Almost a year ago, I left everything behind and moved to Johannesburg. I did so kicking and screaming. I was convinced my life as I knew it was over, I wasn’t shy telling everyone this. How could it not be, I was forced to live in the apocalyptic wasteland as I like to call it.
When you live in Cape Town and experience other cities around the world that make life seem easy and accessible, the car-filled and distance embroiled Johannesburg seems to be the place where souls like mine go to die. People tell you this, and sometimes experience tells you this.
My experiences of Johannesburg before the move was in 24 to 72 hour stints. Hours spent in moving cars reading odd billboards that say: “Chinese Christian Church, Virgins Welcome.” Something like that stays with you.
My first month in the city as my new home was filled with distant aching for what I left behind. Whenever I poured myself a glass wine, there was a sense of hollow nostalgia, the kind that had no place in my new reality. It was pretty clear that I was a doomed character in my very own make-believe — what a cliche.
So I escaped it every chance I got. But this sly city has a gift for the swiftly interesting and surprising encounters. It wouldn’t let me escape, even when I wasn’t here it reminded why I needed to be.
After much resistance, on a rainy morning in the middle of Braamfontein, no umbrella in hand and only a sweater vest to keep me warm, it hit me: Johannesburg had gotten under my skin. As I stood there waiting for an Uber that may never come, the bone crushing cold of the midwinter rain pierced my skin. I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t sad or annoyed by the wetness, I was content. Happy to be in this place, so much so I danced. Stretching my hands out to the rain and danced with careless abandon. The onlookers probably thought I was nuts.
There are elements of this city that very few cities around the world can claim, the epic thunderstorms, the people with a plan ( people seem to know what they want here) and a community for everyone. The genuinely friendly people that makes you question your own civility. This truly is a global city, full of locals, expats and people just passing by.
I have been on the search for my city for so long, I am not sure I know what my city looks like but I know what it needs to fee like. I don’t know if Johannesburg is my city but it is the city I want to play with right now. Where else will you meet a Nigerian investment banker and an ex-Russian prostitute with a Masters degree in Russian Literature buying food from your local Nigerian food supplier?
In one of my favourite Doris Day films, Pillow Talk, Tony Randall in abject exasperation says: “this is New York, we’ve got air you can sink your teeth into, it has character. Why would you want to leave?” Or something to that effect. That’s Johannesburg, it has air you can sink your teeth into, character you can unpack.
So for now, while I find my city, I am just going to dance in the glorious Jozi thunderstorm!
Top image by Alexius van der Westhuizen (his photos are amazing)