I heard a quote somewhere that resonated with me so much. I can’t seem to find who said it, unfortunately, but it goes like, “The best time to experience new things are the times when you are the most comfortable.” To say that my life prior to my trip to Cape Town wasn’t comfortable and easygoing would be a completely blatant lie. Up until last Saturday, my life felt like it hit a plateau. I had just finished school for the summer, and I was at home not taking any classes, not working, and not being responsible for things like I was previously. I was laying in bed all day, sipping my cafe con leche (coffee with milk in Spanish, fyi), watching the latest YouTube video or editing some old photos I had shot months prior. To add variety, I would occasionally hang out with some friends and go out, and then not see them for days due to their own work or school responsibilities. I was bored all the time and felt like my life was meaningless (I would call this my “vacation” just to make myself feel better).
You see, I am a person that needs to feel productive. I loathe not doing anything meaningful or productive. I have to go out there and “hustle” and “grind” (echoing the words of the great Gary Vaynerchuk) to make myself feel complete, if that makes any sense? I have to make the cogs in my brain move to feel satisfied, and to not feel like I am a waste of space. I need to do something and binge watching Netflix shows wasn’t helping at all.
My life was at a literal plateau. It wasn’t going anywhere, and it affected me mentally on a daily basis. The worst part of it all? I didn’t feel bad about it. I was fine, normal, satisfied for the moment. I was comfortable. I didn’t have a need to work. My tiny bits of anxiety weren’t normally kicking in because of an assignment needing to be complete or a favor I had to accomplish at a moments notice. Everything was mellow and chill. I would hide the fact that deep down I was unhappy. I was in a brainwashed state of mind where I thought I was fine…
But I wasn’t.
I didn’t realize my strange mental state until I was picking up my boarding passes to Doha and to Cape Town Saturday afternoon, when it finally “hit me” that I was going to leave my boring summer vacation to head to an unknown continent. Like, who has really ever been to Cape Town, South Africa anyway (except my favorite photographer of all time Ben Brown, of course. Okay I’ll stop being a fan girl)?
The beautiful thing of it all, I had the biggest smile on my face from airport to airport. I was going to a totally different continent, by myself, meeting total strangers for the first time face to face, for an entire month 7,000 miles away from home. Who doesn’t want an experience like that?
Have I mentioned that this was the first time I ever been on a plane? Yep, first time.
An experience that I don’t want to do, though, is be on a cramped flight for 25 hours. That is what was separating me from my home in Miami to the Mother city. Don’t get me wrong, I was eager to fly for the first time. Felling the jolt of the plane as it is about to take off and seeing the buildings you would normally drive by on a daily basis look like little toy houses was surreal. After that feeling goes away, you just want the flight to be over.
After 25 hours and only sleeping 6-8 of them, I finally made it to Cape Town, where I was greeted by the other Fellows. There we went on a van that took us to our apartments. There is when I got my first look at Table Mountain, and then it really hit me.
I am in Cape Town, South Africa. Yeah.
Looking at that mountain for the first time made me realize a couple things off the bat:
- I am actually living one of my life’s dreams of traveling. This is the inception of that dream.
- Cape Town, South Africa is way more beautiful than I could have ever imagined it to be.
- Being comfortable in life and never doing things that get you out of your comfort zone greatly limits your potential as a human being, and it just sucks, too.
Now it has been a week since I landed to the Mother City, and I have absorbed, learned, experienced, and connected with so much in the span of 7 days than I have done in years.
The first such thing I connected dearly with are the people. Always being around like minded individuals with very similar backgrounds and history is great for (my) personal human conformity. Being around people that like and understand me makes me feel warm and welcomed, but it is a massive hinderance towards understanding, tolerance, and open minded-ness towards everyone else. One thing I learned very quickly was that the world doesn’t rotate around Miami, Florida. There are people, stories, and experiences going on in other parts of the world, and meeting people from Cape Town and other parts of the United States made me and my background feel smaller than I ever thought it could be.
This transcends to even the common folk of Cape Town. Approachable, incredibly humbling, warm, and kind are some of the words I will use to describe the citizens of Cape Town. I say this with all honesty and no ill-will, these people act and behave friendlier than those back in the states. I am not saying that there are no friendly or kind people back home, I am just saying that it just feels different (I really cannot explain it in words at this moment. Maybe I can comprehend this better as my time here grows). It breeds the conversation about individualism and collectivism as a culture around the world. I don’t know. All I know is the people here are really lekker.
One thing I never really thought I would connect with here in Cape Town is the social structure and wealth disparity, and how I can connect and understand with both sides of the spectrum some what. Let me explain.
Cape Town is, from the outside looking in, a very rich and affluent first world city in a well developed and modern country. There are popular, rich areas and tourist attractions that greatly help the city’s economy. There are people driving very expensive vehicles and wear very fancy clothing all around these parts of the city. These wealthy individuals tend to hang around places like the V & A Waterfront and other tourist attractions like Table Mountain.
Likewise, Cape Town is also a very poor and impoverished city the more you move away from the center of the city. The best way someone described this phenomena to me is like a circle. The more you move away from the center of the circle, the less fortunate Cape Town becomes. One moment you see rich cars and leisurely high life, the next you see people living in shacks, kids walking alone by themselves, and tiny rooms crammed with multiple beds.
The wealth disparity amongst the citizens of Cape Town is very real, and the discussion of that wealth disparity having to do with race being a form of social status is another real issue as well.
I was able to connect with both sides so much because it really is another representation of what back home in Miami is like. I live in a decent part of the city, but driving along the highway you are met with downtown Miami, where rich areas like Brickell, Bayside, and Aventura reside. Drive another direction, and you are met with places like little Havana and Liberty City, where it is not so fortunate to say the least. I will not say the wealth gap is the same as in Cape Town, but the idea of differing wages amongst people in different places is a similar feeling back home.
What this trip did make me realize, though, is the feelings and emotions that run through these individuals despite their unfortunate living circumstance.
The folks that you would think to be the most depressed due to their circumstances actually happened to be the most happy, ironically. I have never seen a group of individuals so gleeful and so appreciative of the life they have, regardless of their situation. It makes me think about my life back home and how silly I feel complaining about the littlest things like my Starbucks drink being colder than what I would like, or my battery running out on my phone when I wanted to check on my Instagram likes. It really puts my life as a privileged individual in perspective
Nothing but smiles
I could keep on going on about my first week in Cape Town, but for the sake of brevity I will stop here. I can go on and write for days about how wonderful each and every interaction with everything and everyone here has changed me positively.
I'll leave it at this, though, traveling is a privilege that many do not get to experience, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate and blessed to be able to be in this situation.
I needed this.
Being comfortable at home made me slow down and not appreciate how beautiful life can be. I take what I learned and will continue to learn here in Cape Town and wear it with pride and humility, and I hope I can share everything I learned with everyone when I get home.
This was the best time for me to experience new things.
I am very blessed at the moment and I can’t wait to step outside and explore Cape Town again.