this is south africa – part two

by elizestrydom

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In the heat of the day the dusty streets of Jouberton are deserted but once the sun starts to sink they fill with families, men on their way home from work, quarreling kids, grandmas in green and the occasional chicken. Cooking ingredients are exchanged and meal offers are made but no one goes home until well after dark. There’s nowhere else to be and it’s clear that nothing’s more important than sitting by the side of the road chatting with your neighbour while your children play nearby.

18 year old Mpho lives with her grandmother, mother, little brother, aunties and cousins plus two month old Lethabo in a three bedroom home. “Family and friends come to stay all the time,” she says. “It’s hard to get a bath around here – unless you’re Lethabo.”

She completed her matric (year 12 exams) last year at a boarding school a few hours away but has now moved home again. She plans to go to college next year and wants to be a nurse. We spend the days walking around her neighbourhood (“Everyone is staring at you,” she said. “But don’t worry, I’ll be your bodyguard.”) and hanging out with her best friend, Lebogang, singing along to songs on the music channel and sitting by the side of the road eating ice blocks to stay cool. Lebogang and Mpho grew up together in Jouberton. He’ll finish high school at the end of the year and then plans to move to Cape Town to study law. They both love music and have incredible singing voices. “Do you like Sia? What about Ellie Goulding? And London Grammar? Yes? Ahhh we’re the same!” said an excited Mpho.

As soon as school finishes, Mpho goes from house to house, visiting her friends. They sit outside listening to music on their phones, eating peaches and pomegranates from the trees or chips and ice blocks bought for less that 10 cents from one of the many ‘tuck shops’. One day I offered Mpho some of my dried fruit/nut/seed mix. She wasn’t keen. “Ew, no thanks!” Later she offered me some of her chicken feet (aka ‘runaways’). You can probably guess my response.

Mpho always wears a hat and long pants or sleeves – even on 40 degree c days like today – because she says she doesn’t want her skin to get any darker. “I’m black on the outside but white on the inside,” she told me.

Photographing Mpho was just one of those wonderful, unexpected encounters that ended up being better than anything I could have imagined or planned. Being the only white person in the community felt uncomfortable and strange but I think it was important to experience that.  At times it was confronting and challenging but for the most part it was just plain fun. Mpho and I really connected and she felt like a real friend.

All photos shot with a Leica M6 and Kodak Portra film. Developed and scanned at Richard Photo Lab.

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