Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A strange mix

Life in Cape Town can so far be described as paradoxical. It is a beautiful city, with stunning scenery surrounding it, great food, great wine and some of the friendliest people I've met anywhere, but juxtaposed with this is the constant fear of violent crime. You just don't go out on the streets at night. Some people would even consider going round the corner a risk, though the woman running the guest house told me not to worry as I cautiously crept around to the main street this evening to get a take-away - a meal I would normally have eaten in the restaurant, but by the time I would have finished it would have been completely dark and the park along which I had to walk seems rather notorious. I hurried home, steak and pate in hand.

The dichotomy is further confused when I try to compare the lifestyle here with that of Santiago, one of the safest places I've ever been, where women don't think twice about walking home alone at any time of the night, even in the most remote parts of the city. However, as I tried to find some jeans which go all the way to my ankles (no easy task) in a nearby shop earlier today I was amazed when the woman behind the counter told me that she was getting off work soon and if I could wait she would drive me somewhere that they might have my size (no such luck in the end). Still, the idea of someone opening up so quickly to a stranger in Galicia is not something I've ever come across before.

Later this afternoon (the work hours are shifted here, partly to take into account that you don't want to be getting home after dark and so people often work from 7am -5pm or so) a taxi driver told me of the horror stories in his part of the city (I shan't repeat them here) that have taken place over the last couple of days.

The cafeteria in the university adds more to the confusion, as signs flicker up on the walls asking you if you've secured your valuables, know where your bag is, have seen any suspicious behaviour, etc. etc. in blinking red dots. This added to the panic buttons placed around campus make this feels like some futuristic horror. These signs, I have little doubt, add more to the sense of paranoia than to people's caution levels - a subtle differentiation which I think is very important.

This all being said, one of the researchers here regularly heads into the townships to the bars where he has a great time and hasn't ever encountered any problems. It seems that the streets around the university which are empty at night are the perfect place to prey on the one or two students who happen to be coming home alone (several students murdered in this area recently - out too late after a party, or starling a burglar).

But people seem willing to adapt their way of living to deal with such things if they get to live in such a wonderful city and indeed the attitude of the people is easy going and extremely friendly, and right now they are all really looking forward to the month long hiatus which is going to mark the world cup coming to town.

Anyway, so I sit here in my guest house again this evening finishing off some notes on the current work, unable to venture outside. I'm hoping to meet up with some Couchsurfers in the next couple of days (I've already bumped into a Norwegian Couchsurfer I met in Seoul two years ago, while 'enjoying' a coffee on campus - enjoying is a bit of an overstatement, given the insipid brown fluid which you get when you order a coffee), and given a firm destination I should be able to take a taxi to meet people outside the confines of the street I'm staying on very soon.

I'll do my best to update shortly.

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