Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Joys of GPS

Since we arrived in South Africa, we have been almost entirely dependent on our Garmin to get us from point A to point B. And we have found that neither point A nor point B are ever entirely clear. South Africa is a developing country with a huge mixture of dense city, towns in progress, townships that have just sprung up all over without a hint of planning, and then a lot of open country where nothing is named. We have classes and responsibilities in all of these to which we have to arrive somehow.
One of the seminaries and one of the institutes we visit is in this township, just a block or so from here--it's really important in those areas to know just where you are going.

Because Johannesburg grew out of a bunch of smaller cities, a "navigator" often has to know in which small city the address used to be. The city all looks like Johannesburg to us, but the Garmin wants to know if it is really in Little Falls, Randburg, Roodepoort, Santon or Sandton (no they are not the same) and the list goes on. Looking for a place in a city does have an advantage though, because there are actual streets with actual names and with numbered addresses. BUT beware, sometimes there are several of the same street names that have the same addresses.  I guess when Johannesburg merged into a big city, no one wanted to give up their Phillips Avenues or Protea Circles or Zimbabwe Drives. In our first week here, with our new Garmin programmed for the CES office, we headed off with at least a little big of confidence, turning this way and that to get to Phillips Drive. Instead of arriving at Mission Training Center though, we ended up in the heart of downtown, next door to the Mandela Bridge, at least 30km from our destination (notice how I’m becoming South African and using the metric system of measurement.)
This is our Garmin's version of the Mission Training Center 
where we go for our meetings, materials, training, etc. 

We eventually found that there is a way to overcome the multiple address problem though—each area has a postal code so if when you put the address into the Garmin you include the postal code you will get to the right Phillips Avenue. But speaking of postal codes, remember this is the country that just lived through a five-month mail strike and didn’t even seem to notice. I think the only people I heard complain were the American missionaries who were naïve enough to expect the postal system to work. So if these people with addresses apparently don’t use their postal system, how many do you guess know their postal code? If you guessed almost 0, then you would be correct.
 You might also guess that when we get out of the city addresses it should be easier to find since there is only one of any given addresses. But if you guessed that, you would be wrong. The maps that have been loaded into the GPS database must be more dreams in the minds of city planners than they are actual roads. Speaking with authority, our Garmin efficiently directs us to some unnamed road and then insists that you turn right into a field of goats. If you don’t turn, then fine. She gets a little irritated, but will oblige by guiding us another way in a 10km loop until she suggests that we now try turning left into the goat pasture from the other side.
I can’t deny though that the Garmin has provided a lot of scenic adventures. One beautiful morning we traveled outside of Tzaneen to find a business for which we clearly had the correct address. They sell products worldwide and even have a web site for crying out loud ( But because the craftsmen in the business are native men and women, the facility is where their workers are—far out of town in the middle of a lot of orange groves and chicken farms. The Garmin knew exactly where the business was, but alas could not determine how a vehicle might get to said address. We traveled through some beautiful bush country and were not deterred when the Garmin assured us that the business was on our right (maybe hidden behind the dense brush?) Several hours later, after inventing our own alternative route, we finally reached Kaross, the manufacturer of the gorgeous hand embroidery. Sadly it was closed but the drive had been beautiful.
On occasion our difficulty is multiplied by human error. This morning we left our flat at 6:30a to inspect the apartments of eight sets of elders. The furthest were about two and a half hours away, but they were all to be in their apartments until 1:00p and we had carefully plotted out the coordinates so we knew the path we should follow for efficiency.  At 11:30, five hours later, we finally found the first flat. We had approached the incorrect coordinates from three different directions on dirt roads with huge potholes. 
Finally we began to suspect that it wasn’t our approach but the coordinates that we were given that were causing our difficulty. But before that was confirmed by several calls to the elders, I turned on the carefully budgeted cellular data on the iPhone and found the address with Google Maps. Yippeeee! Google Maps was somehow sorting through satellite data to direct us onto actual roads to the given address and after another half hour or so, we heard the welcome words “your destination on your left.” Except this was the destination that was on our left! J

This is 84 Park Crescent Drive, where our Garmin claims that two fine
 young elders live. What do you think missionary moms?

And below are some of the places we have visited unexpectedly, compliments of our GPS system.


  1. Fun post Mom. Sure makes you appreciate the US!

  2. 😂 I can just imagine you and dad getting angry at the little direction voice. I wonder if you guys will get in the habit of leaving hours early for unknown destinations when you get back.

  3. Guessing this is not how you wanted to do your exploration of the area but sounds like you are taking it all in stride, and good to hear others talk back to the GPS ;-)
    This blog of yours will be invaluable to the couple who serve after you who may not be such hardy folk.
    Sure to think what an amazing pair they came after