Saturday, September 29, 2007

Day 29 Continued: New Heights of Paranoia

A driver picks me up in Cape Town airport and drives me to the hostel in the tourist party-zone on Long Street. As we're driving in, there are townships filled with third-world corrugated housing on either side of the road. The driver warns me against wandering into those areas.

We get to the hostel. I start to get out of the car to pay him. He asks me to stay in the car and not flash around any money. (It's 4 in the afternoon.) This makes me a little nervous.

I go for a run, come back and shower and go to the local laundromat. Inside, there is a young woman who is either the owner or manager and her assistant. She is very nice to me and helps me with my laundry.
Three punks in their late teens or 20's are hanging out by the back door. They come inside and the woman suddenly isn't so nice. She exchanges some sharp words with them. It appears that they are asking her for some free stuff. The punks take turns taking out their cell phones, looking at the screens, and sending text messages. Eventually, they return to the back door. Variations of this theme repeat over the next hour. They come in and hassle her. She gets mad, they leave. I'm waiting for someone to pull up in a halftrack jeep and start shooting.

Back at the hostel, I get cleaned up, go out for dinner alone and come back. I'm checking e-mail in the TV room and a guy in his late 30's or so walks in. We start talking. He's a good guy. We'll call him Rob. We decide to go out for a beer. The bars are hopping. It reminds me of college spring break. Lots of drunk white guys singing and pumping their fists in the air. Then again, it doesn't. There are a lot of sketchy local punks on the street. There are inept looking folks in uniforms that say "security. I don't see any real police. This makes me a little nervous.

Rob and I have a couple of beers and two black women approach us. I talk to one who says she is 21 years old. She's attractive. We dance. She is a great dancer. We dance some more. She says she's from Nigeria and is visiting on vacation. She says she is staying with her sister, who lives about an hour away by cab. (Assuming that's true, it's probably about a $30 cab ride)

Over the next three hours, she says a bunch of things that give me pause:
- You must be careful.
- South Africans will rob you, stab you, and shoot you.
- They will put knock out stuff into your drink. They have HIV
- She says she was mugged at gun point and then again at knife point across the street from where we are sitting.
- She says her father back in Nigeria has two wives and 11 children
- She wants to be married by age 25 and have 6 children.

It is 3:00 am. The bar is open till 4:00 but she says she is hungry. As we leave, she asks me for 20 South African Rand (about $3) I give it to her. She gives it to the doorman. I ask what that was about. She says black women are not allowed in that bar. I make note of this. I've also noticed that she keeps getting calls to her cell phone. She talks in a language I don't understand.

Out on the street, she says she wants to get a cab to go to a restaurant. I'm not keen on getting in a cab and taking off with her. Also, I'm cheap and don't want to spend the money. I ask what is wrong with the restaurants that are right in front of us. She doesn't want to eat there. "

South African stand off.

She says it is time for her to go.
We go the cab stand.
I empty my pockets and give her 70 Rand for cab fare (about $10)

Costs for first night out in Cape Town:
Under $30, about the same cost as dinner and drinks for one in Boston
- 5 beers with tips (2 for me, 2 for Rob, 1 for my "date.") 100 Rand (about $15)
- my date (bribe for doorman, cab fare) 90 Rand (about $13)

Common Sense Acquired: Priceless