The night of my life with pure culture took place in Durban, South Africa.
The night in Durban starts
The night in Durban started slowly – just meeting people and chilling in the hostel. Heading alone to a local bar around the corner was perhaps the best decision of my life.
Connecting with locals
It was a night like any other. I was at ‘Keys’ when suddenly two local guys invited me for a drink. They called me ‘Jumanji’, as I looked like Alan Parris: long hair, strong beard. As is my habit, I always love connecting with the locals and apparently they with me. Accompanied by my new local friends, Justin and Prince, we progressed to a club on the outskirts of town.
On the way there they were really nice telling me, “Tobi, we will take good care of you and want to offer you the best night of your life, so you will remember us.”It was then I realized that it was Prince’s birthday party with his friends but he kept repeating: “This night is for you, Tobi!” I was surprised, amazed and couldn’t believe or understand what and why they were doing this for me. I had never experienced anybody making me feel so special, I didn’t want or expect it – it made me feel uncomfortable and bad about changing their plans. I also wanted to make sure that Prince felt special on his birthday and said that we should instead make sure he has the best night.
Partying and Dancing at ‘Tiger Tiger’
Arriving at the club I thought the entrance fee was very expensive, but my local friends still paid for me to get in. They organized a table, for which I also chipped in some money for drinks of course. It was a bit different the way the locals treated drinking, because they shared the bottle fairly between them, really enjoying it and drinking very slowly. In the club I was the only “white” person, which I didn’t really care about; it was great because I was treated equally – the way it should be. We had a lot of fun with positive vibes around us, and no end in sight.
Lost with two “strangers” in the outskirts of Durban, I think
A little while later leaving the club just before closing, we headed out and instead of them dropping me off at the hostel near where we met, they just kept driving to somewhere else in Durban. Exciting times were beginning and I didn’t feel like I had anything to worry about. We ended up in closed club where Prince’s sister worked, and where apparently a wedding from one of Justin’s family members was taking place that day. Justin and Prince showed me around the venue, while two of the boys waited in the car.
While walking around Prince and Justin came up with an idea – because they realized how much I love to connect with the locals and get the local experience. Suddenly, Justin invited me to the family wedding. What a unique offer !
When we left and went back outside, the other boys and the car were gone – I was quite shocked but at the same time I found it pretty funny, while Prince and Justin were really annoyed.
What are you doing in a town, where you don’t know where you are at 6 o’clock in the morning with almost no money in your pocket?
Yes, we walked to the next petrol station and used the remaining money to buy crisps. After some time, I started to get worried and asked what the plan was and how we could get back to the city center? They were just making funny jokes and laughed – “aaah, what a crazy night”. So, I stood by the road and put up my thumb – unfortunately hitchhiking was unsuccessful. When looking around, I realized that I really was the only foreigner there and the other people really weren’t bothered about me or weren’t even willing to talk to me and help me out, which was frustrating.
I had no other choice but to step into the petrol station to ask them to call me a taxi – they refused, not because I didn’t have any money, but for no exact reason and without any explanation. I started asking people at the station to give us a lift but the way they looked at me was like I was not welcome. I had started stressing while Prince and Justin just chilled along the road. Because of their laid-back behavior, the boys and I actually had a big argument.
We then somehow ended up jumping onto a coming bus, without paying. Once on Justin had a big go at me telling me how long it had taken him to save the money to take his best friend Prince out on his birthday that night – even regretting doing all this for me, which I was not asking for and made me feel really bad. On top of it all with tears running down my cheeks, he was also telling me I wasn’t appreciating it. After a few shuttle buses and hitchhikes on some trucks we got off at the old British market. On the journey there, I tried to remember what the bar was called where we had been to visit his sister and I thought ‘Jackson’; but when I got back to the hostel, I was told that no such a place exists.
Pure culture experience at Victoria Market
I tried to explain my behavior to Justin and apologized to him, he seemed to understand and everything was okay. The boys recognized my interest in their culture, and decided to show me around the local Victoria Market. It was already 8:15 in the morning when Justin introduced me to the local life whilst walking around and randomly started talking and interacting with different locals to give me a better insight about the culture, especially the separation and order between the different races: black, white, mix-colored, Indians, etc.
At first he introduced us; he then confronted the person with direct questions, which most of the people didn’t feel comfortable answering, seemingly shy and embarrassed. They had to really think about how they felt, it was tough and very emotional. For instances the salary of the bus driver and money collector of the shuttle bus is only about 9 USD per day. I saw little kids selling at the street vendors’ booths and came to understand that 90% of these vendors come from abroad; this creates a different environment in Durban.
It was really interesting and after some time, I realized that what he wanted to highlight was to get a better understanding of what the reality is in visiting South Africa and to visualize the contrary of what the expectation that people have. It was an experience of pure culture.
“Do you want to see more? Ok, I’ll show you all the drug dealers around the place!” While we walked around, Justin pointed them out, greeting them by name. They were standing everywhere: near small shops run by families, next to vendor booths. I could not believe my eyes. “Tobi, you have to pay attention to the little things. When I was younger, I was involved in some not-so-desirable situations!” He got very emotional, and with tears running down his face, he told me that “people from abroad just come here and try to avoid what’s behind the real Africa”, and his wish was to share this with family and friends – I was grateful for him to do this, so I hugged him! We walked on the streets with no tourists apart from me. Aman walked past Justin, bumping into him as he passed. Justin turned and asked “Why?!?”, but the man kept on walking. Justin raised his voice a second time with no response. Turning to me, he explained, “The caste system still haunts Africa, where people are judged by their race”. The experience gave me goose bumps.
Whilst walking towards the bus station near the market, Justin got choked up telling me that he had just enough money to feed his family and that he could only see them only once in a while because he was working far away from home. He was telling me about his very hard life. Many times, Prince was in the background telling Justin that I wouldn’t understand – this made me incredibly sad. I love to help people but how do I deal with this?
Justin and Prince took really good care of me and I safely dropped me off at the hostel at 11:30am, Prince gave me his phone number, we decided that I would call them at 3:00pm to make the final arrangements for the wedding. After my already scheduled tattoo appointment and some sleep I tried to message them, but it was already 5:30pm by then. I couldn’t get hold of them and there was never a response.
I left Durban and South Africa without going to the wedding, seeing anyone or saying thanks. My only hope was that our paths would cross again, and to my surprise, they did! Three years later, I installed WhatsApp, and scrolling down my contact list, Prince’s name appeared. I messaged him, “Hey, it’s Tobi.” He remembered me right away as ‘Jumanji’ and said, “Bro, I have been searching all over Facebook for you! When are you coming back to SA ?”
This crazy night in Durban, connecting with the locals and the whole experience, was an emotional rollercoaster and so unique and unforgettable. “Strangers” taking such good care of me and making me feel so special is just unique, so lucky. I wouldn’t have had that if I hadn’t decided to get out of my comfort zone.
I wanted to write the story as I remembered the night, but here I have written the correct names for different places and situations:
- In the end I didn’t even get his name right: It was just Justin and Brent, not Prince.
- They gave me the nickname Jumanji, because I looked like the person in the old Jumanji cartoon
- The club was called ‘Tiger 2000’, not ‘Tiger Tiger’.
- The bar where his sister worked was called ‘Hip Hop Palace’.
- We took the bus from the neighborhood Jacobs (ca. 10 km outside Durban), not Jackson.
With only my memory and without any images from the night, Justin now also shared a photo of us.