Monday, 30 April 2007

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Township girl

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Township Girl, Bela Bela, South Africa

Bela-Bela is a town north of Pretoria famous for its hot springs. Translated, Bela-Bela means Boiling, Boiling - referring to the hot water.

Camera Nikon D50

The Twins and the Police Helicopter

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The Twins and the Police Helicopter, Durban Beachfront, South Africa

Camera Nikon D40

Friday, 27 April 2007

The irony of Powertown, South Africa

Pin It I've often driven past this small informal settlement on my way to visit my father. But it was a long trip from my home to his place; all of a two day drive, so I've usually been too tired to stop. But I kept promising myself that I would. Finally, after some years, I did.

Powertown, as it is called, is a cluster of shacks and dwellings that surounds an old deserted power station, hence the name. The irony of Powertown is that, like the deserted power station, it has no power, or electricity.

That means that the poor families that live there rely on paraffin, candles and fires for their light and to cook. Quite often, I'm told, a house will burn down in the night because someone forgot to blow out a candle, or in a drunken state, mistakenly set fire to their house and possessions.

Powertown is a pretty OK place, as far as poor areas go. The old power station is used by the kids to play in, and despite being dangerous with big holes in the upper level floors, it's still a giant playzone. People are friendly and generally welcoming. Everyone has a story to tell, and they want it to be told.

People are really poor. Across the road there are two stores, a butchery and a bottlestore. At the bottlestore, people from Powertown spend their money on alcohol and get drunk; at the butchery, a collection is made for a weekly Soup Kitchen to feed the kids whose parents either cannot get work, or fritter away their cash at the bottle store. Life is filled with curiousities, contradictions and ironies, is it not?

By night, when the drink takes over, there are occasionally brawls, rapes and arguements and a flash fire every now and again in a house punctuates the darkness of night.

In the morning, all that's left of the house are the metal springs of a burnt out bed, and a pile of smouldering ashes.

By day, Powertown is pretty normal. The kids generally go to a free government school; the mothers wash and clean and cook; the fathers sleep off the night before, or talk idly in small groups.

When I next go back to Powertown, I'm going to take all these and more images, blow them up quite large, and stick them up in the Old Power station. That way, I'll give the people of Powertown a community exhibition of themselves -- no publicity, no pre announcement - I will just arrive with my tape and stick the images up.

Powertown was an important experience for me.. In so many ways its a microcosm of South African life today...Poverty, violence, joy, color, life...and the real hope of the new South Africa...children, always filled with big smiles, always happy, no matter the odds. Indeed, they are our best hope for a positive future.

Follow up - I went back to Powertown with a complete set of images as I had promised to do. That afternoon the kids of Powertown helped me hang the images in the original powerstation building. Adults began to stream in, and before long, there was a complete impromptu exhibition. I left, leaving the images behind, hoping that I'll get to go back there again to document this settlement a bit further....

Cameras Nikon D2X, D50

A visit to Malaysia and Thailand

Pin It Although this story was completed in 2006, I never managed to post in on my website...

"Malaysia - Truly Asia", is what the ads say. And yes, they are correct. I first went east five years ago, and since then, I've been drawn to light, the color, the sounds and the people of Asia. There are thousands of years of culture and religion intricately woven into the fabric of Asia, and the layers of history mingle exotically and cheerfully with modern, bustling, gadget-ridden and consumer-crazy cities of chrome and glass.

That's the irony and the attraction of the east. It's not uncommon, for example to see a monk in Thailand with an MP-3 player, or to find a small shrine in a huge shopping mall squashed next to a Cartier boutique selling jewelery at prices high enough to build a temple. Asian society is very pragmatic; religion blends well with consumerism, and life seems pretty free of the crises of conscience that one might expect.

Kuala Lumpur is a pretty relaxed place as far as Asian cities go. It neither has the mind-boggling frenetic pace of 24/7 Bangkok, nor the clinical sterilty of Singapore. It's compact, easy to get around and efficient. It has some wonderful modern architecture cheek by jowl with older Chinese shophouses, a busting Indian quarter and some great shopping.

But, the most intriguing thing about Malaysia is its society and the diversity this brings to it as a destination. It essentially comprises three groups...Malays, who are Muslim, the Chinese and Indians. It's hard not to stereotype people in a short essay...but in general, the country is largely run by the Malays, who are a fairly poor grouping economically. They have practised a form of affirmative action to bring Malay people into a wide range of government employment. They are a traditional group of people, with strong religious values. The economy, at least the retail economy is dominated by Chinese people. Most of the commercial enterprises right down to the small shopkeepers, are principally Chinese. Indian people are also either shopkeepers on a far smaller scale, and many do manual work.

It amazes me, coming from South Africa, as to just how tolerant this society is, and how well it all works in practice. The government seems to really try hard; they have created an economically progressive society from a poor country in a few decades. And, there are laws which seem to vary from culture to culture, and it all seems to work without any disdain other parts of society. For example, two unmarried Muslim people of the opposite sex are not allowed to share or be in a room in private. While we were there, a case of this happened in a hotel room (without any naughty stuff, I might add), made it into the newspapers and is considered a serious offence. Had two young Chinese folk been in the same position, no one would have bothered in the slightest. Muslim women dress conservatively; young Chinese women (who seem to have the most perfect and beautiful legs on the planet) happily sit next to them on the monorail in all but the skimpiest of mini skirts. It all seems to work. Coming from a country like South Africa, where everything is riddled with complexity, life in Malaysia is a pleasure.

I could not resist ending my trip to Malaysia without spending a week in Bangkok. Haphazard, crazy, upside down and inside out though it may be, Bangkok is still one of my favorite places on the planet.

Camera Nikon D2X