1. From 0 to 60

Day: Wednesday, October 22, 2014


After seven intensive weeks of researching and planning, we finally arrived in South Africa to start our term long project. The goal of our project is to personally interact with the sellers, called vendors, of a street paper called The Big Issue South Africa. We will be sharing their stories through visual means such as pictures and videos. The purpose of sharing their stories is to show their humanity and help clear up any negative misconceptions the general public may have about the vendors. The research during our preparation term included learning about how street papers work and learning about the most effective ways to tell stories. By the end of this project we hope to truly understand why these individuals became vendors and who they really are.The plan for our first day was to meet with our liaison, Trudy Vlok. Trudy is the managing director of The Big Issue South Africa. We were also planning on meeting with the rest of the staff we will be working with, mainly the technical staff. During the first conversation with Trudy during our preparation term, she mentioned that she wanted us to share the vendor’s stories on a website platform. Our plan was to meet with the website team to be brought up to speed on our role in this project and their current progress. A sudden twist, however, caught us off-guard and our first day plans were drastically changed.

Cast of Characters


The Big Issue South Africa Offices


Today was a wow day. We expected so little and it seemed that everything just fell into place! The group went to meet with our liaison, Trudy Vlok, at The Big Issue in Cape Town. We expected to discuss when we would meet with the vendors and how we would interact with them. We got a taxi to The Big Issue, walked in and immediately were greeted by smiling faces. We met Nikki, the vendors’ social worker, who brought us through this small hallway and pass a room filled with people, Nikki simply said “Those are the vendors you will meet with shortly!” Our hearts jumped with the new knowledge that we would be meeting the vendors that day! We walked upstairs to wait for Trudy only to find out that she was in a meeting and Nikki offered to bring us down to the vendors so we could begin talking with them. We gladly accepted and went to meet the vendors.


Inside Big Issue Offices Photo Credit: Themba – Vendor of the Month


As soon as we got there we could tell that some vendors were more nervous than others. Many of the male vendors sat up in their seats and seemed interested in getting to hear about the project, while a lot of the women sat back, arms crossed, reserved in their seats. Everyone went around and said their name, however many of them were difficult for us to pronounce. There were twelve of them and each had been a previous vendor of the month who had been featured in past Big Issue SA issues because of their stories and faithful customers. Most of them only spoke one of the local languages, Xhosa. There was a wonderful translator who helped us, Penny. She was very sweet and also quite sassy. Four of the vendors spoke English. One who stood out was named Leslie. We explained our project with the vendors and began answering questions they asked us about what we would gain from this and how people would see these videos. We explained that we gained nothing financially from this and only hoped that the videos would help them spread their story and get more sales from people who understood them better after watching them. It was a long process since translation had to happen between most of the questions and answers. As we further explained the project and that we were doing everything for them, great relief washed over the vendors. We explained to them that this was entirely volunteer based and at any point if they became uncomfortable they could tell us and they did not have to participate. They seemed very receptive to that and it relaxed the majority of them further.

Finally we told them that it was the perfect time for them to ask us personal questions, things about us that they wanted to know that we may later ask them. The first question, which almost rushed out of one man’s mouth was “Are you married? Do you have Kids?” We were all shell shocked and it took us a second to fully respond. When we responded that none of us were married or had kids there was a gasp within the crowd. All of a sudden all the Xhosa speaking vendors were talking and exclaiming things. The translator then asked us if any of us were dating. We responded that actually none of us were dating. That brought more gasps and quick talking especially from the women vendors. Penny quickly said “You don’t date?” and we responded “No, we date and have dated before but none of us are dating currently.” With that translated the vendors sighed in relief. They had been so thrown off that none of us were married.  Penny told us that it was good for them to see us not dating, so that they could tell their grandchildren that dating could be put aside to finish schooling and get further in life. These stories could help their future. We sat down with the vendors for three hours and already they were claiming we had made changes. It felt good to know that if the vendors stuck with us and continued to work on this project with us we could all learn so much from each other.



After questions had finished we let the vendors know that if they had to leave they could. Many packed up and started for the door getting prepared to go back to their pitches and sell magazines. We felt a little bad that these vendors had missed three or more hours of selling in order to talk with us. Some however stayed later. Two Xhosa/English speaking men stayed and started to tell us of their stories. A vendor named Themba told us that he had been a part of this event called “The Homeless World Cup” a few years back and had been flown to Austria to compete. He wanted to see if there was video from that event that we could feature in his personal video. It was so cool to find out about this event and learn of The Big Issue’s involvement. Another vendor, Leslie, told us about his life. How he is 59 and works for The Big Issue because it pays him better then any job he could have. He told us that he wanted to see what this project would do and was happy to get the stories out so that people could understand that he is not lesser because he is a vendor. His job is a free flowing job. He works outside and gets to interact with people daily. He told us that he would have it no other way. Our team has studied and researched these vendors learning about all of this but hearing it in his own words made us fully understand what we were doing here. We were here to help. To show the public the lives of these vendors, their struggles and their triumphs. Leslie even wants to show us a beach that he goes to once every month just to watch the birds and relax.



