Just Go: Johannesburg

B Y

S U N I Y A    M A L I K

Months of anticipation, butterflies, and excitement, and finally I arrive in The City of Gold, Egoli, or simply, Jozi.

Once I set foot into the arrivals lounge at O.R. Tambo International Airport, the nervous tremor of my hands and the rush of blissful content made all the anticipation and pain worthwhile.

The two weeks that followed have made me an even firmer believer of the phrase Home is where the heart is, and if you read on you may begin to understand why…

For a metropolis city, which defies all convention and logic, existing nearly 2000m above sea level, with no easy access to a sizable water supply – Johannesburg oozes vibrancy and charm.  Whether it’s a walk around Nelson Mandela’s iconic residence in the township of Soweto or a trip to the Top of Africa which gives you a majestic view of this astounding city; everything has a narrative to share with the world.

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Each piece of the city is like a puzzle, which can all be interpreted when you take a step back. Extraordinary. Trying to put the pieces of this puzzle together during my short, sweet visit may have been one of most gratifying experiences of my life.

contrast
noun
kɒntrɑːst/

 1.

the state of being strikingly different from something else in juxtaposition or close association.

Contrast makes the world go round. It’s one of my favourite words. And a state of being that we don’t appreciate enough in my opinion. It’s something that keeps us on our toes, helps us become inquisitive, allows us to learn, encourages individualism and variety, and teaches us to become more tolerant.

It is a concept that Johannesburg has down!

Let me give you an example… Walking through the Apartheid Museum, soaking in the stories of the many people and the images all around me. I began to contemplate how much we take for granted.

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Nothing is perfect anywhere, but we’ve come a long way. It blew my mind away to think that this museum exists to raise awareness of the injustice that once took place in Southern Africa.

Just miles away lies the Cradle of Humankind – a world heritage site.

This 180 square miles of land, which was the home of Mrs. Ples, the most complete skeleton of a close ancestor to modern humans. This land was where humanity stemmed from. Over 40% of the world’s entire fossils originated in the Cradle of Humankind.

Yet, at the same time, this was also where humanity was divided in the most hostile and morbid of ways. The insight that humans are capable of such behaviour since consciousness switched in our minds, to me is flabbergasting.

In this we see contrast in its most raw sense.

The city also has moods, and as you cautiously drive along each road and pass each ‘Robot’, you begin to notice them. Each suburb has its own vibe and personality. From the high walls, electric fences, and buzzers, to the informal settlements that are scattered around the city, which function as an entity of their own.

These townships are rough, poor, stricken with many problems — but also places of compassion, joy, colour, and music. Each place gives you a different impression, a different part of the story of Jozi.

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Children run through the streets, street-sellers try and sell you everything from newspapers to perfumes, and the noise almost becomes a melody. The city is full of buzz – but then you see the poverty and the pain. You see the wreckage and the mess as the garbage collectors go on strike. You see contrast again in every corner you look.

Yet it all coexists.

This was the one thing that really hit me hard: the warmth of the people and the acceptance of the variety and culture of the place. It was heart-warming, and something not that common in my eyes. Contrast can be such a beautiful thing, when two things that are not really alike, mesh like milk and butter. It’s a sweet lingering scent that’s left behind.

No place like Jozi highlights the contrast of gold and dust. Smiles and the tears. Rich and poor. Consumerism, and the grueling hard work of others. It shows me the world can be tolerant and exist with the tornado of personalities and vibes that exist within it. Just like this city does.

I could say so much more.

Johannesburg is a city that deserves so much more than what is usually said about it. It’s so much more than its politics and petty crime. Every corner really does have many stories to tell, and the city has an addictive aura that keeps you wanting more.

I could never have imagined I would make such a treasure of lifelong memories in such a small amount of time and for that I am thankful. I travelled to Soweto with the most vibrant and friendly tour guide. I tasted the best burrito of my life (yum!).

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I learnt some quirky local lingo: ‘ShapShap!’ and ‘Howzit?’ being a couple of my favorites. I even tried my hand at some snazzy local taxi hand signals. I smiled as I shared priceless moments with loved ones, and I cried as I departed the beautiful city of Johannesburg.

In a concrete jungle of buildings, cars, and people – the city is full of gems and stories.

I had come all this way from London to spend time with my better half and didn’t have many expectations of the city, yet not a muscle in my body wanted to leave. Or maybe I’m just biased… After all Home is where the heart is. And I left my heart behind…

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