Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

It’s official, I left South Africa on this day exactly 3 weeks ago and what a few weeks it’s been.

You may be sitting there thinking to yourself “What is this woman blubbering about, 3 weeks is nothing?!” but 3 weeks feels like a lifetime when you’re in a foreign country getting used to a foreign way of life without your husband and your children. In fact, 3 weeks is nothing when I’m going to be here for another 13 or so weeks without them.

In the short time I have been here, between my husband and I, we have managed to accomplish a tremendous amount of things, even though it doesn’t feel like it because when one task is completed, another two crop up. Each task costs a pretty penny and each step limited by some form of governmental ruling that we cannot get past… We just have to hang in there, do everything the correct way and hope that all goes just as we hope. In 3 weeks I have moved countries, moved in with friends, started a new job, nailed (well almost) the public transport system, gotten a bank account, made new friends, applied for my national insurance number and lastly (but not at all least) viewed and hopefully almost secured our new home – that’s right, it looks like I’ll have a place to live! This is exciting stuff…

So, I thought I’d do a short informative breakdown on what I’ve done so far, for those hoping to do the same (Move cross country) and haven’t a clue where to start… I’m not 100% there yet, I don’t even have furniture, but I’m getting close and I can feel it. My next step after securing my home will be my move and then school applications which I will cover nearer the time once I’ve verified the information I’ve gathered.

1. Moving countries.

This is up to you, you have to make the decision to get on a plane, but when you do, have a look at airlines like Qatar Airlines (via Doha) and fly at an off peak period, midweek. I paid ZAR3200 for a one way including taxes with 30kgs baggage… Almost enough to put your life into. Don’t forget about the move cube I’d mentioned in a previous blog, this is useful for sending your personals to make your new house feel a little more like home.

2. Living

If you can afford to move into a house of your own when you arrive, good on you, I couldn’t. Find someone you know and love who won’t get irritated with you (that much) who can help you. Trust me when I say you’re gonna need all the help you can get.

3. Job

Let’s be honest, it can be really difficult finding a job from South Africa without actually going in for an interview. I was lucky, I found a company willing to take a chance on me – they were open to telephonic and Skype interviews, suggest this! I did go through a recruiter and he was extremely understanding of my situation. Let your CV speak for itself and be completely honest, you’d be surprised how many people are willing to assist. I mentioned Reed in earlier posts, go back and have a read :)

4. Public Transport.

Google maps is amazing, if you’re not sure just google. I was lucky that my friend travelled with me on day one to show me the ropes, it’s pretty easy when you get the hang of it. You will get off at the wrong stop, sometimes you will get on the wrong train, you may have to phone a friend and that’s ok. I downloaded a myriad of bus / train apps for up to date information but when in doubt, read or ask. I have had to stop many times to find out where to and how, rather that than a nervous breakdown at the station. I do a monthly seasonal ticket, works out considerably cheaper and may be useful if you plan on a daily commute. You will, like me, realize the advantages of living close to work and try to reduce traveling times and cost.

5. Bank account

Tricky, but possible. You will have to shop around, especially without a utility bill, but Halifax helped me and I’m certain they will help you to. Once I’d applied, I received the online banking activation code one day, my card the next and my pin another… It’s frustrating having to wait but they do come, just be patient. The amazing thing, no queues!

6. National insurance

You’re going to need an appointment if you’re a British passport holder I’m afraid. It’s a quick call to the Job Centre, they will ask you for your postal code and will set up the soonest possible appointment for you nearest your area. Do your homework though, mine was made for Oxford (miles away) and I called back to change it to Woking (On a friend’s advice). They called me with a cancellation, in I went and 20 minutes later I had an application in with an up to 6 week waiting period for my number. If you were born here and your parents claimed family benefits for you, make note of that as they can find you on the system, hopefully issuing you a number sooner. Also, no queues.

7. Finding somewhere to live

I guess this is all about preference. It means a strict budget and knowing when to turn down possibilities for being outside of that budget. Remember, you’re not just paying rent, you’re paying council tax as well as the utilities… It all adds up. Get onto rightmove.co.uk which is great for available properties for which you can search by area. Once you’ve found a few you like, go and view them – investigate the area, investigate the schools etc. The council websites are extremely helpful with all the information you need, right down to the council band which you can search for by postal code. You’ll get a breakdown of what council tax you need to pay and just how it’s spent – council tax is paid over 10 months. There will be admin fees involved and the deposit is heavy, 6 weeks rent plus a month upfront – be warned. Also, your salary dictates the value of rent you qualify to pay. If you earn less than the rent you’re wanting to undertake, you’ll need a guarantor who earns the required salary to guarantee the rent payments for you, they too will be referenced and checked.

