Tag

cape town

Adventure, Europe, Nomadism

The Strangeness

 

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Sorry, Robert Stevenson, on two counts. First, I still haven’t actually read any of your books, but I swear they’re on my list. Second, I’m going to have to disagree with you on that lovely and popular quote of yours.

Because I’m starting to think that there are only foreign lands. That nothing is, after all, familiar or domestic. That when we spend a portion of time “abroad,” away from what was once home or something like it, we realize that “home” is just as strange, just as illogical, just as arbitrary as all the rest.

***

The sun is out in uncharacteristic force, and as I walk down the street in Chelsea, London, it reflects back at me with a grin off a row of tall, identical apartment buildings.

The walls are spotlessly white. The streets are free of garbage. The public transit runs seamlessly.

I have just arrived this morning from Cape Town, South Africa. And as I am coming to expect when I jump continents, I’m slightly bewildered by everything… The old lady in a mauve pantsuit and Ugg boots pushing her walker with one hand and holding her mauve hat with the other. The young men wearing shorts and T-shirts (whereas I have just pulled my down coat out of storage). The utter politeness of traffic on Kings Road.

Politics and economics, on the other hand, run parallel. Xenophobia and poor economic choices rule the day, here as much as elsewhere.

I digress. It is the strangeness that lingers with me today, and which I would attempt to describe. The slight eeriness of one of the places I consider a home base. A flutter in my stomach as I amble along the too-neat lanes and study the too-same rows of pretty buildings.

London.

London, where I stay for free. London, where I have friends, a climbing gym membership, and a regular cafe, supermarket, and aerial dance studio.

London, where I don’t need a map.

London, where I keep coming back, although I can never quite decide if I even like the place.

As I do in Cape Town, I have a community here. And so I return again and again, such that it has become familiar, evan banal, to visit.

Except, not this time. This time, it is the sense of strangeness, not of homecoming, that strikes me first. The roads too straight, the people too well dressed, the pavement too clean, the attitude of the entire city just a bit too…deferential.

As spring unfurls in the flowering magnolia trees and the underdressed pedestrians, London opens her arms to me, and I hardly recognize her.

This, too, is a foreign land.

And if this is foreign, then nowhere—nowhere is anything but.

Why talk about this strangeness? This foreignness of the formerly familiar?

“This is our tragedy….our fictions are killing us, but if we didn’t have those fictions, maybe that would kill us too.” ― Salman Rushdie

It’s critical to acknowledge the inescapable quality of strangeness in a world brimming with fearful people seeking security in the familiar. People who genuinely believe there is a “right” way to build a city, be in a city, be a city.

There is no right way.

There is no “standard” from which all other lands digress in various degrees of foreignness. Such a standard is fiction, and it divides us.

Perhaps the truer statement is this:

All lands are foreign, and it is us, only us, who are the same—everywhere.

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teaching, facilitating
Africa, Culture

How I’m Overcoming the Tension of Teaching Storytelling in Africa

In my first workshop meeting, I share a TED Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and she discusses how throughout history those in power—especially colonialists—have dispossessed others by choosing how to tell their stories.

I am a young, white, American woman facilitating a workshop in Cape Town, South Africa sponsored (I think) by the U.S. embassy.

The title of this workshop? Storytelling for Social Justice.

As my “students” introduce themselves at our first of five meetings, they speak with courageous vulnerability about identity, hope, passion, and overcoming adversities I can scarcely imagine—genocide, violence, disease, loss.

They are mostly African, mostly POC, and mostly ten years older than me.

Sitting at the table with these eight extraordinary individuals in a bland classroom in the “American Corner” of the Central Library, I facilitate a discussion about “finding our authentic voice.”

Am I following in the well-worn tracks of those colonialists and neo-colonialists who sought to dictate how the stories of the African continent should be told?

Am I, too, somehow disempowering my students by seeking to facilitate their storytelling? Is “facilitate” just a nice word for “control”?

Damn, I sure hope not.

But I also hope that my race, age, and nationality do not disqualify me from sharing what I know with this exceptional group of human beings. They have honored me with their trust, their time, and their attention—and I feel humbled and motivated in equal measure. I want to support them in telling their stories, and I want to do it in the right way. So, as I do, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what the “right way” would be.

I’ve never quite faced a situation like this before. I’ve taught dance and yoga, but writing is another level. When we talk about telling stories—our stories—we step into sensitive territory.

