Hello, Durban. Let’s #MeetSouthAfrica
I am so proud to have been selected to represent the South African blogger team on the #MeetSouthAfrica campaign this May, along with 14 other bloggers. It was so good to reunite with friends I worked with in Mauritius on the #MyMauritius campaign last year, and to make new friendships too.
The short time we spent in Durban, predominately for the Indaba 2014, has got me thinking deeply about the city, and my personal relationship with it. The Instawalk in Durban was very well run and I felt the marvellous energy and spirit of the people at the Markets of Warwick. Sure, this is far from a glamourous side – the muti market, chickens ready for slaughter, vendors eking out a living from cheap, but beautifully set out produce. But, how kind and tolerant they were as we descended upon them – a horde with cameras, all greedily looking for the perfect angle, the perfect face, and, alas – the perfect selfie moment.
#MeetSouthAfrica Durban with South African Tourism by Slidely Slideshow. Set to Brenda Fassie’s Weekend Special which was playing on the beachfront just after our Instawalk.
I was sitting on the bus with Matt (Expert Vagabond) and next to us, a foreign woman in a black hijab, the type that covers everything but the eyes, was having an animated conversation with a woman who had been on our Instawalk. The woman in the hijab was making notes on her cellphone about places to visit and taking the other woman’s whatsapp details down. There is nothing extraordinary about this type of open interaction in Durban (save for the handing over of whatsapp details). There is a large Muslim community in this city of surfers, and witnessing this made me a little more endeared towards the city.
But I haven’t always been. And this is my story.
Durban, and the 16 year old
I am 16 years old, and in my thick Mr Price denims and borrowed sweater, I am as awkward as a Judy Blume character that appears briefly on page 49. Having discovered the joys of disappearing into the tight folds of rock and heavy metal music a few years prior, I take refuge in baggy t-shirts and long-winded classic poetry. Slouching on the couch in my friend’s cousin’s apartment fashionably close to the Durban beachfront, my eyes follow the noisy characters on the television.
We are in Durban to attend a special session of examination revision classes and my parents have struggled to cobble together the R500 it costs. This embarrasses me. My friends’ parents never seem to have the same worries.
I notice the left lace flailing limply on my Doc Martens and reach down to tie it. I had to really negotiate hard to get these shoes for Christmas. My friend (beautiful, petit, popular) is drying her hair. I notice she is wearing open-toe wedges.
It’s Saturday night. And my heart is pounding.
The doorbell rings. They are here. I’d been praying they would call to cancel. Two boys, from the other side of the tracks. The cool set, and one is sweet on my friend. She tells me the other (chubby, with a lisp, a rich boy) keeps talking about me. But, I know I am there as the wing woman. Not that I feel like a woman. With me in tow, an approved school nerd, her mom will have less to worry about. We won’t be under-age drinking in the Durban clubs or ‘carrying on’ in dark corners.
I try to understand my friend’s enthusiasm; I don’t want to be a wet blanket. I’m too naive to even consider whether my outfit is ‘club ready’. I get up to leave, and everyone is staring at my sweater. Chubbylisp has his eyes glued to my chest. I am taller than him. I’m overcome by a sense of shame – it comes in hot waves and exits through my now ruby-red ears. I won’t be surprised if I spontaneously combust when my friend’s mum closes the door. That night I taste peach schnapps for the first time. A great deal of it.
After the weekend is over (just two classes attended) and my friend gets to kiss the boy she has spoken about for a term, I decide that Durban isn’t for me.
I will return on vague visits over the years, during university breaks to see my parents in the Natal Midlands, and my aunts and uncles scattered around the city. In my twenties, I will return to visit friends who start to settle in apartments and houses in the seaside suburbs. It’s humid and not suitable for my curly hair, I say to my mother. There’s a code I can never quite get, and even though the baggy t-shirts have been replaced with tight v-necks at this stage, I haven’t been involved long enough to fit in.
Much, much later, I will return to Durban on different terms. Mini Town and uShaka Marine World will have gone through enormous transformations. When I walk on the beachfront and look up at the cable car, I will recall my grandfather, dressed in a tweed suit, with a smart hat, buying me pink candy floss and us riding up above the people on the ground, who become as tiny as the ants on my mother’s scullery wall on a summer’s day.
I will remember my best friend’s love for pineapple on a stick, dipped in chilli powder and how I always bought some because it made me think of her. And it still does.
I will think of the boys who broke our hearts, and not just mine. Their promises and smiles live like comic skeletons in Florida Road.
I will think of the confused 16 year old in the Doc Martens that I wore all through the first three years of university (great value, folks!), and how reading all the Bill Cosby books on adolescence could never prepare a young adult for it. I will make a mental note to be easier on my own children one day, but resign that no one could ever really navigate them through that bitter-sweet hell. It’s a rite of passage and I will vow (to try) to never make less of it than it is. I resolve, that I may well fail.
I was born in Durban, in 1979. I left with my parents, when my father, a teacher, relocated to Pietermaritzburg when I was three years old. I returned with joy, and thin cotton vests and mosquito repellent, several times a year to visit and stay with my grandparents in Merebank and Verulam. By the time I was 14, those joyous visits ended. The cycle of life gives, and it takes, and Durban had nothing much left for me after that.
Slowly, slowly, I have been rebuilding that relationship with Durban. I find peace in the open interactions with family, and the aunties you meet at the stores. I find kinship, not spectacle, in the markets – alive and honest. I find glee in the well-priced food and home ware deals. I cringe, though, at the personalised number plates – ISHAY ZN?
I take my family to dinner at the Oysterbox and we sip fancy cool drinks, admiring the decadence of the setting in Umhlanga, but this time I feel a lot like a tourist, and not an outsider. I squeeze my mother’s hand.
“I owe you R500,” I whisper, kissing her cheek.
Stay: The Elangeni or Maharani Hotel – who hosted us
Curious about the bloggers?
Kash Bhattacharya – budgettraveller.org
Caspar Diederik – storytravelers.com
Rob Lloyd – stophavingaboringlife.com
JD Andrews – www.earthxplorer.com
Matt Karsten – expertvagabond.com
Mauricio Oliveira – trilhaseaventuras.com.br
Umei Teh – ccfoodtravel.com
Adriana Lacerda – escapismogenuino.com
Heather Mason – 2summers.net
Meruschka Govender – mzansigirl.com
Ishay Govender – foodandthefabulous.com
Dawn Jorgensen – theincidentaltourist.com
Katarina Mancama – simplysouthafrica.wordpress.com
This campaign is brought to you by the South Africa Tourism office and is supported and managed by iambassador. Food and the Fabulous, as always maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.