Thursday, July 31, 2008

blogger addict wrenched from habit

alas, all attempts to connect through flash phone have so far failed. I am unplugged, cast out from cozy world of me and my blogmates. They have put us up in a suburban outreach of Lilongwe and there are no leisurely strolls to local internet cafes in the evening. I am sneaking this session on a UN laptop, and have the shortest of times to say hello to the internet before I must attempt the foothills of the 20cm pile of paper I have accumulated since Monday. I am staggering under the weight of too many expectations (oh the joy of being a consultant - how they think you will solve all their unspoken expectations. wave that wand, oh writer, tell us how we are Delivering As One.) had great plans, to post excerpts from my multiple notebooks - one for the field, one for meetings, one for dreams and poetics. And rants. Oh, I have some rants brewing. Be warned.

We go to Blantyre tomorrow and then a fast shutter multi click many stop whirlwind tour of projects the length and breadth of Malawi. Will I get connected before then? Perhaps not. So when I return to Internetland, I will have tales to tell a plenty. But probably only next week. And then i will find ways to Package the information in a Culturally Sensitive way for my Target Audience. Hopefully I will do this according the Paris Declaration, in a way that Mainstreams the significant issues, Delivers effectively, Streamlines operations and has an Impact on the Beneficiary. With Coherence. Harmonising Operations so that. You. Can understand what the fuck it is They. Are trying to say.
Until then.

Friday, July 25, 2008

the roar of blood in the head

I should have enjoyed it while i could. The silence in the skull. Soon after that post it developed into a chatter and then a steady clamour and hasn't really quieted down since.

Many reasons:
The Malawi trip.
I leave on Sunday for 21 days in Malawi, traveling around with the UN to write about their work there. My mind is clattering with the falling clutter of old images. Like when you take a long neglected box from a top shelf and all the shit up there comes down with it and lands on your head. I unconsciously packed my bag full of skirts! Why because when I was at school in the late '80's in Blantyre, it was the tail end of the reign of Kamuzu Hastings Banda and girls had to wear skirts below the knee, no trousers and be pictures of modesty and decorum. Which of course we were - gin swigging, Life cigarette smoking bright young things.

I haven't spent much time in Malawi since the days of my blue skirt and a head full of learning. There was a research trip in 1998, when I was doing my Masters. And a Lake House trip in 2000. I'm swarming with pictures unburying themselves. Even Facebook doesn't haul out this much old garbage.
The walk from school to town on a dusty Saturday morning. The shortcut, past the Anglican church and the graveyard full of longdead mzungus. Picking green guavas from the trees along the way.
Dreary weekends in Lilongwe after I had been kicked out of school. Walking to the American library and sucking up hours worth of reading on the Russian Revolution.
Always walking. Always dusty shoes and being offered lifts by dodgy men.
The inexhaustable hospitality of my extended foster family, the Osmans (another post another time) and samoosas with green tomato chutney.

The Fight
I'm sure it's the same in all relationships. There's one Big Issue that strikes like tinder, triggering old hurts for both of you. Some primal wound that you have that he or she has the opposite of, and they spoon together like razor wire. Playwrights understand this. How we all have one or two fundamental needs, and we're not necessarily attracted to the someone who can fulfil the need as we want it to be filled (I believe we can only really do this ourselves) but someone who will help you to heal the wound. And sometimes the bone has to be rebroken to be set again.

You know - you crave approval, s/he doesn't give it to you in the exact form you require.
All you want is belonging - the group, being a part of it. All s/he wants is solitude, individuality.

With us, the Fight is always about Going Away - childhood abandonment injuries dovetail neatly with the Sagittarian flight response. Ooh, its a pretty festival of love and leaving I tell you. Reminds me of that song "Everytime you go away, you take a piece of me[at] with you". But this time I think we've cracked it. This time i think I get what its about for me and interestingly its all to do with boarding school - the weirdness of Leaving vs Being Left and how going away to school is both, and how a child doesn't get that and knots it all up in her head - who is really doing the leaving here? And why do we fight with the people we love at airports? So perhaps this trip to Malawi represents more than just a nicely paid gig. Perhaps an old dragon can be put to rest. Perhaps I'll do it in trousers. Damn. I gave my chitenge away in the refugee bundles.

The Party
Before I go, dear friend Dion is leaving for Nwarlins to take up a teaching post at Tulane. I am so happy for him but as more and more of my friends leave for distant parts of the globe I feel like the Prestik Girl - pieces of me are being pulled and stretched and warped. One string stretching all the way to Sweden, another wrapped around Arusha, a long arm with globule attached to the tiny island of Lamu. A couple of tentacles lashed to London.
So we're throwing him a party tonight. Cajun blackened chicken and gumbo and hurricanes. There might just be some hefty drinking.

The Play
Its almost finished. And the closer I get to saving it as Final Draft, the louder the voices get. "Oh come on, you're not ending it like that are you". "I don't think he Would Do That". "Is that character really well rounded enough?" "Isn't it too wordy"
etc etc etc.
And then last night I went to see Ten Bush, at the Market theatre. Witchcraft, ancestral curses, beautiful staging a la theatre de complicite. I was totally drawn in, and it made me shiver. It also just confirmed for me some of the choices I've made (I also dip into worlds of dreams, curses, deadpeople still alive, events that repeat themselves, strange things that spring from strange wombs). It reminded me why I'm drawn to the ritual aspects of theatre. That extraordinary ability that a certain kind of theatre has, to transmute reality. All the trans words, actually. Transform, transubstantiate, translate, transfigure, transgress, transpire and entrance.

