Wednesday 30 November 2011

No Pictures (Journal Entry on Cape Town Trains)

Everyone has told me the stories about the tourists being robbed on the trains. The robbers and the knives. The robbers are kids or young African men. They are desperate wolves, street savages, city junkies, they eat without forks, just knives and knives. Tendon cutting, wound gushing knives! I should not take my camera. If I had a hunger pain, one so deep it stuck its jagged malnourished fingernails into me and I saw a camera as a cure, a meal or something that picks me up and takes me somewhere with brighter colour and happier settings, what would I do? There’s no telling.

Should I take my Camera? I picture a knife at the warmest vein on my neck. A man, clothes ripped, shredded, he must fight lions, the kings of jungles. No, he is a lion.  I am an antelope, a curious deer, a trained dog on the wild city trains. Should I take my camera?

But Ray, the stories of these robberies, they are not yours. You are not a twenty one year old white woman from Germany, or a white teethed American student with blonde surfer hair and a backpack full of prized goods. You don’t wear black tinted sunglasses that are too big for your face. No Ray, until you open your mouth people think you are from here, South Africa, beautiful South Africa. Take your camera.

Now I picture being asked a question by the man with shredded, ripped clothes. I don’t want to respond but I have to... in some way. I shrug my shoulders, he takes it as a sign of a challenge. He will not be brushed off, shooed away. He is not a fly I can swat, he is a king!  I say something.. something short, in one quick breath but I sound too unsure of myself. He smells a weakness; he sees a worried goat, a wounded bird. The claws in his eyes reach for me, or should I say knife, yeah, his knife, his rusty life-ending knife. My blood is sauce, hot sauce from Europe, it will be on his knife.. I will bleed to death, right there.. on the train... and on my birthday...

I will not take my camera.

Friday 25 November 2011

South Africa - Lunchtime Prose/ Apartheid / For Miss Able & Township Shots.

Lunchtime prose in the staff room

Looking out the window I see a man sweeping the street. He has made a pile of bright yellow and green leaves, fallen from the trees. Another man, dressed in all black looks like a shadow with clothes on. He is scooping the leaves into a black bin bag. There are two bags already filled and sealed with a knot. The bags are in the shade of an almost naked tree. The tree looks sad having lost the colours that made it happy.

Conversation about Apartheid

I am having a discussion about Apartheid with a (coloured) man in the street. He is in his late fifties and tells me things are worse now.

The black government is more corrupt than the white one. They steal most the money that goes into our economy and apartheid is now reversed by giving all the jobs to the blacks even though in general they aren't as skilled. The black South African’s don’t even want to work.

He points across the road at two men sitting on the pavement. One of them is holding a beer bottle; his body looks thirty years younger than his face. The other man is barefoot; the skin on his feet is flaky and dry. I thought at first he was wearing grey socks.

Look at them!  Lazing around drunk at this time (it’s about 2pm).

I ask the (coloured) man what he thinks those men would say if we asked them why they’re sitting around in the street drunk early in the day? He suggests we go and ask them.

We walk over and ask if they mind being asked a question. Only the man I thought was wearing grey socks responds. He doesn’t look at me, he just shrugs his shoulders.

This is his response.

Where you from? England? … and you want to understand me? Your mind cannot be anything like mine. I am African. No European mind can be like an African. Now I don’t want to talk. Talking English makes me want to get drunk.

For Miss Able (The School Principal) -

To know the weight of your sky is to know the clouds are heavier than they look.

                                In The Township (Unedited Pictures)

Monday 21 November 2011

Grade 6 (Notebook Version)

Imagine, you're in an African country you've never been in before and you've just walked into your first classroom as a teacher. 
The Principal introduces you to the wild eyes of thirty five children as "a young man from England".

A boy, sitting at the back of the room, eyes like a lion cub throws his voice at you. 

He tells you he supports Man United. You try to find common ground by telling the class you are an Arsenal fan.

The whole class jeers and secretly, you congratulate yourself for turning them against you already.

When the class settles you are pulled aside by the Principal who has this to say...

See that girl sitting with her head on her desk?
Her mother died of Aids when she was born.
She has it too. Some of the children know.
Every day those children ask her why isn’t she bleeding.
They don’t understand how she has Aids and still looks like them.

Matthew, the boy who sits two rows from the back,
he broke two of the seventeen windows
that were smashed here last week.
His mother came to school with a bat that day.

This is a Primary School, Malik is fourteen years old,
repeated the sixth grade three times.
 his father had three wives at the same time before he had a stroke.
Now Malik's in a Home, the boy can’t sit still. 
He feels his whole life in his stomach,
we all have to pretend he isn’t ill.

You’ve got to talk to David. He’s the boy by the window,
he’s from the Congo. You’ll see him climbing trees in the playground.
His mother said he takes all the blankets at home and sleeps on the roof.
His world has its own sky.

The girl with the pink hair band, that’s Kim.
She never does her work, she just wants to draw.
See drew all the mountains on the wall,
She won’t get that far if it’s all she can do.

