My husband was black in two previous lives

When it comes to the dance floor black people have a certain confidence and style that out swags just about anyone else. They own the dance floor and they love it. So, you can imagine my surprise when my metal head husband took to the dance floor at his end of year fucntion with the same swaggeer and confidence last night. I know he has rhythm and can dance but I did not know he could break it down like a black man. It also got incredibly excited by just about any song that came up of the speakers. When I say metal head I mean that is all he generally listens to. But there he was, busting moves to Rihanna. I don’t know what came over him but it made him happy and I danced along in solidarity to whatever he wanted. I can’t dance but he dominated the lime light so what do I care.

And so we danced the night away to all kinds of music and with just about every group. Everyone just had a splendid time as we all pretended we knew how to dance to hip hop, drum and base, Afrikaans sokkie music, Taylor Swift, Kelly Klarkson and Ri Ri. It was fabulous as well all came together as people to just have a good time. Music can do that. Everyday I’m suffeling

Driving nearly as diverse as our nation

If you’re not from SA and reading this I would like to start off by saying that most South African drivers don’t even acknowledge Zebra crossings. You would think we would be emotionally connected to them because of the name but it’s almost the oppisit. Most of the time we don’t care that they exist. We sometimes don’t even care if you’re on them. I have nearlly been hit by a car while in the middle of a zebra crossing in sleepy Stellenbosch. So, don’t take for granted that zebra crossing work here as they probably do in your country. Look both ways before crossing the road and don’t assume a driver will stop for you.

Ok, now that’s I’ve finished my public service announcement I’d like to talk about driving in South Africa. I know from experience that our traffic or driving is not the worst in the world (Egypt and Thailand were pretty scary to me) but since you might be inclined to hire a car here I think it’s worth noting that difference regions have different styles of driving.

Jo’burgers are an impatient bunch. We drive quickly and we make decisions quickly. We will hoot if you don’t pull off from an intersection fast enough or will swear at you if you hog up the middle lane on the highway. You’ll prbably get stuck in traffic somewhere along the line. It will suck and make you late unless you left early for your appointment. There is a certain predictability about it though so once you’re used to it you should be ok.

Cape Town on the other hand is less aggressive but not predictable. People weave on the highway and cut you off. They will change lanes around you. They will drive slowly then quickly. It’s all rather haphazard. Because it’s generally quieter you probably won’t have an accident but keep your eyes open and your reflexes sharp.

Durban is very relaxed. It’s fairly nice if you’re on holiday. Not nice when you’re there for work. People take their time. And you don’t need zebra crossing in Durban, people just cross the road when they want where they want and they have full faith that you’ll stop. Not because you’re a friendly Durbanite but because you’re probably just going slow enough to avoid the inevitable squash and pending law-suit. They walk by faith

The Free State is relaxed. But there you have to watch out for two completely opposite things: 1) The slowest tractor of combiner of harvester EVER and the 2) the fast asshole who thinks that a country road with no shoulder is an appropriate place to put his foot flat. No matter that you can’t see ahead due to windy roads and may crash into an unsuspecting tractor. I’ve seen the crash site of such an encounter and my heart still aches for the poor tractor driver.

The Eastern Cape will have you dodging donkies, horses, children, tractors, drunkards, goats and everything else inbetween. There are also asshols drivers who go too quickly. We warned.

Take note that there are minibus taxi’s EVERYWHERE. They are a force which abide by their own law. They are a pain in the butt but they serve a very important purpose in a country where publi transport failed the majority of people miserably so what can you do. Here are some tips to deal with them. Try not drive behind them, they will at some stage stop without warning. No warning and they won’t care. The key is to watch the pedestrians on the side of the road. If they suddenly throw up a hand signal slow down or change lanes. The taxi is going to stop right where they are staninding RIGHT THERE. I blame the commuters for being too lazy to walk to the taxi stop. If you’re in a pinch though and need to change lanes urgently though look for the nearest taxi. They will generally give you a gap when you need it. They’re generally good people trying to make a living. Try remember that when you see red when you’ve been forced to stop suddenly.