Well done to Mncendisi Shabangu and Craig Higginson. This has helped to negotiate with the roar in my head. Now onto the serious business of how to make a hurricane. This is also an important magical ritual you understand - we have to protect D from the very real threat of future Katrinas, Ivans and whatever they will call the ones to come - George, maybe. Or Laura.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

my head is an echo chamber

There's a resounding silence in my head this morning.
I had live streaming broadcasts all night, but this morning there's just a faint crackle, white noise and patches of snow.

The night was restless, with Injured Cat burrowing under the blankets, taking the thin end of the wedge (foot of bed) and inserting it sneakily into the warmth of Under the Blankets with Mom. Nose Out of Joint Cat (the other one) is seriously jealous of Injured Cat's preferential treatment. He is convinced that there are supplies of fresh caviar and salmon from Scotland being flown in for Injured Cat's benefit, along with special kitty massage and dancing mice. He is banished from the bedroom and so sits on the window ledge and scowls in. Last night he ran away in great injuriousness and refused my touch. Cat cold wars.

Am I a sad old lady talking about her cats endlessly?

If you have nothing to say don't say it.

Bow to the silence.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I am not in Pangani

Today its like this:
I am perforated several ways.
Must sell the book, find a distributor, find a freighter, do the admin, decide on the launch
Have new paying gig - hoorah! writing a book on the UN in Malawi. Starts Monday. Shh, no more than that, don't wanna jinx it.
Must do something about chaos of domestic sphere. Need cupboards. Magazines proliferate in piles on the floor. Biology experiments flourish in the fridge. My love has a bad junk shop habit. The kind where he brings stuff home, not the kind where stuff leaves the house. "Look darling it was only R10." Thats er, thats great. Um, what is it? I am neither domestic goddess nor house elf. And yet I crave order. We tried having rules - as long as its books and music, that's fine. If 5 new books come into the house, 5 old ones must go. If it hasn't been worn in two years, it must go. The rules are gathering dust under a pile of collectable fridge magnets. My girlfriends are jealous coz he's such a tolerant shopper. Tolerant? He's vigorous. Patient? He's persistent. He has more shoes than I do! I leave for Malawi in less than a week and right now I'm not sure I could find my passport if the house was burning down.
Wish I was drifting down the Pangani river watching hollow coconut shells play dodgems in the eddies.

Friday, July 18, 2008

this ones for the grandfathers

Yeah. Its the 90th birthday of one great ole man, Tata Madiba, aka Rolihlahla Mandela aka Nelson Mandela and this one goes out to the old men who lived by all they knew. The ones who followed their moral compass, even tho all that might have meant at the time was not being able to take kak from the ones who wanted to give them kak. (foreign readers, kak = shit = that which you do not want to take from those who want to give it to you). The ones who had a vision. And lived it.

I had a grand daddy, a Cancerian who found a place he wanted to live and decided to make it the centre of the world, his world. And that became the centre of my world.

Bonkar, we called him. Dad of my mother. Growing up under the auspices of a fearless man is not necessarily a recipe for not taking kak. Just cause he didn't take kak didn mean he didn deal it, and we learned that the world is a crazy place but there's one man who can handle it, one man who is the interface between elephants lions and Danger - our own Norman Carr. Grandfather. Bwana Carr. Bonkar.

Ten things my grandfather taught me:
1. always keep a couple bags of cement handy. You are only one drawing in the sand away from your next building project.
2. Travel light. You really dont need All That Stuff. You think you do. But you don't. Really. Think again. Do you really, really need it? This old man's idea of luxury was strawberry jam on his toast. (ok and he couldn't resist a bit of chocolate cake).
3. Two whiskies a night, and no more than that. (ok, maybe that's a lesson I haven't quite learned yet)
4. Learn a new word a day. every morning at breakfast it was - what is your word for the day? If we didn't have one, we had to have found it by lunchtime. Perspicacious. Retina. Ungulate. Ruminant.
5. How to read elephant footprints. Like rivers spreading on parchment maps. See the direction its walking. See the scuff of sand.
6. How to read lion footprints. Why is it not a hyena? No claws. Duh. See the sink in the sand. See how fresh.
7. How to read poo. All the many poos you can read, from porcupine to hyena to waterbuck. The fur, the bone, the grass. What's been eaten, what's going to eat the poo.
8. How to pretend you know what bird it is. An lbj (little brown job) hahaha
9. how to write a cheque. Haha, I still laugh at this one. Dear man always wanted us girls to be financially sussed. I remember so clearly the how to write a cheque lesson. How he ceremoniously tore it up afterwards, coz it was only a demonstration cheque. Now if only he'd taught me how to make some money...
10. The joke about the cats eyes. On the way to lusaka airport - those 'cats eyes' on the road at night that catch your headlights and divide the raod in half. EVery time we went to the airport, and I mean EVry time -
"Why do they put cat's eyes in the road?" ....
"I dunno Bonkar, why do they put cat's eyes in the road?"
"Because if they had to use cat's arses, they'd use twice as many cats!!"
Damn. It STILL makes me laugh!!!

This one goes out to the grandfathers. I am SO grateful I grew up in a 3 generation household. If you can call our motley collection of grass houses, bamboo houses and prefab asbestos a household.

