An aerial view of Benoni. In the foreground is one of the malls... built to resemble a river ferry.

An aerial view of Benoni. In the foreground is one of the malls… built to resemble a river ferry.

(Note:  A lot of people from my home town were very offended by this post and felt as though I was attacking them personally.  There is also a response to all angry Benonians here).

I was in Benoni last week.

I don’t like visiting Benoni.

It’s like feeling obligated to visit a dodgy family member with whom you have nothing in common.  Benoni… my home town… is that dodgy family member.  It’s achingly familiar in all the wrong kinds of ways.   It reminds me of parts of myself that I don’t particularly like.  It contains memories of another life… and another person.   It is home to a certain sub-culture of people… with whom I can no longer relate.

I know Benoni well.  And I know the people who live there.… and whether I like it or not, Benoni… and all the facets, make-up and culture of the people who live there (and have lived there in the past) remain a part of my DNA.

I don’t like that I have Benoni in my DNA.

It makes me feel… uncomfortable.

Because I know Benoni.  I know it too well.  I grew up in Benoni.  I was raised in Benoni schools.  I got married – and divorced – in Benoni.  I went to church in Benoni.  My friends and family were mostly from Benoni.  I lived in 3 different Benoni homes with my parents – and another 3 with my then-husband – and then another 3 as a singleton.  I started a business in Benoni.  I lost my virginity in Benoni.  I know it’s streets like the back of my hand.  I lived there from 1980 until 2003.  That’s a LONG time to be in one town – and an especially long time to be in Benoni!

I went to 4 Benoni schools - and later, Benoni Technical College. Here's a photo of Soo and I during our years at Putfontein Primary.

I went to 4 Benoni schools – and later, Benoni Technical College. Here’s a photo of Soo and I during our years at Putfontein Primary.

Truth be told:  I’m very… disappointed… that I lived in Benoni for 23 years.

Twenty.  Three.  Years.

It feels like such a miserable waste of precious life!  My youngest and healthiest years spent in… *grimace*... Benoni!  For me, that’s a bitter pill to swallow.  The stark reality of it is like a slap through the face of every dream I ever had:  the tomboy who dreamed of wild, wonderful world-wide adventures… but who whittled away 23 of her best years… languishing in Benoni!  Ew.

You may wonder what’s so awful and terrible about Benoni that I’m so seemingly loathsome of my years there….

And that’s partly the problem.  There’s nothing awful… or terrible… about Benoni.  It may have been easier (for my conscience) to bare… if Benoni was some kind of hell hole.   But it wasn’t…  it isn’t….

It’s just so… mediocre.

It’s just so…. middle-class!

Middle-class homes.  Middle-class streets.  Middle-class malls.  Middle-class schools.  Middle-class people.  Middle-class mentality.

Now, hear me:  I’m not talking from a “wealth” perspective (I really don’t care about who is wealthier than who…  or who has more stuff)…  when I say “middle-class”, I’m talking about a certain MENTALITY.

And it’s that #$%^@!! middle-class mentality that I kick against… that I lash out at… (partly because I recognise it so strongly in my up-bringing and in my schooling and in a limiting mindset that I still struggle with)…

It’s a mentality that says:  “Our way is the RIGHT way”.

or… “This is the proper, sensible, respectable, responsible way to live.  If you do not fit in to these boxes and moulds – well – you are WRONG!”

or…. “We all live our lives like so:  we go to school, study for tests, pass exams, get our matric, maybe go to university, get a respectable job, get married, buy a house, have children, work some more, upgrade the house and car, work some more, go on an occasional holiday to the sea, eventually retire… die… leave some money for the grandkids. This is the RIGHT way to do life.  Deviating from this plan means that you are WRONG!”….

It’s a mentality that automatically shuns anything (or anyone) that looks different to the Status Quo.

And I know more than just a couple of people who have been shunned.

Tom Jones Street. I could tell you the history of almost every building and shop on this street.

Tom Jones Street. I could tell you the history of almost every building and shop on this street.

Getting married for the first time... in Benoni... at Farrarmere Assembly of God church (April 1992).

Getting married for the first time… in Benoni… at Farrarmere Assembly of God church (April 1992).

And I know Benoni-folk.

I know what they’re skinnering about in the hair salons.  I know what they’re grumbling about in the Post Office queue.   I know what they’re discussing at the Ladies Tupperware Party in the Methodist Hall.   I know all about the favourite hang-outs… the various different sub-cultures… the Bunny Park (and who goes there)… Homestead Dam (and who goes there)… the favourite pubs (and who goes there)… the road house (and who goes there)… the various churches (and who goes there)…

And yes, maybe this is a gross generalisation.  I know I can’t squash everyone into the same box just because they happen to live in the same town.  And I know that there are people who are different… and who haven’t been infected with that blasted middle-class mentality.  And kudos to them.

But still…

Benoni strikes me as a zoo.  There may be different animals living there… but they’re still caged within a system of sorts.  Some animals are very happy with that system.  They like the green parks and the groundskeepers.  They feel safe with the predictable routine.  Others… (usually the wilder ones)… are clawing at the walls and biting the ears off their fellow inhabitants.

And then, there are those who escape…

Maybe… one day… I’ll embrace Benoni and everything it represents.  But for now, it remains a strong reminder of a life that no longer fits. 

Update:  Want to know what I mean by a “middle-class mentality”?  Before you post angry messages and tell me how judgemental I’m being – read this post FIRST.  Thanks!