For those wondering what it’s like living in Jozi, here is a list of the few things that, as an expat, you will soon learn about this wonderful city.
1) Jozi people are the best. It’s as simple as that. Warm, welcoming, unconditionally friendly and passionate about their city, they will show, as soon as you set a foot in the country, a genuine interest in knowing you. Be prepared to attend a few brais (the local name for a barbecue) or go on a road trip with them, for they will make sure you enjoy your time in Africa.
2) You’ll spend a fortune on lip balm. Oh yes! Jozi’s winters are very dry, it doesn’t rain for weeks from April until October. The velds soon turn into a golden shade that burns the eye in the bright light of the day while the air becomes as sharp as a knife. Your skin will soon start to crack like an old papyrus and your lips will feel as if you had rolled a red chilli pepper all over them. Fortunately enough, lip balms and skin creams make the situation much more bearable, and you will start collecting them as if they were you best friends.
3) Jozi has the best weather… and the worst houses. The weather in Jozi is great. It always gets warm and sunny during the day, even in winter, and the 5:00 pm showers don’t fail to cool down the air during the hottest summer days. Nights are always cool, the altitude of the city (1800 meters) helping in that regard. And yes, although we are in Africa, it goes below 0ºc overnight for a few weeks in winter. If people often mention Jozi’s great weather, they systematically fail to report how deficient houses are. They’re just not prepared for the cold and come July, you will soon wish it had occurred to somebody to put double-pane on the windows and a few more layers of isolation. Be prepared, bring some extra blankets to survive these 6 to 8 weeks of shivering agony, and you will see that soon it does not feel that terrible peeking out of the duvet anymore.
4) You think you’ve seen sunsets. Think again! Every sunset here is a festival, an explosion of colours that will last in your memory for days, always renewed, always different, never disappointing. During the crispy days of winter, it is as if a fire was running through the sky, painting the heavenly dome in a deep red tone. The summer skies, on the other hand, are scattered with clouds that work like a gigantic prism, shattering every ray of light in a multitude of colours, with shades of blue, red and purple all around. Everyday, you’ll be in awe on your way back home and will unfortunately start developing the bad habit of taking pics of the sky while driving.
5) Lions love to be petted, right? That is what you will ask yourself the first time you put your hand forward to stroke one of these big fluffy cats. Because you will. It usually starts on your first visit to Lion Park, where you will pay the extra-fee to pet the tiny little cubs, and it continues when you go to private lodges and enter the tamed lions cage. You’ll keep staring at their claws & paws, shooting as many pictures as you can, hoping they’re on a full stomach while wondering what on Earth you’re doing here, swearing to God or anyone around you will never do it again, and failing to hold up to your promises every chance you get.
6) The biggest magnet ever. Jozi benefits from a very peculiar situation. Perched up in the clouds, it is prone to thunderstorm and static electricity. As a result, during the dry winter, the latter becomes your daily companion, reminding you of its presence every time you open the door of your car, or touch your computer. And in summer, you will assist to the most stunning thunderstorms you have ever seen, with lightnings tearing up the sky everywhere you look. Truly beautiful.
7) Taxis are not your friends. They are actually your worst enemies. When driving around, you will notice a multitude a white cars, usually Toyota, packed with South Africans. They are the taxis people use to get around the city. And even though they are highly valuable, in the sense that they transport hundreds of thousands of people to their work every day, offering a alternative to the deficient transportation system of the city, they are driven by the worst drivers I have ever seen. There is not one traffic rule they respect, and every car accident I’ve witnessed in the past 6 months always involved one of them. Be careful when driving around them, you are warned!
8) The biggest man made forest. Before I lived in Africa, I always associated this continent with sun, sand and draught. Before I lived in Joburg, I always associated the city with massive urbanisation, gold rush and mine exploring. I therefore used to picture Jozi as a big dry city, full of dust and full of sun. I couldn’t be more wrong. The city is the biggest man made forest, with millions of trees imported by the first settlers that adjusted well to the delicious climate of the province. They are everywhere, huge and green, arching their branches over the lovely streets of the suburbs. And when the jacarandas are in full blossom, you just want to lie in the street and stare at them for hours.
9) The brightest smiles you’ve ever seen (and unfortunately, the dirtiest feet as well…). Why are all the African children so beautiful? Is this because the whiteness of their teeth highly contrasts with the darkness of their skin, creating the brightest smiles you have ever seen? I don’t know, but they’re just gorgeous, and there isn’t anything you can refuse them. Whatever they do, they will always get away with it as long as this bright smile lightens up their face. But the African children, black and white included, have unfortunately developed the most disguting habit of walking barefoot, under the complacent eye of their parents. You’ll see them barefoot in the parks, in the streets and in the supermarkets, even in Sandton City and by looking at the colour of their feet, I wonder if the dirt ever comes out. So you’d better keep staring at their face, and not look down on their feet, so that they remain the perfect kids you fantasise about.
10) The City of God. For us Europeans who have started to loose faith centuries ago, it’s always a wonder to see a nation so impregnated with religious feeling. Many people, black, white, coloured, are true believers, and go to church, mosque, temple, synagogue, etc. on a weekly basis. It is not unusual, on a Sunday afternoon, to see black people, all dressed up in colourful clothes, coming back from mass. Most of South Africans will refer to themselves as Christians, Jews, Muslims, as they feel it truly defines who they are. So be careful if you engage in a heated religious debate, you might end up harming a few people’s feeling around. And as usual in this country, the beauty in all of this is to see how well all these religious feeling have blended together. People are very tolerant regarding each other’s religious beliefs, and the churches, although I’m no specialist, seem to be much more liberal than the ones in Europe. The rainbow nation at its best.