Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Black baby dolls and the drive from Thunder Mountain to Everest: Venda Sun 7

Venda Sun 7

Aside from the absence of black men on Father's Day cards and black children on birthday cards, there were toys, books and hair products to find for Mrisi and Giya.
I discovered where I could buy black Duplo, Lego and Playmobil figures (through a catalogue or online, I don't remember). I sourced a black Action Man and a black Barbie. (More on the black Barbie in South Africa later) But they had straight, European style hair. To get the hair right was too much to ask, at least in the UK.
I imagined a place where all these things would be available and when we arrived in South Africa, believed it might be the Southgate Mall, an enormous shopping centre on the fringe of Soweto where we shopped for R's mother's party. 
But long before that, as Mrisi and Giya went through nursery, to primary school, I and Risenga tried to make a small dent in the overwhelming whiteness of toys.
Today, there are at least six black baby dolls of different sizes wrapped up in hand-knitted cardies, somewhere among the camping gear and suitcases in the cellar. Who could part with them?
Mosaic, the Brighton organisation for black and mixed race families, had Sunday gatherings and I went occasionally. They distributed information about books featuring black children and parents, but I had no difficulties with the books because I was always in bookshops in those days. The biggest effort I made, much later on with books was to source Rosa Guy's novels for Mrisi. She went out of print in the UK but he was as addicted to her as he was to Darren Shan. So I bought from Amazon. 
Hair products were one of my biggest rants. Now they buy their own. They know the good black hairdressers selling decent products that are not packed with chemicals for straightening or curling purposes. When I was regularly scouring the shelves in Boots, Body Shop and Superdrug, predictions were emerging about the change in the UK population. 
These predictions were accurate. In 2011, Mark Easton reported for the BBC that there were many more mixed race children and adults than had been counted. He concluded: "in multiracial Britain, ethnicity is increasingly not the point. Mixed race is mainstream."
Long before 2011, I knew - from my circle of friends, from what I saw when I wandered into town or the parks with a double buggy and later at the school gates. So why didn't businesses catch on?
As features editor at Retail Week, after Giya was born, I was asked to speak at a Booksellers' Association conference about future trends. I presented predictions for demographic change in the UK. I presented the business case for supplying peoples' needs. I had the dead slot, after lunch, but an American delegate came up to be afterwards and said my presentation had been the one to make her think.
In 2009 one in six people (9.1million)  in England and Wales was 'non-white' and the number of mixed race people doubled from 672,000 in 2001 to 986,600 in 2009. Between 1994 and 2014 I still haven't seen a response from shops I use in Brighton. As I said to the booksellers, they don't deserve to be in business.
In South Africa it was impossible to ignore the issue of mixing. 

Saturday 12 January 2002
Shopping this morning with the girls at Southgate mall, food for the party at R’s mothers and mosquito nets, malaria tablets etc. I’m semi dreading it but at least R’s mother is in a good mood when we arrive. R and I are doing a brai with sweetcorn and a tomato and bean sauce plus rice. There’s a bottle of whisky for the neighbours and sure enough they turn up in their multitudes. It starts off wonderfully, there’s enough food for loads of people but R is pouring enormous shots of whisky and the women are getting pissed very quickly. They start singing and dancing and get the very small children dancing.

There’s a shebeen opposite and it’s heaving all night. There’s no running water in the house - I almost emptied the sink onto the kitchen floor. We decide to take everyone to Gold Reef City for a treat. Joe orders a minibus for 15 of us. The kids are beside themselves. Compared to England it’s really cheap, not sure about safety. The carousel starts when Giya’s still getting on, the max is four in a car on the big wheel but the guy lets in 5. Mani loves the Thunder Mountain – a roller coaster but Nkateko splits her lip with a tooth from the force of the brakes and Giya burns her neck on the dodgems. When we get back to Palm Springs our car’s been broken into. All that's stolen is the kids’ gameboys.

God knows why we report the theft other than for insurance. Throughout my diary I'm recording what everything costs and the trip was enormously expensive for us: R a freelance musician and me a freelance writer.

Monday 14 January
We’re heading for Nelspruit, the capital of Mpumulanga, hoping to find a tourist office. The guide book recommends the Blyde River Canyon but it’s quite a way north. The tourist office is in the civic centre. The woman’s on the phone and not interested but eventually finds us accommodation. We head for the camp, Safubi, the woman in reception seems nervous and a bit taken aback. She calls me Jackie a lot. But we ignore her and look at the chalet. It’s fine. It has fans and no aircon. It’s not till the Kruger that we realise the joys of aircon.  But there’s an empty pool, palm trees, monkeys and lots of plants and rocks, plus a beautiful river. Later on we discover the smell from the dump, but for now we strip off and swim.

Tuesday 15 Jan
Mpumulanga is relaxed and laid back. After shopping we stop off at the Botanical gardens. Enormous palms, creepers, leaves on everything. The mosquitoes are biting fiercely as we leave and all of us are sweating like hell. It is humid even in this bizarre place. By the café I see my first fever tree, yellow bark, pitted with holes, going to dust.

Wednesday 16 Jan
Risenga’s certain he’s been to Sudwala Caves before. The caves were used by the Swazi people in the 19th century as a hideaway. It’s a network of caverns, reminds me of France and caves near Carcassonne. There’s the same baked earth and red soil, sun rising off the road, crickets. But here there are lush iris in red and orange, monkeys disappearing into the undergrowth, yellow and black butterflies the size of a hand. There’s a flow stone (a petrified waterfall) in the cave used as a warning bell and it's heard on top of the mountain. The cave’s full of crystals but we don’t see them. We drink water from a pool and stand in darkness. We hear the absence of the echo and read shapes in the stalagtites and stalagmites. Later we sit in a café looking over the forest. When we get back we swim again, have a barbeque, listen to the night, but the road’s there, still.

Thursday 17 Jan
To Sabie, centre of logging and Mac Mac / Lone Creek waterfalls. Sabie is a funny little village with lackluster craft shops, but a great coffee place called Woody Glen, run by an escapee from Johannesburg. His grandfather was Irish and came to Sabie with his brother who was in the army to fight the Boers. Mac Mac falls are a waste of time, you can see them from the café. Lone Creek falls are a different story. Past a logging camp, they’re tucked away in a picnic area 5 r per person to get in, children free. The falls are 68 m high, it’s wet and cool. We paddle in the pool and R fills a bottle with water for his mother. Women are selling crafts. At Mac Mac we buy a wooden zebra for Giya, sticks for Mrisi and Peter. Also nuts from Mozambique. The falls are named after Scottish prospectors. Lots of names around here are familiar - Grasmere, Cairn etc. We even see a place called Everest on the way to Mpumulanga. We swim when we get back to Safubi. It’s too hot to sleep. Bad night.

This is our lead up to the Kruger National Park. None of us will want to visit a zoo again.