Six months ago, Alistair, Boo and I arrived in Jozi from Cape Town. No, I did not burst into tears (those came later) or ask where the mountain was. I was keen for a “new adventure” and happy I didn’t need a job right away. I’ve always been one of those Capetonians who like Joburg (we exist), but visiting a place and actually living there are two different things.
Before the move I became very tired of people who’d lived in Cape Town their whole life, except for that “horizon-broadening” gap year in the UK, always reacting to news of our impending move with one of the following:
- “Oh God, but why?”
- “Oh shame, why?”
- “Oh no, how can you live somewhere like that?”
- “Joburg? I couldn’t live without the mountain and the sea.”
The last comment was inevitably spoken by someone who went to the beach once every three months, except in summer of course. How did they think I felt as a surfer who went every weekend?
We spent our last night in Cape Town in our small, empty flat in Gardens. We slept very badly on a blow-up mattress. Seven years of memories and freezing tiles kept me awake. I thought of all the parties, the dinners, the friendships made in this home.
I went onto our massive wraparound balcony and stared at the rain-shrouded Table Mountain like I had a thousand times before, moving my eyes over Lion’s Head and the city. Gentle, wild, comforting.
Five months later I would be at a book launch on the roof of the Lister Building in Jeppe Street, watching a thunderstorm break over the angles and grit of Jozi skyscrapers, the vastness of it making for a different wildness; an industrial beauty I appreciated simply because it was so alien. I felt love.
But the first few months were brittle and brutal. I missed my family and friends. I missed stepping out my front door and being able to walk five minutes and find myself in Long Street or Deer Park. I missed the smell of the sea. I missed the call to prayer from the mosques in Bo-Kaap. I missed how close everything was. I missed the noon day gun.
The saving grace was Joburg’s welcome brigade. I’ve socialised more in the past five months than I did in Cape Town in five years. Someone is always ready for a drink, a dinner, a coffee, a lunch. People call each other. I like it.
I also like how oblique everything is – the hills, the roads, the trees, the buildings. Cape Town’s physicality is overt, but Joburg’s beauty is always surprising. It requires discovery. It is a mosaic up close. I dislike Joburg being referred to as “The Big Smoke”; it’s too tired and uninvolved an expression for such a complex place.
Living in Joburg, I now know a few things I previously did not:
- Who “the mielie lady” is and why people find her annoying.
- Why people complain about taxis so much.
- Joburgers talk about the traffic the same way Capetonians talk about the weather.
- How green Joburg is and how ridiculously pretty jacarandas are.
Next week I go back to my city for three weeks. Yes, it’s still my city. My soul resides in the waves of Blouberg and Muizenberg, that won’t change. But my heart has opened to Joburg, a foreign lover thats oddly familiar and still so unexplored. 2011 will be an even greater adventure.