I feel a little bit like a new mother when I talk about Cape Town; everything is framed in terms of “firsts.” But while a new mom would talk about her baby’s first smile, first bath and first night of sleep without crying, I find myself thinking about the first time I climbed Table Mountain, the first time first time I correctly pronounced someone’s name and the first time I ate a Gatsby, a ridiculous sub sandwich with greasy meat and French fries on the bread.
We’re now beginning our fourth week in Cape Town and as those firsts turn into seconds and thirds, we are becoming acclimated with what will be our schedule for the next four months. We’ve completed our second week of classes and many of us have already turned in assignments. Most members of our group met this past week with the service site coordinators who will help us organize the service work we’ll be doing in correlation with our Leaders in Grassroots Organizations class. We’ve even established that Sunday will be the day each week that we all share a meal together…like a real family. Uncle Brian can’t wait to unleash his Class A spaghetti on the house.
It is very exciting to begin feeling normal in a new culture, because that at least partly indicates a sense of comfort with a way of life that was once completely unfamiliar. On the second day I went to the Nyanga township where I will be teaching guitar lessons in an after-school program, the children who attend the program’s music, sports, and cultural awareness classes were familiar faces. (The boy below is a three-year-old named Asa. Though he is too young to attend the program, he pushes a chair from class to class as though it is a car and is referred to by students and staff as the school’s principal.)
As I attended classes for the second time, we moved past the introductory phase and into the real issues we will be talking about: the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, inescapable poverty in the city’s townships, and the theology of reconciliation and forgiveness in a country that knows these topics better than most.
While I am thrilled to be getting used to things here, I am also conscious of not wanting to fall into too much of a routine. I think the more times I repeat an activity, whether it is teaching a class, going to a grocery store or eating at a certain restaurant, the more likely I am to stop paying as much attention to what I’m doing. If my life is full of the same activities every day, chances are I’ll be missing a lot.
Even though we’re still in the early stages of our trip, we’ve been conscious of trying new things. Saturday, Ryan Corr and I climbed towards Devil’s Peak, a more rugged but smaller summit than Table Mountain. We made sure we wore our outdoorsy but unnecessary camping backpacks to indicate to everyone we passed how extreme we were.
Others in the group watched a rugby match, which is also pretty foreign to people used to football, basketball and baseball. Sunday, we took a rafting trip down the Palmiet River and found ourselves surrounded by grassy mountains that looked like they came straight out of the Lord of the Rings. Not wanting the comparison to end there, our landlord David referred to his raft as his precious. He’s a pretty interesting guy.
We even went to a karaoke bar Saturday night, which was a first for this guy. I may or may not have sang a Backstreet Boys song. Add that to the list of best choices I’ve ever made.
We all still have a lot of things on our “To Do In South Africa” list (and on “The Best Choices Ever Made” list), and it’s important that we make sure to keep hitting points on that list. Getting used to a schedule is great and will probably help in making us feel normal in a new culture. I have a feeling, however, that continuing to try new things is what’s going to make us feel alive here.