If you’re planning on moving and have any questions about anything so far, give me a shout and I’ll help as best I can :D

After my amazing trip to Reunion, the TIR (Travel Industry Review) featured some pictures and an article on the destination… I’m on Page 1 (Front cover) and Page 12 ! Why not have a look?

http://www.tir.co.za/digitalmagazine/14/oct14/

image

Having only been here two weeks (officially arrived two weeks ago today) it’s impossible not to make constant comparisons between my birth (now home) country and the country I grew up in. It’s easy to be a South African sitting in South Africa constantly moaning about the state of the country and how green the grass is on the other side of mud island, once you’re here it’s a whole other ball game – even better than you can imagine!

There are ups and there are downs, as with anything in life. Right now, I’m missing my husband and my girls so much that I forget to stop and smell the roses so to speak. I forget just how amazing this country truly is and don’t put much thought into the day to day differences that suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks today. I thought I’d list a few of them, home truths, dreams that have become my reality and give you insight into every day life here in jolly old.

Public transport works.

It’s an amazing thing this ‘public transport’. All races, religions, ages and creeds use public transport in the UK – From the average cross country trains and the London Underground to buses and cabs, there is an option for all wage brackets. That said, you pay for public transport to work… I travel from Crowthorne to Wokingham, Wokingham to Virginia Water and Virginia Water to Chertsey every day (Morning and evening), that trip costs me £16 a day (or £260 for a monthly season ticket) – that’s a big chunk of change out of my salary, I assure you – AND that’s without even touching London central. Sure, cars here are well affordable and you get to pump your own gas but those costs add up just as quickly and we won’t even discuss traffic on the M25 or lack of parking in London. Did I mention that there are no taxi’s? Oh, also, there are no taxi’s!

Self service and laziness.

The Brits are just as lazy as they are independent. Here, you have to ‘pump your own gas’ and yet you can get food, beer and cigarettes delivered to your door (just about anything actually) at any time of the day or night. Sure, you can make use of the self service check out at Tesco’s but because you’re spoiled for choice, we will put 4 hair dressers on one short street. Why not? It’s rather confusing and complicated to get used to… I’m getting there slowly :)

Old people

Wow, no offense to anyone but there are a lot. Or maybe it’s just that you see them because their bodies are younger than they are thanks to this amazing climate and they get themselves out and about into the world?! The reality is that I don’t think the pensions are nearly enough to keep them comfortably going… Or, out in the sticks, they’re so bored all they want to do is be around people. At my local Sainsburys, the trolley collector (yes, it’s a job) is about 90 in the shade and yet takes those trolleys back to their houses every day with a smile on his face… Either that or the 88 year old cashier caught his eye. It’s cute, all these really old people, I’m gonna live for ages!

A different era

Perhaps it’s just where we live or where I work or maybe we went into Camden on a rough day but I’m pretty certain that most of England thinks they’re living in the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s – not that I’m complaining at all – only with earphones. The men, well, there are three types. Rough and tough, bearded, tattooed and Doors looking regulars. Metrosexuals with a comb over, brown pointy toes shoes, grey suits and an upside down newspaper. Lastly, the ‘chav’, grey tracksuit pants, high tops and quite probably a pony tail – they like to say ‘Blood’ a lot. Anyone else is foreign. The lines between fashion senses are pretty definitive. When it comes to women, there isn’t much of one style persay but as mentioned in a previous blog, camel toes are acceptable as are mustard yellow leggings, brown cardigans and purple hair (all combined). It’s safe to say, the most eclectic people get to live in England and it’s completely normal.

Food

… Is awesome. Bland as all hell. Just the way I like it. Sure, they don’t know that a kebab is actually a pita bread and Fanta Orange is supposed to be Orange, but everything else edible is awesome! I’m just happy that I can have Ribena any time I like, I’m weird like that.

