Today’s guest post should have been announced with trumpets and a loud bang, but sadly my cold and lethargy made me barely capable of tapping a keyboard at all. This post is from my Person. She is a total South African convert and is now engaged to one of us addictive folk and is planning a December wedding to her African sweetheart this year. Here she talks about her visions of South Africa.
I spend a fair bit of time in South Africa; in fact, I will have spent a quarter of 2010 there by the time we’re done with another year.
There are two questions that I routinely get asked about SA:
1) what’s it’s like and 2) have you ever seen a lion?
The main preconceptions (prior to the world cup at least) seemed to be:
1) the roads are generally dusty tracks 2) you’ll probably be driving past lions and elephants 3) it’s hot ALL the time 4) it’s a bit…backward.
When I’m in SA, I spend the majority of my time in Johannesburg and I love it. People seem to have even stronger preconceptions (and misconceptions) about Joburg than they do about the country as a whole!
Thanks to shock programmes made by Louis Theroux and, more recently, our ‘esteemed’ English footballers wives and girlfriends, the main view of Joes is that danger lurks in every dark recess of the city.
There are gun-toting, crack-smoking pimps, gangsters and hookers hanging out on every street corner; poverty abounds and in most high-rise blocks, that were once nice, there are either brothels or hundreds of illegal immigrants hiding out in rooms with stolen electricity or none at all.
It’s amusing, and frustrating, that these programmes aren’t balanced with visits to places like Sandton and Sandton City, it’s ENORMOUS shopping mall (the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere as it happens and if you can’t get something there, well then it’s likely it doesn’t exist). Here, wide city roads are lined with trees and tall, shiny glass high rise buildings.
Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini and Aston Martin are the badge you’ll see the cars that sleek past you if you visit South Africa’s richest square mile. Hmmm, not quite the Wild West that makes for good TV ratings and out-pouring of charity cash, which is why we don’t get to see it.
Before I carry on, let me answer the burning question…yes, I have seen a lion whilst I’ve been in SA. No it wasn’t just strolling casually along the side of the road when I popped out to the local shops under armed guard.
So what’s it REALLY like?
This is where it gets tricky because it has so much of, well, EVERYTHING! It’s diverse, it’s modern, it’s ancient, it’s complex, it can be shocking. It’s fabulous!
To truly understand SA you need to experience it, live in it for a while (if you can) so you can get to know it and the people who make up it’s nation.
The first world that springs to mind when I’m asked, “What’s it like?”, is BIG!
Everything is big. The cities are big – Joburg is enormous – the freeways are big, the mostly unwidened M25 looks like a Liliput road in comparison. The shopping malls are massive – big doesn’t even go some way to describing those – the BIG five (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhino) are native to Africa.
But by far my most favourite big of all is the sky – I still haven’t worked out how, but it feels bigger here than in any of the other places I’ve been in the world. (I know! I still feel like the UK sky is about to fall on my head. I totally relate to Obelix – Tam)
- Lightning over Johannesburg.
When they’re deep blue and crystal clear it feels so high up and out of reach, it’s as if someone’s lifted the ceiling on the world. When it’s stormy and the clouds roll in, boy, are you in for a treat! VAST apocolyptic skies descend which are fabulously menacing and often erupt into the most epic storms I’ve ever experienced which shake you to your very core.
South Africa is BIG.
Another word is STUNNING! If you want scenery and sunsets of the kind that will take your breath away then South Africa is the place to go. Most people assume that the landscape is predominantly flat, sandy yellow plains, dotted with cartoonesque cacti and termit mounds which go on forever, if that’s what you’re after then you’re in luck! They have that.
But there’s so much more. Drive the Garden Route and you’ll experience everything from lush green hillsides (yep, there is green in South Acrica), to huge mountains that loom in the distance, and driving along their passes through the clouds you’ll read signs warning of ice and snow which might have a monkey or two perched on top of them (I kid you not!).
Exotic plants that we can only grow in our greenhouses or conservatories grow freely in gardens and unfamiliar birds of various sizes are everywhere, and if I start talking about the beaches and what it’s like to watch the gentle rise and fall of the ocean by moonlight then I might start drooling!
I first went to South Africa in 1992 and I fell in love with the Hadedah bird (African Ibis) – they’re big, they’re noisy and are one of the things I look forward to seeing most whenever I go back. I’m sure the ‘natives’ think I’m mad but, for me, there’s always just been something magical about this fabulous bird.
South Africa is STUNNING.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always bathed in hot sunshine. OK, so the weather is predominantly sunny but in Joes, during the winter, don’t be surprised if temperatures dip into minus figures overnight and you find yourself scraping frost off your car very early in the morning. When I packed to go back in August (their winter) my kids thought it was most amusing to see me bundling jumpers and warm winter clothes into my case, I needed them too!
Another thing you’ll notice as you drive around the country is the sheer number of white cars! It’s funny the things you notice, and this is one of the most obvious. Here, almost every other car is either black or silver but THERE, I’m telling you, for every non-white car there has to be at least 10 white ones.
I suppose I had to get round to black and white at some time. South Africa’s Apartheid history is just that – history. It’s interesting to watch the country and it’s people moving on from this part of their past, and it’s important for anyone who really wants to understand this complex part of the country’s to LEARN about it rather than just regurgitate what they’ve heard on the news or from John who lives two doors down from their friend’s cousin’s neighbour in Scotland.
