There are a lot of things I love about Cape Town, but two of my favorite things have been the people and the gustatory offerings. Since arriving here I have found myself surrounded by the most diverse and interesting group of people I could ask for. Coming here I expected to find myself surrounded by South Africans, as well as refugees from a number of African countries. While that has been true, I have found myself surrounded by people from all over the world, and I have loved getting to learn so much from each of them. My lovely hosts are German and South African, and my newly acquired housemates are Libyan and German. The PASSOP staff consist of two Congolese individuals, a Zimbabwean, and a Malawian. The people who visit our office, though they come from all over, are predominantly Congolese, Zimbabwean, Somali, and Nigerian. The interns in our office are Bolivian, French, Italian, German, Tajikistani, Scottish, and South African. And the women in my boot camp are all South African.
Besides these people that I see on a daily basis, and with whom I have the pleasure of discussing their backgrounds, their studies, world events, South Africa, refugee rights, etc., I have also loved the random conversations I have gotten to have with strangers in passing. I almost always get into discussions with my Uber drivers, and as many of them are not native South Africans, have talked with them about their background and what I am doing in South Africa. I spent one entire car ride discussing the ZSP program (a special permit program for Zimbabweans) with my driver, the problems he has had with having his application approved, and ended up giving him my contact info so he could come into our office and try to get his application resolved. With another, a man from the Congo, we talked about his relocation to South Africa, the violence in the DRC, and about the upcoming elections in November 2016. (That is definitely one great thing I have gotten out of this job—I can have discussions about what is going on in far more countries than I could before, and when people mention city names, or leaders, etc. I can actually have a semi-articulate discussion.) Then there was the man that we met on the train to Simon’s Town who struck up a conversation with me and a couple friends after taking note of our accents. The man was originally from Guyana, was on his way to Greece 20 years ago when he and the boat’s captain got in a disagreement and the captain put him off in Dar es Salaam. He traveled throughout Africa before making him way to South Africa. He has also traveled throughout the world, was able to discuss politics, history and current events from all over, and gave us a lecture in Roman history at the end. It ended up being fascinating and one of those unexpected encounters that make traveling so fun. I really have learned so much more from these interactions than I ever could have hoped for.
On the food front, I have enjoyed exploring the many markets that this city has to offer. Most of my Saturdays have started off with a visit to the Old Biscuit Mill, a renovated warehouse complex about a 10 minute walk from where I live that features a number of shops and restaurants, and on Saturday mornings hosts the Neighborhood Food Market. There is a parking shed that is converted to a food hall, with a covered tent extending off of it. Out front are a number of different craft beer, local wine, and cocktail bars, with urban chic seating areas. Either round, low cocktail style tables with the tabletop surrounding a flower pot, and the stools being upside down flower pots, or long boards set up on sawhorses as a table and another set up on buckets as a bench, with pots of flowers on those tables as well. Inside there are dozens of stalls selling everything from gourmet waffles to shwarma to brick oven pizza to souvlaki to paella to hot dogs, not to mention more stands selling craft beer and local wines. There are also a few stalls selling flowers, produce, nuts and soaps. I have also had occasion to check out the Granger Bay Market, a smaller market near the waterfront that seems to cater to a more local clientele. It has a number of veggie stands, as well as a few stalls selling hummus, various spreads, cheeses, honey, etc., and there is a small food hall at the back. Most Thursdays I visit the Earth Fair Market in the heart of the city, and I have explored the markets out in Hout Bay and Stellenbosch as well.
The food here is delicious, and I have enjoyed sampling some of the culinary offerings that are more unique to the area. I’ve had a delicious fish on the braai (basically barbecued), with traditional side dishes of puthu (a crumbly maize sort of like couscous) covered with chakalaka (a spicy tomato, onion and vegetable relish). I have had oxtail stew with pap (a maize porridge that looks like mashed potatoes but is denser. It has no flavor of its own, but soaks up the flavor of whatever it is served with, and is a staple food as it is cheap and filling.) and umngqusho (samp (dried corn) and beans). I also sampled impala (which was actually quite tasty) and ox tongue (which despite its grey color was fine as long as I didn’t think about what it was). At one of the markets I tried a kudu stew, which was delicious, but I shouldn’t have looked up a picture of a kudu after, because it was quite cute and then I began to feel guilty about my delicious lunch.