Stranger from the Hostel

I know. The title sounds a little strange.

But, if you remember from last week, I said I stayed in a hostel for my first night in Cape Town.  It was a very interesting way to start my time here because I was there for less than a day, in the same room with four other people I’ve never met, and taking care of myself.

There is just one person who I met there that I want to write about before I forget.  She is the first South African I had a long conversation with, and I think that’s special to me.

Maybe I shouldn’t mention her name.  I shared the hostel room with her that night.

When I entered the room, she was sleeping.  So, I went about my way.  I contacted my parents.  I ate.  I soon fell asleep too (because I was absolutely exhausted after a thirty-three hour trip).  When I woke about two hours later, she was sitting up in bed, on her laptop.  She had papers scattered all over the mattress and seemed to be very focused on what she was doing.

I don’t exactly remember what had us talking, but it led to me saying something like I wanted to explore the city, but I was too tired to go out and if I did go out, I wouldn’t know how to navigate myself.  My first night in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and all I wanted to do was sleep.

She told me that I should at least get something to eat.  She also said that if she wasn’t writing her exams, she would have taken me some where.

Digression: I wonder what would have happened if she was free to take me somewhere around the city.  Many have told me to be careful and be wary of people that I meet.  I think this is something interesting to explore.  I mean, who can we trust?  And how do we know we can trust them?

Naturally, this made me ask about what she was writing her exams for.  She told me that she was taking classes at a management school in Cape Town.

She asked me what I was doing in Cape Town.  (You know that story.)

I told her that I would probably just going to stay in.  Being in bed was such an appealing choice for me at that time.

The next morning, I was woken up by an alarm set for 5:30am.  It was hers.  Because I’m a light sleeper, I was also awake as she navigated through the room, getting ready for the day.  The sky was still dark, but she didn’t turn on the lights (as there were two other people sleeping, she didn’t know I was awake).  I could tell that she was using the flashlight on her cellphone, which kept turning on and off due to inactivity, as she was getting ready.  Finally, she left the room and it seemed that she also took her suitcase with her.

I eventually drifted back to sleep, but my alarm, set for 7am, told me to wake up (I needed to beat jetlag by waking up early).  So, I too, got up and got ready for the day.

I meandered to the kitchen, where I wanted to fill up my water bottle, and she was there.  She was drinking a cup of coffee.

I sat down across the table from her, and I learned a lot about her.

  • That day, she was to go to school and write up her last exams for that semester.  Then, she would return home to her family in a town 5-6 hour bus ride from Cape Town.
  • She has two kids: one 6 year old and one 2 year old.  It makes her sad to be a part from them for a long time.
  • But, she knows that she must get her education.  She has one more year left for this degree, and she wants to pursue a Master’s degree.  She will probably be in school for at least another four years.
  • Therefore, she has been working, studying, and being a mom all at the same time for many years now.  (Which leaves no time for Facebook.)
  • When she is not home with the kids, her husband takes care of them.  For this year, he has compromised to postpone his education attainment so that she could be study, but he intends to eventually get his Master’s degree as well.
  • How they will both get a Master’s degree while taking care of kids and working, she doesn’t know.
  • She wants to get a Master’s in Institutional Psychology.  She believes that institutions should not only be making profit.  If they are solely focused on making a profit, there are many other sectors of the institution / business that may become neglected or inefficient.  She believes that she would be good at something like that.
  • If she or her husband is unavailable to take care of the kids (as he works full time as well), she is lucky that she can send her kids to their grandmother’s house — which is relatively close to her hometown.
  • She finds it hard to ever have time to be with her husband, though she appreciated any time that she does get to spend with him.  The kids always comes first.
  • She is very excited to go home to see her family.

Her life to seems to be a game of prioritizing and maximizing time and working endlessly.  And all I have to do is go to class and somehow manage to feed myself.

I am not going to compare my life to hers.  We are definitely different on so many levels.  But, I just really admire all that she has done.  Her life must not be easy because one, she’s away from people that she loves, very far away, and two, she essentially has to do everything at once.

I also admire how much dedication she has for everything that she does.  She loves her kids very much.  That’s apparent in the way I heard her talk about them.  But, she also understands the value of an education and wants to pursue a career that would be fulfilling.

Overall, I just felt that her story and her perspective was really refreshing, compared to those of the people’s I already have in my life.  Despite so many challenges and chances to take a seemingly easier road, she manages to do as best as she can.  I wish her the best of luck with her family, her education, and all her other goals in life.  Thank you for such a welcoming first night in Cape Town!

Over and out.


Update (6 Sept 2015): My sociology class taught me that it is common for parents to be living away from their children as they earn an income.  The practice began during the apartheid era, where black and Coloured South Africans were needed to be employed in white-only areas of cities (they required a pass to get in) to work labor intensive jobs, but they were not allowed to live there.  There was a lot of commuting, but eventually, migrant labor hostels were established to accommodate these migrant parents, who were away from their homes for long periods of time.  This became a norm that is still present in society today.

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