WORDS AND IMAGES: From Street to Sea

Trip Start Aug 18, 2005
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Trip End Feb 20, 2006


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Flag of South Africa  ,
Friday, September 30, 2005

In the middle of a quiet street just a few minutes' walk from the beach, a lone man stands next to a pile of garbage taller than he is.

Next to a high-rise apartment building, he has spent a good chunk of these early morning hours scavenging through about a dozen large plastic garbage bins, neatly lined up in a row.

He is carefully securing his newfound belongings, which are strewn around a tower of black and blue sacs of unidentifiable objects.

The long and lean man stomps on cardboard, flattening it for easier storage. Finally, it gets placed on a shopping cart along with his other stash.

He is oblivious to the dark rolling clouds and the nearby children's park deserted save for the squeak of empty swings blowing around in the wind. His concentration is completely focused on the task at hand.

He struggles to push the cart, now dangerously piled high and encircled with what seems like a garland of plastic bags.

Amidst the palm tree-lined neighbourhood, he slowly and steadily makes his way.

********

Almost in unison, three generously-proportioned women are walking towards the market.

On each of their heads rests a bundle well wrapped in cloth. In each pair of their hands and strong-looking arms lies a large place container.

Having just returned from a dip in the ocean, they are beach-goers but of a different variety. In the hours before the sun-tanners, swimmers and wave-riders are even out of bed, these three women taken baths in the cool, salty water.

Now, just as the day heats up and streets fill up, they are strolling towards their stalls to set up for a long day of selling and haggling.

********

From the combi into town, we spot a sign reading, "Man Needs Wack" African restaurant.

Later on, a sign declares "Bait sold here" decorates a spot on the outside of a non-decript-looking shop. Right next to it is a painted sign saying, "Fax & Photocopy here."

In the city centre, a billboard voices the aspirations of Durban as a "zero-carbon city." The open window of the combi in which I sit brings in fresh exhaust, telling a different story.

********

In town, I confront two pairs of very sad eyes.

They belong to two boys, maybe seven or so, barefoot and streaked with a little dirt.

"Lady, lady," says one who is wearing a white shirt turned grey. It's clear they are pleading for money, food, something.

I am briskly walking through this less-than-upstanding neighbourhood in the city. The huge ocean waves and smooth sand seems miles away.

But I can't stop to take out change to give them-something I usually do without a second thought at another time, another place in my life.

"You'll be mugged" or "Hold on tightly to your handbag," I have been told again and again. No matter how hard I try to fight it, it's a warning I can't shake off.


********
A bag of potato chips and maybe some candy.

These are the reasons for a cops-and-robber footchase through a popular shopping area by the beach.

The shoplifting man shoves through strolling pedestrians and crashes into a sandwich-board sign advertising specials. In a flash, he picks himself up. He rushes across the road into a park towards the beach.

Meanwhile, a woman--presumably the shopkeeper or cashier--runs out of a shop screaming, clearly upset.

The commotion draws the attention of a police officer. He draws his gun and pursues the man and snacks.

Before my eyes was yet another stereotype of the risky place realized in my short visit. But reducing South Africa to these experiences is at least at dangerous.

*********

Every weekend, they gather at one of the piers on North Beach to try their luck.

This particular Friday, not only is Leanne the only one in her immediate family to catch any fish but she has reeled in two to boot.

They are about four to five inches long. Her younger brothers happily show them off as she continues to cast her fishing line out to sea.

The wind carries the scent of salty ocean. The air feels moist as droplets of spray leave no surface untouched. The sound of the water crashing is thunderous. Durban's big waves are well-known to surfers and, today, they do not disappoint.

Further down the pier, men and women are wearing colourful waterproof windbreakers to stay dry. It seems, however, their feet can't escape the waves wildly thrashing against the side of the structure and overflowing onto the pier's wooden boardwalk.

The fishing is a regular tradition enjoyed by the lot, which is mostly made up of members of Durban's Indian community, the largest in South Africa.

Among them is Vis, Leann's father, who has previously pulled out fish up to two kilograms from these weekend activities.

But with the sun descending, it's getting too late. There's no such luck today.
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