Thursday, August 03, 2017

Of Beauty and a Smile

OK - I'll admit it: SA isn't half bad (looks like I have a Jerkyll & Hyde thing going on with this place). It can sort of grow on you.

To start off with, the country is beautiful! Whereas in Nairobi we seem to be climbing over each other to cut down trees and replace them with unsightly high-rises; be it outside City Hall or within Karura forest. Johannesburg, which is argued by some to be the largest urban man-made forest in the world, is breathtaking in its scenic beauty. The greenery is accentuated by the well though out architecture as well as the gentle rise & fall of the land giving way to breathtaking views. Whereas Nairobi folds within itself at about 700 square kilometers like an old woman trying to hold all her five cats within her tight embrace for warmth while all the time coughing up a storm and turning her back to the night's cold, Johannesburg stretches itself wide, like a prepubescent lad full of energy and purpose, as though yawning to all its extent at about 1,600 square kilometers (if google is to be believed) and with ample space and good planning, comes to good looking living anyway you look at it.

What Nairobi lacks in ambiance, it more than makes up for through the abundance of friendly people. We manage to shove around each other in that tiny town, while always having a story and a smile for the stranger. I know Niarobians don't believe this, but it's true. I had some business in Nairobi CBD in mid-July, which was my first trip back to Kenya this year, and I was almost taken aback by the number of security guards outside buildings chiding me in a friendly way seeking to get a smile out of me (perhaps it's my perspective that's changed .. I think I used to find them annoying). There was the wealth of Uber guys I exchanged so many stories with, it was like meeting long-lost classmates. There were the long-lost classmates met unexpectedly in serious meetings. There were the women in the market who would announce triple the sale price to make you feel you've reached a good bargain when you managed to haggle it down to half the stated amount. What can I tell you - all this is priceless!

So there you have it - experience of beauty both in & out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Of Colour and Rage

See that post down below? Scratch that! It was writted by a starry eyed girl who believed in the good in humanity and in brotherly love. I since got better wine!

This place is rough. Unfriendly. Cold. Let me take you by the hand and gently position your feet into my (beautiful, new tan high-heeled) shoes. Walk with me:

It's Black

This is the most obvious one. After being in SA for some time, I noticed a pattern. Most cashiers in supermarkets & such like places are black women (look up Trevor Noah on what I go through). I've always been friendly & jolly with my "Hellos" and "Could you say that in English please?" (Je ne parles pas Zulu) always accompanied by a smile. Interestingly, all the African languages here are Bantu and are apparently such that they can be understood across the board (like what Iimagine the Luyha sub-dialects must be to each other (in fact there's a language here that sounds distinctly Luhya). As a Bantu, I find the concept strange and have yet to hear a full sentence that makes sense to me, but apparently one speaks in language X and the other responds in language Y and all is well with the world.

Why this is important is that wherever I go, I'm spoken to in some language that I don't understand by everyone who's black on account of my skin colour. That's not the problem. The problem is that when you respond in English, you single yourself out as 'wale watu wa bara' (African niggers) who've come to take their jobs. The uniformity of the seeming hatred is amazing. It is unforgiving & unyielding. You are the enemy. Period. Given a chance, I'd like to engage one of these in a conversation on why it's ok for white foreigners to come in and take their jobs but not black Africans. What the hell? Of course I've never tried, because they look like they could carry machetes under those ample skirts. It just looks to me like misguided racism. Because don't be fooled; racism is what it is.

It's White

Then there are the whites. My God, it's like their classmates were shot in class for doing anything that wasn't strictly in accordance with the rules. And through a systematic Pavlov type training, they realized that all things that don't fit within the lines must be pulverized. You judge these situations for yourself:

The roads here are very orderly. When I first came, the office had some guy explain to we ex-patriates what to expect on the road in SA. They said that South Africa as a populace is very angry and we should avoid road confrontations wherever arising. They said that their matatus (here called taxis (and yes the normal taxis are also called taxis. No I don't know why they use the same name and I guess the differentiation is in conversation)) drive like crazy and we should give them as much space as possible. When I finally got out onto the road, I wished them a single day at the Globe Cinema Round-a-bout in Nairobi. They don't have a clue on how to spell chaos. Anyhoo, their roads are super orderly. Lights (termed robots (... I know)) are followed. Round-a-bouts (termed circles (at least with this one you can see where they were coming from)) are but small bumps on the road in a circular shape. And their stop signs & speed limits and all these are followed. It took me a minute to get used to it, but I did get with the flow. Driving here is actually relaxing; you don't accelerate to be the 3rd car after the light turns red. Amber means stop.

