Long Overdue and Hardly Coherent

For those of you who have been checking this thing (Gio), I am sorry. At first there was just too much to write, and then I had trouble separating my observations from what people have told me about this place – much of that shocking and, well, foreign. There was just too much to sort through. Which stories do I tell and how do I make them interesting? Then I thought, “sod it. I’m gonna write quickly and without wit or brilliance and there is nothing to be done about it because if I stress over style or substance nothing will ever get posted.” So here you are….

 

I watched the World Cup final at Jo’burg’s Alliance Francais surrounded by dozens of Frenchmen and France supporters. There are few things sadder than a skinny Frenchman without the will to even take a drag on his cigarette; they’re sulky and moody enough on a good day. But oh those accents! And at least one of them knows how to actually dance with a lady.

 

I could have written a witty tale of the tour through Johannesburg an hour after my 35-odd hour trip: through dynamic areas like Soweto; cultural spots like the traditional medicine markets where snake and alligator skins hang above dried herbs and various animal bones; beautiful areas like the urban forest Nelson Mandela now calls home; simply dangerous areas like Hillbrow where the migrants from the surrounding troubled places like Zimbabwe and troubled people from farther places like Nigeria live and wander the decaying streets of downtown Jo’burg. Tall glass buildings sit empty save for squatters – picture Woodward’s in the Wall Centre. (Don’t worry fam – we stayed in the moving van)

 

In areas like this the crime stories you have heard are real; I was scolded the other day for pulling out my cell phone on the street. People here are killed for less. Seriously. Everyday you hear a story—sometimes through the grapevine, often in the news, and regularly firsthand from a victim—of violent crime. Crime here is just violent, and some of it is just so damn sad and stupid: recently there was a burglary of all the shoes and belongings from an AIDS orphanage.

 

But this city is huge and millions live here happily without being rapped or stabbed or killed. People who refuse to hide in their own prison, either of tall gates and mortar or of the mind. The coolest people I’ve met are aware of the dangers but refuse to live in fear; they’d rather live in their dynamic and hopeful city. There are amazing stories of humanity everywhere you look. I work with at least two people who fought in the underground movement against Apartheid: one was forced into exile and the other lost here young husband to it when their daughter was just five months old. And those are the only two who I’ve spent one-on-one time with. Now they teach kids of all races to not only speak English but to learn their rights: the right to a name being the first on the list.

 

The people here are the nicest I have ever met. I honestly think every South African I have been introduced to would give me the money in their pocket and have me move in to their homes. I have been brought into a group of lovely people who really care about me; I met my hostess the day I got here. Doreen has brought me into her life and says I can say as long as I want. Today another remarkable woman offered her family’s home to me.

 

South Africans have not merely survived a harsh history, they’ve come out of it with a warm spirit and a wicked sense of humour. Ads here are just so much better than the crap we produce. People are honest and as open with you as you are with them. The race thing is huge – everything seems to be defined by it; but once you get over the shock of that and accept where the dynamic comes from you can see where it’s going. Those barriers are breaking down and things are changing. While most restaurants in the richer areas aren’t mixed, the dance clubs in the same areas are, for both the staff and party-goers.

 

Which reminds me of one more story …. Someone remind me to tell you about the Irishman at the bar. It’s a good one.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Sheila said,

    July 14, 2006 at 2:50 am

    Hey Suzannah – glad to hear you and your wit are still alive and doing well. Keep the stories coming because it makes all the rest of us sitting in Vancouver feel exotic. Ha. Take care of yourself – S.

  2. Shaadi said,

    July 16, 2006 at 7:46 pm

    Awesome to hear from ya hon, I’ve been checking every day since you left.

    Keep safe and keep the updates coming.

    Love,
    Shaadi

  3. July 18, 2006 at 1:51 am

    Hey lady,
    Love the stories. You’ll have to check mine while I’m away too!

    Love Kath

  4. pNut said,

    July 18, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Only you would think that piece of writing lacked style… well done, Suzannah. Keep writing… keep a journal… save these… then publish them.

    Enjoy your adventure… and tell me about the irishman goddamnit!

    Miss you terribly… you can’t possibly imagine.

    E


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