Built in 1905 exactly 100 years before my birth there she stood in front of me, the Cape town City hall. When I was dropped off in front of this awe inspiring building, my friend Laetitia made sure to tell me that this was the place where Nelson Mandela gave his first speech after 27 years in prison. South Africa’s infamous reputation made me hesitant to capture the beauty of this historical building with my phone. I wanted to take loads of pictures but was still warming up to the idea of being alone in down town Cape Town.
I crossed the road to get a full picture of the building and while I was doing so, I had my first encounter with a local. “Let me take a picture of you and the building,” he said. He was a security guard who’d kindly offered to take a picture of me, but I was down right scared. In fact, I was downright scared he’d run away with my phone.
“Let’s take a selfie,” I replied, hopefully trusting in the safety of still being able to hold my own phone. In that moment his humility and humanity showed.
“No, no my sister. I do not like to be take pictures with my bib, and I can’t take it off,” he said pointing to his luminescent security bib with a dismissive laugh.
“But I will still take you a picture” he continued and his genuine smile broke the ice and I accepted his offer. His name was Siphiwo, which I’ve learnt means ‘gift’ in isiZulu.
“My second name is Gift”, I told him, “but I like being called by my first one, Maliyamungu.” Such was my first experience of the people in this city, and this taught me the importance of being open to meeting kind strangers, because you will! No matter what their background or occupation is, people always have the power to leave you with the gift of a memory.
Opposite the City Hall is the large public square called the Grand Parade. I strolled towards the open air market and the first stall that caught my attention, was that of the leather bags. The bags looked handmade, a mark of authenticity for each and every piece. I introduced myself to the vendor and asked him if he made them. He said his brother made them and that he was just the salesman. I noticed his accent and he confirmed that he was also from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It truly is quite a small world. I too am a native of the DRC and so we spoke in a bit of Swahili and Lingala and then said our goodbyes. I experienced an atmosphere of pure Ubuntu (humanity to others) in the heart of this city.
My third stop was a coffee shop. A barista called Imile whom I had met in Pretoria messaged me on Instagram to visit him. I started walking with the little I could remember of the directions given to get me to the legendry Church Street. The repetitive phrase mentioned to me was: “Cape Town is a very small town, you can’t get lost”. It was reassuring but quite scary at the same time!
As I got onto Darling Street, I noticed that everything operated a little slower than the Johannesburg CBD (Central Business District). At the end of Darling Street there was a choice – to go left or right. Darling connects to another main street, Adderley, and as all the cars were going left I decided to go with the flow.
This got me into Church Street but there was still no sight of the coffee shop. Instead I saw an art gallery and being the art fanatic that I am, I went into “Mogalakwena Gallery”. What is interesting about the gallery is that the first floor is used to show case one fine arts artist for a period of time and the top floor is used as a showroom to display innovative contemporary designs from different parts of Africa.
The artist that was being exhibited on the first floor when I was there said this in a book as part of her Artwork: “ They (tourists and art lovers alike) come down to Cape Town to enjoy what we have all year”. People who live in Cape Town have a certain amount of gratitude for their city and the love they have for it definitely radiates externally by the way they treat each other and foreigners.
When I finally found the coffee shop, it was love at first scent. I loved the personality of the cafe. The Baristas were all unique. There’s Imile who is fairly introverted and there’s another Barista who is very loud and funny. These bearded and chilled individuals told me: “ we don’t do skim milk!” when I ordered my usual Cappuccino. This displayed the clear brand identity of the coffee shop, which I loved. The love it or leave it attitude was refreshing. It really felt like a home for the soul.
The next stop was Green Market, a lively place where with the right attitude you will make the best of friends. I spoke to other photographers who told me that the vendors were mean and didn’t want people to take pictures of them. It didn’t matter; I spent two hours in the Green Market, because I knew that each stall had a story. The objects on sale reflect a personal story that the vendors don’t feel is respected when one just snaps a picture and moves on.
Here are some of the friends I made and each of them left a mark.
