Thank you for all of your love and support I am so excited to share this experience with all of you!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Power of the Game

In case you were completely isolated for the past year, or made it to November without looking at a calendar it is 2010. 2010, what South Africa has been waiting for since it was announced that South Africa would be hosting the 2010 World Cup in May of 2004. For 6 years there was a focus on 2010. Five new soccer stadiums were constructed while five other stadiums were improved. Airports were built and improved along with countless hotels and hostels. Infrastructure projects were begun and while the World Cup championship game and closing ceremonies were held months ago one trip down any highway in Johannesburg will prove that the building was not quite completed on time and we still find ourselves in construction related traffic standstills. It was clear that the World Cup was a success. Fans, teams, and all of South Africa were able to celebrate the World Cup. The initial costs for hosting the World Cup were greatly exceeded all estimates. It is still up for debate whether the costs will benefit South Africa into the future.

I enjoyed watching the World Cup in previous years. However, this past summer I was much more invested. I watched and celebrated with the rest of the world but; I caught the 2010 fever. Like many people in South African I can pinpoint the exact date of the start of my World Cup Fever. My fever began to rise in April of 2010 when I accepted my current YAGM opportunity. From that point on I began watching the World Cup in South Africa realizing that only a few weeks after the championship game I would be moving to the area I was watching on TV. I joined millions around the world cheering on teams, arguing calls and watching South Africa shine. I eagerly awaited the time when I would be experiencing it all in person and not through a television. My roommates deemed me the most annoying person to watch the games with because I would get so excited about the whole event.

As 2010 begins winding down I find myself wondering what will happen now. How does a country that has focused on this one year move on to the next year? I am constantly reminded that the World Cup was here. Nearly every person I meet in South Africa is shocked to learn that I came after the World Cup was over. Walking through the streets of Soweto I see images that were painted on the cement and while I can imagine what they looked like bright and freshly painted they are now not so bright and gradually fading into the cement again. What will it mean for South Africa when 2011 is rung in?

While in the United States soccer is struggling to be a more mainstream sport in South Africa it is THE GAME; it was here long before the 2010 fever and will continue to be the national pastime. Soccer has been played in township streets for years long before South Africa would even dream of hosting an event like the World Cup. It has only been 16 years since the democratic elections that mark the official end of apartheid. In 16 years South Africa has been able to transform itself and host the world, and as many signs in Joburg will tell you, “This is a world class African Host City”. It only seems quite fitting that it is soccer that brought South Africa back to the front pages of the world’s newspapers. Now it was not the cries of the oppressed, the tireless work of the new government that was the focus of these headlines, but it was on a people and a game that were worth celebrating. The world soon learned the joys of the vuvuzela and was celebrating along with South Africa. I cannot imagine any other place on earth that it would only take 16 years to go from their first democratic election to hosting the world. But in the few short months I have been here I have learned that there is something special in South Africa and it is not surprising that they made this remarkable turnaround.

There are still the scars of apartheid. Unfortunately the world of sports is still divided in South Africa. Soccer is a black sport that is played in the townships. Rugby and cricket are white and colored sports that have fields in the cities. Perhaps the biggest legacy of the World Cup will be the start of those lines blurring. For example due to the World Cup schedule the Blue Bulls Rugby team had two matches moved to Orlando Stadium. This stadium is in the heart of Soweto. It was the stadium that was the focal point of the 1976 Soweto uprising. Now the mostly white rugby fans were following their team right to this stadium. The New York Times documented the event on June 1st 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/world/africa/02soweto.html?_r=1). The article focuses on the white Afrikanners who never stepped foot in this remarkable area called Soweto, and where I now call home. They were not expecting to be welcomed with open arms, but that is exactly what happened. As the article states, perhaps this was the watershed in changing the racial lines of sports in South Africa.