For too long academia has arrogantly claimed ownership of the world’s stories. For too long,  media and politics have propagated incomplete stories, visiting a kind of violence on their subjects by flattening them into one dimension. For too long, those who possess privilege and power have thought to police the self-expression—the stories—of those who have less.

And on and on and on…yes, storytelling is sensitive territory.

But, I’m still facilitating the workshop. This is how I’m moving past these stumbling blocks:

1. I choose the word “facilitate” over “teach.”

I would not presume to teach a group of people older, wiser, and more seasoned than me. I prefer to understand my role as that of facilitator, enabling my workshop participants to learn from one another and from my experience. (I also expect to learn just as much from them as they do from me!)

2. To that end, I focus on the knowledge I do have to share, which may be of value.

Introducing this workshop, I told my group that I came to them primarily as an editor who has worked on thousands of articles and several full-length books. I also come to them as a writer who has published for years on many online platforms. I believe the knowledge I have gathered from that work could benefit anyone wishing to improve their writing skills.

3. I accept the tension.

I think there is an inherent tension to my position. There are layers of nuance whenever a person steps into a teaching role, travels in foreign countries, or enters any cultural context other than their own—and I’m doing all three. That’s okay. I hope that by keeping those nuances in mind I will manage to avoid any particularly inappropriate gaffes.

 

***

 

Photo Credit: Zen Monkey Photography

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dance
Africa, Culture, Poetry & Fiction

When the World is in Chaos: Dance

“Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougotta dance. Don’teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop, wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, you’restuck. Sodon’tpayanymind, nomatterhowdumb. Yougottakeepthestep. Yougottalimberup. Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown. Yougottauseallyougot. Weknowyou’re tired, tiredandscared. Happenstoeveryone, okay? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop.” ― Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

7:00 p.m. Table Mountain summit, Cape Town, South Africa. 

The sun is setting, and we are dancing.

Two hundred participants, most dressed in white, headphones on—we are praising the earth, this mountain, the clouds streaming across the rocks and bathing the world in dreamlike mist.

It’s my first time at a “Secret Sunrise” (or, in this case, Secret Sunset) event.

I’ve taken the hard way up, along with one friend and two strangers picked up along the way, and my endorphins are already surging after a two-and-a-half-hour hike.

But the world is in chaos.

I can’t glance at Facebook, work a shift at elephant journal, or even have a casual conversation without this truth becoming painfully apparent.

I, like many, feel compelled to do something say something change something—but, paralyzed by the overwhelming madness of it, I do little, say little, change little. And yet, and yet, and yet—every day I work to promote mindfulness. Every day I write to nurture cross-cultural understanding. Soon, I will return to school to study the art of peacebuilding.

And yet, and yet, and yet—more importantly, in my humble opinion—every day I seek joy.

The world is full of fear. So I fight my own demons. The world is full of chaos, and so I strive for inner balance. The world is full of uncertainty, so I dance with it.*

And here we are. Dancing.

Piano keys draw clouds through the sky. Eighties rock compels bodies—eight years old to eighty-eight—to move to the same beat. House music lifts feet up, gravity-defying, and down, solid and real.

Each of us in our own headphone-cordoned world, we dance. Alone and together. And hell, if that’s not an apt metaphor, I don’t know what is.

Alone and wrapped up in our own worlds, we are all nonetheless connected to one another by the same melodies in our ears, the same rhythm in our blood, the same music in our bones. We are all dancing, whether we realize it or not, on the same sacred ground.

So, is this an odd time to be turning to joy, music, community?

I don’t think so. In fact, I’d say that moments of chaos, uncertainty, fear are very much the right time to dance. To connect, however we do that. To create. To keep pushing for meaning.

Because if we lose that now, then we’ve lost.

So dance—not in spite of the chaos, but for it, with it, and through it.

Dance—”as long as the music plays.”

Dance—and don’t stop, because the world, chaos and all, is still spinning.

*This is a poetic response to turmoil; none of it is meant to underplay the value of activism in our current global climate. Act. Protest. Make change, by all means. But don’t forget the value of personal growth. I genuinely believe in “the power that living a good life can have,” as a friend once put it. Ideally, do both!

 

Photo Credit: Juliette Bisset Photography

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Africa, Culture, Travel Advice

White Spaces: Combatting Racism with Subtle Awareness

Here’s a totally irrelevant picture of penguins to lighten the mood…

Late December, Sea Point, Cape Town

The walls and tables are painted a matte black, with the name of the cafe written in white. The decor is rustic-chic—a style I’m beginning to identify as a hallmark of upper-middle class Capetonian hipster culture. Bonobo plays on the stereo.

