Monday, June 28, 2010

The City of Soccer

Sunday I deemed "Jo'burg Day". Since we had all had such a rough night before we started late, around 11:30am. I had made reservations at this restaurant I really wanted to try called Moyo and Amy made a great recommendation to go to the outdoor one at Zoo Lake, which was a picturesque setting with trees and open fields and lovely lake in the background. Moyo is traditional African cuisine and we all had excellent lunches. you can get your face painted in traditional style, which I did, and they also have musicians and entertainment while you eat. It's not at all obtrusive or annoying though. It's very nice. We all enjoyed our food and the warm,sunny afternoon in the park. After that we went to the rooftop craft market at Rosebank mall. It's more of a gigantic flea market but everyone enjoyed it. Almost everyone bought a vuvuzela too. After that we headed to Newtown for what turned out to be the highlight of my day, the SAB World of Beer tour.

Only three of us did the tour, the other three went to the Fan Zone just a block away to watch the Germany v England match. Boy did they miss out. The tour starts off with a movie with a full two minutes of just rain sounds and then another guy who pretends to be Indiana Jones and who talks about the elements of life as they relate to beer. We missed most of this because we joined the tour already in progress. Next we were taken to another scene which was supposedly out in the African bush. We sat on log stumps and watched the screen which showed a full two minutes of bamboo sticks and blowing wind before the real film started. We learned how the African tribes make Sorghum beer and how it works into traditional tribal cultures. The video had lots of mostly naked women in it, so needless to say, the guys on the tour loved it. Women are the keepers of the beer in Africa. A woman can add greatly to her value and reputation as a good wife by brewing a good beer. Men do not brew the beer, only consume. When in a gathering, everyone drinks from the same vessel (usually a hollowed out gourd) and the men drink first, starting with the oldest man. Then the women are allowed to drink and it is disrespectful to refuse the beer. It is passed from person to person in the proper order until all the beer is consumed. At the end of the movie about making the beer, we got to drink sorghum beer in the way I've just described.

Next we went through a sort of history of the existence of beer in Africa, which was complete with poorly fashioned animatronic miners, more videos of the important people in beer history (made even better by the fact that they pretend they can see you and talk to you and talk in overly dramatic voices), and some fake dynamite explosions. We also walked through a replica of a township shebeen (bar) which we later learned was incredibly accurate. We got lots of free beer and I felt that my R30 was very well spent. I also think that South Africa beer is pretty dang good.

After that it was time to head to Soccer City, the flagship stadium of the 2010 World Cup. It seats 94,000 people and is a really great piece of architecture. We parked at Wits and rode a shuttle bus to the stadium. The logic that went behind the shuttle system is still a mystery to me. I had heard that it was pretty strange but not until I experienced it did I really see what I was up against. The shuttle bus approached the gigantic stadium only to drive PAST it, as well as two perfectly nice bus stations. It then drives about a mile and drops you off in a field and you start your very long walk to the stadium from there. It took longer for us to park and get to the match than the actual match itself. It was completely worth it again though because Soccer City really brough the World Cup spirit home for me. The stadium was almost completely full, Argentina fans were dominant over Mexico by a long way. Deafening roar of vuvuzelas and the excitement of the match for all the loyal supporters was really the thing I wanted to see. And Soccer City did that. It really was incredible walking into the stadium to our seats and hearing and seeing just how huge and loud everything was. Argentina made short work of Mexico. They are an incredible team. Their skill level, the way they handle the ball, they way they use all their touches effectively astounds me. Seeing it in person is a whole different ball game. You can see just how fast they are running, just how precise their passes are, how they see the field, how the team moves up and down the field looking for outlets and plays. It really is a beautiful game. And Soccer City is a phenomenal frame for it. I hope that the stadium won't fall to ruin in the wake of this World Cup as so may do. I'm thinking more of the Olympic Villages that I've seen in France and other countries where they turn into slums after the event. I have to wonder also about the vaccuum that World Cup 2010 will leave in South Africa. All this excitement and hope have been built around this event, and now more than halfway through, people say that it's hard to imagine life after it.

As it turns out, some of us, myself included, got a little bit soccered out. Though I love watching the games and I wouldn't trade the games I went to for anything, I think four in a row was really ambitious. We should have spread them out more. So after two really late nights and lots of driving, I had to throw in the towel. I sold my tickets to Brazil v. Chile and Paraguay v. Japan. I hope that doesn't make me a weenie and I did second guess my decision a bit, but I have been going non-stop and I think four games in four nights was a bit much. So while my World Cup watching is not at an end, I will not be sitting in any more stadiums, fighting any more traffic, being deafened by more vuvuzelas, nor getting pushed around trying to leave the stadium.

The Longest Day Ever

Saturday was our first match, and the one we were most invested in. USA v Ghana. Since it was everyone's first day we tried to start a little bit later. We collected everyone from their hostel in the morning and I had the day all planned out. We went to the Sterkfontein caves at the Cradle of Humankind (world heritage site!) and the Maropeng. Sterkfontein is a large limestone cave where they have been excavating the oldest skeletons ever found (hence the name). Wits University professors are responsible for most of the discoveries. We had a good but not very informative tour through the caves. My favorite part was just navigating through some of the narrower passages and seeing the underground lake. It's definitely no Luray Caverns. From there we headed to the Maropeng Visitor's center which is probably the most unfocused museum I have ever been to.

