Friday, 28 February 2014

How tolerant are you?

I bought a MacBook Air this week and Microsoft Word for Mac.
They offered to install it there and then but I requested an appointment to come back this morning to have it installed to give me the opportunity to play with my new toy and put a list together of things I needed some help with.

So I transferred files from the hard drive, some are corrupted, photos were moved over, the iPhone wasn’t authorised and I couldn’t find the hash tag key #### I also didn’t know how to open a download to have it installed and where to store files and where the search function was. Otherwise I’m more than happy with my new toy.

Now at 42, I know my adult kids think I’m past it when it comes to technology and my 14 year old certainly thinks I shouldn’t be allowed access to the internet, however my Mother thinks I’m a genius in all things technological J.

So when I’m greeted for my 30 minute tutorial by an employee the same age my eldest son, I must admit my hackles were up and I was ready for a fight, but I was so very wrong. He first asked me if I had any experience of Apple OS and I replied ‘other than my iPhone, no’. He then offered to file, move, sort everything for me, authorised my iPhone, discovered he didn’t know where the hash tag #### key on a UK keyboard was located (we found it together) He gave me instructions on how to migrate files so they weren’t corrupted, rather than just copy them across from the hard drive.

He demonstrated the click, 2 finger click (right click) how to close a file, rearrange my icons, open downloads for installing and not once did he demonstrate any kind of frustration with me or make me feel as if I was stupid and shouldn’t be allowed near technology.

Now this is how things should be isn’t it? I have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things and an awful lot of experience, which I use to help others on a daily basis. I’m often approached for advice from child welfare through to international shipping and I give my knowledge and time freely, to strangers off the net and to friends of friends etc.

However I often find I’m on the receiving end having asked for information on how a product, service works and if I can’t get the assistance I need from people who have personal experience I do what we all do, I turn to the professionals, often a free service, they call it customer care on the end of the phone, face to face in a store or via email, letter or telephone and I often find that these people just sometimes don’t care, treat you as if you’ve asked a stupid question or that you are actually stupid.

I tend to find that most visits that involve any kind of request for help for medical aid, cell phone contracts, opening bank accounts, registering a vehicle start like this:

I’m NOT South African, I know how things work in the UK, because that is where I was born, raised, have experience of things. I know in the UK how to phrase questions correctly to get a response, but here I don’t. If I want to ask for a mobile phone contract or ask for a demonstration on a sat nav or god forbid not understand how medical aid works, because where I come from it’s free, then I’m going to ask aren’t I? How else do I learn?

I don’t expect to be laughed at any more than I’d expect you to know how things work in my country either. So that’s why my hackles were up this morning when I entered the Apple Store, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Conversations with my gardener

Him:      I have a problem, I can’t carry the food home you’ve given me
Me:        How is this MY problem? You need to make a plan
                15 minutes later
Him:      I don’t have a problem anymore
Me:        Tell me how did you solve your problem?
Him:      I ate my food

Him:      The spade won’t work
Me:        How can a spade not work?
Him:      I can’t make it work
Me:        Go fetch me the spade and I’ll show you how it works (puts shoes on ready to demonstrate
                how to use a spade)
Him:      (returns with spade)
Me:        Oh you mean the spade is broken (looks at the 2 halves, buys new spade)

Him:      I’ve washed the lawn mower
Me:        OK, thank you
Him:      Where must I empty the bucket of water I put the lawn mower in?
Me:        You put the lawn mower in the water?
Him:      Yes
Me:        It’s electric, it won’t work now
Him:      Why?
Me:        It’s electric, electricity and water don’t mix, give you your phone
Him:      Why?
Me:        I’m going to run it under the tap for you and clean it
Him:      No, don’t do that you’ll break it
Me:        That’s what has happened to the lawn mower
Him:      Thank you for explaining. I won’t do it again
Me:        (buys new lawn mower)

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The one thing you need to know about being an expat.

Having just started our 4th year as an expat from the UK to South Africa, there are many things I'm still angry about, they prevent me from moving on, but haven't stopped me getting on with things.

I LOVE South Africa, the climate, the lifestyle, the wildlife, but it's not home. I'm not South African. I understand many things about life here but I don't like many aspects of life here.

When I visit the UK it's home, I know what's what, how things work, but there are/were many aspects of my life in the UK I didn't like either.

So what's preventing me from moving on?

