The church above the sex shop

When 120 wedding guests take this in their stride, you know that South Africans are not only used to contrasts, we're addicted to them.

I attended a lovely beach wedding of an old friend yesterday. Gorgeous setting, gorgeous bride, delightful bridegroom (he won't appreciate being called gorgeous) and an astonishing sunset.

The reception was held in the church they attend in Main Road Claremont. Yes, you've guessed it – not only is this church on top of Adult World, but they share a staircase.

Industrial-looking stairs wind their way upwards, first past the sex shop, with its heavy curtain over the entrance and several notices addressed to their somewhat furtive-looking clients darting past us up and down the stairs. Then you get to the landing, and someone has strewn frangipani flowers on the stairs. One more flight of stairs and I am in the church. Soft candlelight, gentle music, a cross on the wall.

The short journey feels like travelling through the stage set of Dante's Inferno. Except this story had a happier ending.

I suspect every single person who lives in this country has similar experiences. I can't really speak for other people, so will concentrate on my own experiences. (It's my column after all).

When I go home every day, I emerge from the air-conditioned hi-tech office in which I work, where we have everything that opens and shuts and servers the size of houses that buzz softly, into the bus station next to the Grand Parade.

 I emerge gingerly, because the exit to the Parkade is not well marked, and I do not want to run over any pedestrians. Just as well, because last week a woman walked in front of the car carefully balancing a very large white pumpkin on her head. She had a child in a blanket on her back. And this 100m from SA Internet Central.

Years ago, in the days before cellphone cameras, I can remember waiting in line for the photocopy machine at the Uluntu Community Centre in Guguletu.  In front of me was a sangoma in full regalia who was photocopying what looked like prescriptions/medical records of patients. He had bunched leopard-skin around his waist that more than once got caught in the machine and was duly photocopied.

It's good for us to be surprised every now and then. My favourite Angolan car guard was reading a 600-page book on Eastern philosophy under the station light one Friday night last month. On the same night I saw two white men begging at traffic lights in the southern suburbs. I saw a black man in a fancy car give them money.

On a daily basis, every person in this country is confronted with unexpected views, ways of living, attitudes. We generally seem to cope very well. In fact, when I think about it, we cope amazingly well. We have the odd hiccup (think Manyi, think Steve Hofmeyr), but given the monumental scope for misunderstanding things are running relatively smoothly on a day-to-day basis. Of course, there is crime and violence and poverty. I am just surprised that it's not ten times higher, given our history.

Maybe this is why South Africans don't always transplant that well to other parts of the world. Oh, they do well career-wise and their kids do well at school and so forth. But once an adrenalin-junkie, always an adrenalin-junkie. We miss it when things are suddenly too orderly and predictable and too monotone.

Back to the church and the sex shop. What I absolutely loved was the notice on the stairs next to the sex shop. It was a message to their customers: Please refrain from throwing till slips on the stairs. Also do not unwrap purchases and discard the plastic on the stairs. We are trying to keep a clean environment.

God, I love this country.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, March 2011)


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