This series of travel blogs from February 12th to March 1st is made possible by WIEGO. Georgia Street Media is proud to partner with Director/Producer Lori McNulty (http://www.lorimcnulty.ca/) to produce a short documentary for WIEGO and help tell the story of informal workers around the world and their health care issues.
On Monday we decided to hit up Warwick Junction, Durban’s market district, by ourselves. We quickly found ourselves feeling very uneasy – people averted their eyes from us (pretty much the only non-locals in an area that sees over 400,000 people every day), didn’t smile back at when we did, and generally made us feel very unwelcome. This was exacerbated our knowledge of South Africa’s penchant for violent crime, as well as the extreme sensory overload. In some areas, TVs lined the crowded walkways, blasting you with a barrage of 80s-something programming; elsewhere, massive sound systems pumped out distorted music at deafening levels, echoing off the walls of the transit station.
On Tuesday, however, we met up with the team at Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) and they took us around the market again – and this time it was a totally different experience. Patrick Ndlovu, a former Metro Police Officer who used to enforce bylaws against informal traders and now lobbies on their behalf, was a quasi-celebrity in the marketplace. He seemed to know every other person, giving them a fist bump or an encouraging word as we walked by. It made a world of difference having a trusted and respected member of their community intercede on our behalf. All of sudden, people began shaking our hands, asking for their picture to be taken, and making us feel comfortable.
We also learned that when people wouldn’t look us in the eye, it was because it’s actually a sign of respect and reverence in Zulu culture. As for safety, we found out that the police don’t often venture into the market area because the vendors themselves take justice into their own hands. We were told that while we were walking around by ourselves the day before, the traders were silently keeping an eye on us, ready to intervene should any violence occur. “If you think Usain Bolt is fast just wait until you see these people chase after a thief,” said Patrick. “It’s the only situation where a criminal will run toward the police station because it’s safer than being punished by a mob of angry vendors.”
Today I worked Warwick Junction again with Phumzile, another AeT employee. It was literally a day of blood, sweat, and tears for me. The blood was from filming at the Bovine Head Market, where women will take a cow’s cranium, hack it to pieces with a hatchet, and cook it up as a delicacy. I navigated a dance of spinning knives and axes, sidestepping rivers of fat and guts on the ground, all the while getting splattered with bits of ol’ betsy while filming the process. It’s worth noting that one of Aet’s initiatives was to move this area away from the largely Indian-run vegetable market; which I’m sure they appreciated considering their sacred view of the cow.
The sweat is self explanatory. It’s South Africa. It’s hot. And I’m hefting a lot of gear around.
As for the tears, the last place we filmed today as at the mielies cookers – a work yard where piles and piles of corn are cooked over dozens of giant, smokey fires in big metal cans. Stepping into the cooking area was like walking into a blast furnace – the heat from the coal and fires surrounding you on every side is almost unbearable; but the smoke is even worse. The acrid air is so dense with thick, omnipresent smoke that I couldn’t film inside for more than two minutes before my stinging eyes welled up with so many tears that they fell into my camera’s viewfinder and obscured my vision. And maybe a few of those tears stem from the plight of the people who work there, constantly breathing in that toxic smoke, every single day.