Unfinished Business

“What was the biggest challenge of moving to South Africa?”

I just completed another expat interview, and once again this question cropped up. Ha! If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I have LOTS to say about that. So when I went back to the early days of  my blog to read about some of my trials and tribulations at that time, I realized they all mostly come back to this: The biggest challenge of moving to South Africa is the Africa part of if – learning to live on African time.

Ironically, this is particularly hard when you’re a seasoned expat. Having moved often, you have the routine of buying a car, setting up phone service, buying new appliances, and handling visa applications down pat. You come prepared with a list and are eager to check everything off of it so that you can start living your life before you are ready to leave again.

Alas, it’s not meant to be here in South Africa. You are doomed to a perpetual moving-in list which, if anything, seems to grow over the years instead of being completed. Every little errand you might have done in an hour in your previous life takes on a life of its own, and by the time it finally does get crossed off your list, two new ones – power cut off, water leak – have sprung up.

Here is an example of one such little errand: I’ve been toting around two letters in my purse for the better part of a week. They weren’t addressed to us, but rather someone else, and I wanted to give them back to the postal service so the rightful owner might have a chance to receive them. It’s such a happy event when something actually makes it all the way to your mailbox, even a bill, so I couldn’t bring myself to deprive another person of this rare privilege by just ignoring the whole thing.

Back home, I would have just scribbled “wrong recipient” or something on them and put them back in my mailbox, and bingo, done. 2 minutes. But did I tell you our house has no mailbox here? All we have is a PO box at a shopping center, and I can tell you I’m very certain that putting a letter back into it with instructions to redeliver would not work.

So I was carrying the letters around with me with the good intention of bringing them to the post office when I was shopping in the vicinity. Which I was today. So to the post office I went, feeling very good about getting this done, when what should greet me at the entrance:


I rattled the door, but no luck. Closed. Even though it was still Saturday morning. I had already turned and walked away, when the thought hit me: How can a mailbox be out of order? I mean, it’s just a box with a slit, and the slit was very much still present behind the taped-on sign. The only way it can be out of order is if whoever usually empties is no longer feels like emptying it. So I went back and took the picture.

Once again, at least a story to spin out of yet another piece of unfinished business. And I have a feeling the South African Postal Service’s goal of becoming a top ten postal service in the world has just disappeared beyond the horizon.

Please excuse me now while I tape an “out of order” sign onto the kitchen trash.

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