Grahamstown High street

"11 Days of Amazing" reads the poster that greets one as you roll into town after travelling for the approximate 90 minutes that it takes from Port Elizabeth airport to the venue of the most remarkable creativity and ingenuity.

11 shows, three nights and two days later I leave, my head bursting with inspiration and filled with many thoughts about the place for which I have developed more than a little soft spot.

As the sun rises on a chilly morning I reflect on how Grahamstown is a place of some extraordinarily bizarre juxtapositions. A university town that straddles unique Eastern Cape tradition perched on the edge of some truly spectacular countryside: rolling hills, grassland, imposing mountains. 

A town where decaying old buildings, once awash with Victorian splendour jostle alongside beautifully-maintained grand old ladies. A place where edgy restaurants and coffee shops co-exist alongside seedy bars, where smoke and old alcohol linger in the air.  A town where sanctified choral music pours out of historic churches competing with energetic kwaito that filters down from the nearby Fingo festival.

Street performers in Grahamstown
One day I'm returning to my guest house I drive through Beaufort Street when I'm forced to slow down to allow a donkey to cross this busy thoroughfare. A broken, frayed rope hangs from its roughly furred neck. The donkey is not attached to a cart. No one seems to be running after it and nobody seems to bat an eyelid. It slowly meanders diagonally across the road. I smile inwardly as this scene unfolds. It reminds me of a similar scene, same time last year when walking to town from an affluent neighbourhood, I  gaped as a herd of cows plodded down the road, followed by a cow herder calling them to order.  

On a corner close to my guest house, a shop front has a faded but descriptive painting of bones being flung in the air advertising the services of the resident sangoma. Next door, a dark shop with an earthy and slightly musty smell has shelves packed with roots, herbs, dried out bones and old animal skins. 

It all seems very far removed from what's going on just a few corners away. At the Rhodes Box Theatre, festival goers throng and it's a hive of activity with colourful posters advertising the myriad shows on offer - at least 200 a day. 

Festival vibe in Grahamstown
The shows I've been privileged enough to experience are truly stand out and stay with me a long time. They are filled with innovative new ideas, genius stage craft, incredible methods of putting their method across. Some are powerful testimonies; others exquisite renderings - all of brilliant talents. 

They're created in cities and places far removed; most are not made in Grahamstown; but they come here to be showcased. Many act as a barometer for future performances in centres all across the country. Here is often their first showing or, they're chosen to flight at this gathering of creative and receptive minds. In a city of such amazing contrasts and juxtapositions, it's actually the most perfect environment. It all makes the most perfect sense.