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Published: October 29th 2010
I’d bought my South African currency from the Post Office in Wilmslow and they’d given me half of it in old 200rand notes by mistake. When I arrived here, Ellie explained these notes expired in July this year so nowhere accepts them. I’d managed to get rid of a few over the last few days at the bigger tourist attractions, but it would be unfair to give them to smaller businesses as the owners would then need to sort out changing them. It’s not as simple as changing them at any old bank. You actually need to go to a Reserve Bank and there are only a few dotted around the country. Cape Town, for example, didn’t have one. It was therefore our mission this morning to find the Reserve bank in Durban and queue for however long was necessary.
We had breakfast at Durban Football stadium first (which has coffee shops, retail outlets and restaurant within the complex) then got to the Reserve Bank and fortunately for us, the queue wasn’t as long as we’d anticipated. I had to take ID with me and some signs at the entrance told me I would need to “declare firearms”. This was
totally alien to me as I’d not even realised it was common (or legal) for people to carry them!
When I reached the front, I was called to step forward (by a little box mounted on the wall) and asked a series of questions. So there I was, hands behind my back chatting away to this little box, when I realised to the right was a tinted window and a man stood behind. Every other normal person would talk to the man... but as you’ve probably realised from previous blogs, I’m not really that normal.
He called me through in to a little room where a lady whispered some more instructions and I had to ask her to repeat herself numerous times. She checked my Passport, asked me to hand over my mobile phone and then put my handbag through a scanner (like the ones you get at an airport). Then I was given a key and told to turn left. I thanked her and opened the door in to an enormous lobby with stairs and doors off in every direction. I turned round to clarify where I needed to go but it was too late, the security door
slammed shut behind me. Damn!
I looked at the key and decided I’d have to try every door until I eventually opened one. And along my journey, I came across what you expect a normal bank to look like with a sign that said “Change your old 200rand notes here”. Great! But what was the key for?! The cashier explained it would unlock my deposit box where my mobile phone was being stored. Now I felt like a moron. But it didn’t matter as she changed all my money for me.
Getting out of the place was just as bigger task as getting in. The door I’d come in through didn’t have handles so it was one way. I found another door and tried to pull it open but it was locked. “You’re confused aren’t you?” boomed through some speakers and frightened me. It was the tinted window man. He must have pushed a button because I heard the door click then he told me to pull it. Tinted window man and whispering woman had clearly been watching me on the security cameras as they were grinning from ear to ear. I handed in my key, got my phone back and exited feeling worn out from the whole unnecessary palaver. They really need to work on making it a simpler process.
We drove through the city and saw young boys standing in the middle of busy roads with bin bags. Ellie described how they ask you for rubbish out of your car in the exchange for a few rand coins, which I thought was quite a nice idea until she said they dump it over the road and the litter flies everywhere.
The sun came out when we got home so we spent a little time sunbathing and reading by the pool, then I spoke to my Mam who had been texting my phone back but I’d not received them. We decided to set up a Skype call where we can see each other using our webcams and can speak over the internet for free. I was excited to “see” her but unfortunately it didn’t quite go to plan. One of us must have had a bad connection as there was a long delay and her webcam can’t have been working properly as I couldn’t see her. The conversation was more frustrating than anything as we were totally out of sync with our questions and answers. I’d hoped that we would be able to speak regularly and it would feel like we were at her kitchen table catching up, but this initial demonstration shattered my dreams. Fortunately, Laura was in the next room and explained she had conversations with her boss over Skype daily and they have perfect connections. This gives me hope that we’ll be able to sort it when I’m over in Oz and set some time aside to get it sorted.
Ellie and I headed out to the “Pack n Pay” hypermarket in the afternoon to get ingredients for the Braii (South African BBQ) this evening. A butcher approached us in the meat aisle and said he’d be happy to cut us a piece of fresh meat (rather than prepacked) that would be lean and serve the exact amount of people we wanted. He took his time (about 20minutes) but eventually we were given a huge piece of fatless steak that looked fabulous.
We stocked up our trolley with king prawns, fresh veg, and ingredients for spicy rice then went to the till to pay. You have to get all your veg weighed and priced up before you go to the till which seems a little strange. The tills here are tiny; the conveyor belt was less than a metre long. You have a lady at the end of each counter that packs your groceries in bags in return for small change. You also don’t pay for parking in most open carparks but have a “Car Guard” who comes over to help you unload and again you give him a few rand to thank him (one rand is about 10p).
Once the girls were fed and the Braii was cooked, Ross, Laura, Ellie and I tucked in to a fabulous buffet around the kitchen table. Everyone went to bed early tonight (they’re very early risers as the girls go to school at 7am!) so I fell asleep reading my book on their huge and very comfy sofa in the lounge.
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