cape town, south africa: culture

Although I have touched upon political, social, economic differences in some of my travel posts, I have not specifically written on such. I find it challenging at times to write about since I would prefer to have fluid dialogue and conversation, however, hopefully this will spark that as well. Also, these are just a small portion of things I have absorbed and things are constantly changing. I still have so much more to learn and understand. Always!! 

Now as I have been in over 20 countries in the past 3 months, I have felt, seen, heard, experienced so many cultural and systemic differences along my journey. Despite these differences, a few things constantly ring true to me:

1.    Even though there are many differences in the way things are done and what people believe, at the end of the day, we are all one in the same, all humans. All people. With feelings and loved ones and hopes and dreams. Differing opinions is what makes us strong. What makes us eager. What makes us hungry for improvement. These differences need to be leveraged to build us up rather than bring us down.

2.    There are SO many different ways to do things. If we all learned more about how and why other people and places do things, I think we’d all be a bit more tolerant and accepting. Empathy and love before judgment and fear.

3.    GRAY. I truly, truly, truly believe that as long as something does not harm people or the planet there is no right or wrong way to do things. We can each learn new things from each other and float along the spectrum of possibilities! Open minds. Open hearts. Open lives.

With that being said, I would like to recount some of my most notable recent experiences.


- In Kotor airport a few weeks ago, I got talking with some Turkish women. When one of them found out I was from America, the first thing she asked me was “black men are bad there, right?” I think my jaw dropped to the floor. I could not believe this. I explained to her no, there are so many great people in the states and no matter where or what there are both good and bad people. It made me wonder what media or other sources caused her impressions of this.

- When I was in a coffee shop with my black friend the other day in South Africa, my friend asked a woman if she could keep an eye on his bag while he went into the shop. She murmured under her breath, “as long as there is not a bomb in it.” I could not believe this. I was so taken aback I froze as we kept walking but I wish I had said something. She knew nothing about my friend and I could not believe this abrasiveness. It made me sad, too, since people are conditioned to hate, what her experiences were leading up to this.

- At the futbol game yesterday, I told a guy that I was meeting my friends. He asked me if my friends were white or black? I responded both and he was very pleasantly surprised. Given that apartheid was not that long ago in South Africa, it is so interesting to see and observe the effects that still linger (ie unemployment tied to economic inequality, etc). I have so much more to learn but am grateful to be learning.

- In many months in many contrasting places, these are some things I have experienced in my shoes. Each person out there, even if crossing a similar path to me, is in their own shoes. Also, for some more negatively-rooted experiences such as these, there are also TONS of amazing and positive ones. Most importantly, people as people. People as people not defined by their skin tone given to them and changing perceptions through reality.


- Doha Airport had a changing room for babies for men and women (yes for not stereotyping!!! Both are parents :))

- In Morocco, my friend took a photo and accidentally captured a woman on the street. She immediately demanded him to delete the photo, which he of course did. Our guide explained that if her husband saw the photo, he could threaten to divorce her. It is that serious. I completely understand this is cultural and I do not know how the woman feels about this and the many hundreds of years building up to this, however, it made me appreciate my freedom of expression and was very eye-opening to see and imagine in contrast to the portrayal of women in the states.

- In parts of South Africa, it is “okay” for husbands to physically abuse their wives. This was so shocking to me and again contrasted with domestic violence campaigns and organizations that I am used to.

- Also in parts of South Africa, in order to marry, the husband essentially has to “buy” the wife from her father for a certain number of cows depending on her worth. Part of the culture, however, coming from a place where women often do not even take the husband’s last name, I was so surprised to hear this still occurs in present day.

- As a young solo female traveler, I feel super safe majority of the time, however, there are of course extra precautions that need to be taken. I am often sexualized on the street as I am in the states or anywhere else in the world. Even at my super nice hotel in Durban a guy looked me up and down shaking his head “sexy, sexy, sexy” as he walked by. This is such a common occurrence that I’ve almost become used to it. I hope we continue moving towards a place where this lessens and girls can feel lifted for who they are, rather than what they look like and that they can feel safe in their own bodies.


- Throughout these three months I have gone from so many extremes to another. Hot to cold. North to south. Urban to rural. Rich to poor. I find it so difficult to wrap my head around economic inequality. I understand how we could get to where we are, however, I don't understand how such extreme levels of poverty can exist. I get incredibly existential. Why is XYZ person born into such dire circumstances when me or someone else is born into a sufficient environment from the start? Then, of course there are exceptions, but how the course of each person's life and opportunity stem from their economic class.

- When I was at One Young World in Ottawa last fall we talked about the possibility of the elimination of poverty and how if our resources were managed effectively, there would be no poverty. This stirs up so many thoughts in my head but I think it is so important to think about. How can we as a world get to a place where people have basic needs and an education. Imagine the possibilities and how far we would be?


- When I had dinner with my friends in Durban the other night, the topic of religion and whether or not I believed in God came up. I grew up Catholic and am very grateful for the church and priests I had throughout my childhood. Over the years, I have lost touch with the institution; however, have not lost touch with my faith.  One thing I really want to focus on is digging into God and different religions to really learn and challenge and find what I believe in. There are parts of Catholicism that resonate with me, however, now that I am grown and found more of myself, I want to search further in this space to see where I identify.


- When people hear I’m from America, their reactions are either “NEW YORK!?!? I love New York!!” or Trump. It is very interesting to respond and dialogue with people re: Trump. It is naturally covered so much so globally and truly affects the world. We see this happening in other places- ie South Africa and the tension felt when the majority sees differently than the ruling government. With the conversations I've had with people about Trump for instance, it is so interesting to me how their opinions have been formed and which information they are getting from their peers or media that influences it one way or another.

- In my experience, other countries seem much more open than the states to openly and candidly discuss their views rather than coat it in a politically correct way. Helpful for discussion and realness, eh?


 - We all share ONE environment. Our demographics and beliefs may be different but at the end of the day we SHARE one planet. We each have a responsibility to care for it. I think often about how if your Maslow's hierarchy of needs are not met for your own life, how could you deal with bigger issues, such as the environment? If you are worried for your safety or health and well-being, that must be addressed before anything else can be approached. It is vital that basic human rights and basic human needs are met so that the proper energy can be put on what gives us life itself: the earth.

Wow. That was a lot! I'm sure there is so much more to say but got my thoughts down for now. As I head to start the Asia portion of my trip, I am excited to see what new thoughts and epiphanies are in store for then.

I would ABSOLUTELY LOVE to hear what you think!! <3 XXX Thanks for reading.

Lauren WittigComment