We finally arrived at Charlene’s house. It was a very large and old house in a very jewish suburb near the hustle and bustle of Braamfontein and the elite mansions of Houghton. We parked in the garage and walked into the back entrance of the house right into a very large kitchen. There were many of her friends and family members there. I met her two sons, Gerald and Dexter, her mother and father and a few of her close friends that were at the house visiting. Maude, her mother, welcomed me with a big huge smile and warm hug. Everyone was excited to meet the “American”. Yet, I was rather exhausted from the long trip but greeted everyone, answered a few questions about America and politely excused myself so that I could get some sleep.
A few hours later, I woke up to the smells of roasted chicken and potatoes and a few other unfamiliar but delicious smells in the kitchen. At the dinner table, I was looking forward to tasting some new South African cuisine. In addition to the roasted chicken and potatoes, the table was covered with a butternut mash, creamy spinach, a red curry lamb and a fresh green salad. Charlene told me that I could stay with them until I was able to get my own place. She knew that I would find some consulting work due to my high level of qualifications, skills and experiences and the many opportunities in the New South Africa. I found her family to be warm, curious and very excited about the new democratic South Africa. They were filled with great hopes and were ready to participate more in their new democratic country as they were highly involved in the liberation movement. Her father was very well verse in the struggle movement and told many stories of near death experiences he encountered for the cause. Maude spoke of teaching at the primary (elementary school level) to better prepare the children of color to play a role in the new democracy.
For the first two days, I just rested a bit, hung out with Charlene’s family and friends, took a few walks in the neighborhood and tried to get adjusted to the six hour time difference. I also wanted to get use to the neighbourhood. I was very fortunate that Charlene and her family treated my like family. Her friends also welcomed me as a new friend to their circle. Many were in the Arts, music industry, politics, law and journalism. I found them to be very helpful to contextualize the pulse of the excitement and hope for the new democracy from real every day people. At the same time, there were not too many African Americans in the country so I was sort of an anomaly to them. Many of her friends, when they first met me, thought that I was Indian or Colored when they looked at me, until they heard my accent. Some went to university in exile...the USA, Canada or the UK. We were all around the same age...our 30s.
During those first few weeks, I really enjoyed the dinners, stimulating conversations about the possibilities of the new democracy and of course going to hear great live jazz at the nearby Kippies in Newtown and the Baseline in Melville. I was blown away by the South African jazz scene with the likes of Hugh Masekela, Gloria Bosman, Abdullah Ibrahim, Moses Molelekwa and the Madana of South Africa - Brenda Fassie. It seemed that a lot of artists that were in exile were coming back home to South Africa. As a result I later got a chance to see Miriam Makeba live and hear her sing the famous “Click” Song. I also enjoy the traditional Zulu artists like Jabu Khanyile, Busi Mhlongo and Tu Nokwe. Sometimes, when they sung in English I would forget their African roots. Yet, when they switched to Zulu or Xhosa or Pedi, I was brought back to reality of the wonderful talent and the distinctive voices of these amazing musicians. I frequented the "hot" places in Yeoville with my new friends and enjoyed to News Cafe and other meeting places for good food, music and company. Meeting Charlene's family and friends helped me to feel more at home and excited about a new chapter in life.
Reflection: A Year Back in America - Part 1 The Summer of 2015