African time… Some people say it in a disparaging way. It’s too slow, the queues are too long ,the staff are unhelpful – the list goes on, and it’s bullshit. Slow isn’t a bad thing, if you make time for it. Making time for slow isn’t a bad thing, because the urban world is too damn fast and frenetic anyway. The queues are long, but the process runs smoothly regardless, even when the queue snakes through three rooms. The patient people in the queue use their phones, talk to each other; the impatient ones use their phones in an agitated fashion, pacing, muttering, glowering. They’re not pissed off because they want to go and do something fun, they just resent the time taken from their oh so vip status, money worshipping day. They’re in a hurry for hypertension and heart attacks. Most of the staff are helpful, but not if they’re getting treated like inferiors. They’re also doing hectic jobs for fuckall money and there’s just no point blaming them for everything that’s wrong with the govt.
Africans, aboriginal Africans, tend to interact in ways other population groups don’t. Businessman in suits talk to cleaners with no superiority involved. People talk, laugh, reel around drunk, joke and wait. Patiently. I’ve seen people in triage at a very fucked up state hospital, get served a simple meal for lunch. Unpretentious, but there was meat, rice, vegetables. I’ve been hugely entertained by a Cape Coloured woman who got up and regaled us all with a hysterical tale. I’ve heard the sweetest little snuffling giggle coming from a man, he was treated (by everyone) with respect. I’ve seen and been the recipient of immense kindness; people share information, pens, smokes, whatever. I’ve had fun and learned a lot, simply by kicking back and chilling right out. And I’ve been reminded, every single time, that my country is not all about status, and that no matter how broke or unhappy I am, I am actually incredibly privileged.
When my mother died, I didn’t use a fancy funeral home with hushed voices and serene surroundings. When I fetched her ashes, the waiting room was full, loud, lively. It was surreal. In a private office, a well dressed and friendly woman plonked down my mother, vacuum packed in plastic, then looked completely horrified and scuttled off – not for very long – and returned with a smart wooden box with the ashes in it. I was given a blanket, because seeing one is part of the grief and mourning rituals. (here’s a pdf about such rituals, in case you’re interested: MOURNING RITUALS AND PRACTICES IN CONTEMPORARY SOUTH AFRICAN TOWNSHIPS The poster about it explained that and suggested that if the recipient had no need of it, they might want to give it to someone needful within their community. I gave it to a woman working her ass off in the hot sun, spending the money she made on her kids’ education.
Now I know I’m looking at it all through a lens of middle class white privilege. I know that the amount of unemployment (38%) and poverty in this country is fucking horrendous. Thing is, most times in those rooms and queues, people are getting helped. Slowly. Efficiently. Those two words do not cancel each other out, we just think they do because zomg rush hurry meetings appointments hurry hurry hurry, rape the country for more money and fuck any sense of community. Everyone should have the opportunity to work and buy whatever they want and be whoever they want, bit that doesn’t mean we should all forget what a community, any community can do. Individualism, taken too far, is lonely.
Reason I’m talking about it all, is that I went to the Traffic Dept today, to renew my driver’s licence. I took some photos to show you.