Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Portrait: Johannesburg, South Africa

I was laid off at the end of April. I am yet to find a job. I am married, I have a house and a child. Thank goodness my husband still has his job. I don't want to think about where we would be should he lose/have lost his job. My husband and I had good jobs, earning good salaries, with a lot of left over debt from our student and childless and plainly reckless days. I have been unemployed before, for 3 months about 4 years ago- but it was easier then. We lived off our credit cards, and were in the process of paying off that debt when I was laid off this time. I have no idea how we are surviving, but we were - except never in our lives have so many of bills not been paid. Thankfully we are still able to meet our commitments to the medical aid, bond (mortgage), and car repayments, even able to buy food. Everything else is maneuverable - dodging here, paying there occasionally. But I don't think we can last another month like this.

For the first time, I am really scared. There are hardly any positions in my field, and I have been to too many interviews where at the last minute the position is withdrawn.
Over 200 000 people have lost their jobs since 2008, in a country where unemployment is over 30% - this is terrifying. I know too many people who are unemployed, normal everyday people who have lost their jobs due to the recession. South Africa thought we were immune to the effects of the economic downturn. We had tighter banking laws, corporate laws - but the long fingers of the recession have finally grasped us - hard.

I am a positive, optimistic person. I always see the good side of things. I knew I would be working by June, and May could be looked upon as a holiday. I mean I got to spend time with my son on a daily basis. I got to sleep in (we're in the middle of winter here - so this should be a very big PLUS hehe), I've learnt to recognise the tricks supermarkets use to get us to buy what we don't need. I got to watch as much tv as possible - till we disconnected our satellite tv when it became quite clear that I would not be working by June. We have cut down on everything. Except we still have our son's nanny working for us. I cannot bare to think of her as a 'luxury'. She is a mother too, a single mother working her hardest for her family, she is a person not a luxury. If we 'let go of that luxury' - that means she can no longer put food on her table at home, she cannot send her child to school, how can I do that to another mother? So we scrape and scrimp to pay her salary too. And my positivity is dimming. When I didn't get a job in June, I was convinced I would be working by July. Well, I'm writing this to you on 1 July. I keep doing therapy on myself, reminding myself that worrying and stressing won't change anything except my health, repeating the positives, the silver lining. But there is a voice that is becoming increasingly loud, a voice that cannot be argued with as it speaks with pure logic.

I have applied for EVERY kind of job. But if by the middle of July, EVERY kind will really mean every. I've never worked in retail before - this could be my chance :) I'm good with people, I should make a good waitress. These are not jobs I look down on, not in the least. But I had a certain idea or image in my head. But like a lot of my perceptions, that has changed too. There is no longer an image other than that of survival.

So, to survival! And to never having debt again!

Johannesburg, South Africa