Sunday, September 2, 2007

We get by with a little help from my friends...

I made arrangements to meet Ivan and Fanny LeKay at the Clock Tower and from there we would all go to lunch. It's Saturday Sept. 1st and it is cold and rainy, but these are warm, generous people who have helped us enormously in our effort to learn the complexities of race and color in South Africa.

Jack and I get to the water front a little early. The Clock Tower is a well known local landmark on the Cape Town waterfront. It was once an industrial and commercial waterfront. Goods, including slaves from the Malay peninsula and Madagascar and central Africa came and went. There is an actual clock tower facing the water, now it is the hub of a lot of the tourist activity and a lot of commercial activity in general. Read that as SHOPPING, BIG TIME! Hotels, shops, restaurants, a trip to Robbin Island (we'll go Wednesday), water taxi tours, a little outdoor amphitheater. All kinds of street acts performing as you walk by. You name it, it is there. My friends arrive and we start walking across the waterfront to a large mall. We pass a lot of street performers, singers, dancers, a comedy act at the amphitheater, but one catches my eye and ear. He is a black African guy sitting against a wall playing a wooden flute and shaking a gourd. He is barefoot, and where he is it is particularly windy and cold. I notice him as we pass on the way to the mall. We get to the mall and it is large and bustling. We proceed to a very nice seafood place and we sit out in the mall so we can see the people pass as we eat.

Ivan and Fanny are wonderful people, they tell us about growing up colored in South Africa. Ivan tells a story about his parents, one dark and one very light. His mother has not seen her sister in years, after a lot of negotiation it was agreed they would meet at a hotel in Durban. Now Durban was a good distance from Ivan's rural home in the western Cape, but his dad agreed to take his mom to Durban. They drove to the hotel in Durban and he dropped his wife off and went away, he had to leave because it was a colored hotel and he was too dark.

Fanny has a similar story involving her mother and her mom's sister. They have not seen each other since their early adulthood. Fanny's aunt is about to marry a white man, she is light enough to pass for white, and has. After some very intense negotiation, it is decided they will meet at a colored hotel and the Aunt's husband to be will not attend. If he did there would be no wedding. They meet and just as in the case of Ivan's mom, the two sisters never meet again.

I hope I don't sound like a broken record, but race and color are the thousand pound gorilla in the room, and in the U.S.A. we act like he isn't there. We continue to talk and eat, I talk about Blood Knot, the plot and characters, I mention the locale of the play, the township of Korsten. I refer to it as black, Ivan says no, it's not black it's colored. I am momentarily stunned. I realize I am still viewing the play through the prism of my experience with race and color at home. They are very similar, but the details are very different. That is why Jack and I are here, to learn the details of the world of Blood Knot. That is why I am so indebted to my new friends in South Africa, who lived colored, who lived black, who lived through Apartheid and are willing to share that with us.

We finish eating and talking and we leave and start to go back towards the clock tower and Ivan and Fanny's car. Then Jack realizes that he has forgotten his jacket and starts back to the restaurant to retrieve it. Ivan and Fanny say their goodbyes and leave and I am alone on the waterfront. I am watching the people and the water, feeling the brisk wind and enjoying the smell of the sea, and then I hear it, the sound of a wooden flute and a gourd. I look towards the shrill melody and the rattling rhythm and there he is. The black African guy. Still sitting and playing in the cold. I see a young girl stop and give him some coins, but mostly people ignore him. He's not colorful or showy or friendly, or funny or charming. He looks poor and like he might smell a bit. Jack comes hustling back into my sight line and I hail him and we start back to where we can get a taxi. Jack is walking a few paces ahead of me, he is always a few paces ahead of me, and I notice the gourd and flute guy again. I am right in front of him, and just on impulse I stop and drop a few rand in his basket. We don't look at each other and I walk on, telling Jack to slow down. We hail a taxi and head back to the hotel.

Blood Knot, race and color, the U.S.A., South Africa, poverty, religion, sex, education, family, all that makes up life. As an old friend once said, "don't go, we have to figure this out."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

SAJ & Jack,

This is the first moment I've had to pop in and read your blog. (Sweeney Todd is going gangbusters, by the way) This is wonderful. Planning on coming back and reading as you continue. Fascinating stuff! See you soon.
Deb Selman