Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Second post from Cape Town

Hello again everyone,
Class hasn't started yet, so the last week has provided enough
adventure to garner another e-mail. Once 'varsity,' as they call it,
begins, perhaps I'll cease these weekly chronicles. Hopefully you
enjoy hearing about the experience as much as I enjoy sharing it (and
if not, we're a bit out of luck, as these don't come with an
unsubscribe option :) Forgive my indulgence...
In any case, the last week has provided highs and lows. I went to the
beach one day, a gorgeous plot of sand at the foot of a mountain. I
drove through townships, the shantytowns that ring (and imperil) Cape
Town, and took a walking tour through the city centre. I registered
for classes (three politics courses and a sociology course - Poverty,
Development and Globalisation) and did some research. Many of you
replied to my last e-mail with queries about the nightlife here, and
so I complied by going out three times in four nights. One night there
were fire jugglers performing on the sand pit that is at the center of
a bar called Cool Runnings. Another night people danced on the bar at
Jo'burg (perhaps not surprisingly, my feet stayed firmly planted to
the floor. I subscribe to the Sam I Am theory of dancing - I will not
dance in a club, I will not dance on a bar...). And the third night I
hung out on the balcony overlooking Long Street, the Bourbon
Street-esque area downtown (without as much of the debauchery). So,
needless to say, the nightlife here is alive and well.
As for the lows, alas, Cape Town is both a gorgeous, luxurious
playground of the rich and famous (Madonna has a home here) and a
poverty-stricken breeding ground of crime (the word you hear
frequently in describing the city is 'complex'). The two worlds, which
traditionally (but increasingly less so) have been inhabited by whites
and blacks, respectively, seldom mix. Most homes (including our
cottage-type home) have concrete walls surrounding them and gates in
front. Some have barbed wire or razor blades on top. Almost all have
'ADT Armed Response' security signs out front. I have four keys to my
There are ways to minimize the threat but not to eliminate it. I
learned as much Thursday. A friend and I took a bus downtown to see
the city centre and Bo Kaap, a Muslim area with brightly colored homes
that overlooks the city. We had extra time, so we decided to find
parliament. As we walked in front of the provincial legislature
building around 2:30pm, a man took hold of my arm and, to make a long
story short, told me to give him my money. At first I was shocked,
half expecting Ashton Kutcher to pop out of the bushes and tell me I
had just been punk'd. Something so brazen as a mid-afternoon, downtown
robbery was incomprehensible to me, but he (as well as the man behind
him and the alleged four others he claimed were watching me) was quite
serious. I gave him about $17 and left unharmed, ultimately more
shocked than scared. The shock turned to anger on Saturday, when
another pair of men tried to rob my friend and I as we walked to the
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. In both instances I took numerous
precautions to safeguard myself - wearing plain, raggy clothing,
leaving my map and camera behind, etc etc. Perhaps my glasses (they're
rare here) and accent or sunburn gave me away, or maybe I was simply a
random victim. The incidents have certainly put me alert. I'm not
going to stop going downtown - I didn't come here to sit in my prison
cage of a home - but I have to find ways to reduce the risk I face. Of
course, some people have lived here for years and never had an
incident, so my 1:1 downtown visit:robbery ratio will hopefully go
down soon.
That's all for now. Time to figure out tonight (likely a movie -
'Rocky Balboa' is really big here right now). Wednesday is wine
tasting, Friday classes start and Saturday morning I hike Table
Mountain. Should be fun.
Hope all is well back home for each of you. I've heard it's quite
cold in the States. I've also heard we're edging toward war with Iran.
Perhaps a robbery is not so bad. It's all relevant, I suppose.

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