Rhythm City

Naomi is back in Johannasburg and is trying to out cheat some of the toughest business leaders in the city. Bash, up to his usual crookedness, is trying to convince ‘M’e Makete and Bra Kop that Fats is taking advantage of them so that they will kick him out of his gym space. And Miles has a new pet project in a street boy who will likely turn on him at some point.

There is always a new scandal in the Rhythm City.

Each week day night, at exactly 6:30 p.m., I have an obligation.

I leave my little world in my rondaval and walk into my family’s, in their three-room house. My bo-ausi and ‘m’e come in from the kitchen and join me in the living room, so does my abuti, even with an ironic tone. Sometimes other neighbors join, sometimes it’s just us. We each take our seats on pair of love seats before the TV and ready for the next half- hour of terrible acting and poorly scripted drama.

Naturally, it is awesome.

Rhythm City is a 30-minute South African soap opera that airs on a network from the same country and it is the guilty pleasure for my host family and I. We watch the story unfold, spoken in Sesotho, English and Zulu, and make a mandatory “aigh” or “mph” during commercial breaks. “She is crazy” or “He is weird” we share. It’s our mandatory ritual and, if I am not there on time, they will yell at me until I join them in the main house. It’s not the most authentic culturally bonding time, but it is bonding time.

In fact, it reminds me of home.

While living with my parents in 2011, I often return home from work, a run or happy hour with Ruth to find my mother engaged in her DVR’d soaps. Usually, I would join and bug her about all the parts I missed. Even my father, who claims the characters and storylines are stupid, would pop down from his haven upstairs to see what so and so are doing now. On “Days of Our Lives,” when John and Marlena returned to the show after a three-year absence, all three of us were glued to the television at 11 p.m. watching the episode on TiVo. You know, just to see what happens.

Each time I sit down for an episode of Rhythm City, I think about the DVR’d soaps and my mom sitting faithfully in her chair. It makes me miss her. However, it is nice to have this small tradition with my host family, a constant time we are in each other’s presence. It was what bonded us when I first moved here and, a year later, it’s not the glue but it’s still our thing and that is special.

Soap operas may not be good television, or television by some’s definition, but I appreciate their bonding capabilities. And I’ll continue to watch as long as there are crazed lovers, mysteriously rich villains and others to consume the gooey drama with.

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