15 Things about Norway that will take a South African some getting used to.

During a long night of trying to cajole/threaten the child to sleep, I fell into the black hole that is the frenemy of all people with a few minutes to spare (minutes that quickly turn become hours I will never get back): humorous listicles.

After a few months back in Oslo, I have some things that are listicle-worthy myself, I reckon.  As a South African, I come with my fair share of quirks. But they are quirks other South Africans can recognise and (I hope) appreciate. They include a cheerfully vague attitude to time, eating far too much sugar, and day-drinking.

Here in Norway, the quirks often come in the form of some curious convenience I, as a South African didn’t realise was necessary for life. Things are pretty organised here, especially in Oslo where I’m based, but just because I like these things doesn’t mean they don’t disturb my sensibilities and make me yearn for some home-grown inconveniences like minibus taxis, or people who talk too much at the dentist, or the cheerful disregard we have for pedestrian crossings.

So here goes – these things are, I presume, mostly only odd to me as a South-African, and likely quite common to Europeans or other weirdos.

  1. State liquor stores
vinmonopolet

I imagine state-owned liquor stores at home would be 24 hours. Image source: City Lade

The first thing everybody thinks about when they hear “Norway” is how expensive the alcohol is supposed to be over here. They’re right, it’ll cost you a kidney, but what I found more bizarre is that you can’t get most liquor from a variety of private liquor stores like we do back home, but only from the government store, Vinmonopolet (The Wine Monopoly). It’s closed on Sundays, shuts early on Saturdays and generally does all it can to discourage you from drinking alcohol. It’s the worst.

2. Engangsgrills

grill

Delicious. Image source: Newswire

One-time, disposable grills. I feel like the picture says enough. I also feel like Europeans should admit that this is some sort of continental shame. I take my comment on the previous post back – this is actually the worst.

3. Electric cars

elbil

Image Source: Driving.ca

Walking past all the free places to charge your car makes me feel like I’m stomping around in the future and someone’s about to announce that I’m too dumb and sloppy to be here. My little petrol-guzzling Hyundai I had back home is being put to shame by these shiny clean things that aren’t filled with old garbage on the back seat and fossil fuels in its belly. I would have taken a pic of the charging stations outside my door, but I haven’t quite shaken my South African nervousness that someone’s going to call Chubb security on my brown ass for loitering outside and photographing their valuables.

4. Security

 

JotunJuli og August 2011Foto: Dag G. Nordsveen/nordsveenfoto.no

I get agoraphobic with all this open space. Source: Ifi-jentene

And speaking of security, this place is sorely lacking it. I can literally walk anywhere I want without being harassed, and it’s quite unnerving. Once I thought I was walking along a public path through a creepy forest and found myself in the middle of someone’s yard with their small child trying to give me half of his fish pudding. The pudding was disgusting, and exactly what you would expect of pudding made of fish, but it didn’t upset me as much as this lack of respect for formal boundaries and intimidating security measures. I helped myself sleep easier at night by putting stick-on Barb Wire tattoos on my 2nd story windows.

5. Symbolic Walls

houses

Houses in working-class vs fancy-shmancy parts of town. Source: Finn.no

While trespassing again on my neighbour’s property, I thought, “My, these people must be quite well-off”. They had a nice, big wooden house, a trampoline with a protective net around it, an electric car and a nice big garden. Later, I went to another area to trespass some more and was alarmed to find out that it was considered a far more upmarket, hoity-toity place than the one I lived in. But the houses looked the same, the car was equally shiny, the garden just as big and green. It turns out, wealth isn’t displayed in ways that the South African eye can see very easily. I can’t know that the paint on the house was purchased at a designer paint store, or that the Scandi-classic furniture I saw peering through the windows was from anywhere other than IKEA. How then, will I show off when I’ve made it?

6. Tea

twiningearlgrey

Be gone, Satan.

I don’t really want to talk about this. Just know, if you get offered tea at someone’s house, it won’t be Rooibos or even normal Ceylon. It will be Earl fucking Grey. You will also cause people to gag when you shovel three spoons of sugar into it, so just say no to anybody offering you tea. Cafes are no better because they’ll give you Earl Grey in a glass with no handles, and you’ll scald your hands while throwing it back in the face of the waiter.

7. Summer skis

Catalogue KV+Autrans

Image source: KV Plus

The sexiest Norwegian sport by far. Pull on a tight, spandex suit and a bicycle helmet. Then add a pair of skis with wheels at the bottom, two nifty ski poles, and hit the streets. Wheeeeeee, you could shout as you zoom by, but you won’t because people don’t shout here.

8. Pedestrian crossings

pedestrian2

This is how all Norwegians cross the road. Image source: Gooper

This one is very simple. In South Africa, they are pretty decorations to spruce up otherwise boring tarred roads, occasionally decorated with skid marks or blood splatter, but in Norway, people actually stop for you. It takes some getting used to. This applies everywhere, except Tromsø, where people sped up and tried to hit me mid-crossing after careening through the middle of a traffic circle. I don’t know what Tromsø’s problem is, but I shall pray that they get their shit together.

9. Kitchen conveniences

breaddrawer

Tell me it’s not evil. Image source: Pinterest

In many Norwegian kitchens, particularly older ones, there is a sneaky drawer that will somehow always find itself in the place of the drawer you actually want to open. It is the bread board drawer and it is evil. It can move to any spot in the kitchen at will, and make you burn your stew when you rush to get a ladle and accidentally open the bread board instead. This is not a drawer filled with bread boards, but rather a bread board that IS a drawer. I can’t explain its existence or even if I like it (it both horrifies and pleases me), but it is what it is.