The museum is based on the idea of the area being where the first humans lived. They have some guiding posters at the beginning when you walk in, but beyond that, they loosely interpret the focus of the museum to include environmentalism, religious studies, biology, human development, history, and psychology. The first thing you do in the museum is take a boat ride through what we think was the early ages of our planet. We are not sure because there was nothing explaining the boat ride before, after or during it. We are pretty sure we saw techtonic plates moving at one point, but other than that we had some fake snow, a recording of wind blowing, and some scenes of volcanoes that we floated past. I thought this boat ride was completely incredible because it was silly, had no point, and made no real sense in the context of the museum. After I got over my initial confusion, it became hilarious.

The rest of the museum was also hilarious. At one there is a table where you can place a phone call to different ice age animals. I called the Wooly Mammoth who had a ridiculous German accent and who told me about his tusks and fur and what he liked to eat. I wanted to call the dodo bird too but I was laughing too hard to dial. The Maropeng visitor's center is the best and worst museum ever, except for maybe the SAB World of Beer tour, which I'll get to. After the Maropeng, it was on to the match. The long anticipated, highly emotional matchup between the US and Ghana and my first World Cup game.

It was in Rustenburg, which is in the middle of nowhere. I did kind of like it for that, but after the match, I hated it for that. For those of you who saw the game, we had INCREDIBLE seats three rows up from the pitch in the bottom left corner of the field. The stadium was really tiny too, only 46,000 at capacity. A sharp contrast to the stadium we were at the next night. We were so close to the action, we saw players faces, the corner kicks for the US in the second half took place not 100 feet from us. It was a strange first World Cup match to go to though. In such a small stadium in such a remote location, it's hard to really grasp the size of the ripple effect this match had. When in Jo'burg or watching on television, it's easy to see how the world's eyes are focused on this one little soccer field. But actually being at this tiny stadium, with the stars above us in the pitch-dark night, it was hard to grasp it because it felt so intimate. I was also so wrapped up in the outcome, I barely noted the atmosphere. Save for two hateful English guys behind us who thought their two-man chanting team would single-handedly destroy American morale. If I hadn't already been rooting for Germany against them, I would have started after that experience. In spite of all that, it was still incredible to be there and to cheer for the US and to take part in the world's biggest sporting event for the first time, but it was also terrible that we lost. We met a lot of American fans at the game and it was sad when we all left. The drive home took 4 hours and I didn't get to bed until close to 5am. It was a rough night. But worth it. Totally worth it.

The Second Half of the Adventure Begins

So it's now a little less than a week since I left Wits and the rest of my friends from the US have arrived. It's been an incredibly jam-packed few days and it's really hard to think how much we've all done. Especially when you factor in the jet-lag of the people who just got here. Wednesday after I finished up at Wits I was immediately picked up I was packed and ready to move out of my room at the international house. I am now staying at the orphanage in Roodepoort where my friend lives and works and it's been a wonderful place so far. After I left campus, we went to Montecasino, this gigantic indoor entertainment/dining/nightlife establishment near Sandton to watch the US game at the FIFA FanZone there. However, they had elected to show the England game, and not the US game so we were quite miffed. We had not bought our tickets yet though, so we found a bar with some other incensed Americans, ordered some beer, and began watching the most agonizing 90 minutes of soccer I have ever watched. The US v Algeria game left my shoulders incredibly tense, my heart pounding and sense of elation I will not soon forget. I have never been in such physical pain watching a game though. It was also great because there were at least 10 other Americans with us and they were drinking Budweiser and yelling a LOT, so I felt right at home. Montecasino is not at all South African, or even African. Once you're inside, you could be anywhere in the world and you wouldn't know the difference. So obviously the game, although painful to watch, ended up being the greatest thing ever. Not ONLY did the US win the match, we won the GROUP which meant that we had tickets to see them play on Saturday night.

For those of you who don't know, I have been planning this trip to South Africa for about 4 years. Since the Germany World Cup in 2006, my friends from college and I decided that we needed to go to the next one and that we would all go together. Our friend Benji had already been to Cape Town to dive with the sharks for his W&M Monroe Project, so he was excited to go back when we found that it was in South Africa. We bought the tickets to the games on the first day of the first ticketing phase which over 18 months ago. 1.5 years later, everything was coming together. All our plans have come to fruition and the trip is actually happening. I can hardly believe it's happening even as I sit here living it.

So on Thursday, we had the whole day and a rental car with unlimited miles. We drove to the Magaliesburg and visited Hartbeespoort Dam, Sun City resort and Pilanesberg National Park. The Dam is just a lovely spot to get out and take pictures, not much other than that. Sun City was very Las Vegas. It had one extremely opulent, over-the-top hotel called the Palace Hotel. A HUGE fountain and man-made lagoon greeted you upon entry and the hotel itself was gigantic. We are pretty sure a few of the teams were staying there as many official looking people were milling about. We scoped out the Palace hotel, grabbed lunch, made fun of the monorail, tried to play the slot machines, then we visited the man-made beach and while walking over a bridge we witnessed a fake jungle earthquake and lots of smoke, which reminded me of the Indiana Jones show at Disney World. Then we went to their gooooorgeous golf course which made me want to drop everything and go play nine holes right then and there. We headed out and on to the National Park. There's only so much kitsch you can handle in one sitting. (I'll get to it later, but my tolerance and love for South African kitsch is steadily growing with every attraction I visit).