When I look around, I’m not surprised to see that all of the customers here are white. The servers (just as predictably) are black, but let’s leave that aside for now.

While the prevalence of these “white spaces” no longer surprises me here (or anywhere, for that matter), I still find them troubling: the climbing gym, music venues, bars, cafes…

A conversation with my new housemates this morning brought this subject to the front of my mind, though I’ve repeatedly followed this line of thinking during my time in Cape Town—both this year and last. And I think it’s pretty relevant to any society (not just South African) that is both highly stratified and intricately diverse.

Disclaimer: This is one tiny, ~800-word slice of a massively complex issue. I am not offering any solutions. If I make you stop, think, examine, I will be more than satisfied.

So.

The reason for which these white spaces exist are plentiful and fairly obvious. A massive wealth gap divided along racial lines, cultural differences in taste and recreation—the list goes on. Rather than discuss why we have them, however, I’d like to focus on how (or even if) we can confront this phenomenon.

To be precise, I would like to share how I confront it, in the hopes that it may help someone else. Note that I’m sharing from my position as a white woman experiencing “white spaces”—I’d be curious how the response changes (or doesn’t) when the deck shifts.

Situation One:

You walk into a funky little cafe, bar, concert, fill-in-the-blank, and the homogeneity of the whitewashed crowd immediately strikes you, given that you’re in a country whose population is less than 10% white.

Here’s what you don’t do: You don’t turn around and walk out, because you actually dig this band, the coffee’s awesome, or you’re getting super hungry. You don’t harangue your fellow customers with your guilt-laden complaints about the bitter vestiges of apartheid ruining your cappuccino, because that’s pointless. And you don’t call up your non-white friend to see if they want to hang out—immediately—because, well, I think it’s obvious.

Here’s what I actually do; it’s something I’d call subtle awareness, and I believe it to be meaningful:

> First, I acknowledge that I have indeed entered a glaringly white space. I’m not going to ignore it or deny it. The first step to addressing any issue is being aware of it.

> Second, I examine my motives for being here. Am I drawn to this cafe because it is comfortably, familiarly, safely white? Or have my 25 years of cultural conditioning simply predisposed me to seek out cafes, bars and activities that equally appeal to others of my socioeconomic and cultural background? It’s probably the latter, but it’s always good to check in—honestly—with myself.

> Lastly, I enjoy my goddamn cappuccino and write this blog while I’m at it, because at this particular moment, what else am I going to do?

Situation Two:

You start to notice a pattern. You seem to be consistently ending up in these homogenous spaces, and you’re worried that it’s not helping you become a more aware, cross-culturally fluent or educated individual.

Here’s what you don’t do: Dig in your heels and maintain your status quo, all the while patting yourself on the back for being more enlightened than “those” people at the table next to you. You don’t immediately dump all your friends and hobbies and look for better ones, either, because that’s silly.

Here’s what I’ve done in the past:

> If I think I’m ending up in these spaces because my neighborhoods of choice are problematically homogenous, I may choose to spend time in other, more integrated areas.

> If I notice that one of my activities (like salsa dance) or one of my favorite bars appears to be more inclusive, I may give that preferential treatment when deciding how to use my time.

> If I observe one of my regular cafes promoting exchange and openness of any kind, I will offer it my patronage more frequently.

I don’t know that any of these actions are solutions, really, but I believe they are steps we can take as individuals to ensure that—at the very least—we are not unconsciously supporting subtle segregation in our cities.

And, I’m not saying there’s not a time and a place for homogenous spaces. Religious, ethnic and other identity groups have every right, and valid need, to assemble as such; however, when we never step beyond our insular spaces, everyone loses.
Don’t you want to meet and learn from as many (and as many kinds of) people as possible? I certainly do.

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coffee, slow food
Africa, Culture, Food, U.S.

Coffee Culture, Slow Food, and Why Cape Town Has Both

cape town coffee culture slow food

A side alley off Buitenkant Street, Gardens, City Center, Cape Town

The first sip is bitter, sour, almost acrid, before my palette adjusts and the taste mellows into a more complex configuration of nutty, earthy, sweet and rich.

This is good coffee.

I’m sitting at my favorite Cape Town cafe, Deluxe Coffee (also called YARD, the Dog’s Bollocks and the Bitch’s Tits), where motorcycle parts, vintage bicycles and canvas sacks of wholesale coffee beans make for original decor.

