Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The house I rent has a long narrow outdoor space in the back. More like an alleyway than a patio or backyard, the walls are painted a warm bright orange. There are many cracks and plastered over bits.

An obscure lion fountain hangs off the wall and the other side is adorned with untamed plants and herbs.

Steph @ Orange Wall

I love this awkward and vibrant space.
Sitting in the confines of the orange concrete, everything is beautiful to me.

The sky looks bluer against the citrus hue,
barbed wire and neighbours’ metal roofs somehow look romantic.

Every person who sits against that wall is transformed into a stunning caricature of themselves, their uniqueness drawn out by that orange. I’ve taken to photographing my guests there.

Somehow, that wall, in my small rented home in the Southernmost bit of Africa, acts as a bridge for me.
In that space, (in the words of Mark Helprin), the world deepens and becomes art.



It is a cool night in the Malawian spring. Like most evenings, I’m in a guarded, walled compound in a low-density suburb called Area 3.

With nowhere to go and little to do, my ex and I decide to watch a movie. Our pick? The last king of Scotland; a film about Idi Amin and the horrors that this charismatic and terrifying character propagated in Uganda.

The scenery of the film looks so much like Malawi. Lush greenery, big smiles, a dreamlike quality of light… against this backdrop, the film narrates incomprehensible horrors.

At the end of the film, I stand up, stunned.
Unable to integrate what I had just seen, I stared into nowhere before walking out into the cool rain that was beginning to fall.
I stood outside sobbing, cold and wet in the dark, not being able to make sense of anything and not understanding how I could continue to be shocked by the injustices of the world. The film didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know from reading history and yet it still clawed at my insides.

I thrust my hand into the pocket of the hot pink sweater I took from my sister’s closest before leaving Canada a year earlier.

I felt a small mass of soft fabric. Pulling it out for examination, I found a fake red coronation style flower.

Somehow, in that moment, that flower was the most beautiful item I had ever seen.

My breathing slowed as I stared at the strange object in my hand. 

Suddenly, I saw hope and beauty as I stood on the soil of one of the plundered continent’s poorest countries.  The blood red cloth flower seemed like a small offering, a reminder that there is beauty in the oddest of places.



Since leaving the life I had in Canada a year and a half ago, I’m not sure if I have ceased to feel stripped and unsure of myself. I’m constantly puzzled by the world I have discovered.

As cliché as it sounds, the more I live, the smaller I feel. 
Last night, I stood in the little walled-in alleyway behind my house and stared up at the stars framed by the orange wall. It was as though I was shrinking and the sky was growing at the same time. Its vastness kept seeming bigger - beautifully and dizzyingly so and I, like Alice in Wonderland, rapidly shrinking after drinking some magical potion.

Moving to South Africa has been an exciting and shocking experience. I have yet to wrap my mind around my transition from living in one of the world’s poorest countries to the world’s most unequal country.


I have an open loft space in my home that I use as a studio and office. One day while walking down the steep stairs from the loft, I saw a larger-than-life outline of a woman on the wall. She had unruly hair and wide hips emphasized by harem pants.

Who is that?
I actually like her.

Everything seems to have so much texture these days. Although not always comfortable, I am realizing that I am living the life that I’ve always wanted.

My journey feels akin to a constant arrival.

I’ve been so caught up in my awe and bewilderment of the continent that is fostering me that I have failed to realize that I am exactly where I have wanted to be:  

In a house with a cracked orange wall.
A red cloth coronation in my pocket.
Followed by the shadow of an unruly woman who I actually like.

I carry these knick-knacks, turn them over, and cross them as hopeful bridges. Awkward little signposts that remind me of the beautiful and privileged journey that I’m living. 

Hanging out @ orange wall

No comments:

Post a Comment