantastic but it's not shit either. I don't really fit in here, but then I didn't really fit in back in the UK. It's a fact. I'm not public school parent material nor do I fit the mould of being an expat wife. I've tried. I don't do lunches, coffee mornings, play golf or tennis. I can play the part for so long, fret over what clothes to wear, worry about what I look like, how I sound, mind my language. But I can't keep the pretence up for long, I get bored with it, pretending to be something I'm not and that's why I had a rant on twitter this morning.

I actually like being me, I don't want to be anyone else, I don't want their life, their clothes, their issues, hassles. I just about cope with the ones I have. I'm not worse off than anyone else any more than I'm luckier than anyone else.

It's just life and I've got to learn how to live it. I just need a voice to be heard and twitter and blogging gives me that opportunity. Some of you will slate me for it (unfollows) some will slag me off (blocks) and others will be my friends, offering support and advice.

But what I don't want to hear anymore is 'you're so lucky, I wish I could be more like you, I love the way you...... and btw WHERE DID YOU GET THAT DRESS?'

Renewing your Visa application

Anyone who has ever applied for a Visa to live, work and study abroad will know it's not a simple process and one that does not get easier even if you employ an agency to help you.

To apply to live in South Africa you need to complete endless forms, submit them and wait at the mercy of the South African Embassy just off Trafalgar Square in London.

It's not made any easier by the fact that they only answer questions in person so don't bother begging over the phone when you do eventually find their number and they answer. Take that as a sign of how things will be when you finally get your visa and move to South Africa.

An agency will email you, the spouse, with all the forms you need to complete, they will put pressure on you with deadlines, yet will fail to reply to your requests for how you actually complete these forms. They will not send you all the forms in one go, they keep finding things for you to certificate and submit.

Here's what you have to do and how.

Hubbies company will complete the following

THIS IS THE FIRST LIE, YOU (ME THE WIFE) ARE REQUIRED TO GET CERTIFIED COPIES OF EVERY DOCUMENT YOU OWN. Go to a police station for several hours, stand in line, get shouted at, ask for certification.

BI 1740 Form
Undertaking 19(2)(c)
Repatriation Guarantee
Company Registration

Hubby to complete

SECOND LIE, you are required to return to police station for more documents to be certified.

BI 1740 Form
Power of Attorney
Proof of funds
Marriage Certificate

For me to complete

ALL I HAVE TO DO IS SIGN, after I've amended the spelling of my name and changed the address

BI 1739 Form
Letter of Support

For hubby to complete on behalf of children

SOMEONE HELP ME, there is no custody order, this is the third time there father has had to sign after previous letters were lost (not by me) go to police station for further certifications.

BI 1739 Form
Birth Certificate
Custody Order
Consent from Father
Letter of Support
Medical Aid Cover in South Africa

Police clearance certificate. Hubby and Me

In the UK you need to complete a form, have passport photos, pay a fee, post it off, always request two copies as you'll need an original for when you renew your visa.

In South Africa you go to SAPS, ask for your finger prints to be taken, complete a form, pay a fee and either a) hand it back to the agency or b) take it somewhere and collect 3 weeks later.

Radiological Report (Chest Xrays - you must be free of TB) All of us

In the UK go to the Doctors, ask for a referral letter, take it with you to a private hospital, have forms completed, pay fee.

In South Africa

Make Doctors appointment to request an xray to be told to go to local hospital to Xray appointment, complete endless medical aid forms, even though you are paying cash, go home and come back another day with kids passport. Get form completed and have fun with your chest xrays when you get home. get charged for visit to Doctors.

Medical Report. All of us

In the UK, dash round on a sunday evening with a bottle of Whisky and forms to the Doctors house, beg they complete and stamp forms and bribe with whisky. We somehow managed to discover this form the night before we were due to submit application.

