Finding Love in Cape TownPosted: October 16, 2013
My roommate and I sat side by side on our couch, hunched over our respective laptops.
“Are you sure about this?” I asked her.
“Yes, I want to go to Cape Town,” she said.
I showed her my three Kayak windows, open in separate tabs before me. “Buenos Aires costs about the same to get to from New York, but everything will be way cheaper when we’re actually there. And look at these flights to Istanbul: they’re half the price, half the length, and nonstop.”
“I want to go to Cape Town,” she insisted. This being 2012, I don’t think I’d ever heard a broken record, but I imagine this was what it might sound like.
My roommate had seen a friend’s Facebook album from Cape Town the year before, and ever since we’d talked about traveling together, she’d been hell bent on getting there. It had always figured on my list of places to get to eventually, probably with a safari tacked on when I had kids someday, but wasn’t something I’d consider a priority destination. Not like Argentina, which I’d been trying to convince friends to accompany me to for years, or Turkey, which I was ashamed to admit I had yet to see. But she was adamant.
“OK then, if you’re sure. Bismillah.”
I clicked Book.
When I’d first heard the buzz around Love Inshallah a few months earlier, I’d been captivated. As a single Muslim thirtysomething writer living in New York City — think a dark-haired Carrie Bradshaw, if only she’d favored Banana Republic over Blahnik and named her column Sexless and the City — I was sure I’d heard it all, and thought I’d be able to relate intimately to the book. Instead, I was amazed by the spectrum of honest voices and tales that seared the pages: women somewhat like me, and women nothing like me, speaking about issues I’d never even thought of, let alone realized were affecting the community. And as my favorite section, International Habibti — comprised of narratives from women who’d stumbled unexpectedly into romance in lands far from home — proved, you never know where you might meet someone.
When I was asked to moderate a panel with Nura and Ayesha at Columbia on Valentine’s Day, I jumped at the chance. After all, it’s not like I had plans. It was an evening filled with inspiring conversation and readings, and a lively question-and-answer session. But one moment stays with me: as I was wrapping things up, I jokingly told the audience about a vacation I was planning in the coming months. “Maybe I’ll find my own love… inshallah?”
A few weeks later I bought that ticket to Cape Town.
I’ve always been afflicted by wanderlust, a condition whose symptoms were exacerbated by my work as a travel magazine editor. But whatever offhand comment I may have made at Columbia, I’ve never been one to venture abroad with the hope that I might find myself being wooed by a tall, dark, handsome, and accented foreigner. In fact, I’d never been into accents at all — even the most charming Brits had no effect on me. I wanted an all-American guy, and anticipated settling down someday in an all-American suburb.
And so when I landed in South Africa, romance was the last thing on my mind. I spent four days exploring Cape Town, falling in love with the city instead. I really felt like I could live there, a sensation I rarely experienced on my travels. It was like San Francisco, only prettier. It was like Europe, only more diverse. It was like India, only cleaner. The city seemed to borrow fragments from all of my favorite places, then improve on them myriadfold. Everything felt familiar, only better. Then on my last night in Cape Town, when I was at dinner with some locals we’d befriended, I met Rashaad.
First impressions were weak. Me: What do you guys do for fun? Him: I don’t believe in fun. But two days later, he happened to be in Johannesburg the same day as my layover en route to New York, and he and his cousin took us on a whirlwind six-hour tour of the city. I don’t remember much about Joburg, but I remember feeling a connection to this stranger unlike any I’d felt before. And for two people growing up 8,000 miles apart, we had an an impressive number of close calls: he celebrated one freezing New Year’s nine blocks north of me in Manhattan; I’d eaten at the same pot pie stall at a market in Vancouver two weeks before he did; he randomly spent two months studying Urdu in Hyderabad on a whim — in between my own visits back to my second home.
I chalked our crazy chemistry up to a carefree holiday flirtation, and boarded my KLM flight, expecting never to see him again.
Six weeks later, he came to see me in New York. And six weeks after that, I was flying back to South Africa — a once-in-a-lifetime trip now becoming a twice-in-four-months proposition — to figure out if, once I took off the rose-tinted glasses of a tourist, I could actually see myself living there. It was about as far removed from the fast-paced New York City life I led, and the suburban-soccer-mom future I’d envisioned for myself, and yet it — and he — felt just right.
Less than a year from the day we met, after an 11-event wedding spanning three continents, I returned to Cape Town. For good.
And so I guess I did find my love… alhamdulillah.