Diepsloot is one of those places, like a lot of other Joburg places, where people are afraid to go. A Diepsloot street. Diepsloot, which means “deep ditch” in Afrikaans, is a huge informal settlement in the far northern outskirts of Joburg; in fact, it is so far north that it’s just as close to Pretoria as it is to Joburg. It emerged from nothing on an abandoned farm in the 1990s, as migrants poured into Joburg from rural South Africa and the rest of Africa and had nowhere else to go. Hundreds of corrugated iron shacks sprouted up, then thousands. There were no public services, no police stations or hospitals or shopping centers. Diepsloot was a wild, post-apartheid frontier — one of those places that can only exist in South Africa. Just another day in Diepsloot. Today, hundreds of thousands of people live in Diepsloot and the number continues to grow. The area has more infrastructure than it did a couple of decades ago, but it still has an anything-goes kind of feeling about it. Diepsloot has kota stands, open sewers, vibrant community centers, secret gardens, fashion designers, herds of goats, Rastafarian hair-braiding shops, colorfully painted general dealers, and salons […]
If you browse through the food-related posts on this blog, you’ll notice that most of them are written about food from places other than South Africa: French, American, Mexican, Indian, German, Chinese. But what about South African food? Traditional South African food can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. Colonialism and apartheid are to blame for this. I think even most South Africans would struggle to describe South African food, just as I do when people ask me about it. My usual answer is, “…South Africans love meat.” (Cape Malay cuisine, mostly found in Cape Town, is an exception to this rule. Read about Cape Malay food here and here.) Anyway, my perceptions of South African food widened last Friday when I participated in the Alex Culinary Tour by Tour2.0. We ate our way through Alexandra Township, starting with the humblest street food and working our way up to serious fine dining. A takeaway shop in Alexandra Township, otherwise known as Alex. Our first stop was Mbopha’s Café, a takeaway joint on 3rd Avenue in Alex. Eating a Sly Vat-Vat “Sly” is a slang term for a slice of bread. “What-what”, or “vat-vat”, are filler words to replace something that is […]
Pulane Malatja sits straight-backed, ankles crossed, wearing a short black dress and a red plaid head wrap. A gauzy scarf covers her knees and a notepad sits in her lap. Pulane apologizes as she puts on her reading glasses. She’s just had an asthma attack, she explains, and might not be able to speak as clearly as last time. Pulane raises the notepad and begins to read. I’m trying to take pictures and listen at the same time, so I don’t hear it all. Pulane writes about a phone call she received from a man she loves. “His skin grows darker when he’s drunk,” she reads. I don’t hear every word, but I hear what Pulane means. I know just what she means. Pulane reads a draft of her creative writing piece to the Katlehong Stories group. Pulane shares her thoughts with the group after completing her reading. Among other things, Pulane’s piece explores her experiences as a child watching her father abuse her mother. She says she’d never talked about these experiences until she joined this group. Pulane is a participant in Katlehong Stories, a group of aspiring creative writers and volunteer teachers who meet every second Saturday in a high school classroom in Katlehong Township. […]
A couple of weeks ago I took a walk through Alexandra Township, aka Alex, as part of an event sponsored by an Alex-based tourism company called The Hub Presents and a travel networking organization called Travel Massive. I’ve been to Alex many times but I never turn down an opportunity to go back, as I believe Alex deserves more love as a tourist destination. A child runs next to the bank of the Jukskei River, a trickling waterway that runs through Alex. I don’t want to say too much about this walk because I’m definitely going to do a full-length tour with the Hub Presents — it seems like such a cool company and I want to experience all of its offerings before doing a full review. But here are a few photos in the meantime. Kids playing in a new park built along the banks of the Jukskei. Interesting car wash sign. I chatted briefly to the owners but couldn’t get a clear answer on what the sign actually means. Our guide, Sifiso, explained that this sewage pipe used to be one of the only places where pedestrians could cross the Jukskei. Fortunately there is a new pedestrian bridge now. A child […]
Michelle and I arrived at the Marlboro Gautrain Station, on the edge of Alexandra Township, at 10:30 Sunday morning. Jeffrey, our guide, was waiting for us on the curb. “Who wants to get the taxi?” Jeffrey asked. I volunteered Michelle. Michelle stepped to the edge of the street and pointed downward, as Jeffrey demonstrated. Michelle hails a taxi.
