Tuesday, February 07, 2006

South Africana

Ricky tells me, with a smile, that I am "so American" for ordering a skinny latte. Actually, it's so South African. Americans say "non-fat latte" or "skim milk latte"-- opting for a more purely descriptive order. South Africans like to load up a whole bunch of superlatives and expressives on the verbal train and unleash a saccharine-sweet torrent. The salesgirl calls me "angel," while the petrol pump attendant thinks I am "his darling." The middle-aged kugel calls the slightly dowdy girl "utterly revolting" while the slighly attractive chick is "divinely stunning." Two years ago, Mervyn kept pinching my cheeks during meetings and calling me "honey girl" and now he is running for mayor.

Of course these superlatives are intoxicating and I'm now prone to calling every American acquaintance "my angel." So, all my sweeties and darlings, I miss you. This distance between us is utterly revolting.

I was working at Sandton City (www.sandtoncity.co.za) yesterday and always leave Sandton slightly sickened but pulsating with the feeling of history in the making. Sandton is a bloated office park with mismatched architecture jabbing the polluted air for attention. Look, to the right, a Berliner chrome structure... oh, to the left, are we in Tuscany? Are those turrets and that moat imported from the Renaissance? This is kugel country and Mercedes SUVs hog the fast lanes and almost render the begging children on the side of the road invisible.

About six weeks ago, the Sunday Times (www.sundaytimes.co.za) ran a feature on celebrities' wishes for Christmas presents. Aside from the usual wailing for a new Ipod Nano and a BMW 330d, the Gauteng Minister of Housing revealingly mentioned her keen desire for another Gucci or Louis Vuitton (these are the only two true designer boutiques in Jo'burg to date) bag to add to her already overflowing collection. Hello, stop the presses, I would think. Gauteng is a province with MILLIONS of individuals living in tin shacks with sewage coating their entranceways, with six children sleeping on one bathroom-sized floor, with shack fires igniting an entire settlement like a sixteen year-old pyro, and with tuberculosis running through sewage streams. Thank you Ms. Minister for your insightful and empathetic public comments. I am sure Gauteng will fondly remember your Gucci collection as shacks multiply throughout Alexandra like amoebas.

I do think that public servants are entitled to consume and enjoy luxury goods like anyone else but I find a public persona shaped around conspicuous consumption, particularly when you are failing miserably in your charge to house millions in structures fit for human inhabitation, utterly revolting. And, please, if you are going to waste millions of Rand on inflated and non-performance based public servant salaries, at least don't choose the 1997 Gucci with tarnished hardware.

Today is freezing. In Jo'burg terms, it's about 65 degrees. I may have to wear socks for the first time in weeks.

By the way, this mini-tragedy was just reported on news radio (www.702.co.za)- 2/8/2006 3:15:37 PM Around 40 shacks have been destroyed, after two trees keeled over in an informal settlement in Rodepoort on the West Rand. The massive blue gums fell onto homes in the Princess Informal Settlement this afternoon, leaving almost 100 residents homeless. Emergency Services says at least two people have been injured, but their condition is unclear at this stage. Emergency Services' Malcolm Midgely says heavy rescue teams are on scene. "Informal settlement" is code for a whole bunch of shacks (likely with about 5 people in each) sprouting from a fixed spatial configuration- normally an "established" township or juxtaposed against a frontier town. Besides a whole host of other indignities, shacks are notoriously flimsy and homelessness is a real and constant threat.

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