10. Taking your shoes off indoors

socks

I will be investing in a few pairs. Image source: Peewee.com

Nobody needs to see my mismatched, holed-filled socks, but I didn’t make the rules here. Get used to dressing up all fancy, making a grand entrance, and then ruining it all by spending the rest of the night barefoot. Also, get used to people seeing you at your ACTUAL height. God damn.

11. Taps from the future

Picture 2632

Tell me how this works. Please, I haven’t showered in months. Image source: Iconic brassware.

If you can manage to find out how the rectangle in the shower turns the water on, you are very clever and not to be made a naked fool of, like me.

12. Drains & electric plugs in the bathroom

 

drain2

Image source: Megaflis.no

Why don’t we have this at home? OK I get the electric plug points, because I couldn’t figure out how to work that shower just now, so it’s safer for everybody, but the drain thing is incredible.

 

13. Bomb shelters in apartments

bomb.jpg

I think I’ll take my chances with the bomb. Image source: Dinside.no

Visiting the basement of large apartment blocks can be pretty thrilling, because they’re all bomb shelters, thanks to the Cold War. There are also huge shelters in the sides of mountains, tucked away in local forests that must be a great place for a party or for hiding all the people you killed who tried to give you Earl Grey tea in a glass.

14. Privacy

bell2

Well hello there, my new friends. Image source: Noraddressen.com

To find stuff out about someone you know (or want to know, hem hem), look them up online and you will find their name, address, phone number, and tax returns to see how much they earned in the last year. So many great stalking opportunities.

15. Recycling

bagsy2

Bagsy, the robot slave. Image source: GillesandCecelie.com

The Norwegians have cleverly created and enslaved a robot who has endured further humiliation by being called Bagsy and being made to parade for the masses for the recycling campaign. You can tell he doesn’t enjoy it by the way he smiles through his pain in his Twitter profile.

Bagsy

“Kill. Me.” Image source: Twitter.com 

Whatever, I do love the convenience of not having to trek my recycling to the Wynberg depot where I am shamed for how many boxes of wine I consume every week. Now I get to stick those boxes straight in their own bag and chuck it in the main garbage bin with the remnants of all my other vices. Until Bagsy emancipates himself, I’m going to be enjoying this convenience to its fullest.

bagsy4

Don’t do it, Bagsy. This is your destiny. Image source: Kreativtforum.no

It’s going to take some getting used to, being back here, but I suspect that it’ll be far more of them getting used to me than the other way around. I shall introduce them to some Flaketonian ways which might include saying subtly racist things to people I have just met, flaking out on social events, complaining about all weather (especially common ones like how much rain we’re having or how cold it is), and taking personal offense to others’ disregard for things I had no hand in (like the warmth of the seawater or the impressive number of people who die annually on my local ski slope). Welcome to me, Norway. Welcome to me.

 

The tale of the sloth, the fruitbat, and their paperless dinosaur (or the Horror at Home Affairs)

cover
Image sources: https://tinyurl.com/kksukqv, https://tinyurl.com/mrvwmlk, https://tinyurl.com/n4grs3a

Important note: Please do not let this terrify you from going the wonderful, exciting, stupendously awesome route to having kids that adoption can be. In fact, let our paperwork woes encourage you so that more people can put pressure on Home Affairs to get their act together. It also doesn’t only affect adoptees (this only delayed the process a little), but rather ALL people of foreign backgrounds who wish to obtain unabridged birth certificates.


The following story of adventure and intrigue is suitable for all audiences, but perhaps better suited for those with limited experience with South Africa’s unique and surprising governmental department known as The Department of Home Affairs. Not the sort of surprising that, say, receiving an unexpected bouquet of flowers can be, but rather the sort that is usually accompanied by “What’s that smell..?” and a quick scan through the house for where the cat you haven’t seen in a few days might be.

For those who have experienced prolonged exposure to said department, the following tale might prove to trigger terrible memories, heart palpitations, unpleasant sensations of being simultaneously squashed and stretched thin at the same time. Not unlike a well-chewed piece of Chappies gum, with the effect of coming out of the experience similarly discoloured, limp, and paperless.

It should be noted first, that the story is not a devastating one – largely because its author is very, very lucky. Mostly, she is lucky to have flexibility with her work, is financially not in as precarious or dire a position as many of Home Affairs’ other victims, and is not a refugee. Not being a refugee is key to being able to talk about this later and have a hope of being OK. For her, this story is just one of a fantastic myriad of inconveniences, not to be confused with life-threatening assaults on one’s human rights.

But enough about threats to life.


Prelude:

The story, as it goes, goes a little ways back to the year 2014. It was the year before everybody kept saying: “Thank god THAT year’s over”, and so I suppose it was a somewhat hopeful year.

In that same year, a small, dinosaur-shaped baby was born and destined to be delivered by stork (otherwise known as the adoption agency in Wellington) to eager and naive parents who told only started panicking about what they were about to do once they were sitting in the parking lot waiting to meet their baby. They had, at that moment also just discovered that they left the carefully-prepared bottle of formula in the bathroom at home (at this point they did not possess a kitchen, which is a story perhaps for another day), and so things looked like they were off to a rocky start.

Baby Dino and parents, let’s refer to them as an amiable sloth and a demented fruitbat – two guesses who’s who – meet for the first time very early in 2015. For many, this is a Bad year. But for the sloth, the fruitbat and the dinosaur, it is wonderful. It is a quick year wherein none of them get much sleep and is heavily peppered with cold and flu viruses and the viruses’ accompanying snot, but it is a good year all the same. The trio find harmony in their little life, and even manage to leave the house now and then to meet other creatures who can tolerate their strange habits and sleep schedules. The key here is that they are filled with Hope. Hope is a nice thing to be filled with, and completely different from other things like Dread, Despondency and Decrepitude, which the trio (mostly the fruitbat and the sloth, because the dinosaur continues to happily go about his life) are now well-acquainted with.

