Friday, 25 March 2016

Growing Up

I like closing my door and being by myself. Call it me-time, call it loneliness, call it isolation, but not having had a room of my own in the past six months and two weeks the politics of space are weighing on my sense of contentment.

For a week I am occupying a friend's apartment as she and her roommate have both left over Easter. It is the greatest feeling, just walking around in my pyjamas and refusing to leave the bed. Elsewhere, my bed is a couch in a room that needs to be used by other people. As grateful as I am for the couch and the accommodation, I miss not having to behave like an eternal guest. The guest has to remain polite, avoid confrontation, be clean and tidy and offer to help (whether this be with the dishes or the washing or going grocery shopping or whatever), whereas in your own space you can be wholly yourself. There is no stringent adherence to the polite rules of being a visitor, there is no obligation of feeling grateful and adjusting to the daily flow of a home that is not your own.

I miss not being a reduced version of myself. I miss organising my day according to my own desires and rules, and not having to coordinate every movement. I miss my own bedding, the futon mattress in storage five floors under the couch, I miss not looking for underpants in one box and winter coats in another.

Since coming to Berlin, I have felt a dreaded darkness that descends slowly when things aren't working out as quickly as I had hoped, when life is stagnating and I don't know how to kick its ass back into gear. I factored homesickness, a lack of sunshine and the insecurity of my current situation into the encroaching darkness, but my friend Des added that space is another element contributing to feeling out of place here. The inability to unpack my things somewhere that feels like home correlates with the other aspects. Basically, I miss having a door I can close.

But is this experienced lack not also a form of privilege? Had I grown up in a shack in Khayelitsha, in the slums of Delhi or a Brazilian favela I might not have the same need for square metres that belong to me, that I can occupy all by myself and do with as I please. Perhaps representative of a middle-class sense of entitlement, I grew up with the large houses with large gardens and swimming pools in suburbia that needed gardeners and cleaning ladies from rural areas to come by each week and maintain the property. The neighbours were inaudible presences behind tall walls that separated their lives from ours unless we wanted these to meet at an occasional braai or when someone's dogs had to be taken care of during the holidays.

Here, people literally live on top of one another. I can hear the muted voices of men or people shuffling furniture above me. Still, I think no one makes an effort to know their neighbours beyond short chats in the hallways. Even here, people need their space.  

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Both Sides Are Even

The last Saturday in Pretoria was action-packed. We woke up, dropped off the rental car I had hired for two days, headed to an instawalk hosted by Fujifilm South Africa and At Photo in Hatfield, met up with Mia at +27 Café, bought a shwe shwe skirt at the market in the 10 minutes before our parking ticket ran out and then braved the inner city on a Saturday for the Market at the Sheds. We parked at the State Theatre and walked over to the market, which offers quite a contrast to the buzzing inner city trade happening on the streets right outside of it. After paying the R50 entrance fee we explored the stands in the large hall and tasted some spring rolls as well as a bobotie jaffel (a round toasted sandwich filled with curried mince meat and raisins) whilst listening to the band in the background.

Notice relics and vocal entertainment.

After ambling past all the vendors and their stalls we headed across the courtyard to the African Beer Emporiums trial day. Also situated in a large hall, the space is simplistically decorated with wooden benches and tables, as well as succulents places on the tables and hung from the walls as decoration. We first had the Soweto Gold Apple Ale, which was absolutely wonderful and I wanted to immerse myself in a bathtub full of it as it combined the not-too-sweet taste of a Hunter's Dry with a slightly more apple-y flavour. Then I tried a Pretoria Steam Beer and wished to go back to the sweet sweet taste of the apple ale. But when in Snorcity one has to taste what it has to offer, right?!

Xander Ferreira (previously of Gazelle) was behind the crate-decks on music while a steady stream of people filled up the benches and enjoyed a selection of 7 beers on tap and more on the menu. We walked around some more and then went on our way, stopping at Aroma's Gelato on the way home. The rest of the day was filled with preparing dinner for some friends that came over later and then getting our dance on at Etc. in Centurion.

