Friday, August 10, 2012

GOP* before my time

I hate themed days. I hate the expectation that I need to congratulate birthdays, and birth days, especially with something more creative than "Happy Birthday" or "Congratulations on being a mammal" (these cards are particularly hard to find).

Don't get me wrong, I like me a good birthday ice-cream face-cake. Who doesn't? And I love getting (and sometimes even, giving... I'm that generous) Christmas prezzies, sharing a special day with loved ones.  But when people feel the need to publicly shout across Facebook or send out group messages to anyone who happens to be on their mailing list, I want to give them a cyber-slap and tell them to go back indoors and appreciate their family.

And I especially hate having it forced down my throat en mass. A day when I'm expected to dramatically demonstrate that I love someone, a day to publicly declare that I have a mother. Another one a few months later to make sure no one forgets that they have a father. Womens' Day. Where everyone kindly feels the need to recognise that I have lady-parts and therefore must somehow be congratulated and have an extra special day accordingly.

I think we may have lost the point somewhere. I love my parents and I certainly will thank them on Mother and Fathers Day - I do get that point. But I don't know why everyone needs to know that I have told my parents that I appreciate them.

Similarly, Womens' Day is not meant to acknowledge the fact that I happen to have a vagina, it's meant to acknowledge a day in history when largely-unheard members of the public (who remain largely-unheard and unrepresented to this day), made their Apartheid objections known in an eerily silent demonstration. Womens' Day recognises the danger that these women put themselves and their children in. Wishing me Happy Womens' Day via Facebook or email means nothing. I understand the gesture, but I struggle to fight down the rage to refrain from replying in a tirade as to how patronising the sender sounds.

There is one birthday I do support - Nelson Mandela Day. Rather than just posting messages (which will happen anyway.. in this case I understand, a personal message isn't really an option), people arrange to be involved in their communities. It's only an hour, but something is actually done. Small though the gesture might be in the big scheme of problems, awareness is raised for various community needs.

Maybe National Womens' Day should have a similar call to action. Instead of just saying "Happy Womens' Day!", we should be called to volunteer for women who still need assistance. It doesn't even have to be physical help, even something as simple as a small donation, like this. Then you can go back to your day off of slothing on the couch and congratulating female friends for having bajingoes.

Maybe every themed-day should have a similar call to action. A general rubbish collection clean up on Heritage Day, you know... to protect our heritage going forward.

Volunteering at orphanages for mother and fathers' day - giving those who don't have parents (to take advantage of every other day) a day of love. Speaking of love, Valentines Day. Urgh. But maybe it would be fitting to volunteer at a shelter on or around this day - I'm guessing not much would make you appreciate a true loved one more than seeing how other people are treated by those who they think love them.

Wouldn't it be awesome if, instead of seeing a leery middle-aged drunkard stumbling around a pub at 4pm in the afternoon, his friends apologetically shrugging and excusing him with, "what you gonna do, it's his 40th, a man's gotta celebrate"... if, instead, we got used to the sight of groups of families and friends doing something together in the community. You can still have your drinks and party afterwards, but you can also say that for one or two hours, you picked up rubbish, or you handed out food packages, or you re-painted a jungle gym. I think I quite like the idea.

Not everyone would participate, and certainly not many people would give up every public holiday for manual labour, but I would love to see the general expectation become an hour of community involvement (of your own choice), rather than a general Facebook shout-out recognising the day followed by "... and now, back to the couch" subtext.

*Grumpy Old Person, way before my time.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gautrain - a bonding experience

South Africa is not known for its public transport. There's a bus here and there, which may or may not run around the time that it says it will arrive on any given day. There are private minibus drivers that fling themselves from one side of the road to the other, cramming more bum cheeks than conceivably possible into the back of their vehicles.

But even these run on very limited routes, and during work hours (I only recently learnt that taxis stop running to Soweto after 8pm. This is shocking on two parts - first, that I never knew that simple fact about my own city and second, unless you have your own car, it is incredibly difficult for most people to travel between suburbs overnight in Joburg). But that's not supposed to be my point here. Sadly the Gautrain also runs on - what I think to be - far too limited hours during the day, but... it's an attempt at first-world public transport. And from what I have seen so far, it is working.

I know my enthusiasm stems from the fact that I am lucky enough to live in one of the very few areas that the Gautrain buses already service, which means that I can use this novel creation to its full extent. Walking just four blocks from my house, I can catch one of the buses that come past every 10 - 12 minutes on week days to Sandton and from that station, I can get to Central Johannesburg (one train to Rosebank followed by another bus, which is always on time), or to the Airport, or to Hatfield in Pretoria... all in 40 minutes or less, easily and comfortably.

There are complaints that it is expensive, which it probably is, compared to what South Africans are used to. But we are also used to not paying much and not getting much. I don't think the price I paid yesterday from Randburg to Hatfield was unreasonable at all - a R49 total journey. Getting to the airport is twice that (and then a bit), but airport transport always comes with a surcharge. Always.

I've only used the Gautrain out of peak hours, and don't know if I have a particularly approachable face, or a neon sign on my forehead and incessantly flashes "Talk To Me!", but that's exactly what happens on every trip. People strike up conversation with me. I don't know why, but I am almost always entertained. This whole accessible, functioning, public transport thing is still a novel and exciting experience for most of us in the third-world.

We usually discuss, with great enthusiasm, the marvel of the high-speed train, or the marvel of regular buses that arrive when indicated on the timetable, whether the costs are worth the trip (they are). More often than not, the little fact that no food or liquids are allowed to be consumed on the train or in the station is mentioned. Where else, aside from Singapore, is the public transport so posh that you're not even allowed to chew gum..?

But yesterday was my favourite experience to date. On the train back from Hatfield, two gogos hobbled on and sat at the window opposite me. They were elderly black ladies, I can't imagine they were much younger than 65. Winter has arrived in Gauteng, the one lady had a thick dark green coat on, the other had a more traditional blanket wrapped snugly around her torso. They both had sensible, well-used shoes on, and respectable hats. One was relying heavily on a crutch.

And they were giggling like two naughty teenage girls bunking school.

The lady with the coat was taking pictures of her friend on her cellphone, clearly documenting their train journey. Then she asked me to take a picture of the two of them and - of course - started telling me about their trip. They were going from Pretoria, to Joburg, catching a bus around Jozi and coming back again. A big day out - the gogos' first, and I think I can safely guess only, time on first-world transportation.

Soon, they were calling one of the (many) train guards over, to include me in their train trip memories. So I sat squished between two large-bottomed grannies on a two-seater Gautrain seat, excitedly sharing their enthusiasm with me.

These two women lived through Apartheid. And there they were, sitting on a high-speed train, overflowing with exuberance... doing the trip simply because they could. It was a wonderful experience just to be with them in their adventure.

I suppose I better get up now. I need to catch a bus, to catch a train, to catch another bus to get work in Braamfontein. Viva Public Transport!