Letters from Cape Town

By Students Studying Abroad

Join UConn students in Cape Town, South Africa, as they experience a new culture and learn about global citizenship in theory and in practice.

Michael’s Dreams and Intense Reactions

Dan and Michael at Altydgedacht.

Dan and Michael at Altydgedacht.

So if you are reading the other blog posts from this trip you are probably reading about the same events, described with the same cliches so I am going to try not to do that. But keep in mind, I am not leaving out adjectives like ‘happy,’ ‘beautiful,’ ‘amazing,’ ‘heart-wrenching,’ and ‘wonderful’ because they are not apt words to use, I just want to tell you something that might be a little more unique.

Anyways…

I had more or less forgotten about lucid dreaming up until a couple of nights ago, when I became aware that I was dreaming. This is the first time that I have ever attained any level of lucidity whilst asleep. When I awoke the next morning, I kept replaying the dream through my head, and thinking about what I remember reading or hearing about lucid dreaming. From what I recall, to dream lucidly one must recognize the bizarre aspects of what they are experiencing, things that could only exist in a dream. You may also come to the realization that you are dreaming by understanding that you simply ended up in your situation and there is no real reason that you are where you are or why you are doing what you are doing in the dream. Once you do one of these two things, you can realize that you are in fact asleep, and then you can change what is happening in the dream. For me, I dreamt that I was back in Connecticut for a day, which I knew was not true, also I was driving in an old car with Ben Affleck’s character from Good Will Hunting, whilst being chased by random goons. After I connected the dots and knew I was dreaming, I then took control of the dream and escaped from the goons by making the car Ben Affleck and I were driving fly away.

So this was clearly an awesome night of sleep, but waking up the next day I was quite dazed and my grip on reality was looser than normal. This loosened grip was not strengthened with the day’s events. We spent that morning driving and walking around some of the poorest communities in the world, townships populated by up to a million people, hundreds of thousands of whom are HIV+, and live in non-permanent housing (plywood and tin roof ‘shacks’) without electricity or running water, all while struggling to overcome rampant crime, disease, and under-education.

Around midday, we stopped for lunch at a mall in the middle of one of these townships. I perused the dollar store. Scanning the shelves of an impoverished African community’s version of the Family Dollar store me and my friends would visit to buy ridiculous kitten t-shirts or weird canned meats, I expected to see the grossest most bizarre products imaginable, because if there is one place where shittier things than those sold in American dollar stores would be, it’d be at an African one. I was shocked, but not because the products exemplified the poverty of where I was, but because some of the products were so ridiculously out of place. The most noteworthy was an entire section of Merle Haggard’s live music. If you didn’t know, Merle Haggard was a country singer in the late 1960s who sang songs about how he hated hippies and how good it is to be a country boy (ex. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iYY2FQHFwE). I have trouble comprehending how Americans listen to or relate to this music, and knowing that enough people in a South African Township are enough of a fan of Merle Haggard that he warrants his own section is something that I will never understand, furthermore any attempt for me to rationalize it has led to the questioning of my reality. Next, I ate at McDonald’s. It was just as gross as any other McDonald’s I have been to, so the food was void of surprise. The bizarre part was knowing that the only other white person for quite possibly miles around was the American embodied by the pasty pale Ronald McDonald staring at me from a mural on the wall and given voice by Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” playing on repeat through the restaurant’s speakers. Sitting there was too surreal, and I knew that any explanation for why either of us were there would be inadequate.

After the mall we went to another township, and the entire group I was with (the other posters on this blog) took out their cameras and started taking pictures of the immense suffering we were in the midst of. This gave me the sneaking suspicion that this group is very dull or first world egomaniacs, because the only reasoning I have for these people taking personal photos with $500 cameras of someone who lives in such poverty is because either they could not comprehend what they were doing, or they just like totally really like just had to show like everyone on Facebook what a cool person they are. Anyways, I was so racked with guilt at this point that I wanted to do anything to help the people in these townships. I wanted to rip all the clothes off my body along with all the money out of my bank account and give it to them. I wanted to stick my nose in a book until I found the cure to AIDS. Most of all I wanted to punch everyone I was with, then take their cameras and give them to random mothers on the street. It was at this point, mulling over how to handle my situation, that I realized while the rest of my day had led me to question whether I was in fact dreaming, I now knew that I was not. I knew because no matter what I did I would not change what was happening, and more so, I knew that I never could.