Suburbia, Johannesburg

Sunrise over Madagascar
The moment it first really hit me that I was going to be in Africa, was 7 hours after leaving Singapore, at dawn. As the first blush of rosy light crept up from behind the horizon, we were soaring over the huge, seemingly endless island of Madagascar. What a rush! I wanted to squeal like a pig at the sight, but the oh-so-cool, very handsome 16-year-old boy beside me prevented me from behaving like a silly old goose.
At the airport I was preceded by a distinguished looking gentleman in a silk suit, and his retinue of plump, corporate-styled women. As we emerged into the vast arrivals hallway, a brass band like a small army struck up some rousing music, and a hundred people in bright clothes, beaded jewelry, and head cloths, surged forward to greet the man. I was stuck, smiling politely, behind this mob for about 20 minutes before I found a way, in the opposite direction, around them and out of the airport. My taxi driver, Albert, told me the dude was some homecoming preacher. Welcome to Africa!
Suburbian Lodge
These next photos are taken from around the lodge I have been staying at. You can’t really tell I’m on the continent of Africa, by these pictures…The Suburbian Guest Lodge is, as the name promises, tucked away in a respectable (read “white”) neighborhood of manicured gardens, gorgeous flower beds, high walls topped by razor or electric wire, and remote-controlled gates festooned with notices of the various armed response security agencies employed by paranoid owners within.
Suburbian Lodge
underneath a fig tree
I never expected the air to be so chilly. I set off on foot for the nearest shopping centre, on a mission to buy a universal adapter for my various gadgets and gizmos, and also a South African sim card for my brick phone. My hostess—who seems a nice lady, otherwise, and very helpful—gave me a street map with highlighted areas that she said were “black areas”, and told me to avoid them. She also told me not to carry my camera openly on the streets because of “the blacks”. How do you use a camera when it’s in a backpack? I set off, and noticed right away that I was the only “non-black” walking.
Frederik Street, JoburgFriedlaan, Joburg
But everyone I came across said hello, and when I stopped to ask for directions people were gently friendly and helpful, and whole gangs of construction workers or ditch diggers called out “Good morning!” I never felt threatened or unsafe.
shopping center promenades
shopping center promenades
The air was so dry and cool, it was a pleasure to walk the 4.8 km. to Eastgate, except that half the walk consisted of a very long, very steep hill going UP, and the other half was a very long, very steep hill going DOWN, and my knees and feet were killing me! I stopped to rest often at many beautifully maintained parks and promenades along the way…the Agapanthus lily was EVERYWHERE.
Agapanthus
At some point, I came upon Joburg’s Chinatown. I love Chinatown…it’s not a place, really, it’s a state of cultural being. No matter where one goes in the world, it seems, the Chinatown is essentially the same, and therefore a comforting, familiar place to be.
Joburg Chinatown

Joburg Chinatown

Joburg Chinatown
At the shopping center I found my adapter, but no luck with the sim card because I hadn’t thought to carry my passport with me, and you can’t buy a sim card without ID here.
I had a big breakfast and excellent coffee at a place called Nino’s. It was 8 in the morning and most of the shops in the mall were not even open yet, but the smoking area at Nino’s—a little glassed in room to one side—was packed with fat old Italian men. They were set out in twos and threes, at different tables ranged around the room, but were all engaged in the same conversation. I really had no choice but to eavesdrop, since they were shouting across the room at each other. The topic of conversation was one that fat old Italian men probably started in the 1600s, and have carried on with until the present: “Things just aren’t the way they used to be…back then, life was really good. Today’s world is shit, and nobody is doing anything about it. Italy, of course, is still the best country in the world…” I think someone should make a recording of this timeless, monotonous conversation, so that cafe’s everywhere in the world can play the track continuously, and save the fat old dons the trouble of opening their mouths.
I could not resist a few pieces of Zulu beadwork, for sale at the Bruma Lake flea market, and these were my only concession to the world of souvenir shopping.Zulu beadwork
Back to the lodge by 1pm, to shower, change, and share my lunch—a box of nectarines, some freshly baked loaves of dark bread, some nuts and dried fruit, a tin of sardines in olive oil—with this fine-looking fella here. He liked the sardines, of course, but also the roasted almonds. Lupo di delicatessen.
"Free wolf with every room"
After lunch, I drag a chair out into the courtyard, to sip a coffee and smoke underneath a small fig tree growing behind a garden gate that leads to the staff members’ quarters.
fig
That brisk walk up and down a mountain (that’s how it felt to me!) has tired me out and I will happily fall into my huge, soft, clean, fluffy white bed, to sleep through the nightly torrential downpour and mighty thunderstorms that rake across Joburg at this time of year.

Tomorrow I am heading, very early in the morning, back to the O.R.Tambo airport, for the last day of my journey toward Kris: a flight to Capetown, and then a taxi to the Saldhana Bay Yacht Club.

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8 thoughts on “Suburbia, Johannesburg

  1. Your experience sounds wonderful, and I like your perspective. I’m glad you found people in both types of neighborhoods welcoming, I wonder what the black experience would’ve been if you’d gotten lost and someone had offered to accompany you back to your lodgings. Would they feel safe like you had? Beautiful photos, too! We hear a lot stateside, I think, about how South Africa isn’t segregated like it used to be, which may well be true, but it’s interesting that your map was still highlighted that way. Also, Chinatowns everywhere being the same… what an insight! I knew they were relatively the same from NYC to DC to San Fran to Chicago, but not outside of the U.S. Thanks for giving us the chance to travel with you!

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  2. NAT, I feel a thrill just reading through your words. these among other reasons why I am so glad you (and other wild hearts out there) exist. can’t wait to hear more of what happens. take care and keep writing us when you can xo

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  3. Top ‘O ‘th Morn, Nat Love! Maybe you’re up and on your way to the airport already. Surely you had no time to check your laptop… may you have a good trip to Cape Town and a really loving time being with your hubby again! Yipee!

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    1. LOL No people in my street shots, Elmer! I was afraid to…sometimes I asked, and everyone gently told me “No, no you cannot take my picture…” I think they are sick of the hundreds of years of National Geographic photographers, and of being shot by tourists like animals in a zoo. So I stopped trying…

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