Ag in Africa

17 August, 2007

Ag out of africa

Filed under: Development worker, johannesburg, south africa — Ag @ 7:32 pm

So this is the last post on this blog. I’m going back to the UK next week. I’ve spent 11 months here in Johannesburg. I’m all done and satisfied. Here are some photos of the excellent people I’ve been with and this beautiful-ugly city – the most exciting city I’ve ever spent time in.

photosheet

I love Jozi

Jozi

Jozi


Jozi


Jozi


Jozi


Jozi


Jozi

13 August, 2007

Stuff I’m taking home

Filed under: Development worker, south africa — Ag @ 10:07 pm

I’m going home soon. Back to Bristol, UK. I’ve learned more in eleven months than I can process. Also, I can only see the facade of what I’ve learned. I guess my head will wander through the experiences I’ve had when I’m back on my sofa in my little house on forthcoming long Autumn nights. But these are some of the things I’ve learned in just the last three weeks:

– the value of having respectful, informal ways of addressing people. There are scores of respectful terms that people use when they address each other, like Ma, Aussi, Sissi, Aunty, Chief, Baba, Bra, Ma’am, Sir, etc. You use these words in front of someone’s name or instead of their name. The purpose of using these words is to show respect to a person, whether they are strangers or family-familiar. I really like the fact that I can lean over the counter in a café and call ‘Sorry, Sissi’ when I want to get the waitress’ attention. (Because I’ve been waiting 20 minutes for coffee and when it finally came it was tea – surprisingly regular occurrence!). By speaking in that way I show respect for that waitress. In the UK, I would just call ‘Excuse me’ with no simple way of addressing that particular person. The lack of an appropriate word to address that person seems to enforce the sense that we are strangers, that there is no connection between us.
– dancing and singing is not only for the talented, attention-seeking, eccentric, drunk or shameless. Here it happens everywhere. This suits me fine as I dance when I hear music I love. Here, when I jig around in my car while waiting at traffic lights, the guy in the car next to me will smile and maybe jig a bit too. At home, the guy in the car next to me would pretend it just wasn’t happening.
– jazz does not have to be a class issue, as I had always previously suspected.
– living under almost non-stop sunshine is a liberation – temperate climates are overrated.
– living in a house with lots of other people can be a wonderful and loving experience, instead of a source of annoyance.
– English people are ace fun.
– cockney accents are very sexy.
– Quakers are incredible people. The list of “active witness” activities they are involved in, in Southern Africa, greatly outnumbers their headcount. This year has made me feel privileged to feel like a Beginner Quaker, with all its radicalism, love and active commitment.
– I have more in common with European people than I ever dreamed.
– kids do not have to have hundreds of toys. Two or three is plenty. In fact, kids are not a species apart. They don’t need special-over-educational-attention. They don’t need loads of paraphenalia. Amazingly, I’ve found out that kids can be quite nice things, when they’re not over-indulged, when they’ve not learned that whining can be productive.
– chihuahuas are also ace. Can’t wait til I get old and I can attach one to my arm.

12 June, 2007

Lost and (pro)found

Filed under: Development worker, johannesburg — Ag @ 11:05 pm

Where I am

I’m always getting lost.   

There’s a strange thing here with maps. They’re not popular. When I travel in my car around Joburg and Gauteng, I consult my map if I don’t know where I’m going. But most folk here find this odd. They have little patience with it. When they are in the car with me, they fling it in the back seat and say, ‘Let’s just go Down There (which is Anywhere), then we’ll ask someone’. That’s how they find their way. And it always works. My most-admired-friend Vincent once picked up my (hefty tome-like) map, waggled it in the air and said, ‘So this is what you people in Europe believe in!’ Yes, I do, and it makes sense, but I also felt a bit embarassed.

I’ve got lost quite a lot recently. I couldn’t seem to focus on why I am here and that’s a Bad Thing when I’m so far away from my home landmarks. And it can get depressing because, when I don’t know where I am, I rely on the things I am so familiar with – partying, socialising, adventures. Although these are wonderful important things, they are not Why I’m Here. Then, through amazing grace, things happen which show me where I am and where I want to go. Tonight it was a film. It reminded me of what I can do and where I want to do it. And why. So tonight I feel eyes-wide-open again, and such strong energy. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

I’m also going to try the African approach – ‘Go Down There and ask somebody.’ This will be really difficult cos (I’ll blame it on Englishness, but it might just be me) I’m not in the habit of asking people, ‘What should I do? Where should I go?’ But I’m very excited about where they might take me.

