Campus News

Cape Town Diary: October 31. By Philip Drake, Bowdoin College 01

Story posted October 30, 2001

Two other students and I are shuttling around Cape Town in a baby blue 1974 VW Beetle, the flagship of economical German engineering that propels people around the world over back roads and city streets, buzzing like runaway John Deere mowers.

Fusca, as ours is sometimes called (Portuguese for VW beetle), may lack certain luxuries like seatbelts, a radio, and power steering, but instead it is soulful and reliable, two important qualities. Fusca can amazingly carry three surfboards on its roof. When this is done the surfboards stretch from the car's front to back, giving her an untraditional flat-roofed appearance. The other day I left the keys in the ignition and locked the door as I was "rushing" to my last college class ever. After class, a UCT janitor showed me how easy it is to break into Fusca, as he pried open a 1 cm. crack in the window and slid a wire through, hooking my key chain, and carefully pulling the keys from ignition to hand in less than twenty seconds. Well, this MacGyver-like display should have reinforced the lesson learned: never leave anything visible (and hidden, like wallets) in a parked car in South Africa, even if you happen to be on a remote two-lane coastal road...

From the gravel shoulder of the meandering road above Misty Cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean we hiked down a rough dirt path onto a beautiful and empty white sand beach. The frigid and nutrient-rich Benguela Current that flows down the West Coast of Africa keeps the water temperature at Misty Cliffs a constantly numbing 50 degrees, even though it appeared much warmer as the brilliant sunshine penetrated the water, giving it a turquoise tone reminiscent of distant Caribbean seas. The waves looked smaller from afar (as they always seem to), but once in the water we were met by large and choppy surf and a slight onshore wind.

We stayed for half an hour before trudging back up the path towards Fusca and our warm towels. Everything appeared normal; the car was locked, windows up, board bags there, towels there, but upon further inspection no wallets. Now, this type of event could easily lead one to become cynical about a foreign country, but crime is the reality here, and every South African we spoke to most politely inferred that we were in fact, "dumb-asses." My faith was not lost in the greater population of Cape Town when all of my identification from my wallet was found two days later on the Rondebosch Commons some thirty miles from the original crime scene. A strolling bystander took it upon herself to help out the mysterious young American student whose face was on all the ID cards that she found discarded in the bush. Thank you, Ms. Isabelle Cooper of Cape Town and thank you Fusca bandits for being ingenious enough not break any of the windows.

When I wrote my first entry many weeks ago I mentioned how surfing had become my balm from the demanding CBB lifestyle here in Cape Town. Well, with classes over, surfing has fit nicely into my daily routine. I have since traded my 7'6'' for a classic 9'0'' long board and love every second riding my old man stick. In my early surf experiences here in Cape Town I was at times a danger in the water for other surfers. My early reputation as a beginner haole-kook has lessened. Just a few days ago, the bearded pride of Northern New Jersey " the Savage" and I were riding the cleanest Muizenberg conditions we have yet to see. I hopped on a wave, and had the best ride of my life, during which I passed another surfer who let out a brotherly woooohooooo! It is nice to know, however slow my learning curve was, it was going up and not down.

So, there are three weeks left here in South Africa and our program is coming to a rapid end. In the process of closure we are filling out program and course evaluations. The main fault of the program is that it is structured in a manner that encourages interaction mainly between the CBB students and no one else. Some of the CBB students really enjoyed the program. For those that did (and I am happy for them), they found constant comfort among each other. I believe that many felt too comfortable staying together, which limited them in experiencing more of Cape Town and the surrounding areas. Fortunately for them the program was as familiar (and comforting) as being back at their home colleges. South Africa is a beautiful country with so much to experience. Perhaps this rigid program was not the right fit for me in my last semester of my senior year. I leave here disillusioned with the program that CBB has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on, rather than cultural immersion, we have had American bonding in a luxurious colonial Dutch house day after day and week after week, that could have been done back home. I think I am critical of this program because I recognize what it could have been. It would be unfair not to mention that certain activities were meaningful. In Professor McGee's Contemporary South African Art class we were fortunate enough to help curate a show in Langa for local artists, which was a great success for the artists and ourselves.

It has taken me four and a half years to arrive at the point where I can say that in two weeks I will have graduated college. When I receive my diploma from Bowdoin, I will consider it more an affirmation of self-discovery than in academic achievement. It is no fantastic coincidence that I earned credit towards my degree at the following institutions: The Colorado College, the University of Zimbabwe, and the University of Cape Town. Early in my college career I did not have any concept of myself, it took moments of deep contemplation and continual flight for me to understand the person I was unknowingly becoming. Along the way I made some great friends - many of them in the beginning and twilight of my college career - but nevertheless excellent mates. The unconventional route that I took through college was not always easy or a program that most parents would endorse. Thankfully, my family is wonderful and let me run my course allowing me to experience all of life for myself, without much pressure. In retrospect, I value every wrong turn that I took, for those are the ones that enabled me to make the right ones and arrive at the place I am now.

And so I head back to America a liberal arts graduate not certain what I "want to be in life." I return to a changed America, one that I have watched change from afar, on the television and the Internet. I worry for America, but for some reason I don't fear what I am entering into. I am happy knowing that I don't have a job, have never held an internship, and don't even know where I will live. This is an exciting point in life, kind of like when my father drove a confused but anxious kid to Brunswick four and a half years ago.

I would just like to leave one thing straight for the unofficial record of the college. That whole fire alarm incident freshman year, I honestly had nothing to do with that. That was the fault of the sophomore I was running around with that night (it was his birthday and his celebratory system of hydration was excessive), he did it all and somehow the deans at Bowdoin were more than happy to place blame on both of us - silly deans. And that whole Irish car bomb night that resulted in my multi-faceted sickness in strange places, that most certainly was me and it was oddly fun. Also, stop by the "hot dog" Kim's '01 honey hive in Vail if you get a chance.

Ciao for now and like thousands of Bowdoin graduates before me, this marks the closure of yet another college career, each magnificently similar and unique in so many ways.

-Philip Drake, Bowdoin College 01

Additional information on the Cape Town program is at CBB Cape Town
Other Cape Town Diaries:
Cape Town Diary: July 3. By Julie McGee.
Cape Town Diary: July 14. By Julie McGee.
Cape Town Diary: July 27. By Kristen M. Heim.
Cape Town Diary: July 27. By Rachel Meiklejohn.
Cape Town Diary: August 6. By Paul Min.
Cape Town Diary: August 6. By Heather Finn.
Cape Town Diary: August 10. By Chris Reigeluth.
Cape Town Diary: August 13. By Kathryn Spirer.
Cape Town Diary: August 15. By Philip Drake.
Cape Town Diary: August 20. By Dana Kramer.
Cape Town Diary: August 20. By Noah Lambie.
Cape Town Diary: August 24. By Brendan Ferriter.
Cape Town Diary: August 27. By Katie Spirer.
Cape Town Diary: August 27. By Laura Bilodeau.
Cape Town Diary: August 31. By Kristen Heim.
Cape Town Diary: Sept. 1. By Samantha Dahan.
Cape Town Diary: Sept. 4. By Julie McGee.
Cape Town Diary: Sept. 14. By Claire Cuno.
Cape Town Diary: Sept. 25. By Laura Bilodeau.
Cape Town Diary: Sept. 28. By Noah Lambie.
Cape Town Diary: Oct. 3. By Paul Min.
Cape Town Diary: Oct. 8. By Chris Reigeluth.
Cape Town Diary: Oct. 12. By Brendan Ferriter.
Cape Town Diary: Oct. 12. By Rachel Meiklejohn.
Cape Town Diary: Oct. 15. By Heather Finn.
Cape Town Diary: Oct. 21. By Samantha Dahan.

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