The Cape Town affair
Updated: Jul 30
I'm currently living in a warped reality. That's the feeling. Maybe I'm not the only one these days, but in my case, it's far from home or anything familiar.
As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm in Cape Town, South Africa. I think it's time to write about it.
The only connection I have to South Africa is that my boyfriend, T, is South African.
Reason for arrival: Meeting T's family.
So naturally, we took the opportunity to travel around. As soon as I landed, we attended a lovely Shabbat dinner with T's mother and her husband and then had a braai (BBQ) with some friends. The next morning, we took his mother's red Honda and drove around to see exciting places. In the days that followed, we went to the aquarium, where we got to see a big sea turtle at an impressive moment, shitting like a boss. The Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. We visited several wineries in the surrounding towns and had a wine tasting with his father. We drove on the most beautiful roads in the mountainside, surrounded by breathtaking ocean views. We wandered around a pier with fisherman, accompanied by seals. We hung out with some penguins, camped on the mountains and dipped in rivers and streams at Beaverlac. We visited picturesque towns, such as Greyton and Tulbach and charming pubs along offbeat roads.
Reason for change of plans: Covid-19.
We were staying at a friend's beach house between our travels. Let's call him Neuron, named for his fascination for anything related to artificial intelligence. The house is on Clifton beach, nestled between Table Mountain and Lion's Head, very close to the water; as the winds get more powerful, tiny saltwater drops fly around, refreshing you.
As the Coronavirus outbreak worsened in Cape Town, all three of our flights were cancelled. T was to return to London, where he lives. Neuron and I were supposed to return to Israel; he goes to university, I have to finish building my boat and pass a driving test. When we discovered that Israel had closed down, including universities and driving test centres, Neuron unhesitatingly suggested, "In my opinion, what we should do is buy lots of food, booze, tobacco and everything else we need. The three of us then remain quarantined until things calm down." And with not much hesitation, we agreed.
Reason for staying:
Technically, I don't currently have a home. I've been temporarily staying in a trailer in my home town; a small box with a bed, a desk, one window and no airflow. Mostly, I use it for storage and for visiting the family, it's not made for residence. But because I've been travelling a lot, planning my future with T and went through changes, this time, storing myself there made sense. The thought of returning to Israel, having two weeks of quarantine and my movements severely restricted for who knows how long, frightened me.
Cape Town is amongst the most beautiful cities I've visited. Since my visit has now become a temporary residence, I suspected I'd get fed up soon, and the travel bug would start to scratch. Instead, I fell in love with it more and more. It's hard to begin to describe the sunrises which I wake up to every morning from my bedroom window. The sunsets over the ocean from the balcony. The fickle sky, breathtaking with its scattering clouds above us. I've never been used to such a life. The most incredible view I had from any of my previous apartments, was in Eilat. I had a spectacular panoramic view of a parking lot and a window that came with a tenant and his binoculars. He habitually watched my window like an educated Amir Peretz, forcing me to sleep with a closed curtain.
In Israel, no matter what sea I'm looking at, there will be an enemy state on the horizon. Oh, Israel... there's no place like home. But out here by the Atlantic Ocean, all you see on the horizon is more horizon. Water and more water, and a small, flashing spotlight that I like to think is Argentina. The ocean here is terrific but freezing. Once inside, it's cold. You still enjoy it for a few seconds, then start to lose the feeling in your legs - kind of like an abusive relationship. The water is decorated with colours like brown, white, purple and pink, reflections of the colourful sky, like being in another world. You can't help but ask yourself, is this the same world I've lived in all this time, and what does a person from the other side of the globe - who's watching the same sun rising - see? You could say that almost every sunset here is like a tiny trip on magic mushrooms.
All I knew about South Africa before I came here was that up until the early '90s, they were under apartheid policies. When that failed, and Nelson Mandela was freed from jail, thank goodness, he and the President of South Africa set up the first all-inclusive democratic election. Mandela won and redrafted the state constitution; he helped to heal the country from hate and discrimination, and as a result, South Africa avoided a civil war.
