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Landscapes of Assimilation

Sangya Gyawali
July 13, 2015

Finally the phase of disbelief is over. The “am I really in South Africa?” phrase can be heard as a distant echo of the past. Frequent trips to neighborhood coffee shops and pick’n pay (it’s a typical Wal-Mart equivalent) are becoming the norm. You could even confuse us for, dare I say it, “locals” of the city.  

I have a gorgeous view of Table Mountain from my bedroom window; the view from the 6th floor will forever be stored in my memory. Palm trees adorn random patches of land while small apartment buildings and houses weave in between, each filling in where the other lacks. Pyramidal roofs are painted with red, green, and blue creating a mosaic of color. On the far left, campus can be seen lining the base of Table Mountain, tiny and distant, barely there. At night thousands of lights glitter in the thin strip of horizon where mountains merge with Acacia trees.  

Weekends are usually spent exploring nooks and crannies of Western Cape and weekdays are filled with long clinic hours and classes. Last weekend we visited Robben Island, the infamous location that held Nelson Mandela for 18 long years. The boat-ride to the island gave us views of the city from a distance. The curvature of mountains seemed to flow with ease across the horizon, fading away, overtaken by the brilliant blue of the ocean and sky. Such beauty was suddenly contrasted by the brutal history of the island as we quickly learned. We had a chance to go inside some of the cells and read about the lives of the people held within, years ago. Some of them contained symbolic belongings of the prisoners, letters, pictures, keys, etc. Despite a very informative tour, all the remnants of the past only emphasized the palpable distance between history and me- the inability to truly grasp the realities of a different past characterized by extreme violence.

Other activities have included visiting Seal Island, Boulder's beach, and exploring the Southern-most part of the African continent. The latter was my personal favorite. Previously known as the Cape of Storms, the Cape of Good Hope was renamed to become more visitor friendly. Violent winds and waves crash against rocks reminding me of the countless lives that must have been taken by the sea. In return a blanket of seaweed is constantly being washed ashore. The entire landscape provides a glimpse of nature in its rawest form, serving as a reminder that nature truly is a universal constant. Although it’s fun to play the role of a tourist, you often miss the complete picture. Landscape is just as important as its people, at the end of the day they are the real story tellers. The past couple of weeks at the hospital have been rewarding because it allowed us to form personal relationships with people of Cape Town (a topic which I’ll specifically write about in the future).  The beauty of this country harshly contrasts its realities; we are slowly learning to move to its rhythms.

The music of South Africa has a life of its own. The sound of drums are present in each beat, always demanding your complete presence. They have the ability to control your limbs as would a puppeteer. Overall, it’s infectious, which is why I have already started putting together a playlist. The rest of Cape Town is unfolding with each day. Assimilating to the weather hasn’t been too difficult. Even though its winter here, it’s not as bad as back home (especially when compared to Pittsburgh winters). Often, observing the clouds on the mountains provides an accurate picture of the weather for the day.

After an initial phase of disbelief we are slowly moving past the phase of assimilation. Although landscapes and music can provide a glimpse into a country’s realities, there is much more depth here than that meets the eye…

 “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to the truth; not going all the way, and not starting” – Buddha 

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Sangya Gyawali

<p>My name is Sangya Gyawali. I am a rising senior at the University of Pittsburgh and an Anthropology major and a Chemistry minor. I am an adventure enthusiast and a real foodie. I hope to foster my love for cultures and people this summer while studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. Join me as I capture new experiences from different perspectives through words and photos.</p>

2015 Summer 1, 2015 Summer 2
Home University:
University of Pittsburgh
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