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Dear Future Me,

How bad do you still want to return to Cape Town? Do you remember loving it so much that you wished you did a semester here? Was Venice better? Worth it?

There are certain experiences that I hope you never forgot. You climbed Lion’s Head, and that was our first real hike. I hope you remember how beautiful the city looked, and how gratifying it felt to reach the top. There were moments when you looked down at the beaches and the mountain tops in awe, thinking about how grateful you were for this opportunity. On the way to Cape Point, you saw breathtaking scenery and took pictures that don’t even look real. You saw penguins, ostriches, baboons, some scary looking seaweed bugs, and unforgettable views. Before you made a risky jump on your hike, before you held our hand out to feed an ostrich, and before you went rock-hopping into the ocean, you took those deep imabouttoconquerafear breaths.

During one of the first weekends here, you and Olivia walked through the Kristenbosch Gardens and you guys talked about everything. You and your roommate Lily didn’t know each other before this trip, but you really looked forward to coming back into your room and decompressing with her. There were nights you went out with the group and had the most carefree times. Sometimes you stayed in with your friends to play card games, to talk about boys, or to eat really bad pizza you ordered on UberEats. You connected with some group members that you seemed to have nothing in common with, and you and a lot of other people on the trip craved really getting to know each other.

After about a week of going out on Kloof Street and to the trendy bars, you were so excited to discover places that didn’t have a lot of tourists. The first time was when you found a salon downtown to get your hair and nails done. Then you started hounding for black party and hangout spaces. You were so fixated on connecting with black South Africans and finding ways to enter their space. You wanted to explore the “real” parts of Cape Town so bad, yet you were so scared when people followed you for blocks down Long Street asking for money, or when your phone died while you got lost wandering downtown. There were times when people spoke to you in Xhosa and looked disappointed when you responded in English. There were other times when people looked at you the same way that they look at white tourists. And there were times you found spaces that really reminded you of home.

Do you remember the strong, determined women you worked with? Aretha was the secretary who always greeted you with a red-lipped smile. Bronwyn scared you but only because she was really badass. Camila’s energy made your mornings better, and Jess was your go-to for help. Working in an office without any men made the day relaxing. Everyone in the office was always busy (a lot of times too busy for you) working and doing amazing things to help women.

I hope you can remember the unsettling experiences too. How you almost cried during the Number Four Prison tour, and when we watched the Marikana massacre documentary. How disgusting and unsettled you felt staying in the wealthy or gentrified sections of JoBurg and Cape Town. How you sometimes felt so useless at work.

Though this might have escaped your memory the fastest, I hope you remember the mundane too. You fell into a privileged routine of waking up, eating breakfast provided by your villa, walking downtown with your friends, and interning at the organization that was your first preference. There were days at WLC you were assigned work, went to court, and sat in on meetings, but a lot of the times you sat on your laptop waiting for the time to pass by. At lunch, most days you ended up at Food Lover’s Market because it was the easiest and most convenient choice. After the walk or uber back from work, you exhaustingly fell into your bed. You spent a lot of time in bed actually. In a city where there are a thousand things to do, there were days you stayed in bed because you didn’t feel like doing anything. You woke up for the weekly Tuesday guest speakers and Thursday group discussions. I’m not sure if you felt like you wasted your time or let opportunities slip by. But there were many unextraordinary, boring, repetitive moments on this trip. And though you were chasing a way to find the “real” Cape Town, those moments were perhaps the most authentic. It gave you a taste of adulthood, of what it meant to work at a legal nonprofit, of what it would be like if you moved here, and of how life sometimes constrains you into a routine.

And of course, there are moments you can afford to (and maybe should) forget. Like that dinner in JoBurg at the Indian restaurant. Or that one night you made a poor and potentially dangerous decision when you went out. There were days when you felt really sick and wanted to go home. One time you stayed up all night fighting with your boyfriend back home on FaceTime, and you were a zombie the next day at work. There were times when certain experiences in Cape Town disappointed you, but a lot of times when you disappointed yourself, too.

I’m over the halfway point, and I feel obligated to reflect on everything so far so that I can make the most of the rest of my time here. If I read this 3 weeks from now when this trip is over, or 3 years from now when I’m a Duke alumna, I can only hope that I am different, more thoughtful, and able to say more about my experience in Cape Town.