All photography and all text, unless otherwise quoted, is author’s own. Permission to re-use must be granted.
All photography and all text, unless otherwise quoted, is author’s own. Permission to re-use must be granted.
Travelling from one of the world’s extremes to another has me contemplating which place is actually happier. On the one hand, Dubai, an artificial conglomerate, pieced together in recent years by the one driver the world cannot get enough of, the one mineral the earth will eventually run out of… oil; on the other hand, the landlocked country of Uganda, found nestled in the middle of Africa, hugging the equator like a source of power.
After flying directly from one to the other, I have found myself in a place of unrest. Coming from a land where the majority seek, yet lack the bare necessities on a daily basis. These are not the dressings to go with our Caesar salads, or the butter to spread on our sourdough. These are the simple things which you or I take for granted, like clean running water. Yet the smiles of the innocent children show no fear of missing out, as they play in the dirt with one another, caring for one another, family or not, as if they didn’t know any better. Well, actually… they don’t.
To have grown up with nothing, means they have no idea of what ‘nothing’ is. To me or you, at a young age, ‘nothing’ is no new toy each week, or no treat to McDonald’s every Friday, or having to eat oats instead of Coco Pops every now and then. To the young half-naked Ugandans I passed playing in the dirt that day, or every other day, ‘nothing’ is not a word in their vocabulary, because they have each other, they have the sticks and rocks and twigs and all that nature can offer. And the smiles on their faces bring tears to my eyes. Tears not for the feeling of pity, or for the desire to be sorry, but for the fact that we were never so innocent, never so in touch with the earth, never so simple and, well… happy.
Then to the oil rich monstrosity. A place to which people have flocked from all over the world for years, just for the chance to get a sniff of the abundant wealth that is the UAE. A place where anyone can get anything they could possible dream of, if the price is right and your wallet is full. A place that is home to the biggest mall in the world, the first 7 star hotel, and an indoor ski slope built into another mall residing penguins and the avid winter sportsman alike.
Yet with all this desire for more, and this fuel for success there is something lacking, something missing in this melting pot of money-hungry human beings.
I did not realise it until now, my second visit, that this emptiness is prominent. I believe the African innocence helped to bring it out, and I cannot put my finger directly on it. Is it missing passion? Heart? Character? Something is missing, and I can see it on the faces of the civilians walking by. The lack of a simple, yet important, daily, hourly, if possible by the minute, gesture we are all inherently capable of… a smile.
How can it be that there are more smiles in a poverty-stricken, war-ridden, disease-filled country like Uganda, than that of an ever climbing, ever shinning, ever striving city like Dubai?
I do not have the answer, but after over ten years of traveling the globe, I have realized what I prefer. Not the glitz and glamour of New York or London or Dubai, but the places in which I feel at one with the people; the places in which I receive a smile and a wave on every corner; the simple yet happy places, like Uganda.
Written by Elliott Wood, traveller, genius salesman and lover of people.
Had you asked me a year ago, the direction in which I thought my life might be headed, or which country I saw myself living in, I know without a doubt that ‘Uganda’ would not have been among my first 100 guesses.
Sitting in a dark, dilapidated, local cafe in downtown Kampala, waiting for my (instant) coffee, I find myself marvelling at how life will sometimes take all of our expectations, all of our safe plans, our predispositions, our malnourished ideas of adventure, and will throw them to the wind. And that, I suppose, is what has happened to me.
I’m a selfish and impatient snob. These are characteristics or tendencies of mine that remind me of how unlikeable I can be. Even on the days on which I manage to hide my self-seeking nature, I know that it’s only a matter of time before it rears its ugly head again.
I’ve often prayed to be humbled; to gain a fresh understanding of our time here on Earth; to see, no, to grasp, life from the perspective of those less fortunate than me. It’s a dangerous prayer, I suppose, in that it can turn your world inside-out when answered.