Pilanesberg National Park was fantastic. I'm glad we spent the afternoon there. We saw lots of wild life: wildebeest, waterboks, springboks, kudus, giraffes, elephants, zebras, hippos, rhinos, and lots of different kinds of birds. I kept wondering why it was so much cooler to see them here than in the zoos where I have seen them all before (except wildebeest). I think it's because there is nothing between you and the animals when you're in these parks. They are just there, living their lives without walls or pens or zookeepers feeding them. Just coming upon a rhino eating his afternoon snack is much cooler than the one who is trying to hide from all the people leaning over the fence to catch a glimpse at him. I wouldn't have wanted to spend too much more time there though because it did get a little hard driving on these really rough, unpaved roads, constantly straining to see animals. I was a little jealous of the people in the huge 4x4 safari vehicles with the open tops. But Pilanesburg has all the big five (elephant, rhino, cape buffalo, lion and leopard) and is an easy day -trip from Jo'burg if you don't have time to get further out in the bush.

The drive home from Pilanesburg was a little harrowing. It was pitch dark and the roads were all single-lane. It was definitely baptism by fire on my first day of driving SA style. The traffic rules in Jo'burg are loosely adhered to and you have to constantly be on the lookout for people who run red lights way after they turn, taxis that suddenly stop in the middle of the road or change lanes into you, and people walking on the highways. All of these happened more than once on the drive home. It made the fact that I was going to be the one driving home from Rustenburg at 2 in the morning after the US game on Saturday a little harder to handle. But it was a great trip aside from that.

Friday was the day the rest of my friends arrived. They weren't due to arrive for a few hours and we had dinner reservations for that evening so we had pretty much the whole day. We spent it with Amy and three of the kids for the first half of the day. We went to the beautiful botanical gardens which had one really nice waterfall with a quick hike up to the top. We saw tons of grasshoppers the look just like leaves on trees. In fact, we wouldn't have noticed them except the leaves on the trees were moving and there was no wind, and on closer inspection, most of the "leaves" were these huge grasshoppers. It was something straight out of Planet Earth. We then had lunch at a nice outdoor cafe with a playground and pony-rides and a small petting zoo for the kids. South Africa has a lot of very kid-friendly places, and I'm getting to know where they are since I've been hanging out with a lot of young ones lately. I think their outdoor cafes are so lovely. Even though it's pretty chilly at night, the days are full of sunshine and have been in the 70's. We had a very nice lunch, and then we drove back to the orphanage and hung out with the kids until it was time to go pick up my friends and then go to dinner.

Dinner that night was at Carnivore which is sort of out in the country. If you have ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse before (Fogo de Chao or Texas de Brazil for DCers), they come around with huge pieces of meat on skewers and it's all you can eat. Carnivore is the same exact thing except with African game meat. On the menu for the night was wildebeest, impala, crocodile, zebra, kudu, among other things. I liked the crocodile the best. It was a pleasant intersection of chicken and fish in one meat. So the meat was more novelty fun than truly delicious. It was a great place for us to go on everyone's first night in town though. They were exhausted but still managed to find energy to eat some strange animals and drink some Castle lager.

Leaving Wits Vegas

I apologize for being remiss in my updating but it's been a little busy. My internship at Wits is now over and I was very sad to leave the office. They were a great bunch of people to work with and I hope that I will get to see them again soon. I also hope that I will be as lucky with colleagues when I find a real job after grad school. So the last days on campus were fun. We would watch the games in the conference room over lunch and in the afternoons, chat about team performances and game results in the mornings when we came in, and everyone's spirit was up. We also managed to make some good headway on the IEASA conference. I got some contracts edited down to what we needed and got some good prices. My evenings were pretty boring. A couple of times I went with people out to this one bar we can walk to and watched the evening game with them. That's always a nice break. But otherwise, the internship ended quietly. On my last day, the staff gave me a farewell breakfast and Saraphina serenaded me which was fantastic. I had bought a cake to give to the staff after their marathon meeting in the morning and so it was kind of a celebratory day.

I was really grateful for all the tips the staff gave me and all the opportunities they opened up. The director of the office was kind enough to invite me to the US Consulate in Sandton for the US v Slovenia match. Even though we were totally robbed of a goal, it was a great atmosphere to watch the game in and I had a fantastic time meeting other Americans in South Africa and just being around a lot of people who were rooting for the US team. I will get to this later, but we didn't encounter too many people from other nations willing to support the US.

