The New York Times listed Cape Town as the #1 “Place to Go” in 2014. This city is the World Design Capital for 2014. Famous musicians, artists, and business leaders come to Cape Town to share their gifts with the world. People often talk of an idealized community that lives seaside in South Africa, eats Cape Malay curries, and celebrates the freedoms of the Rainbow Nation.

The thing is, like any bustling metro area, there is another side to the areas of wealth and privilege. The Cape Flats are notorious for problems with poverty, hunger, violence, gangsterism, rape, and drug and alcohol abuse. Movies like Four Corners have highlighted and brought awareness to the drug trafficking and gangsterism in these areas, which are only tens of kilometers from the center of the Business District or any of the wealthy neighborhoods on Table Mountain’s slopes.

Bellville South, however, is neither a fairytale nor a nightmare. My community struggles with various problems, but they have strength, resilience, community, and hope. That being said, my community is not a part of the gleaming seaside city that the world wants to visit. The reality of life here is that you have to have street smarts to get around, you probably don’t have money to go to town often, and Table Mountain is a looming landmark in the distance that you might never climb. The crime rates are high, the Western ideal of a “nuclear family” in a single, privately owned home is rare, and most people don’t go out after dark.  

I love both sides of Cape Town. I love the few days I have been able to spend in the city, walking the streets surrounded by gorgeous buildings, soaking in the history of the Cape, and listening to all sorts of languages and cultures combine. I also love my neighborhood. I love the way people know each other, care for each other, and are working towards a better life together. I love the way I have managed to find comfort, stability, and family among these incredible people.

My love for both sides of Cape Town doesn’t give me a safety net. In fact, I’m often hyper-aware of the problems that exist in this urban jungle. The city that has stolen my heart might also steal my wallet, my cell phone, or my dignity.

Here’s what I’m getting at: big city livin’ is difficult. My heart yearns for peace and equity among the peoples of this metropolis, and I want more than anything to know that the people I love here will be safe. I will miss walking the streets of the city just as much as I will miss walking the streets of my neighborhood. I may not be in a rural village, but there are struggles here, too, and they are real and impact daily lives.

These struggles, this duality of life, is not unique to Cape Town. Big cities all over the world draw tourists, and also have places that they might want to keep the tourists from visiting. This year, I have learned from my community what it means to live on the margins of the big city. I hope that the next time you visit a gleaming metropolis, you remember that there is so much more to see, so many more people to meet, and so much more to love about that place than just the bright lights and big city. 

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