We moved into the houses yesterday! I live in the “cottage,” the smaller of the two houses. The main house and the cottage are right next to each other within a courtyard area, which is gated and has a security guard from 6PM to 6AM. I have a bedroom to myself that is about twice the size of my single at Vanderbilt freshman and sophomore year. I have two windows, a bed, desk, bookshelf, and closet/wardrobe kind of thing. Seven people live in my house, and we have three bathrooms, a kitchen, and living room. We have an RA, Thandi, that lives in the main house. Thandi is from Botswana and is a student at UCT’s law school. She’s wonderful, and I enjoyed hearing about customs and beliefs in Botswana over breakfast this morning. She talked about all the superstitions, and also gave the impression that the young generation now is breaking away more from some of the more traditional rituals and beliefs. A few examples of Botswana traditions/beliefs: An entire family is supposed to shave their heads when there is a death (this was one that the younger generation stopped participating in… they show their mourning instead by wearing a string around their necks for a year). Sleep talking is a sign of possession. If a baby won’t stop crying it is also a bad omen, and they mix up a secret herbal concoction and hold the baby (by his or her leg) over the herbs as they burn. They smoke knocks the baby out cold, thus stopping the crying. Thandi also explained more about virginity testing to me, which I remember hearing about from a South African guest speaking in one of my WGS classes. Teenage girls, usually in rural areas of South Africa, will be publicly tested to see if they are virgins (kind of like a public gynecologist appointment, without gloves). If they pass the test, they are more highly valued and worth more as a marriage prospect. If a girl is found to not be a virgin, she is basically considered a slut, and her parents will not expect as much compensation from a man to wed her.
We took a tour of UCT’s campus. It’s stunning. I can’t get over the beauty of Table Mountain, and it’s just right there when you’re walking around campus. There are three parts of campus, Upper Campus, Middle Campus, and Lower Campus… and they are aptly named, because the campus is inclined. Unfortunately we live on Lower Campus, so we have to huff and puff uphill to get to anything else on campus. I’m excited to see what campus is like when all the students are back and it really comes to life. There are 22,000 students, but only about 5,000 live on campus.
My group walking up the steps at UCT's Upper Campus.
On Wednesday evening we went to the beach. It was beautiful, but the water is FREEZING. It still blows my mind that I can be standing on the beach, look over and see gigantic mountains right next to me. We were supposed to go up to Table Mountain by cable car, but it was too windy for the cable cars to run, so we grabbed some food and went to Signal Hill instead to watch the sun set. We could see Robben Island from the hill, where Mandela was imprisoned for so many years. The view was breathtaking, and I got to witness my first African sunset.
A few things different in Cape Town from the US: I’ve seen two men walking around with huge AK47s. One was a guard standing by as a man transferred money from a bank into an armored car. I’m not sure what the other one was doing walking around with a gun. Also, a cab is different than a taxi. A cab is what we think of in the US. A taxi is more like a mini bus, and you don’t tell them where you want to go, you just get on if it’s going in the right direction. Cab’s are safer. And we have to lock and unlock our front door with a key even from the INSIDE. That's a pain.
Tomorrow, we are touring the townships where we have the options of working. I am looking forward to seeing that side of Cape Town.