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First Date

In addition to writing here, I have been recording my experiences on my own blog. In my first blog post about South Africa, I said that I’d already fallen in love with Durban. And now I’m going to take it back. I know, I know, you can’t just do that, but I just did, so give me a minute to explain.

I think I can say I had a slight crush. I had a crush in the way that you do when you meet a person who tells lots and lots of interesting stories and is nice, funny, and all those other basic adjectives. I like her presence and the way that she interacts with people. We’ve sat down and had some really good, yet brief conversations in public, but I still don’t really know her. She always leaves me wishing I could find out more, wanting a real friendship, and desiring that one-on-one connection.

Yesterday, Durban and I went out on a friendly date of sorts. I’m not sure who invited who, but I found myself alone in the center of the city with time to spare and a sudden desire to get to know Durban a little better. I decided to trust her, and what interesting things I found.

She leads me down a street enveloped in tree limbs, enticing me forward with the smell of freshly baked bread. As I walk, my steps begin to sync with the faint sound of a drum beat. I follow her to the source: a group of Zulu men dancing and playing long horn-like instruments. She stops and lets me take in the impromptu event, and I catch her tapping her toe to the beat she’s surely heard a thousand times. Slowly, she begins pulling me on. She drags me up a hill steeper than any I’ve ever encountered, but soon we’re in an area I vaguely recognize. We break for lunch, and I strain to understand her wonderfully unique accent at the counter. I wonder whether I should call for a cab, but she still has me intrigued. We leave and head in the general direction of campus.

She’s aware of what people say about her: that she’s dangerous and not to be trusted. But as we walk, I begin to think that maybe she’s just insecure. I can see it in averted eyes or wondering stares when I meet a few of her citizens on the sidewalk. I don’t feel threatened like they said I would, but I can tell she still doesn’t quite know what to think of me, a white girl willing to wander her streets alone. I notice walls, miles and miles of multi-colored walls and fences with the occasional hum of electricity surrounding her carefully divided properties. When I can, I peer in to see cozy houses and comfortable lives that strangely do not seem to want to be touched. I haven’t actually seen that many of her citizens out walking on these streets, so maybe this is where they’re hiding. It’s funny how seeing her from outside the fleeting moments in the confines of a cab seem to make me even more curious. I suddenly want to ask her why. What aroused the first thought that walls should be built to keep people out? I think I might know the answer, but I don’t want to make too many assumptions. We don’t know each other that well yet, so I decide to bite my tongue.

I don’t mean to say that she’s unfriendly. Despite her insecurity, I can see she’s fairly laid back. I observe cars parked on the grass medians separating opposing lanes of traffic with cars speeding past at a clip that seems awfully dangerous for a city street. Every once in a while I pass a kind stranger who wishes me a “happy Women’s Day,” and I feel oddly undeserving about it. I’m not South African and had nothing to do with the rich history that inspired this day, but I smile and say “thank you” to sometimes bewildered looks upon hearing my own accent.

By mid-afternoon, we’ve walked all the way back to Howard College. I have to thank Durban for continuously allowing me to learn from her. I promise to give something back sometime, but she seems like one of those people who are so difficult to find the perfect gift for. We say our goodbyes, but when I return to my room, I open the curtain to see her still out there – still waiting to be explored even more.

I’m exhausted from the walking, but as I put my feet up, I can’t help but think,

A second date would be lovely.

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