Monday, May 10

South Africa Conclusions

So it probably goes without saying that I absolutely loved my time in South Africa. After the very tourism focussed trip to Korea and Japan, I had fully intended on making South Africa more of a social and chilled out holiday, but despite this I never expected to have as much fun as I actually did.

I've repeatedly asked what my highlight of the trip was, or which was my favourite city. The honest truth is that there were far too many highlights to pick just one - I'm hoping I have done justice to all the various things I did by recounting them here on this blog.

As for my favourite city, well that's just as difficult to call. Durban had the wedding and surrounding excitement and vibe, Cape Town had lots to see and do while Johannesburg just had tons of people to meet. My trip to South Africa would not had been as complete or well rounded had I not been to all three places, and quite strangely each place had the effect of accentuating the effect of the others on me.

Another question I was asked was whether I could live there. Well joking aside (by the end of the trip I was known as "the guy who had come to South Africa to find a wife") I think I could live here if I had the chance to. The main concerns for me would be the lack of ANY family in the vicinity as well as the levels of violent crime here - of the fifty or so people I met, at least five of them had been smashed and grabbed, a similar number had been car-jacked and around a handful had had close family members murdered randomly. Crime here isn't something you read about in the Metro on the way to work, it's very real.

I loved the quality of life, and how people find the time not to only enjoy themselves but to take care of others. Comparing the way we treat ourselves and guests here in London, I don't think it's a case of selfishness or self-involvement, but purely one of a lack of time. Things like working near your home or even in our home have real implications to how people live here, and it's something I found myself to be terribly envious of.

Then there's the level of pseudo-integration of Asians and Islam. I say pseudo because of this constant awareness that we weren't in a real South Africa during most of our stay but in a kind of bubble, one which may not have been reflective of life outside the homes and towns of our friends. That aside, I loved how an otherwise secular restaurant would have a place to perform whudu and offer prayer, how adhan was called out in the open and how even the most non-Muslim place to eat would know what halal meant. All this and they speak English? It was almost perfectly comfortable, apart from the various comments regarding my wearing of chappal.

I loved how everything seemed to have fallen into place with this trip. Even the ash clouds seemed to change the trip for the better as our internal plans adjusted for our late arrival. There was something to do everyday, most of the time with little or no planning and I didn't feel we wasted any time. Well apart from that stint on Robben Island.

Of course this trip would not have been what it was had it not been for the wonderful, wonderful people. I often wondered what my time there would have been like had I come under any other circumstance, and after this trip I can't imagine experiencing South Africa in any other way. All three cities would have been very empty had we not had the company of the various people I had met, most for the very first time. The hospitality was totally unexpected and even uncalled for and we appreciated every iota of time given to us.

I fully went in to this trip as the third musketeer, or a side dish to the main course as some had also described me as being. I didn't even know the people whose wedding I had been invited to, and yet I got a mention in the groom's wedding speech. Heck the only reason I even knew of the trip was after reading about it in a blog. For sure I didn't have a right to have had such an awesome time, and I'm grateful at being given the opportunity to make so many new friends and acquaintances. I distinctly remember someone referring to this as they commented on how easily I was able to make myself comfortable around people I didn't know, but I was reassured that this was meant as a compliment rather than criticism of how imposing I was being.

But still I like to think I did make genuine contributions, and was a part of the bridge building that was going on. At times it seemed that the people I was travelling with knew more Saffans than the locals did, and I'm proud to have been a part of, or at the very least an incidental reason for, the new friendships being made. There's a reason why JR's Show Dem became the theme of our trip. Make The Circle Beega indeed.

Would I recommend South Africa to others? I'm not actually sure that I could. As a tourist destination I'm not sure what exactly the place has to offer - sure there are nice beaches and a mountain or two but for me these were mere bonuses to being able to doss, eat, have late night chats till 3am about women and celebrate life as much as we did. In short, if you happen to have around fifty friends spread out all across the country then you should definitely go.

And yet despite the amazing time I had in South Africa, despite my wanting to stay for at least another two weeks and despite not ever feeling homesick throughout (ten days in a hotel is usually my limit) there was something definitive and final about this whole trip. It was almost as if after my time there I had finally done and seen everything I wanted to; surprising considering I still have a well populated travelling list to get through. I realised that life just can't be about having this much random fun or seeing where the wind takes you, that the only sustainable way of living is to do so with modesty, and finally that I was actually ready to embrace the mundaneness of normal life. To be honest I'm not quite sure what it was I was feeling really.

But anyway. The trip has already become a fading memory and I despair as I struggle to recreate all the good times I had there in my mind. Still, I'm sure there'll be more than one occasion here where I'll be reminded of a joke or conversation I had in Durban, Cape Town or Johannesburg and smile to myself as I'm taken back to the absolutely brilliant tour of South Africa I took in 2010.

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