Friday, January 08, 2016

A day in the walk of; something's got to give

I've been without a car for two years exactly. I still believe it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. Tough at first, psychologically, especially in a country where motor vehicles hold much sway in the national psyche, where formal public transport has in the recent past been challenging and underdeveloped, where distances between places are vast. 

Walking has meant much better personal fitness and health, most importantly it's let me get to grips with my city and has meant that, too, I've a much more balanced view of it. When vacuum-packed into an air-conditioned and sterilised car it's easy to believe the photoshopped tourist brochures proclaiming that Cape Town is a world-class tourist destination. That's because the brochures are filled with mostly perfect-looking, perfectly-bronzed people with a perfect set of teeth, also perfectly wealthy. The majority, the reality of this city and country is - always - airbrushed out and made voiceless.

Instead, when walking my city - past the piss, the shit, the vomit and the bleak realities of poverty and social injustice - it becomes glaringly obvious that this city is most likely (I stand to be corrected) one of the world's most unequal cities. Appallingly so.

I began my morning with an 8am dentist appointment at the far end of Sea Point, on the Atlantic Seaboard, where I seem to have spent a lot of time recently. Then I decided to walk back through the neighbourhood, past Green Point, to the licensing department. Renewing my unused driver's license will be a lot easier than having to reapply for it from scratch one day if my circumstances differ.

A magnificent scorcher of a day, from early on. The sense of open space - sky, sea and esplanade - enthralled me, made me want to walk until the very edge of the earth, and then over it. With factor 50+ sunblock slathered on everywhere.

My sense of freedom was heightened by me knowing that I'd only be back at work next week. I felt even less encumbered while hiding in the shade of a a tree watching hanggliders land.

They'd spiralled down after launching themselves and their selfie sticks and passengers from Signal Hill. I'll take that flight sometime; I'm a fan of birdseye perspectives. On all matters.

The licensing department was a stark reminder of how bleak and hot and ugly and impatient things can be, particularly when dealing with life admin. It cost me three hours, but I left with a sense of satisfaction that I'd ticked a dreaded biggie off.

I'm not one for tourist destinations, especially in season, but the V&A Waterfront was merely a further and decent walk away. I fancied myself slipping into a dark, air-conditioned art movie. Alan Bennet's The Lady in the Van was awesome. Popcorn and mineral water. Cool air on my bare arms and legs, an almost empty cinema; who on earth could possibly want to spend a magnificent day like this indoors? Me.

Technology! Later, at bedtime, my phone informed that I'd taken 17,374 steps over 14.17 km and that I'd burned 732 kcal. And the NSA via Google knew exactly which pavements I'd trodden on. Everything comes at a price, especially when we don't know the exctent of it.

It was a good day spent walking my city. Looking back at this post, my photos are probably as glaringly tourist-brochure orientated as the ones I'm criticising... nevertheless, take it from me that the above is only but a minute glimpse of the reality of Cape Town. This one day in my life - between a dentist (the ability to afford a dentist and to have the medical insurance that I do, even though it's the bottom rung, is another thing) and what I got up to at the V&A - is miles out of the reach of many millions of ordinary South Africans. Roughly 25% of my nation's youth are unemployed.

I'm trying hard not to sink under the weight of these realities, under the reality of all that I have, of the life that I lead. And I'm a mere university lecturer. Without a car. I am so extremely well off, it does not sit comfortably.

This year I will focus on what I can do to, somehow, 'rectify' the imbalance, the inequality in my personal sphere of influence. I've failed so many times befiore that it's not even funny.

Right now all that I know are words. I'll wrnite myself out of the pain and the unbearable weight. As, according to translator André Naffis-Sahely, poet Antjie krog stresses: A writer should not concern themselves as to whether they are read or not, since “one writes so that you don’t die of shame, that you didn't say something when a girl is cut up somewhere in a parking lot and raped … You know that a poem will achieve nothing, but at least you will get through the night. 

Something's got to give. Surely it can't go on like this.

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