BETWEEN A LANDLORD AND THE XENOPHOBIA ON THE STREET

Crowded in between a landlord and fear of Xenophobia in the streets of South Africa.

Crowded in between a landlord and fear of Xenophobia in the streets of South Africa. Photo John Robinson

The Madiengua family lives in a over crowded flat in the Point area of Durban, South Africa or “Little Nigeria” as it is known.

The Madiengua family live with their personal belongings packed in plastic bags in case of immediate eviction by the landlord of their building in the Point area of Durban, South Africa, Paty Madiengua stands with his wife Yvette and 4 children L to R Ephraim (15), Sabrina (14), Geffrey (10) and Genesis (2) in the kitchen of their flat ready be on the move again.

Yvette comes from the village Buta in Oriental Province, DRC. her parents were killed by the DRC army, she escaped to Kinshasa with her brother and sister where her brother went missing. Yvette met Paty an egg vendor on the streets of Kinshasa and followed him to South Africa with their 4 children.

Paty works night shift as a security guard in the city and Yvette sells clothes on the beach front. Mr Madiengua’s salary does not match up to the rent on their 14th floor flat, the landlords in the area are getting rid of families on the over crowding rule. While the Madiengua family feel safe in their flat they struggle to keep up with the rent and cost of a family and they are “fearful of the xenophobia in the townships”.

 

THE INTER PRAYER ROOM, DENIS HURLEY CENTRE

“If you are foreigner man living in Durban this program is gonna help you to improve your health and to prevent some kinds of diseases which can lead you to early death…”

The late winter sun and the hustling of taxis filter through the window to my back, I know Dr Emmanuel Tshimanga as a Congolese parking attendant at Davenport Shopping Centre here in Durban, South Africa. The Emmanuel in front of me here glows with some sort of inner light, he has such piercing eyes, doing now what has been bubbling up within him, trained as a doctor in the DRC and now just waiting for his South African Health Council number, he is here advising fellow foreign men on how to cope with their health.

The tall standing figure of Dr Tshimanga flows without effort between French, kiSwahili and English using voice, eyes and hands to get the 3 men on my right up to speed on the subject of stress.

I will come back for pictures when I have consent from the Director and of all in this room. For now I am just seeing my friend in a new light.

I now have some European editors in waiting for my proposed inner Durban City stories…

But without connection and trust these sort of stories will never touch down on sensor or film as still to be decided, so today is about connecting with a friend and building a trust for tomorrow…

 

 

 

IN EKUTHULENI TRANSIT CAMP

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Ekuthuleni Transit Camp in Durban, South Africa sits on a slope in T Section of Umlazi, it is next to a grave yard, above a sewage processing plant and just underneath high tension power lines and in the words of Bheki Mngadi a resident of the transit camp “there is an uneasiness to this place” – John Robinson

THOUGHTS WHILE WATCHING THE GOOD DOCTOR SEASON ONE

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I know of a family who’s daughter bounced out of a coma after massive brain trauma.

She will do somethings a little different now and other things way better then those around her; and to her parents I say not all is lost and much is gained too.

The Good Doctor is a television series about a gifted young surgeon in a hospital who also happens to be autistic. While the surgeon in The Good Doctor is a surgeon way above par, he battles to cope with social skills, obsesses about things and gets visibly upset because the handy man in the building where he lives fixes something that was not on his “to fix list”.

I cheer, laugh out loud and cry while watching The Good Doctor. The producers of the show have captured realities of post brain injury life. The presence of being a bit weird to others, not always having the word you really wanted and knowing that my left hand likes to do the funky without telling me first. On the other hand being so focused and perceptive now that I feel that my photography is enhanced and that the pictures I now take are some of the best and better then before I had my stroke in 2012.

I don’t want other’s pity, I am comfortable in my skin now as I now know the new me and am leaving that somewhat arrogant person in the past; there is no reversing option after coming around after a stroke in a hospital bed. There is no going back after brain injury, you have got what you have now got, like wetting my hospital bed ’cause my muscle control had to be still relearned. With time you realise that you have got more then first realised too. Rather then your pity I always like a bit of space when my brain is ‘rebooting’; often you won’t even realise that I am in pause mode as it only takes about 20 seconds and I am a master at masking when it happens in public.

While in that hospital bed I talked with a doctor doing her rounds “ma’am, people are supposed to die from strokes”. The doctor just said “yes”. A stroke is devastating. As devastating as it has been, my stroke has also proved to me a life changing event too. I live consciously now, every day, each day, I smell, see things as never before and I am stronger in mind and body then ever before.