On the plane here, I listened to an audiobook - Trevor Noa's Born a Crime, an autobiography of South Africa's most famous modern-day comedian. It seemed like the right timing to listen to it. I planned on finishing it on the plane back, staying, has forced me, to my delight, to finish it here. The history of this country is fascinating. Though to my surprise, I find it different from what I thought it would be. When I got here, I thought it was a diverse city. It turns out that the racial differences, even after the end of the apartheid, mostly remain. The fact that there are still "white areas", makes me chuckle in disbelief, and then raise an eyebrow as I look outside, to other balconies, and see it for myself. All these big, beautiful houses belong to white people. If I see a black guy on one of them, it usually turns out to be a cleaner, a gardener or a security-related person. Even after nearly three decades, breaking free from the cycle of inequality, couldn't be more difficult. Maybe the streets and beaches are more colourful and diverse out of Corona times. What do I know.
Overall, I like it here. I would have enjoyed it much more, had it not been for the boycott of tobacco and booze. The government has prohibited the sale of cigarettes and alcohol since the lockdown commenced in late March.
Some of you already know me, but most of you don't, so let me introduce myself: I am Moriah, and if there is anything that brings me happiness it's the knowledge that there's something to smoke and a drink. T explained to me that the main reason for the prohibition on alcohol is that it lowers the level of domestic violence; something that is extraordinarily high in South Africa. Everyone knows that most domestic violence cases are alcohol-related, but is that the solution?
I read in Trevor Noah's book that his mother married a guy who at one point started drinking a lot and beating her:
"I'm here to lay a charge against the man who hit me." To this day I'll never forget the patronizing, condescending way they spoke to her. "Calm down, lady. Calm down. Who hit you?" "My husband." "Your husband? What did you do? Did you make him angry?" "Did I...what? No. He hit me. I'm here to lay a charge against—" "No, no. Ma'am. Why do you wanna make a case, eh? You sure you want to do this? Go home and talk to your husband. You do know once you lay charges you can't take them back? He'll have a criminal record. His life will never be the same. Do you really want your husband going to jail?" My mom kept insisting that they take a statement and open a case, and they actually refused—they refused to write up a charge sheet.
Of course, I understand things have changed since then, but Noa's autobiography helped make it clear to me why violence here is still so high. These solutions are ridiculous. What's better, to ban alcohol for everyone - including people who only drink for lesser thoughts of the bleak future that awaits us all - or "ban" the violent people themselves, and put them behind bars?
We were able to obtain wine, illegally, which is actually tastier. Tobacco was a whole other story. We searched all the supermarkets and convenient stores until we eventually found revolting vanilla tobacco. Later, as even the black market started to run dry, we had no choice but to cut sponges into small pieces for filters and roll heavy pipe tobacco mixed with cherry tobacco. Oh, Heaven, help us. T told me to stop being such a Bergie. It's South African slang for a street beggar.
The outside world:
The only connection we have to the outside world is Neuron's brother and his family who live above us. They have two little girls and a puppy they recently adopted. We had an enjoyable Seder together. It was a nice short meal, and at the end, the girls put on a short ballet dance performance at the height of the parting of the Red Sea. Yes, the characters were Moses and a random princess, but it was as believable as the biblical story.
I find family behaviours, somewhat strange. Last year, I travelled to London to stay with T on his boat for three months. My family never once thought about video calls. Here, as early as the first month, I received so many of them. People feel the distance much more during these times of separation. My grandmother is still learning the whole thing, and her son caught her shouting at a picture of me on the phone, asking why I'm not responding.
For the sake of changing scenery, breathtaking as it is, sometimes we just had to hit the streets. Mainly for shopping. Then something strange would announce itself. Looking around, you see all the masks, gloves, gazes of fear when someone sneezes, cops stopping people for walking the street. All of this, plus the extreme weather change around the world, make me want to postpone bringing children into the world until very much later, if at all.
People don't realize how important interaction is to them until they lose it, like figuring out how significant the refrigerator is in your life, only when it breaks down. I've never seen such close relationships between strangers, at times when distance is most popular. People have never been so pleasant to each other. All the smiles from balconies and waving of hands. When was I so close to complete strangers, like in recent times? We became part of each other's day. If your neighbour has a mobile on the porch, technically, you have a Mobile on the porch. Everyone is always present, following the schedule. This neighbour eats lunch every day with his wife at 2 pm on that balcony. That neighbour enters the pool every day between 5 pm and 6 pm under this floor. This couple watches the sunset every evening, with two glasses of wine. Everyone becomes one big family, everyone is here all the time, and no one is late.
Should I feel guilty that I'm beginning to enjoy this whole situation?
"Relationships are built in the silences. You spend time with people, you observe them and interact with them, and you come to know them—and that is what apartheid stole from us: time." ― Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood