Along with “why are you here?”, I’ve gotten this question a lot while I’ve been in Cape Town. Each time, without hesitation, I’ve responded with an emphatic “no.” How could I be homesick? The culture, the food, the people, the nightlife…my small town in Minnesota pales in comparison to the magnificence of Cape Town. My parents sadly ask me on the phone why I want to stay, perhaps thinking I don’t want to see them (I promise Mom and Dad, that’s not it).
However, nature has a way of settling things sometimes. After a bout of illness and a lull at work, I am feeling more ready to leave. At the same time, I am starting to feel the loss of things that have created home for me the past couple of months. When I go to a local restaurant, I realize that I may never return. When I see Chrisslyn at the coffee shop, I understand that it could be the last time. Goodbyes, even when unspoken, have been difficult.
There are some things I will not miss about Cape Town. I will not miss the ogling glares and forward advances from men. At least five times this weekend I was asked if I had a boyfriend or if I was married by men who wanted to dance. Even an Uber driver questioned me about my supposed husband. Following my morning workout, a man followed me and asked where I went to yoga class so that he could come too. These approaches are mentally and emotionally taxing. I don’t feel like I have the energy to rebuff them anymore, leading me to sit in silent resignation. While not unique to Cape Town, these advances have felt much more pronounced here than any other location I’ve visited.
There are also plenty of things I will miss. Stunning views, an open and dynamic political environment, my work, the friends I have made. Living in Cape Town has opened my eyes to an entirely new culture, but at the same time it has reintroduced me to my own. I will return much more aware of my surroundings, including things I am grateful for. Cape Town has helped me remember how appreciative I am of home-cooked meals and high-speed internet. I look forward to the summer weather and indoor heating in the winter. The seeming minutia of daily life’s comforts suddenly seems much more exciting to me.
I will also return with an increased awareness of prevalent issues in South Africa. Both in Cape Town and Johannesburg, cases of racial and sexual discrimination were overt. I felt constantly confronted by these issues, especially because of discussions with other DukeEngage students. However, these issues are prevalent in the United States as well; I need to be more cognizant of these issues in my own home and take initiative to have conversations about them with my peers. While men in the US do not seem quite as forward in their advances or blatant in their sexism, this misogynistic behavior is still unbearably common in the US. Police brutality in the US continues, and black men are being gunned down by cops thirty minutes from my hometown.
The sharp awareness I have gained toward these issues in Cape Town is perhaps heightened by the seemingly open culture of South Africans I have met—they are not afraid to speak candidly about contentious issues. Through discussions with my DukeEngage group and others here, I’m starting to learn how to talk about race and gender relations more openly. These open discussions have revealed to me my own ignorance about many of these issues. As I am sure many Duke students can relate with, I do not like not knowing the answer or, even worse, admitting that to my peers. DukeEngage has allowed me to accept that I don’t know all the answers; it has taught me to be a listener. It is okay that I don’t know everything right now, as long as I am willing to look for other perspectives, for deeper understanding, for solutions I can be part of.
I don’t leave Cape Town homesick; I am sure I could spend weeks here and feel like I am never getting enough. But I am ready. I am ready to take back what I’ve learned, to see my home through a new perspective, to more openly listen to the perspectives of others, and to enjoy some Netflix.