You see, things started off smoothly. When the dinosaur and his parents met, nobody complained about the missing bottle of formula and nobody told them to their faces that they were probably off to a bad start and should give up immediately. They said the opposite: “Oh what a pretty little family you are. Here’s a nice letter saying you’re legally in charge of this dinosaur, please make sure he is on a strict diet free of gluten and GMOs. No, look, you’re already giving him GMO gluten. Whatever, here’s your other piece of paper to say we’ve sent all your documents to court for approval. Give us a call in a few months, all will be well.

Months go by and the kind storks at the adoption agency are very helpful. But the fruitbat and the sloth receive their adoption order – the many beautiful pages of it – a little later than expected. They are relieved and overjoyed and they have a cake party with the dinosaur’s cousins and aunts and grandparents in the park. Even the sugar overload and ensuing sleepless night do not dampen their joy.

The adoption now needs to be registered. All the paperwork (the sloth & the fruitbat’s – including application forms, criminal checks from the sloth’s country, from SA, their earnings, the sloth’s visa status, their citizenship, identity documents, where they  lived previously, their marriage certificate, and vigorously approving letters by people who know them; not to mention the probable paperwork the dinosaur’s birth parents were required to submit) is now locked away and not to be used under any circumstances for registering the adoption. That is, the adoption is not to be registered at the same time that all the clever people reviewing the sloth and the fruitbat’s appropriateness to adopt the small and bitey dinosaur. It must have new paperwork, and requires the most dangerous and gruelling part of the journey: the interminable visits to The Department of Home Affairs.


Chapter 1 – Registration

“Would ticket One-hundred and seventy-‘to’ please go to counter ten. Ticket one-hundred and seventy-‘to'”, the calm, automated voice calls out. They appear to have programmed an excessively short ‘to’ to read out instead of ‘two’, and at first it is annoying, but after a few hours becomes something to look forward to, like the chorus in a pop song that you hate but you can’t help but tap your feet to.

Yellow walls and brown tiles fitted with long chrome benches. It’s a step up in some ways from the old Wynberg Home Affairs offices, and there is a handy cafe next door that is sometimes open and sells you chicken samoosas (they sell you the chicken no matter what it is you order, but they taste good if you’re not vegetarian) and cool drinks. It’s also conveniently located in a shopping mall, suspending you temporarily from the usual excitement of waiting outside where the living things are.

To register an adoption you need four forms. A notice of birth (to note his birth as it was originally registered), another notice of birth (to now note his new identity as your own dinosaur), a form to change his first name(s) and a form to change his last name(s). Take eight forms from the reception desk because you will probably make a mistake on one of them and have to re-do it. Don’t let your partner hold your pages for you because it is all too easy to lose track of your mind and start grumbling about how you’ve forgotten where you were born, what your mother’s favourite pet was called and what your first name is. Hold all the papers in the your lap, don’t lose sight of them and, by gods, don’t make a mistake because you will have to do it ALL OVER AGAIN.

After asking the person at the information desk for a third set of papers, a jolly young man with cheerful blond hair casually swept across his face like a young stud in Grease and his shirt collar popped up to show us that government officials can also make standard-issue uniforms embody a sense of personal flair, will take your forms and chew gum at you. Then he will see that you have made a mistake on form three and he will chuckle a little bit and get a fourth set of forms to fill out while you ask the person next to you if they remembered what your name was when you walked in earlier. Your eyes will be boggling by this point, so the person will try to shift away from you, but they can’t because the chairs are bolted to the ground and your sloth partner will stroke your head and shush you gently as you whimper.

It is but the beginning, after all. Whimper, friend, whimper.


Chapter 2 – The Wait

Once you have submitted your forms, you go home to wait. It is recommended that you resume life at this point, because the wait can be tremendous and your young dinosaur will be in need of feeding. He has a hefty appetite and has started chasing birds for food, so to prevent other people from frowning at you, continue going to work and feeding your family.

After six months, you will wake up one morning and ask your sloth partner:

“Partner…did we go to Home Affairs six months ago?”

“Yes, darling” he will say kindly, because he is always kind to you these days (fruitbats do not deal well with torment).

“Oh” you might say, before going back to sleep. But of course, you don’t go back to sleep because dinosaur woke up a few hours ago and is chewing through your bedding and has made his way to the fleshy bits of your feet and there is blood everywhere. You get up and clean up the blood and feed the baby his morning feast of exclusively GMO porridge with all the sugar you can find in the house. He doesn’t eat it of course, because he is thirsty for flesh, but you finish it along with last night’s fish fingers because the extra weight you’re now carrying around your middle has become as comforting as having a friend at your side(s) all day.


Chapter 3 – A period of nagging

Ten months have now passed since you applied to make your child a fully-fledged member of society with his name, ID and parents registered for all the world to see. His original birth certificate with his original ID number is still attached to the adoption order you received from the high court and you think: at least he has a name and is not somewhere in limbo, nameless & paperless.

But this would be a silly thought, because Limbo exists, even for us non-religious types, and it is in the place where the chrome seats, the yellow walls and the fluorescent lights are. Yes, it is The Department of Home Affairs, more specifically, the Wynberg office on the first floor of Maynard Mall.

You see, when things are getting a little urgent, and your partner needs to leave the country (oh, not for anything major, just a milestone birthday for his father, his only brother’s wedding, the birth of his nephew, his father’s emergency surgery, seeing his sister for a rare visit in years, to visit his elderly grandparents’, nothing major, just those ordinary everyday things), you will start making phone calls to various people at Home Affairs whose numbers you got in Facebook forums and complaints departments.

