Driving out of the Addo National Park yesterday late afternoon, it occured to me that at four and a bit months old, my niece Luna had been exposed to her first lions and elephants before her first shopping mall - Not that she'll remember, but the notion made me smile. I recall bumping into an old varsity acquaintance and her young daughter at the Woolies in Sandton once - their trolley packed with little girl pink of every size and description, with the young girl clutching, and beg-pleading, for more. Going past my initial "spoilt brat, mall-mom, how much stuff does this kid need"-judgement, I eventually felt for both of them. What pleasures are there available - what non-stuff joys are there to give to kids in Joburg? - a big city with no large body of water, a crime problem that's made secure environments a prerequisite and an entrenched culture of shopping malls and casino entertainment complexes as the only real public leisure spaces available.
Joburgers as mallrats makes me sad. Because they're not like that. And that becomes patently obvious at events like Joburg Day and the fabulous outdoor Beautiful Creatures family concerts; as well as at outdoor eating venues where kids and adults are catered for on weekends. But how sad that a city of people born to be outdoors is turning into the mallrat kingdom through lack of credible alternative.
Shopping! What a wonderful pasttime for me in cities I've experienced, which have fabulous shopping streets - Paris, Athens, Amsterdam, Belgrade, Melbourne, Thessaloniki, Rome, London, Delhi, Mumbai, Milan! What a joy to be walking on a pavement, store to store, sitting down at open cafes, turning the whole day into an adventure - sun on my skin, non air condiotioned oxygen to breathe, real light above! Shopping streets! - Not commercial malls masquerading as leisure environments. I don't think I'd take Ilyo and Luna shopping for fun on Ermou in Athens. I'd take them to a beach. And that's the point. I think that kids who grow up thinking of shopping as part n parcel of their funtime are doomed to become morons - the kind of morons we ecountered at Addo yesterday, who when the two big male lions and the lioness came down the hill past all our parked cars, turned their engines on and followed the males - intruding, cutting the female off and unnerving her - people who think of our whole world as a big mall existing to feed our consumption - with us free to touch, taste and hold whenever and however we like, as long as we pay for it. Eish!
I don't know what the answers are in Joburg. Here in the Eastern Cape we're blessd with natural beauty all around. And we are indeed so lucky! We'd already seen herds of wildebeest, Zebra, Eland and a group of Giraffes just on the drive to Addo yesterday! By lunchtime, Ilyo was perched on my lap in the car, watching elephants frolicking in the water 15m away. So I admit - it's easier here to teach the fundamental lesson that not everything precious can be bought or exists solely for our amusement. But it's a lesson I feel that must be taught everywhere. Otherwise Gandhi will be proved right - because when asked what he thought of Western Civilization, his reply was that it would be a good idea! And I agree. It would be.
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