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.

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