welcome

Day 1

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2011 at 4:36 am

I arrived in Cape Town a few days ago.

Immediately there was a difference between the hustle and bustle of Murtala Muhammad Airport and Cape Town Airport. There’s something about Lagos that feels authentically home, this felt different, sterile almost. An airport that functions so seamlessly I could very well have been in Canada.

I was turning this over in my mind waiting for my ride from the airport, when a guy walks over to where I’m standing guarding my suitcases. He moves with the sureness of someone who knows exactly where they are going. He seems amused by my worried expression.

He says: “Need a taxi? I take you anywhere! All the way to Abuja if you want.”

He knows instinctively that I am Nigerian. I like that, so I smile. I forget that I’m not supposed to be talking to strangers. He flashes his taxi service name tag as proof, his name is Hector. He starts to show off his knowledge of Nigeria by asking me “ki lo n se le?” he calls himself “Igwe”. Suddenly that sense of “home” is back again.

A few minutes later, a lady arrives. Her name is Catherine and she will be showing us around for the first few days before the program officially begins.

The drive to the house is breath taking. Table Mountain is something to behold.

Cape Town by visual comparison seems like a city that has things figured out. But art is always the lowest common denominator between a place and its people. There’s graffiti sprawled across a wall that separates the highway from a chaotic cluster of homes made of scrap metal. Someone wants you to see this.

I’m told this is a township, occupied by Cape Town’s poor. There are several different townships here, Catherine points out each one, tells me who lives where. She talks about life in Cape Town, how the color lines are clearly defined here. Blacks, coloreds (mixed race people) and whites exist in neat compartments. This surprises me, I never expected to come to Africa and feel “black”. This is home. No?

We arrive at the house and three children come running to the gate. Two of them are Catherine’s; she tells me there’s one more. She does not look old enough to have three children, I later find out she married at age 15. The third child, a boy, watches me with curious eyes. He smiles, they all do, this stranger with way too many suitcases amuses them. They help carry my things upstairs. I meet two more children, the three-month-old baby who doles out smiles with ease and a 2 year old who isn’t sure what to make of me. He manages a small careful smile; his dimples are endless. I meet another student from the program who arrived a couple of days ago from Canada also. This is her first time on the continent. We’ll be staying here for one night and moving into our home the next day.

We all go for a walk to get to know the neighborhood. It is so beautiful here. I can see the ocean on my right from the main street and the mountain to my left as we walk towards the shops. The street is lined with drug stores, restaurants, and grocery stores, basically every amenity you need or are told you need. Catherine tells me some more about her life. She talks slowly, carefully weaving her sentences as though she must first navigate through the many languages she speaks just to talk to me. I can tell her inner voice doesn’t communicate in English. I’m determined to learn a little Xhosa before I leave. She has promised to teach me. I practice saying Xhosa, clicking my tongue all wrong. She laughs.

Later on her friend arrives to take us out for the evening. He is what would be considered a “colored” in Cape Town. He has light brown eyes and speaks quickly with his hands and a lot of attitude. He calls everyone “dahlin!” we are all laughing within minutes. A little while later, Catherine, her friend, myself and the other student head out the front door. I wasn’t exactly sure where we were going at the time; I was still a little foggy from my flight. I just know that there was food involved so I hoped in the van. We drive to a township called Guguletu. One of the ones we drove past from the airport.

There’s a street party happening. Catherine’s friend tells us this happens every Sunday, it is right around the corner from a cemetery.

We park the van and cross the street into a massive crowd of people. The smell of barbeque fills the air. I’m a vegetarian so I start to get a little worried. There is house music booming out of a large warehouse building. Next to that is Mzoli’s, the main attraction. There’s a line up around the corner.

As we wait, we see people leaving with happy smiles and buckets, literal buckets of barbequed meat, all kinds of it. I begin to wonder what I’m doing in this line, but there is no grilled tofu line anywhere to be found so I stay put. We move to the music as we wait in line, Catherine’s friend has bought us all drinks. (Hi mummy! Please stop reading now. Thank you)

We make friends with three guys standing in line in front of us. They are originally from Zimbabwe. Two of them live in Cape Town and the third is visiting from the UK.

After about 30 minutes in line, we finally get into Mzoli’s. It looks very much like a butcher’s shop, with an assortment of raw meat to pick from. I stand back and watch. Behind me at several tables are people devouring their buckets of meat with their bare hands. Some eat it with bread, others with a local food called pap, it’s the same consistency and similar taste to pounded yam that Nigerians know and love.

Once your selection is made, you carry your bucket of raw meet to the back of Mzoli’s where the real action happens. At the back, 6 or 7 men are hard at work at a fire grill, where buckets of raw meat are sauced and flipped over the grill and steaming buckets of barbeque walk out the door.

We submit our order and are told to return in 1 hour. Yes…1 hour. The line is THAT long. I suddenly realize why there’s a party next door. We head over to it. This place is more jam packed than Lagos’ Third Mainland Bridge at 5:30pm. The music is contagious; we dance with the rest of the crowd.

We alternate between the bar and the main street while we wait on the food. We meet a lot of interesting people in the crowd, people definitely come here to see and be seen.

What seems like 5 hours later Catherine appears with our prize.

We walk to her friend’s van with our new friends to share the food in the African way.  We surround the bucket of hot barbeque. The moment of truth has arrived. In the spirit of enjoying the fullness of my South African experience I decide to try it. Also in the spirit of not dying of the hunger that has now gripped my insides, I feel helpless. What happens next will cause me to have my vegetarian card revoked. I won’t write too much about it to protect the innocent.

One of our new friends runs over to his car and returns with an untouched bottle of red wine. “This is wine country!” he says, “you cannot come to South Africa and not drink wine”.

Cups appear and we toast to a good night. We dance in the streets. After eating we head back into Cape Town to an area near our house, our new friends come with us. The rest is a story I will likely tell for the rest of my life. I can’t share it here because even though I so nicely asked my mother to stop reading, I know she has not. For her benefit I will say that there were no drugs or more alcohol involved, nor any kind of behavior that would shame my family name. You may rest easy now mama, it’s only day 1.

So we talked, we laughed, we hid, we ran, we laughed some more. We exchanged numbers with our new friends and they drove home. They drive on the opposite side of the street here; a total shift in perspective. It is really all I hope for.

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  1. wow Titi. This is amazing! Have fun.

  2. Wait… there’s more? Only Day 1? This journey of yours has already proven to be hilarious and spectacular. Keep doin’ what you’re doin, and I’ll continue to check back for my 5-10 minute mental escape to Africa! Be safe oh.

  3. You Cheater – eating meat..tsk tsk..I want!

  4. This is going to be one amazing journey for you. Your post had me rolling. Have fun and be safe!

  5. Aww Titi this is beautiful! I have always wanted to ESCAPE like this and really experience life…I think i’ll have to do it vicariously through you. I have subscribed to the blog. I will be reading. Every post till you return.
    Have a SAFE and BLESSED time there!

  6. Titi…..on day 1? Just tot to open this escape thing and am amazed,no wonder u r already thinking of staying there…just try it *hiss*.I’ll follow this religiously so I don’t kill u with jealous questions on bbm.am still ‘jealousing’ sha

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