becoming local

As I’ve come to learn, cities are like people. While holding the same general form, they all have distinct personalities. Vibrant in their own way, they differ with their gastronomy, diversity, and style. Understanding a city, much like getting to know a person, takes time.

My parents, who only had the time to admire Cape Town’s surface beauty, will never know it like I do. Past the touristic beauty and endless vistas lies a dynamic culture. I value my three months here because I am finally past my touristic stage. Pictures have been taken, experiences have been documented, and I’ve nearly completed the Lonely Planet guide. Now I’m able to truly explore the small niches that make Cape Town unique.

It all began on a Friday night. I had heard from a local about a restaurant called “The Dogs Bollocks”, and couldn’t resist. Evidently, this old man just began cooking burgers out of his garage and one day it caught on. Now, he makes only 50 gourmet burgers every night, so you had better get there early. These gourmet burgers are twice the size of my face and have every type of topping imaginable. Literally grilling in his garage, the man who owns it is the sole employee save an assistant, and the cash register is his wallet. Each burger is handcrafted, so the process is slow. Luke and I had a great time waiting for our burgers and meeting a few locals. From there we headed to a small local theater called the Labia. This was similar to the good old Sun Theater in Williamston, where tickets were a mere 35 rand and it could not have sat more than 30 people. The movie “On the Road” was even worse than the book– it was absolutely painful to watch, but the experience in itself was fun.

Saturday was girls day and we headed out to Hout Bay. We had heard of a nice market right on the bay, and felt like real locals when our taxi driver had not even heard of it. A short 15 minutes from the city, we looped around the back of Cape Town on the most gorgeous drive. It is still hard for me to believe that people really live here. Driving to the bay, we were granted the perfect view of the waves of the Atlantic crashing onto the rocks on the right and the Twelve Apostles mountains rising into the clouds on the left. It is by far some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire world. The Bay Harbor market as it is called was the perfect way to spend the afternoon. They had an incredible selection of every different type of food and crafts.

One of the best things about going to such a big school is that alumni are absolutely everywhere. In the most unsuspecting places, such as on top of table mountain where we met four MSU alumni, connections are made through the fraternity of the green and white. There happens to be a small MSU alumni base in Cape Town as well. Heading out to an African restaurant on the waterfront, I attended my first ever MSU alumni event despite my status as a current student. It was a small group– the 8 of us, three sisters who live in Cape Town and are MSU alumni, and one other current student who is from Johannesburg. The evening was quaint, with appetizers paid for by the alumni foundation. I spent the evening speaking with the three sisters from the area, and welcomed their interesting stories. At the end of the night with a few new connections made, they invited me to come to a wine festival with them next weekend. I can’t express how great it was to talk about MSU and James Madison across the world. It made me realize the power of my degree and the strength of the MSU network.

Sunday was an unexpected adventure as we drove into Gugulethu township to a meat butchery. Expecting a picnic, we packed up some potato salad, plates, and silverware. However, this was no picnic. Upon entering Mzolis, we were told to chose our meat. Yes, chose it from a huge selection of meat. Luke and I decided to try a little bit of everything, so we chose sausages, steaks and lamb. We then took our selection of raw meat back to the braai where it was all thrown over the coals to cook. Waiting for our meat to cook, we ventured into the dining area, which was less of a picnic and more of a party. The DJ spun tracks all afternoon as a huge group of South Africans danced, ate, and drank. It was anything but quaint, reminding me of a tailgate. Acclimated to the atmosphere we retrieved our meat from the braai. Plastic forks and knives were no match for this meat so we soon resigned our utensils and our dignity and picked up the meat with our hands and ate. This is actually normal braai behavior, and once we got passed how ridiculous we looked, chomping on an entire tbone, we embraced it. We spent the entire afternoon enjoying being out of our comfort zone, eating meat like a barbarian in the middle of a township, and vowed to return soon.

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