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Culture, Reality

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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