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.

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