I think… In fact, I am almost certain, that once the turning upside-down and inside-out begins, it doesn’t really end. It becomes temporarily neglected and forgotten along the way for most of us, I’m sure, but it always creeps back – that feeling of desperate longing to live a life that counts, that exhaustion that comes from being a slave to our own needs. I know that I’ve gone through periods, months at a time even, during which I’ve rushed through life: I would spend too much money and too much time seeing to myself, and after a while, it would always become sickening and I would be forced to look at what an unsatisfying future I was being faced with.
Uganda is a heartbreaking place in that it is deathly poor but matchlessly welcoming. When confronted with such paradoxes it becomes difficult not to look at those within ourselves, I suppose. Which concern me the most? How conditional my happiness is; how conditionally I let others into my life; and how conceited I can be, despite my crippling fear to step out, speak up and live the kind of life I’ve never been quite brave enough to live.
Today I explored Kampala. Making my way around the chaotic roads on the back of a boda, I visited markets, mosques, local supermarkets. I was pretty frazzled by the end of it and when a child – he must have been six or seven – ran up next to me on my way home, I hardly listened to him. Annoyed at his persistence, I eventually cast him a glance. “Water, water,” he said, pointing at my full grocery bag. A bottle of drinkable water. That’s what he wanted.
I’m grateful for a life turned upside-down. I’m grateful for changed worldviews and for the chance to be working on my character. I’m grateful for being told that I’m bratty and high-maintenance, for losing best friends and lovers who loved me unconditionally, I’m grateful for stuffing up. And I’m grateful to be growing up as a 24 year-old in a wretchedly selfish, but altogether worthwhile world.
Hannah Moore is a freelance travel and copy writer based in Kampala, Uganda. For now, at least.
All photography is author’s own. Permission to re-use must be granted.
It’s chilly in Paris today, as I walk the winding alleyways of Montmatre, no particular destination in mind. The cobbled streets are wearing my boots thin and I already feel a pang of nostalgia for the peasant artists who once roamed this neighbourhood.
Making my way down one of the many steep roads, I stumble upon the old Cimetière de Montmatre. Paris is prime property for the dead and its graveyards never fail to invoke a sense of reflection in me. I’ve always felt that elaborate grave stones were a strange concept, mind you, but there is something utterly beautiful about them, and I can never resist exploring a graveyard’s hidden nooks and crannies, and reading memoirs on the placards of those long deceased, of those whose names I’ve never even heard of.
So, on this day, like on many other before, I decide to make a detour and see what the likes of 19th century scientist Jean Foucault and 18th century German poet Heinrich Heine are up to, in this cemetery that lies below street level in the hollow of an old quarry. Not much, it would turn out, but they still make for good company.
I stroll down one of the winding paths and marvel at the intricate detail on some of the stones; the almost purposeful blandness of others. Black crows overhead screech incessantly and I have the feeling that, however imprudently, they, too, are mourning the dead. It’s eerie and heartbreakingly spectacular here, all at once.
Down one of the passageways, an elderly couple is tending to a grave. They chat cheerfully as they do so and their canine companion wags his tail nervously, while they go about their human business. I wonder what their story is – who it was that they lost and how long it must have taken them to get here, to this point. Was it a daughter, a son? A dear friend with whom they shared meals and holidays and belly-aching laughs?
A little further on, another older woman is frantically unpacking pots of flowers and sweeping the stony ground around one of the less impressive graves. Her movements are quick and jolty and, from where I am standing almost 20 metres away, her unease is almost tangible. I turn away before she has the chance to glance up at me and feel pried on. And as I walk away, I get the unshakable sense that it’s her own sins she is desperately trying to sweep under the carpet. That makes me sad for a moment and I wonder how vast my own unruly garden of sin would be if I tried to tend to it myself.
Making my way back home that afternoon, my thoughts are consumed by the idea of life after death. I decide that, although I’m not sure what heaven might look like, and when speaking of the After I am clearly under-qualified, but of this I am convinced: My story will not end with a marble gravestone, and nor has that of those who have gone before me.
