South Africa: Day 15 (Grahamstown and East London Arrival)

Day 15 was about as non-touristy as you can get. . . it was also the day that I needed to wait to write about until we were home safely. 

For years, Derrick had been telling us that his mother, who passed away in 1998, had put away some money for him. But nobody seemed to know anything about it. Stephen Flowerday told us that everything should have been sorted out long ago. Social Services looked up her file and said that her belongings were auctioned off to pay for her funeral costs, etc. 

But then about a year ago, Stephen contacted us to say that he had located a small inheritance, equivalent to a few thousand dollars. This was money that had to be collected by Derrick, in person. . . which is why it was still there. More than the monetary value, Derrick was happy to think that his mother really did leave him something.

So on our list of things to do while we were in South Africa was to sort out Derrick's inheritance.

We drove from Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown, not knowing anything about what the process was going to be or how long it would take. 

Grahamstown is a decent sized city of maybe 150,000 people. To me, it felt like a college town. And rightfully so. . . it is home to many schools, including Rhodes University. Grahamstown also hosts the National Arts Festival, which attracts over 200,000 visitors and is the largest arts festival in all of Africa. But the reason we went to Grahamstown is because it's the seat of the Eastern Cape High Court and the Magistrate's Court. 

We asked at least five people for directions before we finally found the High Court. And then once we found adequate (safe) parking, got the kids situated in the car with Gcobisa, and prepped Derrick, they were closed for lunch. 

So we wandered up and down High Street in Grahamstown. The streets were busy. It seemed like the high school kids, who were trying to raise money for a school trip, were competing with the beggars. Everyone was asking for money. We checked out some of the shops, and Steve took this picture. They didn't actually sell any Salomon gear. . . they just had the stickers: 

We finally went inside the High Court and passed through security, complete with metal detectors. Derrick told his story to one man, and then had to repeat it again to another guy, until we were escorted down a long corridor to go talk to someone else:  

And then we waited for that someone else. For a long time. (They were still at lunch.) A fourth person came and talked to us, so Derrick got to repeat his story again. After twenty or thirty minutes, we were finally told that that was actually the wrong someone else to talk to. In fact, we were at the wrong place. We needed to go to the Magistrate's Court. So we drove back down the street to a building we had passed at least three times and found a semi-safe place to park. The sidewalks were lined with people; Derrick asked us if we were nervous being the only white people in town.

Inside the Magistrate's Court, Derrick explained his story to person number five and number six, before being directed sit down and wait:

So we sat there and watched, as other people got called up: 

I hurried to read all of the instructional papers that were hung up throughout the room, in an attempt to figure out what we needed to do next: 

And then they called us up, Derrick explained his story the seventh time, and we were finally sent to talk to Jemillo Adriaan, so Derrick could retell his then-polished story for the eighth time:

Jemillo told us "This is the first time I have seen something like this." Derrick's situation is complicated. And not just because he was trying to claim an inheritance that had been left for him some fifteen years ago. In order to process his claim, Derrick needed to have: a South African ID book, his birth certificate, and a South African bank account. He didn't have any of those things. (Still waiting for his adoption to be finalized in South Africa so he can get an ID book. . .) 

Jemillo told us to go to the Department of Home Affairs and see if they could look up and check that we are in the process of applying for his ID book and then complete a separate set of fingerprints for Derrick. 

But before going any further, I asked Jemillo if he could verify that there was actually money waiting for Derrick. Jemillo asked Derrick if he wanted us to leave the room. Derrick said we could stay, and Jemillo was still a little hesitant. He asked Derrick if he was being forced or coerced by us. That was funny. After verifying that there was actually money to justify going through this process, we continued.  

Steve went back to the van to stay with the kids while Derrick and I went across the street to the least-busy Department of Home Affairs in all of South Africa. Derrick signed in and then we waited in the short queue for his name to be called. He explained his situation for the the ninth (and tenth) time, but was ultimately told no, it was not possible for him to get fingerprints. Without an ID book, he does not technically exist in South Africa.  

So we walked back over to the Magistrate's Court and explained our findings to Jemillo, who talked us through a few different options of how Derrick can claim his money in the future. 

