Tom's blog

Started with a mugging and the following questions (mine):

- Is creativity a luxury item?
- Do communities divide?
- What is community?

Which couldn't get much broader, but nice to mull over while taking in so much information. The learning journey (don't like this title for the 10 days but can't think of anything better) was heavily driven by group drama games (to relax, get to know each other, generate ideas etc.). I generally feel uncomfortable with drama games, partly due to their association with corporate activities and partly because they feel a bit childish but was surprised to find these activities brought out some major insights and an understanding of where this unease comes from:

  • Games can get people working effectively as a group, providing a focus.
  • These games can be very manipulative, hence the unease & use by corporate orgs.
  • Games undertaken need to be directly relevant to the activities at hand.
  • They can be used to disrupt standard patterns of behavior.

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The other activity which was prevalent throughout the journey was sketching and doodling, both individually and as part of a group. Now I'm no sketcher but found myself turning to a doodle rather than notes when wanting to remember specific activities. The end result is a note/sketchbook which is a much more useful tool for remembering what happened that a book entirely full of notes. The sketches enable the quick identification of pages and immediately bring forth sets of ideas that would otherwise be buried in lines and lines of text. The funny thing is I already knew this (being an image maker!!!) but somewhere along the way sketching / image making (or aspects of creativity???) got driven out of me, which I'm now clawing back. The sentiment that "I'm no sketcher" or the more extreme version "i'm not creative" was echoed by many in the group and became a key issue to investigate. To be creative means to share ideas, not be afraid to put them forward, to learn, to experiment, to be original, to imagine and to challenge. These are not necessarily good things for an obedient workforce or "good" citizens, which could be the reason creativity is driven out of so many people and is not encouraged.

The activities described above provided a framework for the whole trip and continued to be a useful methodology for challenging easily slipped into assumptions and judgments regarding the projects we visited. I must admit my first impression when reading the itinerary was "urrgghh! we're going to be visiting a bunch of hippies & crap community projects!!!" Happily this expectation was entirely dispelled when we visited the following:

1. Soweto Mountain of Hope (SOMOHO)
SOMOHO was born out of Amandla Waste Creations, a community project operating out of a backyard in Soweto. The project began in the early 1990's to address the community needs of poverty and pollution, by turning waste into an economic asset. With no funding, unemployed men, and later women and children began creating beautiful pieces of art out of newspaper, glass bottles and wood cut offs. It wasn't until I visited Tshiawelo Koppie  - once a barren, dangerous, open space, and now a thriving community space - that I really "got" what they were doing & what community empowerment and transformation really means.

2. Soweto Kliptown Youth (SKY)
Situated in a shanty town of crude corrugated shacks, with all the health and poverty issues this enatails, we were treated to an amazing gumboot dancing performance which told the story of the rape and killing of a young girl (a friend of the group). At one point almost all the performers were in tears, then they suddenly launched into the most joyous and heartfelt performance I've ever seen. When Brecht talked about wanting theatre to be more like the "real" experience of a boxing match, this is what he meant, I felt very privileged to be shown this. The icing on the cake (& cause of much panic) was when a member of our group jumped up and said we should perform as well, so as to give something back to the performers.... we went down a storm!!! And created a very special bond with that group of people, i'll never forget the kids shouting "Tom!! Tom!! Remember my name!! " as we drove away.

3. Creative Inner City Initiative
A project myself and george felt the most affinity with, particularly when I saw some graffiti in the toilet stating "Anarchy - Organised Mess". This (squatted?) building had the feel of large creative squats in London, but with much more direction and purpose in what they were doing. Situated in the heart of Johannesburg (that scary no-go place), in the area where we were mugged, we felt pretty nervous being led into a park banging cans, tins and sticks. Amongst sleeping bodies (don't wake the muggers prayed George;) a street theatre group took us through a workshop that visibly made the area feel safe, funny how a bit of art can do that....
CICI

There were many more projects we visited, but the above three certainly had the most impact on me.

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