This post was originally going to be about rain. It rained this week, for the first time in six months, and everything is crisp and green and beautiful. Here are a couple of photos I took with that topic in mind.
But as Joe and I were running errands yesterday, I decided to write about some of the ways people make a living in Johannesburg.
Our first stop was the Impala fruit and vegetable market in Northcliff. The parking lot was filled with people selling handmade brooms and feather dusters. (No one buys brooms or feather dusters from a store; if you want one you just pull into the nearest parking lot and wait for someone to walk up and sell you one. Or wait for the local broom salesman in your neighborhood to knock on the door.)
The broom and feather duster people are always there, but yesterday there was also a woman behind a card table – set haphazardly in the middle of the parking lot — selling fabric and lace. I walked by a couple of times and couldn’t stop looking at a large piece of cotton cloth with families of black guinea fowl printed on it. I felt oddly drawn to the saleslady, Irene, who is from Zimbabwe. I haggled with her and finally bought the cloth for about $35. I have no idea what to use it for but I love it, and I was happy to support Irene.
Later in the day we drove past a busy street corner on the outskirts of Melville where a guy sells makarapas. Makarapas are plastic mining helmets that are carved and decorated to support various South African soccer and rugby teams. Makarapas were originally created by migrant workers who began wearing their work helmets to soccer matches to avoid injury by flying bottle missiles. Now they are a South African art form.
Lebo sells his makarapas, which take a full day to create, for $30 apiece; he’s lucky to sell one a day. His goal is to sell eight per week, which he hopes will allow him to expand his business beyond the street corner.
I purchased one, but I’m not going to say for whom as I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Hopefully Joe can disassemble it for me so I can get it back to the U.S. without breaking it.
I had a long chat with Lebo, who I’m guessing is in his early 20s. His mother is living with HIV and Lebo is her sole provider. I promised to tell his story to my friends so that when they visit Joburg they will buy their makarapas from him and not from the makarapa store downtown. You’ll find him at the corner of Carlow Rd. and Emmerantia Ave. in Parkview, every day except Sunday from 10 a.m. until dark.
Our last stop was the post office. I waited in the car while Joe went to mail a letter. An elderly man approached the window.
The man, Simon, is a car guard – I could tell from the fluorescent yellow vest he was wearing. Car guards are guys who stand on the street and in parking lots, watching people’s cars. Car guards aren’t paid – they work solely for tips. It’s actually a bit problematic: If you pay every car guard who watches your car you will quickly go broke, and some car guards actually participate in car theft and mugging schemes. But crime and unemployment allow the phenomenon to persist.
Anyway, Simon didn’t want money. He showed me a piece of paper with the handwritten words, “Maths Made Easy, Grade 10, R190.”
“Hello, will you please buy this book?” asked Simon politely.
“Sorry?” I was confused.
“I need this book. It’s at Campus Square.” (Campus Square is the mall in Melville.)
“You’re learning math?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Simon proudly. “And I’m teaching my daughter. I’m here every day. Please bring it the next time you come. I will work for you – anything, for free!”
I copied down the name of the book, the store where it’s sold, and Simon’s phone number. I promised to buy the book the next time I’m at Campus Square.
As we drove home, I thought about how unfair life is.
As we pulled into our street, I saw this horse and cart parked in front of a nearby house.
The cart-owners ride around Melville and surrounding neighborhoods, collecting garden refuse and taking it to the garbage dump. They charge about R200 ($30 – seems to be the going rate for lots of goods and services around here) per load. Gardening season is in full swing and I’ve been seeing these carts all over the place. I hear them clip-clopping past when we sit on the deck. There are usually two guys driving the horse and sometimes there is a child sitting in the back on the cart. I need to do more research on them for a future post.
This town is filled with resourcefulness.