17. November 2013

Joburg Lifestyle Blog

For the more serious part of this blog post, please scroll down to the end


What Mercator thinks we do

The heart of the dynamic and developing rainbow nation, Johannesburg is the city of opportunity. Our opportunity. We work hard to be rewarded and this year brings the long awaited next step in our promising careers as young professionals in an increasingly global, interconnected and challenging world. Competition is high but the support of the most prestigious institutions of German and Swiss internationalism smoothen that stony path. We are dedicated to the cause. “Don’t mock the small seed, one day it will become a palm tree.” No matter if managing a team of artists in its untiring battle to annihilate HIV/AIDS in one of that evil’s last global strongholds or working the depths of the UN bureaucracy never losing sight of fighting world hunger, we stay focused.

What our mums think we do

Joburg from the outside is a melting pot of horror stories. Searching “Johannesburg” on YouTube yields “Johannesburg – City of Crime”, “The Battle for Johannesburg”, “Law and Disorder in Johannesburg”, and “Staying alive in Johannesburg” among the top 7 results. The most reliable sources list Johannesburg among the 10 most dangerous cities in the world currently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hn-7J3k3GA. Our colleagues are a never ending resource of stories of “smash and grabs” in bright daylight in the centre of town, where traffic light hawkers shatter car windows and take whatever looks valuable. Rape is a commonplace. Hence, Emina’s daily Skype message from the heart of darkness to her frantic mother: “No, mom, I won’t leave the house without Felix.” Safety affects our daily life – just tonight, a walking distance of 200m in downtown raised the question of taking a taxi instead. But we stay vigilant.

What our friends think we do

Africa is a fascinating country. But it is teeming with problems. Thank god that Felix and Emina are here. Their endless energy, idealism, and pursue of the good light a candle where darkness reigns. Their function: Mercator Fellows. Their mission: Heal the world, make it a better place. Their actions: Uniting divided South Africa through art, protecting vulnerable livelihoods across the continent, saving all those lost orphans that have failed to make it into the gang of Brangelina.

We feel powerless constantly. But we stay engaged.

What society thinks we do

We work for the UN and Drama for Life. At the “United Nothing”, good intentions are drowned in a sea of bureaucrats, career diplomats, and people who have been working there too long to remember why. Everything is politicized and nobody understands the realm of initiatives that have been drafted in Geneva and New York. Meanwhile, art takes a more creative angle to solving the world’s problems. We provide those most in need with cameras, paint and acting workshops. Never mind clean water or shelter, giving art to the masses causes a ripple effect of unprecedented magnitude for social change.

Emina and Felix most enjoy the frequent gallery openings, chilling with ambassadors and attending conferences “at the highest level” in Senegal, Kenya, Mauritania – business class, of course. Free alcohol follows us wherever we go. But we stay sober.

What we think we do

We make tiny contributions to gigantic undertakings. Enabling people to escape poverty and creating awareness for HIV/AIDS are no things done overnight. No matter how small our contributions, they are important. For any project to work, somebody needs to provide the coffee and somebody needs to make copies. That’s what we do.

Or not. Nights spent over computer screens, ultra-early morning meetings, sacrificing weekends to catch up on reports, it is all worth it. Emina’s use of a campus radio show to challenge the “penis enlargement” ads all over Joburg’s streets and the related questionable South African sexual morale – is worth it. Felix’s assistance to the negotiating and writing of African drought contingency plans – is worth it. Emina’s untiring lead of a group of students committed to finding out how to use theatre to reconcile the separated rainbow nation – is worth it. Felix’s drafting of an auditing process to follow payouts in Africa’s biggest drought insurance scheme as of today – is worth it. Emina’s having to live with Felix – is worth it. We stay committed.

What we actually do

Hand on the heart, work ain’t all. Here’s what we really do: Sipping on gin and juice in Jozi’s Brooklyn Maboneng, Emina has joined the hipster train and contributes eagerly to downtown’s re-gentrification, which has led her to currently considering opening a café here. Social change in action. Meanwhile, Felix keeps hitting the road in his lowrider from internationally renowned “Rent a Wreck” that indeed keeps all the brand’s promises. Powered by our wreck’s unexpected endurance, we continue to embark on adventure after adventure, where game lodge meets rooftop swing dance, and gluttony meets love affairs. Yet despite all local integration, we stay true to our roots. The current exhibition on German music at the Museum Africa reminds us of where we come from and enriches Africa with the greatness of accomplished German musicians, first and foremost Bushido, as we learned, the “German 50 Cent”. We stay amazed.


And on a less ironic note…

Being in Johannesburg and working with the World Food Programme and Drama for Life are fantastic experiences on both a personal and a professional level. We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity that the Mercator Fellowship offers us and feel that this year opens doors and perspectives for us to proceed professionally in the fields that we get the unique chance to explore.