The Big Dream: A Theater for Alexandra

Alexandra, if you’ll remember, is the place I was warned to never set foot in. “Don’t ever take this exit,” were pretty much the first words of Noisette’s driver G to us when we first arrived in Johanneburg and he was driving us to our new home from the airport.  As you’ll also remember, I totally ignored G’s advice. Mainly because I hate when people tell me what I can’t do. But that didn’t keep me from being scared to death when I did make that first foray into Johannesburg’s oldest and most notorious township. It did indeed look totally scary. A shantytown, crisscrossed by narrow winding alleys, building rubble piled up on corners, washing hanging on lines in grassless back yards, barefoot children scampering in the dust among a few goats, shady characters milling about and staring at me and, I imagined, my shiny car in a malevolent and greedy manner.  Fast forward to three years later, and I’m now bringing you a story about a theater production in Alexandra. Yes, theater, of all things. Something you associate with culture and education and leisure – all attributes that don’t usually make a place like Alexandra pop into your mind. 
From “Paradise Lost,” a Ntshieng Mokgoro production. Photo by Manuela Accarpio.
“Paradise Lost.” Photo by Manuela Accarpio

The thing is, Alexandra hasn’t really changed in three years. It has just changed in my perception. It’s amazing how powerfully your preconceptions can alter what you think of as reality. What looked scary that first day became vibrant. What looked disorderly became lovable.
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Strong Women of Africa

When you live in Africa, you cannot help but note the women around you, every day, carrying what seem to be impossible loads on their heads. It never looks like it’s something made to be carried on your head. Not that I would know, mind you, which items are or aren’t suited to be carried on your head. But still – a water bucket? A suitcase? Or a cage of chickens?

I can only imagine what a fool I’d make of myself trying to replicate this feat, even with the smallest of bags, and yet there is something in me that makes me want to try. Maybe I will. If other expat bloggers can walk around in a burka all day, it seems I should
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Driving Through Alexandra

Fellow blogger 2Summers’ recent post about Alexandra inspired me to add my own. I have no shortage of posts about Alexandra Baseball and my involvement with them, but Alexandra, the township, deserves a post in its own right. As 2Summers pointed out, Alexandra is steeped in history, perhaps even more so than Soweto, its much more famous cousin to the South. And if you want to get a glimpse of township life, I’d argue that Alexandra is a much better place to go than Soweto, which has become a tourist hotspot in the last few years and in a way lost some of its authenticity. Or maybe it’s just that inkling of “danger” that makes Alexandra so interesting to me. After all, I was warned to never drive there unless I wanted to be killed. But drive there I did, borne out of my wish to help and the simple fact that I’m the one with the car. If my baseball equipment is to be given to the people who need it, I have to bring it into Alexandra, it’s as simple as that. But I usually have either Tedius or Cedric, the baseball coaches who are so much more than coaches, as my trusted guides, without whom I’d get hopelessly lost. I’m always amazed how well they know their way around. It’s a kind of knowledge that is becoming lost in the age of GPS-guided cars, but very much still in demand in a place like Alexandra. My GPS would have been no help recently when they told me to turn into a side street and drive on the right side, into oncoming traffic it seemed. It was the only way to get to another side street for a stop at Cedric’s office. Miraculously, the oncoming traffic veered to my left and here we were driving on the right side of the road, just like home. That’s Alexandra. Rules are often flaunted, new paths are made by minibus taxis looking for a shortcut, everyone drives into the intersection at once it seems, and yet a set of unwritten rules seem to be followed that make the whole thing work, like reversing the traffic flow on that one side street. Once you get past your inhibitions it’s actually kind of fun, forcing your way into an intersection and seeing who “wins” his way through.

Every time I go to Alexandra, there are always new sights to behold, like the guy sitting in the middle of the sidewalk at an ancient sewing machine the other day. Goats roam freely, feeding off the abundantly available trash and belonging to no one in particular, from what I’m told. I’m ...  Continue Reading

From the Slums of Alexandra to the Corporate Glitz of Sandton

I would love to tell a rags-to-riches story here, but sadly it is not quite that. It’s just that I recently spent a day trying to solicit much-needed corporate sponsors for our Alexandra baseball team. I started out on a street corner in Alex where I picked up Tedius and Cedric, the two coaches/managers/owners – whatever you may call them – who I’ve been working with, and I ended up in the lobby of SAB (South African Breweries, who not only have the South African beer market pretty much cornered but also own ABI, one of the largest Coca-Cola distributors in the Southern hemisphere). See the contrast for yourself:
Makeshift sports field in Alexandra
SAB lobby in Sandton, just minutes from Alexandra

You just wonder: How many of those huts above could you build for the cost of that one wooden piece of art I was staring at in the SAB lobby?

Such was the contrast between rags and riches, all in the space of one morning. Only we didn’t actually secure any riches. Instead, we dropped off proposals ...  Continue Reading