Home to Johannesburg
Amidst all the craziness that characterizes Johannesburg’s hustle and bustle – I feel more alive than ever in this humongous scary city. Only now, at the tail end of my third year living here.
I first moved to Johannesburg in August 2015 – and looking back, I always wonder how that 24-year-old girl was able to be so brave and fearless.
Before I decided to leave Cape Town, I was depressed and saw no future for myself in the company I was working in. I took a R10 000 loan using my last pay slip after I had resigned (effective immediately) and went to a Poetry Festival in Kenya just to get away and go back to the drawing board. When the festival ended, I knew I needed to start thinking about where in the world I was going to go with no income, no place, no boyfriend and no prospect of a job.
A friend of mine offered me a place for a month and that way, I knew I had taken the first step towards my dream of staying in the City of Gold. But all the lights and glamour I had seen on TV as a young girl from the Eastern Cape was far from what became my reality in the first year. Instead, my life was raggedy; it included a lot of walking around the CBD looking for a taxi to wherever I needed to go, getting lost, getting broke, going to the Park Station KFC for the Wi-Fi, being on one meal a day and getting skinnier by the day.
After the first month, I still had not secured a job and had to move out of my friend’s place as promised. By now – I only had R5000 in my account, and my Debit Orders took almost half of it.
When you are desperate, it’s very easy to make friends, because you feel like “life’s a bitch” and you don’t actually care to tell a stranger in the taxi about the fact that you are about to be homeless. So, it was in that talkative and venting process that I ended up sharing a room with someone in a student accommodation. I paid a little less than R1000 a month and ate noodles for most of the two months I was there.
After those two months, I still had no job, but I was doing administrative things for people for R200-R500 every here and there. I swallowed my pride and went to stay in a backroom in Dobsonville, Soweto. That’s when it really sunk in that I was in trouble because the down spiralling of things was certainly not the reason I had come to Johannesburg. Rent was now R1200 a month – it was now October 2015 and I still didn’t have a job. By the time December came, I was at my worst and my siblings back home were in no better situation – so I decided to make the most of Christmas in Joburg. Around the same time, I reconnected with a close friend of mine from Port Elizabeth, so we spent almost everyday together because she never got leave from her work. We lived in the backroom on her R6000 salary for December and January and then at the beginning of February, she found her own place.
At that point, there was no gig whatsoever – so I borrowed rent money from friends. I put food at the back of my mind completely. By March 2016, I owed all my friends’ money, my Debit Orders were bouncing back, and my toiletry list was pads, roll on and toothpaste. Although I don’t come from the most privileged background, I’ve somehow always been able to have basic things in my life – and when I was in that place, I realized how much of your dignity (as a woman) is removed from you when you can’t afford to buy yourself pads, when you have to think “should I buy bread or deodorant” or when you can’t afford to do your hair once a month.
My first break came in April 2016 when I got a job as a Digital Content Manager, not really earning much but able to get by. I was so happy to be able to afford to pay my rent, pay back the friends I owed money and finally buy myself the food I wanted every once in a while, and buy myself toiletries. I paid my rent in advance because my contract was only 3 months, and when the 3 months ended, I was back on the hustle again. I remember when they told me they couldn’t renew the contract, I cried so much.
But soon enough, I picked myself up again and went back to the job market. It took me less than a month to secure a 6 months’ gig in Cape Town and when that was done at the end of 2016, I returned to Joburg in February 2017. I had saved a bit, so I stayed in Melville from February until April, not working. In May, I got a 3 months’ gig which ended in July, and a week later, I got my current job, which I have been in for over a year now.
If I’m honest, I started settling in 6 months after I started working here because as a young black woman who doesn’t come from privilege, you do everything for yourself. I was still living hand to mouth because I had to move closer to work, pay a lot of money for rent and for the first 3 months I lived at my new place, I had nothing. No Fridge. No couch. No pots. Only a bed and one set of bedding.
Every time I look back, I am proud of my strides and how I have moved through hurdles with resilience and grace. My life is not perfect, but it’s much better. When you are broke, and doors are not opening for you, it’s hard to see the rainbow coming. But, now, in hindsight, that difficult time taught me a lot of things about how unimportant the things we deem important are sometimes. It may sound silly, but I learned to cut my hair from not having money to do my hair, and in that, I found beauty in myself “naked.” I came to Joburg to work and to live the “life,” but all my experiences taught me that a great life is not an external experience, it’s an inside job – something I worked on during all those times I was alone in my backroom for weeks, forced to dig deeper and find my core and essence now that I had nothing. When you haven’t eaten for two days, can’t afford toothpaste and have to cut your hair – you can look at yourself as a pathetic person, or you can reach out for help and then ask yourself who you are in the midst of everything that you lack.