Ag in Africa

27 December, 2006

My human shield

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 5:37 pm

Hillbrow kid

Earlier this month I went down to a thing called Kidsweek in Hillbrow. Hillbrow is considered the most no-go area of town (I say ‘most’ cos all areas of the city centre are considered no-go). There’s a church down there that runs a big week-long event for kids from the area, so I went along to take pictures. It’s a very beautiful church in the middle of high rises and busy-busy city-ness. It was a very strange feeling being within its grounds where it felt so safe and cheerful, looking out on the surrounding city which most white people here have never even driven through, and dread as a super-crime-myth.


At one point during the day, the kids went on a ‘march’ around Hillbrow, singing songs, lead by Mandla (above), who is a gift to theatre and comedy. I was told that I wasn’t allowed to take my camera on the march as there was no-one to look after me. I wasn’t worried about it, but as it stressed the organisers out, I left my camera behind.
So we walked through the streets, with all the kids singing songs and shouting, and I was aware that I felt completely safe because I was with 200 kids. It was odd to feel that these kids, who I was picking up when they tripped over and stopping from squabbling, were really looking after me.

Hillbrow kids

You can look at more of my pix of these ace kids on flickr, and there are various good pix of Hillbrow on Google image search.


17 December, 2006

View from Northcliff Mountain

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 7:24 pm

Northcliff ‘Mountain’ is a hill very close to where I live. You can drive to the top and look out over 270 degrees of Joburg, which has a pretty impressive skyline. The pictures below were taken from Northcliff Mountain a month or so ago.

View from Northcliff mountain 2
Looking towards the CBD (Central Business District), with the Melville Koppies nature reserve in the middle. Lines of Jacarandas visible too.

View from Northcliff mountain 1
This is what Joburg looks like and feels like when you get into the northern suburbs. Loads of trees and roads. The big white building in the centre of the picture is Cresta-Yak mall.

The northern suburbs constitute the whole of the north of Joburg, and there are similar suburbs to the East of the city. I’m not sure about the West and South. The other, non-suburby-feeling-areas are the city centre, suburbs-cum-townships like Westbury (below); some old suburbs like Brixton, Yeoville and Mayfair which are quite mixed racially, and which I like but they are considered dangerous. Then there are the townships, such as Soweto, Alexandra and Tembisa, which are on the outskirts of the city. Most of the white people I know here have never been to the townships even though some of them are big towns in their own right.

13 December, 2006

Lush breakfast fuchs

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 11:08 am


 Still on the theme of words and phrases, they’ve got some funny names here. Here are some examples:

  • Fuchs Lubricants – a company I had to call today. Snigger.
  • a nice lady called Ms Lush works at Cadburys. I’d like to meet her.
  • I’d also like to meet Quinton Hickling. He sounds like a Somerset village.
  • ‘Welcome’ – one of the people I went to Mphumalanga with a couple of weekends ago. It’s very difficult to say, with a straight face, ‘Welcome, why are you sleeping on the floor?’.
  • Crosby Breakfast is a man who works at the aforementioned Fuchs. I’m tempted to apply for a job there as they seem to have a sense of humour.

 Back to English, and I’ve just finished reading Possession by AS Byatt. Here’s my weighty critique: don’t bother, and if you do, keep a dictionary handy. Anyway, I learned loads of new words which I’ve been flinging about, particularly when I want to annoy an Afrikaner (which is quite often, to be honest). My favourite by far is “antimacassars”. This word is so long and profound-sounding that it really should refer to a revolutionary movement in France in the eighteenth century, or some ancient piece of armour that wards off deadly macassar slingshots. But no, it refers to those doily things that old people drape over the backs of sofas. Such little silly things. But what a gorgeous word!

 So anyway I’m waiting for my opportunity to drop it. “My God! You’ve got antimacassars! And, let me see… Yes, you iron your t-shirts.’ I may be waiting some time.

6 December, 2006

What, you’ve never slaughtered a chicken?

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 8:12 pm

These are some of the things I’m enjoying thinking about right now:

  • I have begun to pick up a few words of zulu. My favourite is namhlange, which means ‘today’.  The ‘hl’ bit is lose in the mouth like, um, like no word we have in English; actually, yes, it’s like that sound they use in Welsh, as in the Ll bit in Lleyn peninsular.  So ‘ouso inate namhlange’ means ‘it’s going to rain today’. That’s spelt completely wrong, but I haven’t seen anyone writing zulu yet.
  • That I’m so fortunate not to be a single colour. It gives me such free reign. This is true in the UK, but it’s massively useful here.
  • I like all the respectful pre-goblins (don’t-know-don’t-care what the proper term is for a prefix in front of people’s names) that are used in the ‘black’ languages. They speak 9 languages in my office, not including English and Afrikaans, so when I do pick up words I have no idea what language they are apart from the zulu words above. So the respectful  pre-wots include Sis, for example Sis Sarah which is said by women of similar age ; ma/mom/mam for a lady of a certain age, eg mom Bongi; tatti, for a gentleman of a certain age, eg tatti Simon (he drives our combi); daaa da, you can just refer to an older gentleman with this term; wooti, no idea how this is supposed to be used but it seems you can chuck it in almost anywhere and it vaguely refers to someone; ma’m, as in short for madam. This is what I get called all the time by the men I work with. To begin with it disturbed me cos I thought it had apartheid overtones but they assure me it’s just respectful, so I sometimes call them sir in response. And the ma’m thing doesn’t sound like it does in John Lewis. It’s somehow silky and warm and intimate… and… and… well, ladies, use your imagination.
  • I’ve never slaughtered a chicken. It seems that at weddings, anniversaries, payment of labola (dowry) and countless other events the slaughtering of an animal is compulsory. And it’s not done by a particular religious weirdo or anything, it’s done by the remarkably lovable people that I spend my days with. In the combi the other day (all the best bits happen in the combi), they (the actors, all of whom are black) asked Fiona, who’s an Afrikaaner, what animals she’s slaughtered. None. None! I mean, what’s wrong with the woman? Not even a chicken? No, not even that. Much clicking of teeth erupted. Of course, they didn’t ask me or even flick a glance in my direction.
  • That for the second year in a row, I’m avoiding Christmas in the UK.  I’m spending Christmas by the pool with loads of unbelievably nice and likeable people in the HOT SUN. Oh yes.

5 December, 2006

The sky

Filed under: south africa — Ag @ 10:02 pm

Summer sky
The economics may be fucked up, but you can’t fault their cloud formations.

Summer sky
It is Out of Africa.

Summer sky
I’ve never seen skies like this before.
They are so blue and the clouds are so perfectly formed.

Summer sky
The clouds are layered on top of each other, like a heap of differently textured fabrics.
Some all fluffy and soft, some grey and coarse. Some just like loose threads.

Sky on the road<br>  to Botswana
I took these on the road from Botswana to Joburg which takes about 5-6 hours. I
spent the whole trip craning my neck out of the combi window gawping at the
gorgeous sky.

The sky on the<br>  road to Botswana
You can see more pix like this on Flickr.

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