Friday, March 8, 2013

SOUTH AFRICA: Day 1 Soweto

March 1st

Soweto Story.

Arrived in Joburg a day late, thanks to the NYC's bad weather.  But here I am!!!  Apparently, EVERYONE gets picked up by a driver holding up their name on a paper because there's a sea of white sheets with black lettering hovering in the air in the arrivals terminal. I've never seen that many. Usually, it's one or two chauffeur-looking guys holding up a white sign, but nothing like this.  It took me 20 mins to walk through/around and read each sign.  ...and of course, none had my name on it, even though I was assured by the hostel that I'd booked only 2 days before that someone would be there to pick me up...  I had looked for hostels in the city, but there seem to none (!) - they're all located in the suburbs.  (Well, all except one that I found online, but all the reviews mentioned security issues...)  I didn't want to start my SA Adventure in a White suburb - good Lord!  So I jumped when I found one in Soweto, that famous Black township  - hotbed of the Apartheid resistance movement.  That sounded like the PERFECT place to start. And they, thankfully, responded quickly in getting me a reservation.  :-)

After some futzing around, I got the ride and I was off.  Not bad.  The driver was a part-time tour guide so I got a full history on everything we passed along the way: the goldish hills that litter the city (remnants left by goldmines), the tallest building on the continent (TransNet building in downtown Johannesburg), history of the township...  I also got an earful about his ex-girlfriend and the arrogance of Africans educated overseas.  Ok...  Then he asked if it was rude to ask my age.  That kind of set me off.  (Beware, here comes the rant.)  So I told him, that it's considered appropriate sometimes and inappropriate other times and that the more interesting thing is that people are rarely concerned with a man's age, but it seems as though they (both men and women) are always trying to size up women and categorize them using age. Why?  What difference does it make if a woman is 45 or 22 or 67 or 16? I knew he was hitting on me, but I didn't address that directly because the answer to that would've been a flat out: I'm not interested, so you needn't worry about my age whatsoever.

Soon enough, we arrive in Soweto. I think I expected a township to be a shanty town, but this was a lovely, sprawling area filled with Spanish style homes with red ceramic spread over rolling green hills. 400,000 people live here!  IT'S BIGGER THAN JOHANNESBURG. Nuff said.  And then I get to the hostel and it's adorable!  The lounge area is set up like a little Shangri-La.  I love it.

Since I'm arriving a day late, there aren't any beds left (as the hostel is booked up for the weekend), but I can camp.  Oh boy.  Haven't camped much in my life, but if they've got a tent and a blanket, I'm up for it.  A cute Zulu guy introduces himself, he's also checking in and will also have to camp.  We chat for a long time waiting for them to set us up.  We chat about politics, SA, travel, Zulu culture, Soweto...  All while waiting for simple tents to be set up.  Now let me start by saying that I really do love this hostel, but I learned a very important thing that day that my Zulu friend told me:  Some Blacks still have the Apartheid rules in their heads and still treat Whites with deference giving them priority over other Blacks.  Unfortunately, I tasted a bit of that here.  It took over an hour to check me in because they were tending to the needs of their White guests first.  Later, my tent got soaked through in the rain and I had to threaten to check out in order to get it taken care of right away.  It was then that the owner, who'd ignored me when I arrived (but ran out to personally greet new White arrivals) finally introduced himself to me.  From there on, things got better.  Much better.

I walked around the neighbor to discover some of Soweto for myself.  It's not a bad place to live, at all! It's not an ominous, dangerous place. It's a little city, like any other.  Plenty of green areas, plenty of shops, plenty of churches, clean roads, plenty of bars and cafes...  Normal.


Later, I, reluctantly, joined a group of American college students around the fire pit.  I say reluctantly because I have a love-hate relationship towards backpackers.  It's nice to meet other travelers (that's part of the fun of staying in hostels), but I don't really travel to the other side of the globe to meet people from my world, you know? Nonetheless, I had a nice time and the students were friendly and cool.

I think my Zulu friend seemed very taken with the blond western playthings...  Ah, how Black men love White women...but that's another conversation for another day...

Then came dinner - that included a chicken foot.  Adventures in food!  So, I was advised that the palm is the best part.  Oy. I tried, but that thing looked like a weird baby's hand reaching out to me.  ...a weird baby's hand with wrinkles, knuckles and claws.  Yikes.

After, it was back to the firepit and suddenly Lebo, the owner, was super friendly! Blasted the music, invited to have tequila shots with him and the party started!  That man can DANCE!

That's one thing all African men have in common, dancing isn't considered not-macho.  I love that.  It was a fun night.  Neighbors came by through the night and partied along with Lebo.  I really felt like a community.  Somewhere around midnight, I finally went back to the tent and slept beautifully.  One night in Soweto.  I'm so happy.

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