Monday, June 7, 2010

El Hajj Begins

It's been 3 months since my last post to this blog, but let the sabbatical continue! My time back home in between trips was well-spent, visiting friends and family and taking care of some business. But, as you can imagine, part of me was always counting the days until this trip. In reality, I've been counting the days for the last few years, ever since I pledged to make it to South Africa for the World Cup. And now, here I am, and the first week has been sweet!

Of course, I saved packing until the very last minute, but that's just how I roll. It wasn't too hard since all my worldly possessions have been confined to my dad's guest bedroom for the last 3 months (except for storage). As for traveling, I'm getting kinda good at this, so the three flights it took to reach Cape Town couldn't phase me.

After about 23 hours of flying, a few more sleeping in airports, and a 9-hour time change, I arrived at Cape Town Airport. Call me sentimental, but it was pretty special to step off the plane onto the tarmac and breathe African air for the first time in my life. After getting to the apartment on the Waterfront where I'm staying, I went out on my first exploration walk. My first mission was to buy a camera. Sadly, I'm gonna pull this trip off without an iPhone since my fairy godmother reclaimed hers after my last trip. After grabbing a camera and a few groceries, I headed back to the apartment and passed out for the rest of the day/night.


One of the first things that jumped out at me as I walked around downtown Cape Town the next day was the incredible amount of construction that the city is undergoing. I had heard stories that "things weren't ready," but it's a whole different story to see it in person. It seems like every other sidewalk is being repaved or replanted with trees. It reminds me of Oakland right after the Reinvestment Act was passed. Every morning I would pass a group of 20 workers milling about a different hole in the ground (19 of them holding a sign, and 1 actually digging). I will say that the workers here look a little more busy than at home, but it does make me wonder/worry how much money is being spent in the name of beautification.

At one point I spotted a huge crowd of people a few blocks away. Assuming it was some kind of fan fest event, I headed over to check it out. Actually, I ended up walking into a thousand-person-strong pro-Palestine / anti-Israel rally. The rally was in response to the Israel Defense Force's intervention / attack on the aid boat headed to Gaza last week.

Back home in the Bay Area, there is no shortage of people who sympathize with the Palestinian cause. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they start selling keffiyehs at The Gap. Since 2003, when I first marched against the then-pending U.S. invasion of Iraq, I have been a part of countless rallies sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. As an American media consumer, I've also watched endless hours of footage of Arabs and Muslims across the world marching for Palestine and/or against Israel. Watching this rally in person was distinctly different from the experiences I was used to. Unlike the rallies at home, this one was full of real live Arabs and Muslims, not pesto-and-sprout eating Californians. On the other hand, the event felt so much safer in person than it would have looked after CNN or Fox News got its hands on it.

In 1999 I spent a summer with a Palestinian-American roommate who had never seen his home, and thought he never would, due to the circumstances on the ground. Since then, I've come to see the system in Israel as an apartheid state. It was powerful to see the same direct parallels being drawn by South Africans, as they called on their government to oppose the Israeli action. Don't get me wrong: I did not "join" the march, I was a spectator. While I'm sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle, and agreed with much of what I saw and heard, I can't associate myself with some of the ideas and signs that were a part of the march (for example, see below).

The march culminated in front of the Parliament building, where the crowd massed and cheered under the shadow of a massive statue of Louis Botha... ironic?

After the march, I headed around the corner, and stumbled across the Slave Lodge Museum. The entrance was only a couple bucks, so I decided to check it out. It ended up being so interesting that I stayed for a couple hours, went and had lunch, then came back for a few more hours. The Museum is housed in the building where the first slaves were brought to the Cape from across Africa and the around the world. There was an exhibit on the history slavery on the Cape, an exhibit on the life of Nelson Mandela, as well as a collection of Mandela political cartoons by Zapiro.

On Friday morning I boarded a ferry to visit the infamous Robben Island. There's not much I want to tell about the Alcatraz of South Africa—it's really something to be experienced in person. One highlight for me was being toured around the island by Sparks, a.k.a #5683. In 1983, at age 17, Sparks was arrested on charges of terrorism for being a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military arm of the African National Congress. He spent 7 years on Robben Island with no shoes, in a cell shared by 60 political prisoners. Before leaving the island, I stopped by the gift shop and bought a copy of the Robert Sobukwe's biography, which I'm looking forward to reading this week.

Another highlight of my visit to Robben Island was connecting with a handful of Americans. After we got off the boat, we headed to a pub to catch the U.S. put the smack down on Australia in a pre-cup friendly match. As the day turned into evening, our group kept growing until we were almost ten-strong. For the finale we headed to the Waiting Room, a club / lounge on Long Street, Cape Town's main drags. It was good time all-around, especially since Miss H let me rock the turntables for little bit!


  1. I would love to travel with you one day.. I like the way you roll :-)

  2. this is great, andrew! i actually feel as though i am there with you! (i certainly like reading about 23 hours of airplanes, coupled with nine hours of jet lag........rather than to experience first-hand.) i believe that i was exactly your age when i made my first trip to the Motha-land. i'd rather do it now via through your young eyes, body! it may seem to be a bit on sad side, but it's very true! ooxox! whew!