Friday, December 19, 2008

Summertime and the livin's easy

With just over a week to go, I thought I’d write a little about the CCS Home Base and what living in Cape Town has been like.

Our house is located on a small side street named Hermitage Ave. (reminds me of the world famous museum in St. Petes, Russia) in a neighborhood called Rosebank, right by the University of Cape Town. And I’m not sure what CCS’ deal is about being near trains, but like the Russian Home Base, we can hear and see a train rumbling right on the other side of the fence in our backyard.

I sleep in the top bunk, above Jaime, due to my childhood reasoning of the top being the safer choice in the event the bunk bed collapsed. But I’m getting rather sick of having to climb up and down a staircase to get into bed, and not having a place to sit in the room when I’m not sleeping. We have two other roommates, who share another bunk set, but the room’s gotten a little crowded and messy of late, so Jaime and I are going to move to an empty room upstairs.

One of the house’s many bathrooms is right next door to our current room, and we’re also right across from the kitchen and dining room. I’m always running in and out of the dining room grabbing a snack- either a granny smith apple, a pb& j sandwich, or a bowl of corn flakes cereal with warm milk. (They have this long-lasting milk here that is left out of the fridge. Takes a little getting used to, but it works fine).

Our house is located a quick ten minute’s walk from a commercial district named Rondebosch that has lots of shops and restaurants. There’s my personal favorite, Nando’s the Portuguese chicken place, our gym, Zone Fitness which I frequent a few times a week, and a fast-food burger joint named Steer’s which has incredible Dairy Queen-esque chocolate or caramel-dipped ice cream cones.

We call CCS’ recommended cab company, Excite!, to get around anywhere. We’ve heard from some South Africans that their prices are a little steep, but we also know they’re safe. The rand, (South African unit of currency) is pretty weak against the dollar. The current exchange rate is about 10 rand to 1 dollar. A movie here costs around 30+ Rand ($3), an half chicken, drink and side order meal from Nando’s is only about 50 Rand, and a 15 minute cab ride won’t be more than 60 Rand.

And of course, living in Cape Town there’s the security issue to contend with. Our house has 24 hour unarmed security guards whose job is to intimidate would-be thieves and if that fails, call the police in an emergency. Our house is also surrounded by electric fencing. We have to sign in and out of the Home Base and we have a curfew that isn’t really observed by anyone.

Outside of the safety of the Home Base, I’ve heard a few shudder-worthy stories. When we got here, we were told that the nearest underpass on the walk to Rondebosch is not safe. We were later told that this was because two former female volunteers who used that underpass alone at night were once held up at gunpoint. But it’s not like the city of Cape Town isn’t trying to make itself more secure. Check out this sign from outside the underpass.

Clockwise from the top left: No automatic weapons, no axes, no knives and finally no bringing along the equally creative and lethal combo of spear and spoon. To me the sign is both really funny and scary. I wonder which city official approved it thinking it might do anything.

I’m a little unclear about the details, but a volunteer who just left and was Jaime’s and my roommate when we first got here was also apparently held up at gunpoint recently. But supposedly it was right after he had spent almost all he had on souvenirs, so he had no money on him. The muggers thankfully were not interested in Cape Town trinkets, so they let him go.

Jaime and I also had one pretty close call, although we didn’t find out about it until a few days later. We were in a near-by neighborhood named Obz, short for Observatory, and we had just finished shooting a couple games of pool at Stone’s, one of our favorite bars. We called a cab and were just milling about the well-lit, decently busy for a Sunday night area, when we saw another bar called Rooster or something like that. We peered inside but decided to stay outside and wait for our cab. Later that night there was apparently an armed robbery at the bar that left two people shot and one dead. Spooky stuff.

But don’t worry about me. Just one more week here, (so excited to come home!), and I plan on keeping safe. I’m working on typing up my log of our amazing five day trip to the Eastern Cape and our hike into the African wilderness, so I’ll try to get that up soon.

It should be a pretty fun last week. Tonight we plan on going to the gay pride parade, which is supposed to be one of Cape Town’s best parties. Tomorrow night we’re going to Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden for its weekly concert in the park, followed by dinner at an amazing set-menu, all-you-can-eat restaurant named Africa Café. No real plans yet for the week, except Jaime and I have two tickets for a comedy show called Three Wise Men (featuring Christian, Jewish and Muslim comedians). And for Christmas I think we’re cooking for ourselves like Thanksgiving. Jaime and I plan on the afternoon of Christmas Day on the beach, lounging around and throwing a Frisbee.

Bonus! How to speak South African

Considering South Africa’s British roots, South Africans generally speak the Queen’s English. You have your fair dose of “bloody,” “mate” and other British words and phrases. But South Africans have also developed their own uniquely South African phrases. Here’s a random sampling of stuff I’ve picked up:

Robot- Traffic stoplight (Nobody’s been able to tell me how this one got its name)
Howzit?- How are you? (Answering “how’s what?” makes you look like an idiot. Trust me).
Izit- Oh, really/ You don’t say
Okes- Blokes/ guys

That’s all for now!
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