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Updates from Africa 2

Updates from Africa 2

December 15, 2008 11:34 amComments are Disabled

at bus station in johannesburg, so much has happened i cant really explain.  this is a very different place

we are the most popular people in johannesburg because we’re the only non-South Africans here and we live next door to barack obama. everybody loves us.

its very weird going to the white mall and the black mall, and being directed to the white areas because we’re white and being told to avoid the black areas.  apartheid is over but its very much a part of life here.  the whites especially are scared about losing their property, their jobs, their admission chances at universities, to blacks, as we learned saturday night at a white bar built into a shopping mall. the waitress there, renata, said things that out of any american mouth would be unbelievably racist. but i dont think the concept of racism exists here. or, if it does, its a very different type of racism, like black racism toward whites in the united states. but its more than an awareness of race–everyone talks about it,all the time.

take the proprietors of the guest house we’re staying at.  very nice people.  sara is a mozambiquan portuaguese-speaking indian, and her husband is as well. they have an adorable 4-year-old daughter.  the second day we were here we told them that we had gone to a place called the Carlton Centre to shop that morning.  the husband told us we were silly to go there, it was too dangerous.  now, call me ignorant, but the Carlton Centre was a bright, modern shopping mall with a clean food court, thousands of shoppers and festive christmas lights adorning the escalators.  i didn’t feel the least bit out of place, let alone in danger.  i didn’t even feel like an outsider. well, apparently (i had to remember this because i didnt notice it at the time), Carlton is a black neighborhood and only blacks shop at that mall.  so we asked where we could go that day, and sara’s husband told us he’d drive us to a place called Eastgate.  so we got in the car with him and drove to Eastgate, and the first thing we noticed when we got inside was that EVERYONE was white.  he hadn’t said “i’ll take you to a white mall” but he had suggested it, even going so far as to tell us that we would “Feel more comfortable there with other white people.”  As it turns out, I felt weirder at Eastgate than I did at Carlton…it reminds me of the sixth sense;  ‘I see white people’

Sara had a friend from Brazil come over and the two of them and Codrin conversed in Portuguese for a while.  From what I understood of the conversation, at one point she complained about the Chinese being too…something, I don’t remember.  The openness with which she expressed racial discontent surprised me.

There is a 15-year-old boy at the guest house named Antonio, who is also Mozambiquan but is black.  He wakes up at 6 in the morning, prepares the rooms, sweeps the house, cleans the kitchen, opens and closes the gate (it always has to be locked from the inside), wakes up at 2 in the morning if need be to let guests in, helps with the construction outside (they’re building an extension with more rooms) and sleeps on a cot right outside the front door in case he’s needed. he does all this for a salary of 400 rand a month ($40).  Codrin tells us this is a good salary in South Africa–the average is R250–but Antonio, the nicest kid, seems to be working beyond his pay.  He has family back in Mozambique where he is sending his wages.  He only speaks Portuguese, but Codrin speaks it and Ioana and I only speak in cognates, but we manage to communicate.  He was thrilled listening to Rianna on Ioana’s iPod…he really is a sweet kid.  What’s sad is the way Sara’s husband treats him.  He was talking to Ioana, and Antonio walked in and Sara’s husband said “Antonio, you look uglier now that you’ve shaved your head”…and generally he treats Antonio like a servant or worse, a slave.  It’s quite sad but there’s nothing we can do about it but slip Antonio a generous tip, which we will.

Codrin and I went to the Emperor’s Palace casino on Friday night and played poker from 10pm to 3am, and blackjack until 7am.  Codrin lost about $300 and I made $160…I don’t think we’ll be going back any time soon.  It was a very lively casino, though, and a lot of fun. Poker players were terrible.

Ioana and I cooked dinner last night…sausages we bought at Eastgate and fried potatoes.  It was delicious.

The interesting thing about Johannesburg is that it’s not a tourist city, so everything here is built for and by the locals.  It gives Johannesburg authenticity that you don’t get when visiting most cities.  All the tourists go to Cape Town and Durban, and from what Renata tells us, most whites are trying to do everything to get out of Johannesburg because there are no jobs here for whites.  I think she exaggerates a bit when she says she thinks the country is going to way of Zimbabwe, but it will be interesting to see how the country unfolds.

But anyway, Johannesburg is a large, spread out urban sprawl with hundreds of neighboorhood districts—Kensington, Brumer, Hyde Park, etc–but no neighboorhoods.  Everyone stays in their complexes and doesn’t go out at night because it’s too dangerous. When they do go out they go to only one or two establishments that they know.  THere are no bar streets, no small neighborhoods with culture, no outdoor cafes, no markets.

The only thing we did find was a small Chinese neighboorhood about a kilometer from “Oriental Village”–an Asian-themed flee market where mainly whites shop.  We walked and found where the Chinese who work there actually live, which is a lively little neighborhood with restaurants, tea houses and local supermarkets.  We had to go out of our way to find it and I doubt any guide books direct people there.  I get the sense that neighborhoods like that are few and far between in Johannesburg.

I’m glad we were forced into staying another 3 days here.  It gave me a good idea of what South Africa is, how people feel about the country and eachother, and it will give me good perspective when we go to Cape Town, where a lot of these issues won’t be as prominent.

I switched keyboards halfway through this email, because the shift key was broken on the old one.  Not going to go back and edit.

We’re off to Gaborone in abuot an hour.  I’ll send another update when I can.

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