On my way to Zambia in Dulles airport, I spotted a black girl behind me in line.
There was only one Ethiopian airlines flight leaving at the time, so I knew she was getting on my flight. I wondered if she was on her way to Zambia too and if so, for what purpose. It was just a passing thought so I went about my business, lugging three suitcases along in the line because I was too stubborn to pay for a luggage cart (Seriously Dulles, why make passengers pay for luggage carts? It's cruel.).
My flight was scheduled to depart from Dulles to Ethiopia, and then from Ethiopia to Zambia...or so I thought. We landed in Ethiopia and as we deplaned, there was an Ethiopian Airlines representative directing us which way to go depending on what our next route would be. He told me to head to Gate 2, but as I get to Gate 2, I see that it's heading to Zimbabwe. Surely he knew that Zimbabwe and Zambia are two different countries. I thought, "Why did he send me this way?"
I see the same black girl I spotted in Dulles also waiting at Gate 2, so naturally she's the first person I think to ask about my confusion. After we figure out that the flight is going to Zimbabwe and THEN to Zambia (it pays to read your itineraries, kids), we strike up a conversation and I find out that her name is Lucill'e and that she was coming from Detroit after recently marrying her Zimbabwean husband who lives there for work. She was heading to Zimbabwe for a few months to spend some time with his family. Lucill'e told me that she's from Cape Town and I casually mention how I was thinking of either going there or Zanzibar during a long holiday weekend, but I hadn't decided yet.
Lucill'e raved about Cape Town and told me I must visit her beautiful hometown.
I had already been to Zanzibar so I was totally sold! Since Lucill'e was going to be in Zimbabwe for a few months, she wouldn't be in Cape Town when I got there. Still, she told me how her brother is still in the city and offered to put me in touch with him so I would know at least one person in town. Perfect! I got such a good, genuine vibe from Lucill'e that I didn't think she'd be put me in contact with her brother if she thought he was crazy or unreliable. I booked my trip to Cape Town a few days after meeting Lucill'e and friended her brother, Fabian, on Facebook.
Fabian and I chatted about my arrival and discussed what I wanted to see while I was there. We messaged each other on and off for about two weeks before my trip, exchanging ideas about the best ways to make use of my limited time in Cape Town. As my weekend getaway came near, I gave Fabian's name and picture to one of my friends at work just as a precaution. In case I went missing, they would know exactly who to look for and where to find him! Still a little nervous about hanging out as a solo traveler in a foreign city with an absolute stranger, off I went to Cape Town, excited and nervous for what lied ahead.
Fabian and I met, and it was like we were old friends.
We had a plan to meet in one of Cape Town's trendiest areas for dinner. Luckily it was near my hotel so I could just go home if our meeting somehow went left. We had dinner and the conversation flowed naturally. I felt a sense of relief. While I didn't expect him to spend his entire weekend with me, he did just that. We went to Robben Island, Camps Bay, Paarl, Franschhoek, Gordon's Bay and a few other local places. Fabian was just as excited to show me his Cape Town as I was to see it. The weekend went far better than I expected and I saw a side of Cape Town I wouldn't have seen unless it were for him. In talking to Fabian, I learned a lot about Cape Town from a local's perspective and he's helped to answer so many questions I have about life in South Africa. We became fast friends and never once did I fear for my safety or wonder if I had made the right decision by meeting up with a total stranger.
I am forever grateful to both Lucill'e and Fabian for reminding me that it pays to be kind to strangers because you never know how you can help each other.
The more I've thought about this over the last few months, the more I'm in awe of Lucill'e's and Fabian's kindness and generosity. Lucill'e didn't have to chat with me in the airport or offer to put me in touch with her brother. And Fabian did not have to spend his entire weekend playing tour guide to a complete stranger.
This experience makes me want to be a better host to people who are visiting Baltimore or D.C. and need a local's perspective in order to see the 'real' city, and not just the touristy areas. I hope that this story encourages you to open yourself up for whatever the universe brings your way. I now have two new friends in Cape Town, whom I can call when I'm there or have any questions about the city. I look forward to one day repaying Lucill'e and Fabian by showing them 'my D.C.' and playing tour guide with the same kindness and generosity they showed this complete stranger.