Home > Uncategorized > You can get lost in Durban

You can get lost in Durban

I don’t know if anyone has realised this but a strange kind of battle is being waged on the streets of Durban. Well, not quite the streets, on the pavements is a more accurate location for the war. If you travel through Durban, the city and the lolling suburbs, you will see for yourself. It’s a different kind of fighting. There is no real bloodshed, no shrapnel. It’s a quiet war. In fact you may even have missed it. Allow me to elaborate.

I landed in Durban four weeks ago on work business. I asked Eurocar for a map and they proceeded to produce a folded A1 sized map that would prove, over the next few hours, to be completely uselss.

At this point I should make clear, after many years of thinking I have a great sense of direction, I no longer feel this way about myself. After feeling embarassed about being an architect AND having no sense of direction I have given that up and am okay with it. So the point is I’m not incredibly talented with naturally finding my way around. But I can read a map. In fact, being bad at directions, maps have become very precious to me. The map I received in Durban tainted my appreciation for maps. I saw the limitations of a map.

However, it wasn’t the map’s fault that it was useless. The failing was purely human.

You see, if you travel through Durban as I did, almost every single street now has two identities.

Peter Makoba. Ridge Road.

King Dinizulu. Berea.

Manning. Lena Ahrens.

Some streets have no identity. Just a past life of Essenwood with a red slanted line through it.

Sometimes Kenneth Kaunda has been spray painted so that you have to go really close to see the dark lettering beneath the splatter of paint. It’s black lettering on white backing against black lettering on bright yellow backing. It’s old English soldiers and generals against comrades.

On that crazy day an hour passed since I’d left the airport, travelled along the N2 and joined the N3 into Durban city. By then I’d received directions both from the person I was to meet with and a policeman. “Stanger street?” I’d asked managing – reserve a strong point of mine – to hide the immense frustration that was building in me. They rattled off names – English ones – that were missing from several of the streets I’d passed. Stanger, in particular, was nowhere to be found. Eventually I tossed the map to the back seat and hailed another policevan. This time my frustration was evident. Enough so that the kind young man (bored?) offered to be my escourt. “Where are you going specifically?” he asked and I told him. “Follow me.” I had never been happier to hear such words.

In Durban, the streets are at odds, at war, and the people are complicit. The street names speak over one another, like a child talking over an adult conversation or someone whispering during a lecture. Practice discretion with the maps you employ and be careful from whom you seek directions – some know Stanger and some know Stalwart Simelani and the likelihood of the same person knowing both is apparently slim.

I don’t know. I don’t mean to spout negative. I know I suck at directions. But heed me – be careful when you travel to Etekweni, you might just end up lost in Durban.

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  1. Alastair
    October 7, 2010 at 4:03 am

    Nice read. Thanks for he warning about Durban, sorry Etekwini.

  2. susaana mwaaa
    October 7, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Great read. Thank God thou that road names actually do exist, however dimly lit, because in some parts of the world, roads are identified with mango trees alongside them and not necessarily names…in which case you would need to discern which mango tree the map is referring to. 🙂

    (my 2 cents)

  3. Claire
    October 12, 2010 at 5:39 am

    Hilarious but very true. I went through the same hell when I first went to Durban. I did figure it out quite quickly after that. It is frustrating navigating any city with a map. I now use GPS which has it shortfalls too. You took me back to the madness of that day. Oh and what about all the one way business.

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