Friend­li­ness a joy­ous facet of our re­al­ity

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

FRI­DAY morn­ing, I’m driver/ labourer in sup­port of beloved young peo­ple mov­ing house. My early-morn­ing pas­sen­ger is Natalie Dik­weni, whose twice-a-week job is now in a new part of town.

It’s a part for­eign to both of us. We’re as­sess­ing her pub­lic trans­port op­tions.

The sleuthing and the dis­cov­er­ing of pedes­trian short­cuts, and Natalie’s warm per­son­al­ity, make the ex­pe­di­tion a plea­sure from the start; but, as we re­con­noitre, some­thing else grows on me – the best of Africa.

All the way, we pass twos and threes of ar­riv­ing do­mes­tic work­ers. We stop, greet, and Natalie checks out where they came from and their ad­vice on bus stops or taxi routes.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is ver­nac­u­lar, so what my ears un­der­stand is lit­tle more than bus num­bers and street names, but what my eyes see is ac­quain­tance­ship be­ing born and turn­ing into friend­ship, as fast as you can say those words.

The first time I thought, “ah, nice co­in­ci­dence, they hap­pen to be old friends, long last seen”. But, no, they’d never met.

The sec­ond time, and each time af­ter­wards, was the same. To­tal strangers to start with and, af­ter three min­utes of ex­pla­na­tion and ges­tic­u­la­tion and low­down on the neigh­bour­hood, they part as sis­ters.

Which prompts me to tell you a thing about Lon­don, which I’ve vis­ited maybe 15 times over the decades. Each time, I call on my cousins. They’ve had the same house since Churchill’s time.

It’s on a busy street, and it has a huge front win­dow that may come from Vic­to­ria’s time. The glass is so old that it sags, like teardrops.

The house’s se­cu­rity sys­tems amount to nil. You could lean over the waist-high gar­den wall and break that win­dow with a knock from your fore­fin­ger. It’d crum­ble like dust, for you to calmly am­ble in and loot the place.

Every visit, the sight of this win­dow is a pain to me, I feel a phys­i­cal twinge.

This is what I want for where I live; that a hope­lessly vul­ner­a­ble win­dow can sur­vive 100 years never bro­ken, and no one thinks that’s a spe­cial gift from a god of crime-free­ness.

Which, given where I do live, means a bit of re­ar­rang­ing, but that’s for an­other time. For now, the point is this:

Over the last five or so Lon­don vis­its, I’ve re­alised that, although that win­dow makes home seem in­fe­rior and ill­b­lessed, an­other phe­nom­e­non – re­lat­ing to strangers – does the op­po­site.

In the orderly, sorted places I’ve known abroad, you might ask a lo­cal knowl­edge kind of ques­tion and ex­pect a de­cent, cour­te­ous re­ply. In Africa, you come away feel­ing you were treated as a friend, if not a brother. It’s a joy­ous and ful­fill­ing facet of our re­al­ity.

First-hand, I got that mes­sage a while ago. But the sec­ond-hand view as Natalie’s chauf­feur was a new prism, a great one.

Even­tu­ally, Natalie went on her way. Alone in the car, I turned the ra­dio on. The topic was racism, no sur­prise. A teacher had com­mit­ted a race sin. What sin, I never heard, but the out­rage went on for hours, want­ing sack­ings and pun­ish­ing.

No one can judge how other peo­ple in­ter­pret slights. What I from a dis­tance might see as small, you at the sharp end might ex­pe­ri­ence as big. Es­pe­cially if I have no af­ter-taste of op­pres­sion and you have much.

But some things are ab­so­lute, like that no race or tribe is sin­less enough to make a fetish of the sins of oth­ers. Find­ing ill-ad­vised in­di­vid­ual com­ments and ac­tions to lay at a race’s door, as the great­est of all crimes, was never help­ful. It’s a cliché now.

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