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Heather on Day 100 of lockdown

Day 100: My Top Five Lockdown Posts

It’s Day 100 of the South African lockdown. I’m still here, at home, on my couch. Many people in South Africa have been writing about Day 100 on social media, posting montages of photos, reflecting on what’s happened over the past three-plus months, etc. I don’t want to be redundant or overdo it. But this day does feel quite momentous for me, as it does for so many others. I truly don’t feel like the same person I was 100 days ago, in the same way the world doesn’t feel like the same place it was 100 days ago. This blog, which has defined my existence for the past ten years, is also not the same as it was 100 days ago. I used to blog once or twice a week — maybe three times if I was feeling really inspired. But I blogged for 53 days in a row when the lockdown started, and then continued to blog five out of every seven days until today. I’ve now published 89 total posts since I spontaneously decided to start this lockdown journal. Today I’m officially ending the journal, simply because I’m burned out and Day 100 seems like a good […]

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Traffic passing the Hillbrow Boxing Club

A Visit to Hillbrow (Lockdown Day 99)

I’ve been working out with George Khosi at the Hillbrow Boxing Club for many years. Up until the lockdown started I’d been going to Hillbrow about three times a week, every week, since 2012. George is not just a coach. He’s like an uncle to me. And although we’ve been checking in via text every week or two, I hadn’t seen him in person since March and that was starting to feel really weird. Also the gym — which is on the site of an abandoned petrol station — has been undergoing a major renovation since February. I was eager to see how things were going. Obviously I still can’t exercise at the gym, but I figured I could go for a masked, socially distanced visit. Yet I felt apprehensive, like the coronavirus somehow makes Hillbrow more dangerous than it was before. It’s weird how the pandemic makes me afraid of things I wasn’t previously afraid of. I promised George I would visit this week. Today was the last day of the week. So I finally went and I’m so glad I did. Visting Hillbrow Hillbrow, which has always had a serious problem with sanitation (in fact that’s a huge […]

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Girl collecting a food parcel in Melville

3000 Food Parcels (Lockdown Day 98)

It’s Day 98 of the South African lockdown, which I literally cannot believe. Earlier today I suddenly thought back to my Day 9 post, when I said it felt like Day 900 and questioned my decision to blog every day of lockdown because I suspected it might last longer than 21 days. Ha! Hahahaha! As usual there is a lot of bad news in South Africa today, but I won’t torture you with it. It’s Thursday, food parcel day, and the Melville food program has now surpassed 3000 parcels donated (400 of them today). This isn’t “good” news exactly — it’s definitely not good that this program is so sorely needed — but it’s quite an achievement nonetheless. There has been some debate about this program in Melville — around who is receiving the parcels and why, who is/isn’t worthy of receiving food from charitable programs, etc. If you’ve been pondering these questions yourself (or not), please watch this video, which includes short interviews with several of the parcel recipients. Those of you who read my food parcel post last week might recognize Josaya the poet in this video. I chatted with Josaya again this morning — he told me […]

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Josaya Muianga the poet at the food parcel collection

The Poet (Day 91)

This morning I got up early and went to take photos at the Melville food parcel program, as I always do on Thursday mornings. I arrived at the church around 6:30. Due to another commitment, I had to leave at 7:30. At 7:25, I met Josaya. I overheard Josaya speaking to Sean, who co-founded the food parcel program. Sean asked Josaya where he lives, and Josaya said he doesn’t have a home currently. He used to be a student at the University of Johannesburg. Sometimes he stays with friends. Right now, he sleeps on the street. Last night his blanket was stolen. Josaya’s outfit caught my eye immediately. Everything was in shades of blue and yellow, not matching (not even his shoes) and yet all going together. “Curated” is the word that comes to mind. Josaya was saying something to Sean about the works of Francis Bacon — I assume he meant the 20th-century artist, not the 17th-century English Lord Chancellor, although I didn’t get the chance to find out. There was a paperback book sticking out of the pocket of Josaya’s dark blue robe. “What are you reading?” I asked Josaya, pointing to the book, and he pulled it […]

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Trixie in the bottlebrush tree

Trixie the Melville Kitten (Day 88)

