Michael Alhadeff - General Journalism Projects in South Africa
Before the beginning – thoughts ahead of my stay in Cape Town
So I’m off to Cape Town. If I’m being completely honest I don’t really know what to expect. Before I’m accused of failing to read the latest edition of Lonely Planet’s discourse on Cape Town, I would argue that there is always an unknown element when travelling. There is something pleasurable about this. The excitement is going somewhere new and experiencing something different.
I have also heard a lot about Cape Town. I’ve heard tales about how fun the city is, while I’ve also been warned about some of the dangers. However, I’m still finding it difficult to comprehend what Cape Town life will be like.
My point is that you will never know what to expect until you reach your destination. You will never know the workings of a city until you have a chance to experience it. But there’s something unique about a Projects Abroad experience - I will not be a tourist who breathlessly skips from attraction to attraction. I will be living in Cape Town proper! Staying with a host family means I will really experience what it’s like to live in the Mother City; the day-to-day living in a suburb, the commute and the general pace of the city. It will also give me the chance to see how locals find living in their own city.
The nature of my Projects Abroad placement will also give me chance to observe what Cape Town life is really like. I will be volunteering on a magazine so I will hopefully be out and about, sampling what Cape Town has to offer.
Who knows what will happen in the next month (but that’s the fun part). What I do know is that it will be one real experience. And maybe, just maybe, I will earn the right to think of myself as a Capetonian (the locals may still decide to disagree)!
Experiencing Cape Town – the wonders of the Mother City
So what has it been like to live in Cape Town? From the moment I entered my host family I have loved every moment. Living in Cape Town is just like living in any other city. It gives you a chance to explore. It is a new experience.
There are some special qualities about Cape Town though. Having mountains as a constant backdrop never fails to amaze me. On a sunlit day, studying the detail in the mountains is not a bad way to spend your time whilst you travel to work. Having easy access to a beautiful coastline is a great highlight. Hopefully, you get the picture, beaches and mountains – postcard stuff.
There is always something to do in Cape Town. I’ve already done some of the attractions – including the cable car up Table Mountain. But it has been the little things which have been a real joy, like visits to local food markets and visits to local beaches.
I guess feeling established in Cape Town is the real pleasure of being on a Projects Abroad placement. It has given me the chance to experience what the city is really like – the different places. The routine of the journey to work, the office lunch and working with other volunteers have really grounded my experience. Some differences take getting used to, but that is one of the joys of travelling.
It hasn’t been a tourist’s blur. An important element of this has been staying with a host family. I felt integrated into the family, sharing laughs and stories, meeting friends and neighbours and just having a good time. I now even watch South Africa’s most popular soap! It places you in a comfortable environment, giving you a good base. It is a friendly environment where you feel you have support. It has also been great to meet so many people – I feel I have a network all over the world.
I’m enjoying my journalism experience. As an aspiring journalist, it has been really good to get some real life experience. It has given me the opportunity to challenge myself, to think independently. I’m given freedom at work, but also support when I need advice. I work on a variety of things, from the death of Amy Winehouse to the problems of overfishing. It stretches you and keeps you fresh. It has been a real learning experience. I can’t wait to see my words in print!
Five weeks in Cape Town – how do you sum it up?
So how do I explain my time in Cape Town? Tough question, very tough. Now that I have experienced it, I’m finding it impossible to find the words to express it. The easiest way to answer is that my five weeks were absolutely fantastic! But why?
Firstly, Cape Town is a great a place to be. The scenery is stunning – every window view seemed to have a picture perfect mountain backdrop. A visit to Robben Island provided a real sense of South African History. There was also the chance to explore the joys of Long Street. But there was also the chance to do the unexpected, things that really caught the imagination. These ranged from the braai at Gugulethu (that’s what I call a proper BBQ!) to taking a leap at 216 metres. Experiences I will never ever forget.
However, these experiences were immeasurably enhanced by the people I met out in South Africa. I say this without having rose-tinted glasses. I honestly believe I met some people that I will stay in contact with for a very long time. It was great to meet so many different people, both from the UK and around the world.
It was also a delight to stay with a host family. It was a pleasure to be integrated into family life and have the chance to become a (temporary) member of the family. I felt looked after, but more importantly it provided a comfortable environment which enabled me to really feel I had a base. On a less serious note, I will again remember it for just being a laugh where we were able to share many experiences and jokes. Indeed, all the Capetonians I met were friendly and approachable. I will really miss chatting to my host mum or the cab driver on the way back from a meal with other volunteers.
My Journalism project was really important to me. I have always considered journalism - this experience has given me the confidence to go forward. I enjoyed the freedom of investigating features – I will never forget running around Kalk Bay trying to find the Harbor Master. I feel I have been able to pick up on skills which will help me in the future. I’m sure it is like that for most people on the various projects. In general, having work was another important part of feeling grounded in Cape Town.
Overall though, it was the holistic experience which I really enjoyed. I didn’t want to feel like a tourist where everything is a blur as you whirl round the top attractions, nor did I feel confined by work. I had the chance to really get a feel for Cape Town (even five weeks was a bit too short), while my work left me with a tangible product. On top of this, I had an unbelievably good time. Maybe that should be my answer – unbelievable.