Anyway, I'd been in Nairobi during the Christmas break, and I guess I lost some of these manners. Today while driving (while listening to some particularly aggressive music - I blame the music) I cut someone off in traffic. Let me just paint it for you: I needed to switch lanes or miss my turning. Completely my fault: I had come speeding on the wrong lane and had only started looking for an in when almost too late (you Nairobi drivers wouldn't understand). So anyway I get into the guys lane. Immediately the guy goes berserk! They don't have tint here (don't know why) so I'm watching the (white) guy all but pull his hair out by the roots. At some point while the lights were red, I honestly thought the guy would get out of his car & come slap me. After wa start moving and I see the guy is still so very vexed, I move aside and let the guy pass me by. He doesn't expect that. You can tell he's happy to be ahead, but  I think he wanted to do so on his own terms that may have involved bashing my car in.

Take a chill pill. It's never that serious. You'll get ulcers. Eish!

If I have the space, I'll quickly tell you of another incident that happened today. Yes I've had a colourful day (and that's not an expression to throw about loosely here .. but that's the story for another day). I'm house hunting. I was to see an apartment today but the agent wasn't available to show it to me. So we agreed that she'd leave the key and I would go pick it up to view the place and return the key once done. Straight forward enough no? No. I get to the place (which just so happens to be in the same complex as where I'm presently staying) and ask for the key. I'm given a song and dance about the person who has the key not being available. So I tell them to call me when it's all sorted. So after 15 minutes or so, I get a summons to the security office. I wonder at this, but figure "mwenye haja aende choo" (let the mountian go to Mohamed). So I find a tall (white) guy standing akimbo and glaring down at me as I saunter towards him. Part of my job involves loosening tense situations, so I throw out a disarming smile and greeting to which I get the barked response; "What's the problem?!" So I'm already at a loss; what problem? I've just come to pick keys to view an apartment as instructed by agency such and such. I explain this. Do you know the sound  a 4-year-old would make to immitate a police siren? He starts making that sound. I'm dumbfounded and can only stare at him, with my jaw probably on the floor. The guy is over 6 feet tall, older than me & dressed in a suit trying to sound like a siren. I swear he has hand gestures to match ... To cut a long story short, his concern (as so clearly articulated) turns out to be that the arrangement the agency made was that they would pick the key at 9am the next morning and there was nothing about this clandestine and probably treasonable attempt by some 3rd party to pick the key at 6 the evening before (this is where you roll your eyes). The situation is sorted by my calling the agency and their discussing the change of plans. Idiot tall adult accompanies me to the viewing with the net effect that I didn't like the house.

Yeah Yeah Yeah!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Of New Beginnings and New Beginnings

I've come to this space ... and I'll admit it's a tad uncomfortable. It's like visiting a house you once lived in many years before .. where the floor boards now creek a little too loudly for comfort and something scurries off away in the corner. You want to peek around but are concerned about getting dust all over yourself ... So as I bring out a mop and a bucket, let me tell you a tale.

I've moved. From Kenya to S.A. with love. I'm in Johannesburg (can't quite bring myself to call it Jozi ... makes me feel like I'm trying to sound hip!) I've been here for little less than a month, and am quite frankly enjoy it. To be fair, I haven't seen too much of it, but enjoying it, I still am.

The most captivating thing so far about the place must be the people. Every day I meet someone new who tells me something that makes me wonder .. Let me take you through a couple encounters & I'll let you judge for yourself.

I'm at work, seated at my desk, typing away and basically minding my own business. Three workmates come by; 2 guys I know accompanied by a lady I haven't met. They're engaged in animated conversation so I just carry on earning my bread & butter. At some point the lady turns to me, gives me the once over and asks the boys; "Who's this?". She's not what one would describe as soft spoken, so much as the boys turn away, scandalized by the impolite form the query has taken and not sure what to do, I'm also unable to pretend that I haven't heard her. I urn and look t her. When she realizes that she won't get any response from the boys, she turns to me (.. in not too friendly a way, I might add) and asks, "So who are you?". 

I laugh. I can't help it but burst into laughter. The hilarity of the scene is more than I can take. And over the next 30 minutes, she and I engage in animated conversation, where the only personal details we leave out about ourselves are our birth certificate numbers! The boys don't get it. We feel them questioning "what just happened here?". That's Johannesburg..

On my very 1st day while still scared of the big-bad-world with its xenophobic fame, I wonder into a take-out store for a meal and am just stumped at the sheer volume of options. It's one of those outlets where you create your own meal by choosing the different ingredients that would go into making it while noting that 3 pieces of beetroot will cost you 2 rand to the power of 2x (and I mean, if I wanted to make my own meal I'd have just done that at home!). A cleaner guy comes out ... all smiles and making no effort to hide the fact that he's flirting with me. He's very polite; abandons his duties to help me figure out what to eat and I thankfully go with his meal suggestion. He then engages me in idle but conversational chit chat until my meal is ready and bids me farewell.Very homly but very friendly. If you wonder why this guy makes it into this piece, just think of the last conversation you had with a cleaner in Kenya and now imagine them trying to dart you. Yeah. Jo'burg.