It’s Day 88 of the South African lockdown. Today, at long last, Trixie the Melville Kitten (who is actually not a kitten anymore) makes her blogging debut. From Trixie: Hello! Hi it’s Trixie! I’m blogging I’m blogging I’m blogging. I wanted to blog for a long time. Heather said I’m too little. I said I’m two! Big Brother said I’m not smart enough but that’s wrong. I asked asked asked, I said please! They said no no no. But today Heather said she doesn’t have ideas to blog. Big Brother says he’s cold. He’s at the fire. Heather said today I can blog. I’m blogging I’m blogging I’m blogging! Heather says it is lock-down. It has been lock-down for a lot of days. I love lock-down, Heather is here all the time. She feeds me and plays with my string and stays in bed with the hot bottle and I sleep where it’s warm. Lock-down is nice! Outside I love to climb. I climb in the tree high high high! Heather stands under, she says don’t fall. I don’t fall. I climb and I roll roll roll on the ground. I sneak in the grass and the leaves. I run […]

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MK marching in Soweto on the weekend of Nelson Mandela's death

Soweto (Lockdown Day 82)

Welcome to Day 82 of the South African lockdown. It’s both freezing-cold and raining in Joburg — a very rare occurrence. It’s also Youth Day, a South African public holiday commemorating the 1976 student uprising in Soweto. For the last couple of weeks I have been thinking constantly about racism. Soon after I woke up this morning, I found myself having a bit of a mental meltdown over it. I’m not sure why (probably because there’s not much else to do on a dark, freezing-cold, rainy public holiday during a pandemic), but after I woke up I scrolled deeper than usual into my Facebook feed. I was appalled by the number of racist posts — some subtle, some flat-out hateful — that I came across, today of all days. In a recent blog post, I said I want to use my platforms to speak out against racism and racial injustice. I am still committed to doing this, but I also can’t help thinking: What’s the point? Speaking out on racism in South Africa — or America, for that matter — feels like screaming into a gale-force wind. Institutionalized racism is woven so deeply into the fabric of our societies. It’s […]

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An elderly man at Villa Gloria in Krugersdorp on the West Rand

Villa Gloria in Krugersdorp (Lockdown Day 81)

Over the weekend I went with my friend Michelle to Krugersdorp — an outer suburb on Joburg’s West Rand. (You may remember Michelle as the proprietor of the Junkie Charity Shop, and former human to the Melville Cat.) Michelle was donating a large potjie (Afrikaans for “stew”) pot to a feeding scheme in Krugersdorp, and she asked me to come along to take photos. Neither Michelle nor I knew very much about where we were going. But eventually we found our way to a plot of land with a big, boarding-house-like building called Villa Gloria. Virtually every inch of land around the big house was occupied by tiny wooden dwellings. Villa Gloria is home to a non-profit organization called the God Disciples Foundation. There are more than 300 people living there, including 120 children, paying rent on a sliding scale. The Foundation also runs a creche (nursery school) for the small children and babies at Villa Gloria. Daniel Geyer, the owner of Villa Gloria, describes the property as a kind of halfway house. But some of the residents have lived there for years. Many of Villa Gloria’s residents are elderly, disabled, survivors of domestic violence, and/or recovering addicts. Others have […]

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Braamfontein sunset 2012

The COVID-19 Paradox (Lockdown Day 78)

It’s Day 78 of the South African lockdown. Today I don’t care. The cold front has finally descended and the low temperatures have turned my brain to sludge. We had a high of 9 degrees Celsius (48 Fahrenheit) today. This morning it was a blustery -2. I realize that sounds really wimpy to those of you living in cold climates. But try working from home in that kind of weather, when the inside of your house is virtually the same temperature as the outside. Right now I’m counting down the minutes until it’s an acceptable time to curl up on the couch under a blanket and watch Schitt’s Creek. Last night I was chatting with a friend on WhatsApp and we were having the “I know I have no right to complain, but…” conversation. You know what I’m talking about, right? That conversation when you’re complaining and complaining while at the same time feeling obligated to acknowledge you shouldn’t complain? Lockdown sucks! But it could certainly be worse. There’s no work! But at least I have savings. I’m bored! Boredom sure does beat starvation. I’m freezing! But I have a roof over my head. I’m lonely! But at least I […]

