By Stephen Twinoburyo
Having lived in Johannesburg (Jozi as we call it) for many years and now finding myself in Los Angeles (LA), both large cities in their regions, I cannot help but draw parallels between the two.
Both cities have got large black African and foreign national populations. For Jozi, the foreigners come mainy from the rest of Africa through South Africa’s northern border while for LA they come mainly from the South American countries through the US’s southern border. In California, Spanish is the second language to English, being found on major official documentations and signage in leading stores next to English. I’m told chances of getting a job in California are enhanced if one is able to speak both languages the same way it used to be with English and Afrikaans in South Africa.
Next similarity – fear of crime in both cities. I have been advised by a number of people not to venture into LA on my own. The dangers one is warned of in LA are similar to those we used to hear of in Joburg. I have encountered people who live just outside the city and never want to venture into the city just like there are people in Sandton or Midrand that would never wish to step in Jozi. I have been told there are guys in LA that can shoot for no reason and that I could be attacked for being in the wrong place, being in the right place at the wrong time, saying the wrong thing, saying the right thing to the wrong people, being different or even wearing a different colour. This is how Joburg used to be and though some of those things still remain, it has greatly changed. Outside LA, one usually gets the impression that the city is a no-go area and with my Jozi backround, I know very well what this means.
When one visits LA, there is that inner feeling that one may see a film star just like people come to South Africa and ask where Mandela is. The truth of the matter is that LA is so vast, everybody minds their own business and super stars are seen by people who move around their circles. Similarly, people in Jozi hear of Mandela the same way people in LA or London do.
As for infrastructure – roads, highways, shopping malls, shops, suburbs, airports e.t.c, it’s the same in both cities except that they tend to be so big in LA due to its size. Motorists drive on the left in South Africa and on the right in California, something I am with much difficulty getting used to, but the rules are pretty much the same – with one notable distinction, one can turn right at a red traffic light in California (and I guess the rest of US) if it’s safe to do so. Also people respect traffic rules to the dot because traffic fines are given without mercy and are unflatteringly steep.
The other area one would be concerned about in a city is service. When one is being given a service in LA, they are attended to more than they are in Jozi and service is given with more courtesy. One enjoys the service they are given. Public transport is almost equally poor in both cities and is despised as much in LA as it is in Jozi. London is miles ahead of both cities in terms of public transport and the help one would get in moving around the city. If one asks how to get around in Jozi, he will be directed – but in the wrong direction. In LA, the most likely answer will be ‘I dunno’, with a shrug of the shoulders. In both cities, people know very little beyond their areas of operation.
People around LA will advise you to go to places like San Diego, San Francisco and of course Vegas but never LA. Las Vegas….. everybody asks ” you haven’ been to Vegas…? Meeeen…. you gotta go to Vegas!” Indeed I will, and that will be my story for another day.
As somebody who hasn’t watched many movies in my life, I’m struggling to understand the accent of especially African Americans due to the speed of the words. While being dropped at a shopping mall this morning, I was told by the friend who dropped me that the area is called ‘Sanita’. It’s when I looked at the signage later that I realised it is Santa Anita. Right now as I’m writing this story, I’m at Sanita.
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