Ag in Africa

29 April, 2007

Rich! Oh yes, everyone wants to be my friend now!

Filed under: johannesburg — Ag @ 10:54 pm

Look! I’ve got platinum! Yessss. A very precious French hydrologist brought this very precious South African rock back from a real mine for me.

Platinum rock

Mining precious metals is HUGE here. Johannesburg even has another name – Egoli – which means City of Gold. (Just one letter away from being the greatest film ever – typical poor municipal planning by the South Africans.) The mines are still why people flock here from Southern Africa – to get relatively well paid jobs underground.

But don’t bother me with gold and silver. Platinum is my preferred metal. And here it is. The real deal, in its raw state. I’m going to do something chemical to it, to turn it into proper platinum. Think I’ll start by whacking it with a hammer then chucking some bleach over it. I’ll post a photo of the resulting ear rings later tonight.


23 April, 2007

I love banging things with sticks

Filed under: zimbabwe — Ag @ 10:07 pm

Back home I love playing a repenique or surdo drum, with Bristol Samba. They’re both played with sticks. Here I thought that I would enjoy playing a djembe using my hands. But I don’t. I like hitting things with sticks. I like the feeling of sticks.

When I was in Zimbabwe I was lucky enough to play a marimba with a master marimba player. Actually 7 master marimba players. At the beginning of the ‘lesson’, they played us a ‘tune’. I was very excited until they said they were going to play Phil Bloody Collins, “Another Day in Hell Paradise”. Moans and groans from the UK contingent (all both of us). But it turns out that Phil’s a bleedin’ genius in the hands of a bunch of Zim marimba gods. It was sooo good, I almost rushed out and bought the original. Turns out they weren’t selling records – or anything else – locally. What a wonderful thing that music was. Beautiful harmonies. The bass marimba was so, um, deeply woody sounding, it was edibly good. I nearly requested “You can’t hurry love”.

So then I got my sticks with the soft bits on the end and was transported into a harmonious-woody-bouncy musical heaven. And I was ok at it too, for a beginner. You have no idea how stupidly happy I felt when the main man gave me a full African handshake and told me, ‘You’re good, girl.” He said I was good! It was the same as the moment when my most admired DJ once told me, with an eloquence that only a UK DJ could muster, ‘Um, yeah, nice mix’. At moments like those I worry that life can only go downhill thereafter.

Here, showing nothing informative at all, is a pic I really like of me playing the marimba, taken by Anna. My hands are the boney ones in the middle.

Marimbas. Photo taken by Anna.

21 April, 2007

Like the grass is greener, but more red

Filed under: Development worker, johannesburg — Ag @ 7:11 pm

(Please ignore my massive overuse of the word ‘mostly’. It’s because I’m a Quaker, mostly.)

I wrote the text below some months ago, but I wanted to ‘publish’ it because I don’t feel so much like that anymore. What I’ve started noticing is how quickly I’ve adapted to this place. Humans are remarkably adaptable. I’ve got used to not walking anywhere, not getting any exercise, the non-stop sunshine – oh, I love African sun – and I’ve even got used to living in an apartheid city. I don’t want to pretend to be an angel-of-conscience when I’m feeling more like a hedonist than an activist.

I’m still aware of all the stuff below, but it isn’t arousing such fierce passion in me any more. (Although I still hate that rich look and everybody is still drinking and driving.) I think this is partly because I’m having a great time here; because I have made lots of friends (though only one white South African friend, and I have to tread gently around her); because I love my job, which is where I do my passionate-cause-thing, and because I love the city. So I’m wondering if this is why there is little activism amongst the rich here – they’re just too happy to be unhappy? Don’t take me too seriously on this – it’s just a quick bit of throwaway-cod-philosophy before I spend an excellent night out on the town this Saturday night with my friends. I’m just too happy to be unhappy.

 “I’m on intimate terms with a particular fidgety-frustrated-red-coloured feeling. It’s the feeling that there’s an ace party happening somewhere and I am missing it. I’ve had this feeling most weekends since I was about 14. It’s like the ‘grass is greener’, but it’s more red than green. It’s unfounded because most parties are crap. The problem in Joburg is that it’s true. The social apartheid infrastructure is still largely in place, which means that mostly white (mostly rich) people live mostly in the northern suburbs, black South African live in townships, mostly. There’s a bit of mixing and mis-matching but mostly the status quo has been maintained. This is compounded by the poor public transport, which makes it difficult for people to go home to the townships late at night. The ‘taxis’ (private mini busses) which ferry people to and from town don’t tend to operate at night. Taxis, as you and I know them, are scarce and very expensive, even by UK standards. So a trip from town to Soweto might clock up £25. Busses are mostly mythical.

 One of the implications of this twisted-but-effective apartheid social engineering is that people drink and drive. Unless you can get a lift from a sober person, there’s no other way to get around. According to Drive Alive, 40 people die every day on South Africa’s roads.

 Another is that, as always, the ‘nice’ parts of the city (ie the northern suburbs) are bloody dull. Sooo dull I can’t tell you. They’re actually offensively dull. For example, in a posh area near my house, they’ve opened a shebeen. Shebeens were (and often still are) illegal drinking places, often in people’s homes, in townships and rural areas. There’s a so-called shebeen in Greenside which is actually a pastiche of a genuine shebeen. The truly laughable thing is that you have to reserve a table and it’s full of posh white people, drinking wine and looking unashamedly rich. (You know that look: blond bobs, lots of beige-safe-inoffensive-labelled-clothes-that-look-shite, slightly pudgy, jewellery, the awful smell of expensive perfume. That’s the women. The men are even worse. They’re so remarkably dull that I can’t even get a picture of them in my head. They’re blobs.) And you know what? Even though the suburbs are so dull, I’m still really pleased to go there sometimes. It would be the equivalent of going to a wine bar in Clifton (Bristol) full of Sophies and Ruperts because I couldn’t get to a half-decent pub in St Werburghs.”

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