I’ve occupied this stool at the counter for well over an hour now, and nobody cares. Par for the course.

Cape Town has an exceptional coffee culture. (The reason I’ve consumed more coffee in the past three months than probably the last three years prior—well, that, and the fact that a cappuccino costs a bit more than a dollar.)

What is “coffee culture”?

Well, to answer in negatives, the U.S. does not have a coffee culture—or a cafe culture, to be more precise. A coffee culture does not “run” on coffee (like Americans run on Dunkins), but rather stops. Sits. Stays. Connects.

And when you stop to taste your “cup of joe,” quality matters. Deluxe Coffee may be my favorite spot, but easily half a dozen others tie for second. There is a lot of good coffee in this city.

To-go cups are more rare, too, and at least among my friends, “going for coffee” is an hour(s)-long undertaking—not a five-minute quick fix.

Cape Town generally moves more slowly. Less rush, less stress, none of the high-powered, shiny, corporate velocity of New York, London or Hong Kong. None of the humorless, chain-brand cafes, either.

Starbucks hasn’t made it to Cape Town, yet, but I hear it’s coming. When it gets here, I hope Cape Townians will put it out of business.

In a cafe culture, independent roasters, brewers and purveyors of coffee thrive. Character and personality matter—or maybe that’s just me.

And I think there’s a common denominator between coffee cultures and Slow Food. Shared values. An appreciation of quality, and a willingness to wait for it.

Many of the cafes where I go to do work have some of the worst service I have seen anywhere in the world. Friendly, but extraordinarily slow.

But, good food. Good coffee.

See the connection? I do.

I am more than a little bit enamored of the Slow Food movement—and of Cape Town’s coffee culture.

I like the pace, the time for detail, the space for real connection. This is what a cafe should be, in my opinion.

This is how coffee should taste. This is how life should move.

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Africa

Playing Tourist—Because, Penguins

More tourist-ing on the way to the Garden Route.

Sometimes, it’s fun to play tourist in your own town—or, you know, any town.

Funny, coming from me, the anti-tourist. I know.

And sure, I believe the following to be true:

1) There are no “have to’s” in travel. (No must-see’s, no can’t misses. Things are only as meaningful as the value we ascribe to them.) 

2) Tourist traps are just that—traps. (You want me to pay how much to play with a tiger? Which, by the way, I’m pretty sure has been drugged.)

3) There’s nothing better than simply being wherever we are. (Sitting at my “local” cafe all day reading? Check. Wandering aimlessly through a new city? All the time.)

Still, once in a while, the tourist things call.

Because, well, penguins.

Need I say more?

Tuesday before last found me and a friend driving south out of Cape Town, bound for Boulders Beach and Simon’s Town.

Boulders Beach, if you didn’t know, is home to the largest colony of African penguins in town. They come for the slightly-warmer-than-icy water, and stay for the spectacular turquoise water and blinding white beaches.

Oh wait, that’s us. The penguins just come for the warm water. Thousands of them.

Flop.

And yup, they are adorable.

So there we were, one local and one wannabe-local standing on the viewing platforms along with dozens of other camera’d, sunblock’d and visor’d observers, utterly entertained.

Funny, because the penguins seem committed to accomplishing as little as possible during their stay at Boulders Beach (the ultimate beachgoers). I watched one duo (African penguins mate for life) for a solid ten minutes, and neither moved a muscle.

“Do you wanna do something else?” “No.” “Good, me neither.”

They are also brilliant waddlers and unrivaled loafers.

Afterward, we ate fish and chips, wandered through beachside shops oddly reminiscent of New England charm, and reviewed our pictures.

These are our happy penguin faces.

Sometimes, it’s fun to play tourist.

You get to see penguins, climb spectacular mountains or window shop on streets overflowing with “custom designed African culture.”

Shop on Long Street—my favorite street for tourist-ing.

Fun. Nothing more, maybe, but nothing less, either.

Many penguin acquaintances were indeed made.

***
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Africa, Culture

Cape Town Snapshots

Street art near Assembly, Cape Town.

Are these snapshots I share so often an exercise in lassitude or creativity?

I’ll admit I write them when I can’t think of a full article I want to lay out. At the same time, I think they might capture more of life in fewer words than any other format. I hope they serve to inspire your imaginations and whet your appetite to form your own snapshot memories of these places.

Cape Town Snapshots:

***

Two long-legged, long-necked birds cross the road near the Civic Center. One, then the other. Each looks both ways, takes a few steps, stops, looks, and steps again. Traffic flows around them. Their mother must have taught them about looking both ways.

