I am under the impression that one could spend decades in Cape Town, South Africa and still find wonder each day. Throughout my time in the western cape, I’ve walked on sandy beaches, stood next to African penguins, winded along curvy roads on seaside cliffs, climbed mountains in the shape of tables and felines, watched families of baboons walk on all fours through streets and brush, tasted local wines in scenic valleys, watched a whale’s fin strike against the sea, devoured a delicious array of food, ventured to lighthouses at the corner of the continent, given rides to needy hitch hikers… the list goes on and on.
Though, amidst the marvelous variety of experiences, landscapes, and wildlife that Cape Town has to offer, it’s the diversity of the people that I will remember most about my six sacred weeks. Thanks to them, I was able to make the most out of my experience, constantly learning about the complex realities of Cape Town society. So for this blog post, the goal is to illuminate my experience by highlighting some of the people that made it unique.
But as a little warm-up, here is a list of some of the South African language that I frequently heard and sometimes used:
– Cape Town Vocabulary –
– Ubuntu: I am what I am, because of what we all are. Humanity towards others.
– Coach: If you were an older person involved with the academy, the players would call you “coach.” Not only would they call you “coach,” but they would say “coach” at the beginning and/or end of everything they said. Such as: “Coach, can we get a ride to school coach?” or to answer ‘how are you?’ they might say “fine, coach. And you, coach?”
– Maybru: my bro.
– Bucky: Pick-up truck. Also a rectangular container.
– Full-stop: The word for period, the point at the end of a sentence. “.”
– It’s chilled: It’s cool/ it’s okay/it’s chill.
– Lekka: The Afrikaans (one of the three main languages – with the other two, English and Xhosa) word for“sweet” or“cool.”
– Hectic: Same meaning as in the US, but the connotation is not as extreme when used in South Africa. Example: “traffic was hectic today.” or “Yo, that must be hectic.”
– Sheyo!: “Woah!” Usually responding to something surprising or unbelievable. – Eyo: “Oh.” This word’s meaning changed based on how it was said.
– Chips: French fries, or any other type of braiied or fried potato.
– Gatsby: A huge sub, filled with chips, your choice of protein, veggies, and a sweet sauce.
– “Thank you paw:” Before Reggie and Doreen’s dogs (Moogley and Cleo) ate, they gave Reggie a “thank you paw” handshake to express their gratitude. Video below
– Matriculate: To graduate.
– Lower School: Elementary/Middle School.
– Upper School: High School.
– Lulla Bell: (No, not the late-laundry service at Davidson College) The name of maybru Yale’s noble steed of a tiny red car.
– Older Academy boys –
One of my major responsibilities during my time volunteering with Ubuntu, was to help prepare some of the academy’s oldest players to continue their footballing careers in the United States at university. This happened in two ways: conducting daily SAT tutoring with Carl, Themba, and Wade, three of the Under-18 players who had already matriculated, as well as helping Wade and Chadley, one of the yet-to-matriculate Under-18 players, complete their very first college applications.
Through these experiences, I was able to gain insight in to the academic standards of the area, and re-acclimate myself with the college application process. But more importantly, these experiences allowed for me to build relationships with the boys, and learn about the impact Ubuntu has had on their lives.
The three matriculated boys – pictured above – are a trip. Rarely was there a dull moment when we were together – particularly with all of Wade’s self-proclaimed famous relatives. In exchange for the daily SAT maths tutoring, Carl, Themba, and Wade challenged me to learn how to roll my “r”s, a common linguistic ability for the native tongue. Despite their incessant laughter at my attempts, I think I made reasonable progress.
Through Wade and Chadley’s application process, I met with the principal of the upper school to see if she had any questions, and to clarify some of the American lingo found on the Common Application. The conversation we shared outside of her office remains on my mind over a month later –
“He has a great integrity about him,” describing one of the boys,“despite coming from very difficult circumstances. You know, some of these kids come from a place of absolute privilege,” she went on, growing visibly frustrated and tense, “and can act like little sh**s.”
“It goes to show we all make choices,” I reacted.
“Yes, it’s choices,” she paused for a moment to look up. Then confidently continued with easy eyes and a soft smile, “and it’s how your parents love you.”
– Reggie and Doreen –
My host parents were warm and welcoming throughout my entire stay. Towards the end of my visit, they offered to take me and one of Reggie’s fourteen siblings, Jenny, around the peninsula in their new car. It was funny. We planned for our drive to be on Heritage Day, but in stereo-typical Cape Town township fashion, we scheduled for the wrong date! Fortunately, the misunderstanding did not keep us from our venture.Our first destination was Red Hill, the village in which Reggie and Jenny grew up – not far up the mountain from where they now live in Ocean View. As we slowly drove along the rural two-lane road, my tour guides shared stories from their farm-life on the mountaintop. They told me about about how they attended school, walked down the mountain to Simon’s Town for groceries, and didn’t need lights to see at night because they were used to the pitch-black. I was wide-eyed, holding on to every word, when we began to slow to a stop.