At his memorial Kenneth Kaunda made acronyms from his surname (Caring About Rural Residents) and Joan Erwin said to me, leaning in, real serious, He was one of the few people I know who really did what he wanted, and didn't compromise.

Yeah, by example, he showed me that too. Just bloody follow what it is your inner compass tells you to do. Ironic that his most emphatic lesson to me was "always have something to fall back on." Bloody hell. Is that why I have so many simultaneous careers on the go.

This one goes out to Cancerian men. Madiba 18 july. Norman Joseph Carr 19 july. He'd have been 96.

The man who spent so many nights under a mosquito net tied to a tree branch. This is the romantic version of the man who truly knew his bushlore. Me, I like to remember him for the thing we both had in common - a love for cake. On the news the other day there was a short clip - Mandela breaking off a piece of icing off the cake and throwing it into his mouth. Something about the gesture, made me realise how much I miss my grandad, 11 years after he became an ancestor.
Cheers, Bonkar. Thanks for all the nudges I've had from you, these ten years. I have noticed. There'll be a whisky by the aloes in the evening.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

the things that didn't kill me but made me stronger

Its been quite a week. I am quite weak. Character building, they used to say. On long car journeys when you grit your teeth (literally) against dust and jolting. Its character building. I come from the grin-and-bear-it school of childraising. 'If there's no blood don't cry,' my grandfather used to say.
This week's little triumphs will scaffold my character in all the places it may have had damp or rot or borer beetle.
We won the rugby! Exuberance took me down the stairs too fast. Cat underfoot I skipped a step, foot turned hard. I have a purple ankle now. A partially torn ligament. It hurts like character building.
K's party. K has a drinking problem, she's the first to admit it. She has weak wrists. She a gulper. A glugger. She also has a heart expansive as the karoo. Friends' dilemma: mostly we avoid those kinds of situations with her now. We see her in the morning, for tea. Or go for a walk. But once a year its her birthday and it all hangs out. We her friends gather for a braai (barbeque) in her garden which is lush even in winter (greenfingered lass). We take her abuse, we reassure her that we love her, we try to reason with her (we never learn) and we succumb to the can't beat em join em trickle that becomes a flow down our thirsty throats. K lives down the road from me. She has befriended the entire neighbourhood: crazy Nigerian dealers, barmen and cops wives. She set up a pool in her garden this summer and 15 neighbourhood kids had a place to splash and play constructively. She took in a homeless pregnant woman, an exploited Malawian economic refugee. She tried to rescue a woman who was being attacked and this brazen act meant that she had to have stitches in her head.

Her party is a hilarious collection of die hard friends who've seen her through hospital visits and more 'i've been fired' mondays than we care to remember, as well as new friends from the pub and the street. Neighbourhood kids end up chopping firewood under the direction of a loud whiteman in shorts who later lines them up and makes them sing "shonsholonza" as he calls it. While the stern-looking lady in the beret mutters about how lazy the youth of today are, and that's why they chase foreigners. Or something. Turns out she's from the police barracks down the road ("my husband is a cop. That's why I drink") Meanwhile shorts man barks, "Ok, now sing Nkhosi Sikilayla" (sic). Aaah, die nuwe SA. Whats not to love.

I survive the party. We leave congratulating each other drunkenly on how good its been this year. How contained she has been. Pacing herself. She didn't cry or hit anyone this year. Arrive home to bloody paw prints and unbearably huge gash in the beloved cat, from shoulder to flank. Clean cold cope mode of phone calls and isolating him etc.

The vet. Writing job, deadline, meeting. I am getting a contract for a quick book on Unicef in Malawi. Hoorah! Income at last.
Drive to Boksburg to pick up Freya from hotel. Survive Boksburg - don't have my soul sucked into the megamalls of Tile warehouses and mattress discounters. Squeeze in another quick freelance writing job, smack on deadline.
Take F to airport, rush back to see the gorgeous cousins who are here all the way from Lamu. First - go pay obscene amounts of money to the vet and pick up bandaged forlorn cat. I feel as if my own gullet is shredded. Can't bear it I'm in a foam of anxiety. On the way to vet (which is just around the corner) I sit in 20 minutes of motionless hooting traffic, because there was an armed robbery down the road and there have been shoot-outs and police chasing runaway robbers.
Find the girls in the dark cinema coz I am 20 minutes late for movie. Its Wall E. Has anyone else seen this? Does anyone else have issues with this whole end of the world thing for children? Is this character building or plain distressing, regardless of the fact that the robots get to kiss at the end?
Meetings, more driving with a sprained foot in an ailing car. (If my car was a horse they'd shoot it)
Exhausted, exhausted when I get home. Make delicious yellow food (dahl and tumeric potatoes. Try feeding cat variety of cat's favourite foods. Cat still refuses. Cat in basket on floor. Leave cat in room for ten minutes. Dishes. New dishwasher flooded, not draining. Can this be?
Finally, finally, we drag ourselves off to the sweet promise of well earned sleep. Aaaah, bed. Where is cat? Hmmm. Cat has managed to climb onto, into bed. Pull back covers, aah, at last. Bed.

oh. no.

Cat has pissed in bed.
Cat has pissed on brand new expensive mattress.
The smell of cat piss will definitely make me stronger.

give the cat a tonic

the poor Mr Burroughs


not eating!? unthinkable. he's usually a vaccuum cleaner. can't tempt him with anything.

i think the bandage is too tight.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jozi, my city

See the blood of my cat?