Perhaps Osho Rajneesh (1931-1990), the famous Indian spiritual teacher, was right:
Death is the greatest illusion of all.”
Jeff Goins is one of those writers who manages to have me either weeping or on the brink thereof, on a regular basis. Whether it’s about fear or influence or sacrifice or being wrecked for an ordinary life, Jeff’s writing will strip you of your preconceived ideas and make you want to live a life that counts.
Apart from being a tremendously gifted writer, he is also an expert on blogging and the art of writing itself. He has very kindly allowed me to review one of his latest e-books, Every Writer’s Dream.
What will it teach you? That writing is harder than you think and that nobody actually cares about you, for starters. But it’ll also reveal the secret to getting published without having to endlessly pitch and sell your stories to publications.
Sound like a worthwhile read?
Check out Every Writer’s Dream plus Jeff’s practical guide titled Before Your First Book here.
Paris: The fashion capital of world; home to some of the world’s best wine, finest cuisine and most renowned museums. Who knew then, that living in Paris could be entirely un-glamorous – especially if you don’t dress the part?
Monday, 1 January, 2007. I arrive at Paris Charles de Gaulle, 19, a virgin and absolutely clueless. I have no idea what to expect for the next ten months of my young life. My knowledge of the French language? Well, let’s just say that it ends at ‘Bonjour, je m’appelle Hannah’. The amount of Euros to my name? Enough to survive… for about a week.
As I enter the Arrivals Hall, I spot a group of people who look like they could be my host family. The mother, whose blond hair is tied to tightly the back of her head in a bun, is in black from head to toe – stylish, understated. “Yes, she could be a buyer for Chanel, who lives in the 16th arrondissement with her husband and two children,” I secretly imagine. The children – one boy and one girl – look about the right ages, too.
“This must be them,” I think, but can’t be sure, as I recognise them only from photographs and descriptions given in the e-mails that were sent. I slowly approach them, waiting for a sign of recognition from their side. The mother waves at me and I am flooded with relief. Relief turns into anxiety, however, when I get a close-up and realise that she has an alarming resemblance to Trunchbull from Mathilda. “This is going to be an interesting year,” I think to myself as I smile my most charming smile and try my best to picture myself fitting in with my new quasi-family.
Paris is the tourist capital of the world. In 2010, an estimated 940 million international tourists visited the city of lights. What’s more, an overwhelming number of immigrants – some legal, some not so much – from Lebanon, North Africa and France’s peripheral region, have flocked to Paris since the 1970s. Unfortunately, however, the Parisians have been known to turn up their noses at new arrivals on their turf. Of course, one can understand why: Having to deal with over-crowding, pollution and traffic congestion? Really, what a pain.
So, before even leaving South Africa (my home country), I decided that I was going to be different. I was certainly not going to contribute to any over-crowding, but rather, I was going to be the one immigrant to Paris who would be welcomed with open arms. I would not arrive knowing nothing about French wine, cheese and fashion, but would, at all times, ooze sophistication and French-ness.
In my preparatory stages of the above-mentioned mission, I decided that an appropriate wardrobe would be amongst the first things to see to. Weeks before leaving Cape Town and beginning my adventure, I set out to find the perfect winter coat. (I would, after all, be arriving in the coldest month of the year in France.) Hours turn into days, as I trekked through endless shopping mall corridors, already developing a (new-found) distaste for malls and their rats, in my anticipation of becoming French and cultured. (Of course, I would be shopping along the banks of the Seine very soon.) On day five or six of my shopping escapade, I found the perfect coat. It was the brightest red imaginable – a bold choice, but I decided then and there, with an unshakable resolution and before forking out a third of my savings, that the French would find it hard to resist my extravagant charm with this red coat. I felt thoroughly chuffed.
Saturday, 27 January, 2007. It’s nearly four weeks into my stay and the night before my 20th birthday. I’ve spent the past few weeks settling in and finding my feet, but tonight, I decide, I am going to paint the town red. What better way to do so than to whip out my red coat for its debut appearance? I pair the coat with skinny jeans, a sleeveless top and ridiculously strappy heals. It’s about 4 degrees Celsius when I step outside. “Not to worry,” I think. “My red coat will keep me warm.”
