Surfing my city: Part 2

It’s a Thursday, early afternoon, the bright winter sun warms one side of the street. School’s out and the park is full of red-uniformed kids playing on the swings, sitting side-by-side along the railings, eating Nic Naks. The market is busy too; socks, scarves, beanies are for sale; a table groans under the weight of second-hand jackets and coats; the next stall displays boots and shoes; a single Dunhill Red costs R2; a small tin of Zambuck is R3; a half cabbages goes for R5.

Across the road is Park Station – people file in and out through the entrance on their way to a taxi, a bus, a train. The shady side of the street is lined with mounds of clothes – cast offs from Europe that find their way south, are dug through and dress the city’s inhabitants.

A man piles red tomatoes in a pyramid; the back of his bakkie is filled with more. Another man calls out the prices of his wares. A hunk of beef, hooked onto a pulley system, whizzes overhead down an alley into the butchery. Orange overalled men dig out the black slime of a blocked drain. Women and men push their way along the streets, weaving among the makeshift tables and stalls carrying plastic packets, suitcases, heading towards the taxi rank, towards home.

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Food is cheap here; I resolve to return to do my weekly veggie shop. A bunch of carrots for R3, a packet of sweet potatoes for R8, we even bought a punnet of strawberries for R5 – unheard of in a grocery store in the suburbs. Lunch (R10) was a plate of salads and gravy – usual accompaniments to pap and meat, and we were the cook’s first customers requesting only salads. A few blocks down, in the hipster hub of Braamfontein, a coffee costs three times that. Walk west a few more blocks and you’re in Fordsburg; here flat breads and Indian fare take the place of pap and barbecued chicken.

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Or you can try a local delicacy – meat from a cow’s head. There is no waste in Africa: this bakkie load of picked-clean skulls will be ground up for dog food.

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Anything is for sale here. You want new sneakers? Second-hand shoes? Hair extensions? A wig? Three wigs? Local muti to cure any ailment or run of bad luck? Town offers an eclectic shopping experience where dark-skinned men with French accents and women bundled up in blankets beckon you to buy one, buy more, always for cheap.

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“Welcome to the wire workshop my friends!” Stanley wears straggly dreds and puffs on his cigarette as he shows us around the workshop, a rubbish-strewn corner along a railing fence. The production line – Zimbabwean men here in search of a better life – sit on upturned crates and keep up a constant stream of conversation as they create multi-coloured giraffes, knobble-furred bunnies, geckos that add colour and character to any wall. They’re happy to chat; even happier to exchange wire animals for cash.

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Walk slowly, look up, look down, look around. Smile. Start a conversation. Shake a hand. Look into the heart of Joburg and you will see, well, you will see life. Nothing much out of the ordinary really. But life in a city suffused with quiet beauty.

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One response to “Surfing my city: Part 2

  1. So beautifully written. I have not been in to the City for many years – makes me want to explore

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