Before I launch into another 'hectic' posting about the city I live in. Before I tell you about how my cat sliced himself open jumping through the spike infested security protected walls I live behind and is now in ICU. I just want to say that I am aware that there has been a general tone of gloom and oh my god where do i live? in these posts. I am aware.

So, I have to do this.

10 reasons why I love and live in Jozi

1. Its where I was born. I think its important to connect with the place you were born. Right now, I live quite close to the site of Marymount hospital, immortalised in Ivan Vladislavic's fantastic book about Jozi, Portrait with Keys.
2. The big old stately oaks and jacarandas. The fact that its an urban human-made forest.
3.Sushi. Food security was a big issue for me growing up. First in the bush where we competed with a variety of creatures for our meagre veggie crop, and the nearest shops were 3 - 4 hours on a very bad road. Then boarding school where bolshi boys conspired to keep 'seconds' off your plate. I never take it for granted here. I marvel at shelves full of glowing vegetables. I love sushi.
4. Hanging at the Newtown Cultural Precinct, outside the Market theatre, watching glossy young actresses and muzos with overnight dreadlocks being cooler than thou.
5. Street fashion. Downtown babes in kneehighs and reclaimed camo. The Congolese girls on Louis Botha who smile at me and say " I love your sunglassses."
6. The shy Malawian fabric cutters at the Oriental Plaza. Especially the one upstairs. When I greet him in Chichewa he looks over his shoulder, leans forward and says "where did you learn that language?"
7. It's raucous past - fortunes made and lost, tavern brawls and deals, chancers and whores with golden um, thighs. One day I'll write a sccreenplay about the wild south of Jozi town.
8. The sunsets are radical - pollution and dust in the west make for some spectacular evening pyrotechnics
9. You know, really, the mine dumps do have a special kind of beauty of their own.
10. You can shop at robots (that's what we call street lights). Unless you're boycotting Chinese goods in which case there's nothing for you. ANd I love that the beautiful faced man at the Emmarentia golf course robot no longer has such a bad lame leg, becuase residents of the area clubbed together and bought him a series of surgical procedures. Yeah, its a city of dog eat dog (fence eat cat) money grubbing capitalists. But there are some good souls here. Like the lady who brought the R25 she couldn't afford and gave it to one of the refugee camps as the only donation she could manage, but which she felt compelled to give.
11. The city is home to Ivan Vladislavic, author of Portrait with Keys, master observer, recorder of urban detail. Read the book, and understand why its possible to love Joburg, with her spikey razor wire and fake Tuscany suburbs.
Eish, Jozi, my city, what can I say, you're beautiful.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tagged (slowly now)

I've been tagged. Thank you Janelle, sister 'from another mother' from the wild hinterland of Tanzania. The branches from Janelle's family tree tangled with those of my family tree long before I was born, and despite her claims that her dad is crap at making money, his claim to fame in my family is that when my grandad and her dad were business partners, my grandad made a profit for the first and only time in his life... another post, another story. Janelle's inner exuberance and the ragged glory of her surroundings are fuel for the flashes of crazy beauty that she captures on
She's a wicked, soulful, wild hearted, poetic one of a kind queen and I am very lucky to share some cultural dna with her (we the lost daughters of colonial wildlife big game naturalists).

Unfortunately, so similar are we in tastes that all the other blogs she tagged are ones that I would have too. This means I have to find some other blogs to tag and this takes time - a commodity that, in my world, dwindles faster than the glaciers on Kilimanjaro.
Like her, I would of course list
(my true blood sister who, among her manifold gifts can boast a talent for happiness and for living life with humour and ease.)
(another valiant Zambian scatterling).
BUT I want to avoid an endless loop of referral, like an SA government department red tape and form filling exercise which causes reality to fold in on itself, as Form CT112 refers you to form C116 which in turn sends you back to CT112. I'll have to find new blogs to read, which is the whole point of the exercise, duh.
To get started:
I love the inspiration I get from reading "journal of a fool", Andrew Buckland's accounts of going to live in Vegas and "joining the circus", (Circe du Soleil). Andrew was teacher, mentor and friend to me back when I studied and then worked at the drama department at Rhodes University. The man is a supremely skilled performer,mime, writer, inspirer of young artists and father to a tribe of delectable sons. Read about life in Love on
Quality over quantity, dear readers. I'll post others as I discover them.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

man eaters

The one who would not be king

I went to the Lion Park with Freya, her friends from America and young Lillian (7) and Kai (10) who were delighted to see wild dog pups, to touch and play with cubs, and feed a giraffe with a long sticky tongue.

Freya was playing messenger, as often happens when someone knows someone who is traveling 'down south' from Zambia. I think that's why people in my family are so incredibly secretive about their travel arrangements, lest they be asked to play courier. But that's another story. Freya was taking a laptop from Gail(who speaks lion, apparently) to the Lion Park people. The Lion Park people were deeply traumatised because the day before - a Sunday - there had been a hold-up and armed robbery there and a visitor had been shot. As one does on these occasions, you try keep the overseas visitors in the dark, downplay the situation, shut the child's ears.
Lion Park Guy: It was terrible. There were four carloads of them, and they took all our takings. Why they had to shoot someone I don't know...
Me: Come, Lillian, lets go check out the wild dog pups
Overseas Visitor: What was that they said about shooting someone?
Me: About what?
Freya: I think it was a guard
Me: look, Lillian, you can feed a giraffe

I find out later just how nasty the whole affair was - the robbers herded everyone into the restaurant area, presumably to take cameras from them, and a young guy steps out of the toilets holding his toddler and is shot dead.

