Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Freezers

While I've only lived in Joburg for two years, some of the things that I used to find surprising I'm now getting used to. I still consider myself to be a fish out of water in this country but the water is becoming more and more familiar. Hosting visitors gives me the opportunity to see things through the eyes of people who are experiencing South Africa for the first time and their comments remind me of the time when I too was new here. 

Recently, I took my friends visiting from the U.S. to Soweto. Because they were on a tight schedule (of course they were) we planned a half day tour. Unfortunately our guide was on Africa time and was an hour late to meet us making the Soweto visit even shorter than planned. We ate lunch at Tintie's, a Soweto must as far as I'm concerned and after Tintie's we went to Kliptown. Kliptown is an informal settlement where people live in shacks with "borrowed" electricity. In Kliptown hundreds of people share one porta potty and residents collect water for washing and drinking in buckets from a central tap. If they need to heat the water they will likely heat it over a paraffin stove or an open fire. This was my third trip to Kliptown and I find it interesting each time I go. While sad, it's also uplifting because the tour includes a visit to a place called the Kliptown Youth Programme, which provides tutoring, sports, meals and more to hundreds of kids who live in Kliptown. 

Part of the tour of Kliptown includes going inside a shack and seeing the conditions in which people in Kliptown live.  It is a strange feeling to venture inside a shack while the residents are there watching you watch them while you look at their home. Each time, I wonder what the residents think. Are they proud of their shacks because they have worked hard to make them livable? Are they hoping if people from the outside see the conditions it will bring about change? Are they just too polite to say no to visitors? I'm not sure. 

Shacks in Kliptown, Soweto
Where people in Kliptown get their water.

Inside a shack with our tour guide from the Kliptown Youth Programme. A young boy is doing his homework in the background.
A tub for bathing and washing 
After we left Soweto, I drove my friends back to our house along a route that I drive almost daily. First, we drove past a Maserati dealership and then a few minutes later we passed a billboard for a company called Doggy Paddle, which offers hydrotherapy for pets. My friend remarked on both sightings saying "we just saw people living in shacks and meanwhile other people are buying Maseratis and sending pets for physical therapy?" And my answer was yes, that's South Africa.

Quick side note, I don't have a problem with pets. I also don't have a problem with people who love their pets and treat them like children or provide them with physical therapy. As you read on, you might think that I do, but I don't. 

The Maserati dealership and the pet hydrotherapy sign sightings reminded me of the freezers, which I have never written about. I live right near a very large Spar, a grocery store. When I tell people where I live they often say, "you live right near the best Spar" and it's true, I do, this Spar is the biggest and the best in Joburg. At the Spar, in the back corner where the meat section is there are two freezers. 

The first freezer, is nondescript. It doesn't have any signage or any markings on it. If I didn't see people crowding around it on a regular basis then I probably could visit the Spar for years without even noticing this freezer. It looks like a freezer that an American who likes to have a lot of frozen food on hand would keep in his basement only it's smaller than that and square shaped instead of rectangular but it does have a lid that opens from the top. 

There is no way to me to explain delicately what this freezer is so I will just tell you. It's the freezer where the poorest of poor shoppers buy their meat. The freezer is filled with clear plastic bags of what look like bones with maybe a tiny bit meat on them. You might be naively thinking that I could easily just open the freezer and take a look or maybe make some nice soup using the bones or at a minimum take a few photos of the freezer contents for the blog, but I can't. White people simply don't open that freezer.  I am too self conscious that if I open it both white people and black people are going to stare at me. I wouldn't be surprised if the minute I opened it a store employee came running over to ask me "ma'am do you need help" which translates into "you must be confused, your meat is over here."

Directly across the aisle from freezer A is freezer B. I have also never opened freezer B but not because I am self conscious, I just don't have a need to open it. Freezer B has clear signage and sells Bentley Natural Dog Food which contains "synthetic vitamins, trace minerals and antioxidants." Their slogan, ironically, is "affordable gourmet dog food so good you can eat it too." The signage on freezer B goes on to state that this dog food is prepared in a kitchen specializing in gourmet human food and that it is balanced by leading pet food nutritionists. 

Freezer A with Freezer B (in green) in the background.
I haven't compared the prices of the contents of the two freezers because to do so, I'd have to open freezer A, which I'm not going to do. Maybe one day I'll work up the courage. 

Shoppers crowding around Freezer A

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.