***

The wet sand along Long Beach, Kommetjie reflects the mountains in the early morning light. My friend’s golden retriever, a streak of ocher against shads of blue, plays in the surf.

***

Saucer-eyed children materialize around the outdoor table off Long Street where my friend and I have just begun to eat our vegan lasagna and salad. Plant, the restaurant is called. The danger of sitting outside to eat in Cape Town: the reality of the city is on the same side of the window as you.

***

The white-haired sales clerk at the Simon’s Town boutique is more interested in conversation than sales. “Nobody really needs any of this,” she confesses, “but sometimes you just have to buy something nice for yourself!” She laughs. When she hears my friend speaking in Afrikaans on the phone she says excitedly in her high, soft voice, “You have an Afrikaans friend! She’ll be your friend for life.” We all smile.

***

Heaps of fresh fruit in every supermarket. Most (or all) of it grown here. Mangos, avocados and pomegranates, oranges, peaches and nectarines, papaya, apples, plums and grapes. I am spoiled for choice, wish I could buy some of everything, but know I couldn’t possibly eat it all fast enough. Choose just one or two each time I buy my groceries.

***
We teach the students, all in their last years of high school, how to copy and paste, type in urls on a browser and do basic formatting in Word. I am helping my friend with the class he volunteer teaches on Monday afternoons in Masiphumelele, a township near Kommetjie. I never thought I had any computer skills to speak of—I realize I was wrong.
***

The train to the coastal area south of Cape Town emits a banshee screech each time it heaves to a stop. Pick a compartment with lots of people, and don’t carry valuables, I was advised. The train is full of everyday commuters and seems mundane and secure, but I’ve heard the stories and I know looks can be deceiving.

***

A cross between a motorcycle bar and a hipster cafe (my friend’s words, not mine) of my favorite cafes in Cape Town serves the best coffee and a morning’s worth of decorations to occupy the unhurried observer. No mirrors. In the bathroom, only a bare, framed cement square with black painted letters spelling, “You Are Fucking Amazing.”

***
Thick fog rolls down over Table Mountain as the sun drops and the air chills. The “tablecloth,” this misty white blanket is called. It covers and reveals, slowly, silently. The city hides and reveals, slowly, silently. Every day a new facet. Every day a new mystery.

View of False Bay from the southbound train.
[Penguins and beaches—lots of pictures on the way, just as soon as I get them onto my computer!]
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Africa

One Reason I Am in Love with Cape Town

South Africa—Cape Town included—is a complicated place. 

It is complex, fraught with tension and not particularly safe. It is fascinating, for this half-anthropologist, half-writer (and 100% curious human being), and it is sad. Cape Town, specifically, is diverse, vibrant, disjointed, anachronistic, cosmopolitan, wild, chilled, cohesive and embattled, all at once.
It is the kind of city you fall in love with.
But you could take all that away, and I would still love Cape Town for the simple fact that this natural beauty
is everywhere.

Mountains. Lakes. Oceans. Rivers.
Sparkling cobalt water,
An ecosystem like nowhere else in the world, and more hikes than I could possibly cover in 3 months of weekends,
All literally within the city.
No adjectives could do these mountains justice, but they are enough to steal your heart.
***

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Minibus Freedom: On Risk and Reward

Stand-Up Paddleboarding (well, kneel-up paddleboarding) in Smitswinkel Bay.

“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t…”
The sun beats down on my left arm, and the wind blows strong from the sea. I watch waves break and sparkle offshore as my minibus taxi races down the coastal road from Hout Bay to Cape Town.
The views are magnificent. Breathtaking. Spectacular.
Although, my fellow passengers seem desensitized to the sight, for which we pay 12 rand ($0.75) each.
South African music blasts from the speakers, a mix of African polyrhythmic beats, electronic pulse and gospel-like vocals. The driver skips tracks on the mix CD—yup, mix CD—as he holds a cell phone in the other hand, seemingly impervious to the perils of this endeavor.
These minibus taxis—cheaper and faster than a regular bus, and far cheaper than a cab—evoke a sense of freedom that their more staid (and safer) counterparts do not. Diverse rhythms, accents and languages swirling in my ear, unfettered ocean wind in my hair, shimmer of merciless heat in the air, my senses tingle, come alive to welcome the spectrum of experience on offer.
It is more than physical freedom, though that is part of it. (By now I know the fastest, car-less route to just about anywhere I want to go in Cape Town.) It is more than the speed and ease of movement, more than the volume of wind and music, and more than the independence of needing to rely on no one to go wherever I please.
No, if I am honest with myself—and you—there is another kind of freedom epitomized by these minibus journeys, which eclipses all the others.
It is the freedom of choosing my own risks.

