Wow – what a week. It’s incredible looking back on the past seven days on this (very rainy) Saturday night. The kids started – and completed – their first week of school at the American International School of Cape Town. They were amazingly adaptive and resilient – jumped right in without hesitation….uniforms, wierd lunches, field hockey (for Luke) and all. They were brilliant, even though we are still very much in transition mode – living in an Airbnb, improvising on transportation (thank goodness for Uber), living out of suitcases, not having private space, etc. Even though it’s early on, we are already doing things I had hoped – like reading a LOT – although we are also starting to focus on things I hadn’t thought as much about – like the latest rugby scores and games. (The oldest rugby stadium in Africa, and the second oldest in the world, is about a mile from our temporary lodging.)
Regarding school, the language and the curriculum are the same – but so much is different: their classmates (Luke’s new buddies are from Nigeria, South Africa and Denmark while Charlotte is hanging with kids from Greece, France and other parts of the states), the flow of the day, the homework (where exactly is it?), and the athletics (none of the go-to options of lacrosse or hockey, but we are diving into field hockey and soccer). We are still trying to figure out a lot – the appropriate level of French instruction, the right level of math, how to clean incessant grass-stains off Luke’s two pairs of sanctioned school uniform pants, when they do and don’t have after school sports and the required equipment on each day, how to coordinate playdates, what role parents are supposed to play, etc. It’s going to be really fascinating to observe the American educational experience abroad vs. at home……and then to add onto that what Chris experiences at the Elkanah School, the private school where he’ll be working two days / week – and then hopefully to see how schools serving more disadvantaged children operate. We’ll keep you posted!
Chris and I have been incredibly busy as well. He spent two days at Elkanah, getting the lay of the land and figuring out how he can be of most value. He’ll be teaching an AP course and serving as a resource overall to the English department. We signed a lease for a lovely home; arranged through a local South African car dealership to purchase two used cars; became familiar with our local scene, executing successful shopping excursions, a dinner or two out, and some amazing hikes up the back of Table Mountain. I mistakenly assumed we could hop up the back, cruise over the top, and come down the cable car – all in time to pick up the kids for school. We had no idea how vast Table Mountain actually is; who knew there were multiple dams up there and it takes 4-5 hours to hike across it? (The picture below is of a dammed lake on top of Table Mountain; the mountains in the distance are actually on the other side of False Bay, which is on the Indian Ocean side of Cape Point).
We had no idea how gorgeous this area truly is. It’s impossible to articulate. Even though this is the (very) rainy season – a very good thing, given the recent drought – it is truly spectacular – verdant green hills, jagged mountains, azure blue seas – it is all breathtaking. Combined with the very low cost of living (for an expat) the friendliness of the people, the delicious wine and food, the ability to help – it’s all a recipe, we hope, for an amazing year.
Lessons Learned – so Far.
- It’s cold here in the winter. Not bone chilling, White-Christmas cold like in Boston, but wet, damp, rainy cold (high 40s to low 60s). I focused so much on packing for all the sun-filled African days and cool African sunsets and accompanying sundowners that I neglected to pack many essentials for Cape Town “winter” – boots, sweaters, shoes. Of course there are stores here – including H&M and Woolworths – but we prefer not to have to spend $ on things that we’ll only need for a month or two more.
- The natural beauty of this place is breaktaking. We live in the Napa of South Africa, for heavens sakes. How lucky can we be?
- Poverty and inequity are everywhere. Everywhere we walk, there are people in the streets, people begging, people sleeping – and one can’t go more than a few miles before driving by a township of hundreds (if not more) of tin shacks. It’s upsetting – for all of us – to witness. While the reasons for this are complex, all those with whom we have spoken – black and white, Christian, Jewish and Muslim South Africans – have strong and vocal opinions on apartheid.
- Security is no joke. Walls, wires, beams – they are everywhere, and they are necessary.
- It feels good to ration water. If one thinks about it, it’s not hard to limit showers, toilet flushes, dish and clothes washing. We live around the corner from a water collection site, which permits every individual to carry away 25 liters of water (about 6 gallons). Thankfully, the drought is almost over….dams are now at more than 62% capacity, with significant rain in the forecast. The major dam serving Cape Town is now 93% full.
- The cost of living is really cheap compared to Boston. From $3 (big) glasses of wine to my $10/day rental car, we continue to be amazed at how far the dollar will go here.
- The opportunities to help are unparalleled – and I can’t wait to jump in!!! Just a few more days of dealing with cars, houses, insurance, banks, phones, etc – and I can get to it!
And most heartening of all – the warmth and friendliness of the South African people has already blown us away. We are pumped to spend as much time with the locals as possible over the next year, to truly understand what it means to grow up in a different culture. We’ll keep you posted!
(Me with my “snowflake” rental car. While Chris laughs at it, I far prefer a smaller car, especially since we are driving on the left side of the road).