Picture 1: View from Table Mountain
Picture 2: Bo-Kaap neighborhood
Picture 3: Helping make dinner in Jasmina’s cooking class
So this morning we went to the top of Table Mountain, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, thankfully by cable car considering that it makes Lion’s head look minature. From the top, you could see Robben Island, Lion’s Head, and the city center of Cape Town. It was cool to see the locations we’ve visited come together at the top of Table Mountain.
After Table Mountain, we visited Bo-Kaap, a historically colored neighborhood in Cape Town. The ancestors of those who live in Bo-Kaap were Indonesian or Malaysian (South Asian) people who were brought to South Africa as slaves for the Dutch. These people, assimilated to their new lives in South Africa, married and had children with white and black people. Thus, the colored population was created. Bo-Kaap sits on the side of a mountain and is most recognizable by the colorful houses. From our tour, I took away that one of the most important aspects of the Bo-Kaap community was the predominant Islamic faith. The Islamic faith is embedded in the culture of the neighborhood, so much so, that when a Christian couple moved into the area they were told to keep certain activities, such as drinking, inside their home as to not misdirect or influence the youth of Bo-Kaap. Not only did Ismael, our tour guide, mention this story, but on several occassions he commented that all people are welcome in Bo-Kaap, but they have to respect the neighborhood’s way of life. It also seemed that Ismael blamed the influence of Western culture for infiltrating their Eastern dynamic. Now, it’s interesting to hear the narrative that people in a certain place with a certain way of living will be friendly neighbors as long as their neighbors respect their religion and culture because it has been used countlessly by xenophobics and racists. Nonetheless, I understand that the community is trying to hold on to their normal way of life that conveniently revolves around their religion, which in many ways, especially by the Western world, is being attacked. It would be nice for this community to continue to vibrantly represent a religion and a group of people stigmatized so often. I believe our tour guide emphasizing the understanding of their personal culture was simply to explain how important the sustainment of their culture is to them.
We were then lucky enough to experience this culture further by attending a Malaysian cooking class in the home of Jasmina, a colored District 6 women rellocated to the Bo-Kaap neighborhood. As a person who never eats South Asian food, the only thing I can remember that we had was chicken curry, however; she taught us to make so much more and I will happily report that it wasn’t too bad! What I liked most about the experience, other than the most amazing cranberry juice, was that it was her father that taught her to cook when she was a little girl growing up in District 6. All of us were shocked to hear that during that time period her father would be a stay at home dad during the winters while her mother worked in a factory. The patriarchy can be subverted in the oddest, but sweetest of places! More generally, I believe what we’ve learned, also in regards to the women of Soweto, is that you can’t claim to have been somewhere or to have experienced the culture unless you’ve been blessed to receive the hospitality and kindness of local people, especially over a meal. The women in Soweto and Jasmina made this trip so much more intimate and special.