I spend the 15-minute metro ride into the city practicing basic French phrases like ‘How do you do?’ and ‘Could I have another glass of wine, please?’. I’m on my way to meet a friend who is in Paris for a few months. We’ve booked dinner at a classically French restaurant and have invited a few local boys, who ticked all the right entertainment criteria boxes. I feel invincible (if slightly freezing).
“Hi, Hannah! Happy birthday for tomorrow!” Jerome greets me when he spots us standing outside the restaurant. He gives me a peck on each cheek, and then slowly looks me up and down. “Um, where did you buy that coat?” he asks. I look around. My red coat is the only splash of colour within a two mile radius. I am the most unfashionable person in sight.
Monday, 28 January, 2007 – my birthday. I wake up with a throbbing headache and try to breathe, but instead, disintegrate into a coughing fit that would have tuberculosis patients backing out of the room. My chest feels as though it’s about to explode with pain. Note to self: Never, ever go out in strappy heals in temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius, despite presence of striking red coat. The red coat has, by now, been stuffed into the deepest corners of my cupboard (which, by the way, is only slightly bigger than my room of seven generous square metres). I spend the next two weeks in bed, feeling spectacularly sorry for myself.
By June, things are looking up. I am nearly fluent in French, and have discarded all items of clothing that are not black, grey or navy blue. To my initial disappointment, I’ve fallen in love with an Englishman, who is even more un-French than I am. I try to fight it at first, but it’s no use. We’re deliriously happy and he happens to have a spacious apartment in the Bastille and enough cash to blow on expensive dinners with me, which comes in handy when you’re expected to live on a monthly salary of EUR300 and a coffee costs about half that.
In July, my closest and oldest friend comes to visit from Australia. She’s like a sister to me and so, when she asks to stay with me for six weeks, my response is immediate.
“There’s just one rule,” I tell her. “My toilet is made of plastic. It does not take well to anything other than toilet paper,” I look purposefully at her and she nods obediently. “I’ve managed it this far,” I say. “So, I’m not sure what would happen if you were to throw cotton wool down it, but let’s not find out.”
A few days later, at around 03:00, we are both awoken by a strange rumbling sound coming from my toilet. When Alexandra realises this, her sleepy expression is seized by a look of panic.
“Shiiiiiiiiiit!” she cries. “I threw face wipes down the loo last night!” The face wipes, of course, were due to the fact that my host family had not seen the necessity in installing a shower in my room. There was a toilet and a basin but, in order to shower, I had to leave my room, walk out onto the road, enter their apartment building, climb two floors, and use their shower. My guest was allowed to stay with me, on the condition that she did not use the family’s bathroom. Hence, the face wipes, which, inevitably, she had to use to clean more than her face.
I open the bathroom door and the smell of sewerage hits me so strongly that I nearly fall over. To my horror, my plastic toilet is spewing out old drain water that’s slowly making its way towards me like an unstoppable oceanic current.
“Don’t worry,” Alex says, “I’ll clean it up right now.” She bends over the toilet to check the leakage and suddenly the plastic loo squirts a fresh load of brown water into her face. We both collapse into a pile of tears as I try frantically to clean her face.
Over the next few days, the toilet goes through bouts of leakage, until finally, we gather up the courage to tell the father of my host family. Of course, he finds the whole thing outrageously amusing.
That week, as I’m sitting on the pavement outside my boxy room one evening, I secretly wish that I could be whisked away to my boyfriend’s loft apartment in the Bastille. By this stage, however, he’s moved back to London. Alex comes to sit beside me, and the tension between us is almost tangible. I am still furious at her for disobeying my one house-rule and for flooding my room. With poo water.
