It’s been easy to avoid the realities of crime and desperation while living in the gated haven that is the Mediterranean Villa, located snugly in a very affluent part of Cape Town. As I mentioned in my last post, I have developed a confidence in navigating the city over the past six weeks. Cape Town has become my home, and as with any home, I have become very comfortable here. Perhaps too comfortable.
My first reality check came this past Monday. It was my first time withdrawing cash from the ATM, and I could not have looked more like a target if I had painted concentric red circles on my back. My debit card, complete with a picture of the American flag, practically screamed tourist, as did my confusion when the machine abruptly canceled my transaction. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was in fact targeted by a man who ended up stealing the credit card from the family using the ATM next to me. Thanks partly to my intuition and mostly to the watchful eye of my good friends (shout out to Anna and Chiara), I deflected the man’s offer to ‘assist’ me with the machine and proceeded to withdraw my money. Only after I had secured the cash in my wallet—and the thief had taken off—did I realize what had happened mere feet from me.
I heard the second wakeup call loud and clear. On Friday, Sonke held a Wellness Day in Bellville, whereby community action team members administered free HIV tests and distributed condoms throughout the bustling urban area. While I was making the rounds with a few other volunteers, a man attempted to grab my phone out of my zipped jacket pocket. Although he only managed to unzip the pocket before I clued in, I felt violated in a way that is hard to express.
Twice in one week, my head was wrenched out of the clouds. I was humbled. My comfort in the city had turned into complacency. I had constructed the idea that Cape Town was my cocoon. How could somewhere so safe and warm and cozy suddenly be so cold? Or rather, how had I let myself become so insulated from the stark realities of city life?
Despite what I experienced this past week, I am reluctant to say that I will tread lightly over my remaining two weeks here. Granted, I will be more aware of my surroundings, particularly when I have valuables on me, but I refuse to let the events of the week cast a dark shadow over the rest of the trip. Cape Town is far, far more than its petty criminals or those who resort to pickpocketing out of desperation. The past six weeks have been a highlight reel that will last me a lifetime, and I don’t plan on cutting the scene due to a couple close calls with misfortune.
Fear will paralyze me if I let it. I won’t.