Work

The English don’t really know what ‘work’ is, that’s why they’re so quick to hire South Africans. I get into trouble if I get in earlier than start time or leave later than finish and heaven forbid I don’t take my lunch – the concept of a lunch hour is foreign to me so it’s pretty amazing to actually eat during the day. When we are all working, my definition of busy is very different to that of a Pom. It’s refreshing really, people here understand keeping work and home separate.

I could go on and on and on… I’m not saying it’s perfect here but it’s a foreign concept to me to be ‘nice’ to your neighbors, to walk around at all hours of night in the dark safely, to smile and wave at passers by and to have a library or museum on every corner. What a cultured place to live… I know I’d fit right in, if only my people would arrive and I could get back to being my awesome self.

Guess what? I’m on a train…

In a few days time, I’m turning 30 years old… What do I have to show for it? Absolutely nothing.

Well, not nothing exactly but barely anything material anyway. It’s difficult knowing that all that is important to you in the world is sitting in another country and all the possessions you keep can fit into 3 small suitcases. So what’s different about this birthday compared to the others? Firstly, I’m not with my husband and my children which is a totally foreign concept to me. My birthday is always a big celebration in our home, it begins with a birthday week and my husband has been known to buy me birthday presents everyday for that week, it generally ends somewhere between a braai and the pub with many shooters in between. Sadly, on my biggest birthday yet, the oldest I’ve ever been, I’m ‘alone’ and I hate it.

I’ve spent the last few days of my birthday week in tears, not because I’m sad about getting old but because I’ve learnt that what makes a birthday is those closest to you and not what you do or what gifts you receive. I, the Shevster, am losing all street cred for the many tears I’ve cried for my family that I’m longing for – so much so, I was going to buy myself a birthday present, a one way ticket home back to them – Home is where the heart is and England just won’t be home until they arrive.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the UK – it’s been the most amazing few days with a multitude of changes. My body is adjusting to the new climate, my stomach is adjusting to all the new food, my feet are adjusting to all the walking I’ve had to do and my mind is adjusting to the train commute and new job I’ve started. It’s quite a challenge being independent living with your family to being a guest in someone else’s home without said family, it’s taking some adjusting there as well – Thank goodness my housemates have been more than accommodating, they’ve been awesome. In just over a week I’ve given up everything I owned, left my family, moved to a new country, become a lodger and started a new job to which I have to commute on various trains – I’d say that I deserve some leeway on those tears, it’s mighty big steps in the right direction, no one said they’d be easy.

Before arriving in the UK I knew that I’d be joining the train commuters on the daily journey to work and back, it’s a given considering I don’t drive – Even if I could, I wouldn’t be able to afford a car, petrol and insurance is just as expensive as a rail commute – Yes, the trains run late or don’t run at all but there is always another one – At least I don’t have to sit in traffic. My commute is fairly simple after a few days of doing it, Nicolle drops us (me) at the station in Crowthorne, I then take a train into Wokingham and from Wokingham to Virginia Waters and finally ending in Chertsey where I have a 5 minute walk to the office. The whole journey in the morning probably takes approximately an hour and 10-20 minutes depending on the times. The return home is a little longer as I have a 30 minute walk from Crowthorne station to the house, my shins are already screaming this week! On my first day at the office, Scruff did the trip with me to make sure I didn’t get lost and since then I’ve been on my own – the return home was extremely daunting but I managed and got home in one piece. Since then, it’s gotten easier and easier and for the first time yesterday I got home without my Google Maps for train times and directions on my walk – soon I’ll be ready to venture out into the bigger stations, spread my commuting wings a bit.

The funny thing about the train is how you start noticing the same people on the same trains – So many people do these journeys every single day, reliant on these trains to arrive on time to make the connection onto the next one. When one train is late, your journey can go from 30 minutes to an hour and if you miss that connection, a wait at the station is a given. Having experienced these delays and waits myself, you can’t help but sit and watch the people getting into and off of the trains – It’s an awful time, all this commuting leaves you alone in your own mind with far too much time to think and miss family, so you have to think of something else to do and occupy your mind before driving yourself mad. Anyway, so I watch the commuters, judgmental I know.