I learn this from Alex the lion-trainer who has grown up in the circus and really does speak lion. He's full of quips like
'sure you can get out the vehicle but it'll be the last time you do it.'

In the meantime, the kids have a wonderful time and Freya the big game walker and ace safari guide gets to be guided. Alex takes us to see the white lions, who melt into the highveld bleached grasses and stare diffidently from icy blue eyes. They are amazing.

He also hugs and roughs up the glorious maned brothers who treat him like a sibling. All my years of lion training make me shudder to watch this. Yes, he has developed a relationship with them over 7 years. He grew up training big cats, treating them like family. But I'm with Ruby and Jemima, my cousins who, when they were both very little, went to the Joburg zoo. The blank-eyed lioness there was checking out a group of squawking gawking, jellytot eating city kids. She went into a crouch and her tail started to flick. My mom turned around to talk to Ruby and Jemima and they had disappeared. She found them hiding in the nearest bush, having slowly backed away. Yep, well trained girls. That's the school I come from.
This group here, these are the man-eaters, says Alex casually. Really. Someone got into the enclosure the other day, for whatever reason, and staff found the lions munching on human femur. He blames the cheeky lioness. But said that only one of the boys, one of the bigmaned pair of brothers was boycotting the whole affair, and had his back firmly turned, at a distance, passive resistance. Conscientious objector.
"how do you know they won't eat you?" squeaks Lillian.
"I don't. You never know that."

I'm not a big fan of places like this. I get a tight chest watching those cheetahs pacing round and round their ring, barely a paddock. They've got some beautiful gemsbok, some springbok, giraffe, hyena. All in separate enclosures, apartheid for animals. But I do respect Mr circus trainer, who clearly has a deep empathy for cats and loves his movie-star supermodel pride.

Over a picnic lunch the kids ask Freya to tell safari tales. She is like an ATM for stories. I tell them how my grandfather raised two lions and taught them to hunt. Long before I was born. How he 'returned them to the wild'. In the mellow light of the late afternoon, the conversation turns to hunting. The kids think its brutal, can't get the nuances of it all. I tell them my grandfather was an elephant control officer. That if he hadn't killed crop-raiding elephants for people to eat, people would have starved because the elephants had eaten their entire years' worth of food. They have just spent two weeks in the Luangwa and have had a thorough education from Freya and can tell the difference between giraffe poo and puku poo. But they're not sure about this hunting thing.

The light dips. I think of Alex telling me how the wife of the shot man fell to her knees when she came around the corner and saw her husband on the ground. I recognise the tone in his voice when he tells me. Its something you learn when you understand your place in the foodchain. It goes deeply beneath the niceties of civilized caring. Its compassion for predator and prey, no judgement, no disgust.

On the way home, the headlines of the Star assault us at every robot - "Lion Park visitor shot by robbers."

Avoid the void

A massive sink hole has "appeared" in one of the main thoroughfares in Jozi - Oxford road, which threads together Sandton, Rosebank, Killarney and town. This has happened as part of the tunnel excavation for the long promised Gautrain which is going to go some way to eliminating some of Joburg's really bad public transport issues.

It always worried me slightly, the thought of an underground system in Joburg. I'm no geologist, but it strikes me that this whole area is shot through like the proverbial swiss cheese. Mining shafts and a couple of hundred years of gold extraction in the region. Ok, I'm really not a geologist, and I know there are not actual mining shafts around the Gautrain tunnel and I'm sure its all fine, but anyway, something about the news of the sinkhole made me smile. Apparently, it was water seepage that caused the ground to subside above where the "Tunnel Boring Machine" (yes, Chimera, that one's for you) was, well, boring. Apparently there was a "fracture" in the water utilities above the tunnel boring machine. This caused "ground loss". It caused a "void" to form. I'm quoting directly from the finweek article, its not some end of the world handbook though the vocab is suitably brave new world. Apparently it took two hours to shut off the water mains so what started as a 6 x 4 m hole rapidly became a 12 x 7 m hole. Heheh. Similar collapses "are not be expected in other parts of Joburg" said the guy in charge of the whole operation.

I'm reminded of the Buddhist story with the hole in the ground - one of those elegant teaching tales about our own thought habits.
Man walks down the road, there's a hole. He falls in.
Man walks down the road a second time, there's a hole, he falls in.
It happens a third time, a fourth, and on and on. He walks, doesn't see the hole, falls in.
One day, the man walks down the road and notices that there's a big hole in the ground. He notices it just before falling in.
This also happens again, many many times. He sees the hole. He still falls in.
One day, the man walks down the road, sees the hole -
and walks around it.

This can take years. Lifetimes.

Ah well, no-one was hurt and aside from the fact that it gives the Gautrain pessimists something real to gripe about I'm sure it'll all be fine. Not like for Blackadder on a bad day when one of Baldrick's not so cunning plans has gone awry and he faces certain death at the hands of Queenie's executioners and laments..."the grave opens up before me like a .... big hole in the ground."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Boundaries, boundaries

I have thin skin. Some days I'm as porous as a cuttlefish, soaking up the sufferings of random people I share pavement space with. Some days I'm as ragged as a plastic bag that's been flapping on a barbed wire fence for a week.

