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Heather crossing a bridge in Emmarentia Dam

Johannesburg Botanical Gardens and Emmarentia Dam Are Open

When the pandemic first hit and South Africa locked down, the closure of Emmarentia Dam and the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens (two parks that are essentially one — I will refer to the whole thing as “Emmarentia” going forward) was one of my greatest sources of sadness. Emmarentia is my favorite park to run and walk in, and while several other Joburg parks (Delta Park, the Melville Koppies, James and Ethel Gray) remained unofficially open during Level 4 and Level 3, Emmarentia was firmly closed. After an interminable wait, President Ramaphosa finally announced about three weeks ago that all South African parks would re-open. Most parks opened their gates that week, but for some reason Joburg City Parks delayed the opening of the city’s “nature reserves” — including Emmarentia, the Wilds, and Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden — until 1 August. (I have no idea why nature reserves are different from parks.) I got so excited when I drove past Emmarentia last Saturday and saw people walking inside. I decided to go first thing this morning and bring my camera. My First Visit to Emmarentia Dam in Four Months I panicked when I drove to my usual Emmarentia parking area on […]

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Heather wearing fake smile mask

Lockdown Revisited: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

My advice for the week: If you’re feeling down in lockdown, put on a (fake) happy face. I haven’t blogged about the lockdown for a couple of weeks, and I feel like I’ve built up all these lockdown thoughts and ideas but haven’t been able to share them. So here they are, in no particular order. 1) I can’t believe this pandemic is still a thing. The lockdown has been going on for so long that I no longer feel nostalgia for the pre-lockdown days. Instead I feel nostalgia for the days right after the lockdown began, when the whole idea felt exotic and justified, and we thought it was only going to last for 21 days, and I didn’t have any decisions to make about anything. Last weekend I found myself walking laps around my house — my old exercise routine during Level 5, when leaving home was prohibited — rather than going for a walk on the street. Walking in circles, which seemed ludicrous four months ago, now feels oddly comforting and safe. For the first 100 days of lockdown, I kept track of what day we were on. I now feel nostalgic for that too. Counting days […]

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Nunos jobs save lives

#JobsSaveLives: The Plight of Melville’s Restaurants

Today, the South African restaurant industry participated in a nationwide demonstration called “One Million Seats in the Streets”, to protest the government’s treatment of the hospitality sector during the COVID-19 lockdown. The hashtag for the movement is #JobsSaveLives. Although restaurants were permitted to re-open in June, their business is crippled by a ban on the sale of alcohol, a 9 p.m. curfew, and an ineffective unemployment insurance system. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South African restaurant workers, owners, and family members have lost most or all of their income. I must admit, I’ve been a super hermit for the past few weeks and had been avoiding 7th Street — the restaurant row in my own suburb of Melville — because I feel so sad about all the restaurants closing. A lot of restaurants are either indefinitely shut or officially gone for good. But today I forced myself to go to 7th Street to show my support. The strategy of the protest was for restaurants to move all their tables out into the street, to garner attention and create a visual display of how empty the restaurants are. But I was pleased to see a good percentage of the […]

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Volunteers in hazmat suits at Melville food parcel distribution

Food Parcels and Hazmat Suits

This morning I visited the Melville food parcel program for the first time in two weeks, and things have changed significantly at the distribution. The entire operation has been moved outside the church, due to the recent surge in coronavirus cases, and the volunteers are now wearing bright red hazmat suits. It was both dystopian and funny watching everyone walk around in these suits, complemented by masks, face shields, and rubber gloves. Like, this is the actual world we are living in now? I kept waiting for Dustin Hoffman to walk around the corner with a camera crew. But yeah, this is indeed the world we’re living in. It’s not a movie set. And the suits are definitely not an overreaction. If someone comes down with COVID-19 it could put the whole program in jeopardy, and that simply cannot happen right now. The volunteers distributed 420 parcels today, bringing the total to 3895, and the need is clearly not lessening. I don’t know if it was the suits, or the fact that I hadn’t visited the program in a while, or what. But I kept having to blink back tears during the hour I was there. I feel heartbroken about […]

