Hello from Grahamstown, South Africa! I have just finished up with the National Arts Festival, which was my “excuse” for coming to South Africa, and now I’m hanging around Grahamstown for the National Schools Festival, teaching improv workshops to 12th-graders from all over South Africa.
I landed in Joburg almost a month ago (holy fart! Has it been a MONTH?), and I spent almost two weeks in the City of Gold, staying with my lovely cousins Trevor and Ronwen (which my family affectionately shortens to Trevwen). I got to see friends old and new, people I’ve known essentially since birth, and friends I made the last time I was in South Africa. I also got to connect with family – my cousins Tess and Di, and my first-cousin-once-removed Janezo (technically my MOM’s cousin, but no one’s really keeping track) and her family. So much of why South Africa feels like a second home is because it houses almost all of my extended family (I do have one batch of awesome cousins in England). I have no extended family in the States whatsoever, so it does indeed feel like coming back to the Motherland – where my family all started (even though my sister and I were born in the States).
I also got to see a bit of improv while in Joburg. I saw the Jittery Citizens – Joburg’s one and only professional improv troupe – perform at the Market Theatre. My friend Rachael Neary made her professional debut with this troupe, and I was there to witness it! It was long-form improv (Armando-style, for those of you who keep track of these sorts of things), and it was good to see such quality improv sustained for more than just one game’s worth. And for me, it was always going to be worth the price of admission, because Rachael snagged a free ticket for me. Fortunately, it was wayyyy better than the price of admission!
I was amazed, though, at Joburg’s lack of transportation. Had I not bummed a ride from Rachael’s parents, I would have been at a loss as how to have gotten home. The few busses that run in Joburg stop around 8pm (which was when the show started), even on weeknights. And there aren’t exactly cabs that float around waiting to be flagged down, like in NYC. And the “taxis” in South Africa are much more like shuttles – they have preplanned routes, and you have to find one that’s going to your part of town. And walking at night in Joburg is basically equivalent to running into Compton with cash falling out of your pockets yelling into a megaphone: “Mug me! I’m unarmed!” So if you don’t have a car, you don’t really go anywhere after 8pm. I’m amazed that a city as large as Johannesburg doesn’t have any viable public transportation. This is one prime example of how it’s a second-world city – definitely developed and not 3rd-world, but it has a LONG way to go before it’s a first-world city.
My mom always says that she’s “from Joburg, which is a good place to be from.” I’m not gonna lie, I definitely felt like that when I left Johannesburg two Sundays ago. Rachael and I drove out to stay with some old family friends of mine in a nature reserve outside of Nottingham Road. It was fantastic to be out of the city, out in the sticks, taking deep breaths of clean air that didn’t feel like it’d give you asthma twenty minutes from now. We stayed with a school friend of my mom’s named Sarah (who we call Suki, NO idea why . . .), and her husband, Colin, and her son Andrew. I hadn’t seen Andrew or Colin since 2002, because they were away on a fishing trip when I last visited. But I had seen Suki’s other sons my last time in South Africa. So when I saw Andrew, for some reason I was expecting to find the five-year-old I had met the last time around. So my exclamation of “Holy hayballs!” was quite justified when I saw a massive, athletic 18-year-old with biceps the size of Wisconsin.
Surprises aside, we had a wonderful few days out in the boonies, walking through dry but beautiful countryside. Rachael and I proceeded from Nottingham Road to Southbroom, where my generous cousin Janezo owns a holiday home that she let us stay in. Southbroom is on the East Coast of South Africa, just south of Durban, in the province of KwaZulu Natal. I have dubbed KZN the “Florida of South Africa.” It’s always warm, even in winter, it’s always humid, ad it’s where all the rich white people have holiday homes. On our way to Southbroom we had to go through Durban, and if KZN is the Florida of South Africa, Durban is definitely Miami. We didn’t get two blocks into Durban before we were caught in a traffic jam. To be fair, this traffic jam was caused by a union strike that was making national news. Rachael and I were listening to the radio, and the newscaster mentioned something about the “municipal strikes in Durban have gridlocked the city and the fear of riots has . . .” and we were like, “DEUCES!” I cut through four lanes of traffic, which by South African standards is rather tame, and got out of the gridlock. Once we were off the street where the strike/riot was happening, we were fine, and we cleared Durban quickly, and made it off to Southrboom.
Rachael and I spent an amazing few days in the warm climes of Southbroom. The house is incredible: it has a fantastic garden, it’s five minutes from the beach, and it has Janezo’s artistic touch all over it. Sorry, did I turn into a realtor in the last two paragraphs? Guys – this house is not for sale, sorry. But it is amazing. And I am blessed enough to have stayed in it for two days, enjoying the warm Florida (ahem, sorry, KZN) weather. And from Southbroom, Rachael and I ventured forth to Grahamstown, braving the streets of Mthatha. Everyone warned us not to go through Mthatha, not for our safety, but because we’d be sucked into the traffic vortex that would consume our lives. No word of a lie, it took us 45 minutes to move four blocks. AND THERE WEREN’T EVEN MUNICIPAL STRIKES AND/OR RIOTS! That’s just the norm. You must just know, that if you’re driving through Mthatha, you must budget 45 minutes for those 400 meters. It’s insane. It’s because nobody freakin’ knows how to drive! They don’t care that it’s a red light and they’re blocking an intersection! It was green two minutes ago! So I’m going to sit in the middle of the intersection while YOU have the green light, preventing you from progressing, because I just don’t give a flying font about the rules of driving. Holy buttface, it was infuriating.
Eventually we made it to Grahamstown, but I’m too exhausted to talk about it after reliving my Mthatha experience, so I’ll save it for the next post, neh? Shap-shap!