Growing up in what is widely perceived as a joke city gives a person a naturally defensive edge. This is my excuse, anyway. It’s possible that I would be quick to bristle and actually quite bad at taking a joke if I had grown up in a cool, serious place, but I didn’t, and so I suppose we will never get to the bottom of that mystery. Would I remind my mother of, as she once so brutally and memorably said, “one of those little bears that just sit around in the trees and you wouldn’t even know they have incredibly long claws and then PAM – the claws come out and they RIP OUT YOUR MIDSECTION” if I had grown up in Paris? We will never know, because I grew up in Durban, or Durbs, or “The Fundamentally Unserious Place,” and it gave me an attitude problem.
Fairly or unfairly, Durban (on the east coast of South Africa) has a reputation as a sort of pretend city, where people are constantly smoking shamefully cheap weed and going surfing and failing to adhere to workplace standards of professionalism. That or becoming a born-again Christian and being named Taryn or Megan and somehow making a living as a netball player. You can be named Taryn or Megan if you are a surfer OR a netball player, Durbs will be a happy place for you either way.
Obviously, this reputation is not at all representative of the actual demographic or economic realities of Durban. South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and most of the people who live in Durbs are not in any kind of position to be going surfing all day and then later driving to church in a huge car with a personalised number plate that says “THANKS DAD.” Still, this is how Durbs is often perceived by people who live in real cities like Joburg and Cape Town, and I have a long and established history of taking exception to this. What I have to say about criticism of the city I grew up in and then left as soon as I finished school is: No thanks.
I love Durban for all the reasons the people who have spent their whole lives there love it: best ocean, best food, everyone has been friends for 30 years, close to the best mountains, humidity v good for the skin, low expectations both socially and career-wise. I am very practiced at reeling these points off, because I live in Cape Town now and there is always someone shitting on Durban and making me listen. The other day my boyfriend told me that he and all his friends that he plays cricket with were making fun of Durban because “it gets dark too early” and “it rains too much” and “it’s bad for cricket matches when that happens.” My friend Rob recently sent me a video of an old white man standing on a small stage at a popular Durban “nightspot”. The man was wearing one of those Rasta hats with fake dreadlocks and doing an acoustic cover of the Shaggy song “You’re my Angel”, singing in an obviously offensive approximation of a Jamaican accent. He didn’t even need to tell me that this terrible scene originated in Durbs. I could tell just by looking. There’s a lot more where that came from, much of it sent by Rob, but I do not want to give any ideas to those who might have had a neutral opinion on Durban up until now. Really though, there is a lot, and my so-called friends are always telling me about it. I get all worked up when this happens and leap to Durban’s defense, which is obviously funny and just encourages more people to send me updates on whatever nonsense the city has conjured up this time. Meanwhile, the sense of grievance grows within me as I find ever more creative ways to tell these assholes to leave Durban alone.
The one point where my powers fail me is on the issue of Cane and Appletiser. Appletiser is a beloved and delicious kind of fizzy apple juice that you only get in South Africa, and cane is, per the copy on a website for a bottle store, “distilled from sugarcane or fermented molasses, refined cane spirit is the precursor to rum (which has been aged in barrels to give it colour and flavour) and is often termed white rum. In South Africa we call it cane, and produce it here from the sugarcane fields of KwaZulu-Natal. Cane generally undergoes multiple distillation processes to get that super smooth taste.”
Needless to say, it does not have a super smooth taste. It tastes like it has been sitting in the back of a hot car for three weeks, or like nothing really except “burning at the back of your throat”, or like you are drinking the idea of alcohol, or like someone breathed poppers fumes into a glass of lukewarm water. It tastes inexcusable, but you try tell that to all the people at the Durban Undersea Club (per the website, “a family orientated, social activities club for people that have an interest in the ocean and it’s beaches”), who drink Cane and Appletiser every day for fun. This is their drink! They drink it while they are listening to an older white man do a cover of Fast Car, and they love it. My dad told me this, and I didn’t believe him, until one day I was standing at the counter ordering a giant toasted cheese sandwich and a man came up next to me and said “Five Cane and Applestisers, hey”. The bartender didn’t even blink.
I have never tasted Cane and Appletiser, but you don’t need to stick your hand directly into a fire to know that it would be a bad idea to so. I know that it would taste like if you had to drink hot nail polish out of an old plastic sippy cup that had once contained apple juice. It would taste like having a hangover in a mall. It’s making me agitated just thinking about it, and guilty, too, because there is something so Durban about this hideous drink, and now I am making fun of it just like the people I told myself I would never become.
 No such bear exists in reality.