A few months ago, I promised to write periodic posts about Melville guesthouses, restaurants, and shops. I’ve strayed from that commitment — the majority of my posts these days are about the Joburg city centre or more far-flung places outside of town. So today I’m getting back to my roots. Melville is one of Joburg’s wackiest neighborhoods; it straddles a divide between tree-lined suburbia and urban grittiness. Melville is constantly changing — there are always quirky new places to visit, along with well-loved old standbys. I’m not a Melville tourist, but I’ve just spent a few days wandering around pretending I am. Here is a recommended itinerary for a one-day visit to the place I call home in Jozi.
When Joe was a little boy growing up in Johannesburg, his favorite place to eat was a restaurant downtown on Commissioner Street, called the Golden Dragon. At least he thinks that’s what it was called. There’s no way to confirm it now because that restaurant, like much of Joburg’s “Old Chinatown,” is long gone. Run-down buildings on the outskirts of Old Chinatown, which is adjacent to the trendy inner city neighborhood of Newtown.
Transportation is an issue for me here. I don’t have a car and there’s little chance that I’ll get one any time soon. I moved to Joburg from Washington, D.C., where one can live quite comfortably without an automobile. I had a car while I lived there but I barely used it. I felt so free and happy when I sold it. But Joburg is a more like Los Angeles than D.C. This city is built for driving — sidewalks are scarce, public transport is unreliable and unsafe, and everything is spread out. Fortunately I live in Melville, one of the few walkable neighborhoods in town. But if I need to get somewhere outside Melville and Joe isn’t around to take me, I’m pretty much stuck.
My dad and his girlfriend are coming in 10 minutes to take me to the airport. They’re late, but fortunately I’ve built in a sizable time cushion. I don’t mess around when it comes to international flights. I once trusted the SuperShuttle to get me to the airport for a flight to Africa and wound up checking in with two minutes to spare. Never again. I like my posts to be witty and light-hearted but I don’t think I can do that today. The last 48 hours have been so emotional and surreal. I’ll be relieved to get this protracted goodbye process over with, so I can sit on the plane and do nothing for 18 hours. (By the way, severe thunderstorms predicted for this evening. Ugh.)
Today is Sunday and I move to South Africa on Thursday. Friday was my last day at work. I had this job for five years and it changed my life. My job brought me to Africa in the first place, and now I’m leaving my job to move to Africa. So my last day was kind of momentous. Unfortunately I spent the better part of it recovering from my farewell happy hour the night before. At said happy hour, I drank copious amounts of cheap white wine and regaled my colleagues with embarrassing confessions and anecdotes, many of which were caught on tape. I cringe to think about when and how that video footage will someday resurface.
Today I sold my car to a lovely young woman who saw the ad I posted on craigslist. It was a relatively painless, even pleasant, transaction. Unloading the car was the biggest hurdle I had left and I’m relieved to have crossed it. But I feel a bit strange. I’m not a “car person” — my identity isn’t wrapped up in the vehicle I drive. In fact I hate driving and have always dreamed of a car-free existence. But this is the first time I haven’t owned a car since I got my driver’s license 20 years ago. And deep down, I loved and respected my 10-year-old silver Mazda sedan. It had power seats and a sunroof! So I guess I’m a little sad. Also, I own almost nothing now. No house, no car, no furniture, no books (or very few). No cookware. No TV. No garden tools. No tchotchkes.
Three weeks from now I’ll be on a plane to South Africa. Barring unforeseen circumstances, of course. I’ve reached that point in the departure countdown when I obsess about all the bad things that could prevent me from leaving. Possibilities include: terrorist attack; death in the family; severe weather or other act of god (e.g., ash cloud); lost passport. One of these nightmares nearly became reality this week. On Tuesday morning I went to the post office to check my P.O. box. In the box was a small slip of paper saying I had received a package that needed to be picked up from behind the counter.
In honor of my imminent departure, I’ve compiled a list of the five things I will miss the most about DC, as well as five things I will not miss at all. What I’ll Miss 1) The Metro. Sure, we all complain about it. But have you ever tried riding the NYC subway? (Sorry, New Yorkers.) Or getting around in a place with no metro at all? We’ve got a pretty good system here. It’s clean, easy to navigate, and it gets you where you want to go, usually. Dear SmarTrip card, I will miss thee.
Deciding to move to South Africa is one thing. Actually doing it is another. When I made this decision in January, my first order of business was to uproot myself from a marriage, and a house, and an entire life that I realized I didn’t belong in. There are no words to describe this process, and it’s not what this blog is about anyway, so I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say it was, umm, hard, and required most of my energy for several months. I think the worst is over now. Around May, I realized I better start planning to move.
Six weeks from today I’m switching hemispheres. I’m moving from Washington, D.C, to Johannesburg, South Africa. I’ll leave D.C. on August 5, at the height of summer, and arrive in Joburg on August 6, in winter. So I’ll be living an extra summer this year — hence the name of the blog. (Technically, I suppose I’ll be living two springs, part of two summers, part of two winters, and no falls in 2010. But I don’t think “2 springs,” “2 half-summers,” or “0 falls” really work as blog names.) The story behind my upcoming move is very long and I wouldn’t even know where to start. So I’ll begin with the basics.