A cartoon is not a career path.

This week the children have been drawing diagrams of our solar system
Show them, show them how to colour in their planet.

Here is the Spoken Word Version of this piece.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Conversation With A South African Taxi Driver

Traffic Lights? My friend, you are in Africa. They are called Robots. When they turn green, still you cannot trust. No road wants you to get too comfortable. There are drunk drivers and many deaths, mostly pedestrians. Life eh? Cross one road badly and your whole life knocked away. Look out on your left. See how the waves rise out the sea like white horses and crash to the yellow rocks? That says Africa is a woman, only women have that much colour in their fury. You know I'm Muslim, a good Muslim. I do not drink. Many Muslims learn Islam through other idealistic Muslims instead of Islam itself. Like the women who are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, I do not know where that comes from but it's not from Islam. Islam is not strict, it offers many choices. You’re an atheist? Is that the name of your God? OK, we're here. Great to meet you today Ray, take my number. I can come when the morning gets up tomorrow. Call it nine fifteen, Africa time, you might call it 11. OK Ray? See you at nine fifteen.

Thursday 3 November 2011

South Africa/ NHS/ Autumn Photography

I was packing for my trip to South Africa and decided not to pack any music, just basic clothes, camera and books. I realised a lot of my memories abroad involve me walking around strange places with headphones. I can’t tell you the sound of these places but it definitely isn’t soft rock or indie rap.

South Africa – Where, What & Why?
From November fifth I’ll be living and working in the outskirts of Cape Town in a place called Belthom. I’m going to be assisting teachers in a Primary School, using poetry to help teach English. I’ll also be working at The Woodside Special Care Centre working with orphans and children with disabilities.
One of the best things I’ve done with my life so far has been working with children in special needs camps in Ohio, USA, followed by road tripping across North America on my own. I met many people in different cities and suburbs, I felt how different states are like different countries, I understood how so many great people have come out of a country that represents freedom to its people and imperialism, slavery or Hollywood to the rest of the world.
I’ve been eager to experience something like this again and chose South Africa because of my own curiosities of the culture and political history. I’ve read and heard about the Dutch and British colonization, the Zulu wars, the spice trade, the Boer Wars, Apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom. I’ve met many white South Africans in London and listened to their rants about the inequity of blacks against whites and how the political transition from Apartheid processed too hastily. They’ve told me this has created new tensions between “black, white and coloured people”.
In many ways we should all change the way we think about Africa, its history began thousands of years before European invasion yet it seems to be where we all start with our understanding. Myself included. Why is this important you may ask? Well, we all came from Africa so we’d be more in touch with our origins as human beings. The exploitation of Africa has made many European Empires and has now helped make China perhaps the most powerful country in the new century.
On Race
I’m curious to see how people will respond to me in a country with such high (on-going) racial tensions. As someone of mixed heritage (Caribbean/British if you want the box) I feel I represent the togetherness of two very different cultures. The identity crises/confusion that comes with the mixed race experience is something inflicted by a culture that can’t get rid of its colour lines. People all over the world give you different labels (white, black, mixed race, bi-racial, coloured etc) so the confusion of other people is inflicted onto you.
I struggled with this throughout my school years but meeting other mixed race people and discussing the experience with them helped me to make sense of it. I now celebrate the ambiguity of my appearance and I want to invite the whole world to the party!

Conversation With A Doctor

I went to the travel Clinic after the NHS told me I had to book six weeks in advance for free treatment. At the clinic I paid £75 for three injections to keep me protected in Africa (Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever & Polio).

The doctor who gave me the jabs ranted to me about the NHS cuts and the new procedures that are being phased in.

I’ve been a doctor thirty years, so I’m glad I’m coming to the end of my career. It’s terrible now. The new doctors and GPs are being trained to prescribe the lowest costing medicine as opposed to the most effective, it’s a disgrace. You’re my eleventh patient today, you see more people travelling from the UK are getting Malaria and Yellow Fever because the dangers aren’t emphasised enough and people are inconvenienced in getting treated…

Five minutes after he’d injected my upper left arm I passed out in the middle of this conversation. My vision went a fuzzy pale grey then completely black. I came though and I was on the floor with the doctor’s panic stricken face over me. I had no idea what happened. It was like when you skip a scene on a DVD and you know you’ve missed something so you ask someone to fill you in.

Me - Woah. What happened?

Doctor - You passed out buddy; I can feel you’re burning up! I’ll get you water. NURSE!

I found out later that because I have low blood pressure I should always be laying down when receiving injections.

Autumn Photography (Shadow Experiments)

In the UK the season is changing from Autumn into Winter. South Africa is coming into its summer so that's another reason for me to to jet pack. For you people staying put there is beauty in the cold seasons. The first picture below was taken by myself in London Fields on a late monday afternoon and the picture below that was taken on Tottenham Court Road one cold November night.

Farewell London.