Eventually, October rolls around. The plastic toilet saga is but a distant memory, and I’m feeling decidedly Parisian: I’ve mastered the art of French food shopping at outdoor markets; I’ve learned to enjoy espressos; I’ve attended gallery openings and photography exhibitions; I wouldn’t dare wear colour and when I speak French to locals, they no longer guess that I’m foreign within the first 30 seconds of our conversation.
By the end of October, it’s time for me to leave. With a surprising sense of nostalgia, I begin packing up my life and bidding my farewells. I’m desperately unhappy about leaving the city; but cannot really say the same about no longer having to look after children: If there is one thing I’ve learned during my year as an au pair, it’s that having children should be left until the absolute last minute.
Tuesday, 30 October, 2007. I step off the plane at Cape Town International a transformed woman: My hair is long and sleek and I’m donning a dead-straight fringe; a black polar-neck, black tights, dark brown leather boots and a light brown coat.
I enter the Arrivals Hall and spot my family: Mom, Dad and sister. They have anxious looks on their faces. My mom catches my eye and I wave at her, excitedly. For a moment, I think that she’s going to wave back and then she glances in the opposite direction, a searching look on her face.
“Mom!” I walk up to her. “It’s me!”
“My darling!” she cries. “I didn’t recognise you – you look so French!” she says. I let out a long sigh and am glad to be home.
Head on a plate
“You use a pair of garden scissors to cut the hair off the head,” explains the woman selling the sheeps’ heads. “Then, you can burn off the rest with a lighter or over the fire. After that you scrub the head clean with this” – she picks up a green scrubbing wire – “so that it’s safe to eat. The mouth, ears and tongue are the most important parts to clean. You clean the mouth, tongue and throat by holding the sheep’s mouth under a running tap. There is black waxy stuff in the ears and you must take that out, too. If it isn’t done properly, people get sick.” I try to contain my repulsion and keep nodding.
“The head is rinsed afterwards. Then my husband chops it in half with an axe. He also does the cooking,” she explains, giving her husband, who is standing outside over a vat of boiling water, a cheeky smile. A moment passes between them, but I can’t be sure of its meaning.
I later learn that the blood-matted sheep’s heads lined up in front of us form an integral part of the Xhosa culture. Locally, these delicacies are known as ‘smileys’, due to the baleful-looking smiles of death displayed on the sheep’s faces. Even after each so-called ‘smiley’ has been boiled in a large vat and roasted over piping-hot coals, its smile is ever-green. The intense heat, however, does shrink the size of the head, transforming each sluggish smirk into a grotesque grin after roasting.
Sheep’s heads used to be reserved for special ceremonies in the Xhosa and Zulu cultures, because the preparation thereof involves so much effort. But locals will tell you that ‘smileys’ are now very popular amongst communities because a lot of meat and protein comes from them: One head can feed up to five people. That’s because, apart from the teeth, the whole head is eatable – even the eyes and ears. The ears are said to be tasty and chewy and the eyes, which are a delicacy in and of themselves, are the most sought-after part. In the townships, sheep’s heads are sold cooked or uncooked.
While English-speaking white South Africans generally avoid this African delicacy, the sheep’s head is far from taboo in the Afrikaans culture. In fact, it is considered a type of gourmet food. While I am told that the Afrikaans method of cooking sheep’s heads is not all that different from the way that ‘smileys’ are cooked in the townships, the two culture groups do, nevertheless, serve this shared speciality differently. In the Afrikaans tradition, sheep’s heads are served with small potatoes, rice and curry sauce, rather than with maize rice, the latter of which forms the bulk of the black African diet in the townships.
The Afrikaaners use the term ‘skaapkop’ to refer to a sheep’s head, while the township slang for the same delicacy is ‘smiley’ or ‘skobo’, which means ‘head’. And so, the sheep’s head is one of the only culinary customs that is shared by white and black South Africans.
I hop back into my car, where the smell of blood and guts is fainter. “Sheep’s eyes – a sought-after speciality? Perhaps that’s the way that these people feel about sushi and oysters,” I think, remembering that it took me a while to get used to those, too. Still, I think I’d have some trouble getting past the idea of eating any cut of a sheep that doesn’t come from its neck or buttock.
