Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bitter Balls

Rugby isn't really a world sport. But when in places which don't play rugby, you can often find an Aussie or Irish pub if there are enough travellers and migrants around. Watching Japan win (while I was) in Helsinki was surreal. I was hoping for a better experience as I tracked down Molly Malone's in Amsterdam for the Samoa game. After grabbing a Heineken Meyer, I found a table near some Bok clad people. Turns out they were Dutch, but Allan's mom was South African. His brother looked a lot like Handre Pollard. I got to speak some of my broken Afrikaans which they understood fully. They probably understood better than Afrikaners would of, because their ears didn't hurt with me murdering their language. I couldn't really understand their Dutch, but 'the music' of the language was familiar. Like recognising your own facial expressions in family members, and the 'verbal signature' in the ups and downs. One guy looked like my buddy Leighton. Handre made jokes like my buddy Spierre.

It wasn't South Africa, but I felt comfortably home. Like something you know, but with a few tweaks. One of the tweaks was Dutch Bitter Balls which were very yummy. It was also good to eat the Bitter Balls before the game, unlike in Helsinki. Allan had been to South Africa a few times, and was a fan. He asked what I thought the differences were from South Africa. I don't like talking about the differences of countries, or answering the question 'What is your favourite place'. In part, this is because I embarrassed myself (mostly in hindsight) as an 18/19 year old when I left South Africa for the first time. Every observation was, 'In South Africa we have...'. People eventually got irritated and said, 'If you love it so much... go home!'

I did answer him though. I love South Africa very much. It is a wonderful country full of people with incredible energy. It is choc-full of people I have deep connections with. My Mom lives in Joburg. My Dad lives in Durban. I have great friends all over, but a big chunk in Cape Town. Each big city has a very unique character. 

Cape Town has a different history from the rest of the country, and a very Europe-meets-Africa feel. It is relaxed and provides access to an active outdoorsy life with mountains, water and wine. Joburg has a buzz. People make an effort to see each other, understand the value of punctuality, and the weather is amazing all year round (braai weather). It is also a very different city without the usual train system. It is spread out flat amongst trees, and you need to drive everywhere. No tubes. 

I just said Durban is home. Talking about it felt less like pub talk. Durban for me is a smaller bubble of family. I haven't spent much time there as an adult just exploring. It is my roots. It is a refuge. When I think of Durban, I often think of Christmas. For whatever reason, Novembers have been watershed moments in my life, and going back to Durban at the end of the year has often been a place where I have hidden to recover. A little bit broken. A little bit stronger. Ready to go back into the world.

Comparing these cities to new places is odd. You can't come to a place, have a look, and on the surface think you have a real understanding of the city. Cities are built by the way we interact with them. They are built by the stories we create and the people we meet. My Durban is not your Durban. Our Durban is special too.

I loved Amsterdam. Part of it was meeting Allan Le'Leighton, Handre Le'Spierre, and their two ladies (I have carefully not mentioned their names because my English ears didn't hear them properly). Part of it was the Boks regaining some momentum (SA 46 - SAM 6). Part of it was the canals, bikes, beer, art, cheese, coffee, pancakes and windmills. Amsterdam is now part of my story.
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