Scary stories from a lovely place
I could start the Kwerakwera’s guide to enjoying Jozi in so many noteworthy and beautiful places. Downtown, the Carlton Centre, Zoo Lake, Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Mayfair, Melville, Parkhurst, the Plaza. But I’m going to start with my beloved home of Brixton, which has much natural charm and beautiful features, sometimes you just have to peek past the obvious flaws. If you google ‘Brixton’ one of the entries will correctly tell you of the local Sentech Tower, which is quite spectacular at night and in fog, but it will very incorrectly say that Brixton is a suburb of ‘the affluent Houghton’. Not only is that far from the geographical truth, but also just plain wrong. Brixton isn’t an affluent suburb of anywhere, it’s just a normal, dirty, awesome suburb of inner city Jozi. Allow me then to fill you in on some of these most delightful aspects of my beloved Brixton….
Ciro’s Too Pizza – Ciro’s feels like it had it’s hayday in the 1970/80’s. The walls are adorned with old newspaper articles reviewing their brilliance, the black light, mirror ball and disco lights look fairly under-used, the pictures on the walls speak of latish 90’s style. But the pizza is the best in Jozi. Ciro’s is chilled, their menu boasts a Chorizo and a ‘Popeye’ Pizza, sporting avo, spinach, feta and bacon and it’s got that indescribable charm that only a Jozi appreciator will understand. Bizarrely though they also have semi-pornographic pictures that look sort of like Levi’s commercials on the walls and in the bathrooms.
The Protea Centre – Because it’s Jozi, and what most residents do for fun is go to the mall, I have to mention the Protea Centre. Besides hosting Ciro’s Too, an excellent spice shop, Cash Crusaders, a Tattoo Parlour that also sells knives and shot glasses, a fabric shop that sells Singer sewing machine parts and a couple of hairdressers, Protea is my local for Pick ‘n Pay, which also happens to be cheaper than Campus Square. If you go to The Protea Centre often enough you will become acquainted with the strange characters who hang around. Say hello to Fanus the friendly checkout guy, the short, white lady and her identical mother (who in fact are Fanus’ relatives), the young, white girl who calls me ‘Aunty’ and the Chinese couple who own the crappy clothing store and their cute baby. The Protea Centre has recently opened Captain’s Fish and Chips (which I don’t think is a chain!) which is cheap, has friendly staff, and authentic fish and chips served on white plates with silver cutlery. Protea is now complete.
The Post Office – Anywhere else in Jozi you will wait upwards of 30 minutes in the queue at the Post Office. Not in Brixton. The Afrikaans lady with blue eyeshadow will have you greeted, served and out of there in under 5 minutes, amazing! And they have free internet!
The Russian Second hand furniture Store – That’s not what it’s called, but it’s a second hand furniture store run by a Russian family. Most of the furniture in our house is from this place. They sold us kitchen storage, bedroom furniture, mirrors, Australiana, a bathroom cabinet and a couch. And we’re not done with them yet.
Hilltop Tennis – That’s my name for the two tennis courts perched at the top of Kingston Frost Park. It’s free to play for as long as you like. It’s free to enjoy the spectacular view. Hilltop Tennis is a gem in Jozi’s crown.
Kingston Frost Park – I’m not allowed to go there by myself, though I do fantasise about it. It’s a leafy park on the edge of a downward slope into Auckland Park, but unfortunately a pretty dangerous spot in Jozi. Occasionally Stephen and I have watched the sunset from a scenic knoll at the top over salt and vinegar chips and beer, but once we sat pretty close to a random old guy which made my protective husband nervous. You don’t hang out in Kingston Frost unless you’re drunk, a rapist, walking your dog in a group, crazily passing through, or enjoying the natural charm of creation and the amazing view over Jozi.
The Chinese Lady’s supermarket – In contrast to Angela’s Supermarket up the road (see below) is the less classy convenience store run by the Chinese lady. It’s closer to my place than Angela’s, on the corner of Caroline and Chiswick. Even if you see something amongst the meagre range that you want to buy you may not be able to, bars seperate you and the wares. After repeated tapping you will rarely be able to rouse the Chinese lady. From the sounds of the TV in the background she’s pretty hooked on ‘Generations’.
Hing Wah – On the subject of Brixton’s Chinese residents there is an old Blinds shop on the corner of Chiswick and Fulham which is completely closed up. But if you walk past there at just the right time in the afternoon you will smell the unmistakeable aroma of bamboo shoots, soy sauce and MSG. People are cooking Chinese food in there! It smells good and from peeking through the cracks in the painted window, it looks good too. But it’s not just Grandma’s kitchen. it’s a hectic industrial kitchen. The antiquated sign in the window says ‘Hing Wah’ but they’re not giving up the goods.
Angela’s Supermarket – I’ve saved the best for last. When I need the cheapest milk in Jozi, the most perfectly ripe avocadoes, the cheapest laundry powder or singular nappies I take a stroll to the corner of Caroline and Wimbeldon streets to be served by my friendly Bangladeshi store owners. On the way I get to see my friend, the security guard at the Pawn Shop, who ensures the random guys who hit on me don’t take it any further. Angela’s, and places like it, are the beautiful thing about Jozi; family businesses, micro-economics and history all combine to make the best convenience store in Jozi. At 7pm each evening Angela’s will have closed their security gate, but will still be serving a huddle of customers waiting outside, desperate for some condoms, coke, bread or milk.
In 9 months of living in Brixton this is all I have discovered so far, but I look forward to many more walking tours of the neighbourhood to continue to take it all in. It may not be classy, shiny or impressive, but Brixton is lively, pretty, convenient and safe. After all I’ve been mugged twice in the much classier and richer Melville/Auckland Park, but not once felt danger when walking in Brixton. Albeit, it’s there, but perhaps less pervasively so. Maybe it’s because people’s walls are low, or they are in the street talking with their neighbours, or behind slatted gates quietly knitting away.
A few weeks before Steveyboy and I got married a friend of ours who lives in Auckland Park, said “oh you can’t live in Brixton, every Friday night we hear gunshots there”. Thanks very much. My Brixton property owning husband certainly bought our house because it was a bargain, but it’s not that way because Brixton is some horribly dangerous place to live. And we haven’t been shot yet.