Yesterday afternoon, after a perfectly lovely visit to the Neighbourhood Goods Market in Braamfontein, I took a friend through Newtown to see an awesome building – old silos being given a facelift with old shipping containers, the new apartments a perfect blend of interesting architecture and recycling. We were obviously distracted by the beauty of the building because neither of us expected that at the next traffic light, there would be a tremendous burst of sound, confusing initially because we hadn’t been in an accident. It was only when the robber was practically on my friend’s lap half a second later, screaming “Just give me the phone!” that my brain went into fight or flight and I hit the accelerator and the hooter simultaneously and we escaped with cellphones and lives intact.
This wasn’t the first attempted robbery I’ve experienced in downtown Joburg in the last few weeks. I was driving my lawyer through town recently, and stuck at a traffic light surrounded by cars. Our windows were slightly down and she was talking on her phone. A very suave robber stuck his hand through the window and said, “Just give me the phone, sweetie.” Both my lawyer and I pressed the “up” window buttons, I hooted furiously, but I was unable to drive anywhere. The man finally managed to disentangle his fingers from the window. He sauntered across the road, turned back and smiled and waved. There was a police van just two cars ahead of us.
While my passengers and I might be relatively unscathed, and besides having the irritating mission of having to have my window fixed, and yet another insurance claim, and an excess that I actually can’t afford at the moment, what has suffered the most damage is my faith in humanity.
You see, I’m of the old fashioned belief that people should just do what they are supposed to do. If everyone just did their job to the best of their ability, the world would be a much better place. But recently I’ve been plagued by people not doing their jobs. I’ve just had my telephone and internet line restored after three weeks of phone calls to Hellkom (I estimate at least 8 hours of my time on hold) and also pulling strings with people I know who know people who work there. Three weeks. That’s like torture to me! And while I’ve been assured that my account will reflect a refund on the rental for the time the line was not working, this does not actually take into account my cell phone bill, which is bound to be excessively high this month, or the fact that I had to ask my domestic worker to stay late when they said they were coming on Thursday, or the meeting I missed one break at school because I spent the whole of the lesson before (my free, when I could have been marking work) and the whole of break on hold to find out what was happening and important emails that I have missed. A reversed bill doesn’t take into account the stress and frustration and the powerlessness I’ve felt, especially when people have told me that my case has been “escalated” (I think they need a dictionary, because the only difference escalating made seemed to me to put my job at the bottom of the pile) and nothing has been done. When I was home ill last week, a friend even called them and said I was practically dying and they needed to fix the phone urgently. Let me tell you, there was nothing urgent about the technician when he finally arrived a day later to remove the cable that had been lying in my back garden for three weeks (not the cause of the fault, but still!). He had fixed the problem at the box up the road – something he could have done three weeks ago. It was very telling how, when he left my house, a bunch of my neighbours accosted him on the street – their phone lines also having been down for weeks.
Also in the last few weeks, I’ve also followed the very public online bullying of brave young journalist, Michelle Solomon, by ugly dinosaur David Bullard. The story would have grasped my attention even if I hadn’t taught Michelle, but because I did teach her, I couldn’t help but feel fiercely protective over her and feel outraged on her behalf. I know what it’s like to be bullied. I know the icy feeling that runs through your veins when there is another onslaught. I know what it’s like to have your private actions questioned to the point of insanity really, where you start to question yourself. I know how these things wear one down, to the point where one’s health suffers. I know that nobody, and especially not someone who has been brave enough to speak out about her rape, should be subjected to the disgusting vitriol that Michelle has faced. I can’t understand why people like Bullard want to pour their vile cynicism all over others. Why can’t people like that just keep their awful misogynous opinions to themselves? How can human beings with mothers, wives, sisters or daughters entertain such hideous views about rape? Why can’t everyone just be nice?
I’m increasingly concerned about the lawlessness I see around me. Driving through Auckland Park has taken on nightmarish proportions for me – I feel like the only person who stops at red lights and doesn’t drive a car in the bus lane. I slow down and wait until it’s safe before swerving around the potholes. Small rules and big ones are constantly broken, to the point where I feel like being an upstanding citizen is silly or maybe even mad. Witnessing and being on the receiving end of the criminal and moral bending of boundaries has left me feeling beleaguered and depressed. When we add all this other nonsense to the first anniversary of my mom’s death, my brother-in-law’s motorbike accident, my cat’s expensive tooth extraction (and that he urinated on me at the vet’s room), an extremely busy start to the school year and financial worries, what we are left with is one bleak blogger.
But all is not lost. I’ll do what I’ve been teaching my school children to do for years – focus on the good in the world, and things for which we can be grateful:
I’m grateful for my friends who drove me home after the smash-and-no-grab just in case someone tried to climb through the window. I’m grateful for my friend who brought me wine and vacuumed the glass out of the car and taped plastic on my window. And for the friend who cooked us dinner last night and the other one who visited after that. I’m grateful for all the people who poured out sympathy on the anniversary of my mom’s death last week, and those who sent get well wishes when I was ill. I’m grateful that my old cat has a new lease on life and that he’s not so smelly any more. I’m grateful that my internet is up and running so I can blog again. I’m so grateful that my brother-in-law is in one piece after his accident. I’m grateful to have a wonderfully warm and unwaveringly supportive family. I’m grateful for brave people who stand up to bullies. I’m grateful for my best friend who I know has my back, no matter what. I’m grateful that I have a job and a house and a car. I’m grateful that I am insured. I’m grateful that I still have my phone and that my camera wasn’t around my neck as it often is when I drive through Newtown. I’m grateful for friends who share their joy and good luck (and their sadness) with me. I’m grateful that I am of sound body and mind. I’m grateful that I no longer absorb other people’s faults as mine, and that I can see through BS. I’m grateful for gripe sessions on the phone. And that I have a phone line again. I’m grateful for old friends and new ones. I’m grateful for music and for dancing. I’m grateful for laughter. I’m grateful for street art. I’m grateful to live in a city that has so many lovely things to look at that might distract one from reality. And above all, I’m grateful for the two beautiful creatures who call me mom and who make my life worth living.
Let justice prevail.