Hoping To See You Just Now, Cape Town

By saying “just now,” Capetonians are referring to an event in the near future or an indeterminate time.

Cape Town
PHOTO Nadia Sikander

Traveling for 22.5 hours to Cape Town, South Africa taught me the importance of one of the most ephemeral things in our lives: time. Last January, I spent 10 days away from the concrete jungle of New York City to see what I expected to be a real jungle, equipped with forests and wild animals. But my expectations proved to be shortsighted. Cape Town was nothing like the Jurassic Park I had pictured. There were no wild animals on the loose. Instead, they were contained on reserves and the land wasn’t arid or sand colored. In fact, much of what I saw from the Boeing’s window seat was a shade of dark green surrounded by sparkling water. But what I remember most vividly was the shift to a slow paced and relaxed atmosphere outside the airport.

Cape Town
PHOTO Nadia Sikander

It was precisely this easygoing attitude that prompted a plunge into sightseeing our first day, despite our sleepy delirium upon arrival. As if the expansive azure skies of Cape Town descended several thousand feet along with our plane, welcoming us, inviting our troupe of New Yorkers to take a cable car to Table Mountain, the city’s most treasured site. Once at the top, we looked down to see all of Cape Town – a Lego city from our perspective. It’s true what they say about the view from atop, once you’ve seen it, you don’t want to come down.

Throughout the next few days, we divided time between various sights in Cape Town – a majority of which included animals and hiking. We went barefoot on Boulders Beach with penguins, cage-dived with great white sharks in the Atlantic, petted cheetahs and saw lions, elephants and rhinos in their natural environment at the Aquila Private Game Reserve. Later, we admired the multitude of flora at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, but not once did time catch up with us.

History, however, did on the ferry to Robben Island, where we learned about South Africa’s long battle with colonial forces and subjugation. Until 1931, the island was both a prison for political prisoners and hospital for the mentally ill and lepers and then later used as a military base throughout the Second World War. From 1961-1996 it became solely maximum-security prison. Many of the inmates were anti-apartheid activists, like our tour guide, who showed us former South African President Nelson Mandela’s prison cell of 27 years.

Cape Town
PHOTO Nadia Sikander

Even with all the jam-packed scheduling and sight seeing, time passed gently in Cape Town. While strolling among other tourists along the V&A Waterfront, we admired posh restaurants and boutiques amidst locals playing boisterous drums or selling ornate ostrich eggs, we easily forgot time. But our forgetfulness wasn’t due to slower clocks or longer South African days; rather it was the carefree and lighthearted Capetonian culture.

Capetonians have a phrase for when their time is ambiguous. By saying “just now,” they’re not describing an event that occurred a moment ago; rather, they’re referring to an event in the near future or an indeterminate time.

Sure, service is snail-like at best. We waited two hours for our dinner at an Italian restaurant in Camps Bay, an affluent strip of Cape Town sprinkled with luxurious restaurants and expensive hotels. But it is this deliberate slowness that presented the opportunity to appreciate the view of the beach across the street. We stared at the sun dipping languidly into the ocean, converting the sky into a watercolor canvas of pinks and yellows. Unlike most servers in New York City, our waiter didn’t rush us so that he could seat his next customer. He was slow, yes, but he served with gratitude.

Article written by Nadia Sikander.

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