"South & East Africa 2011" story # 22

Cape Town, South Africa           July 15, 2011

Finally, I made it to Cape Town. Woohoo!
     On my second full day there, I started walking towards Table Mountain.
     I began on Long St. This dirty street, convenient for pedestrians, was full of backpackers’ youth hostels, handcrafted souvenir shops, cafes, bars full of prostitutes, homeless kids running around begging, and older men offering people drugs.
     Happily outside of Long St., I stopped by The Company’s Gardens. A public park, or plaza, it stretched for a kilometer. Roses of different colors (peach, magenta, etc.) crept upward, large trees of different types provided shade, and people of different races sat on benches feeding squirrels, pigeons, and painted ducks.
     I reached the slopes of Table Mountain. The gray rock, like a solid table, like a huge natural playground, fit perfectly into the city like a god that needed to be worshipped. Shrubby foothills led up to the cliffs of the Table. An orange-breasted bird with a shimmering aqua head but a drab gray back could be seen everywhere, chirping above the sea and above the city.
     A punishing trail led tourists to the top, up through a steep canyon. The top of Table Mountain was like a world unto itself. Flat. Shrubby. Quiet. Vast. I could’ve hiked around the top for a while, stopping at a table-top reservoir, if I would’ve had more time – and if my calves hadn’t been so sore. I meditated for a moment.
     From the right spots, we tourists could look down to: the mountainous spine of the wild Cape of Good Hope Peninsula, jutting into the ocean; a coastal village directly below us; Devil’s Peak and Signal Hill mountains, also interrupting the city; and the city itself, which included a donut-shaped soccer stadium. It was a clear-skied and hot winter day. I and the other hikers were covered in sweat. We hiked back down to the city.
     Luckily enough, this wasn’t the only time I’d be covered in sweat while in Cape Town.
     The following day, I had to move out of Ricky Ward’s studio apartment on Long St. and Pepper. I moved into the Cat and Moose Hostel. It was a Wednesday.
     At a hostel barbecue that evening, my loud and hilarious roommates told stories.
     Jamie, a burly gay guy from Manchester, told how Jo, a girl living in England, had given money to a drug dealer the night before. The drug dealer gave Jo nothing in return. Drunk Jo didn’t really care. But, Jamie called the patrolling policeman over.
     Energetic Jamie yelled at the policeman for allowing drug dealers to operate without arresting them. The policeman eventually made the drug dealer hand over Jo’s money. But, he wouldn’t give the money to Jamie. He’d only give it to Jo. So, Jamie went into the hostel and fetched Jo. But, Jo was too nervous to tell a policeman she’d tried to buy drugs. She denied everything, the money never got returned, and Jamie’s efforts went for naught.
     “Jamie, I think you’re a superhero,” I said.
     Our company included Japanese Yoshi. He’d traveled from Cairo to Cape Town without knowing English. He’d had his clothes stolen in Zambia and his money stolen in Kenya.
     Our company also included Pheli (pronounced: “Pelly”), a short black girl who’d grown up with Jo while Jo studied in South Africa. She was loud and fun, too, and she joked how her and Jo’s Christian school used to make them speak in tongues. She wore a lot of curly black hair, a round-faced smile, burnt charcoal eyes, and a fuzzy red jacket. Underneath, she wore a turquoise vest over a white dress-shirt, and she waved her body like a worm in the first dance club we went in.
     I convinced Jamie we should leave this touristy club and move down the road to an all-black club, a.k.a. “the dodgy club”. He brought along a young couple whom he’d met in the touristy club. On the way, on Long St., the homeless kids managed to steal this new guy’s cell phone. The rest of us reached and entered Le Reference.
     -- Flashback: to my first night in Cape Town. A Sunday. I’d ventured into this club. I climbed a dark and empty staircase. I entered the bar area, where the softest, most melodious Congolese band was setting the ambience.
     -- The drumset rat-a-tatted. The bass guitar plucked a high and caramel pitch, repetitively. The singer calmed and lulled us, singing Lingala. Rarely, he sang English. A slow-moving song sang, “He … -e … -e passed away.”
     -- Unfortunately, only twenty people were in the club. And ten of them were prostitutes. The bartender said the bar was safe, though. The Congolese owner didn’t tolerate drug dealers coming in. I should come back on Wednesday, the bartender said. It’d be Student Night. And the club would be playing South African house music. –
     On Wednesday night, somewhere on Long St., Jamie fought with the homeless kids and yelled at the police, in an unsuccessful effort to retrieve his friend’s cell phone.
     Inside Le Reference, Pheli and I smiled to hear South African house music. A deejay played songs with beats so smooth we could only move to them with the waviness of a conductor’s wand. There were more people here tonight. Everyone was black.
     Guys danced more often than girls. Most looked like thin, long-bodied students. One square-shouldered guy wore a top-hat tipped down in front. One guy resembling Buddha proudly wore a dress-shirt and bowtie. (Pheli liked to laugh at him.) They usually looked at the mirrors while they danced, in this purple-pink-lit club, to see how cool they looked.
     They swung every body part back-and-forth with rhythm. They ran smoothly in place. They lowered their heads and spread their arms out in front and arched their butts out back. One guy got on all fours like a seal and balanced a beer bottle in his mouth. Two guys pointed at the sky, then touched their waists, then touched the ground, then touched their waists, over and over again, in synchronization.
     Girls looked cool when they danced, too. Pheli moved her fingers as if she was separating string. She did a version of the “fisherman’s move”, in which she twirled the reel quickly, pulled the line straight back, and tossed it forward over her head. She clapped her hands and scooted her cute little butt past me.
     I tried to do moves my friends in Lesotho had taught me. I wrapped my arms around an invisible punching bag and hunched forward, like a tired gorilla. I cast my hands up and to the left, down to the left, up to the right, down to the right, etc. and smiled, as if I was the Creator giving the world life. I did what I’d call the “waxing my butt” move, in which I rubbed my hips with the palms of my hands. Pheli explained I shouldn’t rub one side too long, because it would become hot; I must switch sides quickly. She told me to bob my shoulders more. All the moves I did excited Pheli, who remembered them from years ago and did them much better than me.
     After the first half hour, of course, everyone in our group had left except for us. Pheli said, “You’re so lucky you went to Lesotho so you could hear about house music!” I agreed.
     Whenever she talked to me, she put her cold but round but warm cheeks on mine, and I wrapped my arms around her turquoise sweater. We both felt very safe. Once, when we were talking about sweating, she put my hand on her bare belly. “I’m sorry. That was a little inappropriate,” she said, “but I just wanted to show you how much fun I’m having.” I taught her some salsa moves, and … our lips met a few times. Yay!
     Becoming exhausted, we would eventually have to call it a night. We would have to walk together down Long St. I would go to my hostel. Pheli, a Cape Town resident, would have to get in her car and drive home, so she could go to her job in advertising in the morning.
     But while we were still in the club, Pheli alerted me whenever a really popular song came on. Sometimes, soulful voices accompanied the happy beats. And then, suddenly, we’d find we were joined on the dance floor by a dozen guys, and a few girls, all in rows dancing with the mirror.

Modern Oddyseus.

Thanks to Garth & Amanda; and Elizabeth, Allen, & Isabella for rides!
Much thanks to Ricky Ward for the place to stay!

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