I love going to Jozi. I love that wet air feeling when landing after a summer thunderstorm. I love the huge, green trees that spread their dense branches over roads in the suburbs. I love the city skyline, and the feelings and flavours of the different areas. I love that Jozi is constantly and surprisingly evolving. Braamfontein, after years of being dodgy and weird, has returned to the vibrancy of how it was in my school days, when I would go to drama lessons at The Nunnery on the edge of Wits. I love being there and feeling the excitement of the shift. I love the soft rolling sounds of SeSotho that I never hear at home. I love my family and friends who all live in Jozi, and I love seeing them. I love working in Jozi, and meeting with the people who work there. I love that Jozi is black, in your face and getting on with it.
But because I relocated to Cape Town (this last time 19 years ago) Jozi is still my city of ghosts. Something happens to me there, something visceral and emotional and almost beyond my ability to articulate. It is the mix up of childhood and school, of family and loss, of bravado and insecurity, and of being on the fringe and not belonging completely. There is the tug of ‘what if I’d stayed?’. There is the nostalgia threaded sense of ‘where would I live now?’ and the slightly panicked ‘who would I be here?’ There is the excitement of knowing the old and learning the new.
I drive confidently in Jozi (with Garmap on my Crackberry) but I am nervous of Jozi drivers, where in Cape Town I would just be confident.
I see shadows in Jozi. Shadows of ended relationships. Of a dead parent. Of chances missed and unrealised dreams. Of places where I lived that no longer look anything like they did. I see a city that has moved beyond my ability to contextualise it, and yet it is so achingly familiar. That smell. Steaming tar after a storm. Different petrol smell. My sweat smells different. Those sounds. Thunder and hard drops on the windscreen. Loud crickets in drains. Loeries and Hadedas and black faced small grey birds shouting in the very early dawn. A traffic that is a constant low thrum. The suburban tick of electric fences.
Jozi might almost have forgotten me. My Jozi is a tightrope; of real present, past complicated and future unimagined.
When I drove on the highway to the airport this morning it was still dark. Jozi wakes up differently to Cape Town. It pulses awake while Cape Town staggers towards a later rising sun.
The faces at the airport are different. The hairstyles and the shoes. Then I feel a familiar tug. She is more hippy. He has plakkies and a hole in his T shirt. I hear the clicks of isi Xhosa. Some other people on this flight are going home, like me.
Landing at home I grow straight back into my actual self. I am totally me here. I am who I am. There is no potential me, no limbo me, no almost me. And I am entirely present and comfortable. But Jozi and all it stands for prickles my soul, and will always be part of me.
Thanks for the good times.