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Bus Stop Confessions

Bus Stop Confessions

by Phumlani Pikoli / 08.02.2011

The bus ride home from varsity without an ipod is never fun. Subject to people’s random bullshit conversation or pseudo intellectual jousting. But today is different. Across the aisle some lively young and proud Xhosa kids, who regularly make the trip to the southern suburbs, are deep in song. Along with the whine of the engine and the rhythm of the carriage, their music takes over. The rest of the bus is subdued by the singing and stomping. It’s a welcome change from the regular bus ride. The chug along, graced by their voices and enthusiasm, is transformed into a magical wonderland. The vocal poetic language transports the bus into the mountains of the Eastern Cape. Connecting to past lives left behind a long time ago in the pursuit of a better life. I nod my suburban head, and smile at the reminisce, swept away on the tide of those Xhosa vocal melodies.

But some people are not moved at all by the music. A girl sits next to her boyfriend, unimpressed, staring hard out the window throughout the trip. Her boyfriend glares at me for enjoying the music his look seems to say “you should know better than to encourage them”. I pay him no mind and carry on singing wherever I can, my foot stomp less assured than the others, but I’m feeling it. My questions rise again. Why are these songs so foreign. Is Xhosa my language of thought and sensibility? Would I have busted out the ipod if I had one? The singing is captivating. Memories of those haunting green mountains string me into a world only opened to me when attending traditional ceremonies; going back to my parents home for my own initiation. Not out of choice, but rather an undeniable fate. How has this happened? How did I get alienated from a world that defines my identity?

“Shut the fuck up!”
I snap back to reality. The unimpressed girl and her boyfriend make a rather animated exit, the girl screaming and then quickly walking off the bus, her boyfriend hot on her heels. The bus erupts into a spontaneous fit of laughter and the singers respond by announcing that they are now science students and quietly sit with their hands in their laps. They soon renew their singing and I am put at peace once again.

Is this another piece of ubuntu fluff? Am I that far alienated that I have to ask these questions to understand what I should already know? Am I an alien to my own culture, forcing my way into something that no longer belongs to me? Maybe the guilt is a manifestation of leaving myself so far behind that it’s hard to recognize whose thoughts I actually possess. My black entitlement intertwined with a sense of white guilt resulting in the loss of my culture. Melodramatic insert: Who am I and what am I leaving behind?

Then it’s my turn to get off the bus.

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RESPONSES (13)
  1. Anonymous says:

    An alien to your own culture? the mere fact that you feel alien means it’s not your culture. People need to start realising that. There is no ‘culture’, no singularity, that you should feel obliged to be a part of.

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  2. dwight says:

    Great, thought provoking read! Well played.

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  3. eisenstein says:

    Wait, you were initiated? Write about that!

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  4. brandon edmonds says:

    This is solid Pikoli. And yeah tell us about your ‘initiation’.

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  5. mega-douche says:

    Yeah, when I ride the busses to/from Belville, the kids sing these old Afrikaaner songs, and i can see that the younger kids get all agitated cos they be Afrikaaners with no roots to celebrate. Modern life is rubbish, and more so if your culture does not possess the ‘moral-high-ground’. And, no, singing on busses is not my idea of considerate public behaviour. Oh, and yes, tell us of the time you spent in the mountains with a blanket?!

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  6. Phumlani says:

    i’ll say this much: It was a real cultural experience!

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  7. Nathan Casey says:

    How do you feel about the preachers on the trains? – I got two between Cape Town and Fish Hoek.

    Ironically, I am even more of an Athiest now 🙂

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  8. MotherClougher says:

    I really enjoyed this…

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  9. Max says:

    your best one yet man, good stuff. real good.

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  10. gene storting says:

    I’ll suggest this much – you feel alienated from your “culture” because you’ve been living in a city where the rituals and practicalities have not been spontaneously conducive to more specific cultural activities. In other words, you’re becoming globalised, because your circumstances are now very similar to urban folk the world over – commuting, electronic media, shopping malls, racial and language heterogeneity etc. Specific cultural heritages and practices have never been tailored to cope and adapt to such diversities and this is why many of them are becoming less prevalent. It’s a simple reality of life in a shrinking world.

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  11. Cinekal Dlamini says:

    This comment is simply not true:

    “Specific cultural heritages and practices have never been tailored to cope and adapt to such diversities and this is why many of them are becoming less prevalent.”

    Many of us choose to ignore and lose older cultural customs, not because they are unadaptable but because we get seduced and distracted by the ‘modern conveniences and trends’ and before we know it, we have forgotten the old ways.

    Those kids singing on the bus can sing those songs their whole life if they want and choose, and they can still be lawyers, doctors, etc. Or they can learn the lyrics to the latest Kanye West Album, like some choose.

    That girl is probably bleak because she has discovered that money, a boyfriend and whatever other countless privileges of English, the modern urbanised, westernised way of being she may enjoy are not guarantees of a happy life. As a result, she cannot see beyond the nagging suspicion that deep down inside, she is the cause, the reason, the fault for her unhappiness and disconnection from her own heritage, whichever culture or mix thereof that may be. But instead of realising this is the key to her choosing to reconnect in whatever way apprpriate and ‘finding happiness’ she represses this insight and continues to project and rant at others and the world outside. torho!

    Masikhumbule iingoma yezinyanya sizicule.

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  12. Dwight says:

    Cinekal Dlamini – What would you say if I were to bring a large sound system onto a bus you were travelling on and blast psytrance music whilst happily stomping in the isle? Would you object? Remember, I’m a second generation travelling hippie born and raised at trance parties. It’s my culture.

    By your reasoning, anyone who objects is “the cause, the reason, the fault for [their] unhappiness and disconnection from her own heritage, whichever culture or mix thereof that may be.”

    Culture/heritage is a cop out. Those kids were doing what made them happy at that point in time (just like blasting psytrance on a bus would make me happy), culture or no culture.

    The difference between doing and not doing what makes you happy at any given time should be a function of one’s consideration for others.

    “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

    Empathy is a way of life anyone from any walk of life or culture should be able to embrace.

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  13. Sing says:

    The fact remains that whatever this act of singing is/was (there, here or anywhere) , in the moment it is the sense of loving community that brings cheer to the hearts of men….
    It is a not oft felt thing?

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