Wednesday, April 15, 2015

is this africa?

they say south africa isn't like the rest of africa, it's more europe, or the states, a world apart. well the world i am in jo-burg is sadly, like something out of alabama or the saddest part of kentucky or neveada, or...i don't know.

usually, our meetings in the south africa region are always in delightful safari lodges in bostwana, log cabin things where you can do a morning safari before breakfast and all the staff are attired in khaki. meals are outdoors on the zambezi river with lots of bug spray and everything caters to the australian tourist.
well my people didn't arrange this meeting, someone else did, and they wanted something convenient, easy to get to, and what is more accessible than the holiday inn johannesburg airport? not much. 
video
and so here i am, 22km from O.R. Tambo airport in a desolate expanse of strip malls that doesn't look any different from M.L.K. highway in Durham, NC. every 2 and a half minutes a deafening roar rises from the east, shakes all the buildings and glassware, a top gun flyby, with a peculiar engine grinding, metal on metal, every plane sounds different, you wonder if that's what's normal. moments after the plane seems to clip the 70s looking palm trees, with a dark shadow of the plane cutting through every sunbeam. it's totally trippy david lynch. our hotel suddenly had no power, each hallway a cave of darkness. no internet, no hot water. i thought jo-burg was europe! 
so i took the shuttle to the local mall. which was across the street but we had to meander through these different 6 lane highways. i asked the driver what people who don't have cars do and he laughed. he dropped me off at this rusty decrepit looking shopping centre called the East Rand Mall, but the s was missing so it was Ea t Rand. I asked him if I was going to have the time of my life there. ha. 
the major attraction was the "liquor zone," a series of low-cost beverage stores. there was a supermarket called the "pick n pay" and a really sad arcade. felt like a time warp. it was a maze of hallways, all under construction, and no maps. it seemed everyone was walking determinedly somewhere, like this was just a passage. i didn't recognize any of the shops. Woolworth still exists?
i found a store selling billtong, the classic dried beef jerky stuff. it was run by a real nice old lady who apologized profusely when i ordered 6$ worth of biltong, but when she weighed it, it was worth 7$. she was super sweet and had long fake nails and let me taste all the flavors. when i said i wanted it vacuum packed she sent me to the sister shop a few complicated bends down into the mall. there, i arrived and met her tired husband, who said he was closing shop after 20 years, and that i was leaving the tastiest biltong behind: bacon biltong, which is the best thing ever. and it was. all best quality beef! where do they make this stuff, in their garage?
i ate a sad salad in the foodcourt in a coffee shop, taking advantage of some free internet and hoofed it back to the inn. every parking lot is ringed by high fences with barbed wire, so you can only go out the auto exit through the booth. several times i found myself cornered like an animal, thinking if i could actually fit through the bars. i would turn around and walk around a building to find the staff of fastfood restaurants taking their smoke breaks and checking their cell phones. ony guy had taken off his shoes and was picking at his blisters. 

when it came time to cross the street back to my hotel, i was at some awkward multi-way intersection. no crossing lights for pedestrians. it was like double dutch jump rope, you observe the patterns for your opening and then you just hold your breath and go. it took a couple of cycles, but then i had it. i was at the corner on this green grassy knoll where women in blue jumpsuits were picking up garbage and speaking in their dialect. every stoplight had its homeless guy, begging, or a dude with sneakers around his neck to sell, along with car cigarette lighter phone chargers. what cars still have cigarette lighters? across the way were even more guys with sandwich boards, selling phone credit or house insurance. human billboards. rock bottom was the guy with one shoe and a half torn cardboard sign offering "same day, pain free abortions." shudder. everyone eyed me cautiously, like what is this white girl doing here? like how in Durham the only people walking MLK boulevard were the mexicans. Maybe south africa really is america, but this isn't the part you would ever want to be in. 

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