It’s become apparent from my train-spotting (almost) that it is perfectly acceptable to wear leggings as pants – there is no longer a need to wear a top long enough to cover your ass and camel toe is the new ‘style’. It doesn’t matter if said leggings are see through either because it’s fashionable right? It’s the middle of autumn, starting to get a bit cooler in the evening and at 6pm sitting at the station, the girls are running around in ankle boots and mini skirts with coats longer than their skirt, no stockings and goose bumps galore. I’m quickly learning that the UK has its own fashion sense and it’s rather odd to keep up with. It’s also easy to watch people (or hear them) on the train as well… For example, my hearing OCD generally kicks in quite quickly after boarding the train, the sounds of people snorting and sniffing, slurping their coffee and biting their nails – it all drives me absolutely moggy. While the train has ‘Quiet zone’ signs asking you to keep your phone on silent or your headphone volume at a minimum, I always manage to sit across from the commuter who can’t read and instead has their music blaring that the whole train can hear it. It’s safe to say that shortly after getting on my train, I’m extremely happy to get off. What was exciting the first few days is now just a pain in the butt… It’s official, I’m a commuter.

On a more pleasant note, I got a bank account this week! Yay, I’m 30 and I have a bank account! (insert sarcastic snort here). What a mission… It is extremely difficult to open an account here without a utility bill, which I don’t have because I live with people and won’t have until I’ve got a bank account out of which to pay rent… A few banks later, I found one willing to help (Yay Halifax) and now I can starting earning my salary… Next step is my National Insurance number for which I have my appointment on the 6th of November and then a few weeks wait until I can rent my own little place, after payday in December, ready for Jp and the girls to join me in the new year (Which feels eons away!)

So this weekend we are headed off to Camden to celebrate the birthdays, I’m looking forward to it but truly long for next year, my 31st, when I have those that matter around me.

Now if this guy opposite me could stop snorting, that would be great…

It was almost a month ago that I was fortunate enough to have gone to Reunion island for the Mascarun South Africa. If you had followed my blogs you would have been able to keep up with all the amazing activities we got to participate in as well as the love I developed for this beautiful, captivating island. Well, now you can see it for yourself as well. The Reunion Island Tourism Board put together this 5 minute video for us on our adventures in Reunion over the Mascarun challenge – Now I can share it with you in the hopes that it will inspire and motivate you to visit the island and have as much fun as I did. Happy viewing!!

Mascarun

I do not mean F@#k Off Cos You’re Stupid. No, I mean FOCUS – Focus on what is going on around you, FOCUS on what is directly in your future, FOCUS on the end goal and everything you do will fall in line with that, right?

Easier said than done. In the last few weeks (By few I mean two) I have been all consumed by the administration necessary to move my family cross continent. While I understand the magnitude of what I am doing, I have not actually sat down and allowed myself to focus on this task at hand, instead I have been shifting attention to each individual task with the bigger picture in the back of my mind. I understand that what I have just said makes me sound like I have not in fact thought this move through, that is not the case (I do nothing BUT think about it), what I mean is that I have been so caught up in arranging my husband’s settlement visa, obtaining my children’s passports, selling everything I own in the world, leaving behind friends and family and finishing up in my current job. There are so many finer details to be thought of and arranged that I have completely forgotten to think about what is ahead, the fact that I am leaving the only country I have known in 24 years.

I was on the way home last night and in the car I was doing my usual moan to Erin about how there is just too much to worry about, too much too arrange, too much that needs organizing. Many a day I have questioned my decision and I am constantly in a state of anxiety about the visa’s and passports and of course, the what if’s. What she said to me (Thank you) was almost profound… I am not deserting my family, I am giving them a better life and when this is all over this terrible time in limbo will just be a distant memory. I definitely will not be crying about how long the visa process took when my husband actually arrives and we can focus on the future. What I should be doing now is preparing for an ADVENTURE that awaits me – Next week I get on a plane and fly, one way, to a new country. I will live in a new house with very different living arrangements, I will start a new job, I will have to get used to a new transport system and meet all new friends.  I will not be near to any of my immediate family and I will have entirely new surroundings to explore – It is an amazing future that awaits me, it truly is an adventure – One that I have not spent enough time getting excited about.

Yes, the next 4 months or so without my husband and children is going to be very difficult but at the same time, the adventure is going to be amazing! Relationships will be tested and resilience will be in question but at the same time the world will open up for me and I need to enjoy every second of it, there will be no point in moping around without my loved ones – INSTEAD my time will be put to good use preparing everything for their arrival.

