The Maboneng Precinct is an urban rejuvenation project located between the financial district and eastern industrial areas of Johannesburg. It’s really funky, full of restaurants, art studios and galleries, clothing stores and an independent cinema. I recently went to their monthly food and design night market, which takes place on the first Thursday of every month. The atmosphere was fantastic, with great music and a hip young crowd. There were food stalls serving food from different countries, delectable pastries, exotic cocktails and beers.
If only there was something for me to eat! Despite the variety on offer, practically all the food seemed to be either deep fried or covered in cheese or cream. Maybe this makes me a fuddy duddy, but I wish going out and having a good time didn’t always have to involve a little panic attack about my cholesterol level. After a lap of the food stalls, salivating at the nachos, empanadas, bunny chows, spring rolls, curries, cupcakes, cannolis, tarts and hot chocolate shots, I settled for the only option that didn’t evoke images of being rushed to the emergency room while experiencing my first heart attack at age 35: sushi.
As a veteran of many foodie fairs and food markets I can tell you that eating raw food purchased from a street vendor is not without its risks. I still feel nauseous when I remember the time my girlfriend and I both contracted Hepatitis A (d0n’t worry, it’s the one that’s completely curable) after attending the Good Food and Wine Show one year. Since we both ate just about everything on offer, it could have been anything, but personally I suspect the big jar of olives that everybody was grubbing around in with their hands. And then there was the time I thought I was being sensible by choosing a raw spring roll over a deep fried one at a local market, and spent the whole next day vomiting up my guts. On that occasion my girlfriend got lucky – she had gone for the deep fried version. So all the while I was shovelling that (admittedly delicious) sushi down my gullet, I couldn’t help keeping my mental fingers crossed.
Food hazards successfully negotiated, we wandered out of the market to inspect the rest of the precinct. The creators of this space have done a remarkable thing. They’ve created an attractive, trendy area in the middle of one of the most dangerous urban places in the world. I truly admire what they’ve achieved there, but unfortunately I now find myself launching into my second complaint. I didn’t feel safe. Knowing that I could easily wander out of the safe area, which is protected by security guards, and find myself in a scary, dirty industrial nightmare sent a little frisson of fear through my body. And I wondered if the security guards themselves could be trusted. After all, these are poorly paid, uneducated young men cycling (because there’s no public transport at night) from their shacks in some informal settlement to the city to look after a bunch of spoiled rich kids eating cannolis and drinking fancy cocktails. I can’t imagine that they can look at me and feel any kind of affinity.
And the worst part is that I felt so guilty about being afraid. I felt like my fear was a betrayal of all the work that had gone into building this place, that the creators had realised a dream about building a space where people from different backgrounds could come together and enjoy food, drink and art, and here I had come and ruined it with my fear. Sometimes being a woman sucks ass.