Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Neighborhood in Turffontein

I am staying on the 2nd floor of Cotlands House, which serves as housing for volunteers (some of whom stay for a full year between high school and university) and for 10 children who, thanks to ARVT, have survived into the ripe old ages of 10-13. I have to unlock two iron gates to climb the stairs to the apartment I share with a Scottish volunteer, Louise, who is heading for home in 4 days after being here a year. I was not provided with a key to the outer gate, and so had to ask one of the kind women who look after the kids downstairs to let me in and out.

This neighborhood at one time was relatively affluent, or at least middle class, but the only evidence of better times is the size and structural qualities of the houses, and the fine old trees that line the streets. Turffontein is now the 2nd most dangerous neighborhood in Johannesburg and few people can be seen on the streets after dark. A few times a week, I walk to the market (SPAR) for supplies like bottled water, bread, and small meal supplies.

The walk to the SPAR begins on our street, Ferreira (named after a gold speculator who discovered gold on the Turrfontein farm back in the 1870s) to the large street at the end of the block. I have wanted to photograph this area, but have been afraid of being robbed. I did snatch a few pictures slyly the other day. The one below is taken from our entry gate, and shows some men working on a car on the left.At the corner, there’s an abandoned building on the right, which often has shattered glass scattered on the ground and sidewalk. There is a wide stretch of what would be grass between the spotty sidewalk and the street; it’s got some patches of ‘grass’, and consists of the red-orange dirt that is everywhere. Across the street, there is a covered area, like a craft fair booth, where one or two men sell haircuts and shaves. I think this was here last year, without the cover. There’s an open doorway nearby the barber that leads into a small room packed with fruit and vegetables; one of the little Spazas that can be found on almost every block (There’s also one along the walk to Cotlands from my apartment, but it’s bigger and in the evenings sells things through an iron grating. An even larger market is further down the road, situated on a classy corner spot). As I walk to the SPAR, I pass many other pedestrians and am unsure whether to smile or to avoid eye contact; I do a little of both. The pharmacy is in the block before the main intersection and the street that holds the SPAR. All over-the-counter and prescription medications are sold at pharmacies, even vitamins.

The main street is divided by a cement path, and is always bustling with both pedestrians and cars. Next to SPAR is an internet place that also sells some technology and a liquor store, where one can buy wine, beer & liquors. SPAR sells wine, but it’s very sweet. Across the street from SPAR is a vegetable market, a clothing store and others; a constant brei is in process in front of the shops, which sends smoke and the scents of burning meat around the neighborhood. Cars move very quickly on the wide sidewalk to access precious parking spaces, so we need to stay alert and be prepared to jump out of the way. Sometimes a couple white bums drunkenly call out to us as we walk by. Sunday night, one of the parking guards gave me a friendly nod of his head—a movement unusual for me—moving his head upwards and to the side after making eye contact.

Below is a photograph of the street that runs two blocks from ours to Stanton Street (too far away to see here), where Cotlands is just around the corner to the right.

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