Sunday, March 12, 2006

Party Central

I was invited to three parties on Saturday night. The multiplicity of occassions provided a much-needed opportunity to remove myself from the computer and attempt to look divine. These days, my normal schedule revolves around running from meeting to lecture to laptop to e-mail to cellphone and I seem to exclusively wear jeans with heels. It's boring, my nails are always in Essie light pink, and the only make-up spark is sticky pink lipgloss. When it's windy and the windows are down, my hair sticks to the lipgloss, and one hand is on the wheel, the other moving between the cellphone and tieing my hair back to remove lipgloss collision. I needed a night to dress up and wear more eyeliner than usual.

What a Jo'burg night of extremes. Where did this crazy city come from- with breathtaking homes and the hottest Mercedes SLKs next to informal settlements and squatter camps and poverty and despair? Where I can easily pay more for a pair of boots than the monthly wages of a domestic worker?

First stop- an African braai. The host pours me a whiskey, and Mandoza is booming. I love his sons- Poppy and Brian Junior (Brian Junior is turning two)- and Poppy had a brilliant friend over named Layunda. Lindie made a huge bowl of pap, and chicken/ beef/pork are marinating on the braai. I am salivating at the smell, although the meat won't be ready until I have to leave. Poppy and Layunda want to braid my hair and I oblige. It takes them about an hour to complete 1/4th of my head and I'm immobile on a bar stool. Layunda (age 7) tells me to wear more lipstick and wants to know which products I use on my hair. I love both of them and promise to invite them over for pizza and a movie and they can finish braiding. We play around with the digital camera and if it didn't cost me R2 per MB, I would post the images here.

In the car. Unbraiding. My formerly straight hair looks kinda frizzy now. Apply more lipstick per Layunda's advice. Onto the most stunning home I have ever seen in my life in Linksfield- overlooking the entire expanse of Johannesburg, an amazing cocktail party on the terrace, armed guards outside every home on the street. He has 40 rooms including a cinema, a ballroom, and his own synagogue. His strange, controlling mother keeps an eye on the crowd and there are many framed pictures of him, alone, posed in front of one of his sprawling staircases. There are so many servants working tonight, and they're all in uniform. Ten minutes away, there are thousands starving, ready to kill for some cash, but pass the champagne. My feet hurt already from the stilettos. The air is perfect, as always for Jo'burg, and I recognize half the crowd from Slow Food Johannesburg.

We leave. Time for another party in Saxonhurst. This is billionaire territory. Everyone has full-time gardeners on staff, and the house is worth at least 15 million. I pass at least ten beggars and five boomed streets on the way from Linksfield. Liquid Chefs are catering and the mojitos are stunning. On line for the bathroom and the girl ahead of me is already snorting coke off a copy of Marie Claire South Africa. We park far and it feels good to walk barefoot, on the street and in the grass, to the entrance. Such an alien feeling to walk far at night on the street here.

Sunday is sad. With new friends whose mother has just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer which is invading her bones. She most likely will have to receive radical amputation of an entire leg, but she'd rather die sooner (it's not a question of if, but when) than contend with amputation. Her daughter surprised her from Mexico, but worries that without medical aid (South African private health insurance), her mother will have to contend with chemo at the Jo'burg Gen. It's a terrifying notion, but they seem calm, drinking Mexican rum and lighting candles and incense.

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