The South African Series

Honey! We’re home!

Marshall had been researching properties for us to rent a few months before we left Atlanta. Of course the nicest one we saw had a pool and hundreds of square feet per person; and the worst had 1 toilet, no sink and we’d all have to sleep in the closet. Fortunately we found one that was modest and still really affordable. Okay, it was better than modest…it was AWESOME! The pictures online showed ocean views, crisp white sheets, crisp white walls, a nice backyard…everything was perfect.

“That’s the one I want, Marshall,” I told him over email. “The one on Taromonto.”

Michael and Brittany, who run and work the Learning Center where we were supposed to be working, picked us up from the Airport in Port Elizabeth and drove us to our house in Plett. The house was alarmed, which instantly made me feel safer. When we switched on the lights, I was delighted by what I saw. It was everything the pictures said, and even better in person. My eyes were fixed on recess lighting and the marble counter tops in the expansive kitchen, when I heard Marshall shout “WHOA!!”. Michael echoed him.

“What? What is it?” I asked. I walked into one of the bedrooms where they were standing and looked up in the upper right corner of the room.

“Hey! Hooo!!”

I felt my skin turn cold. There, in the corner, sat that spider from Harry Potter. You know, the 8 foot one that could talk? Yeah – him. The spider sat watching us, munching nonchalantly on a small rabbit it had captured in its web. “Yeah fool. Come and get me if you want,” I heard it say.

I backed out of the room slowly.

“That’s called a rain spider. We’re going to need to get some Doom for that one,” said Michael.

I didn’t know what Doom was, but it sounded good to me. Liya was fidgeting and crying, preventing me from enjoying every aspect of our new short term housing.

“Awww man!” I heard Marshall say.

“What is it now?”

“There are cracks all over the house.”

“Yeah,” said Michael. “Here’s another one.”

Oh, what are a few cracks in the wall? I thought. We have cracks in our…Oh. WHOA! That’s not a crack – that’s a fissure!

All over the house, there were 3-5 foot cracks lining the walls. Marshall stuck a quarter in one of them. It sat perfectly balanced in the gap. Yikes.

“Well, the house hasn’t fallen down yet; so I guess we’re safe.”

We began to put our bags in everyone’s intended rooms. Marshall pulled back the curtains and looked at the walls.

“Mold. There’s mold on the curtains and walls!”

“And look. There’s water damage on the floor. We can look at other properties on Monday,” offered Michael.

“If they can change the curtains and paint the walls, we can live with it,” said Marshall, looking at me for confirmation.

“Oh yeah. That’s no problem.”

I was too tired to think and afraid of what else we might discover. But to my pleasure, I found that we had steaming hot water and enormous bathrooms, stocked with towels, soap and toilet paper. Which was good, because I had no idea where all that stuff was in the 10-12 bags we had lugged from the Northern Hemisphere.

That night, we slept 2 to a bed, shivering against the Antarctic winds pummeling against the walls and windows.

Learning how the house works

Every house has its quirks and rhythms. For instance, in our house in Atlanta, you can’t take a dump in the master bathroom because Aya dropped her toothbrush in there 3 years ago, and I never fished it out. I just kept flushing it, hoping that gravity and water pressure would eventually dislodge it from the main pipe below. Sadly, that has not come to pass yet.

Our new home in Plett has special ways in which it works too, which I discovered on our second night in. Our kitchen has been outfitted with modern conveniences, which from my experience in Africa is not the ordinary. We have a toaster, microwave, dishwasher and a dryer. Wait – where’s the washing machine? Was I going to have to wash our clothes in the tub? Oh God. This is Ghana all over again! I resolved that I was not going to bitch and moan about it. Unlike Ghana, I COULD have someone come over and wash my clothes if I wanted to.

The instructions on how to use all the appliances were posted on the fridge. After I fed the kids lunch on our first afternoon here, I loaded the dishwasher, poured in the soap and turned it on. Man, it was silent! Our dishwasher at home sounds like it’s giving birth every time we switch it on. This one was quiet, and held a lot more volume too. I could just TELL it was a green machine.

I turned my attention to my beloved counter tops. Suddenly, my socks felt really wet. What the heck? I looked down, and to my amazement beheld a river of dish water snaking its way towards the living room. Marshall was making his way around the corner into the kitchen at that exact moment.

“What the heck!”

He grabbed one of the dish towels and held it up with a question in his eye.

“No, no,” I said. “We can’t use their kitchen towels to mop the floor!”

My eyes darted around looking for a mop. None was to be found. Crap. Marshall made the decision to use one of the bath towels to wipe up the mess. I shut off the machine, furious at the prospect that I might have to wash all those dishes by hand. Brittany showed up within minutes of the fiasco.

“What happened here?”

“The dishwasher flooded,” said Marshall.

“This place is like Money Pit!” I cried. “I’m just waiting for us to go up on the roof and fall through!” (There’s a tanning roof on top of the building, by the way. Great view of the neighborhood and the ocean from there…)

Marshall laughed and Brittany smirked. She was there to take Marshall to go do something (I wasn’t paying attention), and after they left, I tried the dishwasher once more. This time, the water didn’t trickle out – it surged out instead. Frantic, I put towel after towel on the floor until the drainage had been sucked up.

Then I left the kitchen, vowing never to return.