Today, I saw a bike hospital. An interesting concept, I thought. Sadly, it looked more like a bike mortuary than anything else, with a 10-foot mountain of bike parts—wheels, handlebars and pedals—piled in front.
Jozi is now home, in many ways. I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine, exploring the city and discovering my favorite spots, like SIX, the “addictive” restaurant-bar-lounge on Seventh Avenue, and Picobella, where all the waiters wear Italia football jerseys (although I have my doubts about whether any of them are actually supporters). But I’m becoming acutely aware of the fact that my time in Mzansi is nearing its end.
And, as always, I’ve already begun pondering what I’ll miss, the moments that I’ll carve out as the highlights of my time in South Africa. In fact, what I’ll miss most are not discrete moments. Instead, it’s the ease with which I’ve had conversations with complete strangers. I’ll miss the lack of inhibition among others, who freely ask questions and voice their own opinions without bothering to censor their statements.
While I am proud to call myself an American (and unfortunately the one verse I know of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” is now playing on repeat in my mind), there are certain aspects of America that I would readily trade in. And one of them is the way that, on a crowded downtown Chicago street, pedestrians are still often oblivious of those around them.
I remember walking the streets of Dar es Salaam, shoulder to shoulder on the crowded pavement. My fellow travelers and I never acted like complete strangers. Instead, we traded smiles frequently, making eye contact with each other instead of staring off into an invisible abyss. So naturally, when I returned to the US, I fruitlessly continued in my efforts to make friendly eye contact with passersby, a faint smile on my lips. But the eye contact was awkward and the smiles weren’t returned, as if the act required excruciating effort—like currency, not to be wasted. But here in Jozi, I find that smiles, thankfully, aren’t treated like they’re in short supply. And I’ll miss this, the way strangers often chant “hello”—and sometimes “sawubona.”
Yesterday, I ventured into Fordsburg, now one of my favorite areas in the city. It’s Joburg’s equivalent of Chicago’s Devon Avenue and Houston’s Hillcroft, but way better—partly due to the Bollywood music constantly blasting in the background. We began at a street market, where I found everything from the standard commodities, like pirated DVDs of Bollywood movies, to more illustrious finds, like fabulous behl puri for only R7 (the equivalent of one dollar).
I also searched for a beauty salon, as my eyebrows were in dire need of grooming. We found a few but after spotting only male beauticians at work, I assumed that these “beauty salons” were barbershops of sorts. So I kept walking. Three beauty salons later, I realized that the hair removal industry in Fordsburg must be dominated by men, as my quest to find a female beautician remained unsuccessful. I finally picked a male-dominated beauty salon and ventured inside. Here, I found the only female beautician I’d encounter in Fordsburg (After spotting my untamed eyebrows, she asked if it was my first time—ouch). Sisi, my roommate, hovered nearby, both confused and amazed by the concept that thread could extract hair. All in all, it was the highlight of the day.
We also stumbled into a prayer shop and an art gallery filled with amazing pieces of Arabic calligraphy. And although much of the artwork is currently unaffordable based on my nonexistent income, I vowed that someday I’d own something from Maroun’s. We ate dinner at Bismillah Restaurant, where I ordered a disappointing plate of butter chicken (the fact that it was listed under “English Dishes” should have tipped me off). I didn’t love it but I packed it to go anyway, and then I subsequently accidentally left it in what is now most likely a curry-scented taxi. Bummer.