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Reports

Saturday, 13 October 2001
Brackenfell, Cape Town --> Houtbay (SA)

From my hosts in Brackenfell I met up with my new host, with who I suddenly shared almost the same student life history.

I played pool in Houtbay's squatted camp Mandela Park and got to know the recipe of poisson a la Koos...

Kobus had gone to work again this Saturday morning, while Denise enjoyed a work-free weekend.

Yesterday she told me how she had big problems with her car and hated the daily two hours in the Cape Town traffic jams between Brackenfell and the centre of town.

Today her father would come to try to fix it, but totally gave Denise the surprise of her live when he delivered her a new Mazda, with –hey, look here- even a CD-player inside.

Denise was therefore very happy at breakfast today and a load of worries was taken off her shoulders.

I would meet my next host again today, around 1pm at the Long Street Café (I can almost dream that street), so on their way to the beach, Denise and Ryan dropped me off in the centre where I thanked them with delight for the hospitality I had received from them the last nights.

At the Long Street Café I met up with the barefooted Arjan “I forgot my shoes” Buikema, a Dutch guy who has been living in South Africa for almost nine years now. When he told me about his origins in Holland, the strangest thing occurred to me.

Arjan (32) had studied Economics in my hometown Zwolle on the same university where I have studied Journalism. BUT, next to this simple coincidence, he had also lived in the same student apartment where I had lived in for 18 months – only a few years earlier.

Suddenly we were sharing the stories of our previous flatmates that we both seemed to know and about all the things that happened in that mucky old house.

This was fascinating and so astonishing! It was another example that the world isn’t that big at all!

Arjan is a senior investments analyst and married the New Zealand Brenda Russell a few years ago. Since the last 10 months they now have a little baby-son called Thomas.

On our way to their home in Houtbay, a small town south of Cape Town, he told me how he ended up on this edge of Africa.

“I was in my final internship for Economics and that one took place in Johannesburg. When the internship was over, my boss asked me if I couldn’t stay. There weren’t that many investments analysts in South Africa and they could really use me.”

He now likes South Africa much more than Holland.

“I recently was back in Holland and I just could not understand the hypocrisy of the Dutch. Everyone there seems to be so busy in being busy; you even need to make agenda-appointments to meet your ‘friends’ and they don’t seem to be able to stop complaining about little things.” And there he had a point.

“Those people in Holland certainly don’t know how to be thankful with what they already have. They have it so good.

I dropped off my bits and pieces in their guest room and Arjan and I had a drink in their tropical garden.

“Come on,” Arjan then said, “I want to take you somewhere where ordinary South Africans won’t take you that fast.”

We drove to Mandela Park - call it a suburb or a township, of Houtbay. It is a big squatted camp. The name slum suddenly became a too negative pronunciation.

Arjan parked his car in front of a little shed where music was blasting out and black kids danced on the street.

Every shed here was built of old wood, indefinable materials and waved plastic. We entered the little shed and it ended up to be the local pub where a few man were playing pool.

Of course two white men in their town immediately caused for a lot of attention by the citizens.

Before I knew I was drinking beer with Arjan, dancing with the little kids on popular music from the jukebox in the corner and playing a few games of pool with the locals.

Of course the table was unbalanced and the balls had holes in it. But everything seemed to work out fine and of course Arjan and I weren’t exactly the best players they had ever seen...

People loved to talk with us and they love visitors as the people who live their lifes here are unbelievable proud of what they have established here.

It is their own community where everybody knows each other and all are happy with the live they are living.

One old man, Jesse, took me along and insisted to show me his house and family with full pride. Inside the little kitchen of their three rooms shed, big mama was preparing dinner and I was not allowed to refuse a bit of the chicken.

People seemed to live a normal live here. Every home like this has electricity and a street number, I had only never thought about these possibilities. Okay, they had old furniture, but with the electricity in their shed they could even afford to watch television on it.

I wish more people could see how those people live as it is totally not like how squatted camp life is presented on television. That is just too poor and too negative, while these people ‘do’ have a life and they look so happy with there – for us unusual – life standards.

Down the street a white woman in a fancy car dropped off her servants for the weekend. “Now that is a thing that white people won’t usual do,” according to Arjan. “Most white people would never dare to come here.” And the many servants South Africa has, come from all layers of the society, so also from squatted camps.

After a short walk around Arjan drove me back to the house were I could reflect on my visit to the Mandela Park while I had a short nap.

People all live in a different way and if more people would know the differences, there would be much more respect for each others achievements.

I get a little bit bored by all the stories I hear about crime which are told abroad and by journalists who think they know it all but have been stuck at their desks for over ten years.

All that bad publicity will definitely not help South Africa, in any way, to be recognized as one of the most civilized countries of the African continent.

And it is a great country and the crime rate is as high as in any other major city in the world, but it seems if the whole world is keeping this magnifying glass on South Africa’s bad sides. It’s not that it should be ignored, but just a few people tell me about the good sides of South Africa.

After my nap Arjan and Brenda prepared ‘poisson a la Koos’, which was kingklip fish flavoured in a hot sauce of butter, garlic and apricots jam upon a South African braai (there is that grill again).

As the night came near Arjan and I watched some videos of ridiculously funny Dutch TV-programmes and around 11pm he took me to Dee’s, a small room café in town.

Here Arjan introduced me the game Jenga to me. I had never played it but it was rather therapeutic. The purpose of the game is to take wooden bricks out of a tower of bricks and place them on top again. Of course you had to think about gravity and balance as eventually there would be a high skeleton left of the tower that would ever collapse.

It makes you take challenges and plan ahead; which gets pretty hard when you are drinking alcohol like Arjan and I were doing.

Back home in the bed of their guestroom I heard an owl in the tree next to my window, but not for long as I dozed off for the night.

Good night Houtbay!

Ramon.



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