Once Leslie left, our team began talking with Chelsea. Chelsea is a woman from America who has been living in SA for a year and happened to ask for volunteering opportunities at The Big Issue shortly after Trudy contacted us about this project.  We were put into contact with her a few months ago and she is a great asset. She worked for other street papers in the US and film industries in Portland, Oregon and Atlanta, Georgia. She has intense experience with journalism and writing. She told us she wants to help us as much as possible and will be involved for as much as we want her to be. After our talk, Chelsea took us for a tour around where The Big Issue is located. It’s a more Brooklyn-ish part of the city and she told us that it is definitely not a place to walk around alone at night, especially as a white female. But she showed us this cute cafe and gorgeous street art that is located everywhere! Apparently the government has grants for street art and helps to fund it in order to make the buildings a greater cultural experience. We continued to walk around and learn more about the cultural differences and experience of living in Cape Town. With all of this new information and hope for our project we went home on a high and couldn’t wait for our meeting with our liaison, Trudy, the following day.


Ari: Wow. I can barely believe that all just happened! In two days our project has gone exponentially better than we even planned it would! Our first day, 10/22/2014, we thought we were just going to meet with Trudy and we ended up having a 3hr meeting with the vendors! It was wonderful! We talked about the project, answered questions about ourselves and even found out more about certain vendors. They all seemed really relaxed and comfortable after we explained the project more. After we told them that they could go back to their pitch, many left The Big Issue and started working again. But three vendors stayed behind and talked to us personally about how they felt about the project and what they wanted to contribute. It felt so good to hear from the vendors themselves that they wanted to tell their stories and clear misconceptions that people have about them. It really solidified in my mind that we were doing a project that would impact these people.

Gianna: I felt like today went very well, despite the fact we did not meet with Trudy as originally planned. When I first found out that we were meeting with the vendors, I was terrified. I was not mentally prepared to talk to them. I felt uncomfortable because we had not spoken to Trudy about our ideas and I did not want to tell the vendors one thing and have Trudy tell us something completely different. I am also a very shy, awkward person so being prepared for interactions with the vendors is very important for me. But in having this interaction with them, I learned that not everything needed to be planned. We had an excellent conversation with them and I learned about their concerns and interest in the project. I was surprised to hear that some vendors were concerned that we were going to sell their stories in the US. I am happy we were able to calm them of this concern. As the meeting went on, I was happy to see everyone relax. At the end of the meeting, some vendors stayed to talk to us. The vendor I spoke with was so excited, he kept hugging me and giving me a high-five. I am not someone who gives hugs to people I just meet so at first I felt a bit uncomfortable, but hearing his excitement for the project and how empowered he felt about being asked to participate in it made me relax a lot. I cannot wait to get to know him more.

Jordon: Wow is really the best word to describe what happened that day. Although we haven’t had the experience of our project falling apart, this was a good way for us to learn what sort of things Cape Town is capable of throwing at us. We were completely mentally prepared to meet with Trudy and discuss how we were going to handle our first vendor meeting and when we walked in and saw that Trudy was occupied and we had to go to the vendors immediately, it was truly trial by fire. I know some of my group members had a major freak-out after being thrown into the fire but I was genuinely excited just to be able to give the vendors my honest impressions in an unplanned scenario. I feel that we were able to be much more genuine since we gave them exactly what was on our minds instead of what we had planned to say. I was intrigued after discussing with the vendors their feelings about the project as well as some aspects of their daily lives. I think that although all 12 of them may not stick with the project all the way through, there are a number of vendors who truly believe in what we are doing and will be invaluable resources for us.

Nadjia: When the team found out we would be meeting with the vendors that day I had a mini freak out. I was not mentally prepared to meet them that day. I was focused on meeting with Trudy and getting all the logistics out there and focusing on the technological aspects of the project. But that is not what occurred so we had to think on our feet. In the end, the meeting could not have gone any better. The only thing that was frustrating was that we had to keep explaining the project to the vendors; thought they would have already been aware of what the project entailed. However, it proved to be helpful because we calmed a lot of their nerves. You could physically see the vendors relax in their chairs when we said that this project was voluntary and that we would not be selling it or using it for our own personal gain. The vendors seemed really excited and through that I wanted to start learning who these vendors were and where they came from. After that meeting I could not be more excited to learn who these vendors really are.

Continue to Scene 2: Starting Off on the Right Foot