The removal firm. Many issues but still things that annoy me today. It was only on the day of removal that the company informed us we couldn't take anything that had been used outside unless it was steam cleaned. It was 2 days before Christmas so we sold and gave stuff away quickly and cheaply. Then they inform us they couldn't book the shipping until after we obtained our visa number. In the end we didn't need to be homeless over Christmas and for another 3 weeks, we could've saved a lot of money if we'd been given time to get items cleaned.

The bank account. We opened an account with HSBC to move to South Africa. On arrival they cancel my bank card due to 'unusual activity' and then tell us that because they don't have a branch here, therefore credit history and ability to borrow money don't apply. We depleted our UK savings to get a deposit for a car (bought beds, kitchen essentials etc, due to delay in shipping furniture) and then borrowed money at 14% instead of 6% the HSBC were offering.

The company. Well it doesn't matter that these people no longer work for the firm, what matters is they lied on headed note paper (email) I can't work, they told me I would be able to. My son has had to return to the UK to complete his education because HR was so desperate to get a school place she never passed on his special needs reports and told the school he'd only be there 2 years. (He's dyslexic and SA main stream schools don't do learning support)

There have been many other things, but like stuff that happened in the UK I consider it to be part of life. Difficulties with neighbours, maintaining friendships and relationships, feeling and being let down, etc, etc, etc.

But just as I feel comfortable, just as I get used to the kids leaving home and making plans to fill the empty nest with further studies, travels, volunteer work the one thing happens that turns it all upside down.

The one thing I'd wish I'd known before becoming an expat is that as soon as you feel settled, adapt and make plans for your future you get asked to relocate. 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

What's on your wish list?

Wish List

Solar Panel, battery and convertor.
Lethabong Township has no electricity or running water, the local Municipality delivers water once a week.
Electricity would allow the people who live there to set up and run a sewing group. They can supplement their salary to provide lunches for their children in the day and stationery items their children need for school. A group of parents will make school uniforms for the children, book bags and will be able to teach others basic sewing skills to mend clothing.

Ink Cartridges, printing paper and data allowance.
To be used by Santa Shoebox in Gauteng for advertising and recruiting individuals and companies to donate approx 42,000 filled shoe boxes to distribute to children in rural locations around the province. Printing work sheets, lesson plans and information.

School Uniform and Stationery.
For Legora Primary School in Mamelodi. Children are in classes of 40+ often 2 to a chair, there are few resources and teaching is delivered by ‘chalk and talk’ if the children don’t have stationery they can’t write down and improve their learning. There are 1956 children on register.

Buttons and Beads.
For Kungwini Protective Workshop for Adults with disabilities for improving fine motor skills, encouraging team work and making crafts to sell at the Nickel Xmas Market.

Kungwini Childrens Home for 15 children. They require toothpaste/brushes, deodorants, soap and shampoo.

Toiletries, stationery, books, sanitary pads, hand sanitisers, cleaning materials, detergents
For The Viva Foundation, Kungwini, Lethabong.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Viva Arts Festival Mamelodi. WE NEED PAINT.

Twitter                                 @VIVA_SA
Face book                 

I’ve been involved with The Viva Foundation in Mamelodi since December 2012 whilst volunteering for Santa Shoebox. In March 2013 my son and I took part in the Viva Township Art and Living Art Gallery and I’m currently delivering training programmes to the teachers at the Early Learning Centre. I also raise funds for specific items used in the day to day teaching and raise awareness through social media.
The Viva Township Art and Living Art Gallery is running again this year on March 15th-16th. Individuals and companies are invited to join artists and lovers of Art as we transform shack homes into works of Art.
Although we ask artists to supply their own paint, brushes etc we need to supply some of our own, as the owners of the shacks who take part in the festival are unable to afford to purchase the paint and we rely heavily on donations.
In exchange for sponsorship of paint and brushes the Viva Foundation will tweet and face book about your donation and company name with regular updates on how the project is going and the good that it is doing in the community.  I personally will do the same and with 9000+ hits per month on my own blog and 2300 followers on twitter I reach a wide and varied audience in South Africa and worldwide.
We ask artists to respect the house-owner and steer clear from concept art/political messages and religious imagery and erotic art etc. You will be painting someone's home and they may not share your ideas and have to live in the art you create. It has to be family friendly, because it is in the open. You can look at the pictures of other art from previous festivals and see what we mean. Likewise we ask the shack owner to steer clear of asking for concept art/political messages and religious imagery as the artist may not share those ideas  

Viva can issue 18A tax deductible donations certificates for bona fide donations.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Can you sponsor me some stationery and printer ink?