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.”

25 March, 2007

Tales from different worlds 2 – the police

Filed under: Development worker, Guns, johannesburg — Ag @ 12:18 pm

I’m going away for a couple of weeks. First for a holiday, then to a Quaker farm in Zimbabwe. Wish me luck! In the meantime, here are three stories from personal experiences about the South African Police Service (SAPS).

Last week the NGO I work for ran a workshop to teach community activists how they can use the Firearms Control Act to make their areas safer. (The upshot is basically that the law allows for individuals to be declared ‘unfit’ or ‘incompetent’ to carry a gun. I’ve never met anyone who’s fit to carry a gun.) The area we were covering is called East Rand – it’s on the east side of Joburg. The East Rand suffered 712 murders last year. The workshop was held in Brakpan police station (28 murders last year).

Being a moderately law-abiding citizen (at least in the areas where it makes sense to be law abiding), I’m not very familiar with the insides of a police station – UK or any other.  So it was with some false-confidence that I strode into Brakpan police station. The nice lady behind the desk told me she didn’t know where the workshop was but there was a big room in another building where it might be. I said, “How do I get there?” She said, “Go round the back through the gates, through the first door on the left and then round a bit more.” So I stepped out onto the street, went round the back, wandered through some open gates with three prisoners lounging against them, alone, and into another building. No-one stopped me. I walked through the corridors, past police officers leaning against walls, past the open doors of little offices. Most of them were empty but occasionally there were people in there. They didn’t seem very busy. No-one asked me who I was or why I was there. At one point, the sounds of Neil Diamond filled a corridor, coming out of another office. Police officers were smoking in the corridors and offices, which is illegal in SA. There just didn’t seem to be any work happening. Police stations are supposed to feel safe – the safest place you can be, but Brakpan felt no safer than any other public place in SA. In fact, the building I work in, which is stuffed with little NGOs, feels much safer than Brakpan police station.

The police here have a poor reputation. Low morale, low pay, badly trained, etc etc. As the day went on, I got more glimpses into this. During the workshop, a scene developed in the carpark outside the windows of our room. Three kids had been nicked for theft. All the stuff was on display in the carpark. It would have been an unremarkable scene except that at one point one of the guys I work with looked out the window and said, “They’re kicking one of the kids.” Until then I’d been encouraging people to concentrate on what we were doing, but Needs Must, so I got my camera and waited for more violence. Thank god there wasn’t any more. But the treatment of these kids was fairly dire. All the assembled onlookers, about 15 of them, stood in the shade. But the kids were kept out in the hot hot sun all handcuffed to each other. One of the kids kept sitting down, he was crying and he didn’t seem well. Every time he sat on the floor the police men shouted at him to get up. Now I know I’m soft, but he was just a kid.

There was also the massive irony that we were teaching gun law, yet we could see that many policemen around us were not carrying their guns in a legal way. (For men, they must be carried in a holster. Ladies, feel free to pop yours in your handbag). Thembani and Vincent, the two amazing guys I work with are experts in this subject, and decided to raise the issue with the police chief. First the Big Cheese said that the police were using internal holsters, but it was clear that the guns were actually just tucked into their belts (it’s so incredibly easy to swipe a gun out of a belt – I could have done it loads of times that day). When T & V pushed the point a bit more the Big Cheese got pissed off and started talking in Afrikaans. Wanker. And the second irony is that SAPS loves our NGO, cos the police are so often the victims of gun violence.

So, I left Brakpan police station feeling disheartened. How is SA going to enforce gun law if the police can’t be arsed?

Second story: After a recent Quaker Meeting, a woman we’ll call Pam told us a horrific story. On Friday night, she and another Quaker had been driving home when they came upon a body in the road next to a car. (I’ve seen more revolting RTAs in Joburg in six months than I’ve seen in my life, so it’s not a huge shock that she came upon this scene.) There was no police or ambulance at the scene, so she drove to the nearest police station in Booysens (404 carjackings last year) to get help.