My first memory is of standing in the yard when I was about three years old, having my picture taken by my father. I spent hours in Dad’s basement darkroom, watching images come to life in trays of chemicals. We had slide shows in the living room every Sunday night. I’m a photographer’s daughter, and a childhood without photographs is unthinkable to me. But there are lots of kids in the world, especially around here, who have never had their picture taken. Help-Portrait is trying to change that. Help-Portrait recruits volunteer photographers to visit economically underprivileged communities, take pictures of kids (and adults) who live there, and then return later to deliver the prints to their subjects. For many of the recipients, this is the first photo of themselves that they’ve ever received.
My oldest, dearest friend Claire got married yesterday. (You might remember Claire from my tattoo post.) Happily for Claire, but unhappily for me, the wedding was in Kona, Hawaii — possibly the furthest location from Johannesburg on this earth. I coudn’t go. Sniff. In an interesting twist of fate, I was invited to a wedding right in my own time zone on the same day. (Well, technically I wasn’t invited. But I went. More on that later.) I was grateful for the opportunity. I couldn’t be with Claire on her special day, but being at someone else’s nuptials made me feel closer to Kona. I wasn’t in Kona though. I was in Kroonstad.
On Wednesday morning, my friends Bing and Tein Po picked me up and took me with them to Soweto. We went to a part of Soweto called Zola, where we visited the cooperative that produces Shwe Shwe Poppis. A woman sews a Shwe Shwe Poppi. These funky poppis (an Afrikaans word for doll) have a fascinating story. The designs for Shwe Shwe Poppis are based on drawings by children from a crèche (daycare center) at the African Children’s Community Education and Feeding Scheme. Skilled craftspeople create the poppis using shwe shwe, a colorful cotton fabric used in African textiles. The dolls are sold all over the world; proceeds support the craftspeople and their communities.
Day camp in Kagiso — a township surrounded by factories and mine dumps on Johannesburg’s far western edge — is much like day camp at the average American YMCA. But with a lot more singing and dancing. Dance class at camp in Kagiso. (To learn more about Kagiso Township, read this article from the Mail & Guardian.) Most American kids go to summer camp, whether it’s local day camp or sleep-away camp, at least once in their lives. I attended countless sports camps, drama camps, and everyday camps as a child, and my first summer job was as a camp counselor. In South Africa, camp is a novel concept. Middle and upper class kids might go on camping ‘holidays’ with their families or with school groups. But organized camp programs, especially for underprivileged kids, didn’t really exist here until several years ago, when an American NGO called Global Camps Africa (GCA) and a South African NGO called HIVSA got together and started Camp Sizanani.
I recently visited Alexandra Township for the first time since moving to Joburg, to attend a kids’ baseball tournament. At the end of my post about the tournament, I said I was looking forward to spending more time in Alex in the near future. Turns out my next visit was nearer than I thought — two days later I received an invitation to attend a tour of Alex, sponsored by Joburg Tourism and the Alex Tourism Route-Open Africa Cooperative (ATROAC). Alex needs more love. It’s just as interesting historically as Soweto, where 99% of tourists go when they want to visit a Joburg township. Alex has its own Gautrain station (Marlboro) and is across the road from Sandton, where most of Joburg’s visitors and business travelers stay. But Alex hasn’t been discovered by the big tour companies yet. Go now, before that changes. Alex in the foreground. Sandton in the background. [Joe deserves special credit for editing this photo. It didn’t look half this good when I shot it.] Our day in Alex began at the AlexSan Kapano Community Centre, recently renamed the Alexandra Resources Centre. We checked out the brightly colored library and business centre, then boarded a bus for a three-hour tour, led by […]
I grew up watching baseball, as I described in a recent post. I also grew up playing softball, which is baseball’s alternative for girls in the United States. I played softball competitively from when I was about 8 until I turned 30, when I was forced to retire after one too many knee surgeries. Me playing softball in the summer of 1990. I’ve used this photo before but like to take every opportunity to show it off. (Photo: Tenney Mason) There is no better feeling in life than hitting a softball (or baseball) on the sweet spot of your bat, and watching the ball sail ten feet over the outfielder’s head and roll to the fence. You take off running, picking up speed as you round each base, and explode across home plate, engulfed into a flurry of high-fives from riotous teammates. It feels even better than…well, you know what I mean.