A great last day in the capital, I'd say.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Wilder Mind

The email from the event company stated that Mumford & Sons were coming to South Africa. I was still doing an internship in Paris, but assigned my sister the task of buying us tickets as the Pretoria date coincided with her birthday, for which I would be in the city. On the day, I asked whether she had gotten the tickets, but she had forgotten and by the time she looked they had been sold out. Well, they had been sold out in three minutes, so the chances of getting some had been steep in any case.

Then another email came, saying additional dates in Cape Town and Pretoria had been added. I changed shifts and coordinated with a friend at home to both try and buy some tickets. At 9.00 we logged in, and miraculously minutes later I received a confirmation email for three tickets. The friend also got three, so now we were locked and loaded for the concert. 

Months later, the day of the event had arrived. I had been lucky enough (or stalkerish enough) to recognise the band members of John Wizards on my flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg and proceeding to observe them at a distance to come up with a brilliant plan for trapping them in a conversation with me, the results of which I hoped would be some backstage tickets or a shout-out for my sister's birthday or something. Sadly I am too chickenshit to actually follow up on stalking semi-famous people and never talked to them. Also, my bag was the first one that came out, and I didn't want to appear weird whilst waiting for them. Stalker mode not on fleek (which I guess is  a good thing). 

The concert was held at the Amphitheatre near the Voortrekker Monument, which showcased Pretoria's city centre as a backdrop and also had enough space for the audience to spread out across the steps from which everyone had a good view of the stage. We arrived in time for John Wizards and then really enjoyed The Very Best, before Beatenberg played as last introductory act. The Saturday performance had been cut slightly shorter due to a highveld thunderstorm, but Sunday's show had perfect weather and the crowd seemed exceedingly excited to be there. Marcus Mumford appeared during Beatenberg's show, playing the drums and singing along, as well as Senegalese singer Baaba Maal being featured during The Very Best's set. 

From starting out with Little Lion Man to newer hits such as Tompkins Square Park and Wilder Mind to bringing out the boys from Beatenberg, The Very Best and Baaba Maal for a jam session, this concert was one of the highlights of my homecoming trip (if not one of the best concerts I have been to). Somehow the synergy between the audience, the beautiful setting and the great music worked together to make everyone enjoy the show. At some point I looked up and saw the Voortrekker Monument gleaming to my left, Orion right above us and the Southern Cross behind us as the capital loomed in the background, and it made me appreciate the wonder of that very moment, the pleasure in being able to gather with friends and strangers under a cloudless sky on a warm summer's night and simply enjoy the music. 

There is a TED talk by Alain de Botton where he speaks about Atheism 2.0 and how some of the values and actions of organised religions still translate well to human behaviour even if some do not believe in a higher power. After the talk, he was asked by the moderator that this talk made it sound like he did believe in something more, but de Botton answered that it is a moment of looking at the universe and realising our smallness in contrast to its immensity that already creates a sense of mystery which he gets through basic observation and a belief in science, not necessarily in a belief that there must be something more. 

I felt a similar exhilaration at the concert, being surrounded by the natural beauty, the man-made constructions in the distance and my friends around me. At times we just need to appreciate a moment for what it is, not expecting more or being disappointed in a perceived lack. 

After the show we had one last drink before taking one of the last buses back to where the car was parked. It was a few minutes before midnight, so my sister's birthday was rolling in as we were stuck in a traffic jam. One friend got the last few beers out of the boot, I went over to the car in front of us to ask them to play something more birthday-sounding and we had an impromptu dance party in the parking lot. Turned out the guys were DJs at a Joburg club and were more than happy to oblige and play some of their mixes. Even the car guard came over and joined in the celebration. 

We dropped one friend off and then returned home, tired, somewhat sunburnt but genuinely happy.