I get myself in the strangest situations- it’s my own fault and I quite enjoy it actually. When one of my local township friends invited me to braai, I said yes without hesitation. I get picked up from a train station and I know I’m in for an experience, surrendering my day to the will of my friend Siku, knowing I’ll end up at the destination- eventually, risking being late to a fancy jazz concert I committed to in the evening.
First we pick up a guy in Langa. Mike gets in the car and immediately fills it up with his personality, which overcompensates for his 4 ft something frame. “I can sleep anywhere, anytime. Us black people, we crazy. My momma used to smack me so hard, she smacked the black off me.” Mike answers his phone, “You want to rent me for a day? Who’s this?” Whoa, dudes crazy. Pata Pata is turned all the way up as we drive to pick up Siku’s mom at the grocery store (Mike talking over the music). We park and Mike gets out of the car, dancing like a madman to jazz in the parking lot.
The car fills up with food, people, and a mix of words I don’t understand combined with clicks (Xhosa). I try to master the clicking noise silently (pretend like you are riding a horse). People are dropped off, hands are shaken, children crowd the car, and more people get in as we drive to Guguletu (Gug’s) for the braai at Mzoli’s- the reason I’m here.
Mzoli’s is packed, completely chaotic and I don’t know what’s happening. I’m led into what looks like a butcher shop and then away to a club- it’s 3pm, but this place looks like a nightclub at 2am. I follow my people to a VIP section, past sweaty bodies dancing. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m in it now. A guy comes back with a bag of drinks, then a massive tray of barbequed meat arrives with something doughy accompaning it. Hands grab meat from the tray, eyes look at me inviting me to do the same- what is she going to do? I grab a sausage- at least I know what that is (veg no more) and follow suite.
One of the girls with us stands up and starts dancing. She scans the room confidently, knowing the pull of her movements. I can’t stop watching her, she rolls her hips and legs perfectly to the music. I get up and dance, feeling foolish bouncing around next to the curvy seductress. She starts dancing by a guy next to us capturing everyones attention. She teases him, shaking and rolling, he’s capitated. He follows the curves of her back, butt, thighs with this eyes and his hands. She knows everyone is watching her. Her eyes are down, looking at him in calculated glances saying come and get me.
“Yea, that’s how Africans dance.” I’m busted. Mike pulls me up and we make a circle as they show me how it’s done. Flipping our hands, singing something I can’t follow, like an awkward teenager pretending to be cool, to know the words to the song. I’m good at some things- running, yoga, axe throwing, however, seducing the room by shaking my hips is not one of my life skills- by 30 I’ve accepted that my body just doesn’t move like that. I’m taken to another club, deeper into the township, where the locals chill on the weekends, further away from tourists, internationals and groups of people that I probably fall into.
I practically melt into the Uber that scoops me up to take me away to a jazz concert for the night. I convince the driver to pick me up deep in the hood and Mike opts out of a hug, but instead picks me up, lifts me over his head Dirty Dancing style, and squeezes me before I leave. I’m underdressed for jazz, still somewhere in between the township and the upscale mansion I’m sitting in, not quite fitting in at either. I sit, listening to smooth jazz, mind going faster than the music, dipping in and out of relaxation- out of place, sorting out my day, in between two extremes