Roads twist here and there, around bays and mountains, always something unexpected hidden around the corner.
Below are just a few of the many signs in Masiphumelele township, South Africa, advertising the businesses and informing those in the community about services offered. Some signs are official, while others are simply spray-painted words on a wall.
Some businesses aren’t advertised. They sell their wares through word of mouth, relying on community networks. These two ladies, for example, were waiting patiently for coals to heat up in a metal drum so they could bake bread to be sold here, at the side of the road.
The name, Masiphumelele, means “we will succeed.” There are 30,000-40,000 people known to be living here, though the numbers are likely to be higher in reality. For the most part, the township is comprised of shacks, though there are a few brick houses as well. Residents come from all over Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Somalia, the Congo) as well as from far-flung places such as China.
inside the belly of the whale,
inside the heart of the earth,
inside, looking out.
This is a picture of our backyard, taken from inside the snow cave my son and I built one Saturday afternoon about a month ago. It’s quiet in there, the sounds of the city are dampened; you can almost hear the pulse of the hibernating Earth.
She sits on a rounded stone wall, her pink t-shirted back turned, hunched over her notebook, pen in hand, trying to capture her surroundings in a picture constructed of words. Her jeans are faded, her knees pulled up so that her feet, clad in olive green and chocolate brown Doc Marten boots, grip the sides of the wall and hold her steady. Her hair, glinting red in the sunlight, is pulled back into a messy knot, out of the way. She is twenty-two.
Below her, tall grasses reach to the top of the near side of the wall. On the other side of the wall, seaweed drapes across the skeletons of bleached roots and branches, and further into the riverbed, green moss meets muddy flats. The tide is out.
On the opposite side of the wide rivermouth, trees dot the shore and the land slowly rolls up into gentle hills, a patchwork of fifteen shades of brilliant green, each separated by low stone walls.
The sky fades from pale blue, almost white, on the horizon, to a summer-deep shade high overhead, while soft cotton balls of clouds hang, static in the photograph – though undoubtedly skimming across the sky and out to sea on that day.
The girl is aware that the picture is being taken behind her and thinks that when she looks back at this photograph, she will remember how she felt sitting there, writing. And when she re-reads her writing, she will imagine the photograph being taken.
It is July 4, 1997.
I write this now, sixteen years later, without first reading the words I wrote that day. Opening that notebook from the past, I read my words from that day and am struck by the similarity of the two pieces of writing. It feels familiar and yet distant, like a song I once knew well but have not heard for many years.
We went exploring – here I sit on the other side of the river from Clonakilty. The tide’s still out here, not like in Kinsale, and the old bones of the river are left to bleach in the sun, draped with browning seaweed. THe sky is blue and the surrounding low-lying hills are, of course, millions of the best shades of green. Rising from the river is the wet seepage music of the water passing into cell after cell of the miles of seaweed. The songs of the fifty-odd types of birds who make their homes here echo through the sun-drenched land. I wonder how old this wall is on which I sit? I can’t believe I’m actually here.