After a grueling 20-hour flight and a 9-hour stop in the Dubai International Airport (which by the way was really clean, at least compared to LAX and SFO), I finally arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. Now before getting into the details, there are a few things worth going over, no matter how obvious. One, there weren’t any lions or other wild animals roaming around the bushes, at least when I got out of the airport. Two, if you expect Cape Town to be miles of farm land and dirt roads (which I knew wasn’t the case since I Googled it before getting on the flight in Dubai), you’re going to be disappointed. A pretty easy way to describe Cape Town is to compare it to San Francisco, just without the red bridge and instead with a beautiful mountain range set right in the heart of city. These mountains, called the Black Tables due to their rather flat top, are probably the most stunning sight I saw when touching down. They were even more enthralling when driving near them on the way to my new home, a city nearly an hour away from Cape Town called Franschoek.
I live with my exchange partner, Mathomo, and with his other exchange, Umagla, going to the Bridge House School. Sharing a house with four other people is definitely a different experience from being an only child. Mathomo and his family live in a suburban-like gated community, which has a beautiful view of the mountains from the club house. This part of the community is very familiar. When I step outside the gates and walk around, I am confronted by small underdeveloped housing settlements called townships. Townships, which were originally built for “nonwhite” citizens during the Apartheid regime, are still the most shocking sight when I drive to school. Even though I have witnessed poverty to a similar extent whenever I visit India with my family, understanding the history behind these settlements and the racism that is still continuing to affect people’s lifestyle has definitely created a different scope through which I see. What I have learned and seen in just my short time here will never be forgotten and will stick with me throughout my whole life. It has touched me and showed me the many privileges I have back home.
Nevertheless, it has been a fun time and I already have so many stories to tell. I’ll just write about a few of the most memorable. The first was right after I was picked up from the airport, the very first place we went was to a little shack near the freeway that was selling fish. Now you might be asking, “What’s the big thing about fish, I can get it anywhere.” For one, the fish was just recently caught and two (this part is a bit gruesome), it wasn’t skinned. I had not seen fish that hadn’t been skinned, so it was an interesting experience. On top of that, we had to keep it in the backseat since the trunk was full. I can assure you that the smell did not make it better when I had to keep it in my lap.
I came across another funny thing at a friend’s house the very next day. When I walked in, I realized the number of cats and dogs came to a surprising grand total of 5, but the more shocking part came later. I was on the couch watching Harry Potter with Mathomo, Umagla, and his friend when I heard a really funny shriek that sounded like “Help.” I thought I was hearing things, which was ironic because in the movie, Harry was hearing random snake-like voices calling to him. When I went to check it out, to my fascination I saw a parrot. It wasn’t crying “Help,” but it was in fact shrieking “Harry.” Instead of emphasizing all of the syllables, the parrot just said the first four letters making it seem like it said “Help.” I soon learned two things: the parrot’s name is Kullula, and having parrots is quite common in South Africa.
In just one week I have already had a wonderful time and hope to have even more memorable experiences and anecdotes to share. And if you have trouble understanding the local slang on your first few days of exchange and are hesitant to ask for the meaning of things–since you did that a couple times and saw a few funny faces looking around you–Google is your friend.