"Don't go there it's dangerous!" I didn't know much about Johannesburg but danger never stopped me before. I recalled chilling in Egypt during the Arab Spring for goodness sakes!
Ok, I wasn't chilling exactly, more so in a hotel room waiting for my early morning flight. But still, I was there! So that totally counts, right?
Anyways, I brushed off the comment until I heard it repeated again from multiple sources. Every time I mentioned going to Johannesburg, someone would look at me wide-eyed, as if I was going and never coming back.
Needless to say I was a bit worried. At one point being the city with one of the highest crime rates, I wondered if I would be victim while on my trip in Jo-burg.
Everyone I encountered, leading up to the individuals in Cape Town, where we caught our connecting flight to Jo-burg, mentioned some weird and extreme form of advice.
"Make sure you put your money in your underwear so it's hard for anyone to get to it!" "Wear your backpack in the front so all your items are in sight at all times!" "Don't stare anyone in the eyes, that's asking for trouble!"
I was freaking out!
The moment I landed, I kept an eye out for every small movement, and made it a point to trust no one. I refused to accept help with directions from a soul besides my GPS. Constantly being on high alert was draining.
On my second day in Jo-burg, I went to Soweto, and my life changed forever. For those who don't know, Soweto is the South Western Township of Jo-burg inhabited by a majority black population.
Soweto sort of feels like your grandmas kitchen. You can taste the hard work and sweat in the air, but the overpowering aroma of love fills your palette instead. I found it so interesting that the "ghetto" I was warned about was the most comforting place of my experiences in Jo-burg.
I entered Soweto originally to go on a random bike tour, but I fell in love.
Kids playing soccer at sunset, moms preparing for dinner, dads returning from work for a nice cold drink. Soweto was lovely in that with the little bit that these individuals had, they made the most of it.
My bike tour guide, Jazz, was nothing short of amazing! He introduced me to the most kind-hearted individuals and ensured that my time in the city was unforgettable.
I was never physically robbed in Johannesburg, but I was robbed of my peace of mind. Too often, I let fear in and closed myself off.
Fear constantly stops people from opening up, reaching out, and seeing the world for what it can truly be: beautiful.
I believe that when you are good to people, that energy is reciprocated. I am so grateful for Jazz and his energy, that allowed me to see the people of Jo-burg in a different light.
If it wasn't for him, I would have left South Africa with the same advice people gave me. My advice now is, be smart, but go in with open arms, and a big heart.
And most importantly go to Soweto!
Also, when you find Jazz, send him my love!