Ag in Africa

26 November, 2006

Away from the suburbs

Filed under: apartheid, Development worker, johannesburg — Ag @ 7:47 pm

For the past week I have been travelling to different areas in and around Joburg helping to run auditions to get new actors for our NGO. We’ve been to the sorts of places that tourists never reach including Eldorado Park and Westbury Park. The first is about 20kms outside Joburg, while Wesbury Park is inside the city. They are both ‘coloured’ areas. (Under Apartheid where you lived depended on your colour, by law.)

I have to say that these were two of the grimmest places I’ve visited, ever. Areas like Soweto are poor and have rubbish infrastructure for their inhabitants, but they at least have a sense of place. I feel excited when I’m there. There are people on the streets, there’s a vibe. But Eldorado and Westbury Parks were devoid of any sense of place. I stood there, outside the community halls and watched bits of litter roll around the wide open desolate landscape.

I tried to take pictures of Eldorado Park but they were crap because I couldn’t capture anything that expressed the emptiness. It felt like a sink estate without the grafitti, skateboards, humans or high rises.  No bleeding-edge fashion mag could ever give Eldorado Park a touch of street cool. I had a bit more luck with pictures in Westbury Park. Apologies to anyone from these areas that might read this – I can only see through outsider’s eyes.

Westbury Park
Westbury Park with a fancy suburb in the far background

Kids playing in the open space in Westbury Park
Kids playing in the open space in Westbury Park

Yeah baby!
Fantastic kids in Westbury Park


20 November, 2006

Things I miss. Category: Food

Filed under: Development worker, johannesburg — Ag @ 8:57 pm

I would give my left profile for:

  • Linda McCartney veggie sausages
  • any veggie sausages
  • anything veggie, edible and buyable in the supermarket
  • not having to have dull conversations about why I don’t eat meat, then having to justify why I do eat fish to full-on carniverous casuists
  • cheap, healthy food
  • yellow bananas, ie not green or brown – the bananas here are GM-ed to go straight from green to brown
  • mon amour to share a meal with
  • take-aways that I actually want to take-away
  • hair and skin products that aren’t made by vaseline, nivea or pantene
  • that Italian shop on Picton street
  • sub-class of above point: good quality pasta, that isn’t considered somehow exotic
  • organic stuff
  • paying for stuff when I get to the till, instead of one day. I mean, I hate pret-a-manger but at least they don’t prolong the agony
  • chapel street market (still)
  • being able to buy booze in a supermarket – wine you can buy, anything else you have to slope off to a ‘liquor store’ like you’ve got a problem
  • shops on streets instead of in malls.

I’m convinced that malls are actually little bits of Purgatory on Earth. I’m glad I’m not a Catholic. I couldn’t spend the undecided bit of my afterlife thrashing around Cresta / The Galleries / Campus Square / Cribbs Causeway / Lakeside Thurrock trying to find an exit, any exit. Particularly if my only release was the ultimate damnation of Ikea.

18 November, 2006

Playing wolf

Filed under: Development worker, johannesburg — Ag @ 11:42 am

Some time ago, I wrote about the horror of having to do an off-the-cuff “jive” in front of people who actually know how to jive.

Well, forget all that. I got over it. Having realised that making a complete divot of myself is infinitely preferable to figuring out the vagueries of firewalls, Windows This and That, 3rd-world ADSL lines, and just bloody computers generally, I am a keen(ish) attender at the various warm up sessions for the actors. Here are three of them:

Thabo, Bongani, Bheki

When I was little I thought that, because I had a precocious steak streak, I could probably act. Last week we were acting at being wolves. We gathered, as you do, on top of a hill in the moonlight, interacted with each other in a wolf-like-way and then, (inevitably and rather cliched, IMHO) howled at the moon. So I decided to be a really old, cranky wolf. With what I considered to be excellent observance of my character, I hobbled onto the hill, (obviously there wasn’t an actual hill or moonlight or anything – sorry to state the obvious, but I know that one or two people reading this would wonder, mentioning no names) snarled a lot at a baby wolf, took up a rickety-wolf-stance, snarled a bit more then lauched into a mid-pitch, croaky-but-threatening howl as the moon rose. Then I hobbled off the hill whilst terrorising the baby wolf.

In the “feedback session” (I know, I know) it was suggested that I was playing a wolf who was “confused”. Confused! The cheek! No way. There’s no way my wolf was confused. It was quite clear in my portrayal that I was a pissed-off-aggresive-old-horrible-Alf-Garnett-wolf. Quite clear. Though, apparently not. No-one got this. I just looked “confused”. I can’t act. For me, this was almost as disappointing as my first attempt at showmanship was embarassing.

17 November, 2006

Mauve snow (and sludge)

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 7:45 pm

The Jacarandas get more and more gorgeous…..

More incredible Jacarandas

As Spring ends, and Summer begins they are dropping their mauve petals on the roads and pavements like snow. As the day wears on, it turns into mauve sludge. It’s like gooey-wet-pot-pourri, but less stinky (and more common).

11 November, 2006

Luckily misunderstood lifts

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 6:00 pm

‘Lifts’ is one of my favourite words cos it means so many different things and because it’s difficult to say properly. I always end up pronouncing it ‘liffs’ which doesn’t matter too much in Bristol, but I have to pronounce things clearly here. I think I end up sounding very posh and slightly patronising.