Her friend ran into the police station, then came out again 10 minutes later distressed. All of the on-duty policemen were round the back of the station having a party. Both women then went round and insisted that someone attended the accident, but the policemen told them to go away. Pam demanded to speak to the officer in charge and the Big Cheese came out of the station. She asked him to attend the accident, or send someone else to. He said he wouldn’t. She kept insisting until he said that he would charge Pam with the murder of the victim if she didn’t go away.

Unfortunately for him, Pam is an attorney, so promptly started taking down his name, rank, number, etc, at which point he hit her in the face. She is a feisty lady, so they ended up having a bit of a fight, and her clothes got ripped.

At that point she got in her car and drove to another police station (Parkview – 27 carjackings last year) where the officers were very helpful. Now an investigation has started and important people are phoning her, including the chief-police-type-person in the state of Gauteng (where Joburg is situated).

So there’s the awfulness of what happened to her, and the fact that she still doesn’t know when the original victim was attended to. Also shocking is that even when she went to the second police station, and even when the chief-police-person called her, they assumed that her car had hit the victim. Why else would a white lady come to the police station to report the crime? Civic duty / compassion / human instinct are apparently not plausible. But, for me, there’s the fact that some justice may be seen because of who she is, and the fact she has clout. For less distinguished people, there would be no such justice.

Third (nice) SAPS story. Two nights ago I was lying in my gorgeous bed, feeling gorgeous cool breeze as I fell asleep, then BANG BANG – POLICE, OPEN THE DOOR. Shit! My bedroom window is right over the door. This house has never been burgled. It’s the only house that anyone knows of in Joburg that’s never been broken into. I sneak a look out the window and I see men with long guns. Then I hear Monique, whose house this is, call out, “You are not police.” (It would never cross my privileged mind to question this.) And I’m thinking, “So the time has come…” Then I hear quieter words and, thank god (sort of) that it is indeed the police. I can’t hear what’s being said but the policemen start searching our garden with their huge guns. And there are loads of them – 11 apparently. So then they leave. Monique told me that the police thought that there might have been a break-in in progress because our front gate was open. Such is life in Joburg.

26 February, 2007

Fear and Loathing in South Africa

Filed under: Development worker, johannesburg, Peace, south africa — Ag @ 9:57 pm

(This post is best read whilst listening to ‘In the Ghetto’ by Candi Statton ((or Elvis if you must)). It gives the right context.)

I know that the most recent posts below have been light-and-fluffy. However, last weekend was a bored-and-lonely weekend. Before I came here, I scheduled several of these into my year, but have been fortunate enough to miss most of them. The (only) good thing about a bored-and-lonely weekend is that it gives me time to think and write.

I’ve wanted to have a stab at crime in SA for a long time, so this is going to be a long-and-serious post. In SA, any discussion about crime is a discussion about violence. This is a violent society. A couple of weeks ago I did a training course on facilitating workshops in women’s prisons. As well as hearing some first-hand nauseating stories of life in the slammer, I was told two interesting things about crime:

1. People who commit crimes – don’t we all? – ok, proper crimes, usually have common risk factors. These include: being victims of abuse, poverty, family breakdown, lack of economic opportunities (ie, decent jobs), low self-esteem, lack of education, isolation, etc … well, it doesn’t take a bleedin’ genius to work that out. One surprising factor is that coming from a highly patriarchal society (ie, where men are men and don’t do the dusting) is another indicator. South Africa has all of these risk factors in abundance.

2. Whereas yer average female crim in the UK or USA is most likely to be in prison for an economic (eg, non-violent theft, fraud) or narcotics related crime, yer average female crim in SA is likely to be in prison for a violent crime. Given that women are significantly less violent than men, this gives an indicator of how violent SA is.

