I’ve written several times about Joburg’s Oriental Plaza  — a giant Indian shopping mall in Fordsburg. “The Plaza”, as locals call it, is one of my favorite spots in town. So when my friend Anita called me up on her birthday and invited me to go to The Plaza to pick up a rabbit fur coat, I dropped everything and complied.

I know what you’re thinking: Anita’s birthday, The Plaza, a rabbit fur coat? WTF?

Anita, Johnson, and me at The Plaza.

Let me explain. Many moons ago, Anita’s mother-in-law Martha received a rabbit fur coat as a gift from her rabbit-farmer neighbor in England. A few decades later, Martha passed the coat down to Anita.

Anita, being a quirky fashionista and wanting to honor Martha, hatched a plan to transform the coat into something she will actually wear. The idea was fully formed in her head — shorten the coat, take it in, change the lining, and — gulp — remove the sleeves. Anita is a fashion-forward thinker.

The big question was where and how to implement the coat transformation. Tailoring a rabbit fur coat is not a straight-forward type of alteration, especially in Joburg. But Anita felt certain she could find a solution at The Plaza. She invited me along on her quest.

We arrived at The Plaza and went from shop to shop, consulting with tailors. (Pretty much every shop at The Plaza has a resident tailor.) Each tailor had the same reaction when Anita pulled out the coat: “Oh no, no. My machine cannot handle that fur.”


Anita and a helpless tailor express consternation at the rabbit fur coat. (Animal rights activists, please don’t judge. It’s a family heirloom.)

As we were on the verge of giving up, someone directed us to a tucked-away shop on the second level of The Plaza.

It’s a bridal shop. It’s a “Krazy Leather Point”.  It’s a “Cellular Cellphone Repairing” shop. Apparently it’s also a rabbit-fur coat smuggler.

We walked in wearily and Anita showed the coat to Ashraf, the shop-owner. She explained her vision.

“I can’t do that here,” said Ashraf. “But I will send it to Dubai. My tailor in Dubai, he can do it. My uncle” — Ashraf pointed to an elderly man in the corner — “is going to Dubai next week. He will take the coat and bring it back.”

“How much will it cost?” asked Anita.

“A thousand rand, total,” said Abdullah. (That’s about $120.)

“Deal,” said Anita.

Only at the Plaza.

Anita and Ashraf went over the plan for the coat in great detail. Ashraf took Anita’s measurements. They went together to the fabric shop and Anita picked out the color lining she wanted. Anita also asked to have a special message embroidered into the lining.

Anita and Ashraf confer over the coat.

Anita sketched this special message for Martha to be embroidered into the lining.

Ashraf said the altered coat should be back from Dubai in a couple of weeks. Anita gave him a deposit and we left.

That was on March 29, 2012.

Fast-forward five months, to last Tuesday. Ashraf calls Johnson, Anita’s husband. The coat is ready and back from Dubai. It just so happens to be Anita’s birthday! The three of us rush to The Plaza in great anticipation.

We arrive at the bridal/cellular phone/leather shop, and the rabbit fur coat — now a vest — is revealed. Anita is not happy.

Can you read Anita’s lips? They are saying, “I am not happy.”

Not only is the vest four months late, but it’s far too big, has the wrong color lining, and is missing the embroidered message. (I was so sad about the message.) The question is: WTF? The answer is: TIA.

Anita voices her displeasure but there isn’t much to be done. She and the shop staff ponder a solution.

Pondering, experimenting with folding in the sides of the vest.

The resident tailor is summoned.

After some reflection, Anita decides to have the resident tailor fold in the sides of the vest and stitch them, to make the vest smaller. Anita will buy some ribbon and sew it to the vest, so she has a way to tie it closed.

It’s the best solution to an unpalatable situation. Plus, it gives us an excuse to visit the most delicious spot at The Plaza while we wait for the vest to be fixed.

World of Samoosas. Home of the best samoosas in the world.

Even the worst rabbit-fur tailoring disappointment fades from memory in the face of a perfectly golden-brown spinach-and-cheese samoosa and cup of masala tea.

Best food in South Africa, hands down.

After gorging on birthday samoosas and tea, we go looking for ribbon to tie the coat.

Anita doesn’t find the ribbon she wants at this shop. But I get a nice photo of plastic bead strands.

A amazing and overwhelming kitchenware/hardware/haberdashery shop. Anita finds her ribbon here.

We shop some more, buying saris and handbags, then head back to the bridal/leather/cellular shop. The repaired vest is ready.

Pondering again.

Ultimately, Anita declares herself satisfied. Ashraf gives her a substantial discount.

Anita’s rabbit vest birthday portrait.

We leave the bridal/leather/cellular/rabbit-fur-smuggling shop in good spirits. Until we get to the stair well, and Anita notices that the new stitching on the vest is already loosening. We march back and the vest is repaired. Then it’s time to go.

Only Anita can get away with wearing a rabbit fur vest in the middle of a spring Tuesday afternoon.

The moral of the story? If you live in Joburg and have a rabbit fur coat that needs alteration, take it  to the Oriental Plaza. The alterations probably won’t turn out the way you want them to. But the samoosas will be delicious and you’re guaranteed to have a good time.

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