Capetown – My Walden

Even though I knew the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are the opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere, I still expected warmer weather before I arrived in Cape Town. After all, it is “Africa.” I had a lot of illusions about my new life in Africa. But living in Africa is just like living anywhere else in the world. Life is bittersweet and that will not change based on your geographic location.

Wearing little clothes, I felt cold and nervous when I was waiting to be picked up at the Cape Town international airport. People started talking to me in English, a language that is so familiar to me, but with a special accent. Just like everything here to me: brand new, but each of them seemed a little bit familiar too.

I had a déjà vu experience when I arrived in Langa township. Most of the houses were not that well-equipped. No WIFI, shower or air conditioner. Children were all playing games on the public ground instead of on their phones. It reminded me of my pastoral childhood back in rural Taiwan. At that time, we did not have smart phones or laptops. I spent most of my time enjoying a simple life in the tea plantation with my siblings: basking in the sunlight and listening to stories told by Grandpa.

My host family mama welcomed me with her big hug and a full plate of foods. It was a new home but full of warmth. Langa was experiencing a serious drought, so the tap water was not drinkable. I had an attack of diarrhea on the first day. But when I was about to leave for school this morning, I found a cup of boiled water on the table. I was in a hurry but the water was at the right temperature. Clearly mama had gotten up earlier to boil the water for me. The warmth reminded me that during the winter time, my mom always quietly turned on the heat when I took a shower. This place was gradually becoming my new home.

But living in Africa was just like living anywhere else in the world. Life was bittersweet. I almost got robbed on the second day in Cape Town, but thanks to two kind ladies who kept yelling at me “be careful,” I was safe and sound. Every place can be dangerous if we are not paying enough attention to safety issues.

When people ask about the reasons I decided to study abroad in South Africa, I often tell them: because I am biased. I am biased because I heard a lot of stories since I was little. Part of them may be true, part of them are not or just incomplete. I have always been so curious about people’s life on the other side of the planet. People, politics, plants… they were all new to me, yet not. I carried countless illusions and cannot wait to experience things by myself, then break all the stereotypes.

Also, I was here to find myself. I was told that people can focus more on themselves when they are in a brand new place. I tried to close the distance between me and myself by meditating every night in Langa, where there was no Wifi or electrical devices. Before I came, I spent most of my nighttime on social media. But in Langa, I wished to live deliberately, with only the essential facts of life. “I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan – like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” Cape Town is my Walden.

Yawen Tsao is a senior at Smith College.

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