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How to be Homless, conversations in Cape Town

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There are a lot of great things about Cape Town, in fact, wasn’t it voted the world destination just recently?

I wouldn’t necessarily contest this title, nor would I question its beauty, but there are some things that often go unsaid about the Cape of Good Hope and its surroundings, and one of these things is that there is not so much hope after all.

I landed and went down to the Civic Centre, the, I assume, CBD of Cape Town, and was shocked to see almost no people a midst the wide roads, elongated buildings and clumsy mountains.

“I guess they are at the beach”, I thought, with amusement.

I got on a taxi to Wynberg, with the intent of stopping at the UCT Lower Campus, Rondebosch, and I allowed myself to befriend Mike, the guy who collected the money and called more people in. Through the roads and robots he declared himself my own personal tour guide of political complexities in Cape Town. He started with, “here things are different. You see white people getting in the taxi, see?” And he was right, things were different in Cape Town.

CC Clint Mason

The second encounter happened the following day, at 9:00.

I sat for cereal with milk and sugar (and accidental hot water), after a date with the cape night lights.

There were 4 of them at the table where I sat: 3 girls and their professor, Dr. J, with whom they had been traveling.

We spoke about their experiences of South Africa in the past 3 weeks and how things were so different from the US, in fact, they were fascinated by the fact that homeless people would walk up to them and talk.

“In America they don’t do that”, the professor started, “You know, in America everyone is too busy… you [the homeless person] don’t want to waste anybody’s time, you just sit with a sign and drivers drop money if they want.”

The scariest thing, I think, is that he said it so blatantly, and the other girls agreed so casually. It was the norm, no interaction whatsoever between the homeless and the homeful. No interaction between anyone, in fact, they confessed. “Everyone is such an individual”, interjected one of the girls.

The third happened at a store.

The man was busy being a wonderful human to me, when a woman walked in disheveled, begging, and in a way, demanding, that he called the police on her behalf, perhaps to help out a fellow citizen just outside.

I didn’t follow it enough, but I remember the back and forth of insults and accusations, the: “This is all your fault! It’s your people who are part and parcel of this!” and the “I don’t have time for this bullshit right now!” responses.

At the end, the woman left (ironically she was so calm at another store I saw her in), and the man gave me my change and added, still frustrated, “This kind of thing happens everyday here! How must you expect me to call the police for someone I don’t even know!

I left with a piece of artwork and wise advice from his side, but his last statement bothered me too.

CC: David McAughtry

Lover of all things bright and yellow, with an unorthodox taste for neuroscience and politics. She travels in and out of herself, and enjoys getting stuck in transit while doing this thing called 'life'. (Mozambique)

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