Rediscovering Durban...

Saturday, 9 March 1996

There's nothing quite like having friends visiting from another country to help rediscover your home town...

JAY is a computer systems administrator at the World Wide Web consortium in Boston. Heidi's a freelance journalist working on a Masters in Journalism at Boston University. They had 10 days to spend in South Africa. So they came to my home in Durban.

When I was about to leave Sardinia, I wrote about what it felt like to be returning home after eight years. It feels strange seeing these words two years later. Here are some extracts.

Ah, Durban. I find it relatively easy to talk about most parts of South Africa. But Durban is my home, and that somehow makes a difference.

Durban is not extraordinarily beautiful. It's hot in summer and warm in winter. There are very large patches of lush green throughout the city. One of them, just up the road from our home, has an animal section which includes several tortoises more than 100 years old (and still f... sorry, mating).

The place is Mitchell Park. The tortoises were not to be seen when I visited this week. Where have they gone?

Our garden offers huge avocados, jackfruit, granadillas, guavas, bananas, and litchis.

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The granadillas and guavas are long gone. The litchis are somewhat stunted. But there are mangos now.

The beaches range from treacherous to docile. The "Bay of Plenty" has breakers that are world famous (for surfers at any rate). If you swim out to the shark nets early in the morning, you may see porpoises frolicking in the dawn light.

Dawn and I have not met for many months. But I do regularly see dolphins at Sea World.

The shallows are swarming with life. The rocks are coated with the most delicious mussels, but your car will be confiscated if you are caught harvesting them out of season. (This will also happen if you catch a shad out of season and don't throw it back. Or if you fish using underwater lights.)

Are those rules still in place?

The market bustles with excitement by day and muggers by night. The culture is an astonishing mixture of Zulu, Hindu, Islam, Malay, and English and this is reflected in the cuisine.

The last time I was at the market was two years ago. I was the centre of attraction because I was carrying Aura on my back.

Zulu women workers at the market were either irritated or impressed. Shouts of "Hau!" followed me through the rows of vegetables. One of them stopped me to ask: "Why doesn't your wife carry the baby?"

"Because I'm stronger," I said. "Doesn't your husband carry your children?" She stomped off, shaking her head.

"Cane Spirit" distilled from sugar cane is the base for long cool drinks that are served at sundown. ("Cane, lime and lemonade", "Cane and orange juice", "Cane and coke", or the quick hit of "Cane and beer dash".)

I haven't drunk cane in years. I gagged after seeing someone drinking cane and Mello Yello.

Two universities. Three technical colleges. And the only place in the world where you can buy Afritude chips (fried potatoes in the shape of the African continent).

And that place used to be Jam & Sons which has since folded. Sigh...

This is where Vasco da Gama landed on Christmas Day on the way to India, and gave the province its current name, Natal.

Come to think of it, "Thukela" has a much nicer ring than "KwaZulu Natal".

The city was named after British governor Sir Benjamin D'Urban. It's Thekwini in Zulu, but "Durbs" to most of us.

The hadedahs and Indian mynahs are a welcome change to the pigeon overload that the other cities suffer from.

There were a few new places to take our visitors. The Sunday fleamarket on North Beach and the BAT centre were good for souvenir shopping in spite of the rain.

Tekweni Junction served mutton curry with samp and beans accompanied by sambals, coleslaw and potato salad. Now that's Durban cuisine!

And Garth's Place served delicious sandwiches, (alcoholic) milkshakes, and carrot cake at 1a.m.

This is a nice place to live. Really...