Life’s lessons in Johannesburg.



As the final call was being made for the flight to South Africa I still had to show my boarding pass. I was in tears talking to my friend Sonja on the phone who was demanding that I must, no matter what, get on that flight, that I must get away from Amsterdam and everything familiar for a while and most important I must break away from the emotions that had been consuming me for the past months.



A photo of me at the top of the Carlton Center, Johannesburg.

Johannesburg, the city of what could have been

Being on long haul flights are a time when I normally reflect on my life, my actions. I had thought about my trip to Romania, how I had loved it there and of Peru and the beauty of the Andes. I realised that on those trips and the months between I had just existed but was not living. The problem was that my emotions and the fact I was unable to let them go, that these emotions were preventing me from loving life. I needed to be my old self again, the person who is endlessly sweet, so polite that your grandparents would adore me, who genuinely likes everyone when meeting them.


Although the drive into Johannesburg was a bit scary and downtown felt sinister at night I still knew I was going to like this city. Johannesburg was the city of what-could-have-been as in my early twenties I had been offered a job in South Africa but in the end had rejected it. Now I was seeing Jo’burg for the first time and wondered if I too, in this city, would have suffered during a painful seperation or if this city would have been kinder to me than what Amsterdam had been.

Reef Hotel

watching the sunset from the hotel lounge

The high point of Johannesburg had been the sunsets, sitting in the rooftop lounge of my hotel watching the red skies reflect in the skyscrapers. Although some men had tried to strike up conversations with me I had, as always, declined, opting to watch the birds fly in formation across downtown, just to stare out towards the city. In a way to be honest that was all I was capable of at that moment in my life.

Afternoons I would walk around downtown. The reception of my hotel had  pleaded with me to go everywhere by car and that the streets were dangerous. Now when you say that to me I will make a point of walking everywhere. Johannesburg dangerous? Actually along with the Lili Elbe movie, the sunsets from the hotel it was the people of Johannesburg who made something inside me click. Their energy, friendliness, their vulnerability gave me the first ideas of trying to live again, not to exist anymore, but to live, really live!



5 thoughts on “Life’s lessons in Johannesburg.

    • Grace, Well I fervently hope you find the time to write about your travels. That description of the dreadful lassitude you found in Kiev was a classic slice of melancholy. I could not help but think Kiev was brashly tragic. The streets were haunted by a sinister grandeur. I looked up at all those tower apartment blocks and felt like Stalin was looking down on me from every darkened window. It was enough to make me believe he had scarred everyone and everything in Kiev. I remember the women who ran shops but hated large bills and refused to give change. Too rigid to countenance a way out of poverty. And Babi Yar was just outright sinister. Kiev is the only place I ever saw a dead person laying in the street covered with a white sheet. I would go back though. I am doing fine. Traveling stateside to Washington DC (sterile, but lively) and northern Montana (Glacier NP it does not get any wilder. A howling wilderness that defeats all thoughts of ever taming it). Where in west Africa, Senegal, Togo (knew a mob guy in my hometown who fled their on a Christian mission), Ghana (Africa with the air taken out of it). Where and why? CW

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