Ok, so those are some things to discover. Driving in SA is an adveture all it’s own so just take a deep breath and drive. Be safe 

JHB and the Couchsurfers (part 1)

My mom was the first person who told me about couchsurfing. She read it in the newspaper or somewhere and told me for whatever reason. I thought it sounded amzing and promptly forgot all out it. After the 2010 Fifa World Cup my friend told me about a long-standing couchsurfer she had hosted during this time and I was green with envy. How could I have forgotten about couchsurfing. I would have loved to host someone during the World Cup! That would have been awsome.

I wouldn’t let regret get me down though and promptly signed up at The website intrigued me as did the sign-up process as you have to reveal parts of yourself that attain to what a great host you’ll be. Generally this involves being excited about your city and your country and talking about your travels. You need to be willing to trust people and they need to trust you. The site has good built in “trust” and “reliablity” featuers that I won’t get into but it was interesting me see myself in this way.

So, profile complete and photos posted I eagerly awaited for someone who wanted to come to JHB and then for that someone to want to stay with me (and husband and two enthusiastic dogs). I don’t know what the chances are of someone selecting you as a potential host but in a big city with not too many tourist (vs say Cape Town) it can’t be too high. That’s another reason why a good profile is important. You don’t want to be shunned by someone who doesn’t even know you.

Well, it took about a month to get my first request. I could hardly contain myself. A young female med student from Mexico who would be travelling with an Indian male med student who was studying in Texas has contacted me. They had never couchsurfed before and somehow I was the one to introduce them into a world I had never experienced before either. It’s a daunting thought.

I could write an essay about what we got up to but it’s my first personal encounter with them that I want to share here:

In my enthusiasm to be a good host and meet couchsurfer 1 and 2 I offered to pick them up from the Gautrain Station in Sandton on the morning of their arrival. The train system was still fairly new and it was the only station but luckily it was close to work and I worked a flexible schedule so it made sense to me. It was no bother as far as I was concerned.

I carefully worked out what time I thought they would arrive at the station. I took into account late flights and customs queues and the train ride and then still added on half an hour for good measure. Waiting at Sandton station for some time isn’t too bad when you’re excpeting a pick up from a person chaperone so it would be perfect.

It wasn’t perfect. The one who ended up waiting at the station was me. For a very very long time. Initially I didn’t mind because I marvelled at the staion and the people coming and going and I wondered if they liked the train and admired how clean the station was and how helpful the gaurds were. But then I waited for over 40 minutes and I got a bit paniced. Where on earth could by people be? What if something had happened to them? What if they had missed their flight? All these things go through your head. Worst of all, i had no way of contacting them. They had my cell number but I only had the couchsurfing website and an email address. And sitting at the station I had no way to access either of these.

After another 40 minutes I actaully had to go because I had to drop something at a client. I felt terrible at the thought of leaving two people stranded in the middle of JHB with no clue on where their host was.

So, I devised a plan. I managed to tear open a paper folder I had in my car which made it A3 size. I then wrote couchsurfer One’s name on it as big as I could. I walked up to a taxi (cab) driver and asked him if he would hold up this sign and wait for these people if I paid him 50 bucks. He said yes. I also wrote my number small on the poster and left with one instruction. Tell them to wait. I WILL be back. Just wait. And off I went leaving my faith in a stranger.

I was about 15 minutes away when my phone rang with cab driver calling me to tell me that they were by his side. I was so happy I turned the car around and went straight back to collect them. And there, looking tired, but exactly like their pictures, were my first ever couchsurfers. They embraced me with relief and warmth when I dashed out my car and I was as relieved.

This random cab driver had done more than give them a message. He had called me and kept them company until I got back. He had been a great ambassodor for a scary city. All while he could have taken the money and left the sign blowing in the wind. This story is about couchsurfing, but it’s also about him. That’s why I love it.

Your name is what? Your name is who?

