Experiences of a med student with an incurable travel bug.


Adjusting to life in Cape Town has been particularly interesting, mostly because I came here with a totally different frame of reference from everyone else. All of my friends are comparing this to home, and there seems to be a consensus around all the ways Cape Town is deficient in comparison: the internet is so slow, the mini busses are so sketchy, there isn’t this or that, such and such doesn’t work like at home, the power goes out all the time, and “South African” time is such a pain.


Having come here directly from Uganda, a very, very “third world,” developing country, I have a bit of a different outlook on things.

For one thing, this is a first world city, and it’s pretty strange to have access to things like malls, varieties of fast food, and nice roads again. Any thing you might want is attainable, which is great to know.

I’m just so excited to have internet at all, and it’s actually pretty darn fast, even compared to home it seems. Even though it is pretty expensive, at least it’s available.

As it turns out, mini busses are SA’s version of matatus, only they are much classier; I have yet to be in one with a shattered wind shield, all of the doors tend to open, and I’ve never had more than 20 people in one here. They are also a very cheap, effective way to get around the city, even if they’re not always the quickest or most direct. Unfortunately you really can’t take them at night as they’re just too dangerous after dark (which is true of the city as a whole).

I still marvel at the presence of hot water. I mean, it’s there every time I want to shower! It’s pretty exciting to have regular hot showers.

Food. I can drink milk again without worrying about whether it was boiled. Milk from the stores, shakes in cafes…and really, pretty much anything that I’d want is just a few blocks away at the grocery store. It’s not exactly what I’d get at home, but there’s a huge selection compared to three weeks of starch starch starch (and the same starch each time).

And the best thing? WE CAN DRINK TAP WATER!!! I hate having to buy water. Everyone should have access to clean water, thank goodness we do again. Shameless plug: check out Village Health Project if you’re interested in how our organization is working so that more people can have clean water sources.

It’s a little tough because coming from Uganda, things are expensive here! In reality, everything’s still cheap in comparison to home, but after being able to eat for an entire day for less than $2 it does take some adjusting. Now if I want to eat on campus or cheap take away each meal is under $2, so it really adds up! 🙂 It’s hard to adjust the perspective. Going out to eat at the nicest places in town can run you about $20, more if you’re drinking, but you can go to pretty nice places for about $12-15. Plus they deliver anything you can imagine – sushi, thai, ostrich, shakes, and pretty much all of it’s under $10.

As for the power outages, it’s all a lot of hype. There is supposed to be load shedding here at the moment, which means that different electricity grids in the city are supposed to have planned power outages for 2-3 hours every couple of days to cut down on usage. This is all because a few years back SA realized that it would need new power sources soon, and then failed to do anything about it. Now they’re facing a huge energy crisis and it’ll take another decade or so to build more power plants. This typical example of the planning, organization, and foresight here means that we should be regularly losing power; however, this hasn’t been happening at all. There was a huge, unplanned blackout the first Friday I was here, but nothing since then, so we’ve been really lucky. Knock on wood. We didn’t have power a lot of the time, especially nights, that we were in Uganda, so this is pretty nice.

And really, people need to stop whining about South African time. Yeah, someone will tell you 7:00 and show up half an hour late….One night in Uganda JB told us he would be over at 6. He texted to say he’d be late, so we figured about 1-1.5 hours late. Nope. 3.5 hours later he strolls in, totally casual and completely unaware that he may have irritated us. I threw a shoe at him to demonstrate otherwise. His response? “Don’t worry about it! I’m here!” ai yi yi. I was hoping that people would walk faster here as one would think they’d have things to do, places to be, but no such luck. Any time you get behind a group of South Africans you might as well be moving backwards for all the progress you’re going to make. I really have no idea how people make it to class or anywhere else on time, ever.

I’ve been trying not to be too obnoxious about my excitement over all the little things. I try to restrain myself from commenting on it every few seconds and irritating my roommates, so mostly Molly and I just marvel to each other about our hot, drinkable water, and try to ignore other people’s complaints over their unrealistic expectations.


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