Wednesday, June 23, 2010

We're Getting Closer/This Isn't Over

I've now been to two actual live games at the Cape Town Stadium (England v Algeria, insane to be there but not a particularly exciting game; Portugal v North Korea/Korea "Democratic" "People's" "Republic," a masterful game by the Portuguese--the way soccer should have been played throughout this World Cup--but tempered by my concerns for the safety of the North Korean players and their families at the hands of their government after such an embarrassing defeat). There's no way to really describe how overwhelming it all is, especially since I had the most insane seats ever. For the England Algeria game I was in the fourth row to the right of the goal--so close, I could have potentially rushed past the police and gotten onto the field. Not that I considered it or anything. I could see Rooney's increasingly agitated face (would not want to piss that guy off for sure) and could pick out David Beckham on the bench (see below). For the Portugal North Korea game I was in the second mezzanine dead center in the first row with a full unobstructed view of the whole field. I could see every goal, Cristiano Ronaldo, who is looking a lot less orange and plucked these days, thank goodness, etc. The field is so much smaller in real life, but the soccer itself is so much better. As an ex-soccer-player, I was constantly amazed by all of the teams' movement on and off ball. Perfect touches, perfect angles, perfect anticipation. And even though I was sick for both games--and sick enough in the Portugal game to doze off for a bit before the scoring began--it was worth every cold, crowded, vuvuzela-filled (not a great noise when you have a sinus headache, BTW) moment. It was even worth the disgusting hot dogs, which were an assault on all five senses, and the rain that came in from the open back of the stadium. It was awesome.

The World Cup has gotten interesting--an unexpected comeback for USA (minus perhaps the worst refereeing call of all time or at least since the Hand of God, not that I'm biased), a heartbreaking but dignified disqualification for Bafana Bafana, beautiful soccer finally coming out for many teams, France's strike/implosion/whatever, the little guys getting a good shot at the title, etc. There's a great recap of the past few days here, on one of my favorite sites--warning, only semi-safe for work due to colorful language.

And, in the full interest of being honest on one's blog, I have drunk the Kool-Aid and have embraced the Shakira World Cup song. Added bonuses: Not only does the song use a refrain from a Cameroonian song from the 80s/early 90s AND feature the excellent South African band Freshlyground, the Waka Waka dance is about a thousand times easier than the Diski Dance. Not that I can do it, but still--it's the principle of the thing.

And now, for some pictures.

Byron giving his fiercest pose while manning the braai at the USA-Slovenia game. Thanks, Jen and Andy (and Carey)!

Preparing for the walk to the stadium. Best quote of the night (source unnamed--no, it's not me): "No, officer, I do not have an open container."

Almost there...

Look how close we are (Morgan and Natalie)!

We were in a pocket of Brits but surrounded by Algerians (me and Jen). Listening to the commentary of the British fans was priceless, especially the one guy who continually referred to Rooney as "Wayne," while giving him instructions on how to play, as if he were a good friend or the England coach. Everyone was very nice to us, despite our nationality. The Algerians were particularly excited to be in the company of Yankees (and Southerners). I know, go figure, especially since we're in the same group as they are and will face them today to either qualify or be out.

Algerians. Going nuts. One fan smuggled in a marching drum.

More Algerians. They had great cheers.

That's the press--pitch side. We were that close. When the teams come out for the anthems, they walk the press up to the entrance inside an orange cordon. It's a bit silly looking--like they're herding a bunch of pre-schoolers across the street. See all the flags in the stands? We were sitting at that level for the Portugal North Korea game.
And I think that may be Rooney to the left of the ref.

Corner kick! We could actually pick ourselves out on TV afterward based on our location and Natalie's big hat. Kinda cool.

I took this photo for Byron. Why yes, that IS David Beckham. David Beckham!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Great Images of the World Cup

These photos from The Boston Globe's "Big Picture" are incredible (I'll take and post more, I swear).

Check em out here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Laduma (Especially the Babbelas)

Enjoying the Bafana v Mexico game at the Grand.

This was a re-enactment of the crossing of the Delaware, obviously in honor of our American compatriots about to take the field. Although we didn't win the day, neither did our ancestors at Bunker Hill, and we all know the end of that story.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ayoba, Mazansi (feel it, it is here)

Today is the first day of the World Cup. It's been insane, to say the least. I awoke this morning to the sounds of vuvuzelas before 7am. Other friends were awakened as early as 5. The party last night continued into today, and everyone was in their "Bafana" costume--multicolored wigs, yellow jerseys, South African flags, vuvuzelas of every size and shape, facepaint and temporary tattoos. The entire office was decked out, even the more conservative staff members of m2m. The most moving moment of the workday came during the "Diski Dance" (the official World Cup dance--it's about 15 steps long and requires more coordination than I will ever have). The South Africa Programs team hadn't learned the dance, but instead they broke out into "Shosholoza," a traditional South African song (which you may recognize from "Invictus" or from Ladysmith Black Mambazo's version). The team, which is made up mostly of women, some of whom were once clients of m2m, killed it. They sounded like a professional choir.

