March 28th, 2006
At the beginning of this month South Africa had its municipal elections. This meant the city was plastered with campaign posters as a dozen or so parties completed for votes. I collected some photos of my favorite posters, and the winner seems to be the Pan African Congress for the catchiest slogans.
To see more: Collect the whole set!
January 30th, 2006
One of my ongoing challenges of being abroad has been trying to keep my writing/report/storytelling up to date with my experiences. In that vein I have been vainly attempting to get myself to write a comprehensive account of my trip to Mozambique. Having more or less admitted defeat, I thought I should at least get my act together and post a little bit here.
I spent a little under a month in Mozambique, spending more time on buses that I ever thought possible. One of my favorite parts of the trip was going to Manica. Manica is a small town about an hour away from Chiomoio (which is the capital of the Manica province). We went there to get away from the touristy coast and try to see some of the mountains that we had heard were so beautiful. The night before we left Vilanculo we mentioned to a guy we had met there that we were heading on to Manica in the morning. Patrick says “I live in Manica! Wait, let me call my wife, you can stay with her.” So the next day after 13 hours of travel (bus heading North leaving at 4am, dropped us at intersection of major highways, taxi heading west to Chimoio, taxi from Chimoio to Manica, walk to house) we arrived at Steffi and Patrick’s home. Steffi is an aid worker from Austria who met Patrick while she was in Zimbabwe. They were married in Austria, had a baby girl, and moved to Mozambique when Steffi got a job there. Their daughter speaks four languages – German, Shona, Portuguese, and English. Steffi welcomed us into her house with unbelievable hospitality. We must have been a startling image of four very dirty tired Americans that showed up at her doorstep.
The above picture is from across the street from there house. Most of the houses in Manica look like they were built in the 1960’s and haven’t been touched since then. It gives a very strange picture to what the area must have looked like at the time. This pool was one of the abandoned structures in town. Apparently a few years back the city had been given a grant to refurbish the pool and get it working again. All of the paint was fresh, there was a new fence around the pool, and all the medal fixtures were brand new. Then, the story goes, the mayor bought himself a new car, and work stopped.
Meanwhile, the town was going through a water shortage… the rainy season started a few days after we arrived, but when we arrived there was no water in the taps. The water was carried up in buckets, and there was hardly enough to flush the toilets, let alone take a proper bath. So the thought of actually filling that pool with water was a little shocking. Here you can see women lining up in the poorer section of town to get water from the pump.
Manica treated us really well, and I was sad to leave.
January 28th, 2006
This past week there were huge fires on the mountain in Cape Town. Sitting in the kitchen in my new place suddenly the tone changed and the house was flooded with red light. Getting up to look out the window the sun was covered in smoke.
From the upstairs window you can see Devils Peak.
And from downstairs, the smoke blowing across the afternoon sun.
January 10th, 2006
I’m back in Cape Town now after almost two months of travel (more on that when I get my act together). Traveling elsewhere in Southern Africa has made it really striking the things you can get in South Africa that you can’t elsewhere. This is a tribute to some of my favorite food products in South Africa.
Generally speaking, I love how fresh the food here is. Vegatables in the grocery store have actual dirt on them. These eggs have a real feather on them!! Meaning they actually had contact with a chicken! I think thats really wonderful.
For those days when your beer is just too feminine, Black Label has solved the problem my bringing you the MAN SIZED BEER! Don’t settle for less!
And lastly (for today at least) is Black Cat Peanut Butter. I think I buy it mostly because I think the label is cute. But since theres only one other kind of peanut butter in the grocery store, it doesn’t make that much difference. At first I thought maybe this brand was a distant shout out to the Black Panthers of the Black Power Movement… on further reflection I think that is very unlikely, but it still makes me think of that.
November 8th, 2005
Last week I took a couple days to go to Namibia. Amazing trip. I found the landscape of Namibia really thought provoking. It made me realize that the majority of the world live in places that I consider “the middle of nowhere” and really, the fact that I have lived in urban centers my whole life is strange in a global sense. It also made me want to explore the Namibian independence struggle. All of the colonialism schemes and independence struggles I’m familiar with have a really big focus on urban centers, which are rare in Namibia – there seems to only be one. Namibia was for a very long time a protectorate of South Africa, which also makes their history an interesting one. I can’t really imagine what it would be like to live in a place like that, or even what it would be like to try and think about the economy of a country with no urban centers and almost no farmable land. Very thought provoking.