I am shit awful at religion and in that class I am bad Johnny at the back, but I sense a greater being, I so believe. I believe in a God that let his son die a public death in Palestine and loves me more then any parent loves their child. Belief is different to religion, it’s not like a brittle dead stick, it has flex and it is so strong.

I really like my whole self now with all the quirks and yes my favourite colour is magenta. A friend who knew me pre stroke said that I seem different “you are more tender now, I recognise you as John but you have changed”. My CT scan report includes the following; “A large wedge shaped hypo density involving the grey and white matter is noted in the right frontal region with involvement of the insular region and the right basal ganglia… in keeping with right chronic MCA territory infarct”. I am not medically trained and I do not know what my right frontal region does or does not do now, but I do know about living in my body post stroke. I find other words when the ‘right’ word is not there anymore. Day to day I have slight fine motor skill loss in my left hand, a very slight weakness in my left lower leg and foot. I find that eating with my right hand is easier, riding a bicycle is better then walking long distances and living as though each day is a gift as I could have been already dead as the lady doctor said.

I would not like to back track anymore if it were even possible, I am now accepting of my self and I am a lot more accepting of others too. Though I cope much better when in a congruent situation be that my home office or on a bicycle rush hour traffic and I am so much more perceptive now.

I would not wish a stroke on anyone, but my brain injury has come to me as a bit of a gift in disguise and life is short enough as it is to not take hold of what is. – John Robinson

 

WHILE TAKING PICTURES IN THE SUDAN…

 

In 2004 I was in The Sudan taking pictures for an international pacifist aid agency.

After taking pictures in IDP camps in Darfur of people who were raped, burned and generally f***ed up by the Sudanese government backed Janjaweed militia. I was stopped by security officers at the Nyala Airport on our way back to Khartoum with my camera, detailed notes and the client’s 40 rolls of films… I was allowed onto the flight with the assurance that I would be taken aside by more government men on landing in Khartoum.

While we flew out of Darfur a deep sense of peace descended down over me while sitting in that seat on the Marsland Aviation Tupolev airplane , I prayed to God for a way out, heard a voice saying that I was his loved son had to just accept his peace and walk on… He would position the hole in the net that I was caught in, I just had to walk on and trust him to do the rest.

I looked around the cabin for government agents, I was trying to do things my way and the deep sense of peace lifted up off me with the words “do you want my peace or not?” I re accepted the peace and it fell right down tangibly over me again.

I walked down off the Tupolev on the airport apron with my camera, notebook and film right pass a reception of about 6 men who did nothing to stop me, again in the airport building 2 police officers ran into the terminal building where we landed looking for someone again they ran right straight past me.

A few days later an Italian Roman Catholic nun approached me in the Athbarah Comboni Mission Centre; she said that she just had to hug me because she felt that I needed it; and I did need it after Darfur.

Back at our hotel in Khartoum a journalist from a Nairobi based news service offered to secret my film out of the country with all their camera kit for me…

I believe that God is true to his word; and loves us so deeply and can be trusted. He did position holes right where I needed them and I, my kit and pictures got out of the net that I felt to be caught in in The Sudan and then added a much needed hug because he can.

…Over Heard in the Palace

Papa, you and I know both know that he doesn’t need to go… Yes M, that is the case and quite frankly I wish he too would soon come to a place where he could just have the freedom to know that I love him no matter. It’s an order M, just keep an eye on him while he is at that Sunday morning meeting, they call it church and anything could happen to my beloved while there…

Church!?

Yes M, that’s what these people call it now; yes, I know it’s nothing of the sort of what I wanted, but it is what it has become…

But the other ‘messengers’ are all going biking… And some are looking after some beloved in both trenches in that minor war, that’s what I am trained for, it’s what we all are trained for Papa!

Danger is all over M, including this religion thing called church, there is a very real danger in this thing too…

Live by the Sword and Live More Fully

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Me half way up some stairs in Kinshasa, DRC. Photo John Robinson.

As a self confessed visual poet and spirit thief, I will do well as a photographer to make some of my own spirit more available to the people around me.

In a conversation with T-Bone at the BAT Centre in Durban about the tangibility of the substance of a good photograph, I realized that as a photographer I am able to connect with the spirit of others and or the spirit of the moment before my lens but I am hard pressed to share my self with those around me on a daily basis.

T-Bone asked me if there was a tangible transfer of something when a photograph is taken “like in drama on the theatre stage” I said a big yes to his question, T-Bone is a drama specialist at the BAT Centre. I have seen many ‘stiff’ or ‘dead’ photographs to conclude that something of the ‘spirit’ or the ‘moment’ resides in some other photographs. I told T-Bone that a photographic image that speaks to the viewer is the same as the stage drama that speaks to someone in the audience in this sense.

