Lamingtons and Cape Town
We’ve had a few days to re-group, wander the city. We’ve seen a couple of movies at the cheapest cinema in the world: old ones, but we hadn’t seen them yet. We’ve visited the district six museum, been approached for money countless times, we’ve grown accustomed to our cheap hotel – the cheapest beds of our trip to date.
I’ve pledged not to use the phrase “land of contrasts” in this blog, Mr K has pledged to post his first(!) blog post within the week. We ate seafood at the cheapest restaurant we could find – it made us wonder what the most expensive might have been like. We’re not going to find out.
We’ve found a good pizza place, cheap soups and sandwiches; we’ve even had a liqueur coffee for less than a normal coffee often costs. It’s a good country for budget travel. But, the city is like the setting for a dystopic novel: beautiful and troubled. Perhaps I’m over-interpreting things but I feel like there’s tension in every micro-relationship – the waiters and shopkeepers, the taxi drivers after dark. The white touts outside restaurants on the waterfront call us “guys”, the black taxi drivers call me “ma’am”, the boredom of the black girls at the supermarket feels like resentment and perhaps it is.
I try to smile a lot. I’m not sure if this is appropriate or just making things worse.
Beggars regal us at pedestrian crossings with stories of their removal from their homes. Leaving the supermarket one had a sad story about his sister that he told Mr K while I unwrapped a lamington I had spotted in the bakery display case, laced with jam and cream. Mr K waved him off and we stepped out into the street. “Please ma’am,” he said to me, “just something to eat?” I broke off a corner of lamington and gave the rest to him – frustrated but, having had a few bites, not sorry to lose the rest of the cake. He ate it and I felt repentant, because if you’re hungry of course you have every right to ask someone who has enough money for cakes for some food. Didn’t we learn in primary school: if your family is starving, it’s OK to steal a loaf of bread to feed them?
And so the dystopia is complete: there are no true villains, just victims and desperation.
I don’t want to comment on the politics, it’s all much too complicated for me to think I have any answers. I’d be pleased if I could just come up with a consistent way to handle the begging, but even that is difficult.
It’s clear why so many South Africans leave, even though they don’t have anywhere else that’s home. And why they talk about it with heart ache, but they can’t move back. “Not yet,” they sometimes say. And, for the thousandth time I wonder why I am so lucky, to have not just one, but now two, homelands that, though not entirely untroubled, are safe, clean, and relatively fair and happy?