Fellow blogger 2Summers' recent post about Alexandra inspired me to add my own. I have no shortage of posts about Alexandra Baseball and my involvement with them, but Alexandra, the township, deserves a post in its own right.
As 2Summers pointed out, Alexandra is steeped in history, perhaps even more so than Soweto, its much more famous cousin to the South. And if you want to get a glimpse of township life, I'd argue that Alexandra is a much better place to go than Soweto, which has become a tourist hotspot in the last few years and in a way lost some of its authenticity. Or maybe it's just that inkling of "danger" that makes Alexandra so interesting to me. After all, I was warned to never drive there unless I wanted to be killed.
But drive there I did, borne out of my wish to help and the simple fact that I'm the one with the car. If my baseball equipment is to be given to the people who need it, I have to bring it into Alexandra, it's as simple as that. But I usually have either Tedius or Cedric, the baseball coaches who are so much more than coaches, as my trusted guides, without whom I'd get hopelessly lost. I'm always amazed how well they know their way around. It's a kind of knowledge that is becoming lost in the age of GPS-guided cars, but very much still in demand in a place like Alexandra. My GPS would have been no help recently when they told me to turn into a side street and drive on the right side, into oncoming traffic it seemed. It was the only way to get to another side street for a stop at Cedric's office. Miraculously, the oncoming traffic veered to my left and here we were driving on the right side of the road, just like home.
That's Alexandra. Rules are often flaunted, new paths are made by minibus taxis looking for a shortcut, everyone drives into the intersection at once it seems, and yet a set of unwritten rules seem to be followed that make the whole thing work, like reversing the traffic flow on that one side street. Once you get past your inhibitions it's actually kind of fun, forcing your way into an intersection and seeing who "wins" his way through.
Every time I go to Alexandra, there are always new sights to behold, like the guy sitting in the middle of the sidewalk at an ancient sewing machine the other day. Goats roam freely, feeding off the abundantly available trash and belonging to no one in particular, from what I'm told. I'm sure the occasional goat ends up in someone's cooking pot every once in a while. On any given day Alex buzzes like a beehive, with everyone out and about going about their business. You will find pretty much anything for sale, from a sheep's head to an iPhone. Everything seems to teeter on the edge of chaos. Roads are ripped up to fix the plumbing but then no one shows up again to repave them, because according to Cedric "that's the responsibility of the Joannesburg Roads Agency" and judging from my own interactions with them I'm afraid it might never happen.
Read 2Summers' post for more information on Alexandra and some amazing pictures. To delve deeper into Alexandra's history and get a really good understanding of what life there was like during the apartheid years (and I suspect still is like in many ways today), read the book Kaffir Boy.