Hostage

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She was gone and I was left alone, a trembling, hopeless hostage, tethered to the line, the mind-numbing muzak seeping into my ear towards my brain, rendering me slowly unconscious.

“Thank you for holding and holding and holding (you’re quite a sucker, aren’t you?).”

“All our service consultants are currently on their taxpayer-sponsored coffee breaks, after which they will be going to a leisurely lunch followed by a five-day weekend. They will pay for the lunch and the weekend with that erroneous deduction of thousands of Rand they had made from your bank account - a slight oversight that occurred when the decimal sign was curiously misplaced and which will take five years and thousands more of your hard-earned Rand to fix,” says the robotic operator in her best Stepford Wife voice.

When I left South Africa in 1996, I was a broke journalist who had to rely on dates for food (so needless to say, I made Kate Moss seem positively obese).

After the money for my rent payment was scraped together, there simply wasn’t anything left for luxuries like food, or a car, or electricity (and my apartment was situated above a Mobil petrol station, which made striking matches to light candles a potentially life-ending and therefore quite thrilling adventure. The upside to living at that particular address was that my friends and I never needed drugs to get high. We merely had to lean out the windows and inhale). And after not spending money on food, or a car, or electricity, there was also no money left for a home telephone.

So, until this morning, I had NO IDEA what it’s like dealing with Hellkom, the ‘affectionate’ nickname given to Telkom, South Africa’s only phone company.

My initiation into the paradoxical experience of trying to get someone from the phone company on the phone occurred in the United States. But James Earl Jones, who thanked me profusely (and repeatedly) for phoning Bell-Atlantic in his sexy Mufasa voice made the whole experience of holding for five hours straight bearable - even secretly enjoyable.

Now, I’ve HEARD the Hellkom Horror Stories and there are enough of those to fill several hefty tomes. So I can’t really say that I went into this entirely unwittingly.

But you know how it is, unless and until you’ve experienced something really awful for yourself, you’re not really able to wrap your mind around it, therefore you always think: “Oh, it can’t be THAT bad. These few (read: millions of) people must surely be exaggerating!”

So I didn’t even complain or hesitate to pick up the phone when my sister asked me to do her a “little” favour and call the phone company on her behalf to find out why they haven’t yet come to move the phone line that she had asked them to “some time ago.”

“When did you ask them to come and do it?” I asked her as I was dialing the number. (Not because I was suspicious at her vagueness, silly me. Merely because I wanted be well-informed when I spoke to someone at Hellkom.)

“Oh, about six months ago,” she mumbled before sprinting out the door, dodging the directory I had thrown at her.

Too late. She was gone and I was left alone, a trembling, hopeless hostage, tethered to the line, the mind-numbing muzak already seeping into my ear towards my brain, rendering me slowly unconscious.

After fifteen minutes the muzak stopped. And even though it should be deemed unnecessary to say that the muzak was awful (because it’s a scientific law of the Universe that muzak must be awful, didn’t you know?), the sudden silence was unnerving.

Just when I thought that I had been cut off, the eerie Stepford-Wife voice came on.

I held. (I might be a sucker, but I’m a PERSISTENT sucker!)

I read War and Peace. The unabridged version. Twice. In its original Russian.

With the other hand, I still held.

Elephants mated, gestated and the females gave birth to their full-term calves.

I was still on hold.

High school graduates entered medical school. Years later, as those same students were solemnly reciting the Hippocratic Oath, I was STILL holding.

You think you get the point, don’t you? But no, really, I assure you, you don’t.

I typed this blog post with one finger. (Still holding.)

Bush was impeached. (I wanted to say that he finally became an intelligent life form, but I simply don’t have enough imagination to write science fiction.) A Democratic black Jewish woman became President of the United States. (Perhaps I can write fantasy fiction instead?)

At last, there was worldwide peace; global famine and poverty and illiteracy were eradicated (and with it, crime); cures were discovered for all diseases; all orphans and stray animals were adopted into loving homes and free books and unlimited refill coffees became a human right.

And I?

Was STILL ON HOLD!

Because alas, whilst corrupt governments crumbled and dictatorships were (peacefully) toppled, one thing remained stubbornly unchanged:

Phone companies never answered their telephones.

(Yes, I'm STILL holding.)

