JOBURG FOR INTROVERTS – Five things I do when this city overwhelms me

JOBURG FOR INTROVERTS is a guide for those of us who hate crowds, and who just want to find a quiet spot and be left alone. In light of Joburg’s xenophobic attacks and the country’s femicide crisis, I’d like to share five things that I do when I feel overwhelmed (which was every day last week, and right now).

Living in Joburg – and South Africa as a whole – can be incredibly overwhelming. But this past week everything became just too much. With the horrifying xenophobic attacks that have affected many parts of Gauteng (and some parts of Cape Town), as well as the brutal rape and murder of 19-year-old UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana (along with the countless, and I mean countless, other women who are killed by men in SA), it all hit home, and it hit hard.

At the time of writing, xenophobia has flared up again in the Joburg CBD, so there appears to be no end in sight to this senseless and savage violence.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about how all this has made me feel, as I’m sure that many of you have been feeling the same: a combination of anger, disgust, hopelessness, and general anxiety.

But, somehow, we carry on.

We spark a conversation with the Zimbabwean car guard; we email our Nigerian client to let her know that we’re thinking of her.

We don’t react when the (male) taxi driver pounds his fist against our passenger door; we duck when men are waving guns at the petrol station.

We go to work and talk about how could it possibly be business as usual?

We try not to become consumed by the anger and frustration; the despair and the hopelessness; the fear and paranoia.

We carry on, carrying on, amidst flames and ordinary objects that are weaponised – like bricks, pangas and post office scales.

I’ve been overwhelmed – I still am. But I thought I’d attempt to bring some positivity to the table. I am not an optimist by nature, so this is hard. I’ve tried indulging in anger and despair, but those feelings aren’t constructive and I just end up in a social-media outrage scrolling vortex.

So for this Joburg for Introverts post I’d like to share five things I do when I feel like everything is too much, which is often, because I live in South Africa. Maybe I’ll come across as flippant because I have the privilege of temporarily ‘escaping’ while others don’t, I don’t know. All I know is that these five things help me, personally. I suppose this is just my way of reminding myself that I can cope, and that you can cope too…

  • I go for a walk in The Wilds

As many of us know by now, The Wilds (which used to be a ‘no-go’ area) has been transformed into a sacred space in the middle of the city, thanks to artist James Delaney and his band of volunteers. Its increase in popularity has meant that on some days (particularly on a Sunday) the place is packed so I advise you visit on a Saturday morning to avoid the crowds. I usually just go to the Facebook page to check if there are any events happening, then I go when there’s nothing on.

A slow, mindful walk in The Wilds on my own is good for my soul, and its energy always lifts me. As a woman, I feel quite safe here (there’s a security guard at the entrance as well as security cameras; my bag was also checked on my last visit), but I don’t walk alone on the eastern side, only the west.

  • I do ‘beer and bonsai’

I’m a bonsai novice (my partner got me into it) but there’s nothing like spending a Saturday or Sunday afternoon on the patio, bonsai scissors in one hand, and a Black Label in the other. I find working on bonsai incredibly relaxing, and when combined with my favourite beverage it’s even more relaxing (although traditionally, the Japanese don’t drink Zamalek while tending to their tiny trees). There’s an introverts’ post coming up in the near future about a once monthly bonsai workshop, so watch this space.

Here’s an interesting opinion piece about bonsai psychotherapy (it’s a thing!) although there is no mention of combining it with beer…

  • I visit Under the Trees

I’ve been holding tightly onto this place as ‘top secret’ for ages but it’s time to share… Under the Trees Garden Café is a truly magical place in Lyndhurst. It’s hidden in a garden nursery called Schäffler’s (owned by Christine and Vincent Schäffler, who also run Under the Trees).

I was introduced to it via a friend a few years ago (thanks Nicola!) and I was blown away by the serenity of the place. Their coffee is good too (courtesy 4th Avenue Coffee Roasters, based in Parkhurst). You can sit outside in nooks hidden by plants, under a canopy of trees (hence the name), or inside where there’s a fireplace and very comfortable couches.

Part of the inside area at Under the Trees

They do wood-fired pizza, amazing cheesecake, and they’re pet-friendly. The clientèle is mostly elderly Jewish women so it’s not exactly a ‘pumping vibe’, which is just how I like it. It gets very busy during Saturday and Sunday lunchtime, so avoid then (I find the brunch gap is quieter, as is during the week; I haven’t tried early mornings here over the weekend, but I suspect it’s quiet then, too). Open from 8am until 5pm Tues to Sun. Pet-friendly. You can find it at 28 Johannesburg Road, Lyndhurst.

  • I spend time at the Modderfontein Nature Reserve

I’ve written about this place in a recent-ish post, which you can find here, but it’s worth mentioning again. I try come here as often as I can as it’s very good for my soul. It’s R30 entrance and there are a number of marked walking trails. No dogs allowed, and biking trails are separate. Try for early mornings on a weekend as it gets busy with cyclists from about 10:30am on a Sunday; AVOID on Saturdays as there’s a Park Run held here.

As a woman I feel fairly safe to walk on my own here; although it’s a much larger space than The Wilds, I have seen security guards patrolling, and access to the area is controlled. As an extra precaution I always send my live location to my partner via WhatsApp, so she can also track my route (we both do this regularly, no matter where we go). I also wear a small travel body-belt concealed under my clothes, which holds my medical aid card, my credit card, and car keys. I do this often, even when I walk around my neighbourhood (it’s a trick I learnt whilst backpacking in Asia).

  • I do tai chi

For the past decade tai chi has been my primary method of self-care. For 40 minutes twice a week, I’ve balanced on one leg, swiped a wooden sword through the air, and spent an inordinate amount of time with my eyes closed, focusing on the area just below my naval. I struggle with anxiety and my tai chi classes, which are held in a school gymnasium in Bruma, are a bi-weekly chance for me to move my body, reconnect with myself, and just ‘be’.

In any given class I’m usually trying not to fall over, I get distracted by mental to-do lists while my muscle memory kicks in, or I’m trying very hard to relax my perpetually tense shoulders. Unlike ‘booty barre’ or yoga, my tai chi practice is far from glamorous. Clad in a T-shirt I bought at Pep and track pants covered in dog hair, I repeat the same movements ad infinitum, checking my far-from perfect form in chipped, full-length mirrors. In the winter the gymnasium is freezing; in the summer I sweat and swot mosquitoes, mid-cloud hands. But it’s been a life-saver; when I do get in ‘the zone’ it’s like a veil is lifted. Contact the International Tai Chi Society on 083 267 1134 for more.

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