I am lucky enough to work in a very frank multi-racial, multi-cultural department at work. There are four of us and we have great discussions about what it’s like being white or black or coloured and what makes us different and what makes us the same. We learn from each other and I don’t know of a time when any of us have taken offense.

So, it was no surprise to me when my one black colleauge recently decided to ask a coloured temp (let’s call her Jenny) what her heritage was. The conversation didn’t start so frankly but evolved from some curiosity as to whether ot not Jenny was of Zulu decent and could therefore speak Zulu.

My colleague is not Zulu so I don’t know how this came about. I would never have even considered that Jenny might be Zulu because she’s coloured to me. Most coloured people in South Africa are decendents from coloured people and therefore don’t generally speak an African langauge and also don’t associate with a specific ethnic heritage.

Trevor Noah, our most famous coloured person at present, is an exception to the rule. He is Xhosa and European. He speaks Xhosa (along with a lot of other languages) fluently but don’t use him as an example as the norm by any means. He happens to be a good example of someone who speaks frankly about  race but this is not about him. Don’t think about Trevor when you think about coloured people in the context of this blog.

Jenny says she is “everything.” She means it. She simply is.

The next questions is “What is your surname?”. This might seem like a strange segway but your surname can often reveal a lot about you in this country. Her response “The surname I currently use is Kings. My dad’s surname is Blikkies” And there you have it. No matter what you look like and what you speak you can only be coloured with a surname like Blikkies.

Blikkies in Afrikaans for tins/cans. Yup, that can be a surname in this world of mine. I’m not sure why she goes by Kings but I think it has something to do with tins/cans being your identity and probably the fact that it’s very defining in terms of being coloured.  Jenny doesn’t consider herself coloured. You don’t reply “everything” when you’re coloured.

This may seem a stange thing to write about but seeing this all play out in front of me made an impact. This curiosity around whether or not one person was one thing and then turned out to be everything you expect and somehow nothing she considers herself as fascinates me. What I did learn is that Jenny is South African and that’s what’s important.

The Golden Mile and the Gold miners

Sandton is known as the Richest Mile in Africa. High rises house international bank after international bank headquarters as well as many other major companies’ offices. Money flows upwards in JHB because Sandton sits on its hill lording over us all. The CBD also houses important business and still flourishes but it’s very traditional and vintage while Sandton is where the bling is at.

Sandton is snooty but I quite like it because it speak of progress and success. The buildings tower and the cars are flashy and while you’re surrounded by this you feel pretty good about things. This is how I felt on Saturday while returning from Brunch, but then I saw something in the traffic which made me smile more than any bling ever could and gave me more hope than the millions of Rands which I know flow through Sandton every day.

Across from me at the intersection, was a troupe (?) of young gumboot dancers giving it their all to several lanes of cars waiting at the red traffic light. It was hot and the exhaust fumes were smelly but these young guys were dancing and stomping and clapping like they were performing at the State Theatre in Pretoria. Front and centre of their audience was a red Ferrari and which gave the whole scene a surreal and magical tone.

Gumboot dancers represent the miners, the backbone of our economy. The hard workers, the guys who know what it means to sweat to bring home the bacon. And here these guys were, sweating in the sun, across from a Ferrari to bring home small change for themselves because surely all this effort and enthusiam would make a few cars open their windows and drop a few silver coins into grateful hands. It was a great scene as two worlds were represented in a 8 meter stretch of road.

The best thing about it. Everyone seemed happy to be taking part. The gumboot guys were whisteling and singing and salluted at the end of the performance. As they scattered amoungst the cars the windows did open and they got money from a grateful unsuspecting audience. If they had been on my corner I would have given them everthing I had in my purse as I truely appreciate street performers. People who are willing to perform rather than beg and brighten my day while doing so.

Most tourists don’t like Sandton because it’s so commercial but if you are there keep some change handy beause you’re bound to see Africa at it’s personality best amoungst the sky scarpers .  

