There are many signs that you’re with the right guy. Without a doubt a major indicator has to be when he selflessly understands and indulges your patriotic impulses and enables them, even when it literally leaves him holding the baby. (Okay, pre-schooler. Which is more of a challenge.)
That’s how I happily found myself in flight over the Sahara. (Never noticed before that Kano and N’Djamena are at lmost the exact same latitude.) I was en route to New York via Frankfurt, after 24 hours in South Africa soaking up the World Cup experience.
Perhaps it sounds insane to spend 45 hours in the air to spend a day at your destination, but when it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it makes perfect sense. And it’s a testament to technology that you can book a three-continent flight six hours before take off.
The flight from Atlanta was the most pleasant flight I’ve been on. Imagine a completely full Boeing 747-400 (that’s just over 400 people), with almost every person travelling to Johannesburg to attend the soccer World Cup. There were Brazilians, Uruguayans, a few Mexicans, Americans, a lone Dutchman and a heap of South Africans now resident or working in Canada and the US. And those of us who could sport our fan colours were. Thanks again to Jay, I had an official logo t-shirