“South Africa is a country that is developed and developing.”
This is something that my IES adviser, said during my first few days in Cape Town during my orientation – a time in which myself and other students learned more about Cape Town and South Africa.
On the first day of orientation we explored Sea Point in Cape Town. This is the area of the city that is butting up to Atlantic Ocean and surrounded with breathtaking mountains, thus painting a picture of beauty and awe.
It is also the “tourist” place of Cape Town. This is the location where billion dollar houses a built on the mountain overlooking the beautiful city. This is the place where Bill Clinton has his summer home. This is the place that all vacationer’s dream of getting to go – lined with palm trees, the ocean and mountains right beside them, and a vibrant and exciting city life.
I got to end this day with the best sunset I had ever seen on top of a mountain with other mountains surrounding me, the city below me, and the sun sinking into the ocean. This got to be my first real impression of Cape Town and my study abroad experience, and I already felt like I was falling in love with this new place I call home.
The next day of orientation had a very different feel to it. We went on a township tour of a place called Langa. Langa, and many other townships, are areas that reflect the poverty of South Africa. It was in Langa that I saw families living in shacks on less than a dollar a day. It was in Langa that I saw a room that was smaller than my room back home, yet housed 3 families. It was in Langa that I saw poverty like I never had before.
Yet it was in Langa that I saw such beauty and joy. It was in Langa that I saw an piece of Afrcian culture mixed with the Christian faith – the practice of circumcision of boys at 16 in order to become men while at the same time seeing the praise and worship of Jesus Christ. It was in Langa that I saw art in the spaces they had. It was in Langa that I saw new beauties of culture that I hadn’t seen before.
My favorite part of Langa was a place where we had dinner called Mzansi Restaurant – a space that doubled as a restaurant and the home of a Langan family. It was here that we got to dance, sing, play music with, and hug some locals. It was a great cultural experience.
We also got to hear the story of Mama, the owner of the restaurant. She told of us how the space use to be half the size and how it was a special restaurant because they are only open for pre-scheduled guests. Due to that, the restaurant really had a very tough beginning to the point where the family could no longer support themselves. Yet, some students that once went to the restaurant offered to help and put Mzansi on “Trip Advisor” and it climbed to the number 1 for restaurants to go to while in Cape Town. Fast forwarding to the present, Mama and her family still struggle financially, but can sustain themselves. Not only that, they help those in the community by providing jobs for the musicians and tour leaders. During her story, Mama said something that brought tears to my eyes, “I am a millionaire, not because I have money to make me rich, but because I am rich in heart. I love what I am doing and have a family that I get to do it with.”
“South Africa is developed and developing.” This is something that has been eye opening to me and makes me want to make a difference. I know I do not have the answers of what needs to be done in order for that difference to be made, but I know I can help through empowering those in these communities just as mama and the Mzansi restaurant experienced. That is what I hope to have the chance to do through different opportunities that I am aligning myself with over the course of the semester.
The first day in Cape Town was making me fall in love with this place and the second day only increased those feelings, yet for a much different reason. South Africa is developed and developing and South Africa is continuously capturing my heart.