MCT in SA: Day two – Bikes and cow's cheek in Soweto

That Time I Was Randomly Invited To South Africa

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Note-y thing: Yes, I’m a bit behind on this diary thing. But let’s pretend I’m not, huhkay?

Day two of my Smirnoff trip to Johannesburg began with clear evidence that I’d enthusiastically filled out a breakfast order for room service the previous evening while slightly inebriated:

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I didn’t manage to finish it all, or even half of it. Such delicious excess would be put into a fair amount of perspective later in the day when we took a trip to Soweto. *seriousface*

Now, you read the word “township” and you probably imagine dreadful suffering and misery. The generations that grew up in township shacks didn’t choose to do so – it was a living condition enforced by the country’s lengthy apartheid era.

And while I’m not going to pretend Soweto is now an up-and-coming area likely to attract London’s sharkiest property developers, as we cycled around parts of the community in our blue helmets – to the obvious amusement of the locals – I think most of the blogfolk came to the conclusion that it wasn’t as grim as we were expecting.

Photo courtesy of YouTube sensation kickthepj

Photo courtesy of dreamy YouTube sensation kickthepj

Children waved at us, held our hands and showed off for photos, local elders shared their homebrew when we invaded their shebeen, and a chap called Stanza was kind enough to show us his very basic home. His monthly rent cost less than my lunch and he had no running water.

It was difficult not to feel like the very worst kind of Western tourist – swooping in for a snoop at how the poor folk live, taking a few snaps and cycling off again. But the elders and this Stanza fellow seemed happy to show us how they live, and the warmth with which we were received went some way to smoothing out my own (and, I think, others’) feelings of awkwardness.

The subsequent days in Jozi were an education in how the perception of Soweto has shifted dramatically in recent years, as evidenced by the fact that you can take a bicycle tour round the area without feeling threatened. Niall of Nialler 9 and Sarah from Dazed & Confused headed back a few days later to get a first-hand experience of one of Soweto’s vibrant street dance parties; and several times local residents mentioned that nights out in Soweto are, like, so hot right now, thanks in part to the increased exposure of music styles like Kwaito and Shangaan electro (be hypnotized and disturbed by some pregnant boilersuited clowns here). We also met people who came from Soweto and who, while they may have since left, have an evident pride that such a community is part of their identity.

Following our tour there was just time to sample some cow’s cheek (*checks notes are correct*) – yes, it was definitely cow’s cheek – before time constraints meant we had to cut our visit short.

Following an afternoon mixology session with our benevolent hosts, the evening saw us heading to an album launch show for Freshly Ground briefly before getting dinner. Then it was time to hit a local bar which had gathered a buzz of expectation in the group thanks to recommendations from locals – Kitchener’s. This was the evening it really became apparent that MTV Africa’s Bianca, our de facto Jozi tour guide, was someone who knew a good night out.

Kitchener’s is an old-fashioned kind of place with flock wallpaper and carpets that just beg to get sticky from spilled alcohol. So, accordingly, shots were poured, dances were danced (I recall an unexpected and amusing dubstep interlude), embarrassing photos were taken and new friends were made. I just wish I could remember more of it (or maybe I don’t).

Special mention for this particular evening to Ireland’s Darragh Doyle and Venezuela’s Francisco Granados, who demonstrated that the true lingua franca isn’t English – it’s [*enter names of various alcohols here*].

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