As time goes by

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A month into our stay, I realised that today would be the first time I ventured out on my own since we arrived … to attend a breakfast event at the Johannesburg Country Club, hosted by the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA). For a risk management geek like me, it was fascinating hearing about the state of the world, nation and industry from a South African point of view. It’s ironic that 2 of the top 4 national risks are Water Crises and Droughts in Sub Saharan Africa … given that all 300 attendees battled floods to get to the event. It has rained non-stop here for 48 hours – fallout from Cyclone Deneo that skirted the north of the country a few days ago.

Another first – my working morning was based on local Johannesburg time. So far, I have lived in dual timezones – waking up, eating meals etc to local time, but liaising with the office on a two-hour time difference. I thought it would be easy, but it’s surprising how often one forgets. I thought I’d cracked it when I found I could set my phone to show three timezones (UK, Australia & SA)… until I found that swiping to answer the phone also swipes the timezone. In the last week, I’ve accidently found myself working in Jeddah, Kathmandu and today Luxembourg!

Every time it rains, it rains…

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…pennies from heaven.

More like five rand pieces actually.  The weather in Johannesburg, especially at this time of year, is pretty volatile, with dramatic forked lightning and thunder loud enough to make you jump.  But in general, though the storms arrive fast, they are just as quick to depart.  Today was an exception, with heavy rain falling for most of the day: no morning work-out, and dodging puddles all day.

Rehearsal day today, attendance on this occasion affected by a compulsory Maths clinic.  In order to keep everyone busy, all hands were pressed into service.  Viloshni directed The Tree; Val oversaw rehearsals for The Three Sisters; Lucky once again took the girls from Soup through their movement sections (and once again not all of them were there); and I blocked, in the most rough and ready fashion, and at breakneck speed, the first two plays: Anansi and Demana and Demanzana. Generally speaking, the consensus was that the rehearsal had been a success, in that we kept everyone busy.  Including me: I finished soaked in sweat and without a voice to speak of.  Or with.

Reflections III – stages

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(as in, things people perform on.)

We have been to the theatre three times in eight days – an astonishing increase on our normal pattern. We’ve already commented on Woza Albert! at the magnificent Soweto Theatre – a brilliantly performed/written/executed piece of theatre. But my personal appreciation was ever so slightly tinged when I subsequently read the script, and discovered that what we had witnessed was a move for move re-creation of the original 1980 production, even down to the exact repeat of those costumes and set.  Not museum theatre, for it had a vitality and energy of its own, but even so…

Two nights ago we went to Johannesburg’s world-famous Market Theatre (where Woza Albert! originated) to see The Meeting, concerning the fictional encounter between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.  We had been looking forward to it, but I was ill, Val had had a frustrating day struggling with work, and we were both exhausted. A wordy play which we strained to hear clearly proved a trial, and even though we were seated on the front row of their small studio theatre, we found it hard to keep our heads up.

And then, last night we went to the tiny POPArt theatre in Johannesburg’s trendy Maboneng district, old mining warehouses converted into restaurants, studios, loft apartments… We saw Isithunzi, another two-man play, which focused on the utterly appalling “Reitz Four” incident. It resembled Woza Albert!, being a thrilling, intense piece of physical theatre. It too dealt with, and showed, the tension between black and white – you can’t get away from that in South Africa – but it had a vibrancy, an urgency, an exhilaration in the power of theatre that was bang up to date.

Bewilderingly, we were two out of an audience of three. As I recall it – painfully! – the convention is that if the actors outnumber the audience, they are entitled to call the show off, so I guess we only just made it. But apart from the fact that this deserved to be seen by a far wider audience, in a way this only added to the sense of privilege we felt. This was the best of the lot.

The world is your Ostrich

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Rehearsal and the usual anxiety – who would turn up? But for the first time, all the people I’d asked to come did come. (Eventually, it’s true, but hey…

We were rehearsing The Three Sons – a sort of folk King Lear, but with sons rather than daughters. Most encouragingly, they got it. All three sons were sharp and quick witted. while Lear himself had all the power and authority I was hoping for, with an added slice of self-deprecatory humour. Well, see for yourself…

Valentine dinner

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Belated valentines dinner for the boarders. Despite everyone being allocated a partner, the photos on the lawn started with boys and girls in separate groups, getting together to go into dinner.

