South Africa: Tourists and Visitors

Saturday, June 11. It’s my last full day in Cape Town, and I’m sad to be leaving. I don’t have work for a few more days, and I momentarily toy with the idea of extending my stay. My well-developed sense of responsibility quickly kicks in. Not gonna happen. This morning, Hilary and I are going out again. I’ve asked for some place quiet to go where I can sit and think. I have a lot to process. I also have agreed to teach dance workshops for the swing scene here later this afternoon, and I need to finish out my curriculum.

We drive down the Western side of the mountain, down Chapman’s Peak. The view is spectacular. We wind up on a beach, the largest in Cape Town I’m told. I snap a few pictures, but mostly we just sit on the beach together. I read a bit, work on my curriculum, and soak in the view. Hilary also has reading and a book of doodles she’s drawn to color in. We’ve built a lovely friendship over our meals and car rides together, all very easy and comfortable. I’m grateful to her for many of the connections she has helped me make…the group in the Manenberg township, the ethnomusicologist missionary, some local musicians. She reminds me of my friend, Regina, both in her faith and in her ability to connect with people and then plug them together.

We catch lunch on the water, another beautiful view. Once again, our conversation runs long, and we end up rushing to get to the dance classes. I managed to walk in right on time, but people are still trickling in to the class and we start a few minutes late. For the class, I want to give back to this group of people a bit of what they and Cape Town have given to me. Introspection, self-discovery, inspiration. Socratic method: teach through questions. And big questions. What does it mean to be a swing dancer? What do we mean when we say it’s a partner dance? How doe we communicate, and what are the limitations of that communication? How do we define swing? There’s a lot of music, some history, and a bunch of exercises to help explore these subjects. I didn’t really teach any moves, but I can see a change in their dancing by the end. I’m watching them find some freedom from moves and steps. There’s more play, more style, more listening. I’ve got more of those things as well.

To finish out my trip, I head to a restaurant called Mama Afrika. They serve local cuisine, and feature African music. The band is awesome, playing a fusion of different African music from all over. They’ve got marimbas, congos, small trap set, and various bells and woodblocks. Plus they sing. Early in the evening, I see a line of people standing in front of the band with their cameras out videotaping. I feel a little pissy about it. These musicians are really laying it out there, and these people are treating them like zoo animals. When they clear out, I get up and start dancing. Soon, there’s a dance party going on, and the band comes alive even more. The tone of the night continues to shift as the tourists leave. The band gets the audience singing along, teaching us songs. There’s a sense of togetherness.

It occurs to me that I’m not your usual Cape Town visitor. Yes, I did some of the tourist things like the V&A Waterfront and  Kirstenbosch Gardens. Some things, like hiking Table Mountain, I did, but with locals, taking less familiar/touristy paths. I took the township tour of Langa, but went back for a concert on my own. And not many tourists, much less residents, go into Manenberg. I came to Cape Town with the intention of getting to know the place…the real place, and not just for a holiday. I wanted to know the landscape and the people, the hardships and the joys. It’s been an amazing trip, and I feel like I’ve accomplished that goal. I’ve made friends here, met colleagues. I’ve seen the beautiful and sublime. And I’ve seen the struggle and despair. I know that what I got is only the beginning. I don’t have the total picture, but the pieces I’ve gotten are genuine. I am not a tourist here. I’m a visitor, and I have a feeling I’ll be visiting again.

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