Derrick and I then went back to the Department of Home Affairs to get a South African birth certificate for Derrick. . . something we have never had in our possession. (Because his aunt refused to give it to us.)

The line was short, the process was easy, and it only cost something like two or three bucks. 

We walked some forty yards back to where the van was parked, but then I decided I wanted to take a picture of the building. So I went back, by myself, to take this picture: 

The beggar who was sitting on the side of the road, the one who we had already passed four times, asked me for money, and I again said no. But instead of sitting there like a cripple, he stood up and started after me. I nervously glanced back, well aware that I was being followed. I tensely hurried to the van, while everyone else was completely oblivious to what was happening. Steve was sitting in the driver seat, on the right side of the van. He should have seen me, but had dozed off. I frantically walked around to the passenger seat on the left side of the van. But the door was locked. I looked back and the man was only a few yards behind me and had a large stick. I pounded on the window, and Steve immediately woke up and hit the unlock button. At the same moment, Derrick violently ripped opened his sliding door, which was over on the driver side. He jumped around where the man could see him, and with an aggressive look of rage, made a motion of cutting his throat.

We tried to downplay the situation, so as not to alarm the kids. But my heart was pounding and I was in a bit of shock. That man had gotten way too close, and we are thankful that he didn't get any closer. Steve had seen the man's face. . . it was pure evil.

After the tenseness of the situation had passed, we had a frank talk with the kids about how we were venturing into a different part of the country and that we needed to follow the rules to stay safe: stay together, don't talk to strangers, watch your belongings closely, etc. It was a good reminder of the dangers of South Africa. And Derrick was promoted to bodyguard status.

As we drove to East London we started to see the traditional styled houses dotting the countryside. (This picture is fuzzy because it was taken while driving. . . there was no place to stop.)

The driving conditions were terrible and required a lot of physical and mental energy. The narrow road was under construction, and there wasn't any sort of shoulder or side lane. Immediately adjacent to the side of the road was a three-foot drop to the other lane that was being built. The loose livestock roaming throughout the area only made things more difficult:

Meanwhile, Derrick told us of all of the accidents that had taken place along that road when he was a kid. (Fourteen kids were packed in a buggy and died right here on the way home from a soccer game, his cousins got into an accident on this corner and that's where one of them died, etc.) 

The sun was setting as we passed by King William's Town, and we looked forward to a nice, calm arrival in East London.

But that's not exactly we got. 

We drove straight to Derrick's aunt's apartment, which is located in a very large, inner-city-ish housing complex, where three guards searched our car before we were allowed to enter the gate. It was a bit of a spectacle (a white family in a nice, late model van), and we were thankful that Derrick and Gcobisa could both speak Xhosa to communicate with the guards. Derrick led us along the sidewalk and up the three flights of dark stairs. There was a lot of noise, including a woman erratically yelling as she walked towards us. 

We were warmly greeted by Mechaelar (Derrick's favorite cousin), Cynthia (his kindest aunt), and Zane (another favorite cousin). I've been corresponding with Mechaelar (pronounced McKayla) via Facebook for a few years, but it was my first time meeting her in person. 

. . . . . 

This is the text message I sent to my sister-in-law after leaving their "flat": 

"We have been in East London for 30 minutes. So far, we have met two drunk relatives, Rachel had a full-on anxiety attack, and Derrick punched his aunt's drunk boyfriend in the face."

So here's what happened. That lady who was yelling at us turned out to be one of Derrick's aunts. She was extremely drunk and in-your-face obnoxious, which didn't go over too well with our apprehensive kids, especially Rachel. By the time Cynthia's drunk boyfriend joined the party, there was a whole lot of pandemonium in that small, congested living room. Everyone was hugging Derrick, fussing over Kaleigh, and offering the kids candies and sweets. We watched as Rachel uneasily backed herself closer and closer to the door. She started complaining that she didn't feel well, and before we knew it, she was hyperventilating. 

Steve got Rachel out of there and we quickly said goodbye, leaving Derrick and Gcobisa with all of their luggage. (Derrick was going to stay the night there, and Gcobisa's cousin was going to fetch her from the flat.)

