“When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.” Pasternak

 

Fatigue has settled in and living in Johannesburg is making me weary. This primal, pulsating, African polestar is the city of my childhood and beyond. It is the place I was born and raised and it defines me to my core. Its tactile senses run deep and will remain with me always. I have walked, played, protested and driven most of its streets well. From the tree lined, suburban streets of my childhood, where the sweet smell of jasmine takes me back in an instant and the haunting sounds of the Manyano ladies signing church songs in the distance formed the soundtrack of every late Sunday afternoon.

 

The grittiness of Yeoville and Rockey Street, of my youth, where Jo’burg’s eclectic gathered in freedom for good music and liberal thoughts in an apartheid era, Mahlatini and the Mahotella Queens forming the soundtrack. Bok Street, where my art school campus was situated and where we would skip class to play pool at the dingy Maxime Hotel. Kotze, Pretorius, Kapteijn and Twist Streets in Hillbrow - where I sat with friends and journalists, drinking way too much bad coffee and smoking Marlboro Lights (because they were banned) at Café Wiene, figuring out the complex and complicated country we lived in. Where we would buy roasted chicken and Portuguese rolls at Fontana Deli at 2 a.m. after a night of clubbing. These are the same streets I took to with friends, the night we heard Mandela was released. Streets of hope, promise and optimism. It is the city that taught me about life. Where I was born, went to school, university, got my heart broken, met the love of my life, started my career as a journalist, got married and gave birth to my son.

 

Now it’s time to move on. I am tired. Through the complexities of South Africa’s politics, this city of extreme contrasts is no longer the place I wish to define my future. The madness and pace of everyday life, as we pretend that all is normal is exhausting and suffocating. I live my middle class life, behind six foot high walls, electric fences, private security guards and laser beams to keep the unwanted out. I can no longer read the horrific headlines that appear on a daily basis, battle my way through taxis that will sooner ram me off the road than adhere to any rules, or have a gun held to my loved one’s head for a car.

 

The apartheid South Africa that I grew up in was a twisted society and quite rightly deserved to disappear. But for me, and for many other South Africans, childhood places of comfort and familiarity now exist only as memories; and in their place is a sense of distance and dislocation.

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It is now a city that is very far removed from the place I once loved. I need to see life with new eyes, to create a different life for my son. I need to seek out a wild place at the ocean far from here. I need to stop and listen, before the noise of negativity drowns out all of the things I love about this land and this city, for there are still many.

 

Journal Entry, Parkhurst, Johannesburg, May 2005

Colleen Thompson

Writer Photographer Raconteur Wanderer

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