I did it. I finally left Grahamstown after 6 years that appear to have been a lifetime. It’s almost been a week. The infatuation I had with Cape Town a few months ago has turned into a marriage. Since my arrival I’ve been convincing myself that there is no date of departure unlike previous encounters with this city. I have to make peace with the fact that I am here, indefinitely. My experience thus far can be summarised as follows: entertainment, mobility and a room of one’s own.
Entertainment: It’s still holiday season for most people and tourists are everywhere. The holiday rush never seems to subside. The weather has been mostly amazing and I have been lucky to enjoy a sunny walk every single day since I’ve been here. While trying to be studious, working on my thesis, my background noise was drumming and singing from a performance near the Slave Lodge and the Company Gardens. While having a lunch date with a friend at Cafe Mozart, the background entertainment were various performances from aspiring dancers and artists. And of course, shopping at the Waterfront with friends; nothing major, just shoes and girl stuff that cost more than we anticipated! Lunch at Dopio Zero (a treat from a yuppy friend) at St George’s Mall was amidst the colourful wares in Longmarket Street, a firm part of the Cape Town’s city life during the day.
I watched people barter prices for jewellery, exquisite cloths and artwork laid out daily by hardworking sellers, but I can’t help and wonder how authentic these crafts and fabrics are seeing as there are so many stalls selling the same African art...made in China? I went to the Labia Theatre for the first time, and watched my first Woody Allen movie. And of course, one can’t talk about the city centre and make the reality of the poverty invisible because at every turn there have been beggars in the street and people sleeping openly at the Grand Parade, ingathi balahliwe (as though they have been thrown away). This is nothing new but the reality of the world we live in, and it’s not alright.
Mobility : Getting around has been an adventure. Moving from Grahamstown where I never had to use public transport, I now rely on the bus and train. By bus, I have been using the Main Road route which is tedious when you have to use it more than once a week (but it beats being on a taxi on Voortrekker road from Parow into town). Taking the bus was almost by accident because they always seem to appear when I least expect them. Perhaps I should find a bus timetable so I don’t have to run after a bus again. And much to my suprise, I haven’t used taxis yet.
A room of one’s own: like any newcomer to a city, I’ve been in between places on a friend’s couch or borrowing another friend’s room. This has probably been the hardest part about Cape Town, finding an abode with affordable rent for someone earning a teacher’s salary (and I don’t know how I feel about spending a third of that salary on rent alone). Friends have been lamenting that it took them months to find their apartments which isn’t a very comforting thought for me. Others were lucky with using Gumtree. I on the other hand, have spent countless hours on Gumtree and a friend finally sent me a link with possible accommodation within walking distance to my school and so I await their response in anticipation.
Writing about my experiences in Cape Town thus far, I run the risk of appearing like a “Jim comes to Joburg” (in this case Cape Town), agog at all the tall buildings, traffic, busy streets and the bright Christmas lights in Adderley. But I’m soaking it in. Part of me wants to retreat from all the madness that is Cape Town but part of me yearns to make peace with it’s complexity and my minor role in it. However small I may be in the larger scheme of the events unfolding in this strange place everyday, there’s something about being in Cape Town that unsettles me.