Have you ever seen the movie Invictus? There’s a beautiful scenery shot of Table Bay, Cape Town, and the breathtaking surrounding mountains. I was watching that movie with some friends last summer and at that scene, one of them looked back, pointed at me, and mouthed, “that’s going to be YOU!” That seemed surreal. Not only could I not imagine being in Africa, but I knew that there were plenty of experiences to be had before I even began to think about Cape Town. Now, in the cliché way of travelers, I can’t believe I’m actually here.
One of the things that initially drew me to the South Africa/Lesotho cross-cultural was the huge diversity that we not only experience, but live in during our three months here. We began in a poor city township that was packed so full of people that there was never a second of silence. We moved on to a tiny, rural village, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where we had no electricity and cooked by candlelight. We then spend a week in a small Afrikaner farming town where several of us where given our own guesthouse for the week.
Capetonians tell us that Cape Town is completely different from any other African city, and even in my limited experience, I can see that they‘re right. Cape Town is a beautifully diverse city, both culturally and geographically. Towering mountains drop off directly into the ocean, pristine white beaches are sandwiched between jagged rocks, and a 20 minute drive through the city takes you into lush green forests and award-winning vineyards. The people are as diverse as the land, including large populations of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, white, colored, and black South Africans, Dutch, French, British, Malaysian, and Indian descendants, Afrikaners, and many others in between.
Being here is a strange mix of culture that seems very similar to our own yet very different at the same time. Downtown Cape Town feels like I could be home in Pittsburgh, but turn one corner and I’m in a squatter township. My roommate, Rebekah Graham, and I are living with a wonderful retired couple whose housing style is much more similar to what we are used to than other home-stays we’ve experience along the way. We’ve spent most of this past week between lectures at the University of Cape Town and doing all of the “touristy” things around the city. The dynamics among people here are still very much shaped by the mentality remaining from the institution of Apartheid.
Over all, being in Cape Town has so far been a strange conflicting tug of emotions. Uncomfortable, almost guilty relief to be back in a somewhat familiar culture competes with a deep sadness that we’ve left that vibrant head-spinning, loving culture we lived with for two months. Hope that spending our last several weeks in Cape Town will diminish culture shock upon returning home competes with the jarring reminders everywhere that we are in a place where racism, segregation, and inequality still dictate many aspects of life. An increasing anxiety to be home competes with a new, profound love and respect for this beautiful country and its people.
What does this all mean, to you or me? I don’t know. This experience is going to take a long time to process and I know that a small blog post means very little in the vastness of life. I’ll simply urge you to do this: be aware of the people around you. Learn to respect cultures around you that are different than your own. At the risk of sounding outstandingly cliché . . . It will change your world.
- Anna Weaver
Beyond the Facade
Everything that makes Cape Town famous overshadows its best qualities. It’s true that Table Mountain was just voted one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and boasts some of the hottest beaches. However, what I am experiencing is that the expensive resorts and tourist attractions hide the fact that there exists a massive amount of disparity between the rich and poor, as well as the amazing diversity of people in Cape Town. I am discovering the true lifeline of the city beyond the façade of the five star hotels and the million dollar houses.
I have fallen in love with a different part of Cape Town than I expected. In the shadow of Table Mountain is a diverse community from many different cultures and parts of the world. Living with a Colored family here is widening my perspective of South African history even more, as I continue
to learn about how ethnicity plays a large role in all levels of politics and economics.
I am experiencing that cities in South Africa often promote an aspect of tourism that does not display the authentic citizen. The authentic citizen is what lies beyond the façade and is what needs to be promoted. My greatest memories from the time spent in Africa are not bungee jumping, surfing, or climbing Table Mountain (even though they were awesome). My best memories are from the conversations and experiences I have had with the authentic citizens. The lasting joy I have felt from South Africa and Lesotho has been from the relationships built with my host families while living alongside them in everyday life.
- Justin King