While the view from the balcony of my City Bowl flat is by no means spectacular, I at least have a decent view of Lion’s Head. Its sloping form rises beyond a row of nearby acorn trees, lifting from the rows of apartment blocks and expensive Vredehoek homes at its base, and coming slowly to a rugged blocky peak. The daily sight of its jagged face has become a commonplace—though not unappreciated—part of my life here. Yet several years ago, I could never have imagined that Lion’s Head would ever seem so familiar to me. When I came to South Africa for the first time, I was rather taken with the strange rock—far more so than with Table Mountain, Cape Town’s more iconic backdrop—and it became for me a symbol of the city. It was partly it’s odd appearance that appealed to me, but also its name, which evoked the vague absurdity of a lion’s presence among the refined boulevards and cafes of the sedate seaside town. In some ways, that incongruity suggested to me the inborn strangeness of Cape Town, a quasi Californian/Mediterranean seaport of Euro-Malay origins, and its estranged position on the southern tip of Africa. I had (and still have) no knowledge of why the mountain was named as such, but in some ways it made sense to me when I pictured how the early sailors and settlers must have seen Cape Town: as a port of entry onto a mysterious and daunting continent.
In some sense, the city filled a similar role for me on my first visit. I came to Cape Town in 2004 on a research project, the result of a lifelong fascination with Africa, and a college career in Anthropology. After spending a month completing my project in the city, I caught a bus for Namibia and began a two-month trek around the southern half of the continent. I returned in 2006 to study for a year at UCT, taking every chance I could to see a little more of Africa. In the process, I enjoyed the wide diversity offered by the continent; I camped out among an ocean of Sand in the Namib desert, sipped strong coffee in a trendy Cairo coffee-shop, and courted my boyfriend in a Swazi safari lodge. And along the way I gained a fractional sense of the people and places that make up the continent.
And now I have returned with my South African fiancé to Africa to live, perhaps permanently. Yet I almost forgot about Africa completely. Upon returning, I was so focused on developing a life in the city that I forgot how Cape Town had been for me at one time simply a gateway to the incredible countries and landscapes further inland. Over the next few entries on Primitive Culture, I’d like to present several sketches of my life in Africa. They’re not meant to prove any mastery or deep understanding of, the continent, or to make any definitive statements about its peoples. They’re only written fragments of the places that I’ve encountered. And mainly, they’re a means for me to once again rethink my home, and to develop an understanding of my position at the far Southern tip of an incredible and fascinating continent.