Eland’s Bay, South Africa is famous to surfers for its oversized waves and year-round good weather. I arrived in Eland’s Bay to volunteer at a hostel so I could live near the beach. I would have preferred Cape Town or Hout Bay, but I was ten thousand miles from home and had no money or debit card so I jumped at the first offer for a place to stay. I accepted work in Eland’s Bay and hoped for the best.
When I arrived, Ruben, the owner, showed me around the hostel and told me several workers left early because they couldn’t handle the work hard, play hard atmosphere there. He told me my work schedule— six hours, five nights a week as a bartender plus one afternoon a week volunteering at either a recycling project or an animal shelter. It was a lot of hours, but it was also a comfortable bed one block from the beach. I tried to convince myself I was thrilled to be there; I didn’t want to admit I was stranded. He introduced me to the man I was replacing, a white Zimbabwean named Han. Ruben had encouraged Han to leave and Han quit before he could be forced out, letting each person save face.
Ruben went back to the bar and Han guided me through Eland’s Bay, in idyllic surf town built along the ocean. Han gave me a long tour of the small town, showing me bookstores, outlet malls, restaurants, and the best surf spots. It was a nice gesture; one I would repeat with dozens of guests over the next month. He then told me why he was leaving: Ruben was racist, treated employees poorly, and demanded they work long hours. Ruben later told me Han was too socially awkward to work at a bar. They were both right.
After I got back Ruben explained the specifics of the job— how to mix drinks, keep tabs, check guests in and out, and how to deal with belligerent drunks. “One last thing,” Ruben told me as he left the bar. “No black guys.”