Landing in South Africa, we were shuttled off to Muizenberg, a beach-side suburb of Cape Town to enjoy a few days on the beach, along the waterfront, and in the mountains just behind our hostel. Our South Africa country coordinator and a guest lecturer provided brief histories on the country, including remarks on the division created by the apartheid government that still leaves traces today.
After this quick transition, we headed to the township of Zwelethemba (meaning “place of hope” in Xhosa), one of the many examples of apartheid’s relegation of black South Africans to rural areas. We lived in homestays here for ten days and used the Zwelethemba library for our classroom. Though sparse in its physical landscape, the town has a rich history, one that we explored on a tour with residents of Zwelethemba as guides. We visited a nearby tuberculosis hospital and toured the facility to learn about the community’s TB burden as well as accessible treatment. The country staff organized panels for us to further engage with the community. These included the young men’s panel, young mothers’ panel, HIV/AIDS panel, and homestay panel. During these interactions, we gained a greater sense of the social, political, and economic struggles within the town but also recognized its capacity for resilience and strength. True to its name, Zwelethemba truly is a place of hope for many of its residents.
In terms of free time, there was not much to do in such a small town, but it is for this reason that it provided a time for decompression and rejuvenation. Many of us found ourselves playing with kids in the neighborhood after class in the streets near our homestays. Traditional dance classes were organized for us at the local rec center, during which we were consistently shown up by the kids who practiced there. The end of our stay in Zwelethemba culminated in a farewell braai, a popular social activity in South Africa involving the grilling of meat, with all the host families. The young dancers preformed a few dances followed by our attempt to show what we had learned in our classes. The host families definitely got a kick out of us.
The next morning, we said goodbye to the community who had welcomed us so warmly and returned to our hostel in Muizenberg.
Bismillah (translating to “in the name of God”)! A word of thanks that we became accustomed to during our stay. We were greeted in the Bo Kaap with iconic colorful houses and smiling hosts. The name “Bo Kaap” means “Upper Cape” in relation to the towns inclined placement, overlooking central city. Table Mountain sits in clear view with soft clouds draped over the peak. Historically, the community was mainly Malay and colored population. Post-Apartheid, this still remains mostly true, although the community has experienced rapid gentrification in recent years. Many tourists now come to the area to take pictures or even to rent an apartment for vacation. Each family has varying dynamics and amounts of family members, all very welcoming. There is a very strong sense of community between our host families – word travels fast through what’s App and friendly greetings on the street.
Most, if not all of the families are of Muslim faith in Bo Kaap. This means that we follow a halal diet, which has been very easy considering the delicious, homemade Malay food including roti, curries, and lots of tasty spices. There is a mosque in Bo Kaap that some of our homestay families attend, while others go to ones a bit further. In the Muslim faith, there are five prayer times throughout the day. Early morning, singing can be heard to represent the first prayer at 5 am.
There are corner shops on many of the house blocks where we go for quick snacks, or to fill up on airtime for our travel phones. We are so close to main city that we walk to class every day, usually sent off by our homestay Moms who watch and wave from the balcony as we make our way down the hill. The Hilton Hotel rests on the corner right before entering the Bo Kaap area, which is a key meeting spot for adventures and free WiFi. Other fun highlights of Bo Kaap include the craft market that happens once a month where local food and crafts were displayed, the opening of a new community garden in the park, and parade practices with a marching band.
In Cape Town, we are surrounded by expansive mountains, the beautiful coastline, and city life. With living just moments from the heart of the city, we are privileged to be in such a location. Given the student protests occurring throughout the nation, it is such a historic moment to be in Cape Town. #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall have documented the social movements led by students at universities throughout South Africa. #RhodesMustFall and much of the attention in the following #FeesMustFall movement came out of the University of Cape Town (a 20-minute drive from Bo-Kaap). We were fortunate to watch #TheFall at the University of Cape Town, which is a theatre performance depicting the experiences of six students, all identifying as Black, in their fight towards bringing down the statue of Cecil Rhodes, which stood on their campus. For them, Rhodes was a symbol of colonialism and racism. #RhodesMustFall was a movement to address and combat colonialism and racism through decolonization and efforts towards anti-racism. #FeesMustFall addresses the movement to make higher education free for all. Protests, demonstrations, activism, advocacy, rubber bullets, tear gas, and heavy emotions are artifacts from these movements. As students, we have been involved in many of the conversations surrounding these protests, hearing the affirmations and criticisms through dinners at our homestays, in taxis, at Mr Price (a clothing store frequented by IHPers), and in guest lectures. It is impossible and would be both disingenuous and a disservice to ignore the reality of protests and similarities to the #BlackLivesMatter and decolonization that many have seen in our own hometowns and college campuses. Being a local here has given us a more informed and nuanced view of what we may have seen, read, or heard about prior to seeing the face of these movements in Cape Town live.
