Insight News

Feb 06th

Journey to the Mother Land

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p1010652Early in 2011, I left my home in east Bloomington for South Africa to pursue my Master's degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The night prior to my travels, for the first time I was consumed with immense fear and anxiety. I pushed through my frights and within three connecting flights and a seven-hour layover in Abu Dhabi, I had crossed the threshold –customs into Mama Afrika. The agent, whom I identified as Black, which I soon learned was indeed Coloured, looked at my passport, looked at me and said "Welcome home." With those two words all of my previous worries drifted away. While driving to my new digs – Capetonian lingo for home – near my school's campus, I was amazed, startled and very jet-lagged. I marveled at high glorious mountains, good infrastructure, beautiful two-story homes and hundreds of shacks made of tin, wood and even plastic.

grouppiccampingdscf3231My first semester at UCT was a struggle to say the least. My funds were low. I couldn't land a job. I was homesick. I was fascinated yet challenged with the Republic of South Africa's (RSA) politics and racial stratifications. I was confused with the school system and classes and most of all I found it hard to relate to people.

Although Cape Town is a cosmopolitan city, I found that many of the locals tend to remain with their own cultural or racial groups and the people at Uni–Capetonian, which is how we referred to the university and school, had known each other since undergrad. I also struggled with being viewed as Coloured and how and why Coloured people still viewed themselves as such. In November, my first year was coming to a close and although I started making more friends and enjoying the social scene, I had decided I would complete my thesis back home in Bloomington. However, after a week or so of being home, I felt the Afro-beat/Afro-house calling me back through the sounds of Liquideep – one of my favorite South African groups.

jhfeeding the babiesFebruary 2012 couldn't come quick enough. I was refilled and rejuvenated with excitement to return to the Mother City – a common nickname for Cape Town. This time, I decided not to live in the cozy suburb near my university. I moved into the city to an area called Zonnebloem – Afrikaans for sunflower – in the historic District Six area with Ola, my British-Nigerian friend, and Marjon, our new Dutch roommate. I would love to say I was knee deep in my thesis but this was not the case. Marjon and I partied our weekends away up and down Long Street – a long strip through the city lined with clubs, bars, hostels and restaurants similar to Hennepin Avenue or 1st Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

dscf4053Whenever friends asked me to join them for a sundowner – a gathering including wine and a snack, usually on a hill or a high balcony – to watch the sunset into the Atlantic Ocean, I was there. Marjon, Ola and I found any and every excuse to host braais – Afrikaans for barbecue, at our digs. I went on monthly – sometimes weekly – hikes up Lion's Head or nature reserves, and I volunteered with a school organization two to three times a week in Khayelitsha – an impoverished community known as a township.

Eventually, I was able to gain self-control and refocused on my thesis. I researched Coloured identity in RSA and I would even joke with the locals that I was from Mitchell's Plain – a historic and largely Coloured community. During school breaks, I travelled to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal and even to Tanzania with my now best friend Rianne. At my Uni, I attended tense forums on issues of race, gender, sexuality and inequality in RSA.

In less than two years, I had fallen completely in love with the complexity I had come to know as RSA. I made friends from all over the world – Zimbabwe, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Mauritius, Norway, Belgium, India, Brazil and Germany. My South African friends shared with me their Indian, Zulu, Xhosa, Cape Malay Coloured, Afrikaans, Khoi and British cultures and the challenges they endure in South African society. I absolutely loved my new home away from home and I intended on making it my permanent home for years to come.

classmatesUnfortunately, I had run out of funds and was unable to find employment. Sourly, I returned to Bloomington where, I completed my thesis and longed for my next extended stay or at least another Cape Town beach day.

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