As I reached the summit of the umpteenth hill on my afternoon run there was a lady waiting for her lift. I timed my words with the exhale, as a pant is all I could do at this stage. “Morning”. We looked each other in the eyes. “morning”, she replied. A smile clearly in her eyes. A connection made. I laugh, inwardly (there is no way I could get it out at this stage). Even in my jumble, a stark contrast comes to mind. A run, a week ago, in one of our other South African cities…
I went to reception of the B&B I was staying in and asked where in the area is not safe to run. The man behind the counter appears confused, “where are you from?”. “Durban”, I reply. “Lady, you’re in X now, I wouldn’t go running here, you’ll get mugged!”. I had to do some exercise, so I made a compromise and ran up and down the short distance in front of the B&B. Not at all satisfying but it was better than nothing and being cooped up all day! The first commuter comes towards me. I look for his eyes; he looks away as I say “hi”. No response. I try again on the next one, except I don’t get any eye contact at all. It gives me the feeling of unease and isolation amidst people, like no one trusts anyone here.
So as I push through the remainder of my run back in our wonderful city, I ponder the difference. Everyone I go past, there is a “hello”, “sawubona”, “yebo”, “afternoon” and the occasional “morning” (which rather forgivingly, is smiled at, maybe because the person who receives it thinks I am out of my mind anyway for running). There is a connection. Though we are different; different races, genders, age groups, social classes; we are people. How did we get it right in Durban? That is the question on my mind. Has the Peace Agency’s Stop Crime Say Hello campaign really worked well? Or maybe it has something to do with our Zulu culture. Is there, perhaps, something in the greeting of, “Sawubona” that has instilled a togetherness, even across difference?
Sawubona. The spirit in me sees the spirit that is in you. I know it is not considered “cool” among the many of the youth and young adults in Durban. They say it is overused and outdated. I want to argue that it potentially is the “warmth” of Durban. Every person is yearning for connection. It is the very essence of humanity to be a part of something. I feel that here we have a connection, a togetherness, an openness. Though we do not always fully understand each other, we realise every person is a person created for community. I dare say we need to fight to maintain “Sawubona” and its plural “Sanibonani” in our culture, despite how “uncool” it may be. From my recent experience out of town, there is no place I would rather be. Well done Durban, I am proud to be a part of this community. It truly is the “warmest place to be” and not because of our weather!