Welcome to Cape Town!

May 28, 2011

Today was our first full day in South Africa, and I’ve felt like I’ve already learned more about life.  Much of that was actually in getting here.

Everything had been planned out.  Mom would drive me to Roswell.  I would catch my flight there, transfer at Dallas, transfer again at Chicago, then arrive in New York where I would stay the night with a friend of mine.  The next morning I would meet my ISV group at JFK and we would hop on our flight to South Africa.  As it turns out, life doesn’t like to go according to plan.  Upon arrival in Roswell, we were told that, due to the bad weather in Dallas, our flight was cancelled.  Cue frantic phone calls, searching for information, and finally a frantic drive to El Paso, Texas… 250 miles away.

I can not express how grateful I am to both of my parents.  Mom took control of the situation and worked to get me whatever flight I could to get me in to New York on time.  Dad drove at warp speed to get me to the airport on time.  Even my grandparents, who live in El Paso, met me at the airport to make sure everything was going okay.  It is amazing to have so much support from my family.

The new plan was actually a bit cleaner.  El Paso to Denver, then to New York.  The only drawback was that I would be arriving a few hours later at 11:45 pm.  It was the first time I’d ever flown alone, but after the serious hiccups at the beginning I felt like I knew what I was doing.

Unfortunately that feeling didn’t follow me into New York.  Everything was so big and busy!  Being from a town of 10,000 people and suddenly in a town of millions, I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I was lost and terrified.  I almost immediately went into culture shock.  I didn’t sleep much that night and kept waking up and panicking.  That was a fun night…

Thankfully I was panicking for no reason.  The rest of the trip had no problems.  We got up early and took the subway from Manhattan and into Queens, then we took a bus to JFK.  I checked in and finally got to take it easy.  The flight to Johannesburg was a really long one.  I still couldn’t sleep, though.  Instead I played with my individual entertainment system and ultimately watched four movies.

My group, those of us doing African Impact, transferred to Cape Town.  I don’t remember any of this flight because I passed out as soon as we reached cruising speed.  The afternoon and evening were dedicated to familiarizing ourselves with our house and new friends, but we were all pretty exhausted.  As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out.

Since it’s the weekend, we have these two days to explore the area.  Today we had planned to go to Table Mountain, but it was raining when we got up.  Instead, we decided to visit Robben Island.  When we got there, though, we discovered that all tours were booked, so we got tickets for tomorrow morning.  Since we had no plans for the day, the groups split into two groups.  Most of the girls hopped on a city tour bus to explore Cape Town, and the rest of us went with our project leaders to an open market and Long Street.

To be honest, South Africa is a lot more westernized than I was expecting.  The last thing I expected to hear on the radio was Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.  I guess it makes sense, though.  There was one thing that met and surpassed my expectations.  It is BEAUTIFUL here.

I am a little overwhelmed by the minor differences, though.  As an example, I still have a moment of panic when I see something with a price of 50.  That’s rand, of course, which converts to around $7, but just seeing that as a price on a menu is pretty shocking.  The many accents in the area are hard to adjust to, as well as the words.  Today I learned that when someone tells you “sorry” for no apparent reason, you should get out of their way.

Though today was awesome, we did have a couple of frightening experiences.  The first is a remnant of the old culture of the area.  We were out shopping for dinner and passed by a gas station.  An old, drunken white man was standing in the parking lot screaming that all the black people needed to “get out.”  This man obviously lived through the apartheid and still believed that anyone who was black should not be in the city at night, as were the laws in the past.  The employees he was yelling it were just ignoring him and going on with their jobs, meaning that similar things must happen fairly often.  Hopefully the future will bring less racism to the country.

The other experience turned out to be much more funny than it could have been.  We were shopping at a supermarket and turned to see a man wearing all black, including a black mask, holding something out in front of him.  There was a brief moment of panic where we though the store was getting robbed, then another man walked in dressed as a Ninja Turtle.  Thanks, random people in costumes, for scaring us to death.

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About jessinsafrica

Hi, my name is Jessica MacKinnon. I am driven to work to make the world a slightly better place. I was really excited to take that motivation to somewhere I thought really needed improvement. What actually happened, though, was that I instead became a better person.
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