Delirious and fatigued with a Tuesday that seemed to go on forever with the change of times zones we finally land after 18 grueling hours into Johannesburg. Wired with sleep deprivation and anticipation we navigate the airport corridors and travelators leading us to customs fitted with Ebola screening cameras which detect fever in people’s skin and eyes. Luckily we pass Ebola free and are ushered through customs to be greeted by a sea of waving name placards and tearful reunions. Melissa was there waving to greet us and we chatted nervously and excitedly as we searched the labyrinthine carpark for her car. The numbering system seemed to have been designed by a dyslexic person and we tried to deduce the cars location using a phone photo of her car in its park. Although the chatter was nervous at first, it flowed freely and it was as though no time had passed between Dotahn and Melissa. Teenage friends once again, sarcastic, caring and interested in their familiar yet foreign lives. Outside the car on the trip to Melissa’s it was already dark so Emm’s first impression of South Africa up close was the giant full yellow moon as Dotahn and Melissa caught up on 18 years.
Before long we had entered the suburban sprawl of the edges of Pretoria. We pulled up to a large and spiky gate which rattled open at the touch of a button and rolled in to the driveway to be greeted by a friendly, albeit wonky dog named Daffy and a skittish and growling Ruby. (She is still trying to come to terms with Tahn) It wasn’t until we were asleep in bed that we met our feline housemates Gizmo and Chocolate as they smothered our faces.
We settled in and then sat in the beautiful, large garden to a delicious Vegan feast. Drinking wine with Melissa and her housemate Euan, a musician of Afrikaner heritage. Afrikaner is the term for the ethnic group of the first Dutch settlers of South Africa and they speak Afrikaans which is a combination of several Dutch dialects with a smattering of African languages. The Dutch settlers were known as the Boers (farmers) and had lived in South Africa for quite some time before the discovery of gold got the attention of the British. This led to a series of wars over the territory between the Boers and the British, the first won by the Boers and the second leading to their defeat at the hands of a much larger British force. The Afrikaners have developed into a complex and proud culture and are the most prominent white culture in South Africa despite the recent British rule. Before long we hit our beds even though it was only 9pm, to our body clocks it was 5am.
Our first real impression of Pretoria is waking to the unfamiliar sound of birds. Particularly a loud “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” noise, which we are later informed is the call of the Hadeda bird. With a breakfast of vegemite toast provided by a tube we bought with us from Aus we sit outside in Melissa’s beautiful garden. The sky is grey and overcast and before long it begins to rain. Identical to the weather we left in Melbourne. Melissa and Euan were surprised by this sudden rain and explain that their winters are dry and that it hasn’t rained since March. As we were to find out over the next few days Pretoria’s winter sky is generally clear and sunny. We apologized for bringing our miserable Melbourne weather with us. Fortunately it only lasted the morning and over the next few days we took advantage of the gorgeous winter sun by lazing about on the lawn and snoozing in the sunshine, Melbourne’s bitter winds a distant memory. However the full bite of winter is still felt here when the sun goes down, much to our chagrin. During one of these glorious sunny days Melissa decided it was time to take on the birds eating her garden. So with scraps and materials gathered about the house and our powers combined we gave birth to Cuddles the Scarecrow!
We used our first day to orient ourselves in the neighbourhood and get supplies. One of the first thing we noticed was the ubiquitous razor wire, electric fences and spikes. Dotahn asked Melissa if the spikes on the power box were to keep the birds off and she laughed. The spikes were to keep people out, not the birds. We went out for drinks with Melissa, Euan and Collie, a friend of Euans from Swaziland to see the local bars.
We ask “what is traditional South African food?” but this is a vague question considering all the different cultures here. However, we are given a small sample of things to try such as vetkoek, a fried bread like a donut that is eaten ether sweet with jam or savoury with meat slop. Sweets like milk tarts and chappy. And the indian bunny chow which deceivingly has nothing to do with bunnies, bobotie and of course biltong.
As dusk settled we headed home, as we were on foot we had to be home before dark. The fear and resulting security is palpable in South Africa, particularly in the white neighbourhoods. We have discussed this many times with Melissa and her friends and there are many factors which have led to this point. Tensions run rife, with apartheid being a memory which is far too fresh and horror stories of violent crime are far too common. This fear is also perpetuated by the private security companies and media which profit from the fear. Corruption is still a major problem. We have been warned about the police force here and told not to stop for them when driving until we get to a well-lit area with surveillance cameras. To pay the bribe (within reason) as it is easier and to be careful as a lone woman when approached by police. It is too easy to get caught up in this talk and with no personal experiences of this we both try to push these thoughts aside while keeping aware and using common sense when out and about. The corruption doesn’t limit itself to the police. The current president of South Africa Jacob Zuma was repeatedly charged with embezzlement but never convicted and is still the president with no repercussions from these charges. He was an important figure in the movements opposing apartheid, a young idealist who helped end the savage exploitation and segregation of the African people. Although he has no formal education Zuma was instrumental in the uprising against Apartheid. But as we have learnt from Game of Thrones, just because you can conquer a city doesn’t mean you can rule one.
Our temporary home has two businesses run out of it by the Van Der Merwe sisters. Melissa manages a vegan catering business called The Village DeVine with monthly banquets in her luscious garden. She makes all the food herself with a strong middle eastern influence from her mothers Lebanese side of the family and her time living in Israel.
Her sister Tessa runs a music studio from rooms at the side of the house called Arcangel Music. http://arcangelmusic.com/ Euan is running the studio while Tessa is away for a music conference with her band Cortina Whiplash. Most evenings there is a rumble of noise coming from the walls as various local bands come to practice.
We offered to help with the digital side of the Village DeVine’s business and Melissa suggested tidying up her pomegranate love heart logo.