Fish out of water

During the course of my e-waste collections yesterday, I did something I have never done before.  I went to Nyanga.

Now you'd think as a local who has lived in this area since 1984, and with South Africa's apartheid days far behind us, I might have ventured into a part of the biggest township area here well before this.  But no, I haven't.  I've driven past it and Khayelitsha and Langa and Crossroads many many times - but never gone in.

Back in the day being a white chick travelling in a black township would have been extremely dangerous.  More so when towing a trailer full of old computer equipment - ripe for the picking.  Or thus we've been made to believe.

So it was with a little trepidation that I headed into Nyanga, all these past fears broiling away at the back of my mind.

And stepped into a completely different world, just off the main highway.

It's pedestrian central - those who do have cars or taxis drive with little regard for road rules, everyone else walks.  And there are people everywhere.  I don't know if it's the high rate of unemployment or merely the fact that every second shack, building or shipping container is a cellphone shop, spaza shop, hairdresser, DSTV/TV repair shop or other small business, but there are crowds of people everywhere.  And dogs - many in terrible state, but some well looked after.  

Stalls line the roads selling fruit and vegetables, sweets and smokes.

And then there are the meat markets...  My son (who has grown up vegetarian and still won't even give the dog a bone) had big eyes when he saw what's being sold everywhere.  I have to admit, so did I.  Fresh meat indeed.  Some of which I certainly couldn't identify.  Bits of various animals, including the parts you wouldn't find in your average suburban supermarket.  Cow heads, sheep lungs, there's nothing wasted.  And most meat markets have a half-drum braai going, cooking and selling what's available on the table in raw format.  (Images from another visitor here) 

There are no street signs - no street names.  Traffic lights aren't where they're supposed to be, making navigating the maze using a map book more than a little interesting.  We took a wild guess and actually ended up where we needed to be, though it required a few turns to get into the right side street with the trailer.  And in spite of my ingrown fears, no-one came rushing up to empty the trailer of its loot while I was hauling out the next load of e-waste from the local library.

However, I'm a fixer.  I was amazed at just how much rubbish is lying around everywhere - I want to go in an clean it up, plant veggie gardens in the blank spots, feed the skinny dogs and give the happy wavey kids a draft-free leak-free place to live.  I can see how organizations can delve deeply into helping the community - there's one in particular we've supported in the past that looks after the pets and work animals, which is sorely needed.

The library was a huge contrast to the seething masses of humanity, noise and poverty outside.  Calm, quiet, well-organized, with a computer-equipped study room - and a lot of people taking advantage of their services.  That was truly great to find.

So yes, I survived a trip to Nyanga.  I got to see where may of our domestic workers, low-paid labourers, walk-to-school kids and wait-for-work-at-the-lights guys live.  I saw some of the challenges they face every day.  I had a small insight into how the community works and lives and plays.

And my inbred fear of driving through a township has gone.