Our daily commute to class consists of a 20 to 35-minute walk to the Cape Town Central Public Library. We have a large meeting space reserved for our guest lectures and classes. Although we aren’t supposed to eat in the library, we have had seemingly endless Rooibos tea, black tea, coffee, carrots, and apples to snack on during our long days. Classes start at 8:30am with Person of the Day (POD) giving a debrief on what to expect for the day, in addition to a group activity. Typically, class runs until 4pm, and then we are free for the rest of the afternoon. Lunch time was an opportunity to try out different restaurants that were just in walking distance of the classroom. A very popular location was the Food Lovers’ Market, which offered various food options, including grill, sandwiches, smoothies, pizza, salads, breakfast foods, dried fruit, nuts, bakery, etc. The options allowed for many people to find exactly what they wanted. During the last week, we had half days, which were excellent ways to explore the city.
Hiking has been a very popular pastime for the group, with Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, and Lion’s Head being the three adventures that people have embarked on. Table Mountain has recently been added to one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world, definitely making it an attraction for many; although, it is quite the hike up, ranging from 4-6 hours. There are cable cars to go either up or down the mountain, though. Lion’s Head offered a rock-climbing style hike, with one route featuring chains and ladders for a different type of hiking experience. Members of the group have also gone to various beaches such as Clifton Beach and Camps Bay Beach.
In Muizenberg (where we stayed at Stoked Backpackers recovering from traveling from Delhi and giving us a rest from our rural stay in Zwelethemba, preparing for another homestay in Bo-Kaap) about 35 minutes from where we are staying in Bo-Kaap, we were a two-minute walk from the coast. Here, we are a bit further, about a 10-minute drive to the waterfront and 15-20ish minutes from the beaches. Going souvenir shopping at the various stalls near St. George’s Mall have also been an activity that many students have participated in. At these stalls, students can bargain, using some of the skills they may have used in India. Beaded animals, wooden jewelry, artwork, dashikis, and wooden carvings of animals are some of the common items one may find at a market stall. The Old Biscuit Mall, a quirky shop near Woodstock, about a 20-minute drive away, is a popular place that is open on Saturday mornings and the afternoon for shopping and delicious eats. As a result of Wifi being quite scarce, students have gone to numerous cafes in search of strong Wifi to register for classes, look for internships, check emails, watch TV shows and movies, and look on social media accounts. It has been stressful to go from coffee shop to coffee shop seeking good Wifi, especially in the midst of doing classwork and trying to accomplish things from abroad that are pertinent to our lives at home. Thankfully, we all give each other recommendations of places that are affordable, reliable, have good food, and are open at convenient times. Some popular locations have included: Bean There, Honest Café, RCaffe, Clarks, and Honeybadger.
Birthdays have been celebrated so much here, which has given us a wonderful opportunity to sing Happy Birthday numerous times and eat sweets seemingly more than I can count. We started off with Nicolina in Zwelethemba, followed by Davina, and Glenda, our country coordinator in Brazil. In Bo-Kaap we have had Emily, Domenique, and SJ’s birthdays. We’ve celebrated in class, during birthday brunches, in costume parties, and clubs in downtown Cape Town. Being able to come together through a sweet treat has definitely been appreciated.
As we move into vacation time, with 18 people doing the Garden Route, two groups staying in Cape Town, and people visiting with family, I know people are looking forward to having the time to relax, especially before going into our last leg of this wonderfully wild adventure. In closing, I’d like to share some of the vocabulary that we have either brushed up on or learned throughout our time here.
Some of the slang we’ve been hearing (and maybe even using) in Cape Town*
Spectacles, specs = glasses
Robot = traffic light
Chips = French Fries, but also potato chips
Biscuits = cookies
Shame = oh no, darn, that’s unfortunate (various meanings, expressing sympathy, care)
Is it? = Is that so? You don’t say? Hm?
Braai = a barbeque
Biltong = Dried meat, similar to beef jerky
Lekker = Afrikaans (one of South Africa’s 11 official languages) for nice, good
Till point, till = cash register, checkout
Airtime = phone credits
Serviette = napkin
Tomato sauce = ketchup
Take-away = carry out
*These are all written from one perspective, and I recognize that there very may well be some terminology that is colloquial for some may be new for others.