There is a lack of smiley faces here in Johannesburg. And I need them, thrive on them. Just a little something to bid me Welcome! The slightest hint, I'll take that. A change in expression, enough to fool me into thinking that you embrace my presence. Because I want to identify with you. Whether symbolic, or fake, like the nanosecond ones dished in pulsing metropolises like New York. Transform your face, let your smile hold sway over your mind. Summon the god of laughter, of joy, even if temporarily for the World Cup, because the world has converged on this great country for a month.
I've recovered from my initial hurt on day two, when I discovered that you did that to everyone: talk to them in your own language - Zulu, mostly. I believed you thought I was one of you, felt momentary compatibility, somehow.
All these tourists here, staying in apartments, hotels needing to shop for groceries in supermarkets, for AC/DC converters in hardware stores, asking for directions. You don't see the big HUH? when you repeat the directions three times in Zulu on my face? Read it. Try to communicate with me, or don't you care?
Why not? Is it linked to the memory of apartheid, like the taxi driver told me? I shared with him my observation: so many non-English speakers in customer service type positions. Some of them are not educated, he explained in impeccable English. He was raised in Soweto, he studied hard, learned English, worked as an accountant in the chemical industry before retiring. He said that during apartheid, young Africans were forced to study in Afrikaans, subjects like Chemistry and Biology (sounded awful, jaw breaking in Afrikaans), imagine! he said, trying to study hard subjects like that?
So is the memory of apartheid intricately connected to language resistance? Afrikaans, and English, the languages of oppression? Does your mother tongue help numb the memory? Strip it and its cruel legacy naked for all to see it for what it is? I must admit, I'm a bit turned off by the guttural South African English accent, for now.
For how long are you going to tranquilize the pain of the past? South Africa is only 16 years old, I know, it is still fresh. We need to be reminded, no doubt, like the Jewish community does well to remind us about the Holocaust; while they continue to ameliorate their economic and political power, from Wall Street to Hollywood. South Africa (40 million strong) should do the same and it all starts with education. Learn the oppressors language because then, the enemy cannot surprise you.
I know the gods of football are in town right now, our cultural heroes. And yes, I've seen a whole lot of smiles in the stadiums, at the fan parks. It is because we are supporters of the players, the teams, the nations. We feel something larger, we feel temporary shelter from overly committed lives, our daily struggles. But when we leave the stadia, when it is all said and done how do you leverage the experience?