Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Just got back from South Africa

Just got back from a business trip to South Africa – taking 20+ civil servants on a study tour. Here are some notes on the trip:

On the evening of our arrival in Jo’burg, Bibi and I walked to 7th st in Melville - a European style assortment of restaurants, bars and galleries. Dinner at Soi, a thai-vietnamese place included a vigorous chinese massage from a woman from Bejing. The maitre’d gave us a ceramic rice pot after we told her how much we liked the one holding our rice.

Next morning, Emmanuel and I give Linda and Tina, the guest-house owners, several thousand rand in cash as upfront payment - seeing the panic in their eyes at so much cash. South Africans have got used to minimizing how much cash they hold.

Joburg is a lush green city full of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical greenery - all the trees were planted on what was bushvelt scrub 100 years ago.

On Monday, our party traveled up to Pretoria. The city centre is 99% black people, following the white-exodus urban model in the US. Anonymous tenement after tenement building surround the centre. People told us the Coliseum, where we were put up, was an insult. We quickly get the sense that Nigerians are being exploited when they travel to SA.

In the evening we visited Bibi’s friend Nthabiseng – she lives in one of the tenements. We met her partner, who has traveled all over Africa sans passport, with interesting stories of the diamond mines in Congo and jewel/precious stone markets in Nigeria.

The next day, we went to the Finance Ministry in the centre of Pretoria. - old marble and old wood paneling everywhere, and the quiet repose of civil servants in control of the economy

A funny story: Mr O – one of our party, went to the toilets during a break. He spotted "chocolates" in the bathroom, only to find himself in contact with spermicidally lubricated latex.

Another group decided to try out the local African restaurant run by an Igbo guy, only to find out the joint was a front for a brothel, with heavy guys and cubicles in the basement before you get to the restaurant. Egusi soup was left half eaten as the civil servants made a quick get away.

We went for dinner later in the week at Nthabiseng's - salad and tofu and then vegan chocolate ice cream!

Back in Jozi, we ate breakfast at a health food store in Emerentia: scrambled tofu, sausage and baked tomato for breakfast with Bibi’s friend Chantal.

SA taxi drivers are all unique (at least the ones we met): ‘famous Amos’ couldn’t stop laughing and had a wonderful flow of language, another guy with a ludicrous victim complex, then another chap who was the most miserable misanthrope, complaining of everything in the modern world: how small modern cars (“not enough space to fuck a chick in”) – all at 8:30 am in the morning. Charming.


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