So I had a wonderful internship at Wits and now I feel like the real trip is starting. Next come all the games and all the travelling to different cities and safaris. I'll also get to see a lot more of Jo'burg once we get the car tomorrow so that's very exciting as well. It will be my first time driving on the left side of the road using with sitting on the right hand side of the car with the gear shift on my left. Adventures in driving and in Jo'burg here I come!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Z's and the Rain Cave

Zambia, Zimbabwe, Zambezi... I don't think I've ever been in a position to use the Z on my keyboard this much. I've just come back from possibly the best 24 hour trip I will ever have in my whole life. Upon the unfurling of my devious plot to get academic credit for a trip to the World Cup, I found that I could fly direct from Jo'burg to either Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Given the current climate in Zimbabwe and the fact that they have actual currency notes that say 10 Trillion Zimbabwe dollars and it still adds up to less than $1 USD, I figured it was best to use Zambia as my base. Their currency is the Kwatcha, and I enjoyed that 1000 kwatcha is about $.20 USD. That's right, twenty cents. I was passing out thousand kwatcha notes like it was my job. Hey big spender.
So I bought my ticket to Zambia, and before I knew it, Saturday June 12, 2010 had arrived. Ever since I can remember I have had a fascination with Victoria Falls. I think I heard about it on a Reading Rainbow episode or some other educational program when I was really young and couldn't get it out of my head. I knew a girl in Ohio in my elementary school who was from Pretoria, SA and I always thought she was from Victoria, meaning, Victoria Falls and i was incredibly jealous of her for having lived near them, even though my geography might have been a little skewed. So this mini-trip was the realization of a dream, as this larger trip is the realization of many dreams and so much more.

On Saturday morning I took a cab to the Gautrain station in Sandton for the first part of my adventure. The Gautrain (pronounced How-train, like the dutch pronounce Gouda How-da) is a brand new piece of infrastructure that was supposed to be a lot further along by now and very developed by 2010. As it stands, there are three stops not including OR Tambo International. But I thought, since it JUST opened literally 4 days before, I should give it a shot. The inaugural run of the Gautrain had been on June 8th and there I was, boarding it just a few days later. I enjoyed being able to take part in it. Many Afrikaaner families were taking a ride just for fun, and they took their kids with them to see what it was like.

The stations are brand new and very nice. The system works a lot like the SmarTrip system in DC. And the train was fast, quiet, and clean. Immaculate really. The stations were crawling with uniformed attendants directing you and showing you were to go. The stations weren't fully complete yet but they have ambitious plans for this Gautrain, let me tell ya. I had a very nice ride to the airport, and I would recommend it for anyone travelling to or from Jo'burg.

The flight over to Zambia was quiet and the real treat was at the very end of the flight you fly right over Victoria Falls and I was fortunate enough to be on the correct side of the plane to see it. Impressive doesn't cover it. I was so excited to get there and to start exploring I could barely sit still.

When I arrived my hostel picked me and two Spaniards up to transfer us to the hostel. I had thought about going straight to the falls and then coming back in time for the cruise, but what ended up happening was a more than adequate alternative. Once I got checked in, I decided I needed to plan the 24 hours I had really well in order to make the most of them. I sat down at the activities desk, with whom I had been in correspondence about what I should do. Within 10 minutes I had booked a microlight flight, a Zambezi cruise and decided against the game drive the next morning. I was all set. So an hour later I was picked up and taken to an airfield not far from the falls. Microlights are basically sophisticated hang-gliders. They have long wings, with an open carriage that hangs below them. I sat behind the pilot with my feet hanging out over nothing the whole ride. Nothing but awesome views all around.
Me in the microlight over the falls.

 The flight was incredible. It was much better than being inside a helicopter cockpit and not feeling the wind or the spray from the falls. It was expensive but well worth the experience. I have some really good pictures which I will post soon.

After the microlight I was taken directly to the sunset cruise I had booked. I immediately met some really great Irish medical students who were, as usual, fun and welcoming. We spent the cruise together and they had some amazing insights into Zambian health care. As part of their degree they are doing work in hospitals in Zambia and in Tanzania for three months. It happened to be their first weekend off and I was pretty fascinated/horrified by some of the stuff they told me. Every day I thank God to live in America and have the most advanced medical care available to me at all times. So it was an educational and fun evening. The sunset over the Zambezi was lovely and we saw lots of wildlife: elephants, hippos (tons of those), a few crocs, and an impala. They all come to the river at sunset to drink. It was a great night and after the cruise where the booze was flowing freely, there was a sing-a-long bus ride back to the hostel instigated by the Irish which continued when we sat down at the hostel bar to wait for the England/US match to start. It was a good two hours we were sitting there. I met two Finnish girls, one of whom was working for a Finnish NGO and helping organize humanitarian aid. Everyone in Zambia is doing something interesting. I met an American from UNC Chapel Hill who is working for a non-profit charity website taking photographs of the organizations it helps. He and I were buddies during the US game as everyone else seemed to be rooting for England. And what a game it was. Hope you all had a chance to watch it.

I couldn't have asked for a better crowd to be around in Zambia. Staying at a hostel while travelling alone helps and you can usually find people to split cab fares and such with you. It made watching the game that much better to have both Americans and English there. Lots of trash-talking and predictions. Watching the English faces when the goalie flubbed that save... priceless. So I was glad to be there. Though, later that night, around 4am a big group of guys came back and woke everyone up. I did sleep though, which was fortunate.

The next morning I woke up early and was at the Zambia side of the falls by 8am. I had my trusty rain jacket and camera and was ready for a wet and thrilling experience. Walking up to Mosi-Oa-Tunya (the native name for Victoria Falls, meaning "the Smoke that Thunders") was incredible. You walk through a path and you feel it and hear it before you can see it. Many people say that to get the full experience for Victoria Falls you have to see it from both the Zambia side and the Zimbabwe side. I had already decided to do both and the Zambia side isn't as extensive as the Zimbabwe side, as I learned. Zambia brings you RIGHT up to the falls where they are just in front of you and the spray right now, being high water, is enough to soak you through and through. I walked across a bridge that went right through the spray and it was like walking through a 4-way rainstorm. Rain comes up down and sideways at you but it's not at all harsh. It's really quite a thrill. I thought of when I worked at an outdoor store in Fairfax, and would have people test out the Gore-Tex jackets in the rain cave. I wish I could have sent them to Vic Falls. there's no better test for Gore-Tex than the spray from the biggest waterfall in the world. Coming out on the other side of the bridge you get a great view of the Batoka Gorge and often, rainbows. I have some good pictures there too.

