Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Decisions and Repercussions

First of all, a huge thank you to everyone for their supportive messages after yesterday’s post.

Second, despite the tone of the last few days – hijackings and gender violence – I still think Joburg’s reputation is worse than it deserves.

This city has dangerous areas and safe areas.  Most South Africans that I’ve talked to have never been hijacked.  At the same time, however, many never go south of Parkhurst.  And the CBD?  Forget it.

My friends and I, on the other hand, do some dumb stuff.  We’re not used to be being scared, hence we’re not automatically frightened of certain environments.  It doesn’t help that I work in Hillbrow and thus think I’m pretty tough.  Furthermore, I’m a little bit judgmental regarding yuppies and rich kids: as stupid as it sounds, I’d rather hang out in the “rough” areas with people who can carry conversations about things other than silly drunk stories or spending their parent’s money.

Consequently, we get ourselves into situations that most people wouldn’t.

And we continue despite the repercussions: we’re too stubborn to let ourselves become paranoid.

Furthermore, I might just be a tiny bit of an instigator.  Where most girls would say, “I don’t feel safe in this situation,” I tend to exclaim, “Full steam ahead!”

Although, on occasions, I do make a smart decision once in a while.  For instance, last week I was going to go camping by myself at a nature reserve 2 hours north of Jozi.  My roommate, however, recommended not to.  Furthermore, my friend had gone hiking there last year and described the following story:

“When the guide was showing us the paths on the maps, he circled an area just past the grotto and told us not to go there.  We asked why and he nonchalantly replied because guys had been attacking people with machetes around there.”

As a result, I decided not to go on my own.  See?  A smart decision.

But perhaps these are too few and far between.  You might think that after last week I’d be thinking about playing it safe.  Instead, on Saturday I’m heading to a party in “deep Soweto” – as my coworker calls it.

After inviting me, she asked, “Are you sure you’re not scared?”

“Should I be?” I asked.

“No,” she answered.  “But most white people are scared of Soweto.  And you’ll stick out.”

“That’s ok,” I laughed.  “I’m used to sticking out in this country.”

“What about your friends?”

“They go to Soweto all the time and volunteer at one of the schools.”

“There’s a difference between “deep Soweto” and “just off the highway Soweto,” she laughed.

“Perfect,” I answered.

So you see, it’s actually quite easy to spend time in this city and remain relative safe.  You could live further north and spend all your time in upscale coffee shops, exclusive shopping malls, and expensive restaurants.  The city is designed in suburban hubs so you can drive past any “unsavory” areas without even seeing them.  You could easily only socialize with upper middle-class white people.  Not saying that black people are automatically more dangerous, but we all know the stereotypes.  If you want to feel safe, you have to stay within certain bounds.

And that’s fine.  Especially for women.  I’m not advocating that you put yourself in dangerous situations.  You’ll still go through self-discovery.  You might even have a better all-around experience.  I’ve been in a bit of a grumpy mood the past couple days.  One friend started a Skype conversation with me yesterday and I said something along the lines of, “Today is not the day to talk me.  I fucking hate people.”

But I’ll get over it.

Because, honestly, this city isn’t that bad.

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