Saturday the 8th of May 2010 – 11.52h
The first couple of days in Cape Town are not exactly how I imagined I would spend them, or at least the very first night. Cape Town as a city is pretty much what I expected, quite developed (no elephants visible on the streets) but some things show it is still a third world country.
On my arrival to the airport, I had to go through the security customs procedure. After a pretty grilling interrogation which involved being asked what the purpose of my visit was, when I would be leaving the country, what I do for a living, how much money I had on me and other similar questions I was finally let through into the country.
I picked up my luggage (minus one wheel) and was met by three people at the airport holding a piece of paper with the words “Welcome Daniel Stone” and with a big smile on their face. These three people were Kennedy, the owner of the voluntary house where I will be staying (and also the driver), a friend of Kennedy’s and Erika, another volunteer from Sweden who to my amazement is pregnant (a very brave girl to move to South Africa to volunteer whilst pregnant).
As we arrived to the voluntary house I was introduced to all the other volunteers who live in the house. The house consists of nine volunteers (all in their late teens, early twenties and from very diverse places), Kennedy and his wife (whose name I cannot remember) and their six year old daughter, Loveness (a really pretty and energetic little girl). There is also another woman that lives in the house called Gee who is a local from South Africa.
I spent the afternoon talking to all the volunteers getting to know them a little better and observing my new home and the house rules. I would be sharing my room with two other guys, Ronaldo from Brazil and Gabriel from Sweden. The bed I would sleep on looked small and not very comfortable, the bathroom had a sign saying, “Showers max 8 minutes” and the food seems to be rationed. All of this is what I had expected before arriving in Africa and wouldn’t have liked it had it been any different.This is part of the experience of living in Africa and I would have been disappointed had I been living in a luxurious swanky pad. The house is kept clean and tidy which is something important for me (being an OCD sufferer). 🙂
The afternoon passed and then came the evening. Some of the volunteers wanted to go out for a few drinks and asked if I wanted to join them. So I did, a great way to get to know them a little better and experience Cape Town at night. We ended up going to a pretty posh club (i.e China Whites in London or Luz de Gas in Barcelona) surrounded by really pretty blonde girls. In all the clubs I have been to in the past I don’t think I have ever seen so many pretty girls in one place, no exaggeration.
I couldn’t but feel a little out of place. Had I been in Spain or England I would have thought of being in heaven, but with the frame of mind I was in, having come to Africa to help out in any way I could, I couldn’t help being taken aback by what I was seeing and being part of.
From what I had read before I came to South Africa, 75% of the population is either black or coloured as they say here (from what I have understood coloured isn’t somebody black but from India or similar places). I stood in this night club and looked around to only see beautiful girls (mainly blonde) and handsome looking white guys that mostly looked like rugby players. The only black people I saw were the glass collectors and maybe there were two black people who were there on a night out. I couldn’t stop thinking that this is not how I thought I would spend my first night in Africa.
After having got to bed at about 4am, Kennedy woke me up at 9am informing me that it was my induction day and I had to be at the programme organisers office at 9.30. It was the first I knew about this induction day and I would have thought twice about going out the night before if I knew I had to be up at 9am, considering I got no sleep (or very little sleep) the night before on the plane.
Friday the 7th of May 2010 is a day I thoroughly enjoyed. It was like going from one world to another in the space of hours. The morning of Induction day involved a briefing about Cape Town, the programme, things to be aware of and must do things in Cape Town as well as the house rules once again from the programme orgainser, Tandy. The afternoon involved a visit around Cape Town with Tandy and Andrea (a girl from Switzerland), who is another volunteer who arrived on the same day as me.
We got a tour around the area where I am living, which is called Observatory and then got the bus into the centre of Cape Town, which is about a 20 minute journey. Once in the centre of Cape Town, Tandy took us to some of the hotspots in Cape Town explaining where we might want to spend more time in our stay here. There are loads of things to see out here and the little I have seen of Cape Town so far has been astonishing.
When on the streets wondering around in Cape Town I couldn’t but feel a little on edge. Due to all the violence that I have been warned about I am probably more wary than I should. In the centre of Cape Town there are a lot of black people walking the streets and just by the image they give off you could feel intimidated. There are a lot of men who have their front teeth missing and do not look in great condition. I asked Tandy about this and her response was that as well as them probably not being able to afford a dentist, it is something they do on purpose to give off a “gangster” image.
After our day out of wondering around the centre of Cape Town our induction day would end with a train journey back home. The train journey back home is something that I would have imagined before coming to Africa but still a shock when you see it with your own eyes. The train was very old and noisy. The majority of people on the train were black and coloured. There were loads of people going around the train station and on the train selling “Nik-Nak” crisps and soft drinks, as well as glue and needles, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
Comparing the scene I had on Thursday night with what I was witnessing on the train were two completely different worlds in the same city. Two different races who lead completely different lives and share the same city as a home. I was already expecting this but when you witness it for yourself it feels totally different. Considering the situation the country was in before 1994 (the year which signalled the end of Apartheid) there have been incredible strides, however the gap in social class is still very evident on the streets.
After contemplating the experience of wondering the roads, shopping centre and train station of Cape Town, I couldn’t but help getting the feeling that this is what I could imagine what England was like about 20 or 30 years ago (not regarding social class but the condition in which I found the public transport, road works and those kind of things).
I arrived back home after this experience ready for an early night and to catch up on lost sleep.