The mist thickened more and more as we drove towards the city. “Bring all your jerseys,” my brother had warned. “This place gets really cold.” I silently offered my gratitude and hoped he’d feel it in the breeze. Of course he didn’t; he’s not corny like that. None of my siblings are.
The sun’s rays slowly cut through the fog until finally, the clear blue sky appeared and the mountains once again demanded my attention. From where I sat, I could clearly see Table Mountain, rising above the verdant expanse of uninhabited land. I imagined some giants sitting around it having heated discussions about world affairs while they feasted on a never-ending meal. The nun sitting beside me was sleeping soundly; it had been a long journey. I couldn’t wait to find out what life would be like in Cape Town.
We inched closer to the city centre. Grasslands gave way to roads, which led to houses and warehouse buildings. More and more people began dropping off. I found myself thinking, “This doesn’t look too different from home.” But of course, it did. I’d left that comfort a three-days’ bus journey behind. The fear I’d felt and managed to suppress successfully over the past few weeks surfaced once more, and the questions made my eyes so heavy I was compelled to shut them.
Was Cape Town – from a resident’s perspective rather than a tourist one – as beautiful as people claimed it was? Would I still be the same person I was when I left, or would I change for the better as I’d set out to do? Would I change for the worse as often happens in these situations? Would I forget what it was like to live in my home country? Would I become yet another addition to the diaspora group that thinks they know more than the people back home? You know the ones I’m talking about; they have all the ideas on how to make the country better but are afraid to put those ideas into action themselves, let alone go back home and live as their families live. Would I become one of them? Would I crumble?
Finally, the city centre. I looked out into the streets, trying to make out friend from foe. Unfortunately, and embarrassingly, the only criteria I could use for this were the stereotypes I’d been fed all my life. Each muscle in my body tensed up as soon as I set my foot on the ground. I huddled with my luggage until my sister came to fetch me, and finally, I was on my way to my new home.
The first few days were riddled with interesting discoveries. I’d suddenly grown clumsier, and my jaywalking skills had apparently deserted me (I almost got run over by a car). My brother looked more like me now, and he was still up to no good – giving me vague instructions to see if I’d get it, then laughing at me when I didn’t. Mass was celebrated exactly the same way as it was done back home. I mean, it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did and it made me smile. (Smiling was awkward because it was Ash Wednesday and I was supposed to be sombre.) I’d also eaten like a pig right before Mass, which was a shameful revelation as to how I needed to be reminded to fast on this important day.
My friends keep asking me if I’m enjoying myself. Short answer: Yes. Long answer: It’s too early to tell. The dust hasn’t settled, and I’m still in awe of the views I saw and the roads that are devoid of even a suggestion of a pothole. Maybe when I’m finally back to being me, and I’ve begun to tackle each of those fears head on (because it’s in my nature to face my fears, except chameleons) I’ll come back and realise my first impression was wrong and Cape Town is not as daunting as I thought it was.