Living in South Africa is like living in a National Geographic show! I've had experiences that I'd previously only read about or seen on TV. Believe me, it's most awesome live!
Covers to keep little Eli's fingers safe
We knew when we were preparing to move over here that there was no sense in bringing any small appliances or personal care appliances along, as the electric service here is different than it is in the USA. I just didn’t realize HOW different it was!
Being the daughter & sister of electricians does me no good (here or in the USA) because none of the three of them would let me do a mindmeld to share their knowledge. I have a general understanding of how electricity starts out strong at the generating plant, then keeps being reduced in power at various stages of distribution until it gets to your house at 220 volts, which gets split into 110 volt for most of the wiring (lights and receptacles), and stays 220 for some of the large appliances. In every country except the US and Japan (I believe), 220 volt is the standard for residential wiring.
By the way, I have to use (some might say overuse) the word “receptacle,” because that is the part that accepts the plug. I’m as guilty as the next person of calling those things in the wall “plugs,” but receptacle comes from the Latin word receptaculum which means to receive, which is what it does – receive a plug. My thesaurus shows no other words for an electrical receptacle. We can’t even agree to understand that “plug” is being used for receptacle, because I’m going to be talking about those, too!
This house has lots of 15 amp receptacles – but not in the bathrooms, because that’s against the building code. There are single and doubles. Each receptacle has a switch that controls the power to that receptacle, which is quite handy when you’re conserving energy or you want to control an appliance with the flip of a switch. When the power is on, you can see a little red indicator. Every receptacle in our house has 3 holes. The problem is, not every plug has three prongs!
Plugs look very different here in South Africa. There are going to be quite a few pictures because I could never even begin to describe everything. Some smaller appliances (blow dryer, curling iron) have only two prongs. BUT two prongs might be flat or round. The good news is, you can purchase extension cords or adapters in any configuration. So a three prong receptacle easily becomes three three prongs, two flat prongs and one two round prongs. Or three flat prongs. Or one three prong, two flat prongs and one two round prong. You get the picture?
Oh, and let’s not forget the all-important adapter for the United States computer and cell phone charger! Seth and Sarah made sure we were each hooked up with this little can’t-do-without-it beauty. It fits every plug imaginable PLUS has the additional luxury of a USB port down on the bottom! Steven was issued South African computer and cell phone, so he doesn’t use his anymore, but believe me when I tell you I depend on this baby!
When there are three prongs on a plug, one of them is the ground, or as they call it here, the earth connection. South Africa has no safety fuses, so an open circuit is supposed to cause a circuit breaker to trip at the breaker box (which is called a distribution board or DB). We know about the DB because when the power goes out, we have make adjustments to the breakers before we can flip the switch for the gas generator to power the house.
Beside the DB in the closet under the stairs is our electric meter. Practically all electricity in the country is supplied by the public utility Eskom (Electricity Supply Commission) and is prepaid. That means we can buy our electricity at the grocery store or the gas station! It also means that the first thought that pops into our heads when the power goes out is “Oh no! Did we run out of electricity?” You can buy any amount of electricity you like. We usually buy R1000, and we get 743.4 kilowatt hours. ($107.68 or 14.5 cents per kwh)
By the way, Steven works for a company that is a contractor for Eskom. Witbank/eMalahleni (which is the Zulu word for coal) and the surrounding area are home to many plants that use coal to generate electricity as well as the mines the coal comes from. Coal is used to generate about 77% of the electricity in South Africa; nuclear power generates about 6.5%. Eskom is building new plants and revamping old plants as they try to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for power.
There’s a big push for power conservation here, and creating energy from renewable resources. It’s a great place to use solar energy to heat water, which is pretty standard. Eskom is providing the labor and materials to put switches on the geysers (geezers), or hot water tanks, so they don’t draw power during peak usage periods. In the evening, there are public service announcements along the lines of “Have you turned off your geysers for the night? Are there any appliances or lights on that aren’t being used?” And I just saw an Eskom ad showing a family getting prepared for winter by buying extra blankets and sweaters, NOT firing up the electric heaters.
We worked to conserve energy when we lived in the USA and we still work to conserve energy here; it’s the right thing to do.
Generally the first question people ask when you move is “What’s your house like?” I can’t say that our house is a typical South African home. The company Steven works for has security standards that I’m sure are atypical for most South Africans, and that means we’re in the upper tier of housing here. We live in a gated community with a community room and a community pool. There’s a guard in the guardhouse at the gate, and there’s a guard (or maybe two) walking through the community on a regular basis.