In South Africa, make Doctors appointment, be asked a few questions and get informed that in some African countries they need clarification if you are an imbicile or an idiot (based on an IQ test)

Proof of residency

Rental contract on company name, therefore you require a letter from the company listing the names of the occupants and a copy of your husbands bosses ID to enable you to get proof of residency (address) to set up utility bills so you can prove where you live, still with me? This process hasn't been helped by the fact we've just moved and it takes a month before all bills show new address.

To come to South Africa we had to have an offer of a place to study in order for the children to apply for a student visa. Strangely enough this hasn't been mentioned yet in regards to renewing the visas.

You will note that despite hiring an agency to assist with the applications, they don't actually do an awful lot. I can go online and download all the forms above, in one nice tidy folder, with the same instructions and then waste my time standing in the wrong queues, in the wrong buildings, forgetting passports, not knowing what or how to ask. They don't give you the address of the nearest hospital to where you live, or let you know that you have to pay xx amount in cash and other places will accept card payment. They don't tell you what documents you need, how to get them certified or where. They don't explain the acronyms used such as SAPS (South African Police Service).

But after you complain, after you say this was a very stressful process, after you've submitted all the forms, originals, certified copies they reply saying... 'we need originals of x,y & z, where's the certified copy of hubbies degree certificate as requested (seriously they hadn't asked for that, another trip to the police station) and we told you a relocation expert was available for you' you sigh, you refer them back to endless meetings and emails where you told them 'I don't know what I'm doing, where to do it, I struggle with the language, accents, making myself understood, I need a contact person, someone to call who can provide me with an address, tell me what documents I need and how to ask for what I need'

Did they provide me with that service? Yes, she helped us find a new house to rent...well actually No. The relocation expert (coughs and laughs out loud) took me to two unsuitable properties in January and not another word from her until mid June. I found tenants to take over our existing contract, a new house to rent, dealt with removal quotes, met with the agents and owner, supervised the packing, the removal, the unpacking, the inventory, list of faults and repairs with both houses, settled up all the outstanding bills, queued for hours to transfer the utilities, change of address with banks, schools, doctors etc. the relocation expert turned up on removal day with a clip board, missed half the faults, emailed an eligible report then phoned me a week after the repairs were carried out to ask me should she phone the landlord and chase him up.

Yes, so that's what you do when you move, 'what's the hassle, Suzanne? get on with it, the rest of us have to.'

I understand that and yes I have got on with it, it's been made even more stressful by the fact that since the minute hubbies company asked us to move here, they said 'relax, we will do it with you, for you, hire an agency' but forgot to add 'ha only joking, you're on your own'

The agency have already submitted their bills for services provided to us and despite me informing hubbies company all the way through that they haven't been doing anything to help us, the company are paying the bill....where's my cut? I'm the one that's done the work.

Friday 22 June 2012

Differences between the UK and SA

In the UK I have to remember to get out the car at the petrol station and put my own fuel in the car.
In South Africa they do it for me

In the UK I have to pack my own bags at the checkout.
In South Africa they do it for me.

In the UK I have to put money in the meter in a car park and put a sticker in my window.
In South Africa, I take a ticket from the machine, through the window, pay as I return to the car and when I leave the car park someone takes the ticket off me to put into the exit machine.

In the UK I have 3 kids, my family and friends.
In South Africa I have my hubby and 2 kids and the cat.

In the UK tomorrow there will be some sad faces.
In South Africa tomorrow there will be some happy faces.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Keep your dog under control

So I find out this week it's not illegal to keep ypour dog on a leash in a public place as long as it's 'under control'

But what constitutes 'under control?'

I'm okay with the guy walking down the path in the park with two labradors, plodding slowly by his side.

My mum is petrified of dogs and the only way in her opinion that they can be 'under control' is by having them on a lead. I agree with her, but do draw the line at 'all dogs must be muzzled'

So my mum, flings me into the path of danger (she walks the the other side of me as the dogs approach, I've had a traumatic child and the one dog decides to sniff at her, they can sense fear.

