My group has been lucky to enjoy amazing weather since our arrival in South Africa. We never saw a cloud in Johannesburg. The weather in Cape Town is a bit colder but still extremely beautiful. Our first couple weeks in South Africa have been filled with many pre-planned events and activities. While I have enjoyed getting this much-needed exposure to my new home, I have been impatient to get into a daily routine and discover Cape Town and its people for myself.
My first impression of Cape Town is much different from Johannesburg. Johannesburg felt much more cosmopolitan than I had expected. Even though we stayed in a very nice area of Johannesburg, I did not feel as removed from different socioeconomic classes and ethnicities as I do in Cape Town. In Cape Town, I have seen much less intermixing of peoples. The town seems to have areas dominated by either white or black people. In Cape Town I struggle to understand how there is not more violence in the form of black South Africans attempting to take back land from white elites. I try to put myself in the shoes of a black South African, I feel that I would be angry and intolerant of the lack of significant land reform more than 20 years after the end of apartheid. I didn’t feel this way in Johannesburg, but the disparity in Cape Town is just too abundant.
In other news, I have been very pleased with the hospitality of both black and white South Africans. Staff at both our guesthouses have been very friendly. I am especially surprised by the human connections I have experienced with everyday people we’ve met on the streets, in museums, and at restaurants. I’ve contemplated whether this friendliness is a feature of the South African character or an inherent quality across all nationalities to welcome a foreign person/traveler.
A few days ago, I came across another American man at the restaurant my group was having dinner at. He was about four years my senior but we shared a connection. We are both Economics majors, Greek-affiliated, and we share a ‘Personal Legend’ to travel the world. This term, ‘Personal Legend’, is taken from the book The Alchemist by Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho. The book, which we both happened to be reading, says that one’s Personal Legend is something like their destiny in life. Coelho says that the only duty one has in life is to realize his/her own Personal Legend.
In embarking on this trip to a foreign land, I feel like I am one step closer to figuring out the exact nature of my Personal Legend. The American guy I met had just finished two years of service with a refugee organization in Malawi. There, he not only met his fiancé, but discovered how and why he would travel the world in his life. His courage to follow his Personal Legend despite financial pressures is inspiring to me.
My first few days at working at the South African Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) have challenged me to think deeply about my potential and how I could possibly make an impact on the lives of others when I am older. In the next seven weeks, I hope to gain a better understanding of the problems facing people in this country, what their causes are, and how we can start to address them.