Friday, October 20, 2006

a random but beautiful weekend

October 12 (wow, I still cannot believe it is October)

Salaam to everyone out there! (note: Salaam is actually Arabic, but since there are many Muslims here in Cape Town, particularly amongst the coloured (of mixed descent, but this is a whole nother store) community people greet each other in Arabic sometimes too)...It's been yet another beautiful, challenging, unexpected, creative, thought provoking week here in South Africa.

This past weekend I was in Darling, a small farming town about 45 minutes away from Cape Town, where most of the milk and fruit juices in the area come from. In Darling, as in many of the small rural towns of the Western Cape, still 12 years after the end of apartheid, the racial divisions and segregation remain. In fact, they cleared follow the railroad lines, with one side with its brick houses, and the other side the non-whites houses. Now, also as is characteristic and definitive of South Africa, even the non-whites themselves are segregated, with the coloureds (as I said, they are basically multi-racial) on one side of the road in smaller brick houses, and on the other side of the road the blacks live. The black area in Darling used to look like many other townships around here- shacks with planks of wood and iron for walls and roofs. But today, they are amongst the "fortunate" who have received gov't housing, a one room square house. Becuase the community's live in segregation, there is not much inter-mixing and getting to know one another, and so many stereotypes and prejudices persist, amongst whites and non-whites, amongst blacks and coloureds, and even amongst each other (it never ceases to amaze me how we as humans try to label and box ourselves, and how rather than celebrating difference we exploit and destruct bc of them).

The reason that I was in Darling, though, was exactly because of these divisions, because my friend's theater company- Mothertongue: a collective of women's artists- was putting on a play to start bridging these divides. Essentially, there were no professional actors- only older women in the community- black and coloured women bc they couldn't recruit a white woman from the area. These women interviewed each other and others in the community about their experiences growing up in Darling, what their dreams are for the town, and then composed three skits, which were all performed at Mom Patience's house (a form of site specific theater, where the play takes place not in a theater but in that particular place for a reason): in the first, the "white" housewife (played by Aunt Ivy, a coloured woman who wore a blonde wig and spoke in falsetto, waving her hands around) who is supposed to be "liberal" saying that her made is a "nice African woman" right before she yells at her; the second skit involves two domestic worker- one coloured who did the cooking and the other black who did the cleaning, and showed how there is even a hierarchy amongst the non-whites, with the coloured woman bossing the black woman around; and the third a coloured teacher whose mother-in-law resents because she speaks English as her mothertongue rather than Afrikaans, and whose student comes in asking for money for "tik" - another (yet another) huge problem here in South Africa, aka crystal meth. After the skits the audience members walk around to the different women reciting their stories, their monologues all at different parts around the house. Audiences can also go into the living room where there is a display of art the women made, and then a film installation that I helped them put together about their dreams for Darling. The show ends with the women coming together singing

Strong women of Africa
Women of Africa
We will keep Africa strong.

After spending three days with these women, who welcomed me into their homes and into their lives, the song rang even more true in my ears- these women raised the white families, their own families, struggled against apartheid and yet have seen little results in the past 12 years- their children are still dying, or high on drugs, or being raped, or getting HIV. It is so unfair, and in the face of despair and what I would imagine hopelessness, these women came together to put on a show to share their stories with one another and with the community. In the process they became friends when they otherwise would not have had the occasion to enter each other's homes.

For me, there were so many things that were amazing about the weekend. First, I didn't mention this above- but the show wasn't done in English- it was done in whatever language the women spoke at home, meaning that in the same skit there was Xhosa (the black language of the area), Afrikans (the white and coloured language), and English (also white and coloured). So even though I didn't understand what the women were saying, it still made me think, I still could understand the emotions, the pain. It also was so exciting to be a part of "theater for change" or "community theater"- there's something beautiful about the drama here, that it is truly about social issues, which is what I want to continue making films about, raising awareness, bringing people together. And finally, I only realized this after I left, but at some point, rather than just documenting the plays, I myself became part of the show in a sense, part of the performance. Partly because I actually did help put together the film installation, but mostly because I realized I too am there, a woman artist whose background and skin color have affected my life and even why I was there in Darling that weekend. The director of the show said something similar to me, one of the best complements I could have gotten, that I wasn't intrusive with the camera (imagine though, the plays were put on in this small house with its small rooms where the audience can touch the actors, sometimes even have to move out of their way), and that the women were able to flow and talk about their experiences even with me there. At one point, I was filming one of the women's monologue, no one else had yet come into the room, and she continued speaking from her heart, cryed from her heart, and then when other audience members came in, made them cry, all while I was filming her story, which by the way I had no idea what it was since it was in Africaans (though I do admit I'm able now to understand a good amount of conversation, funny how when I first came to SA I thought of Afrikaans as an ugly, oppressor language and how now I am picking it up since I hear it a lot from my friends).

It was a beautiful weekend, yet another that affirms my desire to be involved creatively in projects like this, where you can see the difference in front of your face, as we all- the women involved in the show- white, black, coloured, South African, American, and Belgian- sat together, some of us crying, sharing how powerful and empowering the experience was for us. I took many photos of the weekend and will post those as well.

After an intense but good time at Darling, I went on a two day break with my friend Jazz, who was also part of the show and played the teacher. We drove up the West Coast into a small town- one that made Darling look like a bustline metropolis- where my mentor Jonathan has a vacation home. Did I mention already it was a small, small town, where the highways becomes gravel for the last 4 kms before the town, where there are no restaurants or even taverns open at night! It was good to remember what quietness sounds like. What I certainly was not expecting was in this quiet town to have yet another learning experience. We met Mx, the man who gave us the key to the house, who lives in the township and does contruction work on Jonathan's house. Within 15 minutes he invited us to his house for a delicious braai (bar-b-que). Mx also dj's apparently because he had an amazing sound system in his little house where he played befuckt (Africaans for really freaking cool) music, dance music, reggae music, music I LOVE. He also showed us his bonsai trees that he grows in his backyard, his birds that he keeps. But it was his music that stood out. In a town where there is NOTHING to do, he throws jolls (parties) every once in a while. He explained that his dream was to open a community center where kids can do sports and they can have parties where he would dj because there is nothing to do in this town...and when there is nothing to do, and people become bored, and children don't have after-school activities, then people turn to drinking, or tik. So really, for him, he loves music and he loves to dj, but he particularly wants to give the kids something to do besides drink from the age of 10. As I sat talking with him, listening to his stories and his dreams, and considered where he grew up and what crap he has had to face in his life, I couldn't help but feel that I was in the presence of a wise man. I told him so and, laughing to himself, he said "I am still learning to be wise."

True, I thought, becoming wise is a life-long journey, and in these moments I have had here in South Africa, I feel I am collecting pieces of wisdom, hoping they will somehow fit together now and especially when I return to life back in the US.

Much love to everyone and I will let you know as soon as I post my pictures!



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