Finishing up on the Zambia side, I began the walk over to Zimbabwe. Yes, I walked to another country. It was pretty great had it not been for the teenagers hawking their African curios and ridiculous Zimbabwe currency constantly. I walked past this big market they had at the opening to the Zambia Victoria Falls and everyone immediately asks where you are from and for me, they all commented on the US team's performance the night before. I imagine they all have a line prepared for whatever country you are from. They've probably seen it all. So they meet you, introduce themselves, shake your hand, then immediately tell you some big story about how they are a local artist and about their speciality. Which, oddly enough, is exactly the same specialty as 7 other booths in the market. But no no, theirs is the best. So it takes some navigation. And you can bargain them down a good bit. I'm still not sure if it's real but I got a beautiful malachite necklace for $20US which is pretty good. I still think I should have tried for less though.

So like I said, walking to Zimbabwe. The border patrols are pretty funny. It costs an arm and a leg to go between the two countries, which I guess, it makes sense. They know they have one of the world's most amazing natural sights and they sure make you pay for it. Between the visas and the park entry fees, I think I paid almost $150 USD when it was all said and done. But I do have some cool stamps in my passport now. When you walk over to Zimbabwe, you cross the bridge over the Batoka Gorge where lots of people do bungee jumping, rope swings, and abseiling. I did none of these things. If I had done anything I would have gone rafting on the Zambezi. It's at its peak right now and with class 6 rapids, it would have been one wild ride. Unfortunately, there was no time. I was really pleased just to walk along the winding paths and keep getting views of the falls and to be rained on constantly in the brilliant sunshine. Even with the thundering falls, I found the parks to be really relaxing and serene. The pathways have lush vegetation since they get rained on all day every day for most of the year, and it was really quiet. There were not a lot of people around and in parts it was just me, some monkeys, and the falls. It was a great morning.

I headed back to the hostel around noon to catch my flight and was very sad to leave Livingstone. I had an incredible time in the two countries and would encourage anyone, from anywhere to make the trip and stay a lot longer than me. My microlight pilot was from Baltimore and he said he had been living in Australia and then moved here into the bush to fly these planes for tourists. I thought, maybe I'd like to borrow a year of your life...

Catching the Fever

Many of you saw it on my facebook or GChat status. you've probably also noticed that I almost never update either of these but lately, I've been updating two times a day just because so much cool stuff is happening. I have a staff e-mail address here at Wits for the whopping one month duration of my time in Jo-burg. But I get the e-mails from the office and the university updates on it. This has led to two excellent developments. One is the phrase: Ke Nako. This is Swana for "It is time." And it is plastered all over Jo'burg on posters and on pubs on the TV. It's really an excellent slogan I think. It's very symbolic of it being time for Africa to live up to expectaitons about the World Cup, time to make real changes socially and politically, time to start being better stewards of the aid they are receiving and time for them to use their moment at the forefront of the world's media. But every day I get e-mails from the administration asking me if "I can feel it..." to which, more and more every day, I reply: yes.

The beginning of last week was spent with me spending two half days in and out of Dr's offices getting my leg checked out. It's fine now, but it looks like DVT is a real thing so when they warn you about moving around on long flights, LISTEN. It's not fun. So Wednesday was my first day where I didn't have to be depending on rides or hearing bad news about my health or second guessing African doctors. I had learned the day before that Oranje, the Netherlands national team, was having a training session open to the public at Wits. So I quickly snapped up a ticked and Wednesday I got to go. You will see more photos included on my flickr site, but here's a good one of the team gathered together at the beginnig of the practice.

This single, semi-informal event completely sent my WC excitement meter through the roof. It's definitely as close as I'll get to any of the teams while I'm here and the energy in the crowd and the loyalty and craziness of the supporters already, at just a practice session, was incredible. when the Dutch players walked out on to the pitch, everyone started cheering, and my old "great moment in sports history = crying" reflex kicked in and I got a little teared up. I am SO thankful to be here and be a part of this. In the words of Howard Cosell: Truly a sight to behold.

As if watching the Dutch team practice wasn't enough, Thursday night there was a kickoff concert in Soweto. I would have been there had the tickets not been $100+. That was a little rich for my blood so me and some other International House people gathered to watch the concert broadcast on Thursday night. They only televised the last half of the concert which is a shame. The big reason I wanted to go was to hear the local acts and Vieux Farka Touré. They all went on in the 4pm-8pm block which was untelevised. I am determind to see the Soweto Gospel Choir or at least purchase a CD while I'm here. The concert was like one big Coca-Cola ad and there were several humorous mishaps (T.I.A.!) for example, the real François Pienaar of Invictus fame was supposed to come out and do a short speech between acts, and so they announced his name and someone who was certainly not him came out smiling and delivered his speech. I have real problems with Shakira I've decided, but I cannot shake this "Waka Waka" song. It's completely infectious. And once you see an orphanage full of very cute little ones singing it and getting really excited when it comes on, you kind of have to love it.

