Playing Tourist in Cape Town

It is an absolute hazard to walk Cape Town as a tourist. A hazard to your pocket that is.
Yesterday my colleague Kirsten and I walked out of the office to have a cup of coffee.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, but in Cape Town this is not exactly the greatest time to tour the coffee shops on St. George’s Mall. Most shops close by one, and the Mall turns into a silent and empty space, save for a few coffee shops that cater mainly for tourists.
We ventured first to the Gold Museum on Strand Street, but its coffee shop was closed for a function. The museum itself has a collection of exhibits, traditional African gold pieces as I understood from Kirsten; their owner made them available to the public in one of the older buildings on Strand Street. The street is incidentally where we both work.
We marched onwards looking for our cup of coffee, and ended up on the Green Market Square.
Here one of the coffee shops has spilled over its white plastic and metal chairs onto the pavement. A few people were indulging outside while the person working on the take away hutch looked glumly outside. Inside the restaurant a handful of African waitrons and waitresses where swaying to loud African rhythms blaring from stereo loudspeakers, and in true African tradition they continued their merry-making oblivious to the pair of us waiting outside on the empty table. Kirsten turned her head on all this, preferring to watch a group of youngsters, barefooted and scrawny, singing and dancing and drumming for the pleasure of the bored tourists. The youngsters smart as they are in peddling their primitive music, caught on immediately and Kirsten could not resist giving a full five Rand coin to the little girl who had just finished jumping around and doing the split, I had to dig into my wallet as well for a couple of stray coppers ( and one or two silver coins no less).
After a few minutes of being caught between these two conflicting rhythms ( the street dancers on one side and the staff’s choice of hip hop on the other), we decided to move on, especially since we have seen only the backs of the merry waiters at the coffee shop. Oh, maybe we just caught them at a bad time.
In the end we had our coffee, at a small place called Afro Cafe. This place has the uncomplicated feel and colour of the African continent. The plastic table cloths sport the African colours and dance with the brilliance of yellows, reds and greens. The lighting fixtures are made of recycled material, green plastic bottles and red caps among a myriad of other brightly coloured scrap.
Here as well we did not fail to attract the tourists. One guy came to sell us the ‘Big Issue’ a magazine whose sole purpose is to create an income for the people selling it.
Once he sold us one copy he turned to the next customer begging him to buy another one from him, it was the last one he said.
Next came the bead artist, he had wall hangings and key chains, composed of beads threaded on fine wire. The shapes and colours were really amazing and very true to life, I pondered buying a gecko or a chameleon and in the end settled for a plump little aircraft – that was not as well proportioned as the animals, but which I thought would be more practical for me to carry around in a bag.
At one time I actually succeeded in turning the gentle African salesman away, by telling him I worked in this place, I earned my money in Rands, but then I made a mistake of asking him where he came from, and he said from Zimbabwe, and at once I felt his polite admission tug at my heart. How could I resist helping a Zimbabwean brother, whose whole family could be dependent on selling one ornament.
So I came back after this outing, poorer in pocket but richer in experience. I must say Kirsten and I make a terrible pair, she can’t resist buying stuff and she mostly shames me into doing the same.

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