I cracked a beer when I got home today, not because I was thirsty and not because I wanted a drink in a social manner. No, it was because the UK spousal visa that we have to apply for in order for J-P to move to the UK is driving me to drink.

Do not get me wrong, I am excited for this move (Really excited – Especially since I have now seen a picture of my new room for the next few months) and I understand that certain paperwork must be done in order for my husband to come back to my birth country with me, I am more than willing and able to co operate… but Holy Sh1t. On days like today, I wish I had married a British passport holder (No offence babe).

Look… there is a metric ton of documentation required for the visa. Most of which is pretty easy to acquire but the actual application itself is pretty daunting, to do it without the help of a reputable visa / immigration specialist is probably not a good idea because after playing Google detective and reading up on all the horror stories of failed applications, it will only mean taking a risk I am not willing to take – Anything that can delay this visa application is NOT a good thing.

The first visa / immigration agent I contacted basically blew me off without even reading or listening what I had to say. You see, you need to be able to support your spouse and earn the equivalent of GBP18600 per annum – While this is fairly easy to prove and apply for after working in the UK for 6 months, before that time the only way to go about this is to prove you have earned that money in the last calendar year (Start the rands to pounds conversion as the non bread winner, enough to make one sick). I made this difficult for myself admittedly by moving jobs 5 months ago and taking a drastic cut in salary, this of course affecting my financial requirement for the application – A battle that I now face in the eyes of the visa and immigration authority. If you know me, you will know that in fact I do not stop at NO and went on to the second immigration assistant for some advice, thankfully they were a little more forthcoming with information and I was able to get an actual calculation method to check if I did qualify with my current earnings on the GBP18600 stipulated – THANK THE POPE, I just squeezed it in to allow for an application at the end of November 2014, perfect right? After emailing all my calculations that I spent HOURS working on to this agent, she then came back and said that she would need copies of my payslips to verify this information (Just in case I fabricated my own amounts I am sure) which I then sent on to her as requested.

TWO DAYS later, I am still waiting for a response – After calls, emails and voicemails we finally managed to speak to another gentleman who said he would get back to us by tomorrow afternoon to see if we qualify – I cannot possibly understand that delay as I did their job for them? Anyway, not one for incompetence or snail’s pace, I decided to email a few other immigration agents to get a feel of who actually wanted to assist me and who did not – At the end of the day you would expect them to WANT to help when they make up to R10 000 in service fee out of me but hey, what is R10k anyway? Two of the agents I emailed responded – The first, an email detailing that I would no doubt have a successful application once I have been working in the UK for 6 months (Thank you for pointing out the obvious – Information I already have, am well aware of and am trying to avoid at all costs). The second, a company finally willing and able to assist and confident that my calculations are correct and we can successfully apply by the end of November 2014 – Best case, we have the visa in approximately 7 weeks, worst case 12 after application. Without hesitation we have set up our appointment with them, paid the appointment fee of almost R1000 just to see them and already have a file full of documentation to take with – Easiest clients EVER!!!

Now that we have finally found a company willing and able to assist, the mountainous administration is ahead of us  – From photo evidence of our relationship (Thank goodness for Facebook) to letters from loved ones authenticating our marriage, from a misplaced matric senior certificate issued 14 years go – J-P’s, not mine – to certificates and as much original paper work we can find. We have our work cut out for us, all the while I sit in the UK and leave this in my husband’s capable hands (I promise babe, I do think you are capable). This process is most definitely not for the faint hearted, or for the tight budgeted – The visa alone comes with a price tag of GBP885 excluding the fee for using an immigration specialist of approximately R10k as mentioned, added to the cost of an English test at about R3k and a TB test of R1k.. All in all, over 30 000 rand… A R30 000 well spent as far as I am concerned.

I could work in the UK for 6 months and then only do the application, it would probably be a hell of a lot easier – But the truth is, I do not want to be without my husband that long and so I am not willing to accept that. When you want something bad enough, you figure out a way to get it and it just goes to show that if you keep on and on and become a nag, someone will eventually come to your party! I may have had a few more beers by the time this visa comes through but the bottle of vodka at the finish line will be well worth it when it has been issued.