Semester at Sea: Hoos Over Cape Town
Editor’s Note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is on Semester at Sea this spring and has agreed to blog about her experience. Catch up with her previous entries here.
Friday morning, I woke up to Shakira’s “Waka Waka (Time for Africa)” blaring over the ship’s P.A. system, but it was probably the best thing I’d heard over that intercom – because it meant we’d arrived in Cape Town! Not only was the ship in Africa, but it had arrived at the most visited, diverse and modern city in the entire African continent.
The Cape Town peninsula is more like a cornucopia of Stuff To Do: mountains to climb, street dancers to watch, Pan-African fair-trade markets to peruse, beaches, penguins, tons of history to learn, the International Jazz Festival (!), and even whales (and sharks) to watch off the coast. I did more in South Africa than I have room to write about – six days was so short! But I can’t complain because after all, this is SAS, and this week was a blast.
I had the privilege of visiting Robben Island, where the late former president Nelson Mandela and hundreds of political prisoners were incarcerated from the early 1960s until 1991. My tour guide, Jama, was a former inmate of the prison, where he served five years after organizing a government protest at his high school in the ’70s. He took my group through the common areas, low-security rooms, and the maximum-security section, where Mandela was kept. Jama also showed us the spot where a few prisoners drafted South Africa’s current constitution – inside a cave that quarry worksite supervisors wouldn’t enter, because it was also the site’s bathroom.
Something I hadn’t anticipated during my visit was the still-present effect of apartheid in Cape Town. Twenty years after desegregation, most of the city’s white population still lives in nearby gated communities, but a majority of the ~3 million black and colored population live in townships farther outside of the city limits, where living conditions often lack basic plumbing and electricity. The massive income gap in the Cape Town area – where beachfront real estate goes for millions of U.S. dollars – has been the cause of recent for government protests, and it’s also fueled the city’s high crime rate. While the races are no longer separated, the discrepancy in living standards is still a major problem that the rest of the world often doesn’t hear about in the media.
But while the city may still be facing economic challenges, it’s hard to deny that the South African people are tons of fun. My interactions with locals almost always included laughter (usually involving my accent). They encouraged me to enjoy the city, and even if I was talking to vendors who were trying to sell me something, I was consistently told to ‘take my time’ (which was so opposite the vendors in Asia).
The easygoing and happy spirit in the people of South Africa matched the colorful walls of their city, and with Table Mountain above and the beach below, it was hard not to be in a good mood in Cape Town. I also loved finding music everywhere, from a break-out guitar session on the late-night train to a citywide concert in the Kirstenbosch gardens.
I’ve realized that all my Cape Town escapades, whether they taught me a lesson or just made me laugh, helped me appreciate how a place I knew so little about before this semester quickly turned into one of my favorite places (so far) in the world. It’s been a sweet introduction to Africa.