South Africa is a strange country. We have the clearest rivers, the most beautiful fauna and flora and the bluest skies (apparently scientists have proven that the South African sky is the 2nd bluest sky in the world). Yet a really large percentage of our rainbow nation doesn’t get to see a lot of it. Heart-breakingly, the high walls and electric fencing of our suburbs are a very real part of our lives.
Of course these measures are a must – there is nothing more important than for you and your children to feel safe in your own home. But today I would like to challenge you a bit. No, I want to DARE you. To get out!
I joined the gym about 2 years ago. (This might seem unrelated, but bear with me. I will get to the point in a minute.) In high school I loved the smell of the pools and the pumping music and the cute guys in tight pants. However this time around, as a 35-year-old mom of three, I was less intrigued by the cute guys and more horrified by the see-through showers. And seriously, who has the time to drive 10km through traffic just to run in one place and then drive another 10km to get back behind your own special wall-with-or-without-electric-fence.
I don’t know about you but I sure don’t.
So one bright sunny day in 2015 I cautiously opened our pedestrian gate and went for a little run around the block. Sadly it still took me about 20minutes to just get out of my own yard because to my embarrassment I had never used our pedestrian gate before and couldn’t find the key… I always drove everywhere.
I have to admit that I was quite jumpy on my runs during those first few weeks. I always made sure someone knew my route and how long I expected to be gone. But as I started going further and further into the city streets I actually realised that I had been an idiot. We pay an obscene amount of tax of which at least a small percentage is used to maintain our streets and our neighbourhoods and I live in a beautiful area. From the quiet side-street where 3 houses right next to each other have rows of jasmine in their gardens and the aroma fills the entire block, to the big busy street with the wide pavements and massive jacaranda trees. I pass a little field where I get an unobstructed view of the most amazing sunrises and sunsets and I pass through another street where it always feels like twilight because the evergreen tree branches across the road almost blocks out the sky.
But even more satisfying than skies and trees are the people I have met along the way. There is the gardener who waves with his spade every morning and shouts “‘Allo!” and the group of ladies who pass me on their way from the train stop to the local crèche where they work. They never fail to laugh and tell me how tired I look. There is the old grey man with his three massive dogs that always sits on his porch and just nods when I pass his house and there is the young cashier at one of the local grocery stores who always shouts after me “Tomorrow I will join you!” and I never fail to reply. “Great! I will wait for you!”
As I got more and more comfortable in my own area (can you hear how ridiculous that actually sounds), we started using that little pedestrian gate more and more. Milk and bread comes from the corner café, there is a wonderful privately owned pizza maker around the corner and the kids often ride up and down our street on their bikes. They even join me on my 10km runs through the streets some afternoons.
My problem is that, while I can see that the gym parking lot is packed most of the day, I can literally count the neighbours out and about in my neighbourhood on one hand. There is an older couple who sometimes passes me on their bicycles on a Saturday morning and one guy who does speed-walking but pretty much all the other people who pass through our streets are people who live elsewhere. I am not expecting you to start running marathons, but maybe just go for a stroll around the block. Walk to the corner-shop instead of driving 500 meters and support local businesses instead of going to the mall for bread and milk and pizza.
GET OUT from behind your walls. Open those gates and walk around your neighbourhood. Greet your neighbour, his gardener and the nannies having their lunch on the corner under the beautiful big tree. I think we should stop hiding in our own little corners and get in touch with each other again. I challenge you. I dare you. Get out.
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