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Baby daffodils

I’m Back: An Un-numbered Lockdown Post

Hello. After blogging mostly every day for the first 100 days of South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown, I took a full week off. This is weird. It feels like I’ve been gone for ages. In fact I haven’t been gone at all — I’ve been right here, in my house, the whole time — and very little has changed. Actually, a few things have changed: 1) I’m a year older, as I celebrated a birthday last Wednesday; 2) South Africa has tens of thousands more COVID cases and we are officially entering a viral surge; 3) Alcohol has been banned again and I feel like I’m living in the Soviet Union; 4) I no longer remember what day of lockdown we’re on. I’m glad I took a break. I definitely couldn’t have kept up with those numbered lockdown posts any longer. But I’m disappointed I didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish during my blogging holiday. In hindsight, I suppose it was unrealistic to expect I would write a memoir, redesign my blog, and come up with an entirely new plan for my future over the course of one week, during the dead of winter, in a global pandemic. I […]

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Heather on Day 100 of lockdown

Day 100: My Top Five Lockdown Posts

It’s Day 100 of the South African lockdown. I’m still here, at home, on my couch. Many people in South Africa have been writing about Day 100 on social media, posting montages of photos, reflecting on what’s happened over the past three-plus months, etc. I don’t want to be redundant or overdo it. But this day does feel quite momentous for me, as it does for so many others. I truly don’t feel like the same person I was 100 days ago, in the same way the world doesn’t feel like the same place it was 100 days ago. This blog, which has defined my existence for the past ten years, is also not the same as it was 100 days ago. I used to blog once or twice a week — maybe three times if I was feeling really inspired. But I blogged for 53 days in a row when the lockdown started, and then continued to blog five out of every seven days until today. I’ve now published 89 total posts since I spontaneously decided to start this lockdown journal. Today I’m officially ending the journal, simply because I’m burned out and Day 100 seems like a good […]

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Traffic passing the Hillbrow Boxing Club

A Visit to Hillbrow (Lockdown Day 99)

I’ve been working out with George Khosi at the Hillbrow Boxing Club for many years. Up until the lockdown started I’d been going to Hillbrow about three times a week, every week, since 2012. George is not just a coach. He’s like an uncle to me. And although we’ve been checking in via text every week or two, I hadn’t seen him in person since March and that was starting to feel really weird. Also the gym — which is on the site of an abandoned petrol station — has been undergoing a major renovation since February. I was eager to see how things were going. Obviously I still can’t exercise at the gym, but I figured I could go for a masked, socially distanced visit. Yet I felt apprehensive, like the coronavirus somehow makes Hillbrow more dangerous than it was before. It’s weird how the pandemic makes me afraid of things I wasn’t previously afraid of. I promised George I would visit this week. Today was the last day of the week. So I finally went and I’m so glad I did. Visting Hillbrow Hillbrow, which has always had a serious problem with sanitation (in fact that’s a huge […]

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Girl collecting a food parcel in Melville

3000 Food Parcels (Lockdown Day 98)

It’s Day 98 of the South African lockdown, which I literally cannot believe. Earlier today I suddenly thought back to my Day 9 post, when I said it felt like Day 900 and questioned my decision to blog every day of lockdown because I suspected it might last longer than 21 days. Ha! Hahahaha! As usual there is a lot of bad news in South Africa today, but I won’t torture you with it. It’s Thursday, food parcel day, and the Melville food program has now surpassed 3000 parcels donated (400 of them today). This isn’t “good” news exactly — it’s definitely not good that this program is so sorely needed — but it’s quite an achievement nonetheless. There has been some debate about this program in Melville — around who is receiving the parcels and why, who is/isn’t worthy of receiving food from charitable programs, etc. If you’ve been pondering these questions yourself (or not), please watch this video, which includes short interviews with several of the parcel recipients. Those of you who read my food parcel post last week might recognize Josaya the poet in this video. I chatted with Josaya again this morning — he told me […]

