Guest Blog: A Close Call in Capetown

Guest Blogger: Gregory Bartolomei, University of Pittsburgh ’11
Program: Semester at Sea

I never could have anticipated the turn of events that marked my last night in Capetown, South Africa. What started out as an innocent night out with friends suddenly went sour, a close call that I was lucky to escape unscathed. My fellow travelers and I had met up in the city to share tales of our adventures after a week of exploration. One girl brought a South African friend, Dries, who invited us to go to a real South African party near his home in the Townships. My friends and I quickly accepted his request and spent the night celebrating with drinking, eating, dancing, singing, and talking.

By the time we left the party, it was already dawn. After saying our goodbyes, Dries offered to escort my friends and me to a place where we could catch a cab. As we walked down the deserted street, a man suddenly leapt in front of us and another came from behind, cornering us. Both men were armed with knives and shouting in a local dialect. Our guide began to shout back at them when we noticed something happening around us.

From every direction, people emerged from their homes armed with everything from clubs to firearms and even bows and arrows. The two men with knives fled as the neighbors descended on the street, yelling after them and calling out to our South African friend. As he shouted back at them, he pulled us away and hurried us down the street.


When we were out of danger he immediately apologized, insisting that he should have not taken foreigners into that part of the Townships. He then explained that those men with the knives had intended to mug us. The people from the nearby homes wouldn’t allow it due to the potential problems if the government investigated in the area. Fortunately, we were attacked in front of the community leader’s home and attracted attention- otherwise we could have just as easily been ignored and mugged at knifepoint, or worse.


As I think about that night, I’m struck by our good fortune: we were confronted in front of a local leader’s home with a street smart guide and an entire neighborhood of South Africans defending us. While some may choose to take this story as a warning against the dangers you can encounter abroad, I prefer to take away an entirely different lesson: our safety may have been threatened, but it was a community of strangers who protected us. My faith in the world has not been shattered but instead reinforced by that night. Studying abroad has shown me that for every scary story and close call, there are also tales of neighbors, friends, and strangers willing to lend a hand. That night could have been a lesson in fear and violence but instead I’ve come away with a sense of gratitude that I hope will remain as I resume my life back home.


Want to learn more about programs in Capetown, South Africa? Visit the Abroad101 page to check it out!
Edited by: Marielle Hampton