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. What ... 


Alexandra Tour Guide for a Day

Someone once commented that it felt like I was their tour guide through Expat Life in South Africa. Well, today I definitely felt like an Off the Beaten Track kind of tour guide, taking my flock right into the heart of Alexandra, one of South Africa's most notorious neighborhoods, giving them a rare glimpse of this oft-maligned township including some humorous moments.


The Gift of a Picture

When you’re moving to South Africa, inevitably you will become involved in charity work. There is almost no way around it. There are myriad opportunities of how you might get involved, but one of the charities especially dear to my heart is Help Portrait, a worldwide organization of amateur photographers whose goal it is to bring the gift of a picture into underprivileged communities.


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 ... 


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 ... 


The Children of Diepsloot

children in Diepsloot, South Africa

If you move to South Africa as an expat, it is likely that you will live in the wealthy Northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Adjacent to these privileged neighborhoods lies Diepsloot, one of Johannesburg's townships. You will likely become familiar with it by venturing there as a part of various outreach projects of your school. Here is the chronicle of one such day trip.