Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ten Things

I often have people ask me what it is like to live in Africa. You can almost see their brains reeling - desperately trying to link together anything they may know about this far off distant land - somewhere near Australia, filled with black people, apartheid and Nelson Mandela. Because that's pretty much as far as any kind of knowledge about South Africa goes. And at that point I know that no matter what I say - no matter how much I describe what it's like, how similar it is to Los Angeles, or how beautiful it is, they're still wondering if I have a pet tiger and why I'm white. 


So when I stumbled across this blog post I was quite relieved. It has a wonderful listing of some of the best parts of the city I'm from - Johannesburg. Which, by the way, is a city in South Africa. Which, by the way, is its own independent country - not at all like South America, which is made up of a lot of smaller countries. Which also, coincidentally, does not have any tigers. Tigers are not from Africa.

But, I digress. I was talking about a blog post. This clever lady, Josie in Jozi, has nailed it - outlining some of my favourite things about my favourite hometown, Johannesburg. Read on.

Ten Things I Love About Joburg
South Africa has been getting a total bashing in the local and international press lately, which doesn’t help Johannesburg’s already undesirable reputation as a ghetto plagued by high crime rates, where only the foolhardy dare set foot in the street after dark. If it isn’t a national hero shooting his girlfriend dead, it’s xenophobic police brutality or rioting miners being gunned down. These stories perpetuate the myth of Johannesburg as a no-go zone.
Speaking to friends I can see how constantly being slammed by the press makes it very difficult for South Africans to maintain a sense of patriotism and even harder for South Africans living abroad to do so. So many South Africans who have left the country can be found in Wimbledon bars in southwest London talking about how awful their homeland is and how they would never go back.
Furthermore, the way in which a country is reported in the media directly impacts investment decisions on the part of businesses and travel destination choices on the part of tourists. Reputation is king when is comes to growing an economy (spoken like a true spin doctress!)
As a Brit having adopted South Africa as her home I feel very differently about the situation. Whilst I love the UK for many reasons and miss the energy and diversity of London and the beautiful English countryside, I also adore South Africa. I am by no means denying the country’s problems and it should be said that my perspectives come from a very specific point of view in terms of my lifestyle. Everywhere has its problems and many of South Africa’s are somewhat unique to the country but during times like these it can be easy to forget about the good stuff. So, in celebration of Jo’burg, I have decided to devote this light-hearted post to stuff I love about the city. Some of these things are relevant to the country more broadly but most are specifically Jozilicious. In no particular order:
The Cityscape
The Jo’burg skyline is actually awesome – it’s an image of a world-class African city, particularly impressive when set against the kind of sunsets that never cease to amaze.
The Entrepreneurialism 
There is a great sense of positivity towards business in Jo’burg. In Africa the word recession isn’t in the vocabulary as the continent continues its impressive economic growth rates. No doubt South Africa has a severe unemployment problem, the makeup of which is very different to unemployment in parts of Europe. However, in South Africa I know many business owners in their 20s and I’m not talking little fly-by-nights or businesses taken over from their parents. These are established enterprises built from the ground up that are making good profit. There is something in the air that materialises in dynamic innovation and it’s a contagion that seems to create pioneers in this city. 

The Markets
If you haven’t been to Market on Main or Neighbourgoods then you’re missing out. These markets are great showcases of Jo’burg’s creativity and foodie lifestyle. There’s something for everyone and it even gets Sandton-dwelling Northern ‘burbites into the more interesting parts of Jo’burg.

The People
Jo’burgers are the most welcoming, friendly people I have ever met, and i’m pretty well travelled. When I first moved to the city, I was humbled and bowled over by how hospitable and helpful people here were. This could be partly to do with the fact that as a business hub, Jo’burg is a very transient place where people go for their careers. However, the difference in attitude between here and London or New York, for example, can be best explained by an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Jo’burgers definitely hold their networks in high regard and whilst that may mean people are always trying to work out what ‘value’ you could hold to them or their business, that doesn’t mean that such interactions don’t breed real friendships. 
Then, if you add-up good weather, health consciousness, an outdoorsy lifestyle and interesting ethnic mixes, you also get very attractive people. To top it off, if you consider how exceptionally courteous I have found South African men, it all becomes too much! An immaculately groomed, friendly, well-networked and ambitious guy with a ridiculously good body opening car doors for me? Yes please!

The Weather
Jo’burg’s climate is nothing short of wonderful. The summers are warm and sunny but without Durban’s humidity or Cape Town’s wind. The winters are clear and crisp with the most stunning blue skies I have ever seen. And the storms are really something else: dramatic but gone as suddenly as they appeared.

The Food
The meat in South Africa is amazing and the quality you get for the price is probably better than most places in the world. Michelin Stars are a little tricky to come by, but who cares? You can get top notch food in most cuisines at a reasonable price.

The ‘Greenness’
The world’s largest manmade forest. Boom.

The Birdlife
A slightly strange one perhaps but as a Brit I find the weird and wonderful birds rather exciting! Hadedas are weird prehistoric looking creatures with irritating calls but they’re definitely interesting and in my opinion, anything that gets rid of parktown prawns deserves to be celebrated. I also never get bored of imitating the amusing sounds of the grey loerie. 
The ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ Ethic
Jo’burgers graft but they are very good at relaxing too – whether that’s partying or playing music or sport, they put their all into it. The work hours are sensible and the weekends are huge.

The Tuk Tuks!
A wildcard and kind of a response to one of my dislikes of the city: the lack of affordable public transport. TukTukSA has started providing a relatively cheap and convenient way to get around if you don’t have a car/shouldn’t be driving! Good on them. I’m certainly supporting and I’m looking forward to see how their business expands.
What are some of your favourite things about the city of gold?

[First photo from the article, all the rest from me. Article from here]

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