I have to be diligent about repairing my colander aura. I practice a technique called "zipping up" where you literally have to seal up your solar plexus chakra with the palm of your hand. Sometimes I have to mantra myself with "I don't need to get my energy from anybody and nobody needs to get their energy from me." Its like the valve on my heart chakra is faulty and I must remember to replace the seal.

Sometimes its a good thing. Its helpful in my chosen career of theatre making, for example, as I can empath the world around me and channel it into something. Many actors suffer from this condition, the ability to absorb emotions and vibrations, and transmute them into fine, quivering peformances. I can work with those actors.

It might have something to do with having grown up in one of the wildest places on earth, the South Luangwa Valley, when it was still really, really wild. For more on this, read my sister's delightful posts on . As a toddler I had both the boundless skies of life lived outdoors combined with my mother's terror of the very real dangers (lionssnakesscorpionselephantscrocodiles) that lurked closer than the umbilical stretch most toddlers want to experiment with. Its no wonder I have issues with dependence in my relationships (furious need to be independent plus sometimes crippling need for reasurance from a solid other.)

I cut my teeth on the backs of motorbikes and open landrovers. Your spirit can really unravel like a kitestring on the open plains of the Luangwa. The zebra flats, the salt pans, Lupunga spur. The Lukusuzi riverbed, silt-white under the moon. The sudden cool pocket of potatobush air as you dip into a gully, racing home at dusk. My energy would soar and spiral like a thermal taking a stork high into the october sky. I would float by a flock of crowned cranes and join their owaaaaani calls, dissolving like aspirin in a glass.

At night walking with a torch you send your breath into the trees and wait for it to come back with the rumble of elephanttalk or the chomp of a hippo. You cast your torch in swathes, dowsing for danger, alert for every elephant shrew spring.

In the city, its different. You gotta be alert in Jozi. Its far, far more dangerous than the wilderness. Taxis slice and dice, the murder rate is higher than a good night for leopards on the wafwa and if you have a covetable car you are prey. So, I'm a lert and our city needs lerts. But the wideopen energy thing, doesn't work here. Damn I spend a fortune driving from one side of the city to the other, R2 at every robot, and a wrung out heart. I'm a pushover. In the bush, you see a packet someone dropped out their car, you pick it up. You respond. In the city, I can't respond to every blemish, sobstory, gluesniffing streetbrat and garbage spill I encounter. But if I'm not vigilant, it all gets in, tugs at me and leaves me exhausted. Daily, I come up with really good plans for homeless Zimbabweans, people living on and eating out of rubbish dumps, abandoned pets and child-headed households. Can I implement all these plans? I can't.

So that was a long introduction to two very interesting examples of boundarylessness from the last 36 hours: the meeting with the Lieberman pottery guy, and the knocking over of the front gate.

I have a friend, H, who is by nurture and spirit every bit as wild and discombobulated by city life as I am. In each other's company something quite magical happens that by other folks' definitions would seem completely disfunctional. We get crazy. Both too wideopen for our own goods, we also relish the relief of not trying to be too sane in each others company. Usually, we do coffee in the safety of our homes or we go to the theatre. I have never been 'to town' with H, with a set to-do list. Until yesterday.
Task 1: die Boekehuis, Melville. She will intro me to the lady there and see if they will stock the book. On the way there I impulsively swing down a certain road to show her a certain paint colour on a certain wall. We run into a friend of hers - a fortuitous synchronicity. Glad we turned down that road. The bookshop? unsuccessful.
Task 2: Adam Levine's shop Imagine Nation at the trendy 44 Stanley Rd. I want him to stock my book in his shop. Adam's not there and I fumble shyly in my bag pretending I have a business card when I don't and muttering that I will come back later. On our way back to the car - a chance encounter with an old friend who I have been wondering how to track down, coz she's in publishing and could help. Synchronicitous.
Task 3: the Newtown bookshop near the market theatre that stocks books on Africa. On the way we drive past Lieberman's pottery where I've been meaning to go for ever and I say so and H says, yes lets so I swing left and park and we step into the magical forest of clay vessels that is Mr pottery guy's sticky web.

I love pots. I have an affinity for clay, glazes and vitrified earth. In a former life I was a Chinese potter with a plaited moustache that reached my knees. Mr pottery man, Adriaan, sussed us instantly. Two pretty girls on a quiet friday afternoon? Maybe. I like to think there was more going on. He looked right at me
A: Where are you from?
Me: Um, well, that's a long story
H: She's from Zambia. From the bush. The bushbush.
A: Oh really? You look foreign. What can I do for you here? You brought me lots of money?
Me: Haha. Um. I like pottery, I've been meaning to come here for absolute ever
H: She's got lots of books. Do you want to see her book?
Me: Ja, its um, its a book on Zambian ceremonies.
A: African ceremonies? Like, traditional ceremonies? I'm an anthropologist, I used to be very interested in ceremonies.
Me: Oh.
A: I have over 200 hours of footage of traditional pottery techniques from all over the world.
H: Oh! I see a book! Another book!A pottery book!
Me: I'm fascinated by that stuff. What about a documentary? She's from a TV family.

The afternoon split wide open.

