Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Back to Blogging


Welcome back!  From today onwards, I will once again be blogging regularly.

I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday break.  I did.  There could not have been a better Christmas present than going home to see my family and friends.

Of course, everyone wanted to know about my experiences in South Africa.  As tempted as I was to answer with “You should read my blog,” I tried to respond to their questions with enough buoyant enthusiasm to show how much I love ZA.

It didn’t seem to matter, however, that I usually said something along the lines of, “I love Joburg!  It’s a great city full of great people!  Being back here for a couple days reminded me how much I hate Van – even though I love the island.  People in Vancouver are polite, but they’re not friendly.  They keep giving me weird looks for trying to talk to them and it’s Christmas.  In Joburg, however, people aren’t like that.  It’s normal to chat with people on the bus or at the store.  Honestly, I love South Africa!”

Most people would look at me skeptically and ask, “But don’t you feel unsafe?”

“Not really.  Yes, you have to be more careful than in Canada, but as long as you don’t do anything stupid then you should be fine.”

“But haven’t you had any situations in which you felt in danger?  Not even one?”

Sometimes I’d succumb and tell the person what he/she obviously wanted to hear: another Joburg horror story.  Not that I have any, but I can play up the incident in Durban ( or on Halloween ( for the sake of a story.

That’s not, however, the South Africa that I want to tell people about.

The honest truth is that I had more “close calls” when I used to live in East Vancouver than I’ve had in Johannesburg.  For example, in East Van I used to live about 15 blocks north of the Commercial/Broadway SkyTrain station.  Last Valentine’s Day I was walking home around midnight (slightly pissed off since it was Valentine’s and I was alone) when I noticed a car following me.  It passed me a couple times and the driver peered at me in the darkness while I glared back.  Finally he stopped and asked me if I needed a ride.

I burst out laughing, “No thanks.”

“Are you sure?”

I was tempted to say, “Man, why didn’t you ask 10 blocks ago?  I’m almost home now!” but instead stuck with a simple, “Yes I’m sure.”

He pulled a U-turn and sped away.

Ladies, welcome to Commercial Drive – where you can still be mistaken for a hooker if you’re wearing a conservative dress but your heels are high.

Or another time when I was walking home and turned off the main road into my dark, deserted side street: a man stopped in his tracks and stared at me as I passed him.  Like really creepily stared.  He turned his whole body as I walked by.  I listened to make sure he wasn’t following me but then stopped a half block away and turned to face him, ready to stare him down if he was still watching me.  He wasn’t, though.  He had already continued on his way.

That incident was honestly much more nerve racking than anything that’s happened to me in Joburg.

I’m not trying to make Vancouver or East Van seem worse than they are.  But I really, really wish I could convince people not to be so frightened of South Africa.  Yes, this country has higher crime statistics than other places, but it does not deserve its terrible international reputation.

I love Joburg.  I love South Africa.



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  1. HippieIsle on said:


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