The BBC has reported that South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in the world – only Iraq and Colombia are more dangerous. (It would be wonderfully satisfying to blame the USA for all three, but South Africa has to sit on our British / Dutch consciences.) But the really weird thing about crime here is that people seem to be almost wedded to it, like a bad marriage; like the British seem to revel in crap weather. It’s not good, no-one likes it, but there’s something almost definitively-nationally-symbolic about it. Just like I can talk to my neighbour over the fence back home about the weather, I can always get small-talk over the electrified-razor-wire here about crime.

So, after that lengthy introduction, here’s my take on why crime is a national past-time: apartheid, Fear and wealth disparity. You can stop reading here if you’re not interested in the arguments.

Firstly, sorry, but I’ll shoot myself next time someone tells me that this is the New South Africa – democracy and all that. For me, apartheid is a major element when looking at causes of crime. The system that institutionally made the vast majority (85%) of the population believe they just weren’t good enough. It engendered distrust. It’s still in the infrastructure, and in the psyche of the nation. There’s still very little voluntary interaction between differently coloured people. Recent stats from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation suggest that informal interaction between South Africans of different colours is actually reducing(1). (Damn, I’ve resorted to attributing. I don’t like the coldness of the academic approach, as if this is all about intellectual argument and not about humanity, love and speaking-my-truth. I seem to be stuck between academia and Quakerism. A sop and a vague place.) Yes, this is a resurgent nation – incredible economic growth, the most radical and liberal constitution in the world. Fantastic and exciting. But black people are still relatively poor (often very poor) and live mostly in townships. White people are still rich and live in the best bits of town. Here’s a quote from the Institute for Security Studies(2):

“Culture of violence

Some explanations for the high rate of violent crime refer to South Africa’s political history, suggesting that families suffered from ‘institutional violence’ for decades through the disruption of their lives by mass removals and migrant labour policies of apartheid. Political violence compounded this disruption of family life. The resultant weakening of the family unit and thus parental control over children may prompt criminal behaviour among the youth.

Moreover, while the liberation movements’ strategy of ungovernability was theoretically directed against the apartheid state, it had other destructive effects. In the process of destabilising black local government, leading violent campaigns against black policemen, and urging a people’s war which involved the youth in particular, massive violence was unleashed in black communities which bred a culture of violent lawlessness and a distrust of authority[…] Since 1994, little has been done to reverse these tendencies and to draw young South Africans in particular back into a society governed by the rule of law.

‘Culture of violence’ theories similarly argue that the effects of apartheid coupled with years of political violence and the continued exposure to violence in the home and in the neighbourhood have produced a destructive culture which manifests itself in what the Nedcor Project on Crime, Violence and Investment called ‘murderous intolerance’[…] It also means that South Africans quickly resort to violence as a means of solving conflicts — whether in the domestic, social or work environment.”

Fear was a very effective instrument of apartheid. (I’m continually surprised at how effective apartheid was. It wasn’t just in the infrastructure of the country, it was very effectively bred in the national psychology. If only they’d spent their energies on something constructive…) There’s a perception that this intense Fear is a recent phenomenon. However, I’ve recently read, “Cry, the Beloved Country” and it’s clear that white people accepted as early as the 1940s that Fear was the price they had to pay for their extreme wealth. The importance of Fear in feeding crime can’t be underestimated in my opinion. The Institute of Justice and Reconciliation explains this much better than I can(3):

“The impact of South Africa’s high crime levels and the brutal nature thereof goes beyond the material loss or physical scars of victims. The fact that virtually everybody knows somebody that has had a harrowing experience, creates the fear of being next in line, and consequently also an inherent cautiousness towards interaction with fellow human beings. Given our historical division and the fact that the unknown is often the biggest source of fear, distrust frequently manifests itself in the way that we perceive racial groups other than our own. This is an impediment to the openness that is required for the meaningful engagement that is required in a divided society such as ours. An IJR manual entitled Learning to Live Together, elaborates on this point and identifies at least five ways in which crime can obstruct national reconciliation efforts. According to the manual, it “undermines public trust in nation-building; it creates more victims and more trauma; it reinforces apartheid segregation and socio-economic inequality; it entrenches racial prejudice and it undermines social stability and tolerance”. Simpson elaborates on this and suggests that violent crime in South Africa has become a “new vehicle for re-racialising and physically and emotionally re-dividing the ‘new’ South Africa”.”

An example of how Fear perpetuates violence is in civilian gun-ownership, which is very popular in SA. There are approximately 4 million legally owned guns, and a similar number of illegal guns is estimated. The theory is that people keep guns in order to protect themselves and their households, as a response to their Fear. However, huge numbers (thousands) of guns go missing every year, and many of these are subsequently used in illegal, violent crimes. Also, legal and illegal South African guns are frequently used in fatal domestic violence (yes, innocent women and kids), and householders are more likely to have their guns turned against them during a break-in than use them in self-defence.

So, it’s a very very vicious circle: Fear perpetuates Violence perpetuates Fear. It’s been quite difficult not to get caught up in the Fear thing as people incessantly insist that I shouldn’t walk outside the gate of my house after dark; I shouldn’t drive into central Joburg. Doing so at night is asking for trouble. I shouldn’t drive into the townships at all unless I know exactly where I’m going. These warnings are given by both black and white South Africans. I have seen English people who are out here get caught up in this Fear, within just a few days of being here, and let it restrict them, even though they, like me, have not experienced a single incident. If we get sucked into it, we will contribute to it, and I came here to contribute in a positive way to this society, not to entrench mistrust.

As well as apartheid and Fear, the other factor that I believe is fundamental to explaining violent crime in SA is the huge disparity between rich and poor. Measured since 2000, just Bolivia, Haiti, Colombia and Brazil have wider gaps between the rich and poor. Only a very rich person with a stubbornly dormant conscience would argue that it’s a coincidence that most (all? I don’t know much about Bolivia) of these are violent societies.

For many South Africans, their chances of moving out of poverty are made virtually impossible by the high unemployment rate (around 28%) and the crap education they received under apartheid – while 65% of whites have a high-school or higher qualification, the figure for black people is only 14%. It’s still the case that only around 40% of schools are “fee-free”.(4)

The irony about the current high-profile of violent crime in South Africa is that the biggest noise seems to be coming from the white communities. But the white communities are by far the safest areas to live. Looking at South African Police Service stats (5), murders in nice white areas of Joburg (Linden – where I live, Parkview, Rosebank) ranged from 2 to 11 last year. Whereas, if you take even a fancy part of Soweto like Diepkloof, you find that there were 38 murders last year. Gauteng (the province which includes Joburg, Pretoria and Soweto) clocked up a total of 3,434. There’s some interesting writing about perceptions of crime in SA on the excellent Gautango blog, which is written by a couple of Americans who are currently living in Joburg.

There are other factors that are massively important, but I don’t want to make this post any longer than it already is. Briefly the ones that I would like to have said more about are

  • South Africa is a magnet for immigration from all over Africa.
  • the particular apartheid process of separating black men from their families in order to get them to work in industry and the long term consequences of this.
  • dissatisfaction with the slow rate of wealth redistribution.
  • domestic violence is rampant.
  • the police are not effective enough, particularly in the most vulnerable areas where they are most needed.
  • the prison service is only spending approx R110 on each prisoner a day, which doesn’t bode well for rehabilitation.
  • SA has a culture where a violent response to conflict is not considered unacceptable.

1. http://www.ijr.org.za/politicalanalysis/reconcbar/copy_of_sixthroundreportfinal/view
2 http://www.iss.co.za/Pubs/Papers/49/Paper49.html
3 http://www.ijr.org.za/politicalanalysis/reconcbar/copy_of_sixthroundreportfinal/view
4 http://www.southafrica.info/ess_info/sa_glance/education/education.htm
5 South African Police Service crime stats: http://www.saps.gov.za/statistics/reports/crimestats/2006/crime_stats.htm

3 January, 2007

My take on why HIV is so prevalent in South Africa

Filed under: AIDS, Development worker, johannesburg, south africa — Ag @ 1:47 pm

While I’m here, I have to write 3 “letters” for the Quakers, who have very kindly given me this opportunity and who pay my wages. The first “letter” has been published. It’s about why HIV infection rates are increasing in South Africa while they are falling in other parts of Africa. You can read it online at http://www.quaker.org.uk/Templates/Internal.asp?NodeID=90457.

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.

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