Status report and South Africa beginnings

Right now the ship is in midterm time as everyone is having a test in each of their classes. We’re also reeling and a rockin’ as the ship flirts with “inclement weather.” We’re not sure where the bad weather is in relation to the ship, but we know its somehow causing us to go slowly. I wish we knew more, but we don’t. The rumors on this ship spread like wildfire and I’ve learned not to trust anything until I read it in writing or hear it from the dean during the daily announcements.

The impact of this slow going is that we’re going to arrive to Mauritius late. How late? I don’t know. Again, everyone’s an expert. But they’re not going to let us off the ship. We’re going to stop there to refuel and then make our way to India without getting off in Mauritius. A lot of people are frustrated by this because we’re going to be right there at the dock anyway, so why can’t they just let us get off for a couple of hours and experience Port Louis? I know, that would mean going through immigration which takes time, but Mauritius is a very remote country. Ask everyone you know and I’ll be surprised if you know someone who has been there. For them to just entirely take it off the list is upsetting. Thus, we did what sensible people do when they’re upset on a ship. We mutinied started a petition. Or, to be specific, I wrote a resolution paper Model United Nations-style. Then, I went upstairs and there was a crowd of 8-10 people in Tymitz square talking about their frustration and joking that they were going to nonviolently non cooperate, Nelson Mandela style. I read them my petition and they were moved. It invigorated them and made them thirst for justice, so we marched to the piano lounge, where much of the student body hangs out on any given night. I called the room to attention and repeated my speech. The masses were moved, the audience cried out, the Mauritius Movement was born. I spent the next couple hours circulating my silly petition helplessly hoping that it might amount to something. Plenty of people have put me in back in touch with reality and told me how fruitless my effort was. I told them I didn’t care; that I would try and that if nothing else it would be an exercise in democracy. Anyways, we’ll see. If it doesn’t work I guess I’ll just have 11 days at sea nonstop to write to you about South Africa.

Ah yes, South Africa. As is becoming tradition on this trip, I arose at 6AM in order to see us come ashore in South Africa. The experience was even more rewarding in Capetown than in Tema. Instead of a misty morning and a host of container ships, we were greeted with an orange sunrise shining over Table Mountain. Table Mountain is rather imposing. Capetown is a big city with a number of tall buildings but right behind the city skyline stands this tall plateauing mountain. I believe a more accurate name would be Kitchen Counter Mountain because it is certainly higher and more striking than a simple table. As we pulled in I was talking to those around me, asking them what their plans were for South Africa. I had yet to make any real plans. In many aspects, if one fails to plan, then they plan to fail, but so far I’ve experienced every port to the fullest and had done little planning beforehand. However, this was a new low for me. This time we were pulling into the country and I did not have a single plan.

A few hours later we disembarked. It was a temperately warm and clear day. I was grateful for the contrast to the oppressive heat and humidity that we had much of in the Tropics. I left with my next-door neighbors to explore the city for a few hours. As usual, the first stop is the ATM. Converting prices in South Africa was the weirdest because unlike Reals or Cidis, Rands have a strange exchange rate with USD. For every dollar, you get 7.48 ZAR. That means that when I went to the ATM and took out $1500 I felt like a big spender, mister moneybags, when in reality I was withdrawing only $200 USD. We walked through V&A waterfront which is the commercial district right by the water, featuring a giant shopping mall and a different restaurant for every type of cuisine you could possibly desire. It was strange seeing a Bath and Bodyworks, an apple store, a Hurley. It felt like we weren’t in Africa, but rather had been somehow ended up in San Francisco. This feeling was further reinforced when we left the mall and passed by an Aston Martin dealer and a Ducati dealer. This certainly didn’t feel like a still developing country.

I was also surprised by how obvious the racial divide in South Africa was. In our Global Studies class, we learned about how Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu championed against apartheid. The reality, though, is that all around town you see black people serving white people. Everyone says it’s a lot better now than it was then, but clearly they have a lot of progress to be made.

Regardless, despite the surprise that we felt entering Capetown we were still happy to be there. For the first few hours whenever we saw white people we mentally assumed they were Semester at Sea affiliated. It took a conscious mental effort to remember that this wasn’t Ghana or Brazil anymore, and there is actually diversity in this country. Walking into town we soon passed by a mall, and naturally all the girls wanted to go inside for a look around. Being the token male I was powerless to overcome the majority so I settled down at Cafe Rocca, a chic restaurant with outdoor couches. I ordered a bloody mary and took advantage of the free wi-fi. It was another beautiful moment, except this one wasn’t as surreal. I appreciated the privilege of my position, recognizing that I was in Capetown, South Africa, hanging out in the summer sun. However, by this point I was in touch with the fact that this was my reality. This bothers me. Here comes another tangent.

A couple of days ago a friend from UConn emailed me. Her email basically entailed what her day had been like. I found myself unable to relate. After so much time at sea, I’ve adapted to the lifestyle here. I’ve adapted to living on a ship, traveling around the world. I’ve adapted to seeing these amazing sights that so few people get to experience. I’ve adapted to bloody Marys on the terrace at noon on Friday. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them any more. I most certainly do! But I’ve grown accustom to it all. I feel like a spoiled brat who has just come to expect the finer things so that anything less is a disappointment. I don’t like it. If I had a genie I would wish to return home to Connecticut for a week as an intermission in my semester abroad. I’d like to remember again what “the daily grind” was like, what it was like to be bored, what it was like to sit around my dorm room on a snowy night or be stressed out from having too much schoolwork. That way I could return to my semester at sea and be fully in-touch with the remarkable position I find myself in.

I need to try to remember hard what life at home is like because otherwise I’m going to take this all for granted and then be a total mess when I have to snap back to reality in May.

to be continued…

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