South Africa. What are the first images that pop into your mind when you hear these two words? For me, ashamedly, it was crime, then Africa’s most developed economy, and finally, amazing countryside. Johannesburg was a blur for me – an undefined image in my head. I couldn’t quite picture it, like I could other major cities to which I had never been. I went on Google and searched for images, but found mostly pictures of townships, dusty red clay roads, and the run-down buildings of Johannesburg CBD. When I accepted this assignment, I had never been to Johannesburg, but I kept my mind open.
When I landed for the first time in February 2013, it was dark. I arrived on the last flight from Kenya. The airport was empty, except for those of us coming in from Nairobi. Once we headed out of the airport and onto the freeway, all I saw were lights speckled across what appeared to be rolling hills. The next morning, I awoke to a lush city full of green and trees. It reminded me of the Hill Country of Austin combined with the vibe of Los Angeles.
Now that we’ve been here a few weeks, I’m finally ready to put my first impressions out there. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert – I’m such a newbie here. So for the kids back home, here are my thoughts.
What I’m Enjoying
- Nice people: Everyone keeps telling me that Johannesburg is a rat race. It’s full of folks in a hurry. And I agree. I get honked at at least twice a day – mostly by the mini taxis. But underneath it all, most people seem nice. Eager to help, always greeting you with genuine enthusiasm. I love the lady at the cantine that calls me darlin’ after every sentence that comes out of her mouth. I love that my colleagues are always ready to help with advice on doctors, restaurants, places to work out, or how to grow as a professional woman. It’s a big city with people in a big darn rush, but thus far, I’m liking the attitude here.
- Wide open spaces: Johannesburg Zoo, Emmarentia Dam & Johannesburg Botanical Gardens – these are just some of the lush green spaces that this city has to offer. Gorgeous places for a picnic and walk in this summer weather. When you go up in Houghton and gaze out across the city, you see a few skyscrapers peek up out of the trees. It seems as if this city popped up in the middle of a forest.
- Kid-friendliness: Baby is a star here. Instead of criticism for whatever horrible parental infraction someone seems to think I’ve committed, everyone comes up to baby and exclaims “OMG HE’S SO CUTE/ADORABLE/GORGEOUS!” The South African twang rolls out as they say, “Hello there, boy!” There’s even a sit-down restaurant where you can go with your kid, and there are child minders there to play with your child on the playground while you sit and have a nice meal. I still don’t think I’ve gotten over the shock.
- Markets: Bryanston Organic Market for its good mix of handicrafts and great organic produce. Neighbour Goods for its rows of mouth-watering food stalls and its rooftop terrace for consuming said food. Arts on Main for its local food producers, making it a laid back place for a Sunday brunch, followed by a stroll through local artists’ works. I’m looking forward to sharing these places with friends and family as they come to visit.
What I’m not liking
- Traffic: I wrapped my head around driving on the other side of the road just in time for school to come back in session, thereby ending the summer holiday period here. Once the kiddies were back in school, so came the horrendous traffic jams. It’s just annoying that a drive that takes me 15 minutes under normal circumstances, takes 50 minutes during rush hour. But hey, for now it still beats being pushed around in the smelly métro of Paris, n’est-ce pas?
- Security Precautions: Gates and security cameras and fingerprint entry. Sounds like a spy movie – but it’s an entryway into certain neighborhoods in Johannesburg. I know that it is for my own safety, but at the same time, it has taken some adjustment.
- “Just Now”: The phrase that you should incorporate here is “just now.” For example, “what time will you have this project to me?” “Oh, just now.” This could mean anything. It could really mean just now, or it could mean 5 days from now. You just have to roll with it…
There are so many things to see and discover. Johannesburg has more to offer than I could have ever imagined, and so does South Africa. Whether it be gorgeous countryside, delicious cuisine, opportunities to help others develop, the ability to expose my son to an amazing blend of cultures and attitudes – we’re happy to be here.
Welcome to our journey. We’ve made it here – and now it’s time to make this place our home.