Before we could move in, the owners had to have a security system installed, along with a slam gate to create a safe room. The only room in the house that made sense to be called a safe room is a bedroom with no easy outdoor access. That is the room I keep the grandkids in when they sleep here. Adrien is under strict instructions that if the alarm goes off, he is to immediately slam the steel gate and close the wood door and not to come out until one of the four adults he knows says so. We’re not frightened about living here, but we don’t want to be foolish. We set the alarm before we go to bed and I keep the panic button on the pedestal (nightstand). I also keep a bottle of water there, since it never fails that as soon as the alarm is set, I get thirsty! The good news is that this community has an excellent safety record, and there’s no reason for us to suspect that will change.
It’s a wonderful house, full of windows and light. It was built just 8 years ago. Truthfully, it’s way too big for the two of us. But the location is perfect. Our daughter Sarah, who lives with her family just a couple blocks away, found it for us two months before we moved over. Adrien & Lily go to school right across the street from the entrance, so it’s easy for them to come and spend time with us.
The basic “three bedrooms, two and two half baths” description doesn’t do it justice. To set the stage, the owners are an architect and a travel agent. They designed a comfortable home perfect for entertaining. There are a multitude of windows and every window has a beautiful view. There’s a circular drive that brings you right up to the front door. As you step in to the tiled foyer, you can see all the way to the second floor ceiling and the stairs are right in front of you. The baluster is wrought iron and the handrails are wood. To the left of the front door there’s an office with five windows, a built-in desk along two walls, cupboards & shelves and LOTS of electrical receptacles. To the right of the front door is the “loo.” This guest half-bath was described by the owner as an airplane bathroom – you have to come in and squeeze behind the door to close it. All the toilets have the dual flush tanks; you push the side with one dot when you go number one, and the side with two dots when you go number two. Who knew potty language was universal?
As we step through the double doors and into the living area, we are welcomed into an open floor plan that includes a long living room with a sitting area on one end with lots of windows and double doors into my favorite room (the patio), at the other end is the TV area with a gas fireplace and the dining area is to the right. From the dining area there are double doors to my favorite room (the patio), and double doors to the kitchen. The living area is carpeted, with rugs on the path that would wear the carpet. There’s a beautiful wine storage area, made up of stacked terra cotta drainage pipe cut as long as a wine bottle.
The big square kitchen has a tile floor that has already been the demise of a few glasses and serving pieces. It’s cool on bare feet, too! There is electric floor heating, but we were warned that we could watch the electric meter spinning if we ever used it. The room is loaded with cupboards, has miles of black granite countertop with a prep sink (no hot water), an electric oven, a gas stovetop (handy when the power goes out), and even a built-in garbage bag holder! There’s a matching granite table with four chairs and another door out to my favorite room (still the patio!).
There’s a Bosch freezer, a Bosch refrigerator and now we’ve stepped into the scullery, which is the cleaning area of the house. There’s a Bosch dishwasher, a double stainless steel sink with hot & cold water, a fair sized granite countertop with another built-in garbage container. The LG laundry unit is a combination washer/dryer. There’s a big utility tub with hot & cold water. There’s an OLD tumble dryer that vents right into the scullery & obviously doesn’t get used much. More cupboards. More doors – one into the two-car garage.
The garage also has lots of storage cupboards, and a very clever idea of lattice attached to the walls for hanging different sized hooks for holding a variety of stuff that belongs in the garage. There’s a gas generator that’s hard-wired into the electrical system. When there’s no electricity coming in from the municipality (notice I said when and not if), there are very clear instructions on how to use the DB box (don’t ask me), start the generator, flip a switch and VOILA! electricity. The floor of the garage is also tile. The owner has also strung some lines for drying laundry on rainy days.
The thought of laundry leads us back into the scullery, although we could go out a side door from the garage to the courtyard, but then we would have to ask someone to unlock the gate to let us into the courtyard beside the scullery, so we may as well go back through the house. The other door out from the scullery is one of those fun Dutch doors with the option of only opening half. That door leads to a stoop and a small room off the stoop that is a bathroom and changing room for the domestic workers. There is a courtyard that has a “solar clothes dryer” (four-sided rotating clothesline). There is a privacy screen that hides another courtyard that houses the reverse osmosis water filter and the heat pump. The window over the sink in the scullery overlooks this courtyard, and there is a tree and other potted plants arranged for the viewer’s pleasure. We could follow a path into the backyard, past the master bath, but let’s go back inside.
Rosanne Lee Hans, who has never stayed in one place too long, thrives on relocating. Every move has provided the opportunity to shed unnecessary "stuff;" to share meals with interesting new friends; to gain a little knowledge on a variety of subjects germane to her new location (like how cranberries are harvested!); and to see God's beautiful creation with fresh eyes.