One of the things I love most about going to a new location is arriving completely lost and slowly uncovering the magic of the place, so that by the time I say goodbye I leave the area populated with little pockets of memories that make the once-foreign place unique to me.
I remember first landing in Cape Town, clueless on what to expect from the city – it was quite late at night and all I could see during the drive to where I would be staying was darkness, occasionally punctured by city lights or the faint shadow of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head against the moonlight. However, as much as I can recall of my first night in Cape Town, the first sight of the city in daylight will forever be etched into my mind. A combination of jetlag and a near all-nighter binging TV shows resulted in me not waking up until five in the afternoon, which just happened to be near-sunset time. I will never forget that moment when I first caught sight of the beach, washed pink from the sunset, just faintly visible through a haze that had settled in the area making everything seem like a dream. Cape Town is in such a unique geographic position, surrounded by mountains on one side and the the sea on the other, that every moment spent was an experience in and of itself, whether it be witnessing fog engulf Lion’s Head on a cloudy day, listening to the steady rhythm of the ocean as the waves crash against the rocks on the shore, or watching the city light up the mountain at night like twinkling fireflies.
Nevertheless, despite all the beauty and grandeur of Cape Town’s surroundings, it’s the little things that make this city personal to me. It’s in the collision of food cultures, providing me with my amazing Nando’s Mozambican-portuguese chicken as I make my way through web dev homework; it’s in the fact that the buildings are painted with bright colors and that the palm trees here look like giant pineapples; it’s in the friendliness of the locals and the way they say “cheers” as goodbye. It is things like these that give the city its flavor and make Cape Town the wonderful place that it is.
However, it is also the little things I have witnessed here that have caused me to reexamine my immense privilege. During my time here, I have caught but a glimpse into the huge dichotomy of lifestyles that exist here, but it is a humbling reminder of how fortunate I am to be able to live the life I do. One image that will always stand out to me is the stark contrast that I observed, while on Long Street with some friends, between visitors to the area and the resident beggars. It was painful to witness the fact that on the same street as us, well-off college students from the United States looking to have some fun, were others who were unsure when they would get their next meal, so desperate for money that they were willing to not only beg, but to let go of their pride, follow us and grovel for a couple rand. It was an incredible culture shock and made me realize just how much of a bubble I was living in, not only back in the States but here as well – I was only exposed to the very gentrified parts of Cape Town, but, underneath its gleaming exterior, the racial and wealth divide in the city is still very real. As cliché as it may sounds, I have learned just as much from being out and about in the city as in the iXperience classrooms – there are things in life that being in a classroom can't teach and as much as I was aware of the inequality in the world coming to Cape Town, no words can describe what it felt like to actually witness this firsthand and be unable to stop it nor ease the lives of those suffering. How can one look into the eyes of a mother taking care of her sick child on the street and not be moved to do something to fix the problem?
I will not be the idealistic tourist and claim that I will leave this place with a completely new perspective and believing that I can change the entire world, but I truly do mean it when I say that being here has changed me as a person and that it has lit a fire inside of me to use the privilege I have been blessed with to try and make the world a better place, even if for just one person.