JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — “100%.”
Here in South Africa, it means “absolutely”, “certainly”, “for sure”. They say it a lot. They say other uniquely local things like “I’ll see you just now” too, which means, “See you soon.” So the South Africans are pretty self-assured. I’m 100% certain of that, and these first 10 days of my Jewish Africa photo tour have been 100% stellar. I’ve been 100% busy for 100% of the time, and everything and everyone has been 100% of 100% remarkable.
Here’s the 100% quick review of the week:
I hit the ground running (on empty), arriving at 6:30 a.m. on August 1st. Five hours later, I was briefed by the CSO (Jewish community security organization) at Beyachad, the Jewish Headquarters, if you will, of Johannesburg. Any concerns I had about photo restrictions were quickly allayed as the CSO team welcomed me warmly and with their full support for my project. An hour later, at my first photo appointment, I found out just how curious everyone is going to be about me, my work, and my Jewish Africa photo project when kids at Yeshiva Maharsha Beis Aharon fired smart questions at me, including wanting to know just who is paying for my trip.
Funny, a lot of people since have asked me the same thing. When the last guy who popped the question last night, I let out a guffaw and said, “I’m waiting for someone to say, ‘How much do you need? I’ll write you a check.’”
It’s been a week of intrigue and pleasant surprises. I’ve been fascinated by the closeness and organization of the Johannesburg Jewish community. It’s unlike anywhere I have encountered before. I’ve been delighted by the openness of the community too, despite all the talk and concerns for security. Even the calmness I’ve found in the city streets has been pleasantly welcomed. I’ve yet to go anywhere in the city where I felt I should not be. That is not to say dangers here don’t lurk or that I’d gladly walk the streets after dark. But Jo’burg, or Jozi, as it is affectionately called, is far more pleasant than it appears on TV.
I’ve met so many people, and many of them more than once at various functions. I’m recognized, and I recognize people too. I’m feeling familiar with the city and find myself giving directions to taxi drivers and others who give me a lift back to my accommodation. I feel like a part of the community here, and everyone has bent over backwards to assist me. I’m not greeted with suspicion here, but with welcoming handshakes and friendly smiles.
It hasn’t been all work and no play, though my work is so fun that it feels like play. I’ve been to dinners in private homes and dined with total strangers (well, they were at the start of dinner) in restaurants. I’ve crashed a bat mitzvah party and been fed ample quantities of tasty Jewish food. I’ve been to my first-ever upshernish, a three-year-old boy’s first haircutting. I’ve unobtrusively photographed services only to be made the center of attention when I was called to the torah for an aliyah. I’ve even been out to an animal game park and felt as thrilled as the first time I did so when I was in southern Africa 12 years ago.
This week, I photographed 31 unique sights and events and filed 1823 images (visit my JEWISH AFRICA PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS GALLERY for a quick overview). The guesthouse is 100% cozy and homey. The weather forecast: 100% chance of sun, 0% chance of rain.
Expectations exceeded: 110%.
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