After the practice on Wednesday, the concert on Thursday, the entire country was electrified with anticipation for the opening ceremonies and the games. Many of you in the states probably didn't have a chance to see them but they were pretty cool. China really ruined opening ceremonies for the rest of time with the Olympics opening ceremonies in Beijing, but this was great, with the exception of R. Kelly, obviously. Also, Algeria's representative performances at the opening ceremonies and the people they had perform at the Thursday concert made me never want to go to Algeria, ever. The music they played both times brought both events to complete standstills. The stadiums went noticeably quiet and nobody was waving their flags or anything. It was sad. They were just terrible.

So let me give you a timeline for Friday:
6am - my alarm normally goes off but today I was awakened to the sound of vuvuzelas blaring.

7am - I actually get up. vuvuzelas are getting more frequent

8am - walk to work, car horns and vuvuzelas competing for top spot in noisemaking

8:30am - Lebethe pops into my office with a HUGE smile on his face in his school bus yellow Bafana Bafana jersey "CAN YOU FEEL IT?? IT's HERE!" He says to me. And then compliments my awesome SA team jersey.

9:30am - I quit pretending I will get any work done in my little conference room makeshift office and go into the big office where Ismail and Sarapina are having a vuvuzela-off...indoors.

10:30am - two unsuspecting ITguys brough in to network my printer are forced to take at least 75 photos of our office in our Bafana jerseys with various flags flying and vuvuzela positioning

11:30am - people start leaving the office early because there is absolutely no way to get anything done with the din of car horns and vuvuzelas all over campus and all over Jo'burg.

12pm - we get an e-mail from the director of the office saying we can go as soon as we put up our "out of office " replies

12:01pm - I leave

12-1pm - I bat my eyelashes at the pool guys who were closing the pool when I walked right over after work. The university closed early at 1pm for the games but they were closing it EXTRA early... I got them to keep it open until the appointed time and got in a good swim.

1:30pm I make a little lunch and start getting super excited for the beginning of the world cup.

2pm - Amy picks me up and we head to her friend's house to watch opening ceremonies and RSA v Mexico

2-6pm rapt attention in front of TV, eating too many Doritos, and a particularly creative (if I do say so myself) marshmallow diagram I used to explain an offsides call to two mothers who were watching with us. SA ties Mexico! A strong showing for the home team.

6-8pm Doppio Zero cafe where I had a delicious cake and some SA wine and was getting really excited for the next game.

8:30pm back to International house where I watched the game with 12 people and none of us were from the same country. I thought that was cool.

9:30pm I call it quits after the first half. I am having a hard time watching the French play and decide that I hate Ribery. I also hate what happened in the qualifier with Ireland. Who knew, something French that I don't like... never thought I'd see the day. Good thing I went to bed early too. Scoreless tie? Not worth it.

10pm Fall asleep, self-diagnosed with a severe case of World Cup Fever.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sunday in the Park

Another sunny day in African winter. Temps have been in the 70s even though the nights are pretty chilly. Today, I went to church and spent the afternoon with some pretty cool youngsters from the Child Haven orphanage in Roodeport. It is supported by Every Nation, an international missions organization.

If I was in their position, I would have though today was awesome. I thought it was pretty awesome anyway and I am three times their age. It started off with church. There was lots of singing and dancing, and upstairs where the kids were, there was cupcake eating as well as some learning about forgiveness and coloring. After church there was Chuckleberry's Burger Heaven, where the kids were taken to lunch as a special treat. Chicken burgers all around. Our food took 6 years to arrive at our table, but other than that it was good. There was even a trampoline and a playground at this restaurant. I guess they figure they need to distract you if the food is going to take so long. But none of the kids seemed to mind.

Then we went to Delta park which is a gigantic, brand new playground. As if that wasn't enough, a generous donor had provided the money for all 13 kids to get a Bafana Bafana (the South Africa national team's name) jersey to support them during the world cup. Then tried to organize a game of soccer with the kids, but it didn't get very far. The girls were just happy to kick the ball while the boys were angry with them for picking it up with their hands to get it in the right position or to control it. The sun was shining and I think everyone was enjoying their day. Lots of pictures were taken and THEN the kids got "ice cream". I learned that different nations have different words for what is considered ice cream. We gave the children orange popsicles, and the English people there were calling it a lolly, much to the chagrin of the youngsters. (NO! It's an ICE CREAM!) Whereas I would have just called it a popsicle. Oh well.

But the kids had a great day and I was sorry to leave them. I had to get back to say goodbye to another one of my new friends who was heading back to the states today from South Africa. I also needed to steal his leftover food and cooking pot which I don't have in my room. In any case, it's a lot quieter around without my international friends but some of them will return on Wednesday. I am looking forward to getting to work tomorrow and also to going to the pool on campus which I just joined and had my first swim in yesterday. It's heated so I can still swim in it, even in the winter. Running on campus is proving to be a real toughie. The hills are killer and I have to get creative to get the distances I need. However, it's good that the campus is quiet so I don't feel quite so silly as I usually do when I run in a foreign country.

Here's to the start of my first full week in South Africa.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

A Night Out in Randburg

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to go out with some friends of my German friend at the international house. They have a car and took us up to a big outdoor shopping center (for NoVa people, think Reston Town Center) with all kinds of shops and restaurants. Andrea, my German friend, and her friends Cristina and Lloyd took us to meet up with 10 of their friends for dinner and bowling. They are all South Africa natives. Dinner was great only because all of the poeple were very entertaining. I talked with a guy named Teddy for a long time because he was wearing a Postal Service t-shirt. He's into folk and was really into the American music scene. He's pretty handy with MySpace pages and finding new artists. Everyone else has what I can only relate as Australian charm. When I was traveling in Europe, every Australian I met was very easy with people, very entertaining and funny. It seems to be the same with South Africans I am finding. I first met Mike, and then all the people at the International Office, and then the large group last night. What is it in their culture that just naturally blesses people with excellent social skills and gregarious personalities?

In case you were wondering, bowling in South Africa is exactly the same as it is here. but they don't have entire buildings devoted to it like we do. It's more a few lanes as part of an arcade. Also, the restaurant we went to, Spur, is hilarious. Their food is all burgers and steaks and surf and turf combos. And it has this REALLY over the top Native American theme. Cowhide and bows and arrows and cartoon indians line the walls. The food was not that good. I got a plate of nachos, mostly because the picture showed a huge dollop of guacamole on the top. The chips were real soggy and it got cold pretty fast. But Spur is a wildly successful South African chain. They have them everywhere and its very popular. Maybe I should have gotten a burger.

I wanted to take Andrea to get ice cream because it was her last night in town, and the place we wanted to go to was closed. So we went back to Spur to get dessert to take away back to the bowling alley. I got ice cream and brownies. Neither was very good and I was severely disappointed. I should never try to get stuff I love in American in Africa. Stick with local and regional stuff. I definitely know this by now, but it's a lesson I have to keep learning over and over. Especially when the temptation of ice cream and brownies presents itself. It's like I have to try because I know how good they can be. Oh well. Maybe I'll remember that next time I try and get dessert.

Some Lessons in Culture

Today as I called a few businesses around town and as I further my interactions with South Africans and other nationalities, I learned a few things. For instance, the guy who is studying abroad from W&M is a bagpipe player. He is friends with the German people who live in the international house and in German, bagpipes are called "dudelsacks". which is pretty much the best translation I have ever come across. When you say it in German, it sounds like this : doodlezahk. What a word!

I learned another fantastic word today: ulelating (YOU-leh-late-ing). This is the sound that Xena warrior princess makes when she is attacking people. AYIYIYIYIYI!! It is also the traditional African cry of celebration or happiness. I heard this quite a bit at the graduation ceremony last night and NOW I can say that I know the proper term for it. Ulelating.
Also, when you call people in South Africa at a business and they put you on hold it plays the most annoying hold music ever. It's like ice cream truck music that would drive children far far away. It does remind me of my first car though, my '91 VW Golf, that would play music when the doors opened if the engine was on. Oh how I miss that automobile.

Also, in Afrikaans, I think that people call you "mom" or "pap" if you are an adult and they are in a convesation with you. I've been speaking to people and they'll say "no mom". And I hear people on the phone with men referring to them as "pap". Which I have to think is sort of like ma'am or sir. There is also the replacement of the American "really?" which we upspeak, to the South African "is it?" which is downspoken. It sounds sort of pitying in any context. Example: "I just saw a white rhino!" "Is it?"

I don't think I will get very far with Afrikaans here, but I am enjoying the parallels between Martinique and South Africa. I am realizing the interesting mix of European and African cultures just as much here as I did there. The loose interpretations of time, the languages and how they are spoken. I would love to do a side-by-side comparison of Afrikaans and Creole and see what kind of cognates and similarities show up. I am finding Johannesburg to be the melting pot that everyone says it is and I'm also really loving being at this university. I feel that I am a part of an office that really takes care of its students and that endeavors to make connections and build up the students and the university both. Reading some of the papers that will be presented at this conference I'm working on makes me regret not being here for it. It's all about higher education in Africa, its contributions to development, and how internationalization in the AHEA can make a difference with Africa's growth and stability. But I am proud to be a Witsie, albeit temporarily.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

First Day of Work, Becoming a Witsie

After today I have met some people who work at the international office, started navigating my way around the Afrikaaner and Zulu accents I come across on a daily basis, and said the phrase "T.I.A." in my head about 600 times. I am still without internet in my room, which I was hoping to accomplish on my first day. Since there has been a gas leak and a 6 hour power outage in my first two days on campus, the process of accomplishing things has slowed somewhat. I started work today and will be working on the IEASA conference administration and maybe a few side projects that I'm thinking about. After working only 5 hours a day for the last year, it felt strange to put in a full 8.5 today. I was taken on a walking tour of campus by one of my wonderful internship coordinators. She's a round, jolly, and very funny German lady who runs one side of the Wits international office. Her counterpart, a gentleman who has been helping me navigate becoming a Witsie, is very tall and thin, has a gaunt face, and a strange goatee, emphasis on the goat. He's very nice and they both make jokes a lot which makes me feel much more comfortable. Today when I walked in, goatee guy told me I was overdressed to go work in the mines with the other interns.
I had to make a few calls to some of the other admin offices on campus today and was delighted to hear this said: "she's busy chattin' up a storm, I can try her back in a mo', or you can give her a tickle in a bit". It also might have been tinkle. Either way, I was tickled. Apparently the World Cup South Africa Committee has promised that there will be enough power for all of South Africa during the games because they are purchasing it from other countries and private providers. No one believes this.

