“Why would you put THAT on your skin?!” these were the words, shouted at me across a boardroom table last week.
At first I though a bird must have shat on my head, or the remnants of my lunch had somehow attached itself to my cheek…after frantically feeling all over the parts of my body I couldn’t see for some clue of what might be on me the ‘shoutee’ said: “No man, that tattoo. The one of Joburg, why would you do that? No one goes there it’s so dangerous and full of rubbish, I’m surprised they haven’t demolished it yet.”
I laughed; clearly no one actually thinks that Joburg City is still a no go zone right? This must be a joke! As we got chatting I learned that not only did the shoutee think that Johannesburg is a war zone run by drug lords, prostitutes and the birth place of every major villain and war criminal the world has ever seen but they would never ever go there…EVER!
For a while I just stared and briefly considered the possibility that we had been living in parallel dimensions. “ When was the last time you visited the inner city?” I asked…still reeling from shock. “Never, I have never been. My mom said she used to go out in Rocky Street when she was younger, but now it’s just a slum I think. I will never go to the city, I like my wheels on my car,” the shoutee laughed.
“I go to the city all the time,” I explained “and I walk so there’s no way anyone can steal my tires.” I think the shoutee would have been less surprised if I handed her a bucket of money.
Johannesburg …the actual city…no Sandton does not count (although it is very pretty), has become such an integral part of my life that I have forgotten that people on the other side of the boerewors curtain still see Joburg as the big bad wolf, it will huff it will puff and it will blow your gold chain right off your neck.
Even those who frequent Braamfontein and the small stretch of road in Newtown rarely venture further out, the thousands who work in the city would still not dare explore the world beyond their corporate compounds for lunch or after work drinks, all because of a perception that is so outdated even my great aunt Mildred wouldn’t wear it.
Sure it has its problems, what doesn’t? But nothing quite gives me that excited tingly feeling in the pit of my belly the way walking, talking and writing about Joburg does.
I like to think of the city as the best hand me down ever. Sure it’s been worn before…yes it has stains that might not wash off but now it’s ours. We have been given the city and we can patch it up and wear it however we want. The possibilities for our city are truly endless, something I see in the faces of the people on the street who take the time to smile back at me when I walk past.