While Soweto did host those rugby games there is no doubt that Soweto is a soccer city, and not just because of the stadium with the same name sitting right on the edge of Soweto. Soweto could arguably be the heart of South African soccer. The two most popular teams in South Africa claim Soweto as solely their own. Everywhere I look in Soweto I see soccer jerseys, kids playing in the street, games on TV, soccer is everywhere. Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday are soccer days and I hear the vuvuzelas on those days incase I have forgotten what day of the week it is. This past Saturday I had the privilege of joining in what can only be described as soccer mayhem. The Kaizer Chiefs were taking on the Orlando Pirates in the Soweto Derby, the biggest soccer game in South Africa that is, excluding the World Cup games. After all my watching of World Cup I was prepared, or so I thought. I knew what a vuvuzela was, I knew about dedicated fans, and I knew how the stadium looked. I had modestly decked myself out to show my loyalty to the Kaizer Chiefs. But Saturday afternoon everything was new. There are no words to describe the feeling of being at the game. There is a passion for the teams and the game which I have never experienced before. While you cannot buy friendship you can buy a soccer jersey and that jersey will sure make you a lot of friends. Everyone either would high five me and chant “Amakhosi for life” the rally cry for all Chiefs fans or shake their head and show me the crossbones of the Pirates. I cheered, I played my vuvuzela, and I celebrated as my team, the Chiefs, beat the Pirates 3-1. Leaving the stadium it was still a party atmosphere all fans were celebrating regardless of their loyalties. It is a memory of South Africa and the sense of community, friendship, and belonging with the other fans that I will always cherish. My hope is that the legacy of the World Cup is all of this. That the spirit and celebration will continue through the love of the game and after experiencing just one game on Saturday, I have no doubt that it will.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Universal Truths

I have been at my placement site in Soweto for a full 2 months now. I have been in South Africa for almost 10 weeks. I don’t know if I will ever be completely “settled in” this whole year but I am finding a routine and my place slowly. Through this all I have found some things are similar no matter where in the world I go:

1. Technology and I will never get along. Since high school I have known that computers and I have less than a stellar track record. Through high school every computer I would attempt to work on would inevitably crash. The librarian and the technology department and I all knew each other by name and they would take turns attempting to help me. In my last job the internet would be fine for everyone else and I would try and everything would suddenly crash. I had hoped that this problem was only USA specific. As it turns out this is a world wide occurrence. At DAM we have a limited internet usage each month. We are only pay for so many gigabites and once they are out we are without internet until the first of the month. Once we ran out in October we thought nothing of it. However, it is almost the first full week of November and we are still without internet. Apparently one of the cords that actually connects us to the DSL line is malfunctioning and our internet providor will have to send someone out to fix it. While it could be a coincidence that this has just happened now that I have arrived, past events have made believe otherwise. Worldwide technology and I have our differences.

2. I love peanut butter. I have found at the grocery store that the generic brand, “Pick and Pay No Name Peanut Butter” tastes and is the exact consistency of peanut butter found in the states. This is only sold in 1 kg tubs. Living on my own for the first time I have found just how much peanut butter I eat. I knew it was a lot but I am currently averaging 1 kg per month, I know none of my roommates from Denver are not the least bit surprised by that figure.

3. It is really easy to make me laugh. My coworkers at DAM have found how easy it is for me to laugh. We are all constantly joking around. Sometimes the jokes are not in English but I find myself laughing along with everyone else. Also, the three chickens living on the compound have been a source of great laughter. I am terrified that I will have to someday eat them. Whenever we have chicken at DAM I try to locate the chickens to ensure that I am not eating them. People have combined that fear with my love for the restaurant Nandos, which serves primarily chicken. All 3 chickens are now referred to by many people around here as Nandos.

4. I have an amazing network of friends and family. I love getting notes from each and every one of you. Knowing you are there for me supporting me in so many ways leaves me speechless. You are all an incredible gift. Thank you so much for sharing in this journey and adventure with me.