We talked about all kinds of things. The manic depressive Japanese potter who created the exquisite glowing celadon bowls that I admired. His oh fuck theory of political science. Being Jewish married to a German and meeting her Nazi parents. Guilt. His Divorce. How being born into a family of artists (or writers, or potters) will keep you in the loop of poor business sense and giving away your products for free. I swopped my book for some beautiful plant pots – pots for stories, its always been a good exchange.

It was one of those timeless magical afternoons, it wouldn't have happened if H and I weren't so mutually open, boundaries merging with the afternoon, with the cold front coming, with the energy of a sad clay salesman and two kooky artist bush girls in the city. I'm reminded of Martin Buber: "every journey has a secret destination, of which the traveller is unaware"

Then its nighttime and my man and I are Friday night lazy and not into cooking and I have a wheatfree pizza in the oven and we pre-order one for him from the little pizzeria down the road ( I love take-aways, never take em for granted).
We get in the car. I remember my pizza in the oven. Oh shit. We must drive like the wind so we can be back in time for mine.
He puts foot. The merc (an automatic) is in reverse. The gate is not open. The gate is derailed.
And within five minutes, so are we. Yes, the same boy who fell off the ladder 3 weeks ago has now reversed into the gate. His arm is still messed up from the fall so he can't help me put the (very heavy) gate back on its tracks. As men often do in situations where they feel a bit helpless, he gets overdirective, which always riles me (that thing about dependence I mentioned earlier – I don't take instruction well) I get the irrit in me and within minutes we are a swearing mess. We get a pole to try and fulcrum the gate back into the right place and it falls forward and I catch it with my shoulder and several litres of adrenalin. We prop it up on some metal poles and go to bed, figuring anyone who tries to breech this gap will get booby trapped. Our own personal booby trap is that on bad days we are way too sensitive to each other's energies. “You were in a panic so I got into a panic.”

Eish. Boundaries, boundaries, I tell you.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Your name on a grain of rice

A post or two back I wrote about the Grahamstown Festival. I kind of cut that post in half because it started to expand into a long retrospective of all the Grahamstown festivals I have ever attended. Since I'm not there and its much on my mind, I want to dwell on this. At the risk of inflicting a long read on you. Miranda said, 'it'll be just the same next year.' Not true. Each festival is subtly different, with its own unique pulse. A different buzz, scandal or theme each year, and I'm always amused by how people attempt to define it before its run is done. "its a strange festival this year isn't it?" or "its kind of flat this year, don't you think?".

True the stock standard fare is much of a muchness. The 'write your name on a grain of rice' man will be there year after year. As will the ubiquitous mats woven from plastic bags and an oversupply of crocheted rasta hats.

But even the 'this year will be my last' naysayers come back year after year, like oysters that just can't help opening when the moon is full.

1992. My first festival. I am a second year drama student and me and the only other girl who isn't keen on being a physical theatre dance slut, Stacy Hardy, have been brewing a play. To be accurate: we have co-written an hour long piece that is set in a mortuary, starring the undertaker and his crew of goodlooking girls that he has kidnapped and is trying to brainwash for his nefarious ends. Its called Cold Storage. Its embarrassing. No more on that. Those of you (you know who you are) who remember any lines (especially that line...)shhhhh. But hey, my first festival, my first play (unless you count the pantomime at Chinzombo when I was 10) my first naked stage appearance... life was great. And the start of a great collaboration with Ms Hardy. Our company is called Venus Fly Trapeze.

1993. Stacy writes, I perform. God and Fetish Engineering, I think it was. I can remember very little of this, except that two of our performers (yes, you know who you are) were having a very active festival at the power station by night and I would hate to know what colours and shapes they saw in the audience that one performance.

1994: I think this was the year I cameo-ed in a couple of plays and forgot to write down one of the show times and simply didn't pitch. oops. ah well. But the festival itself was marked by the headiness of 94 in general. South Africa's colourful rainbow labour pains.

1995: Stacy and I do a double bill. Mine is called Dante and Velvet. Its a love story. Hers is called Nightshade Pornography, and its not anything to do with pornography. By now Venus Fly Trapeze has a flicker of a reputation - you may get nudity. And bad language. But Stacy's piece is all poetic post-feminism and live angle-grinding on stage. Hers was on first. The drunk east cape men expecting a bit of salaciousness got an angle grinder instead. They got mad and walked out. Ours played to a handful of family and friends.

1996: One week before the festival, late at night in the wardrobe making costumes, Stacy and I look at each other nervously, thinking the same thought. Why is everything going so well? We're doing the flagship student production, representing our department on the Student Programme. A beautiful script by Stacy about Rimbaud and Verlaine, stuck on a train... the rain rains, they lose the plot, the dialogue, the knife... Its not the Fringe Program, so we have a real budget for the set and I'm designing and have created a dreamy platform on wheels with a huge perspex sheet of glass, scrawled with lines of dialogue from the script and we've got a little pump that makes real water trickle down the glass on the outside, and of course at the magical moment... it turns to blood.

And its all going so well. And then this terrible, crushing news. Dear Lindy the design supervisor, lecturer, muse and goddess, loses her gorgeous 4-year old son to meningitus. Everything loses its colour overnight. We tell Lindy its ok, go home we'll pick up the pieces. Suddenly we are not designing one show are designing about five. And it all feels horribly frivolous and what-on-earth-for.