Minding my own business while at a shopping mall, I'm in the clothes section trying to pick out something nice for my friend's daughter. I've picked out what must be 13 things that she would probably love and am in the process of returning the excesses (to narrow them down to 2) when I hear what sounds almost like a falsetto war cry .. "MA'AM! MA'AM! It's wet!" Startled out of my reverie, I realize that it's me she's addressing. I take a moment to look around getting my bearings and that's when I see that she's mopping the floor. I was about to step onto a section that she had already cleaned. The only thing more fierce than a black South African woman mopping a floor is a mother Cheetah taking care of her cub. Eish! (as they would say it here). And I've seen it in the office too ... It's like a whole reason, on it's own, to motivate for gun control. That woman wouldn't blink as she shot you for stepping on her pristine floors! Jozi truly!

When all is said & done,
I think I could get used to this place.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Of Neighbours & Babies

Now, I need somewhere to air this and you guys fit the bill. What's my problem you wonder? My neighbour.

Ok .. here's what gives. I've had this neighbour for more than 2 year .. lives 2 doors down. He's a quiet sort and doesn't seem to have too much going on in his life. He lives in a 2 bed roomed house and I've idly wondered what he does with the tonnes of space since, to the best of my knowledge, he lives alone. Yes he does get guests who'll come and live but there aren't really any permanent fixtures. Well that was true until about a month ago. Out of the blue I start hearing an infant wailing. And an infant indeed - day's old. And out of the woodwork comes a house-help who washes said baby's clothes and hangs them all over. My issue? I've never seen a woman there - whether pregnant or fresh out of childbirth. Who is the baby's mother? Where did the baby come from? What's going on?

I'm not a terribly curious neighbour but this is something that has me bothered. Then I noticed that the kid had gone for about 2 weeks or so but is back today. I mean we always hear of strange things going on. Bwire (the Al Shabaab guy) had neighbours who said he was quiet & kept to himself ... There may be a perfectly good explanation, but then again, maybe not ... I've never seen the child, which I consider normal bearing in mind their tender age, but a mother somewhere? Come on! Should I ask/tell someone? If so, who?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Poor Show Standard Newspaper

I've always thought that the Standard Newspaper was a paper of questionable quality & not one favoured by most. I mean why else when asking for a paper from a street vendor do they automatically reach for the Nation unless you tell them otherwise?

As if in a bid to prove the poor quality of the paper, the editors have outdone themselves today. I've reached for a copy of the Standard today (as someone else was reading the Nation) and on the frigging first page there's an error. Look at the top left hand corner where it declares that the nation is eagerly awaiting KCPE results. It's KCSE. The Primary results were out sometime back leading to teachers being beaten by unhappy parents, etc.

I shrugged in disgust and turned to the 2nd page. There's a pictorial on the second page that has something to do with a church. So I read and was surprised to see 2 mentions of 'Freemansions' before this was corrected on the third attempt to 'Freemasons'.

I threw the paper aside and turned to the reliable 'Nation'!!! A paper should at the very least be proof read!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Of Kids and Suicide

I've had so much to write about in the past 6 months but life kept getting in the way. My apologies and let's see if we (read I) can't do better in 2012.

Anyhoo, let's start the new year, not by exchanging views on the Nancy Baraza fiasco but by pondering the sanctity of life. Everywhere I turn, I hear the story of primary school kids killing themselves. There are the 2 who chose to leave us as a result of their performance in KCPE and I swear I heard on news the other day the story of a boy who killed himself because his father refused to buy him new school shoes.

Pause. Ponder. My class 8 results were important to me. Really they were. But I must say they weren't that important. I hoped to do well but I also enjoyed playing shake with the other neighbourhood kids. What happened to the young? Remember the girl who killed herself coz her folks wouldn't let her go watch Shaggy in concert?

Where did society take that wrong turn?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Of harshness and e-shouts

So apparently I'm harsh. There's a general consensus on that from all my pals. I'm dubbed 'Digzer the Harsh'. I figure that when a unanimous view is held amongst so many people, there must be pause to think ... Of course they must be wrong. What, me? I'm adorable. And funny. And great company!

Anyhoo, I was shouted down on email and don't really know how to react. When we're having a face to face discussion and voices are raised, I can ask you to relax and lower your tone. WHEN THE SHOUT COMES OUT LIKE THIS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!??


.. it's a little more difficult to react. Does one write back and ask for the release of the shift key? Does one write back in red bold caps? Is it even proper to get e-offended?

Hmm ... Have a lower case day!