Alexandra Baseball continues to depend on support through charitable donations to help finance the costs of transporting the players to their games and to tournaments. Consider a donation this Giving Tuesday!
"We Are Not Such Things" is the story of author Justine van der Leun’s quest to get to the bottom of what really happened the day Amy Biehl, an American student in South Africa, was killed by an angry mob in a township near Cape Town in 1993. Amy’s parents later publicly forgave the men convicted of her murder. The details of how it all unfolded are fascinating.
South Africans have seen Trevor Noah rise through the ranks of comedians to become a South African icon. No one does accents as well as Trevor Noah does, and no country like South Africa gives you so much good material for them. But even South Africans may not know much about Noah's past. He was "Born a Crime," which is also the title of his newly-released memoir.
Over three years of living in Johannesburg, the township of Alexandra has changed in my perception. It's amazing how your preconceptions can alter what you think of as reality. What first looked scary became vibrant. What looked disorderly became lovable. What looked shady became interesting. And what looked malevolent became welcoming. And then I learned there was a theater.
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.
I happened to drive past Diepsloot, still visions of the hundreds of beanie hats we had finished that morning for Mandela Day dancing through my head. It was the same shortcut I took the day I helped two women transport their firewood to their homes, which later became my first Strong Women of Africa story. Sure enough, I came across another group of women this time.
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.
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?
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 sure the occasional goat ends up in someone’s cooking pot every once in a while. On any given day Alex buzzes like a beehive, with everyone out and about going about their business. You will find pretty much anything for sale, from a sheep’s head to an iPhone. Everything seems to teeter on the edge of chaos. Roads are ripped up to fix the plumbing but then no one shows up again to repave them, because according to Cedric “that’s the responsibility of the Joannesburg Roads Agency” and judging from my own interactions with them I’m afraid it might never happen.
Read 2Summers’ post for more information on Alexandra and some amazing pictures. To delve deeper into Alexandra’s history and get a really good understanding of what life there was like during the apartheid years (and I suspect still is like in many ways today), read the book Kaffir Boy.
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.