“Hello Mr —-, thank you for taking my call.”

“Ah, Mr Sloth & Ms Fruitbat. Yes, it seems we’ve lost your forms that you sacrificed a permanent piece of your sanity to fill out and that has caused your one eye to twitch every time you smell printer ink”

“Noorrgff!” you will say with eloquence.

If you keep saying this to him and texting this to him and e-mailing this to him, he will eventually e-mail you back with something very exciting. Young dinosaur will have a new ID number and name!

“We celebrate tonight!” you both shout at each other and there will be dim sum and cheap sparkling wine. Baby dinosaur is blissfully ignorant of everything and wakes up extra early the next morning, before the dim sum has been fully digested, and the wine is still somewhere in your chest, head & stomach area.



Chapter 4 – Disappointment

This chapter touches on the folly of getting one’s hopes up when one deals with The Department of Home Affairs. It reveals that you as applicant, and only you, are to blame for this silly emotional response to what should clearly be a time of pessimism and skepticism despite the signals being given by said Department.

Upon your return to the First Floor of Maynard Mall, you have got a little wise to the ins and outs of the place and have discovered that there is sometimes a golden hour in which to arrive. Do not come too late – you might never get in. But do not come too early (unless you arrive there long before opening to wait the dark hours with fellow hopefuls in the before the doors open. Please note: NEVER go during school holidays.). If you are clever you will come sometime after lunch – around 2pm, when most people have given up and have left to cry or return to work or their babies have started university.

“Next!” the neat woman with the soft cardigan & the tightly-pulled pony-tail will shout, hopefully, at you.

I triumphantly announce to her that I’ve received a call from none other than Mr —- in Pretoria who has informed me that I can print my child’s unabridged birth certificate.

“Clickety-clickety-click” goes her keyboard. I hum happily to myself, looking at the poor suckers around me. Young dinosaur has accompanied us, as we thought we’d be clever and get his passport at the same time. I ponder how to distract him long enough to get his passport photo taken.

“I’m sorry,” I hear her say, except I don’t hear this at all, I refuse to hear it, and I smile a frozen smile that can only indicate that I have recently smelled printer ink.

“It seems your child’s name has been changed, and he has his new ID number, but you are not listed as his parents. I can’t print this for you, because it’s basically rubbish.”

“I see” I say, and then look back at her.

“Clickety-clickety-click” I say next, looking at her computer.

“What?” she says.

“Oh sorry, I’m not talking to you, I was talking to your computer. I’m sure it can sort this out.”

“You don’t understand” she says, taking the Tone. The Tone that has already started to indicate to the hungry people behind me that I’ve used up my allotted time at her desk and am now cutting into their time, for which I might have to suffer Consequences.

“You don’t understand,” she repeats, “I can’t do anything. You’ll have to sort this out with Pretoria.”

Sloth-partner gently looms in from behind me and calmly explains to the neat person his important instructions from the official in Pretoria, and his zen-like presence is enough to make her hail her manager and pass this vital information on to her. An hour later we are given more blank forms to fill out, but my partner is smart enough to distract me with the flashlight on his phone while he patiently fills it all out correctly on the first try. We leave with the promise of an e-mail later that day or early the next.

A couple of weeks later I send out polite Enquiries, and receive word that our case is finalised. We call Wynberg Home Affairs.

“Clickety-clickety-clack” we hear before the voice says, “Sorry m’am, I don’t know why they said it was finalised. We still can’t print it for you. Nothing’s changed.”

“But you were the one who sent me the e-mail to say it was finalised.”

“Yes.”

“So you see my trouble”

“Yes. Well, no.”

“So…why did you say it was finalised when it wasn’t?”

“Sorry a minute, the computer is just…”

“Clickety-clickety-clack”

“Are you still there?”

“Clickety-clickety-clack”

“It’s just-“

“Clickety-clickety-“

“I was wondering -“

“Clickety-click-“

“Can you-“

“Clickety-“

“I don’t-“

“CLICKETY-“

“…”

“CLICK-“

“…”

“Click”


Chapter 5 – Affairs outside of Home

If you have the misfortune of being from anywhere other than South Africa, you should aim to become South African at your earliest convenience. This will naturally be hampered by a series of impossible tasks, quests and insults to your person, but in the end you will probably give up, leaving you wiser, if not stronger. Once you have determined that you are unable to become South African, you will have to inform your own government (depending on how badly they are interested in these things) of the fact that you are currently in possession of a child who has the good fortune – unlike you – of being South African and the misfortune of being  your child – wherever the hell you come from. Depending on who your government is, they might either be pleased or irked at having been given this information, so use your discretion.

To register your child as having been adopted, some governments (e.g. the Norwegian government where patient sloths are known to originate and flourish) require fortified documentation so they can be absolutely sure that you are not lying to them. So they will ignore the ten thousand checks you had to endure to simply obtain the set of documents you already have proud possession of – that is, the adoption order, the original birth certificate, his new unabridged birth certificate (in our case, still pending, pending), proof that you are not a felon, proof that you are not a pervert, proof that you are generally an upstanding and tax-paying member of society. To convince them that you are the real deal, a legitimate person with documents proving that you are human, that your child is human, that your child is a child and your child and not, in fact, a dinosaur which has been extinct for millions of years, you need to get an Apostille stamp on all of your documents.

apostille copy

Apostille Stamp

Eight years ago I applied for just such a stamp when attempting to do something as stupid as getting married and it immediately made me realise the gravity of the thing I was doing because it was issued as a sort of wax stamp with green ribbons sticking out of it. Anything sealed in wax is uncomfortably impressive and makes you think, so I spent some time wondering if getting married was really the right choice for me. Fortunately, for myself and hopefully Sloth agrees, I decided that marriage would be OK after all, and here we are almost nine years later not filled with regret yet, but possibly with regret sneaking up in quick waves as we deal with all the paperwork marriage and children have entailed.

