South Africa – Alice Blundell

Alice Blundell, one of the cast of Two Newcastles takes us through what she’s been up to in South Africa with Curious Monkey.

We’re coming to the end of our first week in Newcastle KZN and it’s been full on to say the least. The epic-ness of the journey and the project really hit me today. When the NADO team came to visit us in Newcastle UK, Amy instructed us to take them on our tour of our city, and see it through new eyes. Today it was Velaphi’s turn to take me around his Newcastle. I’ve seen a lot this week; thunder storms that echoed scenes from Jurassic park, rain that pelted the roof you were convinced it was going to burst through, the city of Jo’burg with its beige towers and change of scene and atmosphere on every corner, vast stretching landscapes, cows heads in shopping trolleys, an amazing artist community, murals and development projects on buildings, and today, the township of Madadeni near Newcastle.

Stan mentioned really “seeing” South Africa today. And I have to agree. I wasn’t prepared for it in any way shape or form. The townships are vast, the houses are modest, some are made from brick and others are tin shacks. Some are built up and bigger with fancy gates. A lot of people live in them. The contrast is unfathomable. Some people are living with no running water or electricity. When a storm hits and your house floods you have to take all of your wares out of the house and dry them in the sun the following day. There are Americanised malls dotted about and yet old ladies sitting on the side of the road making bricks by hand, or thatching brooms. There are cows and goats everywhere. The animals are integral, they signify wealth, they are food, they are slaughtered at weddings and burials (the deceased wrapped in the cow skin). They are the core of township living. The way of life here is simple, and it’s all about your family, and not just your blood family but your neighbours and your community. It was beautiful and overwhelming and I was glad of the company of Velaphi and Schuppo as at times it could be unnerving. Everybody greets you all of the time. “Not like you white people” Velaphi said, “you guys just smile and nod”. I smiled and nodded.

Sometimes you feel like you know where you are and then like a smack in the face you know you are so very far from home. I don’t quite know how to deal with myself sometimes. Am I being friendly enough? Should I be cautious here? Are you being serious or are you winding me up? I’m not sure I’ve quite “got it” yet. Some of the team have been here lots of times before, so I think they do “get it”. I’m very much reflecting on the day I’ve had, taking it all in. It’s hard to put down in words.

We’ve had a wonderful few days of rehearsals, full of rich ideas, new songs and an epic narrative that we are beginning to create. We want to tell a universal story of someone who goes from one world to another, who experiences that new world, it’s ups, it’s downs, and then goes home again, fuller. We are two groups from opposites sides of the world that share a name, and finding a way to encapsulate that in a story is a mammoth task. It feels like we are edging closer. But it’s not easy. Even the ways in which we create are completely different. We are on their territory so I find myself listening and following their way and feel hesitant to input at times. I wonder if they felt the same when visiting us last year. We know we want to tell a story about a woman. We know there will be music. We know the story will feel magical. And the rest is up for grabs! It feels very collaborative and positive, and I know we all just have to trust in each other to get there now. It’s exciting. It’s tense. And it’s electric. Much like the storms.

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