26.09.2009 - 27.09.2009
If Harare had given me some culture shock, Pretoria was a revelation. I was fine on arrival, walking through the city and getting a bus to the house of some lovely and welcoming CouchSurfers who I stayed with. But the following Day, with some things to get and some chores to do, I went to Menlyn Mall. And that really freaked me for a few minutes. It was so busy, so opulent and obviously wealthy, and in a way, so white.
Possibly for security reasons and possibly for logistical reasons (everybody pretty much drives everywhere in South Africa, so large parking lots are required), South Africa has developed shopping along American lines: Large malls out in the suburbs, with city centres not especially important, and in many towns and cities, virtual no-go areas. And there are malls everywhere: new ones are sprouting up all over the place, of ever increasing size.
Menlyn Mall was large even by South African standards, and to somebody who had been away for a while, it was an incredible shock. It was painfully obvious that I really am back in what some people would call civilisation.
My introduction to South Africa was slightly atypical, and pretty much involved all the big no-nos that guide books and locals desperately impart on you for your own safety. I arrived in Pretoria not really knowing where I was going, walked through the city alone with my bags, got on a city bus to my destination (even the driver seemed utterly confused by my appearance), and then on my first evening/night went to downtown Johannesburg. If you pay any attention to the guidebooks, that combination of events pretty much has me dead on the spot. A couple of weeks later, talking to 3 South African friends, all looked at me with utter horror at the thought of taking a bus: Between them, they had only made ONE journey (if you exclude 1 of their commutes on a school bus when younger) by bus in South Africa in their entire lives, and that event had obviously left such an impression on the girl in question as to as good as require her to go into therapy. City Buses in South Africa seem to mean poor, and black, and no white South African I subsequently encountered would ever dream of using one.
Johannesburg (or Jo'burg, Joburg or Jozi, depending on your preference) at night was not a death wish, but rather the chance to go to a concert which i couldn't really turn down. An annual music and culture festival, we got the chance to listen to a variety of musicians and styles from across Africa: Namibian, Senegalese, Mozambican and my favorites, a Tuareg ensemble from Mali were amongst them. It was the first 'real' live music i had seen in many months, and I loved it.
A couple of days later, i moved down to Jozi properly for a couple of nights. Not entirely by choice, I must admit, and I got treated to huge dust storms and a couple of magnificent thunder storms for my efforts. But I had to come to Joburg. Maaret and Fred were coming back to Africa, and had arranged to arrive at OR Tambo airport at the wonderfully user friendly time of 04:55. A quick glance at recent flights showed that it was averaging over 30mins early. And I knew there would be hell to pay if I was not at the airport to meet them.