11 Comments

Red Dahling,
There is nothing like James Earl Jones' voice to assure you that you are not holding in vain.(which is not really true) Can you press (0) for the operator? or does it not work their either? Remember when you would call me at work,and we would stay on the phone for hours? Just imagine all the of the pissed off people waiting on hold trying to reach me. Are you still on hold?

deeleea said:

BSdiva is right actually, there are always shortcuts for these IVR managed lines... 0 works, sometimes * does.

Our local consumer mag just published all the secret codes for various big telcos and banks.

It bugs me... now my secret is out and EVERYone has put themselves at the head of the queue!

TimT said:

Still on hold?

If this goes on for much longer, then we may have to parachute in supplies.

MISSION ORDERS: S. AFRICAN WOMAN ... MISSING ... PRESUMED ON HOLD ... LOCATE AND SEND IN FOOD AND MEDICAL SUPPLIES AS NECESSARY.

DON'T MAKE US SEND DR. PHIL OUT THERE. WE WILL IF FORCED.

redsaid said:

Diva Daahling, of COURSE I remember. In fact, it's one of my fondest memories. At least, whenever you put me on hold, instead of muzak, I had Baltimore's very own Classic FM to soothe my frayed nerves. And I didn't even mind listening to it, because they had that South African DJ I could listen to so I could stifle the homesickness. Ah, those WERE the days. P.S. Starbucks withdrawals have made me INSANE. I wish I could marry Starbucks. I dream of Starbucks...

Dee, I was too scared to press anything, at the risk of being cut off. They're a temperamental bunch at Hellkom. If you don't obey their Stepford Wife voice, they WILL make you pay by slapping 5 000 onto your already sky high internet bill.

TimT, NOOOOOO! Not Dr. Phil! Please! I PROMISE I'll be good, just do NOT unleash the TV Shrink. (Unless he comes with a Green Card to hand deliver, in which case, why, he'll be MORE than welcome!)

Rory said:

$^@%&$@%^@^#$^@%&@%$&$%&@$ , Sorry but i just can't express my hatred towards telkom in any language >.<

kerri said:

I love how James Earl Jones' voice will forever be associated with Mufasa. I do that, too. I even went and saw The Lion King on Broadway and remarked to myself "Hey, that's not James Earl Jones' voice!" when it came his turn to speak. Then I pouted.
;)

Claudia said:

Glad we all experience simular circumstances....TG for cell phones...................... Like the new LOOK, very impressed!

SilverSabre said:

Yes, telkom is the devil...I have heard rumours that they are run by a leaugue of undead lawyers, I have also heard other less possible rumours that a second provider will be gracing our shores...but I will believe that when I see it.

Great Blog by the way :)

Jaco said:

Hi Red
Who better to welcome you back to S.A. than the robotic voice from Hellkom. Too bad we don't live amongst lions because that would have been a warmer welcome.
Nice to have met you.
Jaco

Anthony said:

Telkom? Hmm...that sounds like the same phone company I have in Germany, though I'm not too sure. Thank God my roomate deals with them if they are (I take care of electricity and the landlord).

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
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comments
  • stacey-keebler : Nice site... [go]
  • Anthony : Telkom? Hmm...that sounds like the same phone company I have in Germany, though I'm not too sure. ... [go]
  • Jaco : Hi Red Who better to welcome you back to S.A. than the robotic voice from Hellkom. Too bad we don't ... [go]
  • SilverSabre : Yes, telkom is the devil...I have heard rumours that they are run by a leaugue of undead lawyers, I ... [go]
  • Claudia : Glad we all experience simular circumstances....TG for cell phones...................... Like the ne... [go]
  • kerri : I love how James Earl Jones' voice will forever be associated with Mufasa. I do that, too. I even we... [go]
  • Rory : $^@%&$@%^@^#$^@%&@%$&$%&@$ , Sorry but i just can't express my hatred towards telkom in any language... [go]
  • redsaid : Diva Daahling, of COURSE I remember. In fact, it's one of my fondest memories. At least, whenever yo... [go]
  • TimT : Still on hold? If this goes on for much longer, then we may have to parachute in supplies. MISSI... [go]
  • deeleea : BSdiva is right actually, there are always shortcuts for these IVR managed lines... 0 works, sometim... [go]
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