Hooters, Biltong, Mamelodi… My First 48 Hours In Pretoria
So here I am!
I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this blog and starting with my entry into South Africa seems logical – I tried to make it glamorous. I really did. I searched my brain for great phrases to step off the plane and into the country with. You know, something to carry with me through thick and thin. Maybe not even a phrase or word but a profound conviction. But I think tiredness was suppressing every in my brain and as I stood at the baggage carousal I did the whole “What have I done, I don’t want to be here” conversation with myself. Thankfully I did have enough wisdom floating through the haze to recognize the transition signs. So in that moment of panic and even now when I have a little “Oh no what have I done moment” I actually try to not dwell on any of the thoughts that could potentially send me off the edge. That, and I’ve just been trying to walk life with Jesus. I attempted to watch a movie in bed last night with Him but if we were to judge how that was going by my waking at 3am this morning with my glasses still on and no memory of falling asleep then I would say, I’m still finding my feet with this concept of living intimately with God haha.
What is Pretoria like? Well leaving Johannesburg Airport and driving to Pretoria was slightly bizarre. It reminded me a lot of home. Miles of just… land. Like the Lake District. Except, the ground is orange, red and brown; the grass is dried out green; the wildlife consists of giraffes (I’ve yet to actually see them); the second day of spring consisted of blue skies and a high of around 27 degrees C… It’s hard to see how I drew the connection to the Lake District but somehow I did. Go figure. I think it was more to do with the way that for miles there is nothing but land and roads and then all of a sudden there is what I can only describe as “random islands of community”. I say this because it’s like there are literally islands of densely populated areas surrounded by enough land to think “Why don’t they just spread out more to give everyone more space?”
My flat is pretty cute. It’s like 3 rooms all joined together in a line. When you open the sliding door you step into the kitchen and living area; the next room is my room and attached to the bedroom is a bathroom. My flat is where the domestic maids would once upon a time live. The mini kitchen/living space was added on in the past 5 years. Over the past 2 days I spent most of my time unpacking, cleaning and making the flat more my own. Actually on that note, let me tell you about my community.
I live in a gated community. There are maybe 50 houses in this community surrounded by walls and electric fences. You drive up there are security guards. But then each house has walls, electric fences, signs saying “Armed response”… I’m not sure you’d believe me but the neighborhood it’s quite beautiful, safe and peaceful all things considering. I asked some of the long term people and people from Pretoria about safety and it’s not as bad as the horror stories everyone seems to be telling me. Thank God. Outside my community is a mini shopping complex and get this… It has a Hooters. The first thing you are greeted with as you come and go from my community is this Hooters. Which I just think is so comical. And Dad, I hate to tell you but apparently it’s a “conservative Hooters”. The girls wear tights under their shorts and vest tops instead of tops that resemble bras. It’s the most random mini shopping complex too. It does have normal stuff like a McDonalds and a supermarket but along with Hooters it also has a business called “Play Time Café”. Put it like this, it has neon lighting and about a meter past its open doors it has a wall preventing you from seeing actually IN the “café”. Somehow I don’t think this is a café.
It all feels a bit surreal here in South Africa so far. Here they have people to fill up your petrol at the petrol station; when I say hello to the maids standing on our street taking a break from their work they call me “Ma’am”; there are signs for an “internet monitored baby care service” (creepy); the Woolworths looks like it’s either associated to M&S or someone went to England, checked out M&S and stole ALL the designs and layout… I’ll have to add to this list as I continue to experience South Africa. In amongst all of this I was also talking with my manager and saying that there is a lot of respect here in Pretoria. Like those maids, I am WAY younger than them and therefore my Western ideology tells me respect should be the other way around. But as it is, that’s not what the deal is here. I’m definitely sensing the skin colour ranking here. I dunno, I’m still trying to understand. It’s a bit surreal.
Speaking of differences between England and South Africa. OMG the driving?! Roundabouts just got more confusing and I fear greatly for the day I drive again back home. So the deal with roundabouts is: mini roundabouts, if you’re turning right then you don’t have to go around them you can just go anticlockwise; if you’re all approaching a mini roundabout from the same exit some will go clockwise, others will go anticlockwise immediately after, and both vehicles just hope they won’t crash into each other when they reach their exit at the same time; and at all roundabouts you don’t give way to the right you go according to who reached the roundabout first. SAY WHAAAAT. So if there are several cars all at the roundabout before you reach there, no matter what the entry point is, you wait until they all go before you. My head hurts just thinking about is.
Yesterday morning I went to Mamelodi. And that was a pretty awesome experience. One of the OM South Africa projects is Aids Hope and they have been working alongside a primary school educating the final year group on Aids, HIV and Sexual Health. Here in South Africa primary school finishes at the age of 13. The class had around 60 kids and statistically speaking 1 in 5 of those 12-13 year olds will have Aids. Which means 12 of them. It’s quite a lot to take in and I couldn’t help but look at their faces and which of them would one day die from Aids. There’s a lot of sigma and ignorance surrounding Aids here in South Africa and so a lot of what Aids Hope does is correct these beliefs (i.e. sex with a virgin will cure you) and break down those barriers (i.e. we are all loved and equal regardless as to whether one has Aids or not). Tradition, witchcraft and culture makes it really hard to challenge and correct attitude towards Aids. Once I get more settled in my role I’ll also take up a ministry day which will most likely be working with Aids Hope. I can’t wait.
I should tell you what Mamelodi is like. Imagine an “island” of an estimated 1 million people living in makeshift one room shacks. Shacks that are smaller than the shed at my parent’s house. Surrounding the entire place is rubbish. I kept seeing rubbish being burnt and I asked my manager if they were burning the rubbish off – thinking they were trying to rid of it. But she told me no. They burn the rubbish to keep warm and to fend off evil spirits. I don’t think there is any real way for me to explain what these places are like except to take photos. However these are not really places I would dare to get my camera out.
I have been in South Africa for 58 hours, less than 2 and a half days and I feel like I’ve been here for a life time already. Stuff even happened today that I can’t share except to say it was literally a “Paul style jail break”. If you wanna see the bible stories in the 21st century you gotta leave the western world to see them for real. Absolutely crazy. I also had my first day at work today! It was fun! I think I’m going to really enjoy my job…
That’s it for now!
P.S. I was asked what I’ve been eating since I got here. So far I have been eating a lot of peanut butter on bread; bananas here are 40p a kilo so I foresee a lot of them in my future; and the only weird stuff I’ve tried so far was raw beef called Biltong. Eak!