The next journey of the quest became a little bit frustrating, all the more because all of this occurs during working hours only, meaning that at least one person at any one time should be available to do all of this. If you, like us, are not flush with cash, skipping work in order to legitimise your child’s identity can be quite frustrating.

But we trundled on.

Apostille’s can be applied for at the High Court. It’s a fancy building just off Long St and you can head straight through the Western Cape Government buildings on Wale Street to reach it. This building is boring, so just walk through and don’t look at anybody and if anyone makes contact, just look straight ahead and keep walking. This way they will know you are on a serious mission and won’t try to distract you with questions about how well you think they are running their website these days and what your phone number is so they can call you before election time to ask you about which group of historically marginalised people to next evict to make way for luxury housing.

At the high court, be sure to do what we did and find a stranger who knows where he is going and pretend you’re not following him. The corridors are long and winding, so don’t lose sight of this person as there are rumours of dungeons or cells down there. The desk that issues the Apostille stamp is on the floor below the entrance, down a pretty maze of corridors and, inexplicably, behind another long desk and past a sign that says that “Members of the public are not to go beyond this point”. Because the sign is just made of paper, you are presumably allowed to move beyond that point unmolested, and behind the rows of dusty shelves, you will reach the desk you are looking for. Be sure to thank the man who didn’t know you were following him for showing you the way.

Stand politely and wait. Don’t dance. Don’t sing. Just wait. A smile will probably be acceptable. A person will come to you under another paper sign that is dubiously spelled, and she will look at your documents, and you will know that concluding this part of your journey will never be as easy as coming into a building, finding the right person, and getting what you came for.

“Who is the person who signed this document?” you will be asked by the person at the desk.

You tell her, scanning the pages between you, finding the signature just above the very official-looking stamp from the court and wondering again why the Norwegian government finds this lovely stamp to be wanting and demands wax and ribbons on top of it all.

“I see the person who signed didn’t write their name & surname on the page, so I’m not sure who signed it” she will add.

“Yes” you say, nervously. “Where should their name be written? How strange that they would issue an incomplete form.”

“No, it isn’t incomplete. There’s nowhere for their name to go and they’re not supposed to write their names down. But for you to get this nice stamp, I need them to write their names down so I can put it in my computer.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“It is a very nice stamp, I suppose.”

“I know.”

“Can’t you just write the surname down? It’s there, in the signature.”

“Do you want this stamp?”

“Most certainly.”

“Then find the person who signed this and get them to write their name down for you. Come back then and I’ll give you the stamp.”

“Where do I find them?”

“I don’t know, it looks like they’re in Bellville”

“Surely not Bellville! I hate Bellville.”

“Yes, me too. But there you have it.”

I turn to leave. But she stops me and my hopes are, momentarily, raised.

“Wait – see this here?” she points to the birth certificate at the back of the documents (I don’t dare tell her it’s the wrong one and that I’m still waiting for his new one). “We don’t issue Apostilles for that one. You need to get that from The Department of Home Affairs.

“But I’m already having to go to Bellville. Isn’t that punishment enough?”

“Apparently not.”

“Um, say, do you think I could have a word with your computer directly?”

“What?”

“You know, the computer that is insisting on this name from the woman in Bellville – perhaps if I just reasoned with -“

“Go away”

“OK”


Chapter 6 – Bellville

“It’s not so bad out here, really,” Sloth-partner is full of cheer this morning and it’s not helpful to anybody.

We ease the car through a small crowd of people outside the courthouse and find a parking spot not far from the entrance. Small victories.

A good tip for getting things from the courthouse in Bellville is to be Observant.

Observe the crowd standing outside of the courthouse and observe that they are not relaxed. When you drive your vehicle – bicycle, car, lorry, whatever – smoothly through a convenient parting in the crowd, think to yourself: why is this group of people so conveniently parted for me? Is it because they are law-abiding people and don’t wish to obstruct a public road? Is it because they think I have a very nice hatchback and want to stop and look a little longer at my Hyundai? Or is it because they are two opposing halves of a quite acrimonious argument about something not altogether legal? Be assured that it will be the latter. Because nobody likes your old car.

When you reach the doors to the courthouse, a crush of people might be trying to get in.

“Wow, what a popular place to come to at ten in the morning” Sloth-partner will muse. You nod in agreement. You don’t know how the people of Bellville like to spend their time.

The policeman will shout something like: “Those who leave here will do so at their own risk!”

“Excuse me” you squeak at the policeman who has suddenly become at least a foot taller than he appeared before entering and is now eyeballing you furiously from above.

“What?” his eyeball will shout.

“What do you mean by ‘at their own risk’. Do you mean the risk of losing their place in the queue?”

At this point his eyeball will be in danger of exploding at you so you wish you hadn’t said anything, but it manages to shout quite loudly for an eyeball:

“WHY ARE YOU BEING SO DIFFICULT?!”

“—-“

“YOU COME HERE IN THE MIDDLE OF A GANG FIGHT. MEN ARE STABBING AND GUNS ARE DRAWN AND YOU ARE SQUEAKING THINGS AT ME THAT MAKE NO SENSE”

“—-“

There is nothing to say at this point and when the lady at the security check confiscates your lunch box with your peanut butter sandwiches you say nothing. This is the smartest thing you will do all day.

