Walking the Talk

Usually, on a Sunday, I wake up late and mooch around the house. All right, I do that most days of the week. But this Sunday, I did the 702/Discovery Health Walk the Talk. And I must congratulate the organisers for putting together an outstanding event.

Apart from the queue to get into the parking lot (which we expected) it was a genuine pleasure to be a part of this annual walkabout. The facilities were excellent. The marshals were pleasant. The weather was great. The crowd was in good spirits. And it was a rare treat to walk along the beautiful suburban streets of our city, lined with tall trees that are impressive even in their winter nakedness.

More importantly, it was great to see so many Joburgers venture out from behind their residential walls and come together in a seething tide of amiable humanity. We live in such a stressful, paranoid urban environment; it does the spirit a world of good to engage in a joyful communal experience. There were even a group of entrepreneurial kids selling home-made lemonade from their front gate – just like in the comics.

I even took my dog – the beloved Sophie – along for the walk, and she also had a ball. Regular watering points were laid out by the people at Royal Canin (thanks Ivor) and there was barely a snarl or a snap to be seen. That’s pretty impressive when you have about 2000 dogs in close proximity.

Then again, I wasn’t that surprised at the Canine camaraderie. I am a daily dog walker so I know that dogs are pretty chilled when they are on common ground. It’s only if they have territory to protect that you have to watch out. And I think it’s the same with humans. When we are at home, we tend to be defensive and anxious – always patrolling our perimeter. When we venture outside, however, we are able to relax and share our space with others.

Some cynical denizens of Jozi might scoff at my idealism. You can’t go outside, they’ll say, it’s too dangerous. To those unhappy few who are too scared (or scarred) to brave our public spaces, I say ‘give it a try’. I mean, there were between 50 000 and 60 000 people at Walk the Talk, including a good mix of people from every race, creed and nationality, and there were no apparent incidents. Not even a little rawl.

The only thing that saddened me as I strolled down the wide avenues of Emmarentia is that our city would be so much more beautiful if our homes weren’t surrounded by high walls. When you go overseas, the first thing you notice is that the homes are generally open to the street. This makes for an open environment, which impacts positively on the attitudes of citizens and visitors alike.

Now, I know that our crime problems are still too severe to consider taking down the walls but I do hope for a day when we can lower the barricades just a bit, so that passers-by can enjoy the sight of our gardens and trees. Until then, however, I encourage everyone to take to the streets, parks and public places of Johannesburg. It helps keep the fear in check.

That’s why I walk my dogs every day. It’s my daily dose of normality. It keeps me sane and grounded, and I can’t do without it. So, the next time that you feel like the Joburg pressure cooker is getting too much to bear, join me and what I like to call the ‘Common Ground movement’.

Get out there. Mingle. Rub shoulders with your fellow Joburgers. Let your kids scramble on the jungle gyms in our parks (and encourage our council to build better public playgrounds). You’d be surprised how pleasant people can be when you leave the walls behind. IMHO.

[Originally posted 26/07/2009]

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