I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day, waiting for an interview and sipping on some delicious tropical iced tea when the woman across from me stood up in the crowded store and went to the bathroom. She left behind all her belongings, including her handbag and a Macbook worth over $1000 for 10-15 minutes. She didn’t bother to ask anyone to keep an eye on her things, she clearly assumed that no one would take them… and no one did. This came as huge shock to me after being away from home for so long and the weird part is, it is something I would have done prior to moving away.
It has been quite the adjustment moving from Cape Town, South Africa to San Francisco, California after two years being away. I knew before making the move, that there would be adjusting and that it would most likely be difficult as it is always very confusing when I return home after a long period of time and things have changed, including myself. It is also, in my opinion, a true test of my inner strength and a testament to how resilient I truly am.
Since I have returned I realized that I am much more weary of people than I was before I left; if a suspicious looking person, such as a crackhead is in my path, I get anxious and cling to my bag tighter. This anxiety and fear of other human beings was not present before I moved to Cape Town. The first week I was here in SF, I was out with a friend having coffee and as night fell and I realized we were going opposite ways on our journeys home, I got scared and began jogging home; never in all my years of living in San Francisco previously had I been scared to walk around at night. I lock doors and windows without thinking about it; my roommate reminds me it isn’t always necessary. I find it interesting how I have been trained to be so vigilant and pro-active in protecting myself from the outside world and how I have had to remind myself repeatedly since I have been back that I no longer need to be so extreme about it.
It feels like a weight has been lifted and a new independence has been returned to me. I purposely walk everywhere, skipping buses or trams just because I can. I chat with strangers. I stay out after dark, alone. I ride public transportation with a myriad of races, classes and creeds. It is as if a whole new world has opened for me and I didn’t quite expect it to be so dramatic.
This in no way means that I do not miss Cape Town or that I think it is a horrible place to live; I love South Africa and think it is one of the most beautiful places in the world with some of the most amazing people. I realize now, how absolutely privileged I am to be born into a country where I don’t have to be fearful all the time. There isn’t a large population of people that are so desperately poor that they must succumb to stealing or violence in order to survive; it exists, but not in the same capacity. This isn’t to say that we don’t have crime or that there aren’t bad neighborhoods here, because clearly there are, but there is a stark difference to the level of fear I must possess to protect myself here versus South Africa and as sad as that makes me, it is a reality.