Culture Shock

2 Oct

Leaving Mfuwe and all of its African-ness and arriving in Cape Town South Africa 10 hours later was a mind blower on so many levels.  We’d gone from the bush to the city, from the past to the present, from cold water to hot water, from rocky roads to smooth pavement.  

The nearest major metropolitan city to Cape Town is Rio De Janiero, 4,000 miles away.  Cape Town is 6,000 miles from London, 7,000 miles from Sydney, Australia and 8,000 miles from New York. Image Cape Town is far, far away.  It seems almost impossible that it is here at all.  But Cape Town didn’t just happen, in fact it literally grew from a refreshment stand set up by the Dutch in the 1500’s to service the merchant vessels running between Europe and the Far East.  Everyone had to pass by the tip of Africa so it was a pretty good place for a rest stop on that highway.

Today Cape Town is a study in contrasts.  It is a city searching for its identity.  Post apartheid Cape Town is at once fun and full of pride, and wondering if it will survive at all.  Let’s start with the fun.

Cape Town is set between the sea and the mountains.  It is a breathtakingly beautiful location with the centerpiece of Table Mountain rising over 3500 feet from the center of the city.  ImageTable Mountain looks like someone took a chainsaw to a mountain to create a perfectly flat top, like a tabletop.  One can hike it, climb it or, as we did, funicular it.  ImageFrom the top the views (and the wind) and extraordinary.  From the top of Table Mountain you can see the craggy, rocky coastline punctuated by magnificent white sandy beaches that make of this area known as the Western Cape. ImageImageImage In fact, within 45 minutes drive from the City Centre, one can climb, surf, swim, cycle, see penguins, speak over a dozen languages, eat fresh fish or wild game, ride a ferris wheel, and drink some of the world’s finest wines right where they are made.ImageImage

Our first cultural stop was the Jewish museum, right in the middle of town.  It tells the story of jewish immigration into South Africa which, at its height in 1936, numbered over 135,000.   Adjacent to the Jewish museum is Cape Town’s tribute to the Holocaust.  Cape Town’s twist on the tragedy is to link it gently with Apartheid, the now banned government policy of apart-ness between blacks and whites.  As it is written in the museum, separation doesn’t always lead to genocide, but genocide is always preceded by separation.

We drove to the very tip of the Western Cape, which is also the most southwestern point of Africa is called the Cape of Good Hope which is a stone’s throw from Cape Point.  ImageBoth are at the end of a long peninsula at the end of a protected nature reserve.  It is a beautiful setting and many wealthy Captonians have second homes out in this area. Image I must point out that on the way to Cape Point we couldn’t take the main highway that runs through town because, well, they haven’t finished it.  And they’ve decided not to.  Just one of the crazy things that go on here!Image

Yesterday we spent the day in Stellenbosch, South Africa’s wine country.  ImageThe winelands, as they are known, is home to hundreds of wineries and although I really knew nothing about South African wines, I’ve begun my education and am very pleased to say that we tasted some excellent wines at the kind of “undiscovered” prices that make them a deliciously good value.

On our final day here in Cape Town, we spent the majority in Kayamandi which is a black township.  Townships have a particular meaning here and without getting into the politics of how they were formed, suffice it to say that townships are where the vast majority of blacks live in South Africa. Image Townships are overcrowded ‘cities’ with ramshackle structures that may have a room or two and may house a dozen family members.  There is sporadic electricity, communal toilets for some and no hot water.  Some families carry water a quarter mile to their home for the day. Image It is horrible.  You would never live there.  But throughout Kayamandi there is the sound of laughter from the children and hope from the grownups.  ImageImageNot universally of course, after all, there is not much to be hopeful about, but there is community.  It was an inspiring day, and a frustrating day.  Kayamandi is in the winelands and an image that will stay with me is a playground with children who may not have a meal tonight, against a field of grape vines that grow for one of the most expensive wines in South Africa.

We visited a pre-school and met young kids at a community center who had learned several dances and gave us a sample of their wonderful talent.  During the afternoon, Marci was introduced to one promising young girl who had no father and has chosen to sponsor her for a private school education.  While it is not much to us, it means a great deal to them and it’s nice to be able to start a young girl on a path toward opportunity she might otherwise not have.Image

The townships, to me, are South Africa’s black eye and the government should be ashamed of itself that they exist.  Good people in a very bad place.  We can do better.

Tonight is our last night in Cape Town and I leave feeling glad that I came.  It is a city that will undoubtedly change in the next ten years and I, for one, will hope for that change to be positive and to come quickly.

In the morning we’ll head to Tanzania and back into the bush.  You’ll be watching the debate, we’ll be watching…well, we’re not sure yet!


5 Responses to “Culture Shock”

  1. Eddie Kahn October 2, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    Good on ya Marci for giving the lovely young lady a leg up! (wait, Good on ya is Aussie speak)….anyway, Y’asher koach! Reb Eddie

  2. Mindy October 3, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Thanks for posting the good, the beauty and the abominable. What is the little girls name?

    • m&m ontheroad October 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

      Hi Mindy! Her name is Elam and she’s adorable. Thanks for staying with us. We miss you and Roger and hope we can get together as soon as we return.

  3. Mom/Ellie October 3, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    I’m very proud of you Marci. Giving that little girl the opportunity for an education that could be her ticket out of the terrible life she was destined to lead is a Mitzvah. Sharing your years of hard work and success with that child is a wonderful, generous, and beautiful thing to do. It’s also a tribute to your character. Well done Marci!

  4. Christine Ferrari October 3, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    The pictures of the very tip of the Western Cape are breathtaking! I can only imagine what it looks like in person. Thank you for giving us a glimpse through your eyes! Love, Christine

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