This is Africa: How a Half-Day Errand Became a Month-Long Quest in Joburg And What I Learned from Nelson Mandela

This is Africa. Have I said that before? Actually, I’ve once been chastised by a reader for saying that (when complaining about inefficiency), because by extension I’m saying that all Africans are inefficient when of course there is no such thing as one type of “African.” But then again there are many things I love about Africa that I have raved about on this blog, and no one so far is complaining about my undifferentiated praise of Africa. So as long as I have “This is Africa” kind of days, I will keep saying it, thank you very much. Plus, it also makes for such good writing material.

So the errand I was so frustrated about yesterday started out with a Christmas present over a month ago. I wanted to get these canvas prints made for Noisette:



To go on this spot on the wall next to my insurmountable picture hanging project from a while ago, if you’ll remember:


When you read the chronology of what was to follow, perhaps you’ll agree with me that this project was a wee bit agonizing.

Dec 10: Emailed the pictures to QPhoto, an outfit I’d been very happy with previously, mainly for their prompt service. I mailed them to the same person I had spoken with before, and asked for the same size prints mounted in the same style. Then I left for our vacation at Island Water Villas, looking forward to the prints being done when we got back.

Dec 15: Received a voice message, asking all sorts of questions about size and style, exactly all the things I’d already specified, but still pleased that they seemed to be on top of things by calling me. I should mention here that in order to receive said message and make any outbound phone calls, my phone and I had to go on a hike up this hill behind our house, the only place near us with a cell phone signal:


I made about five trips up the hill, but to no avail. QPhoto could not be reached again.

Dec 19: Back home, contacted QPhoto again and actually reached someone, who promised she’d send me an invoice with the exact price so that I could make a deposit, after which the prints would be made. However, they wouldn’t be ready before Christmas, plus they could no longer be picked up at Design Quarter (close to here) but at their new location at Mandela Square (far from here).

Dec 27: No longer in a hurry because Christmas had come and go, I followed up once again to request the invoice. Made payment. Waited. Was very tempted to check “QPhoto” off my to-do list but knew better and left it on.

Jan 5: Called again to check status. Confusion over who was in charge, but promise to call me back “now now.” Waited in vain.

Jan 12: Found QPhoto still on my to-do list, called again, and lo and behold was told the prints were done and sent to Mandela Square. Asked when they were sent and was told “today,” so decided to give it a few more days.

Jan 13: Called Mandela Square location whether my prints had arrived but they hadn’t. Called QPhoto main line again and they now said the prints were “just now” being finished, to be sent the very next day.

Jan 18: Was in the vicinity anyway so called Mandela Square again and was told that yes, my two prints were ready for pickup. Drove there, had trouble finding parking, and squeezed into a semi-legal spot:


Took the elevator up to the 4th floor of the West Tower as instructed, and followed the signs:





Holy cow, how many more corners could I possibly  have to turn in this labyrinth of the West Tower? When I finally did find QPhoto, you will have already guessed what happened next: They DIDN’T have my prints. “We only have two prints for Tina, not for Sine – so sorry, you sounded like Tina on the phone.”

I think in my old life in the U.S. I would have been ready to strangle someone at this point. But This is Africa. Everything ended fine. The lady was very friendly and offered to have her driver deliver the prints right to my house as soon as she got them from the QPhoto head office. I was genuinely happy at such great service. I wasn’t even very upset about the time I had wasted. When in Africa, one learns to accept fate and let bygones be bygones. On the way back to the parking garage I discovered this really cool coffee place with a beautiful view over Mandela Square:


And I got to take this picture – something I’d been meaning to post on this blog – of one of Joburg’s (or, rather, Sandton’s) icons, the statue of Nelson Mandela:



And then it hit me: If Nelson Mandela could sit in prison for 27 years and not be mad at anyone afterwards, surely I should be able to chase after QPhoto for a month and not be mad at anyone afterwards.

I felt nothing but serenity the rest of the day.

Jan 19: The pictures were indeed delivered. The driver insisted I check them before he left, and wouldn’t you know it, they were not quite what I had ordered, the frame being deeper and the sides printed black instead of white. He offered to take them back to have them redone. I could see it all unraveling yet another time, like in the movie Groundhog Day. No thanks, I informed him politely, I’ll keep them.

But now I regret that the picture sourcing project is finished. Because what will be next?

The insurmountable picture hanging project, of course!

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