Reconstructing Rondebosch

By Seth Schlotterbeck

After a night of existential clarity, pulsing adrenaline, and not a few cups of coffee, I discovered the course I wish to pursue on this page this semester. The remaining times I write this semester will be focused around a common theme, which I shall now outline.

I studied abroad in Rondebosch, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa during the spring semester of 2005. I came back to the States last summer, and being thrown back into the grind at Macalester has been excruciating. I spent the majority of last semester reeling with confusion from dealing with a familiar world that seemed off for some reason. I will spend the rest of my semester exploring questions relating experiences of my semester away and my semester here. I want to explore the questions of: why has the transition between these locations been so difficult? Where does this difficulty lie? And of course: what does this all mean? I present these questions with the belief that such problems of transition—of dealing with incongruent lived realities—are experiences that are important and difficult; experiences that we share as thinking, feeling people, and that by spurring such a dialogue, we can all begin to ask and answer our own questions for personal sanity, clarity of purpose, and healing. Therefore, let us summon our courage and march into the unknown. It is finally time to reconstruct Rondebosch.

The hardest part about arriving back in St. Paul was the seductive pull of normalcy. Friends came back, classes began, and the hegemony of Macalester student life re-exerted itself with overwhelming force. Unlike years past, however, this once-comforting role came to feel utterly abhorrent, and I was sent reeling into isolation and depression. Why, after more than two years of living contentedly—even joyfully at times—in this very situation, was I experiencing such a reaction? I have spent a long time with that question persisting like an unanswered tumor on my soul.

One of the most formative experiences I had while living in Rondebosch was my daily trek back and forth to campus. Without a bike, a car, or reliable public transportation, the trek became a familiar part of my daily routine. The concepts of colonialism and apartheid and economic disparity could float around my head and plague me with their complexities all they liked, but the thirty minutes each morning and afternoon I spent walking through my world spoke to me like nothing else. This was where I lived. Not in “Africa,” not in South Africa, not even necessarily in Cape Town, but here, along the short path over the Liesbeek river, the shopping mall on Main Road, the intersection where I had beat the system of stoplights in order to maximize my speed when running late. Here, where Lotan sat along a brick wall, making wire sculptures and greeting cards. Here, where Barry White walked unevenly back and forth along the sidewalk, making conversations with pretty ladies in cars waiting for the light to turn green. Here, where Peter sat in his place next to the grocery store, reading books, writing poems, and speaking of life, loss, love, and a faith that overcame all else.

It was this walk that connected my isolated little house with my mountain-top University classes. And it is the absence of such a walk that I have felt most acutely while back at Macalester. The walk to campus along Fry Street seems but a pretty corridor shuttling me back and forth between my spheres of existence; not the vibrant, lively, slightly-dodgy adventure that I once knew. It is only with the recent rash of muggings and vandalism along Fry that I have been prompted to re-examine my feelings about this walk to campus. Let that be the point we begin with next time. Until then, peace.