I can vividly remember doing research on Cape Town after getting accepted into the program and stumbling across a website about a neighborhood called Bo Kaap. The pictures and its interesting history made it the first thing on my list of places to go when I got here. Unfortunately life got in the way, and I found my trip to Bo Kaap constantly being delayed even though it wasn’t that far from me. That is until this past week, once classes were done, my roommate and I decided that we would go there ourselves and enjoy the scenery.
One of the first things that attracted me to Bo Kaap was its interesting history. Originally known as the Malay Quater, the area was originally situated as a township for the descendants of Malay slaves in Cape Town. As time went by, the area became multi-cultural with people of all cultures coming together to live in harmony. One of the main things that attract people to Bo Kaap are the colorful houses. There are two stories that I have heard that explain the colors. One story is that people painted their homes to differentiate who lived where because they were not given addresses at the time. Another story tells that the houses were painted to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan. The area continues to be predominantly Muslim, and is home to the first established Mosque in South Africa, the Nural Islam Mosque which was established in 1844.
Walking down the street I was amazed by the colors. My roommate and I had a little impromptu photo shoot, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for taking so many pictures in front of people’s homes. Many people forget that most of the houses are still residential and I could only imagine how annoying it must be to have tourists take pictures on your property everyday. Out of respect I avoided touching their belongings or sitting on their steps. But walking around you could feel the strong sense of community that was present in the neighborhood. The air was filled with smells of meats being cooked at the halal stores, along with the sounds of Quran, nasheeds (Islamic songs), and laughter. Growing up Muslim it was nice to be around things that I grew up with. Sometimes I forget to include things from my culture in my everyday life, so it was nice to be around it even if it was only for a short amount of time.
Bo Kaap is a great example of how diverse Cape Town is. You can find people of different colors, religions and ethnic backgrounds. Everything in Cape Town is very vibrant, from Gugulethu to Camp’s Bay, colors and music are everywhere. Even though I know that South Africa is a very complicated country with many problems that need to be fixed, it amazes me how optimistic people can be despite everything. As I prepare to return to the U.S in three weeks, I am definitely keeping my eyes open and taking in as much as possible. Due to tensions in my living situation I found myself rushing to return, wanting to come home as soon as possible. But as December 1st comes closer, I’m finding myself enjoying the little things that I know I will miss.