Monday, November 13, 2006

Leaving Joburg Behind

I am sweaty, tired, frustrated and impatient as I write this blog. We are stuck on a bus by the side of the road, 45 minutes from the Mozambique-South African border and it is cooking hot outside. Africa hot. The kind of hot that makes a difficult situation, like our current predicament, the latest in our series of challenges today, seem even less tolerable. The kind of heat where you can actually see the patience draining out of people like the thick drops of perspiration that have gathered on their foreheads and are now running profusely down their arms and legs.

Our driver returns to the cab after a lengthy call on his cell phone. He is muttering and shaking his head. This cannot be good. Babies are crying, people are cursing and spirits are sinking. We cannot fix the bus on our own and we have no idea when a mechanic will arrive. We could be in for the long haul.

This is the second bus that has broken down on us today. The first was back at the Park Station in Johannesburg (aka Joburg or “Jozzie” to South Africans) where we blew out our clutch just two minutes after getting on the road. We waited over two hours for a new bus to arrive amidst the exhaust bellowing vehicles and dodgy characters that frequent the crowded terminal. A particularly sketchy looking character approached my colleague Cremildo and I with a clever story about how he needed just 20 Rand so he could visit his mother who is dying of HIV/AIDS. We brushed him off successfully but a few minutes later Cremildo looked down and noticed that his computer bag had been swiped. We had become the latest in a long list of crime victims in downtown Joburg.

Now I am going to just come out and say this straight: I hated Joburg. I thought it was a terrible city. I am sure that if I lived here for an extended period of time and was introduced to some more cultural circles I would find this city’s bright side but I saw very little in my five days there to make me want to go back. Years of apartheid have created a city with a horribly rotten core, rampant urban sprawl, shocking class disparity and a society irrevocably dependant on automobility as its only means of transport. Some people claim that Joburg is in the same class as other “First World” cities but I certainly do not see many redeeming qualities that would put the city alongside the New Yorks, Parises, Tokyos or Rios of the world.

However, as Alan Paton once said, in Southern Africa all roads inevitably lead to Joburg. No matter what your business is, you will eventually find yourself in this city one way or another. Cremildo and I came to meet with our consulting partners in ECIAfrica in order to put the finishing touches on our HIV/AIDS and Microfinance Learning Workshop being held in Maputo the following week. They invited us to Joburg to meet their staff, see their offices and work on our presentations and workshop activities. It was a productive week for sure and we all appreciated the opportunity to work together as a physical team rather than relying on communication via email and poor quality conference calls.

The one non-work related activity that I was really looking forward to in Joburg was visiting the Apartheid Museum. Since Robben Island was one of my clear highlights in Cape Town, and given the fact that PW Botha, SA’s last pro-apartheid PM, died the day that we arrived in the city, I figured that a trip to this museum should be an essential part of my Joburg experience. Unfortunately, I discovered that getting from point A to point B in this city is extremely difficult if you do not have a car. There are busses but certainly none that any white person, or any black person with a car for that matter, would ever dream of using. There are taxis but they are ridiculously expensive and extremely difficult to contact. A round trip across town to the Museum was going to set me back 400 Rand and the journey would take almost two and a half hours. I elected instead to flip through a biography of Nelson Mandela over a coffee at a posh bookstore rather than make the trek across town.

This trip came at about the same time that I realized that Cremildo and I had already spent nearly our entire travel budget allocated for this project. As a result, I came up with a plan for us to make the trip on the most frugal budget as possible: we would take the bus instead of fly and we would stay with one of the consultants in her garden house instead of a hotel. It seemed like the logical decision at the time but now that we are down one lap top computer and on our second break down of the day we both wished we had made alternative plans (Although Dominique your hospitality was incredible…Thank you again so much!!).

As I finish this post we are moving once again through the lush valleys of sugar cane and bananas on the way to the Mozambican border. The mechanic finally arrived and in less than two minutes fixed the problem to the resounding cheers of the passengers on board. As the sun is setting on this long travel day, it is casting the most beautiful golden light across the countryside, helping me to forget about the frustrations of the moment and once again remind myself of the bigger picture. It is when I do this that my problems and complaints seem so shockingly insignificant and I can once again focus on a positive frame of mind.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

brazil is a 1st world nation?

11:19 a.m.  
Blogger Friar Tuck said...

Hi Jared,

It's Friar Tuck here. Thank you for your excellent story. It reminded me of when I was in Nicaruagua and our bus broke down only a few blocks from the central bus station. We waited over two hours for someone to come and fix it. I can still remember the smell of diesel smoke filling my lungs with each passing vehicle.

During that period of waiting in the humid, tropical heat a man with a machete boarded the bus and we were all robbed. One passenger, carrying a chicken and a goat for his family, had his ear cut off because he wouldn't surrender the chicken.

"Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much."

Fortunately, I find Paton's writing more hopeful than that passage would seem.

11:29 a.m.  
Blogger jpmozambique said...

Not entirely, but I would say Rio is a first class city. Brazil has the same kind of gross income disparity that South Africa suffers from so I guess you have all types of "worlds" colliding in these countries.

12:49 a.m.  
Blogger Big Roddy said...

Hey JP,
Sorry to hear of your troubles amigo. I can imagine what the heat must of felt like and the thick stench of diesel in any weather is enough to make anyone choke.
Hope you're doin' well otherwise. I'm off today to go an finance a new electric bass at L&McQ.
Looking forward to your coming home!

11:04 a.m.  
Anonymous Neville said...

I know exactly what you're talking about Jared. It's like our show last night, where the bar is packed, and people keep knocking over your drinks before you've had a chance to take a sip and you're thinking my god when will this end, and then the sunset. Now when I say sunset I really mean hot girls on the stage gringing u against you while you're playing. you forget all your troubles. I love being me.


10:10 p.m.  
Anonymous Neville said...

What I meant to say in my comment was "grinding up" sorry for the spelling error, I know some take offence to bade riteing.

10:18 p.m.  

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