Following Reggie’s eyes, I looked left out the passenger-side window: saw nothing. We kept inching forward. Finally, as we moved passed some brush, I could see several small piles of stone resting on the ground – Reggie’s former home.It took my breath away. “Yeh man,” Reggie said in his normal, conversational voice, “the government came through and tore down all the houses once Apartheid began. That way, no one would try to move back after we were removed.” If you ever need a reminder of how the past shapes the present, Cape Town is a decent place to visit.
After turning down an offer to have his picture taken with the foundation – because he already had one – Reggie drove us forward.
Before we made it off the mountain, we stopped again. This time for a tribe of baboons.Seeing nature at work was fascinating. At first, the mood amongst the tribe was calm. Then suddenly the alpha male appeared with his chest out, forcing several commanding calls. Immediately, the tribe became unsettled. I can’t say with certainty, but I think he was warning his tribe about us.
After a few minutes, the baboons cleared the street, and we began our descent from Red Hill towards Simon’s Town – home of South Africa’s largest naval base (and the South African Penguin).
After driving down the mountain that Reggie and his family used to scale to attend school and purchase groceries, we spent a few hours at the Simon’s Town Museum. We then ate a packed-lunch in the car at Jubilee Square, a beautiful public park overlooking the bay. In response to having to pay for parking, Reggie laughed toward the parking marshal, “I used to park here with my horse wagon every week, and never had to pay.”
After lunch and a stop to see the penguins, we drove towards Cape Point – the most south-west point of Africa – to loop back home. On the way, we stopped by the Cape Point Ostrich Farm, where I bought Reggie and Doreen a much-deserved gift of appreciation, a decorative ostrich egg, and some ostrich jerky for myself.
– “Daniel” and Bob Marley –
Confession: I never met anyone named Daniel or Bob Marley during my six weeks in Cape Town. But, occasionally during my downtime, I enjoyed playing Reggie’s guitar on the second-story balcony outside the loft I stayed in.
One night, as I was playing, two black men walked by and tried to sell me newspapers. I politely refused.
They smiled. Instead of carrying on, the shorter one with a missing front tooth asked me, “Come on, can you play this song?” He took a deep breath, then began singing (shouting?) in a raspy voice: “Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane…”
I laughed to myself, “are you serious? I’m in the middle of a South African township and have this presumably impoverished salesman requesting for me to play Elton John – on an acoustic guitar of all things!”
With a smile, I called down, “oh that’s a great song! But unfortunately I don’t know how to play it!”
“oh!” he shouted, “Come on, it’s just a C… and a G!” Next thing you know, we began performing the first few lines of Elton John’s “Daniel” as if we were free Tuesday night entertainment at a local bar.
During another balcony jam session, four young local boys walked passed. They asked if I knew how to play reggae music. One of them then requested Bob Marley. So I looked up the chords to “One Love,” and we sang together. Music can be an incredible connector.
– Ubuntu House Boys –
During three weeks of my time in Cape Town, my friend Shawn visited his family in Atlanta. I would have liked to spend more time with him, but, in terms of my Watson project and the wellbeing of Ubuntu Football Academy, the timing of his trip could not have been better. I say this because, while he was gone, I was able to learn a lot by fulfilling some of his regular responsibilities with academy.One of my first Shawn-sponsibilities (Shawn-responsibilities) was to pick up the fifteen boys who live at the house from church youth on Friday night. I am not entirely sure of all went down that night during youth, but the boys we energized! Once I arrived, a couple of the youth leaders and I encouraged the boys to form a line, so that we could account for all the boys.
Before we could even say two words, we were met by a blur of hysterical boys sprinting out of the church towards Shawn’s white bucky in the dimly-lit parking lot. Well, we tried! I was astounded that all fifteen boys could cram into that bucky. Before we could pull out of the church parking lot, one of the boys connected his phone to the aux chord and began blasting Afrikaans hip-hop music throughout the car.
As my hands gripped the steering wheel, I remember feeling desperately out of control; I thought to myself, “what have I gotten myself into!?” Though as the days went on, I began to develop a healthy routine with the boys.I regularly picked them up from training, helped facilitate their time at the house, and even took ten or so of them down to Long Beach, Kommetjie one Sunday evening to watch the sunset over the water.