I then made my way to the African Market Factory. I was searching for presents for my friend Laetitia and her sister Benedicte who hosted me in Cape Town. There I met Martin, a Mozambican with a heart of gold. He acknowledged me by asking where I am from and we ended up sharing stories and experiences. I was short on cash and he completely spoilt me with a gift!
On my way out I was taken away by the architecture – the use of lines and of the color white for simplicity. Than all of a sudden there was a pop of red in the way. It looked like a lonely house that everyone was scared to go into. I entered a building called ‘Open House’. It’s a small conceptual building celebrating South Africa’s Democracy, “Democracy is an open house with a firm foundation and a balcony to sing from ”. At the bottom of the information poster, it states: “Entry to these premises is at own risk. The Western Cape Government has taken all reasonable steps to prevent loss, injury and / or damage to person and / or property. Liability for such consequence, if any, is hereby disclaimed.” Maybe this was the reason why this Open house looked so lonely. As humans we tend to focus on the negative outcomes and not the positive experience and I really encourage everyone to walk up those stairs and experience this Open House. The view from up there is truly breathtaking. The freedom can be felt. There is room for the imagination in the midst of those plain walls.
Setting off again… I crossed the road and from walking on normal street pavement, I felt a rocky pavement. I asked a stranger where I was. “Bo Kaap ”, he said. I could see the top of the hill ahead. Every house had an identity and a story that I wanted to know and I wanted to know about every house and alley. I put my phone down on a wall and switched on the self-timer. I started posing away with no shame. These are moments I live for: being completely aware of my ‘self’ and enjoying my own presence to the fullest. An old woman walked towards me and asked if I was enjoying my tour around Bo Kaap. She told me that we were on the slopes of Signal Hill and that she grew up running along these colorful alleys. After hugging her goodbye she told me not to leave without visiting the Bo Kaap Museum. The Bo Kaap museum is a must go for everyone visiting or living in Cape Town. It tells the story of the political processes in South Africa under Apartheid years.
1:30 pm, the end of my tour around Bo Kaap museum came with a phone call from Laetitia asking if I had eaten, a reminder of something I had forgotten to do all day. She said she knew the perfect place for us to have lunch, Buena Vista. While making my way to the restaurant, I noticed an interior design gallery called New Modernist. I couldn’t just walk past it. As I entered the gallery, I met a very nice man named Michael. He asked about my origin and where I lived, we both live in Johannesburg and he was interested in seeing some of my art pieces, which was humbling for me.
Longstreet has something new to grab your attention every few steps. I was focused and on my way to Buena vista but I gave in to the next adventure, Clarke’s Bookshop. The ambiance of the bookshop is exquisite, I fell involve with the overwhelming feeling of books surrounding me and out of all of them I grabbed the book called ‘Steve Biko’. I was once having conversation with two friends and I was the only one who didn’t know who this man was. In my defense, I didn’t grow up in South Africa. Therefore there are some historical facts that I am not aware of – but curious to learn about. I went on up to the second floor and there were more stories waiting to be read! That’s when I had to capture the moment: It’s this day that I truly believe that no matter what new creation is invented nothing can replace the experience a book can give a human being. I put my phone on books and put my self –timer for a quick shoot. This all showed me that every time you walk on Longstreet you should be open minded as if it’s the first time. There are so many gems.
Buena Vista was the final stop and it was the cherry on top! The interior decoration is inspired by South American cultures. The music kept me on my feet dancing which unfortunately attracted stares. The menu was so straight to the point with a lot of flare and it had me at burger with a cocktail! Sharing this meal with Laetitia and Mpumelelo, who I had the pleasure to meet that day. We spoke about everything for about 4 hours and we met the lovely owner of the restaurant, George. I had to thank George for the uniqueness of the restaurant.
This journey emphasized the necessity of nourishing my soul through travelling and getting out of my comfort zone. It rejuvenated my spirit, I felt unstoppable and alive. It’s important to take the road less travelled ; it’s important to keep in mind that one can never have enough money to travel. I learnt to not allow anything to be a limitation to my desire to travel. Take the bus, walk unfamiliar streets and great strangers. The experiences wait for you, allow them into your life. Use what you have and allow the universe to impress you with it’s beauty.