Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Sandton Stare

The other evening, on the way home, I was stopped at a robot, as usual with my window open. A young girl who flits between the robots in that area approached my window and asked for money?…nope…food?…nope…please…I’m sorry, smile, I really am, but no.

She had a baby with her, held on her back with a wrap that showed she must be Mozambican or Malawian. It is something about the type of material that people from those two countries use.

She moved onto the car behind her, where there was some middle-aged friendly-enough-looking woman. This woman did not even look at her as the young black girl stood on the other side of the window. Divided by a piece of glass. Inches away. The woman practiced perfectly the “Sandton Stare”, as my young brother jokes about it. “There is no one standing staring at me on the pavement. No one. Just go away No One. Leave me to my own world. You are making me nervous.” (Nervous about what? Is what I wonder.)

As I watched the scene in my rear view mirror I wanted to scream, Just regard the bluddy kid. Just acknowledge that there is a human being so close to you. You don’t have to give her anything. Sure, be on guard; be ready to pull off should she swipe out a sawn-off shotgun from between her and the baby. But at least look at her face; not even into her eyes. You do not have to do anything for her, except recognise that she exists.

Can you imagine how degraded you must feel. How powerless. How much of an identity of “nothingness” you must experience when a person will not even glance in your direction. You are not even the scum of the earth to spit at. You are plain nothing.

The girl came back and stood at my window and she and I just looked at each other. What to fcking do.

I do not agree with giving cash out every which way, it is not solving the greater problem…teach a man to fish and all of that. But I have learnt through the kindness offered back to me of others that to be acknowledged does help a person’s existence.

At another robot on my occasional route home there is a man selling HOMELESS TALK and trinkets. I have never bought a thing from him, I can’t even be sure if I have said a word to him. But every time he sees me, even with a car swap, he gets the biggest smile on his face. He never punts his wares to me. We wave at one another. In turn we do thumbs up to say “Are you ok, I’m cool thanks”. That’s about it. But we both feel good after the encounter. And this happens at least once a week.

My friends laugh that when it is said that I know everyone, it does mean EVERYONE. Age, race, social position, sexuality, job type, beauty standard, can all be damned. I was on first name terms with the Congolese Car Guards in my varsity town. I visited my first place of work the other day and the cleaning lady and I still had to do a catch up on one another’s lives. At that same job, I became friends with one of the Zim guys at the robot, to the point that he would bring me back presents from Zim after trips home. During nights out I get massive hugs from giant West African bouncers, and the coat ladies want to chat to me about my last night out. I know shop assistants, and even if I don’t we still talk like we’re best mates. One old man working as a petrol attendant in my area always comes over to my car to say, “You know you’re my Number One”. A bit odd, but still, his excitement makes me laugh. Security guards at Mock-Tuscan complexes. Waitresses and their employers, who so sweetly give me extra helpings or free starters. The barman who had to serve me litres of coffee and coke while I always waited out my family's golf games in the clubhouse lounge, to the point that should I need to quietly buy a sneaky bottle of wine on a Sunday years later, it was not a problem.

[The ADT guys also know me, but that might be for a whole different reason why.]

I have not known it any other way.

Perhaps it was through walks with Paulina (my maid who is my second mom) to the shops as a kid, and that she greeted everyone along the way, no matter if she knew them or not. My mom also has always had this element of friendliness and care, as did her mother.

People will and would always go out of their way for these women, just because of the “human” element added to interactions. Apparently when my crazy grandmother died, people across the Sandton City area cried more than our family did. A small daily interaction with someone was suddenly going to be lacking from each of their lives.

Many of my good friends are like this as well. Who are known the town round, and not just within the “usual” circles. That we speak to people when we interact with them, whatever the setting. It is not that we are special, that we have a unique skill, it is just that we do not know how not to relate.

Perhaps I take it to a new extreme, but I cannot get out of me that there is a person just inches away from me, who has as many emotions & thoughts & stories & ideas & love & hate & family & friends as me. It is just that their life is being lived parallel to mine. And imagine if you get to cross back and forth over such lives! How much you will learn, teach, grow, help, and exchange. Even if just initially by looking the person in the eye.