‘The smallest hotel in Africa’
Vicky’s B&B stands out from the rest of the small, colourful houses around it. It is the only double-storey structure on the street, although all of the houses in this particular section of Site C are formal brick structures. Down the road, however, tin shacks and shanty houses become the norm again. The residents in this area might be considered lucky: Housing projects in Khayelitsha are tedious and, at times, have to be funded by outside donors because the South African government lacks either the financial means or the resources to build proper housing in the townships. There are, however, also problems within the housing committees themselves, according to government officials.
Speaking in Khayelitsha in early October last year, Department of Human Settlements MEC (Member of the Executive Council) Bonginkosi Madikizela said, “We are very concerned about people who are pursuing selfish interests at the expense of residents.” Divisions and in-fighting within the local housing committees seems to be hampering the development of housing in informal settlements country-wide, he later elaborated.
Indeed, some housing projects are given the go-ahead by municipal authorities years before they are actually started. This delay in action is often a result of competing interests within the housing committees, and of protests by housing campaigners. Late last year, protestors petrol bombed Golden Arrow busses and attempted to burn down a Khayelitsha fire station, the restoration of which cost roughly R15 000.
Even more recently, in August this year, a corrupt Khayelitsha housing committee member was exposed for giving away land that was intended for housing, in exchange for sex. Protests ensued and fingers were pointed in all directions. It appears that there is, indeed, a mountain of problems to overcome in providing adequate housing to the 500 000 odd residents of Khayelitsha.
In concluding his address to the local community in October last year, MEC Madikizela added that the government was in the process of investigating issues of cronyism, with the intent of taking action against any perpetrators or corrupt housing committee members. But, although the Department of Human Settlement has allocated the bulky sum of R430 billion for housing projects in Khayelitsha over the next three years, residents are still largely dissatisfied with the development of new housing in the area. If only the stench of squalor was more easily eradicated.
I park my car outside the small establishment that is sign-posted ‘Vicky’s B&B – The smallest hotel in Africa’. Four or five children run towards me and greet me. There are no adults in sight, though. Peering my head into Vicky’s home, I ask if anyone’s there but am greeted only by silence. Then, a man from across the road spots me and shouts something in Xhosa to someone else across another street. A few minutes later, a girl of about 15 comes running up the road towards me and introduces herself as Thandile. She is one of Vicky’s six children.
“Hi,” I shake her hand. Her shake is firm, and she looks me directly in the eye. “It’s great meeting you. Is your mom around?” I ask.
“She’ll be back later. She’s at a meeting right now. Do you want something to drink while you wait?”
Khayelitsha, literally ‘new home’ in Xhosa, is located on the Cape Flats, just outside of Cape Town. It is one of the fastest-growing informal settlements in South Africa. Khayelitsha was established in 1985 under the Group Areas Act, as an attempt by the apartheid government to address the ‘problem’ of a growing black population.
Since the settlement is close to the urban centre of Cape Town (and thus work and education opportunities), there has been a continued influx of people relocating to Khayelitsha. Now, roughly half a million individuals live in this poverty-stricken part of the city that runs for several kilometres along the N2 highway. The ethnic makeup of the township is primarily black African, with only 0.5% of its residents being white.
Despite incremental improvements in general service delivery by the African National Congress government since the first democratic elections in 1994, conditions in Khayelitsha remain abysmal. Indeed, new schools, clinics and community centres have been built in recent years, but many of Khayelitsha’s residents still live without access to basic services such as running water or electricity. Statistics from earlier this year show that 70% of the population live in informal housing structures (shacks), and one in three people has to walk 200 metres (or more) for access to tap water.
That night at dinner around the TV, I have a chance to chat briefly with Vicky. I can’t quite decide whether she’s despondent or simply exhausted. I tell myself it must be the latter – she’s just come home from a housing committee meeting that lasted for hours and she has six children, the youngest being five years old and the eldest 27. On top of that, she’s got me, a stranger, staying in her home for the night. While the kids prepare dinner, we discuss the housing committee’s efforts of late.
