Tag Archives: World Cup

effin’ fifa: a rant.

The World Cup shenanigans will conclude this weekend.

Most thought I was delirious for booking a flight home only a week into the World Cup. In hindsight, I would have loved to stay longer; watching World Cup matches from home, so far removed from the delightful drone of vuvuzelas (other than my own), has been the source of substantial doses of nostalgia. I watch games in Nelspruit, Rustenburg, Polokwane, Pretoria, Cape Town and Jozi and I think, I was there. Damnit, why am I not there?

But really, I’m even more curious as to what it will be like come Monday (or soon thereafter), when the World Cup frenzy—virtually inescapable in the months leading up to the event—dissipates. In preceding months, Zakumi’s image blared from billboards along highways across the country. Countdowns on front page banners of newspapers served as daily reminders: The World Cup was 60 days away; and then it was 16 days away. And before we knew it, it was upon us. Flags of participating nations hung in front of B&Bs. Restaurants and bars redecorated, professing their loyalty to all 32 competing countries at once.

So when the flags disappear, then what?

The not-so-optimistic answer: Shit’s gonna hit the fan. This I heard from co-workers, university students, fellow patrons. Some disagreed, but the majority consented: The World Cup brought with it a euphoria that wouldn’t last, they said. South Africa’s problems hadn’t disappeared. Spin doctors successfully constructed a facade of a new and improved South Africa, but it was just that. A facade. Sure, the airports were prettier. The new Gautrain efficiently shuttled visitors from OR Tambo International Airport to the wealthier, stereotypically suburban suburbs and then onto Pretoria. Cities sported new, freshly paved roads. But there is another South Africa that many visitors never saw, and officials made sure of it. Pathways to and from the stadiums are tunnels of illusion, depicting one South Africa. Visit parts of Soweto, Alexandra, Khayelitsha and Masiphumelele, and you’ll witness another.

Many of the challenges that plagued the pre-World Cup South Africa will continue post-World Cup: a socioeconomically divided population; a crumbling education system; an unemployment rate that’s up to three times that of the U.S.

And if I just sound like I have a chip on my shoulder, John Pilger’s tirade and this CNN article provide a comparatively well-substantiated argument. He cites many of the accounts I heard myself while in South Africa. Like the story of 20,000 Joe Slovo settlement residents who were threatened with eviction because they live near the main motorway between Cape Town and the city’s airport.

For five-and-a-half years, Hellen sold pap, meat and vegetables to passersby. On average, she earned R100 a day, which she collected in old Peter Stuyvesant cigarette containers. Her food stand was located across the street from Soccer City. I interviewed her and several others, who hoped that the World Cup would translate to added revenue, more R10 notes to fill those cigarette containers. No such luck. FIFA rules commanded that she, along with thousands of street vendors throughout South Africa, must pack up and move out. They missed out on the World Cup boom because a line of shops erected using dingy green tarp and scavenged street signs would sully the view of the stadium, taint the illusion.

I hope that the World Cup brings great things for South Africa, that the promise of foreign investment materializes, that Mzansi finds itself on the global radar. I hope this optimism isn’t naïve. I hope that shit doesn’t hit the fan.

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anatomy of a name.

So, I decided that my blog needs a name. And that as an ode to my time in South Africa and Mozambique, it deserves something more than “Nazish Dholakia’s Blog,” which I haphazardly created to serve as only a temporary placeholder while I mastered the workings of WordPress. After five months, I think it’s time is up.

Over the past weeks and months, I’ve struggled to find an appropriate name. I wanted something more than a vague title; no nonsense about journeys or travels or the road that is life. So the one I created in my days of ineptitude has had to suffice.  Until now. Drum roll, please?

fifty-three.
(I realize you’ve already noticed it at the top of this Web page. Humor me.)

Let me explain. Yes, it is Herbie’s racing number in The Love Bug, an indisputably great movie (at least, I loved it when I watched it at my end-of-the-year celebration in second grade). But more importantly, it’s the number of countries in Africa. Actually, even this is contested; it depends on whether or not you count the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Sporcle doesn’t, Wikipedia  does. I side with what the majority of Google hits declared.

So why fifty-three?

