“It’s just that, you look so ethnic.”

-Someone in Cali, May 2017

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On Beauty (Cali)

At first, I found Cali ugly, with its unfinished buildings of little ambition. But I’ve come to realize that sometimes beauty takes its time to dawn.

Nostalgia, Already (Table Mountain)

The first time I peeled, I thought I was dying.

I had just returned from Cuba. At first I chalked it up to dry skin, but the skin – my skin! – kept rubbing off with frightening ease. I showed my mother.

“Oh, you’re just peeling. From the sun,” she had said.

“Huh?”

“You must have gotten burnt in Cuba.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that happened to us.”

I was reminded of that special moment earlier, after sloughing off a layer from my forehead. Memories of South Africa, but more specifically, standing in line for the cable car up Table Mountain. I was out there for about 2 hours and half of that time was spent in the sun. If I had known about that wait in advance, I might not have gone (or I would have at least worn sunscreen). But the views from Table Mountain were magnificent and worth every second in the sun. I had lucked out, because the day before and the two days after were so windy that the cable cars weren’t running.

I hope my burnt layer hangs around for a bit longer to remind me of my good fortune and fun times.

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“Careful down around that area. These guys – pickpockets. And they’re not even South African, eh? They’re from other parts of Africa, but they come here . . . to con people.”

-Someone in Cape Town, January 2017

Coloured (Cape Malay)

Cape Town feels like an island. You can definitely feel the proximity of the water, even when you can’t see it.

I went searching for South African food shortly after arriving at my hotel in the CBD (Central Business District), but all I could find were chicken livers on fancy “international” menus. So I settled in at a place called Tiger’s Milk on Long Street.

The waiter was very attentive and clearly curious about me, so I took the opportunity to ask him about South African food.

“Well, because South Africa is made up of different cultures, it depends. Indians have their curries; the white guys have their braai. For example, in my culture, we have chutneys.”

“What’s your culture?” I had my own ideas, based on what he looked like to me, but I wanted to hear how he identified according to South African norms.

“Let’s say, the polite way to say it is Cape Malay.”

“The polite way?”

“Basically Coloured. But I know that for American people it’s not good to say that.”

“How do you feel about it?”

“It doesn’t bother me. Actually I’m proud to say it.”

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“This was something that always confused me about Joburg: The fact that you could be in an affluent area one minute, and simply stumble upon a destitute one the next. In Cape Town, they were much more intentional about keeping people out.”

-Someone in Johannesburg, January 2017

King Kong (No New Friends)

NYE at a place called King Kong. Think industrial space turned hipster hangout.

Eric Lau and Tall Black Guy were spinning along with local DJs Just Themba, Symatics and others. Everything was going well. I felt good.

Some soulful hip hop I didn’t recognize was playing, but I was dancing anyway. My friend, Thando, had just walked away to get a drink, and that’s when the hype man of the night approached me.

“Hey, if any guys are bothering you, you can pretend I’m your boyfriend,” he said.

“Ok thanks,” I said, chuckling in the most friendly way I could muster. I had seen Hype Man talk to a number of people throughout the night, but he seemed to be there alone.

He continued to hover while I danced and avoided eye contact. Seconds later, he approached me again, and asked if I wanted to be a spy.

“Sorry?” I asked, thinking I had misunderstood.

“Are you interested in being a spy? We could use someone like you.”

“Uh, no thanks, I’m good.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, can I just have a hug?”

I laughed, shook my head no, and danced back a few steps. He moved forward, insisting that I give him a hug. “C’mon, there are people watching me. I need to make it look like–”

“You okay?” It was Thando. I told him what was happening, all while Hype Man kept asking for this hug.

Thando stepped between us and I walked away. He kept Thando occupied for a good minute before Thando could finally break free and head over to where I was standing.

“Weird,” was all he said before lifting the Savanna cider to his lips for a drink.

A.

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Maboneng (Ossington)

For a second my mind wandered, and I thought I was on Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, down by the old industrial buildings close to the lake. But the lake was missing.

Maboneng: place of light. Hipsters’ paradise. Even us social justice folks have to admit when a place looks cool. Feels cool. Oozes cool. We don’t want to acknowledge that we’re complicit in the gentrification. That we patronize the very establishments that push (poor) people out. But we do. And we enjoy it.

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Polite Conversation (Pretoria)

“I’ve been thinking of going to Pretoria, just to see it since it’s so close. What’s it like?” I asked.

“It’s very White,” she replied. “A lot of oppressive energy.”

“Oh.”

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I Write What I Like

I keep forgetting what day it is. The calendar icon on the doc of my Macbook is saying the 23rd. I think it’s Friday?

Vacation does this, but travelling even more so. Travelling across an ocean and various timezones complicates things immensely.

Oh yeah, I’m in South Africa.

How long does it take to get from Colombia to South Africa, you ask? Days.

And what am I doing here? I’m not sure, exactly. As my mother said to me, “At a time when everyone is trying to get home for the holidays, you take off for the wild kingdom!” (Yes, she said that.) I get it. But I couldn’t go home. And I couldn’t stay where I was either. I needed to be somewhere different; to feel something different. For now, it’s Johannesburg.

My only plan is to talk to strangers. I hope it goes well.

A.