Trading Trees for Traffic & Comfort for Concrete
In case you missed my column on The Plug, here it is, but be sure to check out all the cool stuff going down in SA here.
It’s been almost exactly two years since I left South Africa for New York City. I had dreamed of making this move since before I could spell Manhattan, and didn’t think twice about my decision to go when my Masters acceptance letter arrived in the mail from the school of my dreams, all but glittering in the Cape Town sun. I was smack-bang in the middle of my honors year at UCT and living happily with my partner of three years, in our newly renovated 3 bedroom in Observatory. I had a life, a great one. I was an excellent student, had an exhilarating social life, and was on a visibly steady career path, but nothing in this world could have meant more to me than the green light to follow my wildest dreams. I may have had to break a heart to chase them, but he let me go, wished me well, waved me off and never held it against me.
I (over) packed my bags, jumped on a plane, and planned to never look back; happily trading trees for traffic and comfort for concrete. ‘Home will always be home, but this is the city of dreams’, I told myself, willing time to move slower with all my might, so I could savor every second of my new adventure. I even made a playlist of music that had kept me glassy eyed for my own future. I used to close my eyes and picture myself in a yellow gypsy cab driving across the Manhattan Bridge into the City with Retrograde x James Blake ringing in my ears. My daydream was always in black and white, but when I got into that first cab at JFK, put my headphones in, and did what I said I would, the daydream blossomed in Technicolor.
The first two were the most stressful weeks of my entire life. Finding an apartment was a nightmare in a market where leases are signed on the spot at viewings, not to mention the hassle of the time zone difference while trying to call home to confirm bank transfers and exchange rates. Everything I saw was too small, or too dark, too inconvenient or too expensive. My dream had come with a side of reality I wasn’t expecting, and I felt myself age a few years in real time.
I didn’t know a single soul, was entirely on my own in this enormously lonely, living organism of a city and everything was too much all at once. The heat, the stress, school, life; all of it. I remember sitting down on the steps outside a building just off Fifth Avenue, a few blocks up from my school, and calling my mother to wail. Here I am, 22 and fresh off the boat, balling my eyes out behind my Tortoiseshell Gucci’s on a long distance call to South Africa, in public. If someone had taken a picture then and showed it to me now, I would probably roll my eyes in that brash, cynical way New Yorkers do when discussing tourists, train delays and Trump, and made some snarky remark about ‘getting used to it.’ But it’s the truth, you do. Here’s where it gets complicated though, should we?
Should we get used to it? Settle for shoebox apartments with little to no counter space? For filthy streets and 24/7 noise pollution? Are we okay with live to work, instead of, work to live? No matter how you ask it, the answer will always be a resounding yes. South Africa will always be home, but come on; this is the City of Dreams.