Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: travel log (Page 2 of 7)


6a00d8341c61d153ef0115719b6255970bYesterday was a long, amazing, interesting and eye opening day for me in South Africa. The details were simple. On Thursday I flew up to Jozi, and then drove to Potch, where I spent the night, so that I could run an early morning improv session with participants in an advanced leadership programme for one of the mining companies. I love this work, and am deeply happy to have it. I am in my element working to teach the basic principles of improv to groups who have no experience of this way of thinking. Three hours of laughing, playing and creating later and they are a transformed team.

And yet, I sit with so much anxiety and reservation about the true voices in our country; the unspoken disbelief I see flash across black faces when white participants innocently and unconsciously make reference to ‘those people’ or ‘these people’ and say something so deeply racist my brain wants to explode. Or the vile and despicable white voice of complaint to the black serving woman in the airport business lounge, as if she has the power to improve the ridiculousness of a triple full lounge, plane delays and the lack of seating for her and her miserable partner. I sit with the frustration of the conversation I have with a man who was flying to Limpopo for voter registration weekend and when he hears that I live in Cape Town he tells me “ag, just ask your Zille,” “ask your DA,” assuming that script for me without even asking. I don’t blame him. He sees examples of that mentality all around him. I listen to the slightly louder voice of the white man when he talks to the brown air hostess. We have no idea what we sound like and it is deeply rude and embarrassing.

My big fear is that it is already too late to prove that we can be different. Why should anyone ever believe us? It is hard going. I am not going to stop making a noise, trying to make a difference. I will try in small and big ways.

On my way up to Jozi I sat next to a gorgeous woman. We didn’t speak until she saw me staring out the window in amazement at the beautiful cloud formations below us; we were flying above the clouds. And she turned to me, this stranger, and in a thickly isiXhosa accented English said, “Nature is so powerful and beautiful.” And in that tiny moment I felt hope.




A series of memories from my time in Mumbai in the late 1990s.

Midnight. Our SAA flight is flying over India. We notice the lights, tiny pin pricks flickering and golden in the blackness. There are millions of them, like stars upside down. This city, lit underneath us, goes on for hours. Someone in front of us whispers, “That’s Mumbai”.

Mumbai is a city of smells. I have a sensitive nose. I smelled Mumbai from the airplane. We were still flying when I noticed the smell. Something burning. Something huge, and foreign, and people filled. It was the smell of Mumbai reaching up to us as we made our way towards her.

3am. A miserable customs official indicates that our vaccine ‘paper’ is incomplete. My best friend and I are bleary eyed and tearful. “No, look, here is the stamp.” The official starts telling us how many US$ he will need to make the problem go away. I tell him that my friends in Malabar Hill (a suburb I have only read about in Wallpaper magazine) will hear of this. He lifts an eyebrow, shakes his head in what I will come to learn as the ‘yes’ of India, and waves us through.

3.15am. A woman on hands and knees sweeps the floor with a grass broom as we wait for our backpacks. Our absolutely smashed purser (a screaming, Afrikaans koffie moffie) takes a shine to us and invites us to spend the night with him in his hotel room, as well as getting a ride with the crew on their special bus.

On the bus. The crew are horrified that we are there, but they don’t question the purser. We start the drive to the fancy hotel. I look out the window of the air-conditioned bus and see bodies lining the road; row upon row of bodies, covered in thin fabric; it is muggy and hot. It is almost 4am and there is a total traffic jam; cars, busses, tuktuks and people. I don’t know if the bodies lining the road are alive or dead. I don’t know how this world works.

The fancy hotel foyer is quiet and empty. There is a man on his hands and knees, sweeping the floor with a grass broom. Upstairs the purser gives us half a sleeping pill each (Rohypnols, I discover the next day) and the three of us pass out in the massive bed, overlooking the Bay of Bombay.

The purser offers to show us around. It is a ‘quiet’ Sunday morning in Mumbai. We take a cab to Leopold’s. We order a Western type meal, and sit with other foreign travellers. Years later I recognise the place when I read Shantaram.

