Monday, June 21, 2010

Just like a waving flag

This could quite possibly be the most difficult piece of writing I have ever done. How in the world am I supposed to capture in words the experience of the World Cup?? I mean seriously. I don’t know how to begin to explain the significance and pulse of a country bursting with pride at hosting the first cup on African soil. What a huge moment this is for them, not to mention that every other African nation shares in their pride. Even before I left Ghanaian soil the World Cup fever was overwhelming. The airport in Ghana was decked out, throngs of people clad in national gear filled the departure hall. Even the flight attendants on South African Airways were wearing Bafana Bafana jerseys. I could hardly sleep for excitement on my overnight flight on the night of June 10th. I arrived Friday morning the 11th the day that it all began. From the second I stepped off the plane my pulse quickened with the thrill of it all. I was met by several members of the church in South Africa that were going to host me. As soon as the car started and the radio came on, there was a continuous stream of commentary on how the countdown was over and the world cup had arrived! National pride must be at an all time high. I know you have probably seen Invictus, but this was unbelievable. Every local you saw was wearing some sort of Bafana Bafana gear and most were sporting (and blowing) vuvusellas. I think I could hear one of those at all times during my weekend stay. People had their windows rolled down and would toot their horns out the windows, as they were walking down the street, as they were waiting at the airport, everywhere!! It was surreal and incredible to see all the fans of various nationalities wearing their team colors with pride. It felt like what must be an Olympic type atmosphere. Such a time of international unity, and all the while national pride.

Friday morning I toured a cultural village that displayed the 5 major tribes of South Africa and their history and lifestyles. I walked in the mock villages, watched cultural dances, a historical video, and learned the diski (soccer) dance. I spent the afternoon and evening watching the opening matches of the World Cup. I watched them in a public square in the middle of Pretoria among what must have been almost a thousand young people. All decked out in their Bafana Bafana gear and armed with vuvusellas to make noise the whole game. I had to stand on top of the picnic bench in order to even see the big screen. Everyone was standing on top of something. In fact, my toes were sore the next day from standing on tip-toe for so long. The fans were elated with South Africa scored the opening goal of the whole tournament. They danced, sang, hooted, jumped, clapped, and yelled for ages. I personally had to set down my coffee to celebrate the momentous occasion properly. I considered just letting it fly from my hand like others were doing with their beers, however—it seemed that christening my neighbors with hot coffee would not be appreciated. Let me take a moment to make a point here. Yes, I was holding coffee. It is winter in South Africa and I was cold. Really cold. Turns out I have been in this tropical climate for long enough that my body gets a cold when the temp drops below 70 degrees (and in South Africa down into the 40's!). When Mexico scored it got almost silent in the square. It took a few minutes for the cheering to resume, although it was not quite as zealously as at goal time. They were happy when the game ended with a tie-but not elated about it. I stuck around to watch the France vs. Uruguay game which did not quite have the audience participation of the first match-but was still enjoyable.

Turned out that my hostess was going to an all night prayer service that evening, so I would not be able to actually sleep at her house. Awkwardly enough, I actually had to sleep at the home where they were hosting the all night prayer meeting. I had been awake the entire previous night on the plane, and had not had a decent nights sleep for several nights prior to that. I knew that I was going to need my sleep for the big game on Saturday. So I felt quite weird walking in greeting everyone there for prayers, then sleeping...I am not quite sure how I always seem to get myself into these interesting situations, but I do.

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