“How is the progress with the housing project you’re involved in?” I ask.
“The progress is quite okay,” she replies, to my surprise. “The important thing is that we have involved the residents themselves. The people build their own houses, so there’s an element of skills training and empowerment.”
My concentration is broken momentarily as I watch her husband and only son carry a small, wooden dining room table inside from the balcony. On the TV, a local African soap opera is playing. Vicky sits in a big armchair opposite me and various members of her offspring hover around us. Moments later, somebody pushes the table into the centre of the living room and covers it with a white table cloth. One of the daughters walks upstairs, carrying a plate of food – my plate of food, I soon find out. She places it in the centre of the table, pulls up a chair and gestures me to sit down.
“Am I the only one eating?” I ask, a little perplexed.
“No, no. We’re all eating.” Vicky responds.
I sit still on the couch for a few moments longer, feeling uncomfortable at the thought of being the only person to eat at the table, while the rest of the family have their dinner in front of the TV. Eventually, the eldest daughter brings up a second plate of food – this time it’s Vicky’s. Vicky asks one of the children to pray, so we all hold hands and bow our heads. It’s a simple prayer, but it encapsulates all the pressing concerns you would think might belong to the mind of a five-year-old. I get up, fetch my plate from the table and take a seat on the couch opposite Vicky. She’s started eating already; I relax. Only later do I realise that I have probably insulted her.
Part 3 to follow. (Read Part 1 here)
Hannah Moore is a freelance travel and copy writer based in Cape Town, South Africa.
All photography is author’s own. Permission to re-use must be granted.
The sun sets over the distant horizon as I make my way through the narrow, busy streets of Khayelitsha’s Site C in my Uno Fiat. Smoke fills the air and the smell of braai meat is everywhere. Fruit stands abound; people cross the street without warning; minibus taxis zoom about, impervious to stop signs.
It must be close to 19:00 by now. I’ve been driving for nearly 30 minutes, on my way to Vicky’s Bed and Breakfast in one of Cape Town’s biggest informal settlements, where I am to spend the night. My crumpled page of directions flutters in the wind that’s blowing through my open window. I clutch onto it and the steering wheel for dear life – lose my way here, and I’m dead, I think to myself. I glance down at my lengthy sheet of instructions: ‘At stop street, turn right. Take the next left. Just before the Caltex, turn right. Take the fourth exit to the left. Pass the fire station, then take your third right. Go around the crescent. Vicky’s B&B is the big, double-story red shack on the right.’ No street names. Just plenty of left and right turns, and several chances to end up lost in a maze of the unknown. I swallow hard, trying desperately to concentrate on where I’m going and avoid killing any pedestrians along the way.
And then, something inexplicable happens. I look around me, and time stands still. The sky is a brilliant pink and I am enveloped in a chaos so poetic, it’s almost unreal. To my right, the sun lights up a turquoise shack. In front of it, children are playing and two adults are selling what looks like sheep’s heads. To my left, a fruit seller is sitting on an empty blue crate. Everywhere, people walk about, talking loudly to each other. In the distance, music is playing; the base vibrates through my car seat. It seems like the most natural scene in the world. This is one of those moments, I think, that stays with you for life. It’s also a photographer’s dream, I realise. Suddenly and without warning, an unstoppable rush of adrenaline comes over me. I know I have only two or three minutes before the sun disappears, and this incredible light is wasted. I pull over to the side of the road, fumble for my camera and notebook, and jog towards the turquoise shack, my heart racing. People stare at me. I do a quick recon: I’m the only white person in sight. What the hell am I doing? I beg of myself.
My thoughts drift involuntarily back to the previous day, when I had interviewed Jenny ‘Nomvuyo’ Housdon, a white female guide who takes tourists into Khayelitsha. For seven years she had been showing visitors around the township. For seven years nothing had happened to her… Until, only two days prior to our meeting, she and her two Dutch tourists were held up at gun point outside a school in Khayelitsha.
