Forget everything you know about South Africa, which I assume is factually limited to apartheid and Mandela. Forget the notion that people ride elephants and that every city looks like a still from a UNICEF commercial. Empty your mind of everything American media has attempted to “teach you” about this place.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I boarded my flight from Atlanta connecting through London to Johannesburg (Joburg). On our first night, we attended a group dinner at Poppy’s, a restaurant down the street from our guesthouse. The restaurant surprised me, I did not expect to feel that comfortable. The atmosphere reminded me so much of home. Friendly people, good food, and 90s R&B booming in the background. At that moment, if someone had told me I was in Atlanta instead of Joburg, I would have believed them.
This feeling resonated with me the entire week as we visited various museums and historical locations. Even though we were warned on multiple occasions and by various people to be wary of crime, the cosmopolitan city felt so much like home. For the first time in my life, instead of seeing white people of all shapes, shades, and sizes, I saw black people in a different light. I saw my people in all their glorious shades. It was beautiful.
I was still high on my Joburg experience as I prepared for our flight to Cape Town a few days later. I was excited to get to know our new home. After a drawn-out day at the airport, I was relieved to finally arrive at the bed & breakfast and head to dinner. Our Programme Director, Bill shared positive reviews of the restaurant. It was a fan favorite from past DukeEngage groups.
My first night in Cape Town felt like a cosmic shift. I felt the difference as soon as we walked into the restaurant, the ambiance was nothing like the restaurants in Joburg. It was empty, silent, and surrounded by a mist of miserable dullness. An expensive menu, sullen waitresses, and disappointing food. The part of the restaurant that struck me the most was a mural painted on the bar. Depicted in the image were dark-skinned black children standing in a line, dressed in their Sunday best, with a grassy forest in the background. The faces of those children are still frozen in the back of my mind and I regret not taking a photo to post here. That this establishment had such an archaic mural was in direct contrast to everything I had experienced in Joburg.
My next few days in Cape Town have been much better but here I definitely feel as though I have left my comfort zone. Joburg felt like home. Cape Town feels like a jolt into another dimension. I have entered the Twilight Zone: Cape Town edition.