"If you love a place, you love the whole fiery sadness and glory of the place and you're made of it." Wendy Johnson
This morning I wake up to the sultry sound of chanting, coming from across the park. It could be a call to prayer. It lasts a while, and is then drowned by the sounds of locals being led by a the measured commands of a trainer who orchestrates movement on the park’s aging metal gym equipment. It’s seven A.M. I can hear lots of things, my front windows open to songs on the Southern Hemisphere's winter breeze. The trees rustle a reveille. Our flat looks out toward the South edge of Bulwer Park across Helen Joseph Road.
The sounds are not limited to morning. I awaken easily to cars revving at midnight; the predawn melodies of birds. At six A.M. there is a roundness to the sounds of human voices here, a full-lunged Zulu choir of joyful banter, as people walk to their respective jobs. Drumming welcomes the dusk of evening.
Helen Joseph is an artery in Glenwood, Durban. The park a destination. Our flat, a pleasant observatory for the buzz of life that stirs below. Daily sounds and their accompanying movements continue as a portion of road, directly across from our building has been the site of more activity than usual for the past three months. A municipal improvement project brings new sounds with cranking trucks, monstrous reels of cable unwinding and piles and piles of earth being dumped along the grassy edge of the park.
Trucks have been active as early as one in the morning, making massive tent-shaped mounds. When the men work, no matter how early, they shout or they sing. Thousands of sandbags are deposited from the back of flatbeds, some to be mixed into the soil to improve drainage, others for building pedestrian street crossings and filling in holes in the crumbling pavement. The street is a blanket of Durban dust. The pace is slow. There must be a plan, but it does not account for our muddy windows after a rain, or the dusty sills that forever need wiping or the soles of shoes gathering rusty soil in their treads and into the house. Traffic stops; work stops and starts again, the progress relative to lots I've yet to learn.
Helen Joseph is the beginning of my path in all directions, the various markets, NSA Gallery, multiple coffee stops and the gym. When I walk, I attempt to make eye contact with passers-by and to say “good morning” or “hello.” Often, I receive a hearty “Good morning, good morning” in surprised repetition as reply. One domestic worker sits patiently on the stoop of her employer’s apartment complex. Her response is a radiant smile. The car guard for the restaurant on the next block, cheers a hello from his chair, positioned on the sidewalk. I hear “mama,” “ma’am,” “bless you” and “darling” addressing me across daily encounters. I say, “Thank you” in return sometimes, moved to emotion. Occasionally, someone’s un-joy is reflected in a grimace or an insolent stare. Largely, I am warmed by the good will of the "Rainbow Nation." I’m lucky to answer, “Great,” to so many of my experiences here.
The laptop keys click to the almost imperceptible drone of the ceiling fan and the thoughts in my restless head as I write this. Children at the prep school down-a'way can be heard during outdoor play. A new reality crystalizes moment to moment here. I pay attention, assess and refrain from overly personalized reactions. What surrounds me is great, as rich and sweet as milk tart custard. I am becoming "made" of this place.
What is it made of? Knowing. Knowing community, consistency, resilience and gratitude.