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We took the Greyhound bus from Johannesburg to a small town in Natal called Pietermaritzburg. We went from the North of the country to the Midlands (approximately 600 km). The bus ride was about six hours, not considering the two hour delay/stop just outside Johannesburg, at the testing station, where all the buses get weighed and inspected. Practicing patience. Calm.

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There was enough space in the bus for me and Emilie to have two seats for ourselves on each side of the bus. We got footage from both sides of the bus/road. We got lots of free coffee and didy biscuits. We also got to watch two diabolically offensive Hollywood action movies on full volume. I luckily have music on my phone from five years ago. So surreal. I listened to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears amogst others, not all pop music but I was amused by this dated selection. The phone I am using for my SA Sim is the phone I used to use for my Cyprus Sim, which I lost a few months ago. Symbolic. SA has replaced CY.

So I listened to music and watched the landscape change from Mediterranean to Tropical. Stunning. The bus got steamy by the end causing condensation on the windows, fogging up the view and leaving water droplets as I wiped it. Lovely.

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We got to town and by this point I was really ready to get to the hostel and tend to my basic needs; food, water, toilet and shower. Oh and SLEEP! We called a taxi from the Greyhound office in the center of town. It took a little over half an hour to turn up. This half hour was when I was at my most antsy. There was a TV showing the news and a woman chewing a toothpick in front of me. She was making slopping sounds with her mouth, which really disturbs me. Chewing gum like a farm animal also bothers me. It happens everywhere. I have to be really careful not to get angry. So I focused on other things and did the last-resort thing. I called someone, in Europe, to just talk about my day with. It really helped my mood, not my credit balance. I could deal with that.

The taxi turned up and didn’t know where we were going. I had to call the Jan Richter Center so as to give him directions. We finally made it, after a funny conversation with the driver about Combis and Townships. People are so open here. You can talk about anything. Forget PC awkwardness and egg shells. No emotional constipation.

We got to the Center and an elderly Afrikaans man comes out going “We were expecting you hours ago. Your food has been kept and you can go warm it up.” Looking out for us. Straight to the point. Love it. He then pointed to his female colleague who showed us our room, where we dropped our bags before being escorted back to the food hall and fed. So, this place is surreal. Back in the day it had separate quarters for men, women and ethnicities. It is now all mixed except for where you sit in the food hall. One half is for people who are not elderly and the other half is for the elderly who need assistance.

People from all walks of life find themselves here. Social displacement. Most people are South African and many people are permanent residents. The average age is 55 (I am probably being generous with that). It’s lovely. It’s not a Youth Hostel. I can see why it is Asha’s favourite place. People are so welcoming and friendly. I would choose this place over a Youth Hostel. It is stuck in an interesting time warp but also timeless.