BARKING DOGS, LISTENING AND OFFENCE TAKEN.
This is my first experience of a two hander. I am mainly a solo performer. I have performed in pieces with multiple actors in the past but not often and never a two hander.
I have only once before been directed by a white person and that was not a great experience; it was also a piece, which dealt with race!
This is my first time in Africa.
I am accompanied by my white boyfriend.
Yes let that sink in, this is my first time in Africa I am with my white boyfriend, creating a play on race with a white male South African. Only I could be so full of contradictions!
In the whole process of the two weeks we create this play we only have two days off. The Saturday and Sunday in the middle of the two weeks. The break was not planned, it was needed!
It will become painfully clear during the process that neither of us know each other that well. It will become painfully clear that we had no real clue what we had signed up for.
I will not see much of Durban, there is no time. We are sucked into the void of creating this piece but with no relief and none of the usual support networks I am used to. Usually the creative bubble is a good thing, here it is anything but.
There were plans for trips out and invites to home cooked dinners but this never materializes for a number of reasons; time restraints and because it is obvious after spending days together, no one wants to spend social time together as well.
Iain (aka EWOK) is still working. He teaches English part time in a private school, and has a child, and life goes on for him during this process that he is trying to juggle.
Rob and I are lucky enough to be staying in a ground floor flat large enough for all of us to work comfortably, including Ewok and Karen his wife (director of the piece.) It means we not only have space for ourselves but also to entertain others. It also means we have a private space to relax and re-charge in. A lot of the work-shopping during week one happens here.
The people upstairs are not really people but elephants, there is a baby one about 3 years old who spends a lot of time running back and forth, sometimes before 6am. Not great when you are up late writing and learning text.
I try and exercise everyday. If I do not run I workout out with resistance bands and complete body weight exercises. I also try to eat as clean as possible. Taking care of myself will prove very fruitful as the process becomes more and more of a mental strain. I push my body as hard as I can. I get stares as I run, probably because I am brazen enough to run shamelessly in just a crop top!
I see and learn a lot on my runs, grown men rummaging in bins, brown bodies sleeping in patches of green. Black men and women in florescent orange suits, sweeping, cleaning, picking up leaves. To be honest the streets they clean in the area I am staying in, Glenwood (a mainly white area,) look very clean to me already…
This all makes me feel, guilty, angry and sad. I think of all I have, all I waste, all I take for granted. This is not the first time I have seen poverty. I have been to the Caribbean numerous times, Jamaica, Trinidad and Grenada where my family is from. There is something about witnessing black poverty which hits home, but witnessing black poverty and white wealth in the same space is a whole different story.
Dogs, dogs which constantly make me jump with their incessant barking. Snarling and eagerness to attack from behind metal gates! I swear the dogs are racist. I take to running along the middle of some roads as to avoid the heart attack I swear I will have if one more dog jumps out at me! I dream of kicking a small yappy dog to kingdom come. There is a dog chorus in Durban that I have not heard anywhere else in the world.
I run I past houses, which are hidden behind large metal gates, oversized padlocks and as said snarling dogs and even private security.
Friends I have made amazing friends in Nokolunga who I met at Poetry Africa during the first week. We had a performance together at an Education Learning Centre. I was able to get her to come over one night and talk to me. I wanted to have some conversations with South Africans, honest open conversations where I could learn more about South Africa.
One of my biggest fears was I was going to embarrass myself as I had no real knowledge of SA! I had been greedily talking to as many people as I could since I had arrived, but this was a chance to really talk.
Whilst talking to Iain it become clear in my mind that it would be great for him to be privy to a black conversation but without joining in. I decided to invite him into a planned conversation with Nolokunaga. I was hoping for a few other people to come along but that did not materialize.
So Nokolunga came over and the rules were only we could talk and none of the white people in the room, Rob, Karen or Iain were allowed to join in.
I know it was a frustrating exercise for Iain, I could here a lot of “Mmm’s” going on but other than that all was quiet. He done what I asked.
What struck me talking to Nokolunga was how schools struggle so much especially rural schools. Pupils struggling to learn a language which is not their first language. Pupils walking miles just to get an education. Her school does not even have a library and the only large amounts of books they do have are out of date textbooks. Pregnancies and violence, she tells me a teacher in the school she works at was stabbed to death by a pupil.
Shocking but somethings are comparable; U.K still has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in Western Europe. Violence in schools in the U.K is a worry, last year a female teacher was stabbed to death, this year a male teacher stabbed but luckily survived and whilst I was away a boy of 16 was stabbed to death by a fellow pupil. I cannot act as if the UK is a haven of safety, it is not.
Good teachers all over the world are the same, they just want the best for their students, but some are unfortunatley working against insurmountable odds.
It also becomes clear during our conversation, that it is not just white people that are scared of violence but all people are, it is just that some people have the means to protect themselves from violence or perceived violence and some do not.
Nokolunga also makes it clear that she thinks black people do not help each other enough, that hands are not stretched out to help the next person behind them. Those at the top look after themselves and only themselves.
It was great talking to her, listening is an important skill, a skill we should all learn. I had come to South Africa, naive and with little knowledge, by talking to as many black people as I could, I tried to ensure that I did not end up with a white view of South Africa.
That first week, Iain and I met everyday, talked discussed, wrote, came back, talked discussed, wrote, and came back again. It is intense and full on. There are misunderstandings and upsets, like the casual way Iain uses the "N" word in conversation with me. After a conversation where my unease is pointed out, he apologises, assures me it is not a word he uses freely, he just felt comfortable enough to use it with me. It is not a word we have discussed or debated so I am not sure why he would feel this way. He is wrong.
I am old school this is not a word I use, it is not a word I am comfortable being used around me, especially by a white person. In my world their are no passes, this is a word that grates on me like fingernails on a blackboard!
"This is moment one of many, when I question what the fu*k I am doing, when it seems like a good idea to pack it all in and just go home. This black and white bridge can never be crossed, the gap can never be closed, this is too much for me to deal with. I am out of my depth. I was stupid to think this could ever work. This place is oppressive and this whole process is weighing me down."
These are the type of things I am taking about. Misunderstandings, lack of understanding, things that hit me in the gut that white people will never get, feel or understand on a guttural level. Things that I find deeply offensive, things that I never be able to completely explain or theorise, I just, I just feel them so deeply my stomach hurts and it would be easy for me to give in and walk away. This is a pivotal moment in the process a moment.....
If this is going to work we have to be honest, the time has come to start asking each other questions on race. No bars held, ask whatever the hell you want and the other person will try and answer, this is when the fun really started, once the flood gates were opened there was no going back.....