The Beginning of the End

“They see it (Africa) as violent, corrupt, and poverty-stricken. Yes, there is all of the above, particularly poverty, the like of which we can scarcely imagine. But there is also great beauty and immense richness of spirit.” -Jessica Hilltout

Over the past five months or so I have seen great beauty in all that Cape Town has to offer. Now, as my days are numbered- I have begun saying goodbye to the people that shaped my experience in South Africa, the places that I will never forget, and things that I will deeply miss. On Saturday I fly back to New York, where I will be warmly greeted by my parents who are anxiously awaiting my arrival. The bittersweet reality is this: although I may find myself back in the U.S. in a matter of days, my heart will remain in Cape Town. I feel as if I still have so much that I want to experience in this rich city that I now call home. Some people have asked me what South Africa, and Cape Town specifically, is like. The best description that I can give is through a poem that was written by a friend of mine.

Cape Town you are two,
Both my sunsets and moon rises,
You are a city of pairs and doubles,
Couples and complimentary halves.
Both beautiful and ugly
you wrap tightly around your mountain
like a new pair of skinny jeans hugging my hips.
I watch the sun sink slowly over your ocean,
setting the sky on fire,
and then follow the moon creeping up,
admiring the glow it casts on the city below.
Your metropolis lights come out and twinkle,
sparkling little diamonds,
But even with the light, your streets are dark.
Your city is benevolent.
Both hectic and abusive,
but violently alive.
Long streets, fiercely awake
with rowdy revelers.
But also men revealing no teeth
in the shadowed allies.
Bright sun warms my back,
but I have to be sure to watch it
when I’m alone on your chilly streets.
A city both rich and poor.
Waterfronts with storefronts
Name brands and penthouse suites.
VIP Rooms boasting their exclusive treats.
Sprawling lawns with grasses freshly clipped,
but not far from sight, disheveled neighborhoods,
that make up your townships.
Small shacks and tin roofs,
no electricity, abandoned shoes,
Broken glass and snotty noses.
BUT don’t forget the philanthropic poses!
Posing, pretending, temporarily spending their tourist time
so that they can feel better, now thats a real crime.
Cape Town you city of twins!
Both laid back and spinning with chaos.
Sandy beaches with relaxing surf,
New stadiums with bright green turf,
Easy going, sauntering strides,
Kind eyes and effortless smiles,
All the mouths speaking non english words
and there’s more music than you’ve ever heard,
But its interrupted by whistles and shouts of WYNBERG!
Batty and bonkers these taxis wail down the street,
Jamming people inside, and making off like bandits
Best part is, it only costs you a couple rand cents.
Cape Town you are halved, split into two,
Vineyards nestled snugly under your skies so blue,
Crisp wine harvested from long rows of grapes,
Purple, red, and the lightest of greens,
and beer bought late from the shanty shebeens.
Bass noise pounds from your clubs,
And pool balls slam in your pubs.
Both broken and pristine,
A bit dirty but also quite clean,
You’re glossy and polished
with everything in its place,
but I can see the worn wrinkles upon your face,
make no mistake, I know where you hide,
Where you stowaway the crime and a few of your lies,
but I also admire your pride,
Your city is divine.
You pick pocketed my heart,
and also my wallet, cell phone, and credit cards
but don’t be alarmed,
I ran off with your experiences
and stole a bit of your soul
and combined it with mine.
Cape Town you are my gemini,
two halves making one whole.
I’ll take your good and your bad,
and love them both in equal parts.
Before we were separate,
We were oceans apart,
but then I came to you,
and you ran off with my heart.

During my time in South Africa I have been surrounded by 26 other girls on my program have done truly wonderful things with passion and determination. I know I may have sang their praises before, but I cannot say enough about them. After all, a math resource center was built at a disadvantaged secondary school, a soccer program was established at an after school program, libraries were opened at both a primary and a secondary school, a school nurse was appointed, a playground was built at a community center, a variety of workshops and programs were created, and one of my fellow service-learners even assessed national math tests, found shocking errors and then created a new exam. It saddens me to know that I will soon be saying farewell these ladies.

Speaking of, I am currently writing goodbye letters to the youth at my service site, Yabonga. Although we may not have always understood one another, words cannot describe how much these young adults have affected me. My last day of service is Thursday and I already know that saying goodbye to the youth will be one of the hardest things I have done. I already miss their joyful and warm personalities that made me feel so welcome at Yabonga. So with that, I say goodbye to Cape Town and it’s people. But I have the privilege of taking away the memories and experiences that will be life long treasures of mine.

The Yabonga youth at the Art for Action Community Gallery

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One comment

  1. Andy Koerner · · Reply

    Olivia, You are an amazing writer and such a thoughtful person. That poem is beautiful too. Enjoy your last days and know that you have probably touched them as they have touched you.

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