When the water comes to find you, you must not be afraid. It will seek you and appear to engulf you as it carves continental shapes into your edges. You may cry out in surprise as you did when they dipped you into the water at your baptismal and had made you afraid of the water then, of what was to come. But the water is the only thing that binds us all—connecting you to me and bridging the distance between two continents.
When the water comes to find you, let it sift through your fingers. The water is not here to be held, and there are canyons grander than that North American one that it wants to build in you, revealing your inner glows, and the reddest of desires; burning hot, alive.
I came to Cape Town in search of the thing I had left behind in America and the one I had yet to find. Seeking a case study of the whitest place on the continent (by my measure) and the gayest place on it (again, by my measure). Instead, I found the water that has always asked me to bend and bow when I want to stand in my certainty of the things I know.
Nestled against the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town is framed by the dramatic trio of Table Mountain, Lion's Head and Devil's Peak at its back. A city formed by water, created through trials and tribulations as the waves lap at its feet, and rich in complexity. When I arrived three days ago (more than slightly drunk after a morning of drinking on a plane after a chance encounter with a fellow artist) Cape Town was everything I expected it to be and nothing I could have imagined: stunning from every angle yet more Western than the Cape it sits on, seemingly more out of Africa than in it.
This city is many contradictions and I am not sure what to make of it, which is why I speak of the water and letting it form you when it comes to find you. Take for instance, the lesser known art market we discovered in Cape Town's Woodstock suburb on Saturday afternoon. The market, hosted in what appeared to be a converted home, was a cosmos of Global Blackness and Black Excellence, dipped in chill vibes and ultracool. One of my newfound friends, a Capetonian, couldn't conceal her excitement, "This is such a treat!" she told me many times that afternoon, "It feels just like Johannesburg!"
Johannesburg which feels like D.C. we had all agreed while sitting around our metaphorical fire; young, black, and gifted with the promise of upward mobility.
When I remembered the multicolored shanties I had seen briefly as I left the Cape Town International Airport the day before, I knew then that they had been telling me something about the white and grey buildings where I now found my body moving through. From Camps Bay to Sea Pointe to Woodstock, Black Cape Town is hard to find. Hidden.
As for the rest of South Africa, it is a funny thing to sit in someone's living room and sift through their dirty laundry as you read the Sunday newspapers or listen in on hot debates on what happened (or didn't happen) after the Mandela dream. "We were so close," you will hear.
"What happened to the change we were promised?" when 20+ years after the end of apartheid many Black South Africans are still waiting for their turn to eat.
But as every young student of change knows, George Orwell (in Animal Farm) was right when he said that, "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." And young African nations in their early post-colonial years have rarely managed to achieve anything more than greater inequity, the feast at the table growing larger, its recipients changing skin color but rarely the size of the table itself.
So what do I know about Cape Town three days into a Capetonian winter? I'm not sure yet, but I am here to listen and greet the water where it stands.
clings to my
it has been
-nayyirah waheed. Salt.