When Ghana played Uruguay in the Quarterfinals, commentators heralded Ghana as Africa’s last hope of World Cup victory. But these commentators didn’t point out that Uruguay was the last South American team still standing, and surely Mexico was never relegated as the last ray of hope for the North American continent. Sure, these differences might have something to do with the way this World Cup was marketed as an African World Cup, a first for the continent. But I can’t help but think it also has something to do with the way the rest of the world lumps all 53 African nations, its one billion people who collectively speak 2,000 different languages, into one category.

Sarah Palin, in all her glorious idiocy, may have thought Africa was a country (I’m believing the rumor mill on this one, especially because it comes from that oh so reputable network, FOX), but I think her ignorance only betrays the more pervasive misperception that Africa is Africa. And this forgoes the reality that Stellenbosch, South Africa and Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya really are worlds apart. So why is there a tendency to overlook this?

Then again, I realize that this sentiment is not necessarily falsely and forcibly imposed upon the continent. I know South Africans, Kenyans and Tanzanians who rooted for Ghana precisely because it was the only African team still standing. But to underestimate the distinctiveness of each of Africa’s 53 countries is, well, ignorance.

In blogging over the past months, if there’s been anything I’ve tried to accomplish it’s been to shatter those hastily conceived misperceptions of what “South Africa” is (or really, what many outside South Africa thinks it is). Fifty-three is my metaphor of choice.

And I guess if/when I decide to venture beyond the continent, I’ll have to start brainstorming all over again.

for the memories.

At the risk of sounding maudlin, I’ll admit that this experience has satisfied every cliché anybody’s ever used to describe their life-changing experiences abroad.

In Maputo, we were held hostage at a shebeen. Earlier, a local had enthusiastically pulled a plastic lawn chair up to our table, assuming a position as part of our entourage. But barred by our inability to speak Portuguese and failing in our attempts to communicate in debauched Spanish, we remained largely oblivious of our fellow audience member’s continued presence behind us. Nathan had moved his chair to within two feet of the TV screen, anxious to catch every second of the action as our boys, Bafana Bafana, played Mexico in the opening match of the World Cup. Meanwhile, Bettina and I interrogated our new Cambodian-French-Canadian footie fanatic friend.

But while our eyes remained glued to the soccer players dancing across the screen like mosquitoes abuzz, our clever friend ordered beer after beer, under the false conjecture that it was our treat. When the time came to pay our tab, we obviously refused to pay for our drunken accomplice. So naturally, the employees locked us within the premises, guarding the door like bouncers. A confusing chaos ensued, fueled by communication barriers. The waitress furiously punched keys on her calculator, showing us the tab our friend had racked up. We futilely argued with her until we realized that the amount in contestation was a few measly bucks. We paid up, largely because the urgency of the hunger pangs raging in our stomachs (and the amazing seafood that beckoned) weighed heavier than the matter of principle.

Hours later, our drunken friend reappeared, having recovered from his babalas. Racked with guilt for making us pay for his beer while he basked in drunken stupor—and realizing that he may not have left the most desirable impression on his foreign friends—he offered us a token of reconciliation. “A coke?” he questioned earnestly. We kindly refused but to no avail, and he returned minutes later with two cans. He insisted that we accept his gesture: “Keep it. For the memories.”

In all honestly, I’m not quite sure what fate that Coke confronted, whether it was left atop a deserted table or salvaged by another indulging spectator. But this somewhat bizarre encounter, at the time no more than a pain in the ass, I will now undoubtedly reflect upon fondly.

***

Midway through my time in South Africa, I experienced what I’ve since jokingly dubbed my “quarter-life crisis.” It forced me to revisit and challenge my perceptions about, vaguely speaking, life. My college-bound self thought she had all the answers—or at least 89 percent of them. I thought I’d figured things out, that I knew exactly where that road I’d begun treading would lead.

Now, I know that I’m not even close. I let go of my prematurely conceived notions about who I am and what I want, and it was the best thing I could have done. As Woodstock-esque as it sounds, I danced to the beats of Bob Marley, trails of cigarette smoke encircling me, the inescapable scent working its way into the fibers of my clothing. Kwaito music blared from speakers in Tembisa, as I fumbled to follow synchronized steps in the midst of a cluster of dancers (a young man eventually began whispering the upcoming steps in my ear, saving me from further embarrassment). I walked up and down Seventh Avenue hundreds of times, where I exchanged greetings with so many familiar faces—the patron at the IT café with the blonde hip-length dreadlocks; the street vendor who offered to make me a beaded masterpiece countless times; Sebastian, the waiter with one heck of an afro, at SIX.

I know that I’ll likely continue to surprise myself, as I re-evaluate what I think I know. I know that that’s OK. I know that—barring any further near-death experiences (this is another story that, unfortunately, I don’t think any blog post could do justice)—I’ll have years to figure it out.

And I’ve come back with an paradoxical sense of both clarity and confusion. There is no definitive moment when all these revelations exposed themselves to me, as it often occurs so effusively in the final pages of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Instead, these revelations came gradually. Many times, I’ve surprised even myself, only confirming that one should never say never.

I hoped South Africa would stand to validate what, for the past ten years, I’ve thought I wanted to be. In the end, it did and it didn’t. Now, I relish the fact that there isn’t just one path. I’ve come back inspired by the stories of others’ travels. And if I can muster the guts to do it, why not follow in Nathan’s footsteps, delivering pizzas, saving up for months for the journey of a lifetime, initially landing in Joburg and booking only that first night at a B&B, then backpacking through southern Africa?

I learned to live in the moment, to let go of my inhibitions.  It’s been a whirlwind. And I will treasure it, keep it. For the memories.

traffic jamz.

I’m now the proud owner of an illegitimate Bafana Bafana jersey, purchased out of a trash bag in the backroom of an inconspicuous store somewhere in the CBD. I bought it for only R100, thanks to my South African (and more importantly, Zulu-speaking) photographer friend who accompanied me; mlungus obviously don’t fare too well on their own when it comes to getting a noteworthy deal.

Without the highlighter yellow jersey, I would have been horribly conspicuous at Thursday’s soccer game, where South Africa played Colombia at Soccer City stadium.

I’m not discounting the environment at the stadium, but the drive there was undoubtedly the best part. We joined a battalion of vehicles, all destined for Soccer City. A colony of ants, we approached the stadium from all directions. The resulting gridlock led anxious, excited and intoxicated revelers to move their celebration onto the streets. Fans rolled down their windows. With great gusto, they blew their vuvuzelas* and waved their South African flags. Restless passengers abandoned their vehicles and began running through the maze of cars, flags in tow. One driver decided that he couldn’t fight the urge and rushed for the nearest bush. And hooting musicians adopted a language of their own, creating a cacophony of song with their vuvuzelas.

Cars decided to disregard road signs, overtaking the lanes for oncoming traffic and making it virtually impossible for the stray car traveling in the opposite direction to get anywhere. Finally, we parked in a makeshift lot, manned by a self-appointed parking attendant who claimed a plot of land on the side of the road as his own. He charged each car R30 and must have made a decent amount of rand that night.

Soccer City stadium itself is gorgeous; its lit windows look like a constellation of stars against the night sky.  The environment at the stadium was also filled with great fanfare, as vuvuzelas blasted rhythmically and supporters chanted. As for the game, I was pretty clueless (Soccer 101, Faizan? k thanks). Bafana Bafana won, but I can’t tell you much more than this.

***

*The vuvuzela is a plastic trumpet, and some will also tell you it is South Africa’s not-so-secret weapon at the World Cup. Actually, blowing it correctly requires more skill and technique than one would think (oh, stop it, you dirty-minded masses). When successfully blown, it emits a loud disconcerting foghorn-type sound that—anywhere else—would make me want to rip my ears off. But at South African soccer games, it’s AWESOME. There’s also nonsensical talk of banning them at the World Cup based on claims that they can be distracting for players, coaches and referees. Supposedly, they can also damage hearing. Still, I say it’s worth the risk. So what if World Cup goers slam Fifa with lawsuits for damaging their hearing? (Yes, Fifa is legitimately concerned about this.)

At the 2009 Confederations Cup, Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso requested that Fifa ban the noisemakers:”Those trumpets? That noise, I don’t like. It is not distracting, but it is not nice to have a noise like that.”

My personal suggestion: Alonso, wear earplugs.