It was a wonderful trip, and I would go back in a heartbeat. I was sad to return to Cape Town where it was chilly… they keep saying its going to be summer, but I feel I’ve been mislead. (but I shouldn’t complain, I went swimming today, and I’m wearing flipflops).
the “kodak factory” version of the trip
October 29th, 2005
Yesterday I went to the UCT arts library and watched a video of the show for an exam I have next week. Its a piece about a linguistic group of the Western Cape that no longer exists and the German anthropologists who tried to preserve their language and culture in the 1800s. It’s totally amazing, and after writing my long paper about issues of oral and literary traditions, it was unbelievable to see those issues presented on stage. I really recommend looking at the pictures, some of them are really cool.
p.s. Tuesday I leave for a whirlwind trip to Namibia. Just to keep things interesting. There should be some good pictures and stories when I get back.
October 27th, 2005
Last week I spend the majority of the week writing a paper for my African Studies class about African theatre. In the midst of this process I found myself searching for a word I knew existed but I couldn’t remember. I had this memory of my AP biology textbook in high school that had a picture of a dinosaur and a dolphin which had evolved to fill a similar nitch and so looked almost exactly the same. With some help from my dad over the internet, we tracked down this term. Analogous structures are when two different species evolve similar structures to deal with similar problems. Like wings, or eyes…
I used this term to talk about Commedia del Arte and the work of Gibson Kente in the South African townships. Gibson Kente developed a style now called the township musical, which toured all over South Africa during the 1960′s and 70′s. A vast number of the black artists who are defining South African theatre seemed to have worked with him at some point. He developed a style and pattern for his plays specifically to deal with the challenges and needs of his audiences. His plays were melodrama’s of township life based in African Christian morality. In many ways the similarities between him and Commedia are interesting because it shows the way in which two very different circumstances can result in similar styles. Both needed to support themselves from an audience base of poor or working class people, resulting in the traveling troupes. Kente’s plays were over the top using stylistic acting and stock characters which reflected the experiences of township life. The characters became recognizable to the audience, who would return to see Kente’s shows over and over again. And the use of slapstick comedy just seems to come because everyone likes slapstick comedy! But its important to note, that even if Commedia was developed long before Kente was born, the work that Kente did was still truely innovative and original. And personally I find it hard to believe that Kente had ever heard of Commedia until after the fact.
if your interested, the movie Sarafina! with Woopi Goldberg is modeled after Kente’s style. I haven’t actually watched the whole film, but the parts I’ve seen are really cool. And, the film has some really important big names from South African theatre in it, like John Kani, Mbongeni Ngema, and Miriam Makeba.
October 21st, 2005
Please excuse this brief relaxing of my rule about not whining on my blog.
Its a beautiful day out there, and I am stuck in the library for the fourth day in a row. It makes me sad.
But on the flip side, I think I’m writing a really interesting paper on the concept of orature in African Theatre. It includes a section on the value of creating theatre the oral form rather than in literary form. If nothing else, I think it makes me sounds smart.
October 14th, 2005
I’ve been consuming the contents of the library with an almost frightening passion. Every now and then I just wander into the Arts library and come out with at least two books to read. Here’s some of the ones that I’ve really enjoyed:
Theatre and Cultural Struggle in South Africa by Robert Kavanagh
this is a Marxist analysis of theatre in South Africa written in the 1980′s. Really interesting slant on stuff I have been reading about in other places.
Making People’s Theatre also by Robert Kavanagh
a hands on ‘how to’ theatre book, only Marxist. And with an African slant. Really fun. Has sections like ‘how to run a democratic rehearsal’
The new Radical theatre notebook by Arthur Sainer.
this was my concession to my interests in American theatre. Its a big fat book on the theatre of the 1960′s and 70′s. It was fun to read…. lots of conversations about sex and death. Oh, and a mention of John Dillon, my dept. head back in the states. Some of these people were kind of nuts, but as one of my professors said, you have to understand the legacy you live with. And I do think that these people are part of the legacy I live with – people like Bread and Puppet and the SanFransico Mime Troupe.
Towards the Poor Theatre
AH! Grotowski!! okay, I had to read at some point, why not now, right?
Community Theatre: Global Perspectives by Eugene van Erven
This was for a class, but its really good. I totally recommend it. I particularly enjoyed the section on a women’s theatre group in rural Kenya. That gave me a lot to think about.
okay, thats all for now. Maybe more of my reading list later.
October 14th, 2005
I’m starting to prepare for my exams, which is a strange concept for me. I haven’t taken a real exam since the AP Calculus test my senior year of high school. Once of my exams requires me to write a prepared essay about two pieces of South African theater, one before 1994 and one after 1994. For that I’m doing some work on the Mother Tongue Project. This is a really interesting women’s theatre collective group, and their work is amazing. The woman who created Spice Root, which I wrote about before, is one of the founder members.
The piece I’m working on for my exam – half of it took place in two taxi vans. The audience members were piled in, unaware that this was part of the show, and actors in the vans with them would begin to talk, tell stories, and argue with this captive audience in the moving vehicle. Its a totally amazing idea. When we were told in lecture that there were 3 hours of raw video footage of the show I almost flipped my lid. So, on of my plans for next week is to go watch it. All of it!