Do note that when you get to the magistrates court, nobody will appear to work there beyond the shouting eyeball and the security guard who confiscates sandwiches.

Find your way to the family court section. Find a nice lady in a nice office with a soft voice who makes you forget gang fights and policemen and rumbling stomachs where sandwiches were supposed to be. Don’t get despondent when she looks puzzled by your request to find the person who signed your papers. Don’t lose heart when she says: “This person is in Pretoria”. She is very helpful and will track down the Pretoria person (I now believe that anybody who can ever help me with anything anywhere is based in Pretoria) and then tell you (and get ready to embrace despondency now) that the person is on leave. And nobody can be certain when she will get back. And nobody else can issue you with the piece of paper with her name on it that says she signed the adoption order. Nobody in the whole building, the whole of Pretoria, the whole country. Except this person. Who is on leave.

You leave Bellville Magistrate’s court significantly deflated – so deflated that you forget to retrieve your lunchbox and your peanut butter sandwiches. It was a very nice lunch box. A fancy one given you by some friends with clip locks and a brand name. This will be all you have to show for your Bellville trip.



Chapter 7 – Hope

If you, like me, are dangerously averse to conflict, you’re going to dread this part. Here is where you have to do:

Learn how to use Twitter.

Tweet the shit out of your problems and do so regularly to the Twitter account of the Department of Home Affairs. They don’t care or anything, but incongruously their social media team will respond very quickly saying that somebody will contact you. It’s very cathartic. It’s so nice to have soothing things said to you. It feels a little bit like having your head gently stroked while somebody inserts a long probe in your ear (I said EAR) to poke around and see what they can extract from your bureaucracy-addled brain.

Then use Facebook and people in adoption groups will send you e-mail addresses and contact numbers. Contact all of the people whose addresses and numbers you get. Tell them you’re distressed. Tell them about how frustrating it is that your young dinosaur is being disrespected by not getting identity papers. That it’s irksome (and confusing for him) for health professionals to call him by the wrong name because the medical aid will only list him by what’s on his birth certificate. That pretty much they’re violating a court order that guarantees you the right to a birth certificate in your child’s name and with you and your partner listed as his parents.

Once again, nobody will care, but along with the tweets, the calls and the messages to Home Affairs complaints department, you could get lucky. We were kind of lucky in that somebody DID contact us, he had someone in his office call me a few days later, and she chased our case up for us. A few weeks later, it’s still not resolved, but she gave me her direct line, so it’s progress.

And after a trip to an out-of-town Home Affairs office, we are now in possession of a birth certificate! Well, half of one. It has our kid’s name on it, his ID number, my name (though apparently I now come from a town I particularly despise, which I’m sure will come to haunt me later, like at election time), and a nice blank gap where my partner’s name should be. They’ve put neat lines in place of his name, which I think looks quite nice and doesn’t highlight the gaping hole at all. We’re tempted to write his name in pencil where the lines are and hope nobody notices.


Chapter 8 – Consolidation

Give yourself the opportunity to celebrate a little. After all, you have a birth certificate which gives one of you the right to send him off to boarding school if he acts up too much. That’s a joke, we don’t have boarding school kind of money.

The best thing at this point is not to be pressed for time. We had a deadline of 6 months from the start of the year to get our asses to sloth’s homeworld because of the important family-related things we have to do there around June.

Four months in, we’re starting to feel the pressure. We now have:

  • 1 birth certificate with just a fruitbat for a parent
  • 1 adoption order missing a name for the person who signed it

Fortunately, there are some great people involved with adoptions. They’re kind and patient and answer their phones. One such person (the person in Pretoria who was on leave and has since returned to her office) sent us a fancy piece of paper yesterday as proof that she signed it. So now we have the adoption order and can take it to the high court to get the Apostille stamp.

The birth certificate must be couriered to Pretoria Home Affairs for its Apostille stamp. This is how that conversation went with the person who handles this (he is not the same person in Pretoria who has handled anything else at this point):

“Can you come here to get the stamp?”

“Sorry, we live in Cape Town”

“Do you know anyone who can do it for you?”

“Er…”

“OK, courier it over”

“Thanks, I’m so grate-“

“Wait! I’m not done. I need to have it notarised first”

“OK, I’ll do that and send it”

“Nope, it has to be notarised in Pretoria. Or else it’s out of my jurisdiction”

“You are joking of course”

“I’m not. You poor fool. I feel so sorry for you that I’m going to notarise it for you here. But it costs R400. Can you put that in an envelope and send it?”

“For sure! Anything! Thank you!”

At this point you’re so grateful you’re willing to offer the person anything – your left kidney, for example – for being so kind and helping you wade through this system designed specifically to turn gentle souls into bloodthirsty lunatics. For the first time I understood what motivated the Reavers in Firefly – they too must have tried to get unabridged birth certificates from The Department of Home Affairs. 

“Thank you thank you,” you continue to say on the telephone to the kind man in Pretoria.

“Yes yes, that’s enough”

“I’ll send it all tomorrow. You can’t know how grateful I am. Are you sure I can’t send anything else? I have a spare kidney I’m not using now”

“Just send the money and the document”

“OK. It’s in very good condition though, I’ve lived a healthy life and we have good genes in-“

“Please stop, I don’t want your kidney”

“OK, well”

“Or any other body part. Just the document and the R400 fee”

“It fits in the same envelope I’ll put the money in”

*Click*

When you try to courier R400 along with your document at PostNet the next day, they will either a) call the police or b) tell you that you’re doing something illegal before calling the police. You (or rather sloth-partner) will call the kind man in Pretoria and ask if perhaps there is a less illegal way of doing this and he will remember about EFTs and online banks and tell you he forgot it was the 21st century and you can just send him the money that way. Relief.

