|Best Time in our Ghetto
Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra
Photo by Oxfam East Africa via Wikimedia Commons
vocal sounds, day and night, were not unusual in our ghetto of
Clairwood. At night, most of the time, we slept through them. When we
paid attention to them, day and night, it was for the first few
seconds in order to determine if the situation involved us. From an
early age we became experts in those few seconds' determinations. If
we assessed we were not involved, we could not care less; by the
natural laws of self-preservation; water off a duck's back; Emperor
Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
the dim light of dawn on a day in the 1940s, for the first time ever,
the loud shouts and screams were alerting everybody to an imminent
danger. In our home, the first shared instinct was that it was a trap
to lure us out of the home.
armed ourselves. Some of us, hesitantly and ultra-cautiously,
ventured outside to investigate. The alerts were fact. The ground
everywhere was covered in ankle-deep water, and, imperceptibly at
first, moving along and rising.
was puzzling. There had been no rain. There was no river nearby or
faraway to flood. Nobody paused to ponder the puzzle. We hastily went
about taking measures, and, for the first time in living memory,
ever, helping strangers at the same time as family!
was no electricity in our ghetto. What little cooking food was done,
was on fireplaces on the ground in kitchens, or outside.
water on the ground, all fireplaces were inoperable. A neighbour,
with the help of hitherto stranger-neighbours, hastily piled flat
stones into an altar-like structure, and invited everyone to line up
to use the fire she got going. She had enlisted strangers to rescue
dry firewood from the waters, and to pile them on an adjacent pile of
the food that was in most demand always in our ghetto, was tea. That
altar fireplace served tea to perfection. And the tea was free;
again, for the first time in living memory, ever.
this day, I have never drunk as many cups of tea in a day. The
drawback was the discomfort I suffered, therefrom, when the
excessive amount of tea sloshing around in my stomach upset my
balance when I, monkey-like, was moving among the branches in one
trees, and from tree to tree. The life-long lesson I learned was to
not climb a tree if I had more than one cup of tea. A very, very easy
lesson to apply in a ghetto where children went for days and days
without drinking any liquid other than water, before the flood, and
second reason I kept drinking free tea so frequently was the fear all
of us had that the flood water would rise high enough to render the
tea altar useless.
other worry was that the flood waters could soon rise above the two
water wells that served our ghetto. We had no piped running water in
helped strangers stash clothing high up in trees.
Clairwood was a ghetto inside virgin jungle all around. It was the
density of jungle vegetation that was the main force that restrained
the rate of flow and rising of the flood waters.
midday, the waters, still slowly flowing, had ceased rising. By then
the level was waist-high. The highest level of the tea altar was an
inch-or-two above water, and still serving. We had jerry-rigged the
wells closed; they, too, were a breath away from being under flood
waters. We noticed the flood waters were ocean-salty.
later we learned that the probable cause of the flood was seismic
eruption on the floor of the Indian ocean. Clairwood was a suburb in
the south of the port City of Durban, that has an Indian Ocean
have warned, and continue to warn, that there is a geologic faultline
on the ocean bed along the South African Natal coastline. Movement in
this faultline will be the cause of tidal waves, and on-shore
was weeks before the flood waters completely dried up. Long before
that, we opened the wells. Sadly, the tea altar had to be dismantled
because of signs of communal tensions from competitive free use.
were puzzled by the complete absence of wild animals during the
presence of the flood waters, until we came to find out about the
activity always is sensed by animals at great distances, in time for
them to run away before the consequences occur. As for domesticated
animal pets, fortunately for them, there weren't any of those in our
in all my twenty-nine years in our Clairwood ghetto, I never saw any
homeless persons resting or sleeping at the sides of roads, day or
night. In my later years of affluence in major Cities beyond
ghettoes, I witnessed homeless persons at street sides, in street
doorways; sometimes playing musical instruments! Two cheers for our
knew of some older adults who left the village because of the waters,
and never returned. Miraculously, there seems to have been no
fatalities caused by the flooding. I heard of none. That might have
been mainly because during all the days the waters were there, a
philanthropic Society from another City arrived every day with free
food and medicine. Friends Of The Sick, Association, or FOSA.
might be speaking for most persons when I say I had not eaten such
good food, and so much, as I did while the flood waters were there,
thanks to Friends Of The Sick, Association.
City of Durban did not help. To the City of Durban, Clairwood did not
exist. Many, many years later, that negligence seemed to have been
logical to me since the Durban City Councilors were democratically
elected into office. To my knowledge, no adult in our ghetto ever
voted in a political election. Including me.
children loved the flood waters. We were not required to attend
waist-high water levels made it easy for children to climb trees
that, otherwise, were out of reach. Some of those trees had vines
only high up that produced juicy berries. And, because we knew there
were no snakes around, we climbed and climbed. Because the ground was
so submerged in water, no adult objected to us climbing. Most
exciting for me was that in some areas, trees were so close, it was
possible to climb from one tree to another, high up.
flood waters brought extraordinary freedom for girls. Before the
flood, girls were not allowed to climb trees. Until the flood
arrived, I thought girls did not know how to climb trees. Before the
flood, girls were seen everywhere on the ground, usually doing home
chores, and running errands. During the flood, water on the ground
meant there were far fewer home chores to be done; a girl on the
ground wading through waist-high water on an errand, was a rare
the flood, boys and girls strangers were not allowed to be alone
together talking to each other, anywhere on the ground. During the
flood, high up in trees, boys and girls were giddy with talking and
laughing with one another.
been such a long time ago, it might be my mere imagining, but I
remember marveling at the time that some of those girls were better
skilled at climbing trees than were the boys. I have slipped between
branches at times; I've seen, I've rescued many boys in trees. I
never witnessed a girl in trouble from branch to branch, nor did any
require or ask for help.
few days during the flood were the best time I remember being in that
otherwise miserably evil, ugly Clairwood ghetto.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Story list and biography
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher