Today, as I was trapped and stood motionless on the train coming back from the beach, I started to laugh to myself and think This Is Africa; this is why I choose to study in Africa, to experience something so far away from my comfort bubble. During part of the train ride, I was flat up against the boy behind me and elbows were being driven into my sides, all the while I stood motionless from the many bodies holding me perfectly still as the train sped past the South African landscape. As the train stopped at each station, I witnessed people shoving their way through the non-existent space. But with persistence and elbows being thrown here and there, I watched in amazement as people wiggled their way in and out of the train. As I witnessed the technique that was needed in order to wrangle yourself from the web of limbs and sweaty bodies, I wondered to myself how I was ever go to achieve this feat that laid ahead of me. I kept a constant check of where my orientation leader was standing because most of us had no idea when we were supposed to get off. He kept on winking at me with reassurance, but all I could do was laugh. In this moment, I had finally felt like I was in Africa and allowed myself to be free of any worries that would have previously stricken me. I was in an environment where I was finally a minority and I was completely comfortable in my own skin. There was not one point during this trip that I felt uncomfortable because of my pale, porcelain complexion. Maybe I felt uncomfortable when my chest went numb because it was being used as a backrest for the person in front of me, but at no point did I feel like I was being judged by the color of my skin.
So there I was, getting hotter and hotter as more and more people began to push their way onto the train. I looked towards the door and there it was wide open as people’s limbs and part of their bodies were hanging out because of the over-crowded interior. Thapz, the orientation leader, turned me and smiled, asking, “so how does it feel to be the minority?” I stood silent for a quick moment, trying to ponder that question. Until that moment it had not occurred to me that physically I was the complete opposite then most on the train. It had not crossed my mind before because I was being treated like everyone else, being pushed and shoved in order to make the smallest free space into occupied space. As I was being shoved and uncomfortably having heads and bodies lean on my shoulders and back, my mind wondered back to my subway experiences in Beijing China. Like Cape Town, pushing and shoving was a common place, but the two experiences were completely different. In China, I was able to push my way through because most were as tall or shorter than I. They easily moved out of your way as you through in an elbow here and there. But as I was trying to find my way to the door, to freedom, the Black Africans around me were unmovable. Their legs acting as roots, planting themselves firmly to the ground, they could not be bugged. For some reason I thought a little “excuse me” would be the secret password in order to open a pathway to get through. But as to be expected, that failed terribly. I was the leader, trying to pave the way through the crowd as six other Americans behind me were waiting for me to move. Then, the men and women around me starting saying, “just push, just push.” So there I was, a little white girl, pushing my way through a crowd of very large black Africans. I finally saw the daylight and I started pushing harder and I finally broke through and made it onto the platform. I immediately started to laugh. It was such an exhilarating experience. With out delay, I turned to my friend Mary, we grabbed each other’s hands and just started smiling and saying over and over, “oh my gosh, that was crazy.” So I am happy to say that I tried something completely new and what an experience it was. But that is what study abroad is all about, going to an unknown atmosphere where the tastes and sounds are completely foreign and experiencing everything with a smile and a laugh.