I’ve been involved with The Viva Foundation in Mamelodi since December 2012 whilst volunteering for Santa Shoebox. In March 2013 my son and I took part in the Viva Township Art and Living Art Gallery and I’m currently delivering training programmes to the teachers at the Early Learning Centre. I also raise funds for specific items used in the day to day teaching and raise awareness through social media.
I am currently delivering training sessions to the teachers at the school, for children aged birth to 5, focusing on discipline and engaging the children in their learning. The school day is long from 8am often till 6pm and the teachers are struggling to keep the children engaged throughout the day, especially when they have very limited equipment, mainly in the form of stationery items.
There are 3 class rooms: 0-2, 3 & 4-5 year olds. Part of the training I am delivering is to develop the curriculum and introduce new methods to deliver literacy, numeracy and life skills.
The following items of equipment would make a huge difference to the way the teachers deliver lessons and to the students learning.
Plain and lined paper
Sensory items: Soft balls, play doh

In order to deliver training sessions and develop lesson plans I urgently need a sponsor for the printing costs involved.

I develop worksheets and activities for the teachers to deliver to the children, as you can appreciate drawing 46 worksheets just once a week is time consuming. The worksheets designed teach the children body parts and how to keep safe, recognising shapes and letters in preparation for writing and I provide information sheets on child development for the teachers to gain a wider understanding of the stages of development. I also plan on delivery child protection courses for the teachers.

I am a qualified learning support teacher and have trained teaching assistants in the UK, taught in pre school, secondary school and in further education. I was also employed prior to a move to South Africa as a Child Welfare Officer for The English Football Association.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

67 minutes for Mandela

67 minutes for Mandela
This is how my volunteering work in South Africa started. I’d met the people at Kungwini Welfare Organisation through Santa Shoebox and they invited me to join them.
I stayed more than 67 minutes and I made 2 kms of Bunting (hanging flags) for decoration at their Nickel Xmas Market. I have worked there as a volunteer 2 days a week in the protective workshop and fundraise and raise awareness online through my own blog and their social media websites.
As an expat new in South Africa the opportunity to be involved with 67 minutes for Mandela allowed me the opportunity to engage in the community, meet people and do something good.
If it wasn’t for Santa Shoebox this opportunity wouldn’t have presented itself and therefore my suggestion for 67 minutes for Mandela this year for your company is to ask your employers to bring to work shoe boxes, wrapping paper, stickers and tape to spend 67 minutes wrapping boxes for Santa Shoebox to help us with the 6% shortfall we have where donors pledge but fail deliver, enabling us as volunteers to have boxes to pack with other donations we receive.
It’s a great opportunity for your employees to demonstrate teamwork and if you offered a small prize for the best decorated box or the most number of boxes wrapped, it would allow a little bit of healthy competition to show through.

Another way to support the Santa Shoebox project is by matching donated boxes collected by your employees and again you could introduce a competition for the individual and the department that collects and donates the largest number of items for each month and in total. Encourage staff to ask family, neighbours and friends to help them, developing awareness and community spirit.

Staff could bring and collect items throughout the year, Dedicate 5 months for collection of shoebox items.
April – Clothing
May – Sweets
June – Stationery
July – Toiletries
August - Toys

Santa Shoebox volunteers can arrange the packing of boxes, registration and allocate a facility or an age range for the boxes to be donated to.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Once an expat always an expat?

I’m ready to go home, although I’m not sure where home is anymore. I’ve always associated ‘home’ with the kids, but now they’ve all left and are spread out over the UK, where would I go back to?
We still own a house in Malvern but that stopped being our home when we let tenants move in, their subsequent trashing of our house made it even easier not to consider it a return to point anymore.
The first 2 years in South Africa was all about settling in, adjusting to a new way of life, culture, language and a whole different way of doing things. The 3rd year was been all about sorting out the youngest education, which has resulted in him returning to boarding school in the UK and the other son completing his Matriculation and the ‘what next?’ which has also involved a move for him back to the UK.
So hubbies job continues here, but what about me? I was depressed, I did struggle, but I had the boys to support with their schooling, activities, cleaning the ever messy house and begging for 5 minutes peace and quiet.
Well I’ve got it now, by the bucket load. 9 years before hubby retires, another 9 years here? To do what? I have plenty of voluntary work I can do, have already taken up new hobbies crafting and sewing. I swim and walk the dog daily, I have some good friends, but they all work during the day and have young kids. Hubby and I go out together for meals, picnics, dog walks and holidays, but there is just too much time left in the week when I’m on my own and bored.
My idea to return to the UK just won’t work, there is no job for hubby over there and with 28 years service it would affect his pension and at 56 he’d find it hard to walk into another job. I’m not just going to walk into a new career over night and I know how hard it was for me to go from full time work to stay at home mum without asking hubby to do that, except there’d be no kids at home for him to look after.

