One week ago, I arrived at the Cape Town airport after four flights starting in Nashville, Tennessee. I thought it might be a good moment to consider what’s been accomplished and what needs more time.
Let’s start with my new employer. I made my first appearance at Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on Tuesday, November 24th, the morning after arriving in the city. I vaguely remember that first day. Gerhard, my mentor in the Tuberculosis center, gave a rapid tour of the fourth floor, and I met an amazing array of hard-working people who like each other. Since that tour, I have taken up residence in my office (shared with two other staff members), gotten my computer’s MAC address recognized by the network, completed my staff information sheet for submission to the university hierarchy, enjoyed an “induction” (orientation) chat with my friend in human resources, received an employee number from main campus, and today completed my badge, which allows me access to the campus and the buildings. I officially belong there!
I imagined a sprint upon arrival to find myself a new home while I stayed at a hotel or in university housing. Instead, I have enjoyed the guest room of Gerard, a friend who also recently moved here from the United States. Because he grew up in South Africa, he has been an unfailing guide to the flora, fauna, pronunciation, history, and geography of his native land. His wife Helena has kept me fed and supplied with a cup of rooibos tea at all times. Saturday evening they even assembled an amazing braai in their backyard. On Monday, I will shift to university student housing for a month. That will be quite the change as I will be on my own for meals and company. The campus will become quite inert for the week between Christmas and New Years. I will strive to manage with my room’s kitchenette. My hope is that my next stop is a home of my own, and I have aggressively sought out responsive estate agents (not a widespread trait for all such agents) to help me find the right place. I have been told that transferring titles can take as long as two months, but I hope to cut that down to six weeks.
Money has also been surprisingly complex. Following Gerard’s advice, I established an account through Absa Private Bank. Absa is a really large bank here, associated with Barclay’s in the U.K. What, then, is a private bank? It’s a bank for professionals with either A) a salary above a certain level or B) a particular position title, so that the bank is unconcerned about credit risk. By paying a monthly fee, I am able to circumvent certain bureaucratic hassles that would be encountered by someone with an ordinary job. For example, I don’t have to navigate a two-month gantlet of paperwork to satisfy United States FICA regulations and establish my identity beyond doubt. The University vouches for me, and Absa accepts that information as valid. With that account established, I was able to set up my account for direct deposit of my salary and deposit the extra currency I had been carrying on the plane.
The car situation continues to daunt me. South Africa, like several other countries, drives on the left. Because I am thinking about it, I rarely attempt to get into the driver’s seat of Gerard’s car anymore. The intersections make more sense at a glance than they did when I first arrived. Am I ready to get a car of my own? No, there’s quite a barrier in the way. I must first acquire a Traffic Register Number. This document will act as a form of identification for me here, and having one will grant me the ability to use my American driver’s license for a while here. After that period, I will either have to surrender my driver’s license to get a South African one or take the challenging and confusing South African driving test to acquire a local one. I am saving that challenge for another day!
I think my highlight for the week was our visit to the top of Kanonberg (Cannon Mountain), a tall hill at the northern edge of the Cape Town metropolitan area. This is my panoramic photo of the mountains near Stellenbosch from its lofty vantage point!