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Lockdown Day 97

I’ve been thinking all day about what to name this post, or what kind of theme or subject to give it, or whatever. But today is Day 97 of the lockdown, which means it’s been 100 days since I started this Lockdown Journal. (I started the journal three days before the lockdown started.) I just counted up all my posts and I’ve blogged on 88 out of the past 100 days. (I took weekends off after Day 50.) It’s officially too much now so today’s post just has a number, not a name. South Africa had nearly 7000 new COVID cases yesterday, nearly 3000 of which were in Gauteng province. Joburg is becoming the country’s new coronavirus epicentre. South Africa’s health system is crawling toward a breaking point — there aren’t enough oxygen tanks or ambulances. I don’t personally know anyone who has been sick enough to be hospitalized, but my Facebook feed has progressively more posts about friends of friends who have died. There is talk of a possible return to Level 5 lockdown. I’m hesitant to admit this, but I actually don’t think that sounds like a totally unreasonable idea. I’m struggling to think any positive thoughts today. […]

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Trixie with a Basotho blanket

I Have a Blanket Problem (Lockdown Day 96)

Today, after a week or so of procrastination, I returned to the Aranda blanket factory in Randfontein. After my previous Basotho blanket post, a reader in America sent me a donation to buy blankets for the blanket drive my friend Kennedy is organizing. So I had to pick up a few more. When I arrived at Aranda, the first thing I saw was a sign reading: “Please take note of our price increase on 1 July 2020.” July 1st is tomorrow. I silently congratulated myself for ending my bout of procrastination on exactly the right day. I would have been so pissed off if I’d gone tomorrow and found the blankets more expensive than they were the day before. I quickly chose five blankets for the donation and started to walk toward the checkout. But my feet kept stopping in front of the spiral aloe blanket. “The prices are going up tomorrow,” I told myself. (I tried to find out how much the increase will be but the salesperson was secretive.) “You’ve driven all the way out here. If you don’t buy this blanket now, you will regret it.” “I don’t need three Basotho blankets!” I retorted to myself. “I […]

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Smokey in the kitchen

The Melville Cat Leaves and Comes Back (Lockdown Day 95)

The Melville Cat normally speaks for himself on this blog. But today, for some reason, I feel like speaking for the two of us. I didn’t choose Smokey as a pet — he chose me. He had a perfectly good home already, with a wonderful lady who has become a dear friend. But for some reason Smokey decided his place was with me, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Because Smokey is an unconventional cat and came to me in an unconventional way (read this post, and the two posts linked at the bottom of that post, for a bit of the backstory), we’ve never had a conventional human-cat relationship. I definitely do not feel like Smokey’s “owner”. And even though we’ve been together for nearly a decade, Smokey is “my cat” only for as long as he cares to be. He is free to go at any time. And go he often does. Not many people have “indoor cats” in South Africa; it’s hard to keep cats inside because of the way our houses are designed, and most people would never consider doing so anyway. Keeping Smokey indoors, even for short periods, is damn near impossible. […]

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Josaya Muianga the poet at the food parcel collection

The Poet (Day 91)

This morning I got up early and went to take photos at the Melville food parcel program, as I always do on Thursday mornings. I arrived at the church around 6:30. Due to another commitment, I had to leave at 7:30. At 7:25, I met Josaya. I overheard Josaya speaking to Sean, who co-founded the food parcel program. Sean asked Josaya where he lives, and Josaya said he doesn’t have a home currently. He used to be a student at the University of Johannesburg. Sometimes he stays with friends. Right now, he sleeps on the street. Last night his blanket was stolen. Josaya’s outfit caught my eye immediately. Everything was in shades of blue and yellow, not matching (not even his shoes) and yet all going together. “Curated” is the word that comes to mind. Josaya was saying something to Sean about the works of Francis Bacon — I assume he meant the 20th-century artist, not the 17th-century English Lord Chancellor, although I didn’t get the chance to find out. There was a paperback book sticking out of the pocket of Josaya’s dark blue robe. “What are you reading?” I asked Josaya, pointing to the book, and he pulled it […]

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