1997: Is this the year that Mr Fell gets Dion and me to play husband and wife in that strange little play Planet Machine? Where no-one is acting, we are all for real emoting. Still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Is this the year Dion and I decide that, well, sex sells and so we do a programme of erotica called Bedtime Stories, fully clothed and tastefull. Actually it does rather well, but the problem is we also have this other show, Next Stop Ultra Ubuntu. Ahem. We co-write with my partner Bernd. Lets just say that the successful show paid for this one.

1998: I have no money. I am a post grad student. I can't afford to go to any shows. I decide to read Anna Karenina instead and go to art exhibitions. I skulk around book fairs reading Dambudzo Marechera in between the Tolstoy. I go to the Word fest and read a couple of my short stories to a small gathering of writers. I feel diffident, whatever that means, thats what I feel. I'm a waitress at Die Geel Kaffe. Their cheesecake is the best in town and I get to speak my mind to a very drunk customer coz we have no bloody marys.

1999: Are you mad? How can I possibly perform at the festival. I am the design supervisor, the job Lindy used to have. I am feeding, nurturing scores of students who have their own plays going. And staff members. I put out fires, stitch up hems, delegate scene painting and keep track of students trying to steal the best costumes. The design studio is an alchemists cave of bubbling pots of dye, whirring sewing machines and the high stink of contact glue on polystyrene.

2000. I am not at the Grahamstown festival. I have left Grahamstown after 7 years. I am in Livingstone trying to make the Livingstone festival work.

2001: I am officially employed by the festival. I am ROCCO. ROCCO stands for Radio Operations Communications Control Officer. Rocco is the person who sits in the cold office near stores and directs traffic, sending equipment to all the festival venues via a 5-ton truck, a 10-ton truck, and one runner in a bakkie (a bakkie is a pickup truck for those of who don't know). Every year we swear we will use scooters next year, as traffic is a joke in this sleepy town which swells beyond capacity once a year. The area around the cathedral is swarming with traders and and really the village that pretends its a city becomes one big parking lot.
But I love being Rocco. This is me in my element - putting out fires, preventing train smashes, multi-tasking like an octopus, in short - telling other people what to do, at rapid fire rate.
"Please send 2 janus cables and a fresnel to Princess Alice Hall."
"Blackout crew - you need to get to City Hall before their 2 oclock show, the blackout [black stuff you put on windows to make it dark] has fallen off the top window."
"Cleaning crew - you need to get to Rhodes theatre ASAP please and clean up the stage. They used flour in the last production. Make sure you have plenty of mops."
"Lighting team, lighting team, come in for Rocco. The dimmer rack at Nombulelo hall is playing up. Again.Please get there asap, their show goes on in half an hour"
"Sound, sound team you need to take the cd player at the Masonic lodge and swop it out with the one at Vickys."
"Herbie, Herbie, how are you doing sourcing those 2 sheep hearts for Graeme College? Yael Farber needs 2 sheep hearts for her show. Please tell the butcher we will need two a day. That's two a day until the end of festival. Thanks."
Oh I love it. I don't have the stats to hand, but its truly amazing how many kilometres of cable get used, and how they get by on the minimum amount of equipment, moving amps from venue to venue to fit in with back to back scheduling.
And of course the ladders. The most common request to Rocco from the often young, inexperienced venue managers is for ladders. And Rocco has to keep track of the ladders, see, so they all have names.
"Rocco Rocco. Its the Drill Hall"
"Stand by I'm sorting out another crisis" (Rocco is often on two phones as well as the radio and the intercom to stores)
"Rocco Rocco"
"I said stand by!"
"But we need a ladder, its urgent, a lighting bar has come down!"[what? how on earth did they manage that?]
"All venues, all venues, please tell Rocco which ladders you have"
"Rocco its Princess Alice we have Hettie but we're doing a turn-around we need her."
"Rocco its the Great Hall we have Doris but we're in a focusing session."
" All venues...?"
Silence. They keep stum about their ladders.
"Black out crew this is Rocco please go past the Drill Hall and lend them your ladder for half an hour."

2003: I'm Rocco again, and this time I have a show on as well, crafted with my old mucker Stacy Hardy. She wrote it, I'm performing. Its called "Terror is not the erotic commodity it used to be." I do the early Rocco shift, get off at 5, sleep for an hour, take handfuls of vitamens and arrive for evening performance, flat out for 10 days. One can only do this once a year.

2004: I'm in Joburg in a job I loathe. I can't go to the festival. Miserable.

2006: I'm Rocco again!! And starting to have a serious identity crisis. Am I an actor? a performer? A tekkie? A playwright? A writer? Somebdy help! Stacy, where are you when I need you? Let's make a play! But we live in different cities now, and have different priorities. I don't know who I am. Have been travelling through Zambia going to ceremonies and immersing myself in festivals that are a far, far cry from this. Festivals with one performance venue, and its in the open, and people stand in one circle, and everybody knows the song.

2007: I'm writing the book about the festivals of Zambia. in Joburg.

2008: I'm sitting with 2000 copies of this book, scratching my head in the hope that I'll become a marketing genius overnight. And dear Stacy has a play on the main festival. She is writing and performing for a piece called Untitled, directed by this year's Standard Bank Young Artist award winner, Jaco Bouwer. And this is the real reason I feel I want to be there now. Stacy. All grown up and on the main programme.

So cheers, Ms Hardy. I hope the show comes to Joburg.
Perhaps next year, the Rocco cabaret that I always planned.
Perhaps next year, this play I'm busy wrestling right now.
Perhaps next year I'll actually get my name engraved on that grain of rice.