By next week we will have:

  • 1 adoption order with the name of the person who signed it & an Apostille stamp.
  • 1 half a birth certificate without Sloth-partner’s name & an Apostille stamp.

This we will send it all off (along with proof of residence & other ID docs for ourselves) to the authorities in sloth’s home country to register. Nothing can happen until this is registered. This, we’ve been told, takes another 3 months. It also requires us sending our original documentation to Norway, something we’re nervous about, but have to trust. I’m considering sending them a preemptive kidney as thank you for not losing our documents.

Once child is registered, we can apply for VISAS! This will be the exciting stage where we wait to see if I’m desirable or not by Norwegian standards and it can be a very nerve-wracking time because Norwegian standards are high and I’m a fairly deranged sort of fruitbat with zero standards and an inclination to offer internal organs as a show of gratitude.

The standard procedure for visa applications is to make the application with the Kr3000 fee which you reluctantly hand over to the person behind the bullet-proof glass at the consulate, and then act totally normal until you leave the building. Don’t give her what you think of as a pleasant grin, because in this state of anxiety your grin can only be perceived as disturbing and she will automatically reject your application. Don’t play a joke on her by pretending to have a gun to shoot at the bullet proof glass because she will also automatically reject your application and do some other things as well like phone the police and you’re tired of having people saying they’re going to phone the police on you. Don’t ask her if the terrifying picture of the deathly landscape on the wall is an artist’s representation of hell because it will be a photograph of her childhood town in Northern Norway and she will just tear up your application in front of you. Just give her the application, the money, and leave.

Then you wait. I don’t know how long this wait is. I haven’t even got into the queue yet.

And there you have it! A short (I lie) tale of navigating the adoption process as a family from 2 different countries, one of them being South Africa and terrorised by The Department of Home Affairs. Since I’ve started writing this post, a cabinet reshuffle has shuffled out the Minister of Home Affairs, which raised my hopes, but then I saw where he was reshuffled to, and I fear that the reign of tyranny might not be over.

If you, or anyone you know needs advice on a similar process, please leave a comment with your question and I will send you all the numbers I have in my armory.

I will also leave updates on how far we are and if any success is to be had beyond hiring a lawyer (this costs upwards of R75 000, btw, unless you join a class action suit) to get the unabridged birth certificate.

The End

Defending the Failure to Cope

Recently I’ve been receiving a lot of encouraging and supportive messages from the people I meet and people I know. I appreciate it because it keeps me going strong and makes me feel as though I can conquer the world! However, the unintended effect of this praise also has me feeling a little unsure, a little brittle and worried: what if I can’t keep it up? What will happen if people see me fail?

Here’s some context. I thought I was very clever when I signed up to do my master’s full time and renew a work contract for my research job in the same year that I had a baby. At one point I even decided to take on a second job and – thank god it was short-lived – I was laughed at by my growing workload and mocked until I cried.

As I’ve mentioned, people have been fantastically supportive in their commentary on my lifestyle. Not a single person has attempted to tell me what a ‘mother’ should be, and I have been basking in the warmth of their praise for some time now. “Woohoo! I did it! I passed my course! I earned some money! I’m king-mother!”

It’s a good feeling. And it’s the only one I allow myself to feel – partly because it keeps me going, and partly because, well, I always feel it’s a little inappropriate to feel something else. When somebody asks how you’re doing, you’re supposed to say ‘Fine!’, right? Right. And in truth, I am fine. I’m mostly fine. Sometimes I’m wonderfully fine. One has to be as courteous in conversation and in general real-life manner as one has to be on Facebook. Cute family photos and holiday pics to show just what a kick-ass coper you are. Hmm, I don’t think coper is a word – oh looky, the red line tells me no – but I’m going to go with it.

The other day, I saw a Facebook status update that was pretty raw. It was an acquaintance I had met some time ago sharing some truths about the demons he struggles with and thanking the people who had helped him survive a very scary emotional time. It hurt in an uncomfortable way to read it because there was a lot of truth in it. And truth isn’t something I’m accustomed to sharing about myself. I wrote to him to thank him for the post, because it eloquently and accurately described dark times in my life. And I don’t mean my distant past. I mean dark times from a few weeks ago.

I want to share some truth now. Mostly because I know a lot of people who struggle with demons daily too – they may not be the same as mine, they may not be regular, but they are there. And every time I get a pat on the back for not being one of those people that sinks under the pressures of life, I feel as though I’ve added a little more weight to their burdens. Because they (and I – and we) also have to bear the burden of not showing our true struggles. Our struggles are unpleasant and inconvenient and a little boring to others. So we don’t share the real and we just Facebook-filter the lot. And then I get a ‘Whoa, you’re coping so well! You’re always so chilled. Always so cheerful. I know a lot of parents who complain all the time. I know a lot of people who are miserable. Go you!”

Yeah, go me. I am mostly chilled and I’m annoyingly cheerful when I want to be. It’s intense. But beneath the cheer and the chilled is first and foremost: my long-suffering partner. The poor guy is the essence of chill and I’m convinced that if I could bottle it I could be rich. Here’s how I managed to be studying, working parent: a partner who breaks his back to make this happen. He was a stay-at-home parent for 6 months before baby went to creche, and when I have a bunch of crazy deadlines, he takes care of the baby while I burn the midnight oil. And then he even proofreads my papers for me or bounces ideas off me. Winning at life often means leaning heavily on other people. My parents, my partner, my sisters, my friends. And I don’t want to bring them up every time somebody says ‘Well done’, but I don’t know how not to. Also, I have a hard time accepting that this is often how parenting works. Because, well, women don’t expect this sort of thing.