So I guess our only option is to move to another country, one where I can work and we’re looking into Dubai for February 2015, there are plenty of training and educational jobs on offer for me, but I need to check the reality of how easy it is to actually get a job there.
In the meantime I'm swimming everyday, blogging, raising awareness of disabilities in South Africa, fundraising, voluntary teaching, enjoying new activities, learning new skills which I'll take with me and continue doing where ever I am in the world.
For now, I have plenty of projects to work on, to keep me busy, 6 months left of a degree to keep my mind active, but it's not relieving the loneliness, I'm struggling to motivate myself to get things done.
When you have all day to do nothing in, one tends just to do that, nothing.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Can you support a preschool in Mamelodi?

I'm currently training and supporting teachers at the Viva Foundation in the township Mamelodi, north of Pretoria.

The teachers want to learn new/different/better ways to teach, discipline and engage the children in educational activities whilst having fun.

I've started with a round up and a clear out of the stationery at home and from a few friends, I'm recycling paper and posters to make wall charts and folders for the children to store their work and provided the staff with some information on the stages of development and age appropriate activities, purchased a few story books and demonstrated to the teachers how to maximise the book with the re telling of the story, identifying numbers, colours, etc, etc. I've saved boxes, egg cartons, kitchen roll tubes, suggested hand and feet painting, making musical instruments, written lesson plans, listing the learning outcomes and educational value of many activities.

The preschool is a 100km round trip from where I live so as you can imagine the costs for volunteering are mounting up, I can't afford to fund the equipment needed to support this preschool long term

I'm currently meeting the costs for books, stationery and printing out colouring and learning activities of pictures and worksheets I'm drawing/designing, but with 46 children I won't be able to keep this up for long. The teachers are preparing a lot of the work, but as they live without electricity it is difficult for them to keep up as they work till 4.30pm and the sun goes down at 6.30pm and during that time they have to cook for their families, wash clothes, food shop etc

If you'd like to be involved with this preschool through financial or stationery donations please contact me at or on twitter @chickenruby.

We will tweet, blog, facebook and instagram your donations with your name and company.

I'd love to hear from you even if it's just posting a link to this request. Thank you.

Monday, 17 February 2014

How do people cope with an armed robbery?

Two weeks ago in one of the places I volunteer there was an armed robbery. What do you say to people who have had a gun pulled on them? ‘Are you ok?’ you refrain from asking what happened as you don’t want to be seen as just wanting the details, but they tell you anyway, you offer sympathy and life moves on.
Last week there was another armed robbery, I didn’t see the gun men but I was on the premises, having opted to stay in another part of the building to finish a task rather than join the staff for lunch.

One by one the clients returned to the area I was in and I started to realise something was wrong. I didn’t rush down to the offices, I stayed with those who’s home had been invaded for the 2nd time and I listened to their fears.
I was holding back tears, panic and fear. I wanted to leave. I’m not South African, I haven’t spent my life preparing to face an armed robber.

About an hour later I ventured down to the office, I was asked if I was OK and where I’d been when it happened. The police were still there, taking statements. I listened to individuals recount their versions, I made tea, that’s what we British do in a crisis, what else could I possibly do.

Everyone was thanked and praised for their handling of the situation by the senior staff, everyone had done as they were instructed by the armed robbers and everyone remembered to do as they’d been advised.
·         Don’t make eye contact
·         Do as you’re told, hand over phones, keys
·         Don’t attempt to take control
·         Don’t argue

No one was hurt, the whole incident took between 5-6 minutes, everyone remained calm and the armed robbers left. The police were called, statements were made, debriefing took place and then everyone carried on with their jobs.

Me? I went home, in tears, had to stop at a mall for a coffee to calm down, spent the rest of the day with a friend until my husband returned from work and spent 2 days ‘what if?’ ‘if only’ ‘I want to return to the UK’  ‘I don’t feel safe’ 

I’ve gone into lock down mode, just like when we first arrived. Carry only what I need, phone and keys in my pocket, a small purse, no handbag. This happened in a place I volunteer, it’s a charity, these people are disabled, they have nothing, why hold a gun to their heads?