I should invite John Simpson for sundowners

I’ll say it again: I truly love Jo’burg. Anyone who knows me will know at least this because I believe it’s worth saying since hopefully someone will ask me why. I could talk about Jo’burg, it’s beauty and it’s potential for hours. Most people think I’m mad but I’m sincere.

I am not widely read or world famous though so my thoughts and reasoning have a limited scope. So I was excited when I learnt about Mr John Simpson who writes for The Telegraph in the UK. He seems to like Jo’burg a lot so hopefully his ramblings will inspire others to give my city a good, less paranoid look.

Two of his anecdotes below

John, if you’re ever in town I’d love to meet you for a drink

AC/DC would like Jo’burg in the summer

Jo’burg is not high on any sightseeing lists. It’s a city with some charm and some history but it’s not seen as overtly beautiful. I love this city for many reasons so I think it’s beautiful and I reckon mother nature agrees with me. In the summer she lights Jo’burg up with the most stunning electrical storms. For just about an hour every afternoon heavy clouds gather our part of the Highveld and with almost no notice start lighting up the sky with tenacity. The sight it stunning and awe-inspiring and humbling quite frankly. As the lighting crashes around and the thunder rumbles throughout the grey sky you feel small. But you also feel alive, and you feel lucky to see such wonderment for free and from where you safely sit in our your house or office block. You don’t want to be outside in this weather but you do want to enjoy it. It’s a natural wonder and once you’ve been through one you will acknowledge that this may be the most powerful thing you’ll ever witness. It’s a recurring near guarenteed performance. So, if you’re passing through Jo’burg on a summer afternoon hole up safely with coffee, whiskey or wine, and wait for mother nature to show off.

I met a king

It’s a long story but I had to go fetch a courier parcel for work the other day. It was an important parcel which had been back and forth across the country (and possibly Swaziland) for over a month. So, when I heard it was in JHB I told the courier company to hold onto it and I’ll come pick it up.

Little did I know I would enter the twighlight zone in doing so. The courier warehouse is number 146 Such and Such Rd which is right next to number 15. Cuase that’s normal right? I have to go through three gates to get in while a very friendly very apologetic security gaurd had to search every part of my car. I’m not sure what on earth I could be smuggling into a courier depot but there you go. He did at least say ” you look veyr nice today” which is very sweet but does allude to the fact that he may have seen me before – which he hadn’t.

I eventaully end up at a deserted collection counter where someone finally spots me and ventures around a corner to find the correct person to assist me. Out comes a man with a toilet paper crown. Yes, a toilet paper crown wrapped around his head. I initially though it may be a bandage but as he got closer I saw the toilet paper bows that decorated his headgear and realised it truely was a crown. He too was very friendly but I had to wait while he went on a mission to find my poor parcel.

So I waited and this gave me a chance to look around the warehouse. It was practically empty except for a few empty cages and what looked like document storage along the one wall. There was also a lonely conveyor belt, being manned by one guy who constantly scanning or doing something to a single box as it came round him time and time again. I’m not kidding. One man, one box, Box goes round, man points scanner at it and then steps back. The same box, the same man, another motion to scan. ANd it was all strangely quiet. This carried on for several minutes before the man  switched off the conveyor and left the lonely box just there. Twilight zone.

Eventually toilet paper crown guy brings me the box which looked like it had been to all corners of the universe considering how damged it was. But the contents was okay. SO after much signing and refering one waybill to the other to prove it was all the same package he loaded my car and off I went.

Back at the fort entrance, another security gaurd checked my smuggling finesse the first one stood in his little hut pounding his heart with his hand while looking in my direction with fluttering eyelids. I smiled sweetly and got out of there as quickly as I could. Back past number 15 and back to reality.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I don’t think there are many countries in the world where every one you meet at a warehouse is impossibly friendly and can get away with flirting with the customer and wearing toilet paper crowns. It’s a testiment to the wonders that are my country. We honour our people and we let you wear a crown if at all possible. 

It was probably his birthday and I should have asked why he was wearing a crown, but at least I have immortalised this moment in writing.