The Yarn Tree (or Yarn Store by Proxy)

During the few hours that we were able to do some sightseeing in South Africa, we did attempt to visit a couple of yarn stores. Unfortunately, we struck out because either the store was closed or non-existent or we simply did not have the correct address, and we had very little time. Knowing how disappointed I was, my husband decided to try again and found this gem in Houghton. So I give you The Yarn Tree, a yarn store by proxy.

The Yarn Tree - partial view

The Yarn Tree started off as a calligraphy studio and is located in a beautiful residential suburb of Johannesburg. The Yarn Tree is a labour of love for a British ex-pat and two South African women who met volunteering for 67 Blankets for Mandela.

I was interested to learn about 67 Blankets for Mandela and looked them up online. It turns out that in April of this year, volunteer knitters, crocheters and quilters covered 3133 square meters with handmade blankets and broke a Guinness World Record for the largest area covered by a blanket. The meaning behind the number is a call to devote 67 minutes to community service in honor of Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of service to South Africa. (Source)

(Source)

As the story unfolded, I became even more excited to learn about The Yarn Tree. The selection of yarn is carefully curated by Adrienne, Kelly and Anne-Marie with an eye toward eco-friendly materials sourced in South Africa. With Kelly’s help, my husband brought me some yarn called Eco-Fusion, a 50% cotton, 50% bamboo blend by Nurturing FibresNurturing Fibres is an eco-friendly yarn brand, hand dyed near Cape Town.

Eco-Fusion Yarn 1

Nurturing fibres strives to conserve as much energy and water during their production process. They make use of borehole water which is heated by solar power for the dye baths. After dyeing, the PH levels in the dye-baths are neutralized and the water is then used to irrigate an olive grove near the dye studio. (Source: Placard at The Yarn Tree)

Eco-Fusion Yarn 2

The next gift was also specially curated for women who have had mastectomies. With the Knitted Knockers kit, you can knit a prosthetic breast for mastectomy patients. The kit contains a 50 gram ball of organically grown cotton yarn by ColourSpun and 25 grams of pure merino for the filling. Each skein is hand wound and hand dyed.

Knitted Knockers

Even though I was unable to visit in person, I learned a tremendous amount about these mission-driven ladies and their beautiful shop. You can follow The Yarn Tree on Facebook or contact them at theyarntree (@) yahoo (dot) com. The Yarn Tree hosts Charity Afternoons on Mondays and a Coffee Club on Friday mornings. They also have various workshops including a Knitting for Knockers Charity Day. Look them up if you are in Johannesburg. I know I will!

Rosebank Roof Market

On the only Sunday morning in Johannesburg, we walked over to the rooftop of Rosebank Mall where we were greeted with a huge market. What a delight! The spice table was our favorite. We were able to sample quite a few of the combinations. The Biltong Spice in the back was scrumptious! It is rubbed on raw meat so that the flavors soak in as it dries. (Biltong is a dried, cured meat similar to beef jerky).

Rosebank Roof Market Spices

There were handicrafts and souvenirs everywhere – an explosion of color! Loved the fabrics used on these cuff bracelets. There was quite a bit of beadwork such as shown on the coasters. The colorful giraffes are from a painting.

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Amongst the handmade items, were these adorable knitted stuffed gnu and other “wildlife.”

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Gogo Olive was born in Zimbabwe to empower local women – each product is lovingly handmade and is as individual and cheerful as the lady who knitted it! Hope (v.): to trust or believe. Knit (n.): to join or be joined together closely.

These farm-friendly animals are shaped with strong wire and then beaded. Love the sheep! Unfortunately, he did not fit in my suitcase.

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These baskets are woven from telephone wire. They are so colorful and the swirls are mesmerizing.

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There were various fabrics ranging from bright and bold geometric patterns to the more modern interpretations below. (That second set of fabrics is from the Neighbourgoods Market).

Traditional colors and patterns.

A modern twist to fabric designs.

I enjoyed absorbing all the colors and smells of the market. If you ever make it to South Africa, I highly recommend the Rosebank Sunday Market.

Slices of South African History

A must-stop in South Africa is the Apartheid Museum. As you walk through the museum, the history of 20th Century South Africa unfolds. Even the entrance makes a statement. The ticket to the museum arbitrarily assigns you as either Blanke or Nie-Blanke; and depending on which you draw, you enter through the appropriately labelled door. Thus begins a lesson in history.

Apartheid Museum Entrance

It could easily take days to truly appreciate every exhibit and to read about the many cultures converging on South Africa before apartheid – the Dutch (or Afrikaans), the Brits, the Chinese and others.  Clips from speeches and news casts and stark photographs tell a story that is hard to hear but impossible to turn away from.

Apartheid Museum Taxi Sign

In a small courtyard, stands a replica of the cell (roughly 10’x10′) in which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. It was difficult walking through it and daring to imagine nearly a lifetime inside of it.