Work closed early so that people could watch the opening ceremony and the first game, Bafana v. Mexico. I started at a Turkish restaurant, Anatoli's, in De Waterkant (the gay district) for the opening ceremony--the highlight of which was a giant dung beetle puppet that rolled around the FIFA soccer ball like, yes, a ball of dung. Fitting for my feelings about FIFA. And R. Kelly also performed while wearing a gold hood thing. The saddest part was that Mandela, who had planned to attend, lost his grandson in a car accident yesterday and understandably canceled his plans. His absence was greatly felt. On top of being the father of the nation, Madiba was one of the big lobbiers for South Africa to be chosen for the World Cup. Even without Madiba, however, watching the opening ceremony gave me goosebumps (even if it had a few silly moments) as I thought of how recently South Africa came out of Apartheid and how not that long ago much of the continent was under colonial rule--2010 is the fiftieth anniversary of independence for many African countries.

After excellent mezze and Turkish beers, I ended up with a bunch of m2mers at The Grand, a fake-beach-in-a-construction-site bar/restaurant, which was full to the brim with South Africans in full Bafana regalia, packed into the dining area, and blowing vuvuzelas. Luckily the place had high ceilings so the noise wasn't so bad. The game started out shaky--Bafana obviously had a bad case of nerves. Mexico got more than one good chance right from the beginning, and many of us were steeling ourselves for a massacre. Fortunately, South Africa found its footing, scoring an absolutely beautiful goal--perfect pass, breakaway, right by the goalie. Just beautiful. Everyone went totally nuts. It was unreal--I think every single person there, regardless of nationality, was speaking (or more accurately, yelling) in tongues. When they did the replay, everyone yelled again just as loud. It's been a long time since I've been that out of my mind over a sporting event. My voice is hoarse, which may be a common theme for this month. Unfortunately, Mexico ended up scoring (also a beautiful goal) and Bafana couldn't score again, though they did knock one off the post--a total heartbreaker shot. But no one was particularly sad, I think, to see the teams tie.

From there, I headed in a roundabout way to Long Street to watch Uruguay v. France, the Cape Town opener, with those friends who, like me, didn't get tickets to the match. We ended up in Pickwick's (across the street from the oldest mosque in Cape Town!) jammed in front of a tiny TV. Another tie--which is good for Bafana. From there, further Long Street explorations, which included almost being deafened by a vuvuzela contest inside a Nando's (excellent chicken fast food restaurant), braving one of the worst toilets I've ever been in (pit toilets and port-a-potties included), and making friends and enemies by wearing an American flag as a scarf. I've become more patriotic by living abroad.

This is an incredible thing. I cannot believe it's happening. It's been so inspiring to see South Africa unite behind this experience, to see everyone get so passionate. I obviously wasn't here in 1995 for the rugby (again, go see "Invictus" please) and wouldn't have understood anything anyway since I was nine years old and more interested in bugs and skeletons and other weird stuff (my family thought I was going to be a serial killer as an adult...I guess there's still time), but I think the feeling must be the same. There's so much to divide South Africa, to make the people here angry, but everyone has gathered for this moment, for this month (I hope--we're less than 24 hours in, after all). As the ads have been saying for months, "feel it, it is here." If you're not here joining in on the fun, catch a few games at home--I think you'll be able to feel how special it is. Forgive my cheesiness, but Ayoba!

England v America tomorrow. I promise I'll take pictures.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Welcoming the World to Africa

So the World Cup starts tomorrow. The madness, as you might imagine, has already begun. The noise booming out of the city into my apartment tonight is nothing short of breathtaking. It's so funny to think of all the hand wringing and pessimism and concern that so many of us had just a few days ago--now, it's here, it's happening, and despite the worries I had (and sometimes still have), it's not going away, and it's beyond any expectation. A friend was here in 2006 when South Africa was chosen to host the Cup, and everyone in the country was terrified. But the stadiums got constructed, the roads and transportation got (mostly) set up, and most importantly, the people are ready. I remember being in Senegal in 2007 and thinking of this moment. Now I've lived in Africa for over two years (cumulatively), and I've never been happier and more excited to be somewhere than I am now. It almost makes up for missing Obama's election and inauguration. It makes me so proud to be a part of it, to feel an entire continent behind this one thing. And the fact that Americans bought the second largest number of tickets makes me even prouder. If it comes down to Bafana Bafana (the SA team) or USA, it's going to be a hard choice (note: games I'm seeing: Portugal v North Korea, England v Algeria, Cameroon v Netherlands).

I even caved and bought a vuvuzela--potentially the most obnoxious fan noisemaker ever created, a plastic horn that delivers an earsplitting sound. The noise of it generally sends me into convulsions, but it's so connected to the World Cup in South Africa, to my experience here, that I had to be a part of it. And it's kind of fun to make a huge, horrible noise. After buying them today, we sounded them off heading down the street as dented vanloads of South Africans honked and screamed and cheered. In the wise words of Bugs Bunny, if you can't beat em, join em. I refrained in the office, but others did not. People are catching, as our HR memo termed it, "Soccer Fevah" (yes, they call it soccer here, and yes, I know that was a totally cheesy line, but HR came up with it, not me).

And despite the concerns that I have about spending so much money on a sporting event when the country is in so much need of government investment and my dislike of FIFA and my outright hatred of the Shakira "official" song (it will always be K'Naan's "Wavin' Flag" in my brain--go check it out), and in spite of my paranoia about adequate crowd control measures and terrorism (there's a certain amount of gallows humor among the American expats here), I would never want to be anywhere else. Everyone is dressed in South African colors, flags and other paraphenalia hang from every window, car, and body, and there's a general feeling of excitement and in the air. It feels like Halloween or Christmas as a child (or now, who am I kidding). It's amazing. I can't wait to see what it's going to be like. I cannot believe I'm here.

Let the facepainting and vuvuzela-ing begin.