Ramadan – Gauteng
“In my art, I enter my dreamings with my nose tracing scents of my footprints down arid avenues of time spent in exile, leaving trails of artworks that speak where words failed. I carry echoes in my eardrums, memories in my mind and visions in the retina of my eyes – my struggles to remain sane in foreign incubators whilst my country burned and my people were frog marched by racist bigots. I still carry fragments of dreams of those bleak days and nights of struggles that I must turn into new dreams of peace in my land.”
The potent words of Pitika Ntuli, an internationally known poet, artist and academic. I found this on his exhibition at MuseuMAfricA in Newtown, Johannesburg – where I was yesterday afternoon. In the morning, I was lucky enough to be greeted by a friend of a friend (my whole South African story in summary!), and we went to see Constitution Hill. An Old Fort, it was used as a prison and housed numerous political activists including Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Now it is home to the Constitutional Court of South Africa, aiming to ‘protect basic rights and freedoms,’ a powerful progression from injustice to justice (at least in theory).
Exploring Johannesburg’s CBD was cool, I always enjoy the buzz of a capital city and this is no different – market places roaring with life, inner city parks littered with people. The Johannesburg Art Gallery was another cool place – with two prominent exhibitions – one exploring Borders and another, the Cuba’s African Heritage.
In the evening I was taken for my first ‘Tarawih’ Prayer (Night Prayers given in Ramadan) in a beautiful Mosque called Mayfair Jummah. The first night gives a great sense of the spirit of the blessed month, and praying here felt incredibly powerful.
The day wasn’t over yet! After a few prayers, we left for Soccer City Stadium. I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to watch a game there, and who better to watch than South Africa vs. Ghana! It was pretty cool (and cold!), I can now say I’ve watched games in two of SA’s Stadiums!
This morning I was picked up nice and early, after waking for ‘Sehri’ (eating before sunrise) at 5AM, I left the house before 8. Our first stop was the University of the Witwatersrand, or ‘Wits’ for short. It felt pretty nice being back on campus, I was incredibly surprised to see so many students at such an early hour. I guess priorities differ, as my friend put it: “For most people here, there’s a lot riding on their studies.”
After mixing with some students, we drove (everything is driving here) to the Apartheid Museum. A telling story, this place was definitely worth visiting. If there’s one thing often downplayed about apartheid, it’s the brutality, violence and killings that took place by the government and it’s forces (police, assassins etc.), and just how much non-violence and passive resistance was exercised by dissenters before they took to arms.
We went into town to check out the ‘art sector’, a free space being invested in for art projects and creatives. It was pretty live, definitely a jamming spot. On the way through town we were stopped by Police twice – the first time they pulled us into the dedicated bus lane, searched the boot etc – the second time they stopped us and asked why we were in the dedicated bus lane.
This evening was great, breaking the fast with some friends with some good food, we headed to Mayfair to a Somalian Mosque. The recitation of the Qur’an there was beautiful, slow and melodic. To expose me to yet another culture, I was then taken to a Turkish Mosque nearby. The practice slightly different, fantastic nonetheless, thoroughly enjoying the collective Dhikr (remembrance) after the prayer. Of course, to finish off the day, what better than to enjoy some Turkish tea in the Mosque’s cafe and the company of some nice Turks?
I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to get into the spirit so far from home, but in a home away from home, this is proving to be a truly uplifting experience – All praise to God.