Thursday, December 16, 2010

Alex after three months

After three months in SA, and plethora of time in the township of Alex -
I am impressed and thankful for this "once in a lifetime" experience.

As much as the media and personal comments of friend can discourage
one from a visit in this "supposedly most dangerous" township in joburg,
i highly encourage anyone to come and see for themselves what live is like
To me Alex is a melting pot of Africa, with great diversity in people and skills,
an amazing community which embraces their children like no other in SA,
and a wonderful place to see how people try to overcome their circumstances
every day.

When I enter Alex about 5:15 in the morning, a flood of people are already walking
out of Alex towards Santon (the wealthiest suburb in SA- across the bridge from Alex). While en route I have kids come up giving me hugs... sometimes old women as well (i am sure this has nothing to do with me sticking out like a soar thump - umlungu ; )

Living condition here are tough: no warm water, no wash machine or dish washer...
most families have about 4 children... sometimes many more live in a "shack" which is
smaller than the average living room in Germany, with 6 people or more. Children often sleep on the floor...

The "bathroom" is made out of stone and metal pieces (as the houses are as well)
which are shared by 30-70 people living around it. When I say bathroom, I mean
a simple toilet - (it does flush); you bring your key and your toilet paper and hope
no one else has to go at the same time : )

There are a few more water faucets in front of houses, but just recently there was
flooding all over the streets..... a "gang" had taken the metal faucets to trade them
in (metal is worth quiet a bit...) Now we have plastic faucets.

Alex is very large, but never empty.... and seldom quiet. I have spend most of my
time around 9th Avenue - right in the heart of Alex. As mentioned its a melting pot.
People from all over South Africa come here to find work (especially form the rural
areas), but also from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Congo....

Still they all work together. The most beautiful image in my head is: two kids: one pair of roller blades - each one roller blade - arm in arm rolling down the hill... thats Alex to me...

Incredible resourceful and with a surfeit of skills all around you. Welder, hair dresser, beer brewers, car mechanics... all in your yard... (most impressive is the local beer brewing - see picture with lady steering a big pot)

On of the issues is that people don't seem to feel "home" in Alex. Most of them have
a house wherever they come from; often leaving family and even children behind
to make money... with this attitude of temporary stay (even though many are here
for years or even decades, while only visiting home in between) in Alex comes an lax attitude
about the looks and feel of the streets. Often the streets are not very clean and
the homes look dull .... if we could only paint Alex : ))

And as much as I have seen a very welcoming and non-threatening Alex,
l should mentioned that Alcoholism is an issue here ... seeing men and women
with a bottle of beer when we deliver bread around 7 am is nothing special -

Also we have been trying to hire within alex... with high unemployment we thought
that this should be no problem... unfortunately so far no luck...and
people have been mentioning a culture of entitlement to us with makes it difficult, hopefully we proof them wrong...

All in all a total different world, and certainly an experience of a lifetime...

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