I Didn't Feel So White
I went to South Africa for the week-end. It was a few weeks ago already, but ever since I've wanted to write something about it. A week-end, mind you, is definitely not enough to get the hang of a country, but I guess it is just enough to get a feel of it.
So what I remember, in a nutshell and a non exhaustive kind of way.
It starts, I guess, with the "Armed response" signs and the spiked fences. (As an aside, it is interesting to see that typing "fence armed response" as a Google search will trigger in the first results South African security companies websites, even in a French browser session). Those were everywhere. I don't think I've ever seen so many shapes and sorts of spikes. I have to admit I went to South Africa with this in mind, the "insecurity" one hears so much about. It was striking. What "Armed response" really means left me wondering though. I felt a bit like in a James Bond kind of movie, and saw in my mind's eye bodyguards springing out of every corner as soon as someone would try and go over the fence. Mind you, at no time did I feel unsafe, but then I was in the safe areas and always with someone.
I was scammed. Quite cleverly really. One of those scams you see on TV, which consists in someone taking your credit card and copying the magnetic strip to use it afterwards. It was so well done that I returned to my taxi with my credit card in the hand, and apologized to the scammers thinking I had wronged them when I accused them of stealing it. I only discovered a few days later what they had done.That kind of stuff happens everywhere, so it's not like I'll remember South Africa as the country in which I was scammed. The scam was well executed, and I really never felt threatened. I certainly have felt less safe walking around Rome, for example.
I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that it was winter. The trees were yellowish, brownish and my friend was going on about how Johannesburg is so green. It didn't fit, because well, in winter, not so much. But since I was coming from our (non-existent) Northern Hemisphere summer, and the temperature was around the 20°C during the day, it had all the prerequisite of summer to me, without the actual green. I'll have to go back when Johannesburg is really green, I guess.
But the most interesting feeling I had is, I didn't feel so white. And by white, I suppose I mean "out of place", to some extent. I wrote an essay back in 1993, titled "The Quest For The Rainbow Country - Men and colours in South Africa in the Work of Nadine Gordimer". I have read almost all of her novels and essays, and was particularly struck by her Essay "Where Do Whites Fit In?". Strolling Johannesburg with that in mind made the experience more acute, I think. Again, I only really went to the African Crafts Market in Rosebank, packed with tourists, and the airport, ditto (that's for the crowded places), so I guess my experience is nowhere near conclusive. But still. I felt more white in Taiwan, Egypt or even Ecuador.
Oh and yes, this was Africa, I bargained.