South Africa Adventures–The Art of Negotiating and Robben Island

After a long and relaxing day on the beach, we realized we only had a few more days left in Cape Town and hadn’t done much shopping.  Therefore, we woke up early and headed over to Green Market Square to haggle with vendors.  I didn’t bring my camera to take any pictures because we could not appear to be tourists.  But it didn’t matter because mom was a walking “I have money” target.  I tried to give her a few phrases that she could use so that she did not have to be a dead giveaway that she was American.  I told her should could say sawubona (hello) and unjani (how are you) which is the isiZulu greeting.  After that, nothing else should be said until negotiating the price of an item.  Mom refused to cooperate with me on this.  As we approached the first vendor he greeted us with a deep African accent, “hello mama, hello sista.”  Mom responded with a smile, saying “hello”.  His next question was “where are you from?” Before I could reply, mom quickly interjected “the United States.”  There goes my plan.  I bowed my head an walked away, afraid of what was going to happen next.  A few minutes later I saw him showing mom some artwork.  I hurried over before she pulled out any money and made a greater mistake.  “How much?” I asked. “For you and mama, I give special price,” he replied.  Yeah right, special American price.  Then he quoted her ZAR450. Wait, come again! Did he….huh….yes…I did just say 450 Rand.  “What?!” I responded.  “You want her to pay ZAR450?! Eish man! Cha!”  Cha is “no” in isiZulu.  As we walked away we could hear him saying “come back sistah; what price you want to pay?”  In that moment, mom realized that every price for goods in Green Market Square was negotiable and if she wanted something it was important for them to think we were non-American.  A few minutes later, I walked over to another vendor and was able to negotiate a “local” price of ZAR125 for a similar artwork (this is still overpriced, but not price gouging like the other vendor).

imageAfter haggling and purchasing up a few souvenirs in Green Market Square, we headed back to the waterfront to have lunch and embark on the ferry journey over to Robben Island.  The current was strong so at times the trip felt like a roller coaster ride at sea.  Mom was fascinated to learn about where Nelson Mandela spent the majority of his imprisonment.  Kjotso, a former political prisoner led a portion of our tour.  He described what life was like for many of those who were imprisoned on Robben Island.  The very first time I visited Robben Island, it was a very somber place.  However, this tour seemed like more of a tourist attraction.  There were portions of the prison that visitors could no longer get close to based on orders of the South Africa Minister of Arts and Culture (according to our tour guide).  Due to the holiday season, our tour was three times as large as my previous tour.  Mom and I took pictures and explored the grounds for a while, causing us to miss our ferry back to the waterfront.  As a result, we had to wait for the next ferry.  The driver of the this ferry must have been a speed boat racer because he was speeding through the water causing mom to become fearful.  Mom was practically squeezing the life out of the four-year-old little girl who sat next to her.  Her parents were very friendly and understanding.  We chatted with them briefly–they were from Pretoria (near Johannesburg) and came to Cape Town for holiday.  The mother asked us how our stay in the country had been thus far.  I explained that we were having a great time.  She remarked that she was sure South Africans didn’t know what to make of us.  This was the first person to understand what our experience has been like when interacting with locals.  Most often, mom and I are two of a handful of black people dining in the restaurant (the majority of the wait staff are usually black).  When we frequent areas where there are black locals, we also stand out.  Oftentimes, they  stare at us in bewilderment.  Maybe it’s because we smile and say hello to everyone we see.  Most people we encountered were friendly so standing out didn’t affect us.

On our drive back to the flat after leaving Robben Island, mom asked whether Table Mountain was on our itinerary.  Table Mountain is a prominent Cape Town landmark and a beautiful backdrop to the city.  It is approximately 3,558 feet and as I mentioned in a previous post, mom is deathly afraid of heights.  So I immediately responded by telling her that Table Mountain was not a planned stop.  She insisted that she wanted to overcome her fear of heights so we too a detour and I drove to the mountain.  As we ascended to the base of the mountain from the city (approximately 15 minute drive), mom repeated in a heavier than usual Jamaican accent, “LIST tek yuh time!”  I was barely driving 20 mph on a 60 mph road! there was no way we would make it to the top of the mountain at this rate. Mom’s palms were sweating and the mood in the car became very somber. As we turned into the entry for Table Mountain she started to let out large sighing sounds. We arrived in the parking area. Mom was frozen and did not want to exit the car. “Mom we have to get a ticket for the cable car,” I repeated twice before mom responded. “I can’t do it,” she said. Sigh.. I wasn’t going to force her because if it were up to me, we would not have gone because I know the depth of her fear of heights. I tried to convince her to at least come out of the car and take a picture at the base of the mountain which still provided a great view of the city. Once she refused, I came out to take a picture of the view for her then we slowly made our way down the base of the mountain and back to the flat.

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We had dinner at Baia and that was probably the best dinner I had during our stay.  I tried to keep up with Ace by clearing my plate.  By the time the meal was over I was so stuffed I didn’t feel well for the remainder of the night as I walked around with a belly that appeared to look 5 months pregnant.  We tried to walk it off to no avail.  Looking back, I don’t regret it. :)

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