With us on the beach were two boys from Zimbabwe. They were on trial, with hopes of playing for Ubuntu. Being raised in a less-developed landlocked country, they had never seen the ocean before coming to Cape Town. We ended up spending over an hour walking around Long Beach, visiting and taking pictures. A few of the boys even learned how to zoom on my point-and-shoot Canon.
Towards the end of my stay, the Under 17’s goalkeeper, Taariq, and I went to KFC (pictured above-left) to celebrate his perseverance in the cup semi-final match. As a goal-keeper in the penalty shoot-out, he helped bring his team from behind and confidently struck his penalty (video below) to clinch the victory. A true display of passion, perseverance, and confidence.
– Football Forward Boys –
Coaching at Football Forward, Ubuntu’s after-school recruitment and outreach program, was one of my absolute favorite things to do in Cape Town. While taking part in these weekly sessions, I was able to connect with normal township boys through a sport that we all loved.
During my six weeks, I helped run sessions in three of the six different Football Forward locations – Grassy Park, Ocean View, and Khayelitscha – all Capetonian townships. Oftentimes, many of the attendees (locals age 9-11) didn’t speak good English. Football became our common language.I particularly enjoyed coaching in Khayelitscha, Cape Town’s largest and fasted growing township. Over 400,000 inhabitants live in the crammed shacks. To get to the fields at Site C in Khayelitscha, I would meet Johnny, one of the Ubuntu Coaches, at his house downtown. We would then drive to the township together. He always drove, so that I could soak in the environment (and so that I didn’t get lost.)
My eyes were glued to the window as we drove past the seemingly endless landscape of shacks. Most of the ‘buildings’ were small, made of corrugated metal, and had low roofs. Below the shacks, I watched as toddlers play with tires on the side of the street. Above the shacks, Jonny pointed out how nearly all of the houses illegally received power, by a wire connecting the interior to one of the public generators on light poles.
By getting a small taste of the Khayleitsca way of life, I gained much perspective on my own privilege and the impact of Ubuntu Football’s mission.
– People’s Church Crew –
Now I couldn’t mention the people of Cape Town without this group. Aside from my involvement with Ubuntu, these were my people.Watch a Hybrid Video of me, Daisy (the adventurous runaway dog), Shawn, Micaela, and Hannah’s hike up the Sentinel:
Watch a Hybrid Video of me, mon frere Yannick, and Micaela’s trip to the Cape of Good Hope here:
– ‘Cats in the Cape –
While eating Ethiopian food with our hands, Claire, Zari, and I discussed the possibility of going for a hike. Zari confidently said, “you two have fun. If you’re hungry when you’re done, I’ll cook for you.”
The next Friday night, I hung out with Zari and one of her friends from study abroad in Camps Bay, one of the richest areas in South Africa. We had a great time, exploring a few of the restaurants and bars along the waterfront.
The following week, before her family arrived on vacation, Claire and I hiked to the top of Table Mountain. It came at a very good time for me, because I was craving some one-on-one time with a friend. We took the Platteklip Gorge trail, a steep route that follows a fresh stream, to get to the top. When we reached the top, the views were nothing short of extraordinary.
Watch a Hybrid Video of me and Claire’s Table Mountain hike:
– Paul, Dumi, and Robben Island –
If you ever visit Cape Town and have the time and means, the Robben Island tour is a must. You get your money’s worth from the boat ride alone; the tour itself is bonus. Robben Island, a few kilometers off the coast of downtown Cape Town, is home to a historic prison, where political prisoners were held during the years of Apartheid.
Apartheid was a series of laws, regulations, and norms that racially segregated Cape Town from 1948 until 1994. Apartheid ended thanks, in part, to Nelson Mandela, a legendary political prisoner-turned-president. Mandela’s face is now on all of the paper currency (Rand) and is internationally recognized.
Using some of that currency, I bought a solo-ticket to the island during my final week in South Africa. Waiting in line to get on the boat, I met Paul, a tourist from Austria. We chatted for a bit on the boat ride over, and ended up becoming tourist buddies, sharing the experience together and taking pictures for one another.
All of the tour guides were once imprisoned on the island, including our guide Dumi, who spent five of his 30-year sentence before the prison closed in the mid 1990’s.
Watch a Hybrid Video of my Robben Island experience:
– Ubuntu Staff –
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to work alongside and learn from the driven staff at Ubuntu Football Academy. Thank you for the opportunity to grow, learn, and contribute.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epfiZGS_ULE What a wonderful first step to my Watson journey.
Now, on to Ghana with Right to Dream Academy until midd-December!