HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: An introvert’s journey into the social world

In September last year, I dug out my brother’s old long board, which he has no use for in Johannesburg, and added to my exercise routine instead of just walking 6km a day. I was post-op so I couldn’t revert to my regular workout programme because it’s only suitable for pro athletes, which of course, I was pre-op.

Long boarding is easy, but not that easy. As a 37-year-old who should probably not be taking the risk of falling and cracking a rib or displacing a knee or, God forbid, getting a head injury. The wise choice, I guess, would have been to stay off the tar while trying to balance on a piece of wood, covered in sandpaper on two wheels. But like I said, I am obviously a pro-athlete, so I had to try. We try everything, at least once. And by the time December 2021 rolled around, after trying more than once, I was finally able to stay balanced on the board and skate – not very fast – in a straight line without looking like a complete idiot.

There is nothing wrong with walking. In fact, up until that point, the part of my brain that controls the use of language prefers doing things alone. So, I had always liked taking a long walk but it isn’t something I did for exercise but after a couple of months of just walking one starts to feel a bit loopy, and that’s why I tried something different.

Long boarding is also a bit of a solo sport. Of course, it is - you cannot fit two people on one board. So, I really got into it. But it’s different from walking in the sense that there are always eyes on you in a way. When you walk, no one looks but when I skate, I can feel eyes on me and I am filled with anxiety because, me being me, I’m likely to do something embarrassing like fall, scrape a knee the cry like a toddler in front of everyone.

One day, while doing some long board research - yes, I am this person, when I commit to learning a new thing, I commit and mostly I want to know how to do it properly – I came across a group called Promenade Mondays while watching Instagram reels and tutorials and other fun long boarding stuff. Their bio read: Every Monday from 6pm we skate/roll/ride along the scenic Sea Point Promenade as one big happy family. So… completely unlike me, the following Monday, I went.

I kept my distance, lurking and rolling in circles in the background. Far enough to remain sort of anonymous but close enough to listen to the pep talk before they headed off and I immediately felt a warm and comforting feeling. Everyone was so nice. No one was intrusive. No one asked questions. There were a lot of polite smiles. And I could fully immerse myself in a community without worrying whether I could trust anyone or be consumed by the stress of having to make conversation. In fact, I loved the niceness of it all so much, that last week when I needed to desperately find a replacement for Prom Mondays (the last session for the summer has taken place, and search for a winter sport because the tennis courts in Cape Town this time of year are always wet, I was inspired by the skating community and went in search of another one.

Who was this person? Who is this person?

A couple of weeks ago, I went and sat at the Pavilion to watch masked dancers enjoy another regular prom event called Sun Kissed Salsa. I absolutely adore dancing and I never get to do it because, introvert that I am, my keenness for solitude and distrust of people has increased to such an extent that I almost always avoid parties at all costs. I am on this great journey to say no to things and only participate in things that bring me joy. It is going splendidly.

Anyway, as I watched, I realised this public activity had something in common with skate community and that is: That no one was there to make small talk, be invasive, learn more about each other (not that there is anything wrong with this, but again, for introverts it can be hell or talk about race, politics, the war in Ukraine, the best cars, or the property market. They were all just the sheer ecstasy of escapism.

Strangers were dancing with other strangers, the only conversation happening was the language of dance and music taking place between them as they moved to the salsa, bachata or kizomba. Some were professionals, others were beginners – like me on the long board - and others were there to observe the untarnished pleasure.

I felt warm inside. Sitting there quietly under the sculpture of the Snail on the tail of the Whale, a book my son is obsessed with, I smoked my cigarette and had a smile plastered to my face for almost two hours. No one bothered me. I had no fear. I had no anxiety. I was outside, with people, and I was happy about it.

When on the search for my winter sport I sought out a community of dancers where I could learn, and attend socials and just joyously dance and experience those same feelings I felt under the arch of those concrete whales, except this time, I would dance, with only the music talking to me, and instead of lurking in a corner like a moody bass player that guarantees no one will approach me at a party, I would be stepping to the beat of my very own heart.

The best company I have since my joy journey. So, I found a dance school/class in Greenpoint, Que Pasa, and I spoke to the instructor John, over WhatsApp, of course because the thought of making a call and using my voice is enough to make the earth want to swallow me, and this week I signed up for a month of classes and had my first lesson.

I didn’t want the evening to end. I had unlocked some internal part of me that made me externally aware of how much fun it is to be out while still being inside myself. I even made jokes with the group.

There is no fear in joy, and I know that as soon as I get uncomfortable or revert to my equally happy position of a disgruntled pelican who has no idea how to engage with people, or no need for it, I can honestly say, I will choose that as my joy while knowing now, that all the advice columns are nonsense. You don’t have to practice being an extrovert if you’re and introvert. You don’t have to pressure yourself to make time to be social or practice having conversations. You just have to lead yourself from the inside and let your quiet soul will do the rest.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa. Follow her on Twitter.