Freedom to walk

After Johannesburg, living in Ra’anana is safe.

A security guard keeps watch at the entrance of King David School High School in suburban Johannesburg, March 15, 2012. (photo credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS)
A security guard keeps watch at the entrance of King David School High School in suburban Johannesburg, March 15, 2012.
THE FREEDOM to walk in the streets in your suburb is something most people the world over take for granted. For us, it’s something brand new. Watching our 10-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter leave home in Ra’anana each morning, as they walk or cycle to school, is a novelty. It’s something we’d never have allowed in South Africa. Not everyone may agree, but for us, it was a question of safety.
In Johannesburg, we’d drive all of four minutes to get to school each morning. It seemed completely normal then. It’s only now that we realize how bizarre that was. A ten-minute walk to school is a great start to the day. Cycling – with helmets on – is brilliant exercise. I’d predicted it would take a few months before the children would be comfortable walking on their own. I couldn’t have been more wrong. On their second day at their new school, we were advised our “escorting services” were no longer needed; they knew the way home and would happily walk together. It’s a fabulous “new normal.”
A few weeks after making aliya, my daughter and I went for a walk along the main road in our city. (As a life coach, I often talk about the need to be outdoors, to change one’s surroundings and appreciate the power of nature.) One of the friendly school moms stopped her car at the traffic light and asked if we needed a lift. I laughed and replied that we weren’t going anywhere in particular – we just wanted to walk together, well, because we could.
It takes a while for South African parents to get used to seeing young children getting onto buses as they bop up and down listening to music on their oversized headphones. It’s unusual for us to see primary school pupils cross the road alone. It also takes a while to get used to how many people walk the streets of the city late at night. Women can be seen pushing prams at 10 p.m., energetic types can be spotted jogging close to midnight and groups of teenagers can be found on electric bikes at any hour.
The various modes of transport here also take getting used to, after decades of only traveling by car in our home city. When heading to Tel Aviv, I’ve been advised that if one doesn’t want to navigate traffic and circle for much sought-after parking in the heart of the business and entertainment center, you could take a bus (with wifi on board), take a train (with wifi on board) or join a car pool.
There are many stark differences for new motorists, besides the obvious one that involves driving a left-hand vehicle on the ‘wrong’ side of the road:
Most petrol stations are self-service.
There are no car guards. (People who stand outside in the street to watch over parked cars.)
Roadside parking is often scarce. If you can’t find the free allocated parking bay marked with blue and white stripes on the pavement, you can simply use an App on your phone to pay for your spot.
We recently met a wonderful couple who spend six months of the year in Israel. They told us they don’t have a car here, because they love using the buses. The one bus takes them straight to a popular beach in Herzliya Pituach. The other route they use takes them to the promenade in Tel Aviv. We’ve met many families who have one car, partly because buying and maintaining vehicles here is very expensive and partly because public transport here is both reliable and safe.
So, part of our journey around the country here will hopefully involve trying out all these types of transport. For now, “these boots are made for walking” and I have a feeling the novelty of this newfound freedom will last for a very long time.