Just as I was about to leave today I discovered that Wits was holding their graduation ceremony this evening. Ever the purveyor of cultural experiences, Frau Jolly immediately got on the phone and found a way to get me a ticket so I could see it. I ended up going, meeting a few professors and seeing about half the ceremony. It's very similar to the American style graduation, and they take most of their cues from Oxford as far as regalia. I think everyone does. I did snap some photos of the campus today and some of the graduation ceremony which I hope to post when I have internet access. It's many people's last night in town tonight and so I'm going out with some people here to celebrate. It will be my first foray into Jo'burg nightlife and I'm looking forward to it.

The group included a German, a Zimbabwean, and two americans, counting myself. I got loads of good tips for traveling to Victoria Falls and now cannot wait to go. How crazy to think I'll be there in just a week and a half! I'm very excited for the trip and now feel very informed on how to make the most of my time there.


I have arrived in Jo'burg at the University of the Witswatersrand. I had a really great first night too. My arrival at the airport included: a short wait at passport control, several comliments on the USA jersey I sported for the entire trip over, my bag getting to Jo'burg (thank God), and a driver waiting to pick me up and drive me to Wits. It really couldn't have gone more smoothly if you ask me. When I got here, I spent a few minutes unpacking, then trying in vain to make my internet work, and then I gave up and started wandering around a bit to see if I could see anything. I didn't get to campus until about 7pm but I did end up meeting a bunch of people. Not seeing a lot of campus but hopefully I'll be able to do that today. I met a guy from the Elliot School at GW who is here but on his way out in a few weeks. I also met a guy who is from William and Mary studying abroad here. He leaves on Sunday I think. I met another girl from the US and three German girls. We watched "Lost in Translation" together and I owe them a lot for making my first night not at all boring or scary. They answered a lot of my questions and helped me get a feel for the reality of campus. I am very grateful to them all. I am also really glad I'm living in the international house even though it seems as though most people will be leaving here in about two weeks. It's much easier to meet people when they all feel as different as you do in this place.

One Year Later and a Different Continent

It's hard to think that's it's been almost exactly one year since I last used my blog. Since starting grad school and traveling a lot in the past year, I have found a suprising lack of time for self-reflection. During the two enormous blizzards that invaded DC this past winter, I mainly just withdrew into a cave of baking and watching movies. It wasn't the best way to spend my time but it sure felt good to give in to being holed up for a while.

I have, since my last posting, traveled to Colorado twice, North Carolina twice, Charlottesville twice, Hawaii once, and Williamsburg, VA three times. I think that's it. Knowing that this is my last year before starting my "career" as it relates to my graduate degree is making me very conscious of my need to travel and exploiting the flexibility I have these days. That said, I should mention that as I write this, I am currently on a plane to Atlanta, leg one of two, where my final destination will be Johannesburg, South Africa. I decided that for my last real summer possibly ever, I needed to go big. So I am on my way to witness the largest sporting event in the World, the World Cup. I will be representing my country, my high school (represented by a player on the US national team) and my university. I also find it hard to believe that this is all actually happening. I think it will feel real when I arrive at OR Tambo international airport and all those warnings about baggage theft and people trying to kidnap you come flooding into my new reality.

I should have written before this. I know that I had things to say, things to process, great concerts that I needed to gush about, but for some reason, I just kept thinking I'll pick it up when I go to South Africa. That's when I'll have all the exciting stuff to talk about and share with people. And it's true, this trip checks item after item off my bucket list. Victoria Falls, World Cup, world famous Stellenbosch wine region, Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain, the meeting place of two oceans, the Zambezi river, going on safari, and probably more. But aside from its touristic appeal, I do have legitimate academic purpose to be doing this. I will be working at the University of the Witswatersrand (white water ridge in Dutch, namesake for the currency of South Africa as well as the region where most of the gold is found) as an intern in their International Office, helping them prepare for the international education conference they are hosting at the end of August.

The series of events that led to this happening is long and I am unclear on the exact path. Suffice it to say that I had a wonderful internship this past semester at ACE, supportive faculty at GW, adventurous friends from college, and a boyfriend as interested in seeing new places as I am. So now, here I am, two hours into a six-week journey, on a freeeeeezing cold airplane to Atlanta, and then on to Jozi on the longest flight I will have ever taken. I look forward with confidence, excitement, an open mind, a grateful heart, and not an insignificant amount of fear for what awaits me academically, personally, and spiritually.

Movie's I watched on the plane before the drugs kicked in:
The Last Station - makes me want to read Tolstoy.
It Might Get Loud - hands down the best music documentary I have ever watched. Highlights: Edge plays early demos of his guitar tracks from "Streets" and there is concert footage and he explains how his guitar is his voice. There's also footage of Bono playing the bands 'unreleased outside if Ireland' terrible 80's music and they're all wearing silver pants with 80's fros. Jimmy Page plays riffs from Ramble On in his London flat. All three dudes talk about how they view music and wax philosophical about the creating of music. I could listen to them forever basically. Jack White makes an electric guitar out of a couple of boards, some wire, a coke bottle and a few nails. Highly recommended.

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