Cape Town has huge populations of great white sharks in its waters, but that doesn’t
stop dozens of surfers, paddleboarders and swimmers from getting out there every day.
I’m not talking about risk-seeking behavior here. Rather, I believe most of us take most of our risks unconsciously. We drive our cars, smoke our cigarettes, drink our six packs of beer, eat our pesticide-laden food—that is, dance with our proverbial devils—all the while pretending, or perhaps believing, that our existence is safe. Secure. Unthreatened.
I have written about this before, but maybe never so explicitly.
I believe it is because we tend to ignore risk (or rather, complacently engage in it) where it is an accepted norm, that consciously, actively choosing our risks can inspire such a deep sense of freedom.
People ask me, how can you hitchhike, take the minibus taxis, travel alone, go out alone, [fill-in-the-blank] as a woman, a foreigner, a young person, a small person? Aren’t you scared?
Aren’t you scared when you cross the street, go to the mall, eat your food, send your children anywhere alone, smoke your cigarette, drive your car? How can you be a human being in this world—frail, feeble, mortal, vulnerable—day after day after day?
That is, essentially, the question you are asking me.
Better the devil we know. Better the risk we acknowledge.
There is risk everywhere. We are never safe. We are weak, mortal, vulnerable to the vagaries of the world every day of our lives.
Yet, we cross the street. We live anyway.
I know the risks I take, and I choose them willingly, because the benefits (ah, the benefits, story for another time) far outweight them.
The other side of the street; the end of the dance; the other side of risk?
It’s worth it.
On one level, my choices bring me joy, full-bodied experience, and inspiration

But if you wanted to get philosophical about it, each time I choose my own risks, I also acknowledge and make peace with my own mortality—and that is a powerful freedom, indeed.

Smitswinkel Bay.

***


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Africa, Culture

High Security

The view from my patio, Hout Bay, Cape Town.

Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa
“You need to watch that the gate closes to make sure no intruders get in,” says my neighbor.
To enter the compound where I live, I click the green button on the remote attached to my set of keys, then press it again to close the gate behind me. To enter the cottage where I’m living, I must unlock a metal grate outer door, then the regular house door. I live in one of the calmest areas of Cape Town—it is like this everywhere (but this is nothing, so I’m told, compared to Joburg).
From my back patio (which includes a garden and pool), you can just make out the township that lies a couple kilometers away.
The bus I took from the City to Hout Bay a few days ago drove through the township, and the corrugated iron building materials, open front barbershops and markets, cows, snaking roads and general vibrancy marked a stark contrast with the carefully gated houses on my street.
The juxtaposition is not lost on me.
I have been in Cape Town for seven days now, and it seems necessary to get this out of the way before I begin to write anything else about my life here.
The high security is the first thing I noticed when I arrived (truly unlike anywhere I have ever traveled), and all that it implicitly reveals about this place underlies everything else—or such is my impression. I could hardly boast any depth of understanding of these complex social, political and racial tensions, so for now, suffice it for me to say that they are there, and to share these few observations and facts:
  • The current unemployment rate in South Africa is between 25 and 45%, depending on whom you ask.
  • When I walk the three kilometers from my house to the supermarket, I am typically the only white person on foot.
  • When I take the minibuses (similar to matatus in Kenya), I am the only white person on the bus, too.
  • There is a massive wealth gap.

  • Racial tension is very real, and politically fueled.
  • Theft, break-ins and other crimes are extremely common (the high security isn’t just paranoia).
  • Apartheid ended in 1994; that’s nearly 22 years ago. (Although, coming from the U.S., I’d call that quick progress!)
  • When I asked my Uber driver about the social climate in Cape Town, he continued to call me “ma’am” as he proceeded to heatedly discuss the circumstances that he and his community and family face. (“Ma’am, I was black enough to fight in the riots against apartheid, but I was not black enough to get a job in the new government after the elections.” “Ma’am, the people in my community, when they vote now, they don’t see boxes; they see color.”)
Right, so what does it all mean?

That is probably something I will spend the next few months investigating in depth. However, I feel it is necessary to offer these initial comments and observations as prelude to future posts on Cape Town—whether it seems relevant to those topics or not, everything is always connected.

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