I’ve been in Cape Town for three weeks now and life has gone from very exciting to not so much. After Chris left two weeks ago it was back to work for me. I’m still incredibly grateful to have a patio overlooking the Indian Ocean as my desk.
South Africa and Cape Town in particular has turned out to be one of my favorite places in the world. There’s so much to do here that I wouldn’t recommend trying to squeeze it all into a week, nor will I attempt to describe it all in one blog post. For now I’ll start with my favorite Cape Town activity so far: a photography tour and learning to cook Malay food.
The morning kicked off with a stroll through the city after meeting up with our guide Bianca and driver Toby from Cape Town Photo Tours. The only other person on our tour was Toby’s mom Christine, visiting from the UK. Normally I’m not a big fan of tours, but with this one being so small, it felt like a stroll through town with friends. The morning had no particular agenda, just wandering through Cape Town Gardens while Bianca told us the history of what we were seeing while giving us as much time as we wanted to take pictures. If I had one complaint, it would be directed at mother nature – the lighting wasn’t the best for photography. No bother – we were happy to be on our feet without any rush and most of all without usual tour embarrassment of following a flag-toting tour guide with a microphone.
We stopped off in Green Market Square, Cape Town’s main center for people watching, curio shopping and tea sipping. Parents watched as children performed traditional dances for the crowd.
After finishing our tea we strolled over to Bo-Kaap, possibly my favorite neighborhood in all of Cape Town. Aside from having a rich history and being regarded as the center of the Cape Malay ethnic community, Bo-Kaap is also stunning.
The multitude of colors is reminiscent of central Reykjavik, but brighter and on nearly every house. It made me wonder about my hometown in suburban Denver. It’s a great area to grow up in, but it’s one of those places where the houses are painted only in safe shades– whites, greys and light blues. I’ve read about the occasional oddball who wanted to paint their house bright pink or green or orange, only to have that idea shot down by whatever homeowner’s association they have to answer to for fear of offending the neighbors.
As we walked through Bo-Kaap and I gazed at all the beautiful colors, I wondered why my culture seems so afraid of color, individuality and uniqueness. Then again, you won’t get this plethora of colors most other places outside of Bo-Kaap, so maybe it’s not just American culture refusing to embrace it.
Around the time my stomach started grumbling, we arrived at our next destination for the day: the purple house of a woman named Faldela to learn how to cook a traditional South African Malay meal.
A bit of history on Malay culture in South Africa: Back when the Dutch colonized substantial parts of southeast Asia and established the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century, South Africa (specifically the Cape of Good Hope) was a critical supply station for ships on their way back and forth between Europe and Asia. In addition to forcing the native Africans into slave labor, the Dutch also brought over slaves they had acquired from modern-day Indonesia and parts of the Malay Peninsula. Over the next 350 years the Malay people managed to maintain a great deal of their culture, including the ability to cook the world’s most delicious food.
Faldela, with a sarcastic tone to nicely supplement her sharp wit, had a no-nonsense attitude that made you realize you don’t want to mess with this tiny woman, but at the same time with a sense of humor that left us in a constant state of laughter.
Within seconds of entering her home, Faldela was asking Chris and me if we were married. “No”, I answered, which she followed up with a question we hadn’t been asked before, the very question that will throw any unmarried couple for a loop: “When will you be getting married?”
To say my response was clumsy would be an understatement. “Um, uh, well, uh…” I looked over at Chris to find a smirk on his face. I’m pretty sure it was a result of his amusement at seeing me fumble around that one. “We’re not there, Faldela!” I sputtered as she giggled. Being a rather traditional Muslim woman, she felt that after a year and three months of dating it needed to happen.
We were all given very important tasks such as measuring the spices and other ingredients, rolling the dough and, my task in particular, stirring the pot (which Faldela had dubbed my “baby”, obviously in an attempt to kick my maternal instincts into full gear). We cooked up a chicken curry with rotis, vegetable samosas with various sweet and sour sauces, and koeksisters – a doughnut-like pastry for dessert.
The result was by far the best meal I’ve had so far in Africa. By the time we sat down for lunch it was nearly 3 p.m., so we had worked up a massive appetite. With my first bite I could have sworn I was in heaven.
On our way out the door, a mysterious figure came out of nowhere and joined us in our goodbyes and farewell-pictures. That’s when Toby informed me that he was an actor, most notably from Hotel Rwanda. I’ve seen the movie but it was at least seven or eight years ago. I’ll have to watch it again, even more so as I’m heading to Rwanda next month. What was more intriguing than the random appearance of a movie star, however, was the mesmerizing gaze of Faldela’s daughter when I took this picture:
As for Bo-Kaap, I’ll be heading back to the neighborhood in the next few days for some more Malay food.
The walking and cookery class by Cape Town Photo Tours runs every Wednesday and is well worth checking out (and Faldela is currently working on her own website, so check back later for the link). I’ll be trying out their Township and Winelands Tour before I leave, so stay tuned.