Greetings from Cape Town!

Groete uit Kaapstad! (Afrikaans)

Today instead of an update from Tanzania and Kenya I'm jumping ahead to give some perspective on life in South Africa.  Over the past ten days a lot has happened, and although there's no way I will be able to fit it all into one post I hope you get a sense of how exciting things have been here lately.

Taking a step back, let me first of all set the stage for how I even got to South Africa.  It all starts back in Cincinnati, Ohio.... *cue sepia colors and midwestern musical montage* As an architecture student at the University of Cincinnati I am required to complete four practical "co-op" work experiences before I graduate.  One of my spring-quarter classes was set to culminate in a travel experience to Tanzania and Kenya, and so I thought to myself "why not stay in Africa for co-op?!"  As I am in fact familiar with South Africa, growing up in the Indian Ocean port city of Durban before moving to the United States in 2000, I have always dreamed of returning back to the country I once called home to try my hand at architecture in Africa (let me know if you want to hear the full story some time).

Hard at work in Tanzania

Fast forward to summer of 2011.  Following two weeks of humanitarian design work with other University of Cincinnati students in East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya-- both which I will continue to blog about... eventually), I spent an full week in Johannesburg meeting up with friends and visiting a wide range of architecture firms in South Africa's largest city.

At the end of that week, however, after all my portfolios been submitted to SA architecture firms, I found myself in need of transportation to Cape Town (where I am co-oping this summer).  Johannesburg and Cape Town may just be names to anyone unfamiliar with South Africa, but they are in fact two of the most culturally relevant and economically active cities in Southern Africa.  Traveling from one city to the other is relatively common, but the distance is significant.

Johannesburg to Cape Town by bus... 17 hours

That doesn't look so bad, does it? Only from one city to the next... right?

Well my friend, consider this trip in terms of the Eastern United States.

St. Louis to New York by bus... 17 hours

St. Louis to New York.  Different continent. Same travel time.  Needless to say, I felt like quite the African voortrekker (South African equivalent of Oregon Trailblazer) heading west across the deserts and savannas in a Greyhound bus packed to the gills with South Africans of all shapes and sizes.  It's an experience I won't soon forget.

Seeing the Cape Town skyline following this trek was something I had much anticipated.  After being crammed in a bus for the better part of a day, I was more anxious to get out and run than a raccoon trapped in a house full of college students.  After dumping my belongings at an apartment in the Bo-Kaap I made a bee-line for the door to take a run. My goal: Kloofneck, a scenic overlook a few km from my apartment from which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans are simultaneously visible.

One of many cobblestone streets in the Bo-Kaap

Jogging to Kloofneck brought me, unexpectedly, past an architecture firm that I had researched but never  visited in person.  For a nerdy architecture student like me to wander past the office of this well-renowned business by chance would be comparable to, say, a devout Christian meeting Desmond Tutu in a local cafe.  Needless to say, I took the firm's proximity to my own apartment as a sign from God to knock on the door and inquire about a visit.  Not only was the firm gracious enough to provide me with an extended tour the following day, but I was able to meet all their employees and develop some great relationships with several intern-level workers. God provides!

Hot on the heels of this adventure, I took to walking throughout the city over the next few days.  The urban core of Cape Town is beautiful for its compact arrangement of residential and commercial areas, each of which is interspersed with many entertainment venues and tourist attractions, and all of which are set against the stunning backdrop of Table Mountain.  Imagine, if you would, an African city as a medly of San Francisco and New Orleans.  I was hooked.

Walking through Cape Town. Nate is already hooked on this town.

Over the next few days I was able to surf with my roommates in the Indian Ocean at Muizenberg, explore the Atlantic coast along Green Point, and gather together with other Christians at a local church near my apartment.  Cape Town is wonderfully welcoming (and walkable too), and although it's technically winter here, the weather is not much more adverse than a cool Autumn evening in the States.  Capetownians bundle up with scarves and gloves as they weather the coldest days of their year, but in my opinion the weather here has actually been quite favorable.

After staying a few days at the landlord's surgeon house, I moved up the hill to another apartment in which several other international interns live - the nationalities in the house are very diverse, bringing students together from as far apart as France, Zambia, England, and the Netherlands. It has been a great blessing to join in meals and conversations together with these students, as well as their visiting friends and relatives.  In any given hour I hear three or four languages spoken, but it's certainly a beautiful cacophony!

Looking up from my desk

In addition to my apartment-mates, I've also been blessed with a beautiful view out of my window. Glancing up from my desk I see the backdrop of Table Mountain spread out in all its splendor.  I love experiencing new places, and I don't believe there is any other place quite like Cape Town.

The high point of my week came just a few days ago when I tagged along with my friend for breakfast at St. George's Cathedral, the largest (and arguably oldest) Anglican church in Cape Town.  I'm never one to turn down a good breakfast - especially at a church - and so I willingly woke a few hours earlier than usual to join in the festivities.

We had arrived and settled down for a meal by 8am, at which time my friend (who works as a research assistant at the church) whispered to me - "Don't look now, but Desmond Tutu just walked into the cafe." Believing that my friend was having research-induced delusions, I doubted this was true.  But, sure enough, glancing up from my boerewors and eggs I saw that yes, in fact it was Desmond Tutu walking into the cafe, chatting with the kitchen staff and sampling some of their baked pastries.  Who would have guessed!

Archperspective meets Archbishop
Simply serendipitous!

It would be hard to imagine ten better days in Cape Town.  I'm thankful for the experiences, friendships, and communities that I've been exposed to in just over a week, and I'm praying that God will keep providing me with opportunities to interact with locals, as well as architects and designers here in Cape Town who can give me a better professional perspective for my work.  One particular opportunity I want to make the most of is in meeting and getting to know homeless people in Cape Town.  South Africa has a monstrous unemployment rate, and I want to hear what this is like first-hand from Capetownians who either do not have a job or cannot find work.

As my second week begins, please be praying for my relationships with roommates and work colleagues - God is doing great things through the people I work with and it is a blessing to be living here with such a diverse set of friends.

I have dropped the second-person blog concept.  It was fun, but it was also strange to be so removed for all you lovely readers.  To be honest, I am hoping for a little feedback... comments, ya know?!  I'm here in South Africa to work and learn, but I'm also here to provide some perspective.  That's perspective not just for me, but for you too!  So if there's something you'd like to vicariously explore in Cape Town or anything you'd like to hear more about, just let me know (that way I won't have to bring back the creepy second-person blog-review man - see posts below if you're confused).  Comments from you guys = no creepy blog posts.


-quote of the day-
"That the urban future should be at once repellent and seductive is hardly surprising, since actual cities have always cast their own double spell. Their crowded streets and cramped habitations induce claustrophobia but also promise new forms of intimacy. The alienation and loneliness that blossom in the midst of crowds are romantic and agonizing in equal measure. City life is subject to all kinds of planning, scheduling, surveillance and regulation, which makes it both efficient and dehumanizing. Its buzzing disorder holds the threat of violence and the promise of vitality."
-A. O. Scott


  1. Love reading about your adventures, bro. Keep up the exploring & can't wait to hear more. Remember, God is faithful. You're the best (:

  2. Thanks Saartjie. God is faithful indeed :-) Have fun camping this week, I'm praying for you!

  3. I'm very glad you dropped the second-person approach: it was creepy. In my summer craziness, I totally forgot you were blogging about all your travels, so I'm just now catching up. It looks like you are having an absolutely incredible time! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos.