It’s the little things….

It’s strange how similar and yet completely different things are over here. Silly things stick out, really.

Little differences? The KFC adverts make their customers appear trendy and chic. Everyone says ‘avo’ instead of avocado, and adds it liberally to all kinds of dishes. Students are called ‘learners’. Everyone uses ‘must’ where I feel they should be saying ‘should’, or ‘have to’. If you ask for tea, you must specify whether you want rooibos or Ceylon (which is sometimes named by brand). Speaking of which, you can get rooibos based espresso style drinks – red espresso. People regularly switch between languages in conversation, meaning we’re mostly listening to a mixture of Afrikaans and English. Also TV shows are subtitled in English, with a range of the eleven languages being spoken onscreen. It also seems to be very important to ‘greet’ people, and properly – you can’t just say ‘hi’ to someone, you must ask how they are and answer their question too. I have met a particularly adorable two year old who has been taught to ‘greet’ with a handshake or fistbump, depending on context; school children must greet their teachers (and us) when we enter the room, or they’ll be forced to stand up and repeat it until they get it right. And Capetonians LOVE their food – any excuse is a good excuse for a spread, or cake, or yum-yums (tasty little round doughnutty blobs of goodness) – and we’re yet to find a restaurant, cafe or shop that doesn’t serve mouthwatering deliciousness as standard.

And similarities? The weather is pretty much as you’d expect it to be in Ireland in Spring. There’s a burgeoning craft brewery scene, thankfully a good bit cheaper than at home. Trendy coffee shops are populated by hipsters with iPads – in one, the staff were in waistcoats and top hats. A general theme of complaining about government, education departments, lack of funding, etc sounds much the same as at home. People have the same concerns here as elsewhere – a decent place to live, a job, good education for their kids, and so on.

But there are big differences too. For starters, there is a MASSIVE mountain, right in the middle of the city. As Niall has said (repeatedly), if you got that map on SimCity you’d just reload. Oh, and depending on the cloud cover, some mornings you can’t even SEE the mountain. And then you turn a corner, and it looms out of nowhere. I swear, it’s sneaking up on me sometimes.

Cape Town is a city of around 3.5 million people. Around 1.5 million of these are estimated to live in Khayelitsha, the largest of the informal townships. That’s around as many people as live in Dublin, my home city, living in shacks made of wood, tin, corrugated iron and cardboard. We toured a township a couple of weeks ago – I asked what seemed like an obvious question: where do people get the materials to build the shacks? (After all, I hadn’t seen piles of it lying around anywhere). Turns out that the government gives anyone who wants it five sheets of metal, to build themselves a shack. And yet the government is insisting that they’ll have everyone out of shacks by 2024…. It’s seems a particularly circular solution to me, to enable people to build shacks whilst railing against them publicly yet not providing a decent alternative.

Cape Town is an amazing city, but full of contradictions. It’s hard to get your head around. Especially with that mountain.

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