Monday, October 11, 2010

Crossing back through the Boerewors Curtain

So we were sitting in the "Stone Lion" the other night (a rasta-themed pub/restaurant in Hatfield (which, for the uninformed, is the student part of Pta)) and talking to a man in his twenties (slightly pissed) who was telling us about how he sleeps with his boa (you can't call them pythons in SA, apparently) and that he woke up one morning feeling like he had asthma because he couldn't breathe, only to discover that the boa was constricting him. Whether this story was true or not, I don't know (it's a-helluva-story either way) but when he called crossing over from Joburg to Pretoria crossing the "Boerewors Curtain", he was telling no lie.

I have been living in Pretoria since March of this year and now that I am leaving one of our capital cities on Sunday, I feel like I need to look back and reminisce. Pretoria has the Union Buildings, the National Zoo, roses growing on the side of the road, more Jacaranda trees than it is possible to count and more multi-lingual people than you have ever met before. The least number of languages people speak are two (English and Afrikaans) but I have met locals who speak ten of our eleven official languages. I felt very green when they chastised me about the fact I can only speak English. The World Cup that I experienced was definitely the highlight because everyone (and because there are people of every tribe and colour in creed in Pretoria, that really is everyone) bonded together: the vuvuzelas started in the streets and in the malls at 8 am and only stopped in the afternoon. Every Friday, the malls were seas of yellow.

And there are a LOT of malls in Pretoria. Driving down one road, one can come across six malls: some of them repeating the same shops (Mr. Price pops up in almost every one, as does Clicks). People flock to malls on weekends and they spend money on stuff for recreation like other people go rock-climbing or bowling. Except Pretoria people aren't over-fed mall rats, they are also incredibly fit. There are Virgin Active Gyms in almost every suburb and they are packed with people exercising with their personal trainers, swimming, walking, weight training and doing classes in droves.

Virgin Active (though not specific to Pretoria) has been one of the best things I've discovered since living in Pretoria. Gym has always been a happy place for me, but these have high ceilings, more treadmills than I have ever seen before, a swimming pool and smiling, helpful staff. I remember showering there before work and I had forgotten my shampoo. Lo and behold if there wasn't a big shampoo bottle available in the showers.

The main reason why crossing over to Pretoria is crossing the Boerewors Curtain is - of course - the widespread use of Afrikaans and the many Afrikaners who live here. I am always addressed in Afrikaans when a stranger or shop assistant asks me something, and organisations that have to produce English manuals for their staff use the most atrocious English to do so: "The Main Ingredience for Successful Selling" was the one I got. At Tuks University, Afrikaans historical figures who are hardly mentioned in the public sphere anymore are used for advertising, as the Student election posters using Paul Kruger show.
I suppose things I have loved about Pretoria are things common to any big city: an arthouse cinema, a theatre, a proper gym, being able to watch a movie in 3D and big book stores with books you didn't think it possible to find. I have also been lucky enough to know (and catch up with) some really good people in Joburg and Pretoria (you know who you are), and thinking back on my stay now that I am at the end, that part has been the best. I keep thinking of that saying about churches: that what makes a church great is not the building, but the people who make up the congregation. I think this holds true for cities as well. Pretoria is great because of her people. Thank-you to all my those who made my stay in this concrete jungle wonderful. See you from the other side of the curtain...

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