Couch Hopping

It’s been an interesting first week in Cape Town to say the least. After three uneventful yet exhausting flights (Buffalo to JFK, JFK to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Cape Town), I arrived at the airport around 10:30p on Saturday night. My co-workers from the District Six Museum Tina and Chris were there to greet me and take me to Tina’s sister Judee’s house in the Southern Suburbs, where I would be staying until I moved into my permanent accommodation on June 1 (3 days later).

Judee’s hospitality was wonderful, and on Sunday she and Tina’s mother treated me to a wonderful homemade and hearty chicken pie (after I slept in until around 1pm). And on Monday, I drove into work with her and took the train into the city to the museum.

But on Tuesday—move in day—things went awry. Through Gumtree, a South African version of Craiglist, I found an apartment in the suburb of Observatory (where I lived last summer) occupied by a UCT student who was going home to Johannesburg during the winter break, from June 1 to July 22. It was great timing for me, (I will be headed back to the States on July 19), and the price was very affordable. It all seemed perfect until I saw the room. It was filthy, the bathroom was incredibly small, the shared kitchen was disgusting, and the other occupants of the complex were, to be polite, a bit rough around the edges. Not that I can’t get along with people different than myself or tolerate a less than ideal living arrangement, but the sum of all these factors convinced me that this wouldn’t be the greatest fit. And then there was also the fact, as I learned from a colleague, that some students living in that area had been stabbed a few months back.

Thus began a frantic search for housing and a string of sleepless nights on couches and floors. I spent the next two days in internet cafes back on Gumtree looking at any and all housing available for short term leases, calling numbers listed on postings, and visiting apartments and houses. Later in the afternoon on Wednesday, I found an ad listing a room in Tamboerskloof, which is a suburb within walking distance of the main city center, and also where I lived my first summer in Cape Town. I called the woman whose number was listed on the ad, and to my delight, she told me she had one room left.

Tamboerskloof is located on the slopes of Lion’s Head, so walking up the streets is entirely uphill. With an address in hand for a room to check out, I hiked up the very top of Woodside Ave (coincidentally, it’s a block away from where I lived while participating in DukeEngage). As I walked up the driveway to the house, an older woman in a wheelchair perched at the door waiting, with a dog alongside her. I introduced myself, and she invited me inside, explaining that her dog, Rikki, was both blind and deaf.

Having to prod Rikki along (since calling out to him was useless), she showed me around her house and took me to the room she was renting out. The room was very nice with its own bathroom, and the house’s kitchen was fully furnished and equipped. I asked who else lived there, and she replied that her grown son did, and she remarked that he works until late at night at a neighborhood deli. (I frequented that deli my first summer in Cape Town. As soon as I saw her son, I immediately remembered his face—he was guy who we always said was so creepy.) As we were talking, she explained to me that she is a night owl, so I wouldn’t have to worry about coming in late. In fact, she said, she and her son often stay up late watching movies. (It’s true…last night I came in at 1:30am, and they were both laying on the couch with blankets, watching the Discovery channel.)

So despite the strange living situation, I decided to take the room. Having slept at Judee’s house, on my co-worker Chris’ couch (it wasn’t big enough for me so I rested my legs on a chair I pulled up next to the couch), and on the floor in the bed and breakfast the DukeEngage students are living at, I moved in to the house in Tamboerskloof on Friday. It’s in a nice location right around from where the DukeEngage students live, I can walk to work, and it’s very safe. In fact, it is located literally right next to the Russian consulate in Cape Town, which has a 24 hr hour armed guard outside. Hopefully it will be a bit nicer than my house in Observatory, which had been broken into several times before.

Aside from the whole housing saga, things have been going quite well. It was great to be back at the museum, see all of my co-workers, and of course, revisit all of my favorite lunch spots. In fact, things at the museum are a bit hectic at the moment, and I quickly got thrown into the hustle and bustle. The Exhibitions Department is busy putting up a new exhibit to complement the existing “Fields of Play” soccer exhibition (“Fields of Play” explores the history of soccer in Cape Town and the role of forced removals in shaping the various leagues). The new exhibit is titled “Offsides,” and it focuses on the racism African soccer players faced when playing in professional leagues in Britain. The official opening is June 15, so everyone is trying to complete the installation in time. I myself have spent a lot of time painting the silhouette of a soccer stadium crowd on one wall of the exhibition area.

On the whole, this past week and in my previous two summers at the museum, seeing how much planning and effort goes into making an exhibition—from research, writing, design, and installation—has given me a new appreciation for museum work. When you walk through a museum, read its panels, and look at its photographs and artifacts, it is only because the tireless behind-the-scenes efforts of so many people.

Needless to say, a lot of the focus on football exhibitions at the museum is anticipation of the World Cup, which kicks off on Friday night with an opening game between Bafana Bafana (the South African national team) and Mexico. In the run up to the cup, soccer fever truly has taken hold here. South African flags (and lots of flags from other countries, too) are flying everywhere, from cars windows and elastic fabric covers around the side mirrors of cars to office building windows and street vendor stalls. Renovations to the airport and train station are complete, streets have been cleaned, security guards are out in full force, World Cup banners are flying on street lamp poles, and the Fan Park set up in the Grand Parade in front of City Hall is starting to take shape.

This week, things are about to get very exciting in Cape Town—and across South Africa. It’s going to be exciting to see South Africa take center stage, and it will be even cooler to get to be a part of it—I bought tickets for one of the games in Cape Town, a match between Italy and Paraguay on June 14. And as much excitement as the month-long tournament is bound to bring to the southern tip of Africa, it is going to be very interesting, too, to see what happens when the dust settles and the country is evaluates whether it was all worth it, whether hosting the cup brings the increased tourism and economic development government officials have promised it would deliver. I suspect I will have more to say about that in the weeks ahead.

After this monstrous post, I am ready to go to bed. Now that I am established and have fully moved in, I hope to be able to update this more often. Check back soon to see what happens as the days in the World Cup countdown (which number in the 600s when I first set foot in South Africa in May 2008) winds down to zero.

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