Hey! Taxi!

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Online taxi company Uber is controversial the world over, largely because of its impact on existing local taxis. Each time we climb into one, I feel a pang of guilt thinking of Joe, our best man and London black cab driver (now picking up fares in heaven.) But it makes our life here manageable; trips to the shops, swimming pool, anywhere really.

We do enjoy watching the little car head toward us on the map, sometimes apparently making handbrake turns and slaloming sideways.

It’s fun to meet the drivers, who come from all over Southern Africa, so far including one woman and one white guy. Only once have we felt nervous, late at night with a driver playing gangsta rap on the radio.  “You’re gonna die tonight!” proclaimed the rapper. We didn’t.

There was one tense incident outside Park Station, when our driver was accosted by two angry local taxi drivers. Thankfully, two Afrikaans policemen intervened to calm things. We walked alongside the Uber as it drove to an agreed place down the road, and then climbed in.

5am boot camp

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My life has turned upside down…

Always a night owl, working until 1 or 2am, I am transformed. My alarm goes off at 4.55am and I am out of bed, into my running gear. As the Muezzin in the mosque across the road starts his call to prayer, I am ready for fitness boot camp.

I have never been one for crunches, squats and press-ups and couldn’t touch my toes at the age of 5, let alone 55. So this has been quite an experience for me. Around 10 boys, 10 girls, coach Susan and I start with a run in the half light – either round the school perimeter, up and down some flights of external stairs, or a few lengths of the basketball court. Then onto various semi-painful exercises and stretches.

My only previous experience of such things was a ruthlessly competitive circuit class at a local gym back in the UK – this is much more enjoyable and friendly, with my running buddy Unathi who is half my size, but has the biggest smile to make up for it.

The Soup dance

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After last week, Chris was determined that in today’s rehearsal everybody would be kept busy. But his careful plans were thrown asunder when, amongst other things, netball trials and football training meant that at least one key character in each play was absent.

Ah well – the show must go on… having come along just to take a few photos for the blog, I suddenly found myself stepping in to read narrator and lead role (the spider) in Anansi.

My reward was to accompany the cast of Soup (salt, pepper, sauce, onion leaves, spice and dripping) to their first dance rehearsal in the multi-purpose hall, with Mr Lucky Ratlhagane and his ace marimba band. And what a treat – just watch and listen!

Reflections II – black and white

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Our regular trip to the shopping mall (by Uber taxi – we did try the bus once, but it never came – takes us past Jeppe (pron. Jeppy) Boys, which appears to be lifted straight out of a 30s English school story (think Jennings or Billy Bunter): a stately red brick building with manicured playing fields out front, on which boys wearing caps(!) are playing cricket. But just to upset the stereotype, it is Jeppe that is the government school (though one of the best in the country), while just a stones-throw away, DCS, without a playing field to its name, is Independent (though also one of the best in the country.)

South Africa is famously defined by black and white, but it is nothing like as straightforward as that sounds, even without including the various shades of brown and yellow. DCS’s learners are almost entirely black, but are drawn from many tribal groups, speaking several languages. The teaching staff is remarkably diverse: the black teachers from almost as many different cultures, the white ones split equally between English and Afrikaans- speaking. They are mostly strong Catholics, but include Hindus, a Muslim, agnostics and atheists – all fiercely proud of and committed to the School’s Dominican ethos and tradition.

South Africa undoubtedly faces challenges: 50% of its young people are unemployed, and the scars of the past will take generations to heal. But to our eyes (just three weeks in!) the future is full of hope. At least in the middle class shopping malls, black, white and brown are seen living, working, socializing together. Nkosi sikelel’ Afrika…

Weeping willow?

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The advantage of having six different plays with largely separate casts is that they can be rehearsed simultaneously; the disadvantage, even with just two plays, as was the case this afternoon, is needing to be in two places at once. So I found myself running back and forth between the two ends of the Hall.

For a first rehearsal, it went about as well as could be expected, but, with final casting decisions still being made, I found myself up against the emotional turmoil of my young cast.  Most of the characters in The Tree, are described as simply Children; they were nearly all desperate, to the point of pleading, to be chosen as the one called Child who has an additional couple of lines. I deferred makng a final decision on the spot… (Coward!)