VTT - The Cloud That Thunders

Monday, July 30, 2012
So we were all fired up as we got an early start the next day. We found our way to the Victoria Falls National Park. Locally, it is known as Mosi-Oa-Tunya, literally translated to mean "the cloud that thunders".

It is a sight to behold. Even the day before, as soon as we arrived at our hotel room. We popped out by our hotel room terrace and you could see the cloud in the distance. You could hear the water gushing on the Zambezi River as it makes its way towards the waterfalls. I think the manmade mini water feature that the hotel had definitely contributed a lot to the ambience to get you in the mood.

The waterfalls backdrop

Across the street from the National Park, there were a couple of market stands, side by side, renting raincoats, rare Zim billion dollar bills and various Zimbabwean bric-a-brac. I was not really totally convinced to buy raincoats for the family. However, after seeing a couple come out all wet in their raincoats, hubby thought we might need them and so we rented.

Going into the park, it was a clearly marked path. We turned left and started our journey. It was a while before we caught view of the falls. There were numerous viewing points that provided good photographic opportunities. The different points offered spits of rain from the waterfalls, ranging from drizzles, showers to downpour. Further on, nearer to the falls, there was even "danger point" where the rocks were quite slippery and there were no railings on the edge. You don't quite realise the strength of the water until you see how wet you get at this point.

Hubby looking across at Danger Point

A picture of the Victoria Falls Bridge marks the end of the journey. We didn't cross the bridge over to Livingstone as we would've had to pay visa fees crossing over and back. Plus I was worried that we required yellow fever inoculation and didn't want to risk it (see my earlier concerns).

Victoria Falls itself claims to be the largest waterfalls in the world. It has a width of 1708 metres (5604 ft) and a height of 108 metres (354 ft), thus forming the largest sheet of falling water in the world (according to Wikipedia).

We happily walked back to the park entrance and by the time we reached it, our raincoats were dry. We returned them and walked a further 1km to get into the town of Victoria Falls.

My Husband With The White Coat Syndrome

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
From here

Well, everything wasn't as plain smooth-sailing as it all played out.

The way it works is that when you are requested to undergo medicals by the CIC, you are directed to a designated medical practitioner (DMP), a doctor selected to perform medical examinations for immigration purposes. In Johannesburg, there are 2 DMPs. But we could widen the search as there are another 2 more in Pretoria, which is 50km north of Johannesburg. So I had a choice of 4 but my only criteria was to be whoever is the first one available.

I forgot to mention that the medicals had a time-limit. We had to get them done within 60 days of receiving instructions. So there was really not much time to spare when it comes to the booking and getting them done.

It was just to be a normal check-up with the DMP. Normal check-up included the tests of your blood pressure, sugar level, urine, eyes, reflexes. Some blood tests and x-rays for the lungs are also part of the package.

All was going okay until the DMP started with my hubby. My husband's blood pressure clocked in at about 160/100 and just wouldn't go down. I think they tried to test it about 3 times. The DMP dubbed this "the white coat syndrome" and it apparently afflicts many people. That is, when patients see doctors (the white coats), the patients suddenly develop elevated blood pressure. So now, hubby's not only got diabetes and high blood pressure, he's got another sickness....

Hubby had to book with a cardiologist to check his ECG. Further tests, further costs.....further stress as we waited for hubby's appointment to come. I was really under pressure. We only had less than 3 weeks to submit our medicals and hubby was still waiting to be seen by the cardiologist. Lucky that the DMP was nice enough to give us a referral and so the cardiologist squeezed us in to his busy schedule.

Finally, the day arrived. And hubby went to see the cardiologist who found nothing wrong with him. 2 days later, the cardiologist sent his report to the DMP and the next day, the DMP sent off all our medical reports together. My worries were for nothing.

VTT - Zambesi River Sunset Cruise

Monday, July 23, 2012
Zambesi River
How does it go again?

"It's gonna take a lot to take me away from you, there's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do, I bless the rains down in Africa, gonna take some time to do the things we never have"

I'm pretty sure that when Toto was writing Africa, they had the mighty Zambesi river in mind.

We were treated to a sunset cruise on our day of arrival at Victoria Falls. The cruise was part and parcel of the discounted accommodation price that we got from the hotel.

We were fetched from the hotel by our transport and duly taken to the harbour where our ship awaited us. It was to be a big drinking session as all alcohol and beverages on board are free. Drink as much as you like. We were also offered a snack buffet. The cruise started at around 4pm and ended at 6pm when the sun set.

