While getting caught up in the dance fever at Mizoli’s I realized it had been a while since I’d seen anyone from my entourage. I broke off from the dance and scoured Mizoli’s to no avail. I called Katie, my new UCT friend, and the call didn’t go through. I went outside into the street and couldn’t find anyone. It looked like I had been ditched and that I was going to have to take a cab back to the ship by myself. Just as I gave up hope, like a scene from a movie, a white van with obnoxiously loud music and bone-rattling bass rolled in front of me. The sliding door swung open and inside were my friends yelling, “get in!” I hopped into the “mini bus” as they’re called in South Africa. Everyone was there except for Grant, who had gone back into Mizoli’s to find me. A few seconds later Grant resurfaced from the masses in Mizoli’s, saw that I was in the van, jumped in, and we were on our way. The van cleared the crowded street in front of the restaurant and then sped off. There we were, cruising down the highway, windows down in the South African summer sun, 19 Americans bumping to a house remix of Rihanna’s “Only Girl.” Eventually we arrived at the leafy UCT campus. The ride cost only 20 ZAR. We went first to one house and then another, when I received a text message from Rebecca saying that they were back in town but tired and not going to Kirstenbosch. I immediately called her back and told her where I was. We agreed to meet at the local supermarket right up the street.
I couldn’t believe it. Here I was in South Africa and I was actually going to meet up with friends from the University of Connecticut. What a globalized world we’re living in. I plopped down in a chair at a cafe in front of the supermarket and waited for the girls to arrive. My eyes were heavy and these packed days in Cape Town were taking their toll on me. I could’ve fallen asleep but I don’t think that would’ve been safe so instead I forced myself to watch the comings and goings of this South African street corner. I think doing just that is probably a fairly good way of assessing whether one should live in a certain place. Just sit for an hour and watch the world unfold from that vantage point and see if it is to your liking. I could live in Cape Town. Eventually Becca and Kimmi arrived. I enthusiastically pounced on them. Kimmi enjoyed it, Becca thought I was making a scene. Even in the Southern hemisphere things between us were unchanged. We decided to go out to dinner and I told them I was happy to go anywhere. They took me to a Thai restaurant. For a while I told them tales from semester at sea but then I asked them about their study abroad experience. The UConn program is Cape Town is hard work! They’re not there at exchange students. They have their own UConn-prescribed program. They have internships in addition to their coursework and they have activities planned on the weekend. It’s a far-cry from your average study abroad program. After dinner we walked back to house where almost all of the UConn study abroad students live. We were sure to time our movement to occur before sundown. Apparently they feel the area isn’t safe at night, even in a group.
The house that UConn leases for the Cape Town program is pretty awesome. It’s a big house with two students per bedroom. There are plenty of common areas, it is stately decorated and there is even a swimming pool. Too bad they have neighbors and they don’t integrate with the UCT students because I definitely saw great party potential in the estate. When we walked in, Becca was heralded my arrival, as is house custom for all guests to be announced. We went upstairs and I was surrounded with more UConn students. It was the most “normal” I felt in months. For once we were not either in transit or having some glorious moment that we must be sure to remember forever and recount to our children. Instead it was just a handful of UConn kids hanging out in one of their bedrooms. They barraged me with questions about Semester at Sea, which I was more than happy to answer; a moment that made me further realize how fortunate I am and what an amazing opportunity I’ve been given. After the Q&A we headed downstairs and life in the house carried on as normal, plus one. Some were cooking dinner, others working on homework, two girls argued about their housing selection for next year. It was a refreshingly normal evening. I only had the slightest pang of guilt that a night spent hanging around was a night in Cape Town squandered. But I easily put that thought out of my mind. It had been another unexpectedly wonderful day. I thought i would be gone for a few hours to church and I’d been out all day with the most wonderful people. It was awesome talking with Becca and Kimmi, being able to talk about shared friends back home and about UConn. Some of the other housemates also seemed pretty cool and I’m going to make an effort to see them again when we’re all back in Storrs next semester, especially Samantha and Brandie. I even was able to see my fraternity brother Maria when she finally came home from a concert. It had been another busy day though, and I still hadn’t recovered sleep-wise, so they called me a cab and I headed back to the ship. Originally I had been skeptical that I’d be able to meet the Cape Town Crew while I was there and I was so glad that in the end it happened almost effortlessly.
Hanging out with my UConn friends was nothing like being at home, but it was a reminder of what I had left back there in Connecticut. It was an awesome reality check, it came at the perfect time, and it will make the rest of my journey all the more meaningful.