I’ve become too soft for Jo’burg.
That’s the conclusion I am forced to reach after having been back for nearly three weeks. It’s not normal to be chugging this much rescue remedy, is it?
Granted, I am feeling pretty chilled as I type this while sitting at the dining room table, a hot December afternoon reflected in the screen, but for the first three days after I landed, all I wanted was to get back on the next plane to Sydney.
I missed my apartment, my view, my routine, the simplicity of it all. After months of public transport, driving in Jo’burg traffic was a shock. Family politics, going back to wearing a panic button in the house — a house full of unbelievable, overwhelming piles of stuff, stuff that needs to be dusted and sorted and packed away: it was all a little overwhelming.
I’m starting to get used to the place again. The birdcalls are familiar, as are the accents, the banter on 702, the SABC 3 theme jingle they use in ad breaks. Even Top Billing, which is as shallow as ever and which, fittingly, was the first show I half-saw after I arrived after a thirteen and a half hour flight.
Top Billing is still exactly the same, down to the emasculated male voice-over artists and female presenters with terrifying expanses of white teeth and huge bouncing boobs, but I’ve noticed some changes. New shopping centres germinate on virtually every street corner. An entire block in Rosebank — including the building where I used to secure funding from a German foundation for a publication I edited as a student — has disappeared. In a radical move, Cinnabon in Sandton City has relocated from the banking mall to the food court.
Food prices have rocketed since I last shopped in South Africa. R11,50 for a cup of tea! R45 for a box of sour grapes! (Ja ja, some might say that was cheap at the price.) R50 for a small gift box of fudge from Woolworths! I try to divide everything by 6,6 in order to feel better about it all, but how South Africans who aren’t living off the Australian dollars they saved before being made redundant manage to survive is beyond me.
If anything, the driving is somewhat worse than I can recall; my husband is convinced that nobody bothers with obeying the most basic rules of the road anymore. The presence of beggars and wire art sellers at every intersection takes some getting used to again, as do the car guards that hover in every parking lot. My father tells me that he practises his French on the ones from the DRC.
At least car guards offer some kind of illusory service in exchange for a couple of ronds. The other morning, as he dragged the dustbin out in time for the ministrations of Pikitup, my husband was approached by a passerby who said “Hello my friend” and then brazenly asked for a Christmas bonus on the grounds of … well, who knows? White middle class guilt? It was all a bit like the English comedy skit where passersby are so grateful not to be accosted for a timeshare sales presentation that they give thousands of pounds to Simon Pegg anyway.
My husband said no.
In a week or so I’ll be off to my favourite place in the world to sit by the fire and listen to the calls of the fierynecked nightjar and the barred owls that live in the camp. Game spotting is always competitive, somehow, and I am wondering whether my haul will be up to that of my brother and sister, who saw a white lion cub and a pack of wild dogs (neither of which I have ever seen in the wild) when they were near Hoedspruit earlier this month.
Lion luck, I call it: I am hoping that mine will be good. Have to have something impressive to tell the Australians after I fly back, you understand.
By Sarah Britten
Sunday, December 28, 2008
I’ve become too soft for Jo’burg.