Apartheid Museum Mandela's Cell

In one section of the museum, countless nooses hanging from the ceiling served as reminders of all who were tortured and killed fighting for freedom of oppression.

Apartheid Museum Nooses

It was eerily quiet as I walked past the solitary confinement cells.

Apartheid Museum Solitary Confinement

Time flew inside the museum. Two and a half hours later, we were on our way to Soweto or South Western Township.

Soweto Sign

We stopped at the Mandela House at 8115 Orlando West Soweto. The house was small but full of history. The house has been restored and converted to a museum. The blemish in the middle of the wood beam in the top left photo is a bullet hole. If you enlarge the photo of the open window (top right), you will see a message inscribed into the brick wall. I love that I captured this photograph of the house just as the sun shone brightly above it.

Soweto Mandela's House

Soweto Mandela's Home Back Entry

‘It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.’

Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom

Inside the home turned museum were artifacts from Nelson Mandela’s life. According to the placard, in the early years of his imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was only allowed to write and send one letter every six months.

Soweto Mandela's Letter from Prison

Besides the Mandela House, we stopped by the former home of Bishop Desmond Tutu. Amazing that two Nobel Price Laureates lived a mere two blocks from each other. We also stopped by the memorial to 12-year old Hector Pieterson who was killed by police during a student demonstration. For an interesting recent article on Soweto, read ‘The Nobel Street’ where Mandela and Tutu lived by Alex Court and Diane McCarthy for CNN.

Soweto Hector Pieterson Memorial

While much of the housing in Soweto was modernized, our driver did take us past some of the squatter camps, communities without running water or electricity. If you look closely, you may see an antennae or two above the shacks, possibly electricity being diverted from the nearby train tracks.

Soweto Squatter Camp

We were fortunate to have a few hours to visit the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site at Maropeng, about an hour’s drive outside Johannesburg. Maropeng means “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana, the main indigenous language in this area of South Africa. (source)

Cradle of Humankind Visitor Center

Featured inside were the over 1,500 fossils of the Homo Naledi skeleton. What an amazing opportunity to see something of such historical significance first-hand! To learn more about this find, you can read the National Geographic article online.

Cradle of Humankind Homo Naledi Fossils 1

The top photos are close-ups of the Homo Naledi jawbone, teeth and hand. Below are 3D printouts of the reconstructed Homo Naledi foot compared side-by-side to the Au. sediba foot and the foot of a modern human being. (source: museum display placard)

Cradle of Humankind Homo Naledi Fossils 2

Stepping outside, I could see for miles across the South African landscape.

Cradle of Humankind Landscape

South Africa is a place of stark contrasts. We drove past mansions surrounded by high walls and vibrant flowering plants and lush trees, except that each wall was topped by barbed wire or electrified fences. We were told under no circumstances should we walk along the streets unescorted and certainly not past nightfall. This is a country rich in natural resources such as gold and diamonds and where over 17,000 murders occurred in one year (source). Yet it is a vibrant place full of energy and possibility and a rich history. I hope to have another opportunity to return and more time to explore.

Neighbourgoods Market

On a busy trip to South Africa, I managed to squeeze in a few local sights. It’s hard to get to know a place sitting in hotel lobbies and conference rooms. One of those places was Neighbourgoods Market (not a typo).

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The market is located in the midst of Braamfontein, a business district in Joburg. Braamfontein stands for “the spring by the brambles” (source). The area has been undergoing some revitalization and Neighbourgoods Market is one example of what draws South Africans to it. There is an eclectic bohemian vibe to the area that also houses the city’s local government and the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship.

Neighbourgoods Market 1b

The market was a magnet for families, older couples, cliques of young people – a blending of ages, races and colors. To find the market, you walk up an alleyway with a sign hanging over welcoming you to Neighbourgoods Market. A turn up the driveway into a parking lot becomes an oasis in the middle of the gritty landscape. An entire floor is hopping with cooks grilling their meats and vendors selling fresh breads and offering tastes of biltong (dried meat similar to beef jerky). There was cheese to be sampled and an assortment of marinades, dips, pastries and local wines. This pear-shaped dim sum was filled with minced chicken tucked inside a light cornbread.

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The Exotically Divine booth served ital vegetarian dishes from locally sourced fruits and vegetables.

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The coconut salesman was busily removing the husks from the fruit with a large machete. You stuck a straw in the fleshy center and drank fresh from the gourd. Coconuts 30 Rand, Happy Coconuts (with rum) 50 Rand.

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I watched as the paella was being made. First they simmered onions and garlic. Every time I walked past, a new ingredient had been added – calamari, tomatoes, shrimp – all being stirred together at a light simmer.

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The fudge was divine. I nibbled away at a square of this salted caramel version. Oh my. Delicious!

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I did not get to sample this lovely lemon meringue – I was much too full by then – but it was so pretty I had to take a photo.

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It felt like a fly by but I’m so glad I was able to sample a bit of Neighbourgoods Market.