Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting home and other adventures

I am back in sweet South Africa. It has been a tough year, so being home, in the presence of family and old friends is a much needed balm to my wounds. I've been counting the days to come home, and I have to say that tears of relief came when my aeroplane took of  Saturday night.

 In fact it was a little bit like a dam wall that was flooding, it started in the first take off, then stopped for a while and then I almost missed my flight during the change over in Paris (is that not the craziest biggest airport ever?) due to a luggage  irregularity and the tears started again.When I finally took my seat in the big Air France Boeing to Johannesburg.I basically sobbed out loud during the entire take off almost up until the point where they served us our first meal, poor guy sitting next to me. When I walked through those airport doors and saw my parents it all came out again, luckily this time my mom cried with me. But what a nice feeling to be home, albeit that Pretoria has changed so much that I almost don't recognise it. 

Today I went to Johannesburg for my research. I took the Gautrain there and then took the wrong bus and got a little bit lost in the inner city. For those who don't know South Africa, the inner city have had a reputation for not being the safest of places, especially for lonely girls. But what different eye opening experience. People are so kind in Johannesburg. Everyone were just so helpful and concerned. It started with me in the wrong place asking for directions pointing to spot on my printed out google map, and so this continued for a while, where most people just tend to point me to security guards. At some point a security guard pointed me to a hotel which has a taxi service for the people that stay in the hotel. The hotel receptionist was so kind and helpful, got me into their taxi, and even offered to stop at an atm so I can draw some cash. Arriving at the ATM there was an incredibly long cue, and the guy then had to take their customers to their place, they left me there, promising to come back. 

While waiting for the hotel taxi I struck up a conversation with a guy called Themba who fixes refrigerators and things - if anyone in Joburg needs their refrigerators fixed, I got his number, he really seems like a nice guy with a desire to do things. I chatted with him and his friends for a while until they had to go work. I then stood their waiting until a concerned lady working at the bank walked up to me, expressing that it is not safe for me as a girl to stand their by myself, and whether she can help me. Saying that if these people do not show up for me in 10 minutes time, she is going to get someone to accompany me to a bus stop. Ten minutes later she sent someone to accompany me, and we head of the nearest bus stop. Unfortunately it wasn't the right bus and we had to conceive of another plan.So my next plan was to walk to the next street (which was a one way in the direction I need to be) and take a taxi. Once again for most privileged white kids like myself, the perception of the taxi,  the taxi is a little mini bus that is the standard form of transportation here in SA for most people who cannot afford a car, it is one of danger and exploitation and something that should be avoided, that is the general perception.Never the less, this seemed like my option and I decided I will have some faith. The guy told me the hand sign to call a taxi, and so I did. 

Next to me stopped a yellow mini bus driver with three lady passengers, I asked if he could take me to the place pointing on my now crumpled up google map print out. Unfortunately also he didn't quite understand where it was, but never the less offered to take me to someone who could help me. He stopped where there was one of the Johannesburg security officials (these guys are all over the inner city streets) and when I offered to pay he said no it is for free, he then had to leave to take his other passengers on their way. One of the sweet ladies in the taxi got off at the same stop and walked with me to the security and didn't leave until she knew that I was taken care off (it seems a white young girl on her own in that area really was quite a cause for concern). The security guard then called me another taxi, explained exactly where I had to go, and made the drive swear that he would take care of  me and get me there. Reassuring me when I got in: "don't worry,this guy is a brother, you can trust him". And so he did get me to my destination safely and did not overcharge me either. 

I wish I somehow managed to get all these people's names through all of my confusion, but the movement was to fast. It was such a rythm the city, people moving everywhere, taxis, cars, busses, and yet people could take the time to concern themselves over me, some stranger in the city. When I left today, I felt like I in fact had an adventure, and I got to see the inner city of Johannesburg (not just the regenerated parts) which I wanted to photograph, but must admit that I was (perhaps unnecessarily paranoid) too scared to take out my camera.Perhaps I was lucky, but maybe it is actually just that the inner city isn't as dismal as we have become accustomed to think.