Nick Fitzhugh and Pete Muller are in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, working on a documentary series about the cultural significance of soccer in the country. They’re blogging about their experiences for us here at Intelligent Travel. Previously, Muller shared his attempt to try a South African natural remedy. See Fitzhugh’s first post here.
Talk about off the beaten path.
I’ve been working in Alexandra township (Alex) in Johannesburg, South Africa, for a week now. Approximately 1.5 million people live in the four square kilometers that comprise Alex. Most of these people are South African, a growing number are Nigerian, Mozambican, or Zimbabwean immigrants. I have yet to see another white person.
This is probably a result of Alex’s reputation as a crime haven. Guide books tell you not to roll down your car windows. They tell you that you need to visit townships like Alex as a part of an official tour. Beware car jacking and smash and grab theft, they say. Don’t stop your car in busy areas. Definitely do NOT flash camera equipment, cell phones, money, etc.
I was understandably nervous, therefore, the first time I was driven into Alex. My window was definitely up all the way. I removed my wristwatch and stowed it in my camera bag that I kept hidden in the trunk. My cash, credit card, and ATM card were in my front pockets.
Paved for the first time about a decade ago, Alex’s tiny streets are arranged in a neat grid between the shanties that house a vast majority of the residents. Cars creep up over the curbs and park at varying angles on the sidewalks. Mostly flat, road-dirtied soccer balls dance from foot to foot, bounce this way and that, and ricochet off walls, cars, and passersby balancing food from the market on their heads.
Our car flows through this human river at a walking pace. Our driver’s window is down all the way within minutes as an old friend leans into the car to say a warm hello to all of us and invite us to her place for tea. The vitality in Alex is unlike anything I have ever seen. Yes, I may as well be ten feet tall for all the stares I receive, but they’re almost always accompanied by warm smiles.
We walk the streets now with our camera equipment and are propositioned regularly by aspiring actors who’ve heard about our movie and want to be in it! Good thing too or else, among other reasons, I wouldn’t have been able to provide a picture as salivating as the one at the top of this post!
Get a load of that sandwich. Have you ever seen anything so towering? Quite so colorful? A slice of cheese. A couple of polony (beef) slices. A heaping mountain of chips (fries). Generous, dripping spoonfuls of achar (a rough puree of peppers, chilies, and mango). Garlic spice. Chips spice. Mustard sauce. Garlic sauce. One Russian (sausage) split lengthwise. Sandwich that between two slices of white bread and try (hard) to squeeze your lips around it.
This is courtesy of the best place for eats in Alex–the Good Hope Restaurant. In South Africa it’s called a slice. This particular version costs 13.50 rand ($1.75), which you just can’t beat. As you can see, it’s damn popular.
Welcome to Alex.
Photo and Video: Nick Fitzhugh
- Nat Geo Expeditions