23 August, 2011
Today I went to the Johannesburg country office for JRS. I normally work in the regional office about 4km away from the country office but even in their close proximity they are very different from each other.
1. It is a heck of a lot quieter in the regional office. Our office is meant to be support for the rest of the country offices (for South Africa (Johannesburg/Pretoria/Makhado), Zimbabwe, Malawi, Angola, and DRC). This means lots of quiet time with no interruptions other than the telephone. The country office has a reception area at the front and it is filled with asylum seekers and refugees and adds a whole different dimension to the office. There are little children running around and people trying to wander the halls.
2. It is busy in the country office-I say this and mean that it is noticeably busier but maybe it was just because it was Monday. There were about 10-15 interviews needing to be done and there were tons of people moving about and keeping the hustle and bustle up. The regional office is very busy as well, just not visibly so.
3. The country office is located in downtown Johannesburg or at least what it seemed like to me. I am sure the South Africans following the blog can correct me if I am wrong. (Johannesburg Country Office) The drive to work was supposed to be a straight shot “just down the road.” False. It was a straight shot down the road and then a very confusing set of turns through crowded and busy streets and I have no idea how to get around without an escort. I almost got lost when we walked about a block for lunch. There is just so much going on outside.
4. There was a KFC and a McDonald’s not far from the office. It sounds weird but when offered those two choices for lunch I went with Mickey D’s. It was delightfully and artery-cloggingly American but it helped. Also, Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese? In a country using metric? What the heck is going on? Don’t worry it tasted just like it should and it was much needed for my late afternoon lunch.
5. Back to the busy-ness. I almost got run into today, like within about 1-2 feet of being destroyed by a taxi (read: small van, bus, guagua for those of you in the know). Driving home was an experience all to itself. The drive to work was hectic but on the way back when I was navigating it on my own, crazyness. There were people all over the place, cars going every direction and oh yeah, that bus that decided to pull out while I was right next to it. RIGHT NEXT TO IT. Got my blood pumping but I have to stay on my toes, I guess. He finally noticed when his headlights were a few inches off the side of my car. Thank you sir.
6. The system they use for data entry in the country office needs to be fixed. I kid you not, on one of the things I was entering in the computer on the online database, it took EIGHTEEN MINUTES for one page to fully load. EIGHTEEN. MINUTES. For a single web page. And then it decided it was not happy so it errored when I tried to submit that page. Good times. The normal amount of time for a single page was 30 seconds to 2 minutes, so it kept me guessing and I got lots of time to sit.
This is really all of the superficial stuff I can write but there is so much more to tell. I read through some of the most heart-wrenching stories going through the files to input the data. I will try not to spill anything specific since it is very confidential but the courage that people have is hope-inspiring. For example, some families were making 3500 rand a month (about 15 bucks shy of 500 USD) and spending about R3000 on an apartment that they were most likely sharing with another family. Other single mothers were making less than R1000 a month and spending a full R1000 on accommodation. This boggles my mind. They were supporting multiple children on this and I have no idea how.
I am so blessed to have had the background I have but I could have just as easily grown up here and have to deal with living constantly in fear of not having enough to have a roof over my head and food to eat. Keep that in mind when you have that Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and it does not taste nearly as good knowing how much you spent on it. I am stunned by what these people can do and still manage to support a family in a country that is not their own. My hat is off to you and my prayers are constantly with all of you. I know it isn’t much consolation but I do what I can.
Sorry again for a long post with not too many pictures but I just had to get all of this out. Thanks for listening! As always, your prayers are alway appreciated and I thank all of you who have sent me emails or Skyped this week. I have needed these in a big way and you have all made my life much better. Thank you.