Essay 36: DURBS DURBS DURBS

by rosalyster

I grew up in Durban. That’s what I say, whenever someone asks me about myself: Well, I’m from Durban.  I say it even when they do not ask. This conversation cannot continue, I think, unless I make it clear that I am from the city of Durbs. This is partly a defensive posture. It started when I moved to Cape Town and realised that Durban, for some people, was the punchline of a mean joke.

Here’s the joke:

Q: Which South African city is neither Cape Town nor Johannesburg?

A: It’s Durban.

HA HA. I hadn’t known, before I moved to Cape Town at the age of 18, that for some people even just the idea of Durban was funny. The very concept brought a merry, poisonous glint to their eyes. It was extremely weird. When I say “some people”, I mean “these people were exclusively from Cape Town.” They were such dicks about it. It seems incredible, now, to remember the kinds of things that people thought it was okay to say. I had supper once with a friend and her parents at their house in Constantia. The dad asked me where I was from, and I told him. He giggled. He shook his head. Shoulders hustling up and down. Oh, he said, shame. Poor you. Doesn’t that seem weird?

Later, he asked me if I had gone to a private school. Instead of laughing in his puffy old alcoholic face, I told him yes. He asked me which one. Instead of pouring some kind of poison compound into his huge old red ears, I told him the name of the school. He did a thumbs down motion. Not a proper private school though, hey? Not one of the real ones. Instead of running him over with my car, I smiled. I think I was trying to be polite. This man, by the way, is considered to be a real Card – one of the great wits of Kelvin Grove. Years later, I heard that his own dog bit him hard enough to require several stitches.

The flower of Kelvin Grove was unusual only in the euphoric delight he took in himself. People used to say stuff like this to me all the time. You’re from Durban? Oh, Jesus. What a shithole. Durban? Shame. As for me I couldn’t stand the humidity. As for me the beach is full of syringes and mandrax addicts. The penguins at Sea World smell disgusting. Have you ever been to downtown Lagos well me neither but I heard that Durban is basically the same thing as downtown Lagos. I am not exactly sure where Lagos is. As for me I am like sixty years old and I used to go to the Stuttafords in town with my mom when I was a child, and the lift operator wore white gloves. I used to give him a tickey and he always seemed so grateful. Say what you like but people were polite then. You’re from Durban? Poor you. It used to be such a super place for a holiday.

That was the old guys. People my own age were different – they weren’t mean about it. They didn’t say any terrible racist things. They just thought Durban was funny. A favourite joke was that I used to surf to school, or else that I thought a car was a dolphin tied to each foot. Everyone in Durban smoked bongs in the shape of dragons. We all had tattoos of dolphins/lizards. Skate shoes for formal wear, no shoes for every other occasion. Board shorts for the grade 9 social, bikinis for the Matric Dance. Jack Johnson for weekdays, Ben Harper for weekends. Wu Tang Forever. Everyone from Durban was friendly. Everyone was smashing huge amounts of drugs. The drugs were of an extremely poor quality. Everyone from Durban was literally a fish. You’re from Durban? Jesus. That was the joke.

The effect of this on me was profound. Growing up, I had felt mixed about my city. It was very hot. My hair looked like shit all the time. Everyone knew each other too well, and for too long. Red dirt. Powerful cockroaches waving their feelers around etc. I was bored, sometimes, and continuously pissed off with my hair. I was open to the possibility that Durban might not be that great. I was ready to hear a critique of its many and varied flaws. It is the humidity that gets you in the end, I would agree. Joe Cools is not actually a very cool place, I would concede, nodding. Snake Park is a radical name for a beach, I admit it. I was open to it all, and then I moved to Cape Town, and found that I was closed for business. I simply did not want to hear it.

It is often said that people from Durban have a chip on their shoulder. Fine, okay, maybe, but can you blame us? Wouldn’t you have the same response? We are only human. Every time someone said something horrible about Durban, I would love it a little bit more. Don’t talk to me about how your cousin stepped in a human shit there by Addington Beach. It just makes me think less of you, and also of your revolting shit-stepping cousin. Moving to Cape Town engendered in me an absurd excess of civic pride. There was a Facebook group called “Bitch Please I’m From Durban.” I joined it. I dreamt I had a regularly updated Tumblr called Fuck Yeah I’m From Durban.

I say I’m from Durban at least once a day, and if I’m not around people, I just think it a lot. I sing the song Girls Girls Girls to myself, except I make it DURBS DURBS DURBS. I have a t-shirt that just says DURBAN on it that I wear to yoga. Whenever someone looks at me I assume that they jealous of my shirt. I should have a badge that says “Ask Me About Durbs!” I will be so, so happy to tell you. Durbs is the fucking best.

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