Friday, October 09, 2009
We have officially wrapped Episode One. The entire crew, happy and exhausted, is now in Durban for our last night in South Africa. Durban is the second largest city in the country (after Jo’Burg and before Cape Town), and likely suffers from middle child syndrome. It shares neither the history nor the political heft of Johannesburg, nor the classy, exotic culture of the Cape. So it’s a younger city in search of itself, and I think the search is still on.
My first impression of Durban is that of a South African Dubai – minus the Arabs. It’s a resort town, right on the beach, boasting miles of oceanfront five-star hotels and bars. A playground for the fabulously wealthy, Durban is a Disney-fied destination hotspot. The palm trees look too perfect to be real. The streets are so clean it’s actually kind of creepy. Then again I’ve heard New Yorkers say the same thing of Toronto. The overall feeling is that of a very young, very wealthy coastal town.
After speaking with some of the locals, however, I learn that further inland there is a lot of old money, most of it British and Dutch. This makes sense. It speaks to another chapter of South Africa’s history – that of the Boers, the wars, the diamonds and the oil.
But as my buddy Bryan and I cool our heels at the hotel’s patio we see no evidence of that legacy. Instead we watch a parade of flight attendants from the United Arab Emirates descend from their tour bus (so I was wrong about the Arabs). They are all dressed alike, striking in their semi-burkas; the overall feeling being The Stepford wives of South Africa. Not to mention the Aston Mini parked in front of the hotel lobby sporting a giant advert for Hooters. It’s surreal.
I have a hunch the culture shock starts here. Toronto will be easy; I’ve done that gig. But coming from the Zulus and the Sangomas; from the rural homesteads and the vast, broad Velts of wildlife… Durban feels like another planet.
No matter. Tonight we will celebrate the end of the beginning. Episode One. Nine more to go.
Over the next year we will travel to New Mexico to spend time with the Navajo; to Peru to be with the Inca; to Fiji for the Sea Gypsies; as well as Malaysia, Borneo, and New Guinea. We still have two episodes to fill. This may sound like a problem (if I have my way these two spots will be New Zealand to be with the Maori and, finally, Madagascar).
But as I sit here in cool coastal Durban, still filled with the swirling music and images of South Africa, I know it’s a good problem to have.