Saturday, September 29, 2007

28. September Imizamo Yethu Township, Hout Bay

This morning, we are to meet up with Christopher (of the Juggling Sticks) for Bailey to shoot for his promo video. After the somewhat tenuous experience of being in Phillippee with a local, Bail is gun-shy of going into a township with a non-local, (and white) host. Christopher assures him that we’ll be meeting at the community center which is just at the entrance of the township and right near the Police Station. The Iziko Lobomi community centre is not quite located as described, but we are very much welcomed by a friendly assortment of people flowing in & out of the building.

The juggling sticks are one of several on-site businesses that include beadwork (a South African specialty), ceramics, recycled wood frame-making, crocheted bag production, and making room divider/door curtains out of naturally insect-repellant seeds. In addition the center offers a soup-kitchen type operation and gathering spaces for meeting and prayer. Each of the workshop spaces set around the main hall also serves as a training center and retail shop. The sewing room is opened up by a woman who has the marvelous ability, so common here, of head-top porting: she has a sewing machine easily balanced on her head with a little scrap of cloth as cushion. Hands free, she easily unlocks the door. A young mama on her way out demonstrates another hands-free child carrying skill - the baby wrap. Having tried this with my own children several times and never felt confident, I admire her poise.

As we wait in the central space, I chat with Gino, who is making juggling sticks, while the Maddie & Finn play with cars and the sticks with an ever-growing group of kids from the township. Gino has a lot of concerns about education, productivity, sustainability and his community, his people. He says that the government and even township representatives make a great show of assistance when, in fact, there is a great deal of corruption & problems with very little viable solutions trickling down to the township. While the political systems seems to be less than functional, Gino is also frustrated that his own people “abuse themselves” with alcohol, drugs, etc, and, above all, (ignorance) sic . I asked him, if it were up to him, and with all the rand he wished, where would he begin? “Education,” he said, without hesitating. It’s not entirely lack of resources - there are several libraries and a school in the township - but motivation, perhaps. When prompted, Gino said if it were up to him he would “regulate and enforce” education - patrolling the streets on weekdays to insure that children were in school and adults at work.

Near the end of the allotted shoot time at the Centre, Maddie is playing with quite a cluster of kids - they’ve moved on to photographing each other and swapping names and stories. Most children are bi-lingual, switching between English and Xhosa with facility. (The Dutch/British-inspired Afrikaans is also widely used throughout the Capetown area.) The camera makes for great fun and a lot of vamping & posing & singing of Top10 radio. Maddie fits right in to the cluster (if a bit taller) - apparently Pre-Teen is an international syndrome....
Bailey is done shooting just before the little camera, inevitably, turns into a bone of contention. Several of the girls ask if they can come see our house or when Maddie can come back and play. I don’t have an answer, but hope to see some of them involved with the Hout Bay Music Project - a strings ensemble community outreach program for the township that has welcomed Maddie & Finn as “exchange students” for the month.

To prepare for the Music Project, the kids need violins. Ours stayed at home due to potential import complications and we would like to make a violin donation to the Project at month’s end. BIG THANKS to "Mema and PopPops" and Alden & Zach! We’ve looked up a small company that stocks (rather than orders) student violins, so from the township, we head toward Capetown once again. We phone several times asking for clarification on directions before discovering that the suburban streetsigns are located at about 8” above ground. This discovery proves tremendously helpful in navigating us to the shop with 20 minutes to spare before close.

“Music Peyer” is run out of the home of Mr. Peyer who meets us on the front stoop with his parrots. The two ladies who help run the shop are charming and have helpfully prepared two violins for the kids to try out. As the ladies sort out paperwork, Mr. Peyer tells us a bit of his own story: He came to Africa on sabbatical from Switzerland 40 years ago. He brought his cello which rode shotgun in a motorcycle sidecar as Peyer trekked across the continent - eventually ending up in Capetown with about 2 pence to his name. Wanting to make some quick cash and earn a way back to his homeland, Peyer looked everywhere for a job, but the climate in South Africa wasn’t friendly for gainful employment. He played on the streets for income before eventually setting up a small shop.... Classically trained, he may have given lessons at one time, but today, Peyer’s arthritis hampers him and his hearing is failing, though not so much so that he can’t quickly & perfectly tune both violins and be a seemingly appreciative audience to the kids’ first violin-playing in weeks. The ladies tell us we should be proud of their playing, and one can’t resist smooching Finn on his forehead, at which he promptly turns raspberry.

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