Anonymous said...

champers i do agree with you, the human element and simply acknowledging another human being is so important and yes, rewarding, not just on a material level but on a spiritual one as well. that said, whilst i would like to make every effort to show a little kindness, i know that so often acknowledgement leads to pestering. a no is not enough. they carry on and on. if ignored, they will simply move down the line. if there was only one traffic light with which to contend my patience may allow it but rush hour in the city has a way of breeding your so-called 'sandton stare'. i like to think that doesn't make me a bad person?

Anonymous said...

Treat people as you would want to be treated.I know that "Sandton Stare" too well.And I hate it!Detest it.Loathe it.Who do these people think they are?It's disgusting.Gandhi once said, "The truest test of civilization, culture, and dignity is character, not clothing." Just because you are blessed to be in your current circumstances,doesn't mean you're going to be there forever.The wheels do turn.And with that I close with a quote by Jesse Jackson - "Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up." Ha,ha...that's if you even LOOK at them...ok, I've stopped!

Revolving Credit said...

So deliberately clipping the homeless guys with your side mirror as your drive by is bad , right???

Champagne Heathen said...

G.Wrangler - gawd, I hope it doesn't make you a bad person. My dad is renowned for perfecting the SANDTON STARE & I think he is just peachy, even if I go insane that he does it. Maybe it is just the way I say "no" that tells them to give up straight away, and the guys that pester - i enjoy talking to them & changing the subject to every time they ask me, it's a battle to see who will win out - his convo or mine.

Nikita - Considerng you have phoned me before 7am to tell me you just had massive abstinence convos at robots to help me out with my job, i know that you definitely do not ignore the people at robots!! Crazy Chikita!

And just because someone is blessed/cursed to be in your current circumstances, doesn't mean you SHOULD be there...!

Rev - Not if you also spray them off with your redirected windscreen wiper spray, to selflessly cool them off & all!

Champagne Heathen said...

Apparently I am meant to go home now, that all businesses close at lunchtime the day before Easter Weekend. ....huh? If someone had told me this earlier maybe I would've gotten my deadline work done in time! D'Oh!

Revolving Credit said...

Go home early?? WTF

Fuuuck, and I though that Cape Town was meant to be laid back and lazy.

R U sure that this is not a belated April Fools joke??

Anonymous said...


Champagne Heathen said...

Rev - You'd think, but the bosses didn't even bother to come in today so it MUST be true.

WARNING PEOPLE! I NEED WARNING! Now I am stuck here for a bit longer with work I must get finished.

Jamaloni - "HAPPY+TRAVELS+BISOUS+DRINK+MUCHOS+CAVA+FOR+ME" Spanishly translated!! Have such an incredible fabulous lovely fun rip-roaring insane giddy time!!! Smooch Smooch Smooch!

ChewTheCud said...

Hehe - Try the sandton stare on those window washing guys who you can never seem to get the point across to that no you don't want your windows washed. You need to give em the sandton finger.

Rev - too funny. I laughed so hard. Champers can start hating me now ;P said...

Anyone else reading this would wonder why you stop at a robot!

Good to sse the word again. Here we have 'traffic lights'and roundbouts instead of circles!!

Peaches said...

Ahhh the lesser spotted 'if I just completely blank you and stare ahead you will just dissappear into thin air' Sandton Stare.

Not to be confused with the Sandton Glare - directed at anybody deemed to be even remotly obtrusive and obstructive.

Dave said...

good post Champs, I like Rob was killing myself laughing at the word "robot". I have managed to banish it from my vocab but I still say "circle" and people look at me......well like.....with a bit of a Sandton stare!

Anonymous said...

I always try to acknowledge the people that come to my car window. Although I don't open it, I look at them and usually turn my palm upward in a gesture relaying the message that I don't have any money - because I really don't. I never carry cash on me and although it can be a bitch sometimes - I feel it safer that way, but it also means that I don't have money for people who need it a lot more than I do or even for the guy that made sure my car is safe while I was shopping/dining out.

I cannot do the death stare thing though - it makes me feel like an empty shell that has no feeling for humanity.