I have arrived in SA a couple of days earlier than everyone else specifically to see The Rivonia Trials by Aubrey Sekhabi, Mandla Dube and Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom. Aubrey and Paul are two of the most exciting directors around and to have them collaborating would be a rare treat. I get to Jo'burg, haggle with an airline official and get an earlier plane into Port Elizabeth, just to catch the play's last performance at 18.30. At Port Elizabeth I try to buy a sim card but am not allowed for lack of proof of address in SA.
I frantically accost anyone who looks like a minibus driver to get me into Grahamstown on time. Finally I meet a guy who, amazingly, remembers driving me last year and we set off. It's a 90 minute drive or 1 hour if you break all speed limits on this darkening country road - which he does, just so I could get there to discover that the play has been cancelled. Welcome to South Africa.
So to my room - cell really - freezing and damp with what might pass for furniture. The toilet boasts a broken seat and there's no shower just a bath tub. There's no wifi. I kill a cockroach by the door. I go off in search of food and a lot of drink.
The Calabash restaurant is good on both South African food and red wine and I instantly know this will become my home from home over the next 10 days. I end up in deep and animated conversation with a couple from Mandela's home town (which I can't spell so I won't). Just after midnight I step over the dead cockroach, fall into bed and sleep for 12 hours.
I wake up with a plan: get a sim card, get a modem for my computer so I can go online in my cell-room, buy a rucksack to carry a jumper and stuff during the day, get some breakfast. First, warm the room: I pull the cord on the little wall heater and it breaks. I step over the dead cockroach and set out for town.
At the rather excellent Videotronics shop in Grahamstown I get what I need but I don't have my passport, which they need to register the sim. It’s a 30 minutes walk all the way back to my cell-room, buying the rucksack on the way, collect the passport, stepping over the dead cockroach both ways, and 30 minutes to get back to the shop.
Buy the sim cards and the modem but the shop can’t get the sim registered or something so they tell me to go and watch some football for 30 minutes. I find a bar and realize I’ve missed England’s goal. Half an hour later I go back to Videotronics and as I step over the threshold all the lights go out – in the whole of Grahamstown as it happens. The shop say’s it might take 24 hours for my sim to register so I leave with their promise to call me – my mobile is now working – the next day.
It’s now 5.30, getting dark and very cold. No electricity means:
There are no lights anywhere in Grahamstown
No bars to watch the crucial England game
Fixing my broken heater in my freezing room is somewhat pointless
I can’t even go to a show – my prime reason for being here – no lights.
And worryingly, I’ve run out of cash and all the ATMs are out of action.
The only thing that doesn’t seem to be bothered is the dead cockroach still lying on the carpet in my room.
When the lights eventually go back on I’ve got just enough time to grab some cash and run like the wind to see an a cappella music group The Soil. I get there with seconds to spare – it’s been cancelled.
Back to the Calabash to eat and drink far too much. Get to my room – the cockroach is becoming a point of principle; its removal will be a sign that the cleaner has been – and sleep.
Posted by felix, Saturday 26th June, 2010