Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The ketchup

Remember that massive mail that I sent out a few weeks ago, here it is again... just in case you really bored! ;)

Greetings to all the wonderful people of South Africa.

First of all, apologies for only writing a decent email so late, also
keeping in touch so seldom, saying thanks for moral and financial
support etc. Many of you have send supportive sms's and emails and I
have (mainly) procrastinated on getting back to you. Time does indeed
go by very quickly and the weeks have flown by. It's a couple weeks
short of 3 months since I left the shores of SA. Due to the kind loan
of a laptop, I have some time to write a full run down, or an attempt
thereof. Previously my internet time was restricted to an hour or two
at a time, and usually involved a 25min bus ride and 10 min walk to
the only internet café in the city. Yes – it does sound quite third
world but things were far from that.

For most of my time here I was in Cambridge. It's a small (relative to
London) town north east of London. It's about 2 hours drive by bus
from London. It's a beautiful university town. The university owns and
controls most of the land, and they do an amazing job to make sure
that the historic aesthetic of the city remains intact. This
translates to a beautiful city that has no structures taller than 3
stories. There are churches and historical building that are hundreds
of years old. It's very picturesque with a beautiful meandering river.
'Cambridge' actually means 'Bridge over the river Cam'. Do a Google
and check it out.

After touching down at Heathrow (which after all the hype about how
difficult customs can be – was a walk in the park. I was ultra
paranoid about being deported for having Panados that looked like
Ecstacy or something stupid) I virtually got immediately onto a bus
headed for Cambridge. Reason for Cambridge was that I had a place to
stay and guaranteed part-time work. I stayed in the residence of a
company that specialised in agricultural work. There were ten, yes ten
of us living in this house. It was strange getting used to sharing a
house with virtual strangers. I shared a bedroom with Nischol (my
cousin), so that was okay. What was weird was sharing a bathroom and
kitchen with strangers. Took a bit of getting used to, but eventually
had a novelty to speaking to strangers from all over Europe e.g.,
Poland, Russia, Hungary. Many South Africans too – but none from
Durban. The room I shared was very small – well that's kinda an
understatement. Was about 3m x 2m. A midget couldn't swing a kitten.

Anyway…the type of work I did was stuff I would NEVER consider doing
in South Africa. It changed all the time and was everything from
weeding, sweeping, painting and cleaning. It did pay the rent and
transport was provided – so it provided a cushy and comfortable intro
to the UK, as opposed to being unemployed and destitute. Trust me –
I've heard some horror stories about people sleeping on streets etc.
Not exactly glamorous, but it's been an experience that has made me
appreciate the things that we take for granted. It'll give me
character, or so I would like to think. ;) The one good thing that I
needed from being with that company was that they organised a UK bank
account and a 'National Insurance Number which is necessary ,which can
be difficult to obtain by oneself.

During this time I was constantly applying for Graphic Design jobs –
mostly online at the internet café which as I said was a bit of a trek
to get there. Oh and public transport is super efficient, clean, and
always on time – just a bit pricey. Costs about R30 for a day city
pass. Internet time was per hour and time precious, so mainly time was
spent applying for jobs with little time to spare, so hence the reason
for being able to write long stories. The job market I have found very
difficult to break into. Whereas my job in SA was very varied with
different types of work from video to print, here agencies are very
specialised, and focus on a core function like annual reports or
packaging or retail interiors. I guess people are not sure what to
make of me. Maybe it is that there are so many talented individuals
looking for work than there are jobs available. Jobs advertised have
an average 60 applicants I'm told, and they are usually very specific
as to what they are looking for. I am shortlisted or am called to
interview for on average one in 50 jobs that I apply for. I have been
for only 5 interviews – taking me to different parts of the country.
The furthest was 5 hours away and required me to take three busses. I
end up being rather buss-lagged. I'm still waiting to hear on a couple
of jobs so who knows where I'll be living or working in the near
future. I've been to Brighton, Buckingham, Leicester and of course –
London for interviews. Expensive but necessary.

I've some really great people – some of who have been rather
understanding of my situation and have put me up in relatively
luxurious accommodation with a beautiful view of the River Cam – a far
cry form the shoebox I lived in when I first came here. I have in the
last month or so not been working for that agricultural company –
which has been the reason I have been able to commute cross-country
for job interviews. It has freed up my time. I guess I should enjoy
this free time. I'm really gone appreciate it once I have my full time
job. For example, I am currently in Brighton which is on the South
Coast of the UK. I've been relaxing here for a week now, staying in a
motor-home. Living on a campsite with dozens of people in tents and
all types of motor homes - itself has been an interesting experience
– seems to have it's own subculture. It works out much cheaper than a
hotel – with really no hurry to get back to civilization. Brighton in
a beach town and it is very reminiscent of Durban or similar towns on
the KZN South Coast. It's very touristy and has a thriving night life.
This past weekend were huge festivities with street parties for four
days in a row. I'm all partied out, and found refuge in coffee shops
and café's while all the noise goes on outside. Only so much alcohol
and thumping music one can take in a weekend. Must be getting old… ;)

Yes, three months and only a few days in London. Just as well I wasn't
there for all the bombings on the tube. I was there in the very spot
where one of the bombs went off. It was shocking but I did feel a
sense of distance from it all. It was more surreal than it was
jarring. Going back though after was a bit un-nerving. Also what I was
conscious of - that I fitted the profile of a suicide bomber –
complete with rucksack!

There is no doubt – cost of living here is definitely more expensive.
What's really scary was how our Rand shrinks twelve-fold. One really
becomes conscious of how you spend in the beginning – almost paranoid.
A macdonalds meal that would cost you R25 in SA, might cost you R60
here. A beer in a club might cost you R6. Here it costs R36!!!!!!!!!!
Accommodation here costs – depending on where you stay – between R500
and R1200 per WEEK! (that's to rent a room in a flat or a house) It's
okay once you earn in pounds, just plain scary before.

Just been for a freelance interview this afternoon in Brighton. May
have to buy a computer so I can freelance from home. Can be lucrative
as there are agencies that support freelancers, but I am still new to
it all and not sure what I prefer to do right now. Security of a full
time job sounds very appealing. Yes – it does take a while to get used
to things here. One thing I miss is curry – home cooked food. I hang
out with people who cook – for example salmon or chicken without any
spices or flavourings and my famous line is calling their food
'bland'. I have tried to cook curry myself but it's just not the same.
The last time I ate a decent curry was in Leicester which was 5 hours
away and took me 3 busses to get there. Savoured a paneer and chickpea
curry with a garlic naan. Sounds trivial, but was soooooooo welcome.
Also found a shop in Brighton pier that sold South African Products
like koeksister, biltong, romany creams, pronutro and fanta. Felt like
home for a few minutes. Sad I know… ;)

Okay…Manual labour, shoestring budgets and major uncertaintly about
future prospects aside – taking this plunge has resulted in having
really amazing experiences, seeing new places and meeting great
people. It's been one helluva rollercoaster of a journey and I have
absolutely no regrets.

I do miss home and all of you. It would be great to know what's been
happening back home. Do keep me informed and send me pics wont ya???
The pics that I've received so far have been great! Keep em coming…

Look forward to seeing what destiny has in store…

Till next time…lotsa luv.
Kamlan Munsamy
08 August 2005

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