We got the kids loaded back into the van, calmed down three distressed girls (Adam wasn't the least bit phased), and went to pull away. 

But just as we started to drive off, Mechaelar came running after us, pounding on Steve's window, bawling so hard she couldn't even talk. All I heard was "Derrick", "terrible", "fight", "please", "Steve". 

Steve re-parked the van and ran back upstairs to the third-floor apartment. 

So much for calming down the kids. 

That left me alone with one completely discombobulated daughter and three other now-distressed kids. We said a prayer. And then we sat there, in the dark van and sang Primary songs, trying to quail their apprehensiveness, and trying to conceal my own angst. 

After what seemed like an eternity, Steve finally came back to the van. With Derrick and his luggage, Gcobisa and her luggage, and Mechaelar, who was still very emotional. I tried to get a rundown on what had happened, but nobody was very talkative. 

Before we could leave the apartment complex, another one of Derrick's cousins, John Paul, appeared at our van. Derrick lived with John Paul for seven years; he is the youngest of Aunt Shirley's three boys. We got out to greet him, and within minutes, he was asking us for money.

We dropped Derrick, Gcobisa, and Mechaelar off at the church so they could attend an LDS institute class, taught by Stephen Flowerday. 

And then I got more of the story. By the time Steve got back up to the apartment to check things out, it was all over. But apparently, Zane was chastising Cynthia's boyfriend for being so drunk, of all nights, on the night of our arrival. The drunk boyfriend pushed Zane and slammed him up against the wall. Then Derrick, (overeager to be the aggressor instead of the victim?) said something about not messing with his cousin. And then punched the drunk boyfriend in the face. (Someone else said Derrick just pushed him back, but there was blood, so I'm betting that the punching version was more accurate.) The good news was that the boyfriend was so drunk that he didn't fully realize what had happened; he just kept asking where the blood was coming from. 

What a welcome. 

We were emotionally drained and already questioning our decision to go to East London. And we still hadn't booked a hotel. . . nor did we have any idea what a difficult task that would be. 

We started at The Sandcastle B&B, as recommended by Jacqui Flowerday. It has the best location, right by Nahoon Beach, which is Steve's favorite place in all of East London. But they were fully booked. Then we checked a larger hotel and conference center called the Blue Lagoon Hotel. It's a big place, so we figured they would surely have room. . . but they were fully booked too.

There were no rooms at the Garden Court or the Road Lodge. We did find some rooms at the Premier Hotel, but they were over $250 per night. . . which wasn't going to work out since we needed two rooms and were planning to stay in East London for five nights. At some point, I asked why everything was so busy and found out that South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, was in town. 

We met up with Derrick and Gcobisa at the Windmill. Derrick's cousin, Timothy, (the eldest of Aunt Shirley's sons) is the manager, and was completely shocked to see us. In fact, he didn't even recognize Derrick. He was very happy to see us and it was a fun, brief visit. 

At some point, we were notified that Cynthia had kicked her boyfriend out of the apartment and really wanted Derrick to stay with them, so Derrick unloaded his luggage once again. Gcobisa's cousin drove Derrick back to Cynthia's flat and took Gcobisa to her house. 

We still didn't have a place to stay. We drove around and checked out a few other options, but finally ended up at Chandlers Guest House. The exact same B&B that Steve and I stayed at (lived in) for a few weeks when we first arrived in South Africa. We remembered the owners as being especially hospitable and enjoying the breakfast. Chandlers Guest House is designed more for business travelers, and were were a little hesitant to stay there with kids. But, at that point, we really didn't have any other options. 

The receptionist was overly apologetic that there was only one room left, a room with one king bed. (We were just happy to be out of the car and relieved to have a place to sleep.) We hauled in an extra mattress to put on the floor for Rachel and Lucy, and made a third bed out of blankets for Adam and Kaleigh. Warm showers, clean beds, and unlimited internet. . . we went to sleep very thankful. 


Kayli said...

Okay, that was intense. To the full extent of the word. I feel like instead of casually saying 'hi, nice to meet you' this summer, I should have given you a hug and said, "I'm so glad you're alive!" ;)

Gloria said...

That's one scary day!