It was just a regular day trip to start out with.

A long train ride down to the southern parts of Cape Town.

I’m nearly always the only white person I see on them. The reason being that white people have cars here, and the trains and public transportation are for the coloureds, and the blacks. It is awkward to spell out, but it’s the truth. It’s also one reason I want to take the trains-to break this stereotype.

5/8 train to Strand.

On the way up, I had a first class ticket, but felt on my guard the whole time because it was one other guy for a lot of the ride. He had sunglasses on too.  So I decided to ride third class on the way back. I’ve since learned, despite what non-riders say, third class is always safer in Cape Town. More people, more protection.

Straight out of the gate a man in a collared pink shirt started hanging around right next to me. He didn’t sit down. There was a coloured man-coloured is an official culture and race here-with beautiful eyes and jeans with a hole right in the crotch across from me, and another man in baggy jeans who entered at that instant with a long piece of metal. The man who was trying to talk to me asked if it was something he said as I got up to leave. I said no, I was just scared of that piece of metal. The man said Sorry ma’am and threw it out the door. The train was still stopped. I wasn’t trying to scare you, he said. I sat back down again. Later the man asked if I was scared of the rest of the metal in the other man’s bag. He revealed a bag full of shards of sharp metal. I asked, what’s that for? He says, We sell it to the scrap metal yard for money. I said Oh. He said we were gonna sell that other piece but you were scared of it. I said, It’s okay, you can get it back. He said thanks. Bends onto the tracks, into the bag it goes.

Guy with the beautiful eyes says to me, Did you come to see your people?

I said, “No, I don’t have any people here!”

Zim told me later he meant white people. I thought he meant family. Ha.

Guy with the baggy jeans says, “why you out here then?”

“I’m doing music with old people.” I said.

“Well isn’t that nice” he says.

“You’ve got a musical instrument on your chain” I gesture.

“It’s for the sex appeal” he says.

“Sax appeal?” I say, mishearing him.

“Sexy” he corrected me.

“Well it is a saxophone” I say.

The man lurking by me is from Khayeltisha. He has a strong stutter and speaks very quietly. His dream, he says, is to be a lyric writer.

When I carry my guitar around with me everyone wants to talk music.

I tell him I’m ready to read my book.

He had told me to tell him if he made me uncomfortable.

I finished the book—it’s a very long train ride, about two hours.

He starts to tell me his life story.

His family has fallen apart. Siblings aren’t talking. His friends are all in Eastern Cape. He lives here alone. He drinks himself to sleep every night.

“That’ll mess up your sleep patterns,” I said.

“Thanks for the tip,” he said.

He was Christian. He said he had an experience last year. He was arrested and discovered he had heart disease at the same time. But he is now cured.

“I have a problem with anger” he says. “If I get angry…it’s bad.”

“Do you have any anger management strategies?” I helpfully ask.

“No I don’t have strategies. I just go to sleep,” he says. “Music helps me,” I say. After talking for a while about music I finally say,

“So, I’m curious. Why were you arrested?”

“Domestic violence. But she started it!”

Literally in the same sentence he goes on,

“So, would you like to do something sometime?”

“I don’t think so,” I say.

“Okay, maybe we can get together and make some music?”

“I’m trying to imagine how exactly that would work,” I say.

“Like I could come to your house and play your instruments?”

“No, sorry.”

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Seriously?

The South Africa Medical Research Council has found that 40% of men assault their partners daily – and that three women in South Africa are killed by their intimate partner every day.

Highest number of rapes in the world…

Highest rate of AIDS…

Highest child murder…

Highest number of fetal alcohol syndrome births…

South Africa is a patriarchal society and women suffer from that here.  And it’s not all from apartheid. Historically Xhosa/Shona/Zulu culture is deeply patriarchal. The wife must kneel while serving food to her husband. A 12 year old could get home from school one day and be ‘kidnapped’ with her family’s permission to become a bride to a 40 year old man. Same old gender inequality story that exists everywhere in the world, here it’s just worse.

A society’s culture isn’t inherently and unquestionably right– but I guarantee you something that’s true everywhere you go: people will think that it is. Maybe that’s why change is so overdue here, and so excruciatingly slow.

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