After many years of living in Pretoria, one thing that I’ve noticed is that people who grew up here either usually stay and never leave, or get as far away from the city as possible after they have finished school or university.
For that reason, I didn’t think there were many people here like me, who have come and gone, stayed with their families to save money, travelled and who also don’t really have any kind of solid plan for what they are going to be doing with their life.
That is until I was introduced to Melina Meletakos through a mutual friend/family connection, and there was someone else on the same page as me to hang out with in Pretoria, and do all of the things I’m going to talk about below.
5 Things to Do With a Friend in Pretoria
1. Have coffee at Brooklyn Mall
When we were introduced by our mutual friend/family connection, Sumi, she said she thought we would have a lot to talk about.
And she was right. Not only was Melina a fellow writer, music enthusiast and traveller obsessed with Brazil, she had also gone to the exact same primary school and high school as me, although she was quite a few years younger.
It was uncanny, and quite honestly a bit weird to have so much in common with someone, after spending so much of my life trying to explain why I did a literature degree in the first place (to the kind of people who apparently have life and what you’re “meant” to study all figured out).
I think it might have been a novel experience for Melina too.
Unfortunately, the first time that we went out together with some friends to the Botanical Gardens for a Goldfish concert, I managed to lose track of her in the crowd as we were pushing our way towards the front of the stage, and I didn’t see her for a while after that.
2. Meet up at Starbucks
After Melina got back from another travel stint in Malaysia, months after losing her in the crowd, I started running into her at Starbucks at Brooklyn.
She didn’t have reliable internet at home and I needed to get out of the house, so we started to bump into each other more often, and then started to actually make plans to meet up there on purpose, to write.
But actually, mostly to just talk. Most of the time I’d get there much earlier than her and do what I needed to do for the day. And then I would end up just distracting her from getting started with her own work by talking to her for at least an hour. While she drank her first of her many Starbucks coffees.
And as is the case with many Starbucks, and writers, we eventually started to make other friends there too, like Fidel.
3. Go to as many Pretoria events as possible
Melina thought Pretoria was quite stagnant and boring, so I made a point of inviting her to as many fun events as possible, also because I felt like there were a lot of things to do but not as many people to bring along with me.
It was without a doubt one of the top cinematic experiences of my life, even though Melina and I were weirdly positioned in camping chairs towards the side of the room so as not to block anyone’s view, and I had to awkwardly position myself to as not to strain my neck.
Apart from that event, which I know Melina enjoyed, I also dragged her along to a dance party hosted by the cardio dance teachers from Planet Fitness at Moonshot in Menlyn Maine.
This event was maybe less culturally stimulating and enjoyable, mostly because I spent a large part of the evening high-school making out with a dorky software developer while a drunk guy with two buns on either side of his head (who we christened “Princess Leia”), slurred increasingly incoherently over the course of the evening.
4. Talk about Brazil
One common thread that really united Melina and I from the beginning was our shared love of Brazil. I think it was our mutual appreciation of its cultural vibrancy, the mix of races and cultures, the melodic language, the food, the weather. And the men.
Interestingly, while living in Japan, Melina had fallen in love with a Brazilian guy too, just like I had experienced in São Paulo year earlier. She spent time in Brazil on two occasions though (one to teach English and one to heal a broken heart, while it took many years of being away from Brazil to heal mine).
I think we could have just spoken on that topic for our entire friendship, since she had spent more time in Rio, which I had briefly visited but didn’t know as much about. Also, she had really experienced life in the favelas, which I felt was probably a bit more interesting than my aimless wandering around the nation’s cities taking photos of architecture, speaking bad Portuguese and spending a lot of time sleeping, eating and doing pretty much fuck-all.
Melina also definitely engaged more with samba and dancing while she was there, which I think I was quite envious of, since my first experience of samba was an aggressively forward man trying to dance with me on the steps of the entrance to the hostel where I lived in São Paulo on my first night in the city (which was slightly terrifying).
In fact, Melina definitely exposed to me to samba and a lot of other aspects of Brazilian culture that I didn’t really know about, since she had also managed to make a Brazilian friend on a TAAG flight who happened to live in Pretoria (and would always invite her to local embassy cultural events).
5. Talk about Boys
If we weren’t talking about Brazil, we were definitely talking about men, and all of the weird, scary, horrifying and embarrassing experiences we always seemed to have with them.
From devastating heartbreaks, to all of the bizarre experiences with men on various modes of public transport, I think we covered it all.
It felt like such a relief to be able to be honest about my experiences with someone and not be judged, a rare feeling that was confirmed by the look of disgust on a woman’s face who was sitting next to us at Starbucks during one particularly detailed discussion.
In our last proper conversation, Melina actually said: “we always end up talking about dudes”. And I guess we did.
After that day, however, the intermittent migraines she had been complaining about started to became worse and our conversations started to become less frequent. I was sad, but I knew deep down that she was struggling to cope and making plans to hang out wasn’t a priority.
Until, eventually all the conversations and hangouts stopped altogether, when I got the text message from her sister that she had passed away after the incredibly exhaustive operation they had done to try and remove the tumour.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do With a Friend in Pretoria
I think about her family often, as I know from personal experience that losing a family member is the kind of trauma that feels like it can never fully heal, ever. I also think of her often, especially when I know she’s the exact person that I would want to discuss an intellectual topic with, or tell about a new dude experience.
However, as sad as I am that I can’t hang out with her anymore, I’m really grateful for all of the conversations we did have, and for the fact that she stayed in Pretoria long enough for me to get to know her, and to be reminded that there is the always the possibility of finding likeminded people, even in Pretoria.
If you knew Melina and would like to share anything in the comments below, and any other feedback, I’d love to hear it!
Also a big thanks to @heyitsjmo and @leighbensonweddings for the pic.