Take my camera out of my hands and I become a bit of stiff too, but I am learning to loosen up on my spirit in the social sense, it’s hard, but I am making headway. I don’t like the word ‘networking’ and I am an useless networker, but I like the word ‘connect’ and as a photographer I understand the concept. By connecting my spirit with those of others, those others may too get a hold on who I am as a person, while I get a hold on something of their spirits. We are members of human race and all have something in common; and it is for us to find out what our commonalities are and blossom together if possible.

As a narrative photographer I am a task master at lurking on the edge of an activity with my ‘M6 and getting away with some of the gold on offer. As a member of the same race that I shoot I am too now more giving of my own spirit to those others around me. It’s like giving back of what I have gotten over the years as a photog; and it’s good for me too. I am freed up to just be me more often, and in front of others too.

They say “live by the sword and die by the sword”… I add to this by saying I can also live more fully too before the end comes as it will for everyone of us.

RHUBARB IN THE SPINACH PATCH

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Like Pop Eye I have a thing for spinach, it gives me the iron that I need in this life of mine. I can so consume it with ugali and chicken, but I feel a lot too like a lone rhubarb in the greater spinach patch. I feel for the rhubarb, it’s tart. Rhubarb is colourful and different to its green brothers and sisters and yes sometimes I too need a bit of sugar to go down.

Life sometimes just happens. I did not plan to be kissed on the lips and just accepted as a friend when I was doing a story in a Gay community, or seeing how in the midst of the horror of the Dafuri genocide people of differing beliefs could also work together for a common good… but I did.

It took the reading of Zen Flesh Zen Bones for me to have a fresh window on the greatness of the Creator, and it took the hug of a Roman Catholic nun in the City of Atbara to undo my own sense of otherness to her form of our shared belief.

The writer of the Gospel of Luke says that ‘He’ had a special thing for the town tarts; and there is no mention the ‘evil gay community’ in any of the gospels. Instead there is vitrol for the religious, and a big up for the ‘Good Other’ who looked after a man beaten on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when a local priest and a religious leader walked on.

I guess that I will never have the answers to all of this world’s problems; The Creator is just that, the big brain, and all of us are just little brains. While chasing for all of the answers is a fool’s game, just loving people rather then being consumed by hate and fear is not… JR

…WHILE WALKING DOWN DR PIXLEY KASEME STREET

Hate, fear and love are also 4 letter words; and by another 4 letter word, if I don’t grapple with their out working each and every day of my life.

H is now a friend of mine; she lives just off South Beach with her husband and works in her brother’s restaurant at the top end of Dr Pixley KaSeme Street across from the old grave yard. She makes a petite Ethiopian coffee that my homeopath should never know about, and with its clove infusion is my favorite shot of down town coffee. Her brother’s restaurant is a scent filled alcove, without a menu he serves meat and salad on a plate of injera; a sour flatbread from their home in Ethiopia. H’s coffee is roasted and brewed on charcoal in front of me, she serves it in fine porcelain that her friend G sells alongside the coffee beans from the highlands of their homeland. It is because of local ‘hate of other’ that the brother has said no to photos of H here, it is out of respect for him that H quietly shook her head to me when I took out the M6 just off this road in down town Durban.

F is fearful and is still the victim of a brutal hijacking about 3 years ago. F can’t go out at night alone, and has panic attacks in dark places.

Fear is so debilitating, it’s a part of the psyche of many people who I know around me. As an age we are preoccupied with the concept of ‘safety’, America has a department devoted to the safety of their homeland. South Africa is devoted to the issue of their ‘crime’. For all our other advances we are not a people of can do but a people of can’t do due to our fear. I would like to be able to take F for a walk along a down town street, to sample coffee with clove, I feel that it will be awhile yet before F is ready to browse for porcelain on Dr Pixley KaSeme Street. F’s fear is real, I can see it; there is nothing put on about it.

I will always love X, L and Y. But I lost my temper with L a long time ago, I did apologise and I am so sorry for what I did.

L is deeply hurt and I have to love from a distance. I live with these consequences and now know that love is not a fluffy thing. Love is deep like a river, it has a power of its own, and I have to love for all of us for now.

I will never stop loving and doing what I can for X, L and Y. I will continue to walk along side F and maybe one day we will go browse for porcelain together. I will be a friend to H and all others in little Addis Ababa on the top end of Dr Pixley KaSeme Street.

Names have been changed to protect all those involved in this down town walk of mine.

JR