It was a quiet enjoyable afternoon, spent marvelling at how serene the whole area felt. A briefing tells us that on the other side of the river lies the town of Livingstone, Zambia. Further ahead is where the main feature of the river can be found - The Victoria Falls. There are a couple of islands on the Zambesi river although they are not inhabited. They are there for the animals.

We were taken to see some birdlife and we even got to see some hippos and crocodiles on the river. One thing I didn't know was that hippos were regarded as Africa's main killer animal. They are vegetarians by nature and so do not really kill people for food. "It is all done for fun!", the captain says. Hippos are territorial and therefore do not like being disturbed within their boundaries. They'd happily charge at you and tilt your boat if you do.

Hippos on the Zambesi River

Around about 6pm, the sun begins to set. And everyone tries to get a picture with the sun set. Our camera was acting up so all our pictures looked like they had lighting issues.

Sunset picture
Nevertheless, we were quite relaxed and refreshed as we got back to our hotel that evening.

Final Stages In The Canada Application

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Borrowed photo
Indeed, who knew?

2 weeks later, on a chance outing, I went to our local post office to check our postbox for mail. Imagine my surprise when I received the ever-elusive brown envelope. It looked like an ordinary A5 brown envelope, neither thick nor thin, but inside, it held so much hope and future.

I could hardly contain my excitement. I read the information letter several times as it finally sank in - this was it! The next step to the end. The letter had instructions for us to pay the RPRF (Right of Permanent Residence Fee) and for the family to undergo medical examinations within 60 days from the date of the letter.

The RPRF is paid for the main applicant and the accompanying spouse. At the time, this fee amounted to $490 each for my husband and me. I scheduled to go to the bank and arrange for a bank-guaranteed cheque. I went to the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria the next day to personally deliver the cheque.

Organising the medical examinations with the doctor was a little trickier than normal. You see, it was December when we received the instructions. So when it was time to book the examinations, the doctors were going on holiday already. The earliest booking that I could get was January.

Once the medicals were done and dusted, it was just the last wait for the passport requests. And on the 23rd month, we were summoned.

VTT - Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Monday, July 16, 2012
Borrowed photo
I suppose one could say that Africa has embedded itself in my life. After spending more than 2 decades living here, I think I am more African than I'd like to admit. This was to be our last big family holiday before our big trek to Canada. And what better place than to be in one of the most beautiful places in Africa - Victoria Falls.

There are two things that come to mind when you mention "Victoria Falls". Victoria Falls can be meant to be the actual waterfalls. Or it could mean the town of the same name, where the waterfalls can be found. The waterfalls, which is the main attraction, is situated between the towns of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Livingstone, Zambia.

As our budget was a bit limited and travelling with the whole family is never cheap, I had to plan the vacation quite carefully. I spent a few weeks trying to determine where to get airfares, accommodation, activities....basically, value for money. Everything was in US dollars so it turned out to be a pricey exercise.

Victoria Falls is a popular destination for South Africans as there are often discounts and specials. Our stay was determined by one such special. I actually found accommodation where we stayed for 4 nights but only paid for 3. The hotel was a little out of the main town. It takes less than 10 minutes to get there and the hotel does provide transport almost every hour after noon to and from town. It was still a toss-up between Victoria Falls and Livingstone at the time...until the special caught my eye. So it was Victoria Falls indeed.

One other thing that I didn't really particularly wanted to go through was take yellow fever inoculation. You see, it is required if you travel into Zambia to get this inoculation. But if you go into Zimbabwe, you only need malaria tablets. The inoculations are valid for 10 years though. I think we can put it down to my fear of needle that tipped the decision Zimbabwe way.

Victoria Falls is a quaint and quiet little town where everything is within 10-15 minutes away. The town is fuelled by tourism and so most of the people (if not all) are employed in this industry. Everywhere you needed to go, for any activities, there would be transfers provided. The town itself is quite safe. We walked around town some days and we did not feel any threat or danger.

We enjoyed our getaway to Victoria Falls a lot. In total, we stayed there for 5 days. Although at some point, we found that it was a bit on the expensive side because everything we paid for were in dollars. But as hubby pointed out, we actually should start learning to pay in dollars now as we would soon be doing that in Canada anyways.

For more about our trip to Victoria Falls, stay tuned.

More Anticipation Emigrating

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Borrowed photo
And so it goes on. The waiting game, I mean.

Each time I checked our application status on the CIC website, it kept saying that the visa office had received our documents. I could also check the timelines of application sent per visa office per type of application (if it was federal skilled worker, provincial nominee, etc.) However, the timeline just kept becoming longer and longer as the months grew higher and higher. I became despondent, thinking that our application was stuck in a black hole somewhere never to resurface.