I start with a standard-speed ‘lifts’. Heads shake, so I move down to “lif-t-s”. Eyebrows rise, so I go the whole hog: “L-I-F-T-S, I SAID L-I-F-T-S.” I am, I admit, tempted to add, ‘I AM SPEAKING ENGLISH, YOU KNOW. AND NOT JUST ANY OLD ENGLISH. I’M SPEAKING REAL-QUEENS-BLEEDIN-ENGLISH, FFS.’ Maybe it’s the latter unspoken bit that lends the original a patronising edge.

Anyway, since I’ve been here I’ve given a couple of liffs to strangers. The first was a young, black woman who knocked on my car window when I was sat at a traffic light. She was a bit lost and a bit scared cos we were on a dodgy road, so I drove her to where she wanted to be. In Bristol I often drive past bus stops and would like to stop and give whoever is waiting a lift into town, saving them the outrageously high bus fare and the outrageously long wait. But I don’t stop cos I think they’ll think I’m a nutter. They’ll give me that, ‘You’re a nutter. I’d rather die / eat my children / shag Nicholas Soames MP (I’m feeling queasy; dictionary definition: “nauseating offal”. Hah!) / live in Virginia Water / admit-to-having-a-soft-spot-for-tony-blair, than get in that car with you, you freak! So I don’t stop. Which is why I was dead chuffed when someone actually knocked on my window and wanted a lift.

Then today I drove round the corner to get onto Bayers Naude which is a big road near my house. (How do you think that’s pronounced? I started off with Bayers Nord, like the french ‘nord’, then went onto Bayers Nor-dee, before honing it to Bayers Nor-dee-uh. I mean, what sort of weird pronunciation is that? NOR-DEE-UH, I AM SPEAKING AFRIKAANS, YOU KNOW.) As I pulled up to the corner of Bayers Nordeeuh, there was a woman at the corner who I thought wanted to cross the road, so I stopped and waved (not just any wave, the queen’s bleedin’ wave) to indicate to her that she could cross the road and I wouldn’t mow her down. So she smiles at me, trots over to my car, opens the passenger door, gets in and says, ‘I’m going into town’. And off we go! I love it! I’m hoping to rack up a least 50 or so misunderstood liffs during my tenure.

5 November, 2006

At last, some pix….

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 8:48 pm

A street in Melville, Joburg
Beautiful Jacaranda trees on a street in Melville.

Pretty house in Melville, Joburg
It may be a pastiche but at least it has some aesthetic appeal…

'Armed response' prowlers
These guys prowl around the streets looking for trouble.

Example of a particularly scared household
This is an example of a particularly scared household.

Bourgainvillea; Joburg is drenched in this beautiful climber.

Joburg skyline
Joburg skyline from Roosevelt Park, where I’m staying.

I realise that I should have uploaded some pix ages ago, but I have lots of passable excuses for not doing so:

  • I didn’t (and still don’t) know how to use my very complicated camera
  • I am a shit photographer, although I am blaming my tools (see point 1 above)
  • I was so busy figuring out how to skype / wordpress / gmail / wireless / ipod / flickr / hsem / GRuT and KeRaP that I only mastered getting pix onto my posts this week.
  • Oh, and (thank god) someone took pity on me and we went out and got pissed, so I had a night off my usual digital-familiarisation-endeavours.

So, this is my first attempt at showing what Joburg looks like. I’m starting with the so-called suburbs, which is where I live, cos that’s the only place that I feel safe enough to wield a camera at the moment. I am steeling myself to take some pix in ‘town’, but it’s either going to take some guts (aka stupidity, in this case) or a few drinks, as I run the risk of being mugged before I’ve got the camera out of its bag.

So, anyway the suburbs. I know it sounds really dull, but they are actually very much like dull Blighty suburbs. Think Harpenden, Stoke Bishop, Finchley, Frenchay, Sticklepath, Fremington, Ealing, Barnet… Houses in gardens surrounded by walls, oozing ‘safe’.The difference here is that the suburbs are right in the city. Quite often major businesses are situated in suburbs, so you could get a major bank’s headquarters surrounded by fancy suburban houses. The suburbs also aren’t a long way from the central areas; they sit right beside each other. It would be the equivalent of Ealing sitting right beside the City of London or Westbury on Trym sitting beside Broadmead. (Hah! I vote we relocate Westbury on Trym next to Broadmead.)

The other wierd stuff is that there are no cars parked on the streets in the suburbs here, cos they get nicked. A lot of the paranoia here is paranoia (I think) but it’s true that if you leave your car on the street it will get nicked, so no cars. Which is a sort of utopia, but for all the wrong reasons. There are also no white people walking on the streets. The car is king, even if it is under constant siege.

So, good stuff. Um. Um. Actually so far there are two incredibly good things:

  1. The weather! This is the sort of weather people fantasize about. It’s hot, but not at all humid, so when you go in the shade, it feels cool. The sky is the most beautiful shade of blue. Really solid and pure. Then there are fantastic thunderstorms that last a few hours, then clear. We’ve had so many of these that I’ve already lost count in the 6 weeks I’ve been here.
  2. It’s the greenest city I’ve ever been to. Gorgeous, huge, greenest-green, luscious colourful plants everywhere. The streets are tree lined and creeper lined. And, because of all this greenery, there are loads of very exotic looking-and-sounding birds all over the place. The lack of parked cars also means that you can see the greenery. Little and biggish parks all over the place. Nature reserves too. Which is ironic as one isn’t supposed to walk in them without company. Wherever you get a vantage point of the city (from many places as it’s hilly), you can see how incredibly green the city is.

At the moment, I’m kind of indifferent to the city. I like the fact it isn’t touristy, with no cutesy prettiness which I also kind of like about Bristol. But I’m waiting for a decisive event to trigger a bit of love or a bit of hate. Indifference is so flacid.

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