Friendliness a joyous facet of our reality
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.