At the Gateway of India there are giant lights, thousands of dancers and speakers on trucks. We have stumbled on a shoot for a music video.

We stroll through a massive inner city park. There are at least 30 different cricket games going on, all at the same time. Hundreds of Indian men, dressed in white, scoreboards randomly set up, red cricket balls whizzing by.

We get lost on our walk and end up in a squatter camp. The shacks are three, four stories high. Tin shacks with rope ladders and wooden stairs.

We read a menu. Sizzlers. Cauliflower oh groutin. Soda lime. Mango lassis. We need to decide if we will stay in the city and look for other accommodation or whether we will leave and start our travels, south to Goa and then beyond. I am terrified. We have one more night of unreality in the fancy 5 star hotel on the strip. We go and sit at the pool overlooking the orange Indian Ocean.

In the evening a square parking lot fills up with bodies getting ready for bed. Row upon row of people sleep in a parking lot.

We pour through our Lonely Planet Guide. Nothing makes sense.

We are on the street. Shopping malls, sari shops, incense, marigolds, busses, scooters, beggars, music, shells of high rise buildings, covered in bamboo scaffolding. Traffic. People. Human waste. Dead crows. Live crows. Fresh bananas. A blind man. Children in rags. A dog covered in sores. A man pushes a cart of tiffin boxes. A man rides past on a bicycle. A woman in a blue sari stands behind the glass of a second story window. A family drive past on a scooter. A man glues a poster of a Bollywood movie onto a wall. A mountain of plastic bottles moves slowly down the pavement. School boys in full English school uniform run past.

Sparks from a welding machine cascade into the road. A sign for Lakshmi’s Shirtings and Suitings. A billboard for Thumps Up Soda. A roadside stall selling betel nut; the pavement alongside covered in blood coloured spit.

If it weren’t for my friend who witnesses me, I would disappear.  I am entirely alien and invisible here.

I blink in the sunlight. I drink water from a plastic bottle. Slowly I recognise the song from a movie soundtrack, playing on a speaker at the entrance to a shop. I sing along, knowing the sounds but not the meaning. I am in Mumbai.

This post is one of nine tandem blog posts, all with the same topic, Mumbai, and all released at the same time. Please check out the other offerings by these amazing writers.









A simple moment in the chaos

IMG_1847-e1429160928722We opened our Engen Phambili road show in Bloemfontein yesterday. It was a challenging time for me on a personal level; I am recovering from Tick Bite Fever (a result of my gorgeous, irresponsible and crazy week long birthday celebrations), I am deeply shaken by the resurgence of xenophobia in our country and, being a bit of a sick and vulnerable emotional wreck, I weep about it in public. I did that at the breakfast table at the hotel yesterday morning. Also, since the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, my race antennae are buzzing and crackling, and on high alert for the minutest racial issue, to the point where my 90% black cast tease me about it. Bloemfontein might not seem the best place for my personal race riot warning system to go on the fritz, although I am definitely noticing how much more integrated and sorted the inner city of Bloom is.

So, after my gorgeous cast had warmed up, costumed up and miked up they were backstage and ready, and I was sitting in the auditorium of the bizarre city hall (a first time venue for us). It is a huge, traditional space, with funny wall chandeliers, a massive prosc-arch stage and brown leatherette chairs that are mostly on the verge of exploding or collapsing. Add to the mix the red, white and blue colours of Engen branding, stage lights, huge backdrops and a giant video screen and you can start to understand the strange mix of time, place and thing.

The doors finally opened and the Engen petrol pump attendants and cashiers (some from as far away as Welkom and Lesotho) started filing in. There is always a buzz of excitement in the air when people take their seats. It has been 10 years of exciting, entertaining and fabulous roadshow.

