Traveling 20+x hours from Detroit to South Africa wasn’t the most pleasant life experience. But praise be to God for my narcoleptic tendencies, iPad mini and the healthy selection of complimentary films I binge-watched during the flight. The Fault in Our Stars had me crying harder than the baby sitting several rows ahead of me (so many questions as to why a baby was even on that flight).
But my experience in South Africa was worth every hour spent 30,000 feet aboveground and every dollar invested in the uneconomical economy-class ticket that gained me access to the Motherland. And yes, it was most certainly an investment (Jesus, be the ultimate comeup).
Cape Town is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, for so many reasons — the rich history and culture; the diversity of its people, languages and traditions; and the endless, breathtaking scenery. And there was also some interesting lingo and small cultural tid bits I picked up on during my visit:
My personal highlight of the trip (aside from the food, which will be featured exclusively in its own separate post… yes, it was that good) was encountering various native Cape Townians, who ranged from corporate executives to small business owners. While listening to their stories, my family and I learned about the overwhelming structure of the city’s racial class and socioeconomic systems. Below is a summary I posted on Facebook during the trip:
While South Africa has made many strides due to Mandela’s powerful influence during the apartheid (the people there practically worship him), the country still has a ways to go. Two native Cape Townian women we met through my sister Erin (who is studying abroad there this semester), named Thandi and Busi (pronounced Boo-see), are both college-educated Black women with established careers in banking and accounting. Although they both are doing well careerwise, they, like most blacks in SA, are a lot more limited in their buying power compared to whites, merely due to the fact that their race falls at the bottom of the socioeconomic totum pole. Thandi, who currently lives at home with her family in a local township outside of Cape Town, went to college and established her career here in the U.S., where she lived for 10 years. She says that during her entire time in America she saved the majority of her earnings, which gave her a lot of economic advantage once she returned to her native country (the value of one US dollar in SA is 12 rands). Although Busi only spent several months of her career working in the US, she was able to save up enough money to buy herself a home back home in South Africa.
As we ate a delicious Sunday-afternoon lunch at 12 Apostles — a beautiful hotel in Camps Bay (a prominent tourist area of Cape Town that basically looks like South Beach with mountains), Thandi and Busi brought to light an overwhelming fact that was difficult to ignore for the remainder of our stay in SA: aside from the workers, there were literally no native blacks present at any of the places we dined or shopped at.
The few blacks we actually did see leisurely indulging in the city’s amenities were American tourists. We soon learned that most black Cape Townians can’t afford to eat or shop in the main areas of the city due to tourism, so they generally hang out around the local outskirts near the areas where they live called townships. Meanwhile, a large majority of the native whites live in the large and lavish homes that decorate the coast of Cape Town.
We met another native, Richard, who transported us to and from our safari excursion located a couple of hours outside of Cape Town. Unlike Thandi and Busi, Richard falls under the classification of a “colored” Cape Townian, which means he is not purely African and comes from mixed ethnicities (although here in the US, he — along with most of his counterparts — would be considered black). During the ride, Richard informed us that the average black person there makes 10,000 to 15,000 rands per month, which converts to a little less than 1,000 to 1,500 US dollars (that’s an average one week’s worth of pay here)! He also shared how he started his own shuttle service, and that his very first customers were travelers from the UK. Like Richard, there were many other people we encountered that utilized Cape Town’s high tourism demand to start their own businesses.
Malisizwe, a local black man who gave my family and me an amazing walking tour of Langa Township (the first Black township of Cape Town established in 1927), started his own tour business to educate curious vacationers on his native township. Our experience in Langa was simply life-changing, and one that is still difficult to summarize. But witnessing the people and learning their history and traditions was something that I will cherish for a lifetime.
I call my trip to South Africa an “edu-vacation” because it was more than just leisure for my family and me — it was a profound learning experience. We took so much away from this place, which, although beautiful and luxurious in many areas, is still suffering from extreme poverty. In collaboration with the friends we’ve made in South Africa, my family and I are currently embarking on an initiative to directly help impoverished families in South Africa.
I strongly encourage you to not only experience South Africa as well as other parts of Africa and the world for yourself, but also to join my family and me in our efforts to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters across the waters. I will keep you updated on our progress with this initiative.
Since Facebook was my daily journal during the entire week I spent in SA, I’ve shared more of my posts below:
Day 1: Old Biscuit Mill – the coolest farmer’s market I’ve ever been to.
Day 2: Waterfront and Camps Bay – Chicago Navy Pier and South Beach wrapped up all in one magnificent ball of amazingness.
Day 3: Wine Tour – I had a few too many wine samples. Of course, I fell.
Day 4: Safari Adventures – I saw some lions eating a horse. That is all.
Day 5: Double Decker Tour of Cape Town
Day 6: Tour of Langa Township – Completely life-changing. By far my favorite part of the trip.
Day 7: Chill Day on the Waterfront – last-minute souvenir shopping and then my dad randomly sees Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker and their kids strolling around while my mom, sister and I had already ventured off somewhere. He didn’t take any pictures. -_-.