The fear of being involved in an armed robbery is now a reality, one I don't want to have to face or live in fear of actually happening. 

I'm ready to leave now.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

I'm fed up of the hassles

The very second I leave the security estate I get hassled. I pull up at the robots and there is someone there with either pleading eyes and a sign board or someone tapping at the window asking for money or trying to push marketing leaflets through the gap. The worst are the people trying to sell you a product or a service, like it or no,t if they want to clean your window they jolly well will and they will run alongside your car trying to sell you a car charger or something related to ‘hello kitty’.
The sellers are determined; if your window is open they will drop the goods inside, no matter how many times you say no or pass it back they won’t give in. I don’t fall for the trick to get you to open your window but many do, the sellers will point at the front of your car and start talking, convincing you something is wrong with the car so you open your window.
In car parks, there are people in hi viz vests, they’re not always employed by the shopping centres and they point at empty spaces for you to park in, they whistle, wave their arms. When you leave they stand behind you to guide you out, but other drivers pay little attention and I’ve seen situations where the guy in the hi viz has just walked away.
Entering shops is a hassle, at first you’re greeted with ‘good morning, how are you?’ you reply ‘I’m good thanks, and you’ and then you can make your enquiry, if you don’t require assistance you will be asked if you can be helped by every assistant in the store even when you’re just browsing. To leave a store you are asked to show your receipt where the items are checked off against the receipt, despite the security having watched you walk from the till to the door. Quite often you will be bag checked on your way into a store also.
Leaving a supermarket is another hassle, someone will try to take your trolley to load your goods in the car, even when you say ‘no thank you’ they will often follow you to your car and stand and wait for the empty trolley before then attempting to guide you out of a parking space in exchange for a few Rand.
In restaurants it gets no better, seated, menu presented, drinks ordered, then a new waiter introduces themselves, food arrives, you eat, ask for bill, pay and leave, but during that process your waiter will ask you several times if everything is ok, the supervisor will ask you if everything is ok and the manager will ask you if everything is ok. As soon as you put your cutlery down or finish your drink, it is whisked away while the rest of the table are still eating and drinking.

The only place I have solitude in South Africa is in my own home, but then that doesn’t mean gardeners and maids won’t ring your bell asking for work.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A week's holiday in Dubai

Well my first impressions of Dubai wasn't great, but the place has grown on me as the week has gone on.

We're staying at a hotel on the beach front, the Sheraton Jumeriah, with breakfast included and full use of the pool and sun loungers. There are a couple of public free beaches, where you bring your own towels and chairs or for 5 AED per visit you can use the hotels towels and sun loungers.

 The Metro is easy to use and for 16 AED per day you can travel the full length of the city including to and from the airport and all the buses from the station to the beach or inland, be prepared to stand for most of the journey during peak times. You can pick up a bus and metro route map from the terminals, which also names the attractions and hotels so you know where to get on and off. Standing in the rear carriage gives you excellent views of the City.

The Emirates Mall and Dubai Mall can be reached directly from the Metro, although be prepared for a bit of a walk. There is free wifi in Dubai Mall, although the wifi in Emirates Mall requires you have a cell number to have a message sent to, to receive your password.

There are plenty of tours available. The best value is a boat taxi across the river in Old Dubai at 1 AED each way. For a longer trip or a trip round Palm Island out in the Gulf prices start from 150 AED.

The only tour I took part in was the visit to 'at the top' at the Burj Khalifa, The World's tallest tower. I was however disappointed to discover that visitors only travel to 452ms of the 828m height on floor 124 of 160, still the views of Dubai were pretty amazing. It cost 150 AED if you book a time slot in advance or 400 AED if you turn up without a booking and there is space.

Prices appear to be in general cheaper than the UK, but the cost of eating and drinking is far more expensive than South Africa and alcohol is restricted mainly to hotels, there are non alcoholic beers/champagne/cocktails on the menu.

I particularly enjoyed a visit to the old part of Dubai, reached by the Metro and a short walk and a river trip. I felt very comfortable in the Souq, I managed to get out without buying a Pashmina or any real 'fake' goods as they described the phones and handbags they had for sale.

I also spent a lot of time on foot, walking around Dubai Marina. For me living in South Africa I loved the freedom to be out and about, find free wifi and use public transport. I did however get the feeling that I was indoors all the time, I was reminded of Las Vegas and the 'falseness' of the malls and hotels there. The outdoors, indoors.