As I have told you before, I am a child of the south. Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. A small southern town just north of the capital city of Raleigh. The things I hear about Durham sometimes gets my red up. Like how it is “unsafe” and so crime riddled that realtors sometimes avoid showing properties to prospective clients there because the reputation is so bad. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is all a matter of perspective. We won’t go into any details as to why I believe this to be so. I will simply say every city has its good and bad and Durham is no different. I lay all of this out to tell you of a similar situation here in Jozi.
We had been warned repeatedly, ” stay away from the Nelson Mandela bridge.” It is a high crime area and stories of people being mugged are readily available for visitors to hear from locals all the time. Needless to say, when this day had come for us to possibly be walking across it, I had some hesitation. Trying to be cautious and minimize risk, I listened. Then the thought occurred to me, what if it is like Durham? Hmmm. We will just have to test this theory today…
Leigh had planned to meet up with some former students at a place called Neighbourgood Market in the Braamfontein area of Johannesburg. It is just over the Nelson Mandela Bridge from Marshalltown, where we now live. It was a 20 min walk and we would have to travel through the outskirts of the C.B.D. (central business district ) where it is supposedly the most sketchy. It turned out to be a pleasant walk actually. Were there some places where the infrastructure left something to be desired? Yes. But not more so than any other burgeoning metropolis. The most off-putting thing we encountered was the sight of severed cows limbs out on full display of the public being sold. I, having raised swine til slaughter in my youth, was unaffected. Leigh, on the other hand…Well, let’s just say it proved a bit much for her and we hurried away as she regained her composure.
What we actually saw was the entrepreneurial spirit at its highest level. People with small cookers offering up freshly cooked delicacies and vendors manning fresh fruits and vegetable stands. Odds and ends, cigarettes, and you name it could all be purchased at reasonable prices. Quite simply people trying to make an honest living. All within about a 3 block radius. Was it crowded? Sure? Reminded me of New York’s time square any time of the year. Without the big bright lights, of course. The Same feel, however. Fears assuaged and really unfounded. A little bit of shame set in as I reflected back to my feelings towards how my hometown is portrayed and how I let the opinions of others shape my view of this place… Never again.
We met up with two of Leigh’s former students who had actually suggested this place as a must-see of Jo’burg. Thank you Zandile and Makamohelo!!!! The Neighbourgoods Market is a vibrant place. It is much like the Arts on Main shopping complex we frequented while living in Maboneng. Just on a larger scale. There were vendors there of all types! Food, clothing, soaps, trinkets, and all sorts of other delights you can imagine. It would take the majority of the afternoon to decide what to eat and limit the number of things we could purchase. Only so much room in the suitcases for the return trip and the limited budget dictates we stay as disciplined as possible … but it is so hard cause there is so much we wanted to purchase.
This trip, we limited our purchases to Soap, turkey legs, burgers, and drinks! The soap came from “Just Limani,” a local shop that makes its soaps from all organic ingredients and infuses theme with heavenly scents. We purchased vanilla and orange both very lovely scents and can’t wait to try them out.
Leigh and I purchased burgers from two different vendors that were side by side. Since we couldn’t figure out which was the best, we decided to get what appeared to be the best burger on each menu and share both. This proved to be an outstanding idea because both were good, however, Cadillac Jack’s Asian burger carried the day … still having a moment over the flavor filled explosion of a party I had in my mouth!
On to drinks and some serious people watching. There was such an eclectic mix of folks there all sharing in the good life. A rooftop full of people enjoying the day and sharing stories and time with one another. We took pictures and handed out contact cards and mingled with one another for hours and it was all great fun. We are all connected was that general feel of Ubuntu that keeps reoccurring in these posts.
We have been wanting to get back to Soweto before we returned to the US and as the Universe would have it, today proved to be that opportunity. Leigh’s former students were having a get-together and we were invited to tag along. We got to take our first bus ride here. Not really a lot to tell there. Public transportation is the same all over the world I guess. Buses filled to capacity, the mad scramble for a seat or a solid place to stand and hold on for dear life as you round corners at what feels like too fast a pace. The thoughts of “we can’t possibly fit another person in here” as we near another stop, and yet somehow it all works out!
Bus ride concluded and finally at Thokoza Park. The highlight of the day for me happened upon Leigh’s arrival. It was such a joy for me to watch the interaction between these students and their professor, Leigh Lester-Holmes. Some knew she was coming and others did not. To watch these wonderfully bright students wait patiently their turn to hug Leigh and have a few moments of face to face time with someone who impacted their lives so. Someone whom they never thought they would ever get the chance to meet! To watch men revere and respect a female, and to watch women get to touch a female that they held in such high regard was amazing to me. First just simply overwhelmed at the outpouring of affection for this woman that I love so dearly, then moved, almost to tears as it sets in that others see and value what I see in this big-hearted force of nature that is Leigh!
I have my own point of reference for this feeling she has but that is a story for another day. This moment is hers and I lovingly look on as she basks in the glow of students that adore her. This day could not have been any more perfect!
Til Next time
Peace and Blessings
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