Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Candles, Beer and Finding our Place

This past week we visited Montebello Design Centre in Newlands. It's a lovely place for families to hang out and explore. The small nursery is beautifully well-designed and personal, and gave us plenty of ideas for our tiny concrete garden. This is what we got while we were there: 

A resident Kenyan artist sold us these upcycled candles. He melts old wax to make these candles from old soda cans. I'm going to take them back after they burn out, and ask him if he can use up the leftover wax and the cans again.
Montebello is almost too perfect. It's an artist utopia, the cafe is a tent with a huge sprawling tree in the center, and the nursery evokes a secret garden. If it were in Boston, there wouldn't be a but (or the "but" would be further away and easier to avoid thinking about?).... 

...But in Cape Town, you can't escape the juxtaposition of these havens which seem to shield us from the gritty reality just one street, or one suburb over. Informal settlements are supplying labour to our cities, and they've been compared to both concentration camps and refugee camps, though they have no walls. At Montebello, white South Africans would never know that we're in the tiny minority. I don't have any wise answers, and I can't speak to social change at the political level, but I think the tension is something we have to grapple with and make decisions about. Can these enclaves exist if there were no informal settlements? What will South Africa look like in twenty years? What should it look like?

So I'm working on using the car less and trying to find haven on the next street, or even inside our own home. I want to be fully invested in our community, even as I show Noah and Eli the beauty of the ocean and the mountains around us. We live near to a very beautiful river, the Liesbeek,  with incredible bird life. I took Noah there yesterday and found it full to the brim of plastic waste- we retrieved an old plastic crate (to the amusement of a couple of lookers on- it's more difficult to get things from a river than one thinks, and more disgusting). There were also homeless men living in a small island on the river, using tarp as a makeshift tent. 

Lives that revolve around car-transport can easily bypass those parts of the city that are scary or dirty, bouncing us between artificial realities, rather than making our immediate neighborhoods really work or confronting our fears of the unknown. I speak to myself: our lives have quickly become car-oriented, despite not having a work commute, but I'm beginning to see alternatives: I signed us up for a library card so we get our reading material from the tiny Obs library, we visit the park and the river, and Noah is gradually getting used to spending time at home, inventing games as we imagine our garden as it's own haven. Although Eli is too young for the bike seat, Noah goes for rides with Eug and we are so excited at the news that Albert road is going to be getting a proper bike lane. The roads in Obs are very narrow- often too narrow for two-way traffic, yet cars park on both sides of the street and trucks get stuck after they take a wrong turn and wind up in our neighborhood. I wonder if we can imagine something different- a truck free neighborhood?

In other news, Eug bottled his first batch or beer. Noah took on the important role of bottle cap provider, and I am the resident dumpster diver- for bottles and crates. Dumpster diving in Cape Town is totally unromantic: whereas in Boston I was looking for great food and even beautiful furniture, here I'm looking for bits of wire, plastic crates, old bits of wood, pallets, and old glass beer bottles. And they're pretty hard to find. 

Although we don't dress him very well, Eli is still just about as awesome as anything.

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