Memories vs. Reality

durban beach-2.jpg

How do you reconcile memories with reality?

My memories of Durban jar with the reality I saw yesterday. All my fond memories of Durban and the beach took a bit of a beating yesterday. My senses were overwhelmed by the chaotic traffic, the swarming people and decaying building, but I believe that if I look deeper, the old Durban is still there.

My first, or renewed impressions of the city, are going to take some adjusting to. I’m not here as a tourist; I’m here as a returning resident, so my perspective is necessarily different from someone visiting for a short time, who would perhaps view things as colorful and vibrant and alive.

My Perspective so far

After spending a lovely morning with Rosemary, I drove down the beachfront where I have always felt at home. Rosemary and I spent countless hours at North Beach as teenagers. It was the place to be, a haven where we could hang out with friends and try to impress the “life savers”. But that wasn’t the case yesterday.

It’s been 3 years since I was there, and a lot has changed. And not for the better, unfortunately.

South Africa has pretty much gone from being a first world country to a third world one. Maybe I just didn’t see it last time, or maybe chose not to see it. But the Golden Mile or beachfront is overrun with people just loitering, hanging out. Not like we used to hang out. The whole vibe is different and disturbing. I didn’t want to get out and walk around at all.

The Marine Parade is lined with are makeshift stands, with people selling “stuff”. Not the traditional beads, baskets and carvings. But cheap, bright clothes, sandals, plastic beach balls, stuff like that from China. Driving by slowly – no choice, the road is clogged with taxis – I looked at the stalls and they all seem to be selling the same junk.

The Promenade at South Beach

The Promenade at South Beach

It was very windy, the sand was whipping around, so I stayed off the beach and drove down to Addington, just beyond South Beach, where it wasn’t quite as crowded. The promenade is beautifully done; it spans a good length of the beachfront, so despite the wind and blowing sand, I walked a way along it, just to stretch my legs.

And then I headed towards home.

Winding my way through the streets of Durban, I was dismayed at the decay – the buildings look weary and run down. And it’s sad to see the lovely old Art Deco ones looking so tatty. And there is so much traffic with the drivers obeying their own traffic rules! Red light? What red light? Yikes!

There is a street market I want to go to, but as a single, white female (regardless of age) is off limits on my own. It’s where the witch doctors (sangomas) get and sell their muti (medicines) and you can find all sorts of weird and wonderful things. I have found a site that gives tours, so that is on my list of things to do. There is a positive side to that bit of info, which I will go into when I have visited the market.

Above the Town

On the other hand, on the hills overlooking the city and Indian Ocean, up in the area called Morningside where I stayed long ago, the houses and apartments are mostly in good condition and well maintained. Durban is sub-tropical and is very green, with enormous old trees lining the streets and the jacarandas are starting to flower. The suburbs still have the “old” feel about them, despite the heavy and high security walls and fences (which do bother me, but from past experience, I got used to).

It seems like it’s mainly the towns that are bearing the brunt of decaying infrastructure and over-population. Pinetown, a small town on the way back to Ashburton (where I am staying) was never a very pretty place, but now it is really ugly, and I think it just the lack of any sort of planning or maintenance that makes it look really like a third world place.

Kloof (where I grew up), is well well-kept and flourishing. Half an hour or so from town, the streets are clean, there didn’t seem to be that many of the ubiquitous taxis around. But Kloof has always been the “upper crust” and pretty much a “safe” enclave.

One improvement I have seen is the quality of the vehicles. Last time, just three years ago, it seemed like the majority of the cars and trucks were sorely lacking maintenance. Now, there are a lot more vehicles (not necessarily a good thing) but in good condition. Also, a lot of big, very expensive vehicles, an indication that the new upper echelon is doing very well, thank you very much!

No Conclusions Yet

People seem to be surprised that I am considering coming back. “We could tell you some horror stories.” Yes, I know what they are all about and yes, they are scary. Personal safety is a big concern.

But I also need to be aware that my ideas and perceptions can easily be affected by others ideas and perceptions! I’m typically an optimist but am very tuned in to other’s perceptions and vibes. I need to constantly check on how I am feeling about being here - and yes, some of what I have written sounds a bit negative but I am trying to balance other peoples’ experiences and feelings with mine - and sometimes they don’t mesh.

I need more time to sort through things and finding a place to live, and actually living a normal life for a few months, not being a tourist, is probably the logical thing to do.

It’s far too soon for me to make this decision.