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Originally uploaded by Naphiri.

last weekend was spent moving into the new flat – everything is perfect and fantastic. anyone wanting to post me a fridge is highly encouraged to do so. same is true for a sofa. you may want to take out a second mortgage on your home to do so, but i’ll definitely appreciate the favour.

fortunately (???) anything you find in the supermarket can be purchased in freeze-dried or powdered form. ah yes, you say “yuck!” now, but you clearly don’t know the joy of noodles with powdered fake curry sauce! even the meat is dried and often powdered and considered a local delicacy (biltong). should you wish to try this jerkied yumminess send me a simple note outlining what kind of meat you’d like me to send (yes, it’s even available in dried ostrich flavour).

i’m far happier in my new home, despite the “just add boiling water” to everything i eat. the neighbourhood is great.

the same, however, cannot be said of other neighbourhoods.

take, for example, Hillbrow.

for those of you who don’t know the name this is the neighbourhood they warn you about. the one that you DONT want to be caught in even in the daylight, nevermind the night… the one i got caught in on wednesday night.

now i dont want to scare anyone. gawd knows i’ve been holding back on a lot of the “sights and sounds” given that i hate reinforcing stereotypes and notions of “the dark continent”. i’d also hate to give any of the doomsayers who “warned” me about jo’burg a reason to say “i told you so!” but it’s true, you have to watch yourself here.

i got lost on my way from Sandton, a super ritzy area, to home. i was told by a colleague to take a bus to Noord station, walk to Bree Street, then take a bus home to lovely and safe Melville. i got lost. i ended up asking about 4 minibus (called “Kombi” here) drivers where to catch a bus home, resulting in shrugs at best, wrong information at worst. so i started the trek along Bree street, laden with my new Sandton purchases, only to feel a hand in my pocket.

i’d just like to pat myself on the back for my quick reflexes, despite my stupidity (i’ll explain the stupidity later), at this point. i yelled very loud something like “HEY HEY HEY!!” and turned to see the guy drop my wallet on the ground and run. fortunately no money or documentation was stolen. i went to the closest secure building and used my celphone to do that which i should’ve done in the beginning but was too cheap: i called a metered taxi to rescue my sorry ass.

so, my stupidity…
the things they tell you not to do in this city:

1. don’t wander around late at night, especially in neighbourhoods you don’t know.

2. don’t go to Hillbrow, under any circumstances. JUST DON’T.

3. don’t carry large sums of cash on you.

4. don’t look like a tourist, if you can help it. walk with determination, even if you’re lost.

5. don’t carry passports or other documentation on you. keep it safe at home and only carry copies.

what did i do? i ignored all of these “don’ts”. i was carrying all the money i have that is meant to buy my fridge plus money i meant to have transfered to my Canadian account (well over CAN$500 in total). i had my passport, visa card, and all other documentation on me since i’d just been to the bank that day.

what did i learn from this experience?

1. not to be so stupid.

so i’ve now figured out that there are two extremes: the paranoid “ohmigod i’m going to be killed here” side and the “things are fine, i don’t know what people are worried about!?” side. somewhere between is the reality of jo’burg life.

i went from marble palaces in Sandton to cardboard shanty towns in Hillbrow in only one bus ride. this is the reality and the reason for crime – huge discrepencies between the rich and the poor. and each side has its colour (you can figure out which is black and which is white for yourself, i’m sure). the sad reality is that it makes you wary. while i don’t fear crime now, i will protect myself in the future, and heed at least some of the warnings by the doomsayers.

i still love it here. i still think Africa, and South Africa, is amazing. the people are friendlier than any i’ve ever known. the colours of everything – from flowers to birds to clothing – are astounding.

i think i said it well in a previous email to a friend: The major lesson i’ve learned in Africa is that those who have nothing to lose laugh the loudest.

that just about sums it all up.

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