By Beth Eanelli, ’13
There is a city built around a mountain…
I spotted Table Mountain about 10 minutes before I descended into Cape Town, South Africa in January from a plane window. In the span of my semester abroad, which is quickly coming to an end, I have come to recognize that Table Mountain is more than just a natural wonder and environmental anomaly, but the center of culture in this city.
Right outside of the city center is Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township, with homes made of metal scraps form neighborhoods complete with barbershops, convenience stores and schools. Although the townships are residual from the racial segregation in South Africa during apartheid, they still exist, and a staggering percentage of Cape Town’s population lives in these communities. The townships’ residents see the flattened top of Table Mountain and the city below as a symbol of the racial tension that plagues South Africa.
Some of Cape Town’s most beautiful places utilize the mountain as a backdrop, such as the beaches and gardens. Surrounded by mansions, five-star resorts and staggering beauty, these places are havens in Cape Town, but reminders of the disparities in South Africa
. between the rich and poor, the townships and wealthy neighborhoods, the perfect landscape and perpetual poverty.
I walk up the base of the mountain every day to the University of Cape Town. I am taking classes about poverty and culture in the country and spend my days reading and socializing on the main quad, which has picturesque views of the city. I am surrounded by South Africans, Zambians, Namibians and students of every nation in Africa representing every sub-culture of this continent, speaking different languages, all with a common goal of greater knowledge.
I love the way the mountain looks different from every part of Cape Town, and from every form of transportation. When a taxi is stopped at a light, beggars come to the window, dirty palms held out in a plea for coins. Pickup trucks speed down the freeway, with people packed into the open back like sardines, clothes pulled taut from the wind and locomotion. I can see the geological mound change shape from a train window as it twists and turns around the mountain and as children laugh and run around. Locals dressed in all types of uniform sit and chat in Afrikaans, Zulu and isiXhosa as they make their way home from work.
I can see the mountain from the porch of my house. I wake up to the rising sun illuminating it in neon orange and go to sleep knowing the mountain is resting below a blanket of Southern Hemisphere stars. When I leave Cape Town to travel on weekends, the best part about coming back is seeing the outline of Table Mountain: a symbol of the place I have learned to call home.
My favorite place in all of Cape Town is the top of Table Mountain, where I can see the entire city sprawled in a semi-circle around the mountain. I love watching the sun set into the ocean and subsequently seeing the city lights turn on, transforming the city into a sparkling, luminous display. I first reached the summit on my third day in Cape Town. The top of the mountain reminds me of how much I have learned since that third day. I now can name most areas of the city, point out landmarks, and all of the restaurants, markets and museums I have grown to love. Being abroad in a developing country has taught me more than I ever could have learned in a classroom. Every day in Cape Town makes me question humanity, culture, race, equality
, and my place in the world. From the top of the mountain, I can see how invaluable studying abroad has been for me.