When the flood of entrants had become a trickle, and people had started filling in the back rows of chairs I saw three white young men in cashier uniforms enter. None of the other petrol pump attendants or cashiers in this audience were white. I noticed them choose seats in the back. I thought about them for a moment and wondered what their world might be like; three white men in a previously entirely black domain, unglamorous and basic employment that it is. Then, further along into the venue, and a few rows up from me a young black petrol pump attendant stood up to have a look around. It was clear that he was sitting with the rest of his team, colleagues and friends from his forecourt, but his searching was for someone. He did a full circle and finally saw the three white guys behind him and in the corner, and turned to give them a questioning thumbs up, a wordless ‘are you guys ok?’. They waved back. ‘We are fine.’ And I, for the second time that morning, cried in public.

That moment of care, of unselfconscious humanity has touched me more deeply than the shouting. And I will hold onto it so tightly in these disturbing, crazy bad times.

Liz Mills Voice Boot Camp

Honestly, I can’t imagine why anyone would NOT do this.

Voice Boot Camp 2013

Smelling Prague

One of the things you can never anticipate or predict is what a place you have never been to will smell like. Some places you visit for the first time are like a smell assault. You can’t imagine the smells before, and when you get there it’s all about them. When I was flying kilometers above Mumbai I could already smell the city. Now when I remember that time many years ago I remember the smells.

Prague remembered will also be a series of smells. There is the pre-snow smell and the snow smell. Snow has a smell. It is a great smell. There is the very different petrol smell. Absinth on tourists’ breath smell. Dog piss on snow under a streetlight smell. The cheap perfume on hot air leaving the souvenir shops. The greasy smell of outside heaters and the machines that clear the snow on the Old Town Square. The smells of winter; I cannot possibly imagine what Prague summer would smell like now.

Spiced hot wine is a smell. Dark beer is a smell. Garlic soup is a smell. Meat is a smell. Indoor smoke at restaurants is a smell. Fruit tea is a smell.  Ghost breath is a smell and old is a smell. The little sweets with funny faces in a teeny bowl at the hotel’s reception is a smell. The churches are a smell. Wenceslas Square is a different, complex, more modern, more global, doner kebab, hot wine, cheap clothes, foreign tourist, fast food, Thai massage, cigarette, marijuana smell.

Wet shoes are a smell. No sweat is a smell. Meat and potato smells fill the air. Garlic soup.

The chairs in the lobby. The lift, a vaguely herby, buchu smell.  The Italian old man who brushed my cheek in the lift smell. The bright blue soap in the dispenser smell. The ginger tea smell.

Tomorrow I will be leaving. But I will remember Prague by smell.

Prague so far

It will have to be a weird, jumbled list. Standing in a proper snow storm. Visiting the Jewish Quarter. The changing of the guards at the Castle. The insurance company’s stained glass window of the Cathedral. The beautiful astrological reliefs on the church gate. The pampered dogs of Prague. The houses with symbols instead of numbers. The micro brewery at the Strahov Monastery. King Rudolph 2’s magical Cabinet of Curiosities with unicorn horns, a Basilisk, massive dead crabs and tree books. The Golem of Prague, the Church of St Nicholas, The Infant of Prague Church, where you pray and if your prayer is answered you send a dress to the doll of the infant. The magnificent and romantic St Charles Bridge, St John who got thrown off the bridge and where people touch the two places on the relief. The strange Irish band of four Czech boys who sang Down In The Balley yo” in the Irish pub that sells Bisto, Marmite and LemSip. Nigerian drug dealers on Wenceslas Square. Cobbles. Goths. The Spanish Synagogue, soup served in round breads. Meat. Almost pagan nativity scenes. Marrionettes. Bohemia. Poor little St Vitus. Good King Wenceslas and his banner. Slavia. The Absinthe painting. The Absinthe ice cream shop. Did I say the snow? Trams. Apple strudel. Salad for breakfast. An exciting presidential election. Freezing hands. Hot wine. Hot white wine. The Sand Pact – go slow in the Nazi occupation. Slovakia. Crepes. Hot chocolate. Franz Kafka. Movies. Communism. Tourism. Pride. Horror stories. Ghost stories. Rabbi Lev. The Forbes 2nd Ugliest Building in The World. Delightful English by Czech speakers. Pastry shops. Theatre. Architecture. Statues.

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