Saturday, June 27, 2009

when i don't love africa

june 24th blog entry -- scratch that.
it's a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

haha, jk.

but today, i just remembered why i'm sometimes extremely eager to get back home. one of the things i won't miss about africa: often slow, inefficient, and almost ridiculous quality of service. granted, it's a sweeping generalization relative to western standards (t.i.a., right?), and i'm probably just speaking out of frustration, i've learned a lot about patience this past year.

***caution: long entry!

(1) a couple of months ago, i needed to download something online, print something out, and fax something outside the country. internet was working, but at the time, printers weren't readily available around the place. so i made a plan: i'll just save the document on my flash drive, go to one of the internet cafes in town, print it out at the internet cafe, and fax it at the post office (the only place where international fax is available). simple. easy.

i drove into town (a 30-minute drive from where i live) in hopes of everything going according to plan. or rather, in unsuspect of things going way out of plan. i mean, it wasn't much of a plan in the first place. this was supposed to be a simple errand.

unfortunately, joko, the first internet cafe i visited, was under reconstruction. the second one, and the only other one that i knew of, was just highly... disfunctional. i went on one of the computers, opened the document, and asked the guy if he could print out the document. sure, he said. he set things up, etc. etc., but for some reason, the document wasn't printing. the few times the printer managed to print something, my document was being printed out one fourth the size of the paper. i asked if i could see the printer and just change some things with the settings. he said no. he turned the printer on and off several times. he turned the computer off and on several times. still, the printer either said "no signal" or spewed out mini-versions of my document. he called another guy to help him out. they both were trying to figure out why this wasn't working. by that time, 40 minutes had already passed -- i'm not exaggerating. i was getting a bit frustrated and just wanted to leave.

"is there another place i can go to print?"



i finally persuaded him to see the computer myself. sure enough, the settings were not on "full-page (or whatever the settings ought to have been on)," and after a couple of more "no signals" from the printer, i was finally able to get a normal-sized hardcopy of my document.

funnily enough, i ended up paying for more than the 1 page that i had gleaned. 16 pages, to be exact.

with my document, i drove off to the post office in town. i distinctly remember it was just about 11am when i arrived. it was the weekend, which meant, all of the shops and services in town closed at noon. (which isn't to say that all of the shops don't close at noon on weekdays; all the shops in town take a 2-hour break, from noon to 2pm, every single weekday. real siestas.)

anyway, i asked the guy at the desk if international fax is available. yes, he said. he took my document, and put it through the fax machine. not surprisingly, the fax machine wasn't working. it kept on saying, "memory full," and the signal kept on cutting off.

i don't know much about fax machines, but common sense -- the little that i have -- told me to at least suggest something about this message that kept on blinking on the machine.

"i think something's wrong with the fax machine. it keeps on saying 'memory full.'"

"no, it always works."

he continued to call the fax number without receiving any signal in response. after many failed attempts, he finally called a customer service number of the company. he gave them my fax number, and they called for me. still, no response, and "memory full." after a couple of times of doing this and having casually lengthy conversations with customer service, the page finally goes through the fax machine. in the middle of it (surprise), the machine read "error." i was pretty frustrated at this point. it was 15 minutes 'til noon.

"is there any other place i can go for international fax?"

"i don't know."

"can i take my document so i can look for other places that have international fax before they close at noon?"

"just wait a moment. i'm trying again."

he tried again. and again. and finally, at noon, he gives me back the document.

"we're closing now. and fax isn't working."


i'm at a loss for words. i just took my document and was about to leave until he called out,

"you need to pay. for the document."

"but it said error."

"but it went through."

i didn't even try to argue.

250 meticais. that's 10 dollars.

that day, i went home feeling.
a little.

(2) last week, a group of us met in town for pizza. while i'm a huge fan of pizza, i was in the mood for pasta. i ordered penne with tomato sauce, ground beef, and parmesan. after much waiting, my order finally came out.

right from the beginning, something was a bit off with my order. i didn't get penne pasta; it was spaghetti with tomato sauce, ground beef, and what looked like parmesan sprinkled and mixed in all over the spaghetti. but who cares, so i proceeded to eat. i took one bite. something tasted a little funny. i couldn't pinpoint what it was, but it just tasted funny. 'maybe they put in some kind of exotic herb.' i continued to eat it, but after a couple of bites, i had a feeling that something was actually wrong with the dish. nobody else ordered pasta or spaghetti; i couldn't compare. so i asked others to try it. sarah tried it. she also said it tasted a little funky, but couldn't tell me what it was. i passed on a bite of it to amy. she knew exactly what it was.

"oh gosh, it tastes like milk gone bad."

it was the cheese.

upon closer examination, the parmesan chunks that were mixed in all over the spaghetti and sauce had green spots all over. i was a little aghast, but still didn't know what to make of it. the following thought process, in hindsight, convinced me something about myself that i never readily admitted in the past: i have a skewed logic. a very skewed logic.

instead of calling the server right away, i thought,

'maybe it was intentional. old cheese is blue cheese. maybe it's just intentional blue cheese instead of bad parmesan.'

while i was seriously considering this nonsensical thought out loud, john intervened, "either way, it's blue cheese."

good point.

i finally called the server for the menu. the menu clearly indicated "parmesan." i called the server again and told her of my dish tasting funny. i tried to explain in my broken portuguese -- "the cheese isn't good." she looked at me squarely. i could tell what she was thinking. 'sure, that's a subjective point.' so i tried to explain -- "the cheese tastes like bad milk. it's old." after many other versions of this same explanation, the server finally went inside the kitchen and called her supervisor. the supervisor came out with a bucket of something. she opened the lid, and in it was a brand new package of parmesan cheese. she told us that this was the one they had used for my plate.

everyone at the table was a little more than skeptical. i just showed the supervisor my plate. "the cheese is green. the parmesan you're holding is not. it's not the same." the supervisor and server both denied this observation with -- "but this is the cheese we used." after much going back and forth, the supervisor and server went back into the kitchen. the server came back out, i had hoped with another plate of spaghetti (or penne) with the right cheese. but she ignored our table and continued to serve other tables.

by this time, the rest of the group had finished their pizza, and the same server came over to collect their empty plates. along with that, the server proceeded to collect my plate that was still full of green-cheese spaghetti. not knowing what was going on, i stopped her in her tracks.

"what are you doing?"

"you didn't want it."

"are you bringing another pasta dish?"

"no. but you don't have to pay for it."


you know, at least i didn't have to pay for it.

but i was hungry.

and apparently, customers are never right here.

(3) my final vent-out story after all of this long, whiny, and uninsightful rant. probably the most relevant to my life right now because this case could lead to a few serious consequences.

today, and for the past month, i've been trying to change my return flight back to the states. it's originally scheduled for the end of july: leave joburg on july 31, arrive in new york august 1, leave newark (new jersey) on the afternoon of august 1 and finally arrive in san francisco on the night of august 1. (i didn't notice this -- or rather, unconsciously ignored this factor -- that i would actually have to change airports to catch a flight from the east coast to the west. it probably has something to do with buying the cheapest ticket online with south africa airways. -_- )

anyway, i wanted to change my flight to the 22nd, arriving in the states on the 23rd. there's no function on the website to change my flight. i couldn't get hold of the south african representatives of south african airways, either (calling internationally was far too expensive, anyway). fortunately (or so i thought), there were mozambican contacts for south african airways. after calling several different mozambican numbers, i finally got hold of someone who seemed to be able to change my flight. i probably called her at least eight times throughout this past month. and conversations always go the same way. and after a month of redundant conversations and phone-tagging, i basically got nowhere.

some parts of the conversation just crack me up, though:

"what's your name?"

"hannah chung (then i spell it out -- h as in hat, etc.)"

"hannah choong??"

"yes, that's right. hannah choong."


"i gave you another number to call."

"nobody at that number was able to help me."

"no, that's not possible. they're supposed to help you."

"but they couldn't help me."


and the best one yet:

"what's your reservation number?"


"hm. where did you buy this ticket? in south africa?"

"no, i bought it in the united states. i bought it online."


"on the internet. online."


haha, anyway, the south african airways mozambican rep finally made some changes. i checked online to see if everything was confirmed. sure enough, i had a flight for the 22nd of july. but i also had a flight leaving from joburg for the 17th and the 31st as well. there were no flights arranged for my flight from newark to san francisco. i called back again, and as the rep checked, apparently, all flights flying from newark to san francisco are booked until december 2009. no room.

my point is, if i ever had one,

june 24th entry -- really scratch that.
cuz i might not be coming home.

or i might be coming back on the 23rd of july.
or the 18th.
or the 1 of august.


Jeanee said...

Haha... Hen-nah,
I tried calling S. African airways to make your changes, but the following happened:
1. They put me on hold for 15 minutes and my international phone card minutes ran out.
2. I called the New York office, but they never picked up.
I guess you're stuck there.


charlie said...

i enjoyed reading your last 2 posts....hope you enjoy having the wellspring team out there...will be praying for their time out there...

i can't believe the year has almost ended...looking forward to reading your reflections as you finish your time there and come back to the west....

Lee said...

Hahahaa :) Well, anyway everything worked out! Have a safe trip back to the States! God bless, be praying for you!

maria said...

Well i would say thats life and we need to adjust according to the phases that life shows us, Gob bless you and your work.I'll be keeping a close eye on your blog and looking forward to each new post.

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