It’s also important to realise that you can’t just sweep away the colour barriers (or any barriers in any country in the world for that matter) and expect all things to be equal overnight, it’s not as simple as that.
Yes, there are a lot of black people living in tiny corrugated shacks in informal settlements and townships, but there are a lot of very wealthy black people too; and before we start climbing too high up on the moral high ground, there are a lot of white (and black) people living in poverty and sleeping on the streets of our own country.
The younger generations don’t see colour – it’s not unusual for black teenagers to have white friends and vice versa. The only thing that’s odd about it to them is if someone comments on it. Sure there are still some members of older generations who don’t like it, but in my experience they are VERY few and far between.
The overwhelming sense I get from the nation as a whole – young, old and every age in between – is one of excitement. This is a new country now and one that can moulded into whatever its people want it to be. Yes, there is crime and yes people live behind big walls with electric fencing running around the top.
Yes there are things you shouldn’t do and places you shouldn’t go to, otherwise you’ll be asking for trouble – but there are those places here too remember, and if you walk around parts of London with your bag open or your wallet in your back pocket, then don’t be surprised if you get home and find things have been taken from you.
South Africa is COMPLEX.
- That’s not a South African robot
South Africans are FIERCLY patriotic and proud of their country and with initiatives like Lead SA going on, there is no doubt in my mind that the country will be a very different one again in another twenty years time.
You don’t even have to go to SA to experience the patriotism, you only have to talk to an ex-pat. They have such a strong sense of what it means to be South African, such a sense of pride in their cultural identity and they are FRIENDLY!
As a Brit this is the thing that hits me most whenever I’m there – people smile at you, people you don’t know! And they talk to you too! If you talk to a stranger they don’t look at you like you’re some sort of weirdo no, get this, they talk BACK! And they will probably share a laugh with you too! It’s always a bit of a shock, landing back in the UK, and realising that’s not welcome here.
South Africa’s friendliness and pride is one of the things I am deeply envious of. We just don’t have that anymore.
They have funny names for things. Ask a South African for directions in your car and you’ll likely get something like this: “Go down the road and turn right at the robot, then go over two circles, past the braai shop bla bla bla.” So you’ll merrily drive down the road, get to the traffic lights and wonder if you should go left, right or straight on now? They didn’t say but one thing’s for sure, you haven’t seen the robot they were talking about and what on EARTH are braais?!
Traffic lights are robots, circles are roundabouts and braais are barbequeues (and OH do South Africans know how to braai, you’ll never want to go to an English BBQ again once you’ve braaid in SA!) – there are a whole host of other things with funny names that I can’t remember right now.
Their taxis are MAD, don’t think private hire cabs that come and pick you up and deliver you door to door – think mini buses PACKED full of people who take thier life in their hands every time they get in one! The taxi drivers read the rules of the road and then make up their own version, almost everyone has a tale or ten to tell about encounters with SA taxis.
If you’ve been to South Africa and never eaten koeksisters, biltong or boerwors then I’m sorry, you simply haven’t lived. Koeksisters are the most evil things on the planet – I did them to death when I was there in April and May and will be eternally grateful that they don’t display it’s (lack of) nutritional content on the label, you’d just cry.
Biltong – air-dried and cured meat – sounds odd to us, tastes fabulous and I could happily live on it. Boerwors, sausages will never be quite good enough again once you’ve eaten Boerwors, especially if it’s been braai’d!! And as for Ouma’s rusks – oh just don’t get me started on those otherwise I’ll be in big trouble.
You see, I’m going back to SA for a month over December and January and am facing the prospect of a bikini on the beach in Durban in Christmas day – how WEIRD is that going to be!!!! Everything will be back to front – Christmas in the summer, leaves on the trees and HOT sunshine in December, I can’t wait!
And what makes it more exciting is being in Tamsin’s native land at the same time as her and having her about ten minutes up the road when we’re both in Joes! I only know her from here, I only know ‘my bit’ of Joburg without her – to have the two together is going to be surreal to say the least, but utterly amazing.
Rugby! You can’t talk about South Africa and not mention rugby. If you don’t know anything about the game, or you don’t like it, you have two choices when you’re in the country – either get with it, or get out!
Back in 1992 I got in – it was the the only way – and in August I was at the Soccer City Stadium (sorry, the FNB Stadium) with 94,000 other rabid rugby fans to watch the Springboks (SA national rugby team) take on the New Zealand All Blacks.
The atmosphere can only be described as A M A Z I N G and I waved my SA flag and cheered on the Boks as if they were my own. You see, I feel more at home in South Africa than I do here in the UK. I know all about the crime statistics and everything else ‘negative’ about the country but, for me, the positives outweigh all of those things and I’d live there permanently again in a heartbeat.
I’ve found this really hard, tthere’s SO much about South Africa to tell that it’s almost impossible to know where to start. It’s no good, if you REALLY want to know what it’s like, get yourself on a plane and go there for as long as you can. But I warn you…you might not want to come back!
(Thanks, Sarah, you’ve made me INCREDIBLY homesick)