She tells the man shes not comfortable with the dogs off lead and he looks at me, arms stretched out, agressive tone and says 'whatever'.

He walks off and we return home with my mother saying 'what if I had the baby in the pram with me, what if the dogs bit the baby?' well there's no point saying it didn't happen, because for her it's a genuine fear it will happen some day.

Why I don't want to live in the UK again

I'd been back in the UK for 72hrs, back and forward to the hospital to see my dad, but once he came home, I ventured out to see the kids.

I drove from Monmouth to Gloucester and my stress levels went through the roof.

Road rage, pot holes and just general ignorance.

I took my disabled step daughter who is 24 into the city for a coffee in Starbucks. I can't carry a tray and hold her nor can I leave her at a table while I fetch the drinks as she wanders off and grabs at other peoples food. So in true 'Little Britian style' as the carer of Andy I have to explain what help I need, so we stand in the queue, me fighting with her not to grab the food off people's trays as they walk past or the cakes out the display cabinet, order, throw money and just tell the staff to bring the change and the coffee to us. We sit at a cramped table with her grabbing the arms of passers by and pushing the table into me. The drinks arrive, no suger or spoon. I sit my drink on the floor while I sort hers out, she finishes it in one go and I leave my non sugared latte half drunk.

It's raining and windy, I drag her back to the car, we go in and straight out a few shops and drive to Asda for lunch. She grabbed a sausage of a guys tray, we apologised, he said 'please go in front, order and I'll bring your tray over' we repaid him later but ramming his wife with the supermarket trolley.

It's still light here at 9.30pm, I keep thinking it's only 6pm and I'm going to bed so much later, making me grumpy and lacking in energy by the morning.

The bath is too small, the water boils too hot for the tea, the coffee is instant, the house is too hot, it rains, the skies are grey, it's over crowded, no one makes eye contact or smiles. The roads and the shops are over crowded....

....and it takes four times as long to get anywhere, one because there are too many cars on the road and two because I read the distance in kms now forgetting to convert the journey to miles.

You realise how large the world actually is when you're an expat when there's an emergency

People say the world is a small place. You can fly anywhere, you can talk to any one at any time, via twitter, emails, facebook and skype and even the old fashioned pen to paper letter writing.

But it's not the same, you can't cuddle a new born niece, give your kids or parents a hug or 'be there' when people are ill.

We had a plan for emergencies. We also argued and rowed over what was an emergency. Who do we fly back for? When? How much?

It was agreed that parents and children were a priority, but what constituted an emergency. Routine operation? No. Complications? Maybe and who?

Last week my sister rang my mobile. It could only be bad news. I have various Uncles and Aunts with serious illnesses, my mum is 68 the youngest of 8, my father is 72, the eldest of 3. His middle brother died last year. Yes I went to the funeral, but it coincided with my UK visit, but in all honesty I wouldn't have flown back for the funeral.

So my first thought was it was my Dad's cousin, he had a stroke last week. Or my Uncle who's had heart bypass or my mums friend with cancer. But no, it was my Dad, he'd had a heart attack over the weekend and they were waiting for test results before worrying me. He was in hospital and I was told he was going to be fine.

It was too late Monday night to fly out, it takes me 24hrs door to door. So Tuesday was spent by the phone, would he survive? Would he be ok? Did I need to fly home? Should I go tonight or tomorrow?

I spoke with my Mother in Law, she said 'do what you feel you need to do' Hubby agreed and the flight was booked for Wednesday night, arriving in the UK Thursday lunch time, a few frantic text and facebook messages to arrange for me to be collected from Birmingham Airport and driven to Cardiff.

I'm due to fly home tomorrow. My father will be fine with his new medication, diet and exercise routine.

Did I need to fly home? No, not really in the sense of it being a life threatening situation. But in the sense of my personal needs and that of my immediate family, Yes I did need to be there. To see them when they are all well and alive. I don't want to be flying back for a funeral having not seen any of them for a year.