“All I can remember is staring down the barrel of that gun, saying ‘Shoot me. Just shoot me.’ The tourists each had guns pressed to the back of their necks, their faces white as sheets.” The words left her mouth and I immediately wished that they wouldn’t have.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. How was I supposed to, knowing that I was going to spend the following night in the very township in which Jenny and her tourists had nearly been killed?
I shake off the feeling of having put myself in an incredible reckless position, and walk over to the people on the other side of the street. They eye me out, suspicious. And then, the woman behind the meat stand smiles at me and I am flooded with relief.
“Hi,” I say. “What are you selling?”
“Sheep’s heads,” she answers. “R36 a piece. Do you want one?” I giggle nervously and tell her “No, thanks. But I’d love to take some photos. How do you cook these?”
“Come, I’ll show you,” she answers and beckons me inside the turquoise shack. It’s empty inside, apart from the rows upon rows of dried-out sheep’s heads. I let out a small shriek and she laughs. It’s contagious. This was going to be an interesting evening.
Part 2 to follow.
Hannah Moore is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town, South Africa.
All photography is author’s own. Permission to re-use must be granted.
Most of us don’t think carefully enough about the long list of expenses and hidden costs involved in travelling – especially if we’re first-timers to Europe, the most pricey continent on the planet. Often, we set out on holiday with a daily budget in mind, realise it was unrealistic and end up over-spending. Read on to learn how to make your Euro go further and enjoy a stress-free holiday for it. And if anyone asks, you’re not ‘cheap’; you’re thrifty.
The easiest way to cut your spending on food is, of course, to sleep through breakfast. Not an option? Then make sure that your hotel accommodation fare includes breakfast – specials like these can save you a lot of money. The occasional meal out is not a problem (especially if you opt for lunch rather than dinner), but if you’re on a budget you shouldn’t overdo it. When staying in self-catering accommodation, buy the bulk of your food from the grocery store. Ready-made meals in Europe are much cheaper than the average restaurant pizza (which, by the way, is €8.50 in Paris and €10 in Dublin).
If you’re single and willing to mingle, you shouldn’t have to pay for your own drinks. Guys might think themselves sadly exempt from this rule, but they’re clearly just aren’t meeting the right strangers. If you do have to buy your own, drink what the locals drink. You might enjoy the change and imported alcohol is more expensive than locally-produced drinks. During the day, take a water bottle with you and refill it with tap water. The water in most major European cities is drinkable, but do enquire upfront.
They say that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but if you play your cards right, you may stumble upon quite a few. From parks and beaches to student night discounts at cinemas and art galleries, most European cities offer activities that are free of charge or cheaper on certain days. Information on freebies can easily be found at organisations like the YMCA, universities and language schools. Also check online at www.isic.org to see if you qualify for the International Student Card, which can cut your travel costs by as much as a 30%.
If you’re a struggling student or a broke backpacker, you always should prioritise your dwindling budget over an aching back and feet. Whenever it’s possible and safe to do so, walk to your destination rather than using public transport. Not only will you save your bucks, you’ll learn more about the city you’re in that way. Taxi fares in European capitals are atrocious and unless you’ve got a monthly pass, public transport costs can add up, too. (You might also want to befriend locals who own cars, boats, scooters or other means of convenient transport.)
Find out where the locals shop. This is especially important when visiting markets, which can often be tourist traps. Also, make the effort to learn three of four phrases in the local language – you’ll substantially boost your bargaining power that way.
These tips might not be life-changers, but remember that it’s the small things that add up. Follow even two or three of them and, who knows, you might be saving towards your next holiday much sooner than you thought.
Hannah Moore is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Photography: Author’s own. Permission to re-use must be granted.
My rates vary between R1.50 and R2.50 per word and between R150 and R200 per photograph, depending on the length of the project. Please do not hesitate to contact me with further queries or for a full-length copy of my CV.