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Sunrise in Melville

A Jozi Winter Sunrise (Lockdown Day 77)

For the last couple of Thursdays mornings, I have intended to get myself to Heritage Baptist Church and the Melville food distribution by 6:00 a.m. The food parcel recipients have been lining up as early as 4:00 a.m., and the whole process is more or less finished by the time the sun comes up. I’m supposed to be documenting the program. But last week I arrived at 7:00 and basically missed everything. We’re nearing the dead of winter in Joburg, when it’s cold and dark and nearly impossible (at least for me) to get out of bed before sunrise. But this week I made myself accountable by arranging to walk up to the church with another volunteer at 6:00 on the dot. (Thanks Lucy!) So we made it. I chose the right day to be up early. A cold front is about to blow into Joburg (there was snow in the Western Cape this morning, and below-freezing temperatures are on their way to town by tomorrow), which means the normally clear winter sky was scattered with clouds. I had the privilege of watching a phenomenal sunrise. The sunrise was beautiful and cheered me up a bit — I think it […]

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Flowers in the garden

Five Good Things That Have Happened to Me During Lockdown (Day 76)

It’s Day 76 of the South African lockdown, and I have now blogged on 71 of the last 79 days. (I started my Lockdown Journal three days before the lockdown began.) I have blogged about virtually every aspect of lockdown, COVID-19, and the state of the world during the pandemic. I devoted an entire post to my “airing of grievances” related to COVID-19, and have moaned or complained in every single one of my 70 previous posts. I’ve blogged very little about the good things happening during lockdown. So that is what I’m going to do today. Following the tradition of my Jozi Tops Fives series, here are five good things that have happened to me during lockdown. You may have experienced some of these things too. 1) My world view has completely changed. I see the world differently than I did before the pandemic hit. I can’t say I’m seeing things more positively, but I’m definitely seeing things more clearly and I’m really happy about that. It’s not like I was blind to the inequalities in the world before all this happened, but I was semi-ignoring many of those inequalities. Not anymore. I have become much more aware of […]

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Mbali preparing meat in her food trailer

The Jozi Lockdown Hustle (Day 75)

It’s Day 75 of the South African lockdown. People are hustling out there. From its earliest beginnings, Joburg has been a city of hustlers. No one is going to make your way for you in this town, unless you’re a member of the very privileged few. People work hard in Jozi, often on several jobs at once. Now that we’ve hit Level 3 of the lockdown, Joburgers are hustling harder than ever. The Underbridge Chef I met Mbali Ndlovu on the first day I went to take photos of the Melville Food Parcel Program, when South Africa was still under Lockdown Level 4. Mbali is one of the program’s volunteers. Last week Mbali asked if I would come take photos at her food trailer, where she sells take-away meals just outside Milpark Hospital. Her bright yellow trailer stands beside the bridge where Barry Hertzog Avenue passes over Napier Road. So Mbali calls herself the Underbridge Chef. Mbali is 35 years old and originally comes from KwaZulu-Natal. She lives in Milpark and has an 11-year-old son. Mbali has worked many cooking jobs, the most recent of which was at a Spar grocery store in Bryanston. To get to that job she […]

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Guy walking into African Accent spaza shop in Katlehong

African Accent Spaza Shop in Katlehong (Lockdown Day 74)

This past weekend was South Africa’s first weekend under Level 3 lockdown, during which we’re allowed to move around more or less as we please within provincial borders. So like many South Africans, I got out of the house — for real — and went to the African Accent spaza shop in Katlehong. Katlehong is about 35 kilometers south of central Joburg. As I was driving there, I realized it was the first time since March that I’d driven more than five kilometers from home. I first blogged about African Accent at the very beginning of the lockdown. Bongani Mabuza, the owner, was running a fundraiser called the #SpazaShopChallenge, supplying basic essentials to families in need in his community. I promoted the #SpazaShopChallenge in my blog and many of you donated to it. I had never met Bongani or been to African Accent before. But I had a feeling this place was special. Now that I’ve finally visited, I can’t believe how right I was. Spaza shops are like tiny convenience stores, located in townships or other neighborhoods without easy access to larger markets. Usually a spaza shop is on the same premises as the owner’s home — African Accent […]

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