It’s hard to believe that it’s been 5 whole years since I last visited Cape Town, and yet so much has happened since then it’s not surprising at all. Then I was still in my first year of my previous job in NYC, in the throes of grad school, about to turn 25, and a few months away from being married. Now here I am, 30 years old, on to my next job, married with a house in Philadelphia. Who was that girl who explored Jo-Burg and Cape Town in 2011? She seems so young.
South Africa 2011
So here I am, a little older and better-traveled, and fresh from a visit to Morocco. How crazy is it that I am visiting the two ends of the African continent within 1 month of each other!?!? Whereas the last trip was mostly fun with a little bit of work, this trip is mostly work with a little bit of fun (although, truthfully, even the work parts will be pretty enjoyable.) I am here representing my company as we lead university advisors from all over the US on a week-long workshop and tour of our program in Cape Town. And yes, I have a pretty great job.
It was a little hard to remember that though, on the 15 hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg. Add to that the fact I had to leave at 4:30am to get to JFK, and transfer to a connecting flight in Cape Town, and my door-to-door travel time was over 24 hours. But, when I saw the view from our hotel, it suddenly seemed not so bad. I think travel (the actual “getting there” part) is like giving birth: if we truly remembered how miserable the experience was, we would probably never do it again. Luckily, the places I have traveled to have always more than made up for the agony of getting there, and I am sure this trip to Cape Town will prove to be the same.
The view from the guest house
Given my comatose state on the first day, and with our workshop starting first thing Monday, my only real time to explore on my own was today, and I took full advantage. First, I met up with a former student of mine from Cape Town, Amber, and we brunched in the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens.
It was lovely to catch up with her – one of the great joys of this profession is getting to meet young people during such a transformative experience in their lives, and then keep up with them later on to see what they’ve accomplished. In both China and now South Africa, I’ve so enjoyed meeting up with my students, and hope I am able to continue the trend in future travels.
Amber dropped me off closer to town on her way home, and gave me the skinny on the current political situation in South Africa. Apparently the current president, Zuma, is a thoroughly bad guy and embroiled in scandal, but cannot be persecuted while he is the president. Meanwhile, there have been massive protests this year in the university system, and there is still general unrest surrounding South Africa’s own Black Lives Matter movement, and the inequality that remains in the country. Apparently there was a recent controversy on social media, when some young black diners did not leave their white waitress a tip, and instead wrote “We will give tip when you return the land.” The waitress burst into tears and told her manager, and the manager tried to reason with the diners. The story made its way to Facebook when one of the diners was bragging on it, and then blew up from there. Much of the internet rallied around the waitress, and a crowd0funding campaign was set up to raise money for her “tip.” Almost $10,000 was raised. Then, in typical internet fashion, public opinion immediately reversed when the waitress in question used the money to – you guessed it – buy land.
And on that ironic note, Amber droped me off at my destination for the afternoon – Bo-Kaap (pronounced “Bwa-Cap”). Even before official Apartheid, ethnic segregation was de reigeur in South Africa. Various ethnic groups were segregated into specific neighborhoods, and it just so happens that people of Indonesian (and Muslim) descent – called Cape Malays – ended up in the neighborhood of Bo-Kaap. The Group Areas Act of 1950 made it official – this neighborhood was designated for all the Cape Muslims.
That’s not why it’s famous though – it’s famous for all these brighly colored houses you see here, and that happened not by law or decree but by chance. A doctor whose practice was in the area was forever having patients get lost trying to find his office, so he sent his wife to the paint store to buy a color that would be noticeable. They were having a sale on purple paint, and so his office building ended up becoming purple. His neighor liked the effect so much we went out and bought some lime green paint, and so on.
The neighborhood remains entirely residential with a few restaurants, but has seen a renaissance in recent years due to increased tourist interest. I got all this info thanks to a free walking tour that I stumbled upon. I had actually been looking for the tour, but found it in a totally different place than I had intended, so it was kismet.
My tour group
At the tour’s end I took a cab back to the guest house, which is near the University of Cape Town in Rondebosch. I settled in at a local cafe frequented by students – no doubt thanks to the cheap prices and free wifi – and started editing photos. This evening I’ll meet up with my colleagues for dinner, and then we are off and running for the rest of the week. I’ll write when I can, which is likely to be not very often, as our schedule is JAM PACKED!
Until next time!