Then there’s the other thing underneath the cheerful coping: misery. Half of the time – the half where you probably don’t see me, I’m fucking miserable. Because it’s hard to keep reminding yourself of the end goal every day. And on top of it, I still carry with me icky stuff from outside of my work and family environment like bouts of depression, surges of anger, disordered eating, terrible insecurity, addictive behaviours, apathy, anxiety, a body that sometimes isn’t in the best of health (and I don’t mean fitness). People have actually laughed at me when I mention that I suffer from overwhelming shyness. Me! The clutzy, loudmouth person who was once told by a rando on the street that I walked like a stomping soldier (which pleased me). It’s hard to be many things at once to people, so I don’t mention that my characteristic optimism is part of the show. It’s a survival technique, sure, and it proves that ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ works – for a bit. I don’t mention that sometimes I don’t want to leave the house and that this can last for days (and my partner tolerates it but I can’t do this any more with the baby). I don’t talk about the support groups I go to for handling my addictions. Or just the bleak, dark, dark depression which envelops and doesn’t let me out for a while, and which I’m terrified of passing on to my child. Mental illness is so taboo, right? We shall not succumb!

No weakness! No weakness ever. As a woman, currently having to play the ‘dad’ role in a parenting relationship, trying to tell myself that I’m not a failure for not having my career sorted out at 32 years old, competing in a world that values men more than women and male traits more than female, I can’t show weakness. King-mom. When somebody told me the other day, ‘You drive like a woman’, I was initially angry. Furious. But then, I thought: perhaps this was a compliment? I drive safely? I use the handbrake when I’m fucking supposed to? I don’t show off? What the fuck did he mean? I no longer drive like a taxi driver? Whatever. Why did I assume it was an insult? I’m primed to hate myself for the very thing which I think has made me successful and which I should take credit for. The social skills I learned from being socialised as a woman. It’s part of my survival technique. But it’s also part of my misery.

Well, enough about societal sexism (although it is probably the largest influencing factor in my daily struggles because it affects every part of my life: perceptions of success, failure, caring; feelings about my body, my relationships, my family, etc.). What I’m really wanting to say is: I don’t think I’m doing better than anybody else. I am proud of the achievements I’ve made this year, but no more proud than I am of the people who have helped me do it. Also, there is no shame in showing your ‘weakness’ or just how much you struggle. I get that there is an appropriate level of sharing and that we have reciprocal relationships with other people so we can’t simply burden them with all of our woes. But maybe we should cut ourselves (and others) a little more slack & just let struggles be shown for what they are.

I still don’t know how to talk about bad stuff. I find myself making up fake (positive) excuses for why I can’t do things or why I need something just to avoid having somebody think that I need their pity or that I am burdening them with my problems. Rubbish. Next time I’ll just pick up the phone and ask for help. As soon as I learn how to frame the words.

Google Image Search Makes a Mockery of My Dreams

I’m, like, proper grown up now. For my last birthday I received from my partner a toolbox and a barbell. Life has become about the practical. My dad also saw fit to give me a book on raising calm children, so I spent the weekend trying to train my baby like that dog in Vendetta (if you hadn’t read this short story in Matric, you’re too young to be interacting with me).

But part of being grown up means that sometimes I have grand ideas to do DIYish things. The always fail, but I get to enjoy the chaos that is living in my DIY filth for a good while.

The last grand idea I got was to create some sort of underbed storage for all the wonderful DIY crap I’m starting to hoard. And of course to create new DIY mess. So I did a search for inspiration. This is what Google images turned up to my innocent request:

underbed-storage-drawers-ideas

Now this is the kind of Pinterest porn I’m looking for. Lofty (haha, sorry) inspiration that is so entirely unachievable that it will remain in dream-phase forever and I will enjoy the very potential that it possesses, with no likelihood of inducing guilt because it’s really not within any realm of possibility. But it looks nice, right? I will one day have a Pinterest-worthy bedroom, complete with that pretty filter they use to take the pictures. Also, I will never be messy and leave my shoes on the floor ever again. Because I will have a bedroom that looks like this and which I made myself. I am god. Continue reading

Precious words and important advice

Months have passed since my last post. Much has happened, of course, most notably my sheer and utter neglect of most of my pastimes and projects (duh, like this blog).

So instead of feeling sorry about it, I’m going to relish in a little streak of obnoxiousness by saying that it secured me a some pretty delightful grades in my first two master’s courses & saw me failing just a little less at my job. Oh, and my baby lives to tell the tale too. But that’s all on him. I don’t know where he gets his beans from. He’s full of them!

I’m stopping by here today to share a little wisdom now that my brain seems to have received a stamp of approval from some higher beings sitting inside the UCT ivory tower and wisdom is what I am undoubtedly full of. It is this:

If you suspect, even for a microsecond, that the cottage cheese you are eating might be off (I’m going to do the rest in CAPS because this is very important), DON’T EAT IT. I know this, because I have not not eaten it (that is, I consumed it with a mix of relish and suspicion) on numerous occasions. All of which did not end well for me nor any who might have sought out my company in the hours which followed.

That is it. Oh, also, the same applies to fish.

I am now off to further neglect this blog for a short while while I try to recover some of the lovely relationships I built during the Claremont Histories project & complete an unrelated assignment which I know will bore me as much as I am sure it will bore the person who gave it to me. Well, I can only hope he suffers too.

Also, bugger you wordpress and your new layout, you lost me precious words just now. Precious words! Oh, you don’t remember any words? Convenient!

Bye

cottage cheese