Around the 8th month of waiting after submission of all documents, I was pleasantly surprised whilst checking the CIC website to find that our application status has changed from "Received By Visa Office" to "In Process". We were promptly informed by the system that the visa office had our file and it was pending review. It did not mention anything else.

It lifted my spirits. I diligently watched our status on the CIC website like a hawk. However, after this update in status, the situation reverted and became quiet again. Nothing happened. I once more, started feeling dejected.

I had all but resigned to the fact that our application was not meant to be. Another 8 months pass when another line was added onto our application status on the CIC website: The visa office has started processing your application on xxxxx date.

I was ecstatic! Although I knew from past experiences that this extra line meant nothing concrete at all. It could mean a few months or another year, who knows. Little did I realise that this was the start of our roller coaster ride.

We were now at 20 months and counting.....

The Emigration Waiting Game

Monday, July 9, 2012

Borrowed photo

Nobody tells you this when you start the whole emigration process but waiting is the name of the game. The waiting can half drive you mad if you are not so careful. I know that the recent changes in the Canadian immigration process is directed at making the timelines for the applicants much more reasonable (mainly so that they do not have to wait long) but it doesn't make it any easier. At the end of the day, there is still an amount of waiting involved.

After receiving confirmation that our initial application was accepted, I was happily going through the motions of compiling all the documents to meet the 120-day deadline, blissfully unaware that in just a few months, the rules of Canadian immigration was gonna change, yet again.

The new occupations list came out on June 2010, right as I was finishing up my compilation. The list contained preferred applicants in a certain field of work, and "accountants" were no longer part of the desired occupations. Horrors of horrors! I was livid. I quickly rounded up the missing items on our requirements and submitted all documents well within the given period of 120 days. Even personally taking the document pack to the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria.

However, from this point onwards, we heard nothing else. And so our waiting began.

All that waiting was a killer! During that time, every tidbit and ounce of news, good or bad, is....well, influential and life-changing, also in a good or bad way. I cannot imagine how it felt for those applicants who have been waiting since 2005. "No news is good news" does not definitely apply in the emigration books.

You are able to track your application progress on the CIC website. This helped a bit during those cold, winter, lonely nights when I'd lie awake thinking about every inch of each document I had submitted through. The words "Received By Visa Office" although comforting at first, became a bit tiring after the umpteenth month. The status remained that way for 8 months or so until some glimmer of hope eventually came our way. It was not the light at the end of the tunnel though. More waiting awaited us.

IELTS For Emigration Dummies

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

From here

One of the requirements in the immigration process nowadays is doing a language test to gauge the level of a person's language proficiency in the country's national language(s). For Canada, the two languages of note are, of course, English and French.

When we first submitted our application for Canada in March 2010, doing the language test was not required but rather an optional step in the process. One was allowed to prove one's proficiency via testimonials and documentation. Although I am a fluent English speaker, I felt that the only way to truly establish it would be just to go through and take the test.

I was slightly worried at first as many warned that the test, although not difficult, was somewhat tricky. I booked myself at the Language Lab International House in Johannesburg situated at Braamfontein. I went to one practice class to learn the ropes and ease my anxiety. I met some really nice wonderful people during practice but most of them were immigrating to Australia. I eventually took the test a week later. The test came in 4 parts - reading, writing, listening and speaking.

I was tense with the results as I knew a lot was riding on them. Those were the days when I was worried about every little thing that affected our whole application to Canada. But it turned out I had nothing to fear.

Two weeks after the test, the results came out and I passed...brilliantly. My English was delish, if I do say so myself. LOL.

So for those still going through the process, do not panic. I agree with most that the test is not hard. A little caution and attention in answering the questions asked would greatly assist in passing with flying colours. To alleviate some of the uncertainties, you may want to try some samples of the test found all over the web. Just google IELTS free practice exams.

The Prodigal Employee

Monday, July 2, 2012
From here

I'm a little nervous about announcing stuff, especially about career moves, as I think I may have spoken out too soon recently when I said that I was involved in a head hunt.

I even thought that maybe wishing myself some luck would somehow magically put me on the right and straight, errors and mistakes free. But alas, it was not meant to be.

The company I went into was in a state. And although I can probably try to stay and assist, I could see that in the end, for all that is good and well, the company will not be saved. It was going one way, and one way alone.

I decided to negotiate my return with my old employer and ain't I just lucky that they still quite haven't found a replacement? I laid all my cards on the table, including the emigration trump card and a timeline of around 6 months. To my amazement...and relief, my old boss still wants me back.

So, much like the parable, the prodigal employee (that's me!) returns. I plan this to be my last job in South Africa before my emigration takes flight.

I hope no jinxes come my way, but am hoping for the best here now!