300 Bucks for Warm Feet

To those of you who are poo-poohing our complaints about the cold in Joburg, here is an update on our harsh winters. It really does get cold at night! So cold, it turns out, that one of our water pipes froze and burst, apparently. At least there is water dripping from the ceiling, and it’s coming from a pipe leading to the geyser, which is the South African word for water heater. It took me a while to figure that one out.

And then this morning,  just as I was marveling that our little gas heater has lasted so long already, the flame sputtered and then stopped. Empty gas bottle. I just wish it had lasted through breakfast. The kids shivered and gulped down their food quickly, so that they could get off to school. Although there is no heat there either.

So I took my gas bottle to Builder’s Warehouse, got a refund of R171 and purchased a new bottle for R357. There was a quick kerfuffle as the parking guard who had unloaded my empty bottle and the store clerk who had in his hand the new bottle fought over who got to load it into my car and get my tip. The parking guard won, but I felt bad. Will have to remember next time to tip him right after unloading, and tip again for loading. But honestly, I can’t keep enough coins in my wallet for all these tips!

Overall, I think that’s a pretty good price. Net of  R186 or $25 for about three weeks of not-so freezing mealtimes (although there is always a debate on where exactly we position the heater – the person next to it has the full benefit, but not much of the heat reaches the other side of the table). And even better once I saw my new Eskom bill, where our electricity usage has gone up by 1700 kWh, which at the staggered price we pay translated into over R2000 more than the previous month. And the only underfloor heat we’ve turned on is in our bathroom, a luxury Noisette doesn’t want to give up. Can you imagine? Almost 300 bucks (US$-bucks, not ZAR-bucks) a month for warm feet?

So I’m giving you another expat tip: Even though you might have looked for the perfect house including underfloor heating, don’t use it. On your first cold winter night sometime at the end of May, turn on the gas fireplace and, if you are so lucky to have one, the wood burning stove (there’s a good expat tip, to look for a house with one of those). And go and buy several gas heaters to help with mornings and evenings as needed. They will cost you a fraction of the electric heat.

By the way, my new gas bottle errand turned into a typical African thing – once home and the new bottle connected, the heater didn’t work as before but continued to sputter and only got one panel to heat, not all three. I think they must have mixed air in with the gas or something to stretch it and cheat their customers, or maybe it was just an oversight, but it’s definitely not good gas. So another errand to try and exchange it (and hope that the next one is better) will follow.

Since they’ve announced a cold spell for this weekend – I can already feel it with the clouds moving in – and our fire was sort of sputtering as well last night, I though it wise to go ahead and re-order that gas bottle (a much bigger one, 48 kg) as well, just to be sure. Good thing I did – my supplier has a 3 week waiting list! Luckily we have a spare. That’s another thing to remember about life in Joburg – things have a tendency to run out when there is lots of demand for it. The promised beanie hats have still not arrived at McCullagh & Bothwell since my last visit there over three weeks ago and I’m sure when they do it will be summer again. So don’t leave things until it’s too late!

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