24 September 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Small, Slow Towns

A few days ago, I drove through Sedgefield. From the national road, as you drive through, it’s an unexceptional-looking southern Cape town.

It is settled between river mouths and wetlands, mountains and the sea, a fairly typical Garden Route settlement.

But Sedgefield is special, because it is South Africa’s first Slow Town, officially registered by the international body that adjudicates such things - Citta Slow, which made an appearance in Italy.

Sedgefield’s logo is a tortoise. It’s particularly effective in conveying the concept of Slow, but particularly appropriate for South Africa, since there are more tortoise species in this country than any other. This is where they first evolved, a palaeontologist told me.

In April every year, they have a Slow Festival, where everything is authentic and handmade, even the music.

Okay, so I’ve written about Sedgefield before, but this is the first time I poked about properly. I recognised the dynamics immediately.

I live in a small town myself, and to be honest, I can’t figure out why the whole world doesn’t choose to live so.

In Cradock, where I live along with my husband and roughly 50 000 others, everyone is connected to everyone else. Or so it feels.

I love it that I can walk to most important places like the Post Office and the shops.

I love it that shopping takes me 20 minutes extra because I so often encounter friends or acquaintances at the shop and we chat.

I love it that everyone waves at one another. I love it that people acknowledge one another, and look each other in the eye. You don’t find a lot of that big cities, where everyone avoids eye contact in case, heaven forbid, you lock eyes with a beggar or lunatic or stalker.

I love it that people chat, and ask you if you need anything when they travel to the nearest big city (Port Elizabeth in our case).

I love it that children play in a completely carefree way, like they used to when I was a kid. They ride bicycles in the streets, they build mud forts on the side of the Great Fish River.

And I love it that after every dinner party, everyone’s eyes turn skywards to marvel at the bright lights of the Milky Way and the distinctive Southern Cross.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I’d rather stay in a small friendly little town than try to come to terms with a big turbulent city. That goes for my holidays too.

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