It’s been a hectic few days, and consequently, writing has fallen off the radar.
The theme of the last week has been space. Comfortable spaces, safe spaces, happy spaces, accessible spaces. How space can be transformed just by small details. And how that plays with your mind.
It started with choosing a restaurant for dinner. At the V&A Waterfront, we walked into an Italian restaurant at 7 PM. Walking in, I followed the waitress, only concerned about satisfying hunger. As I arrived, I noticed that my colleague’s steps had slowed down, and there was a deep sense of discomfort on her face. The only other people with her skin colour were those who were standing up, and serving. ‘How is this my continent, my country?’ she asked.
It made me think of the things we all take for granted when it comes to spaces like this. In my case, this is NOT my country and my foreignness is, well, granted. Yet I imagined a similar situation in my home. Walking in and seated at a restaurant where almost 100% of its patrons are from another race. Where my own race are only allowed in to serve.
We consoled ourselves with drinks and as the evening progressed, rejoiced as more people of colour came in as customers but that was us sweeping the issue under the carpet. Because as the week progressed, we learnt more, much more, about those invisible lines that keep people in. And keep people out. For the communities on the Cape Flats, coloured gangs control territories and force young people to determine which schools they should attend, where they should work, how they move around. For those in the richer suburbs, big guarded security gates, cameras and self-restrictions create bubbles of affluence, and influence. For those in universities, language pride endures, forcing people of colour to use translation devices in compulsory classes, deciding their timetables, and thereby mobility and access to work. And the utterly confounding thing of this is: that it was all done by design. Design to elevate a few, and leave out the rest.
We seem to be entering a world where the invisible lines are visibly being redrawn, and darkened. Where the tendency seems to be: retreat, isolate, protect. From our experience this last week, we saw and felt some the consequences of this thinking. Ghettos are created, trauma is normalized, and violence becomes the MO for all transactions.
And yet, there were some AHA moments: we took a few people out of their work, university, community bubbles and realized the power of crossing those lines. Of experiencing life on the other side. A poignant moment: when we were at Hanover Park on the Cape Flats, a community criss-crossing with ganglines, rife with gun violence, abuse and trauma, we were lucky enough to witness a Klopse Klopse: a local carnival, with people dressed up, music and so much dancing! To know that in the midst of despair there is so much potential for happiness (although it was probably as much an escape!) allowed us to realize that people have the power and the resilience to keep going. To seize moments of happiness. And that it’s as much our responsibility to create more such moments of happiness as it is theirs.
Flying back to Jozi, my home for the indeterminate future, I feel tired but thoughtful. We embarked on this journey for the benefit of others, as a job, without realizing the effect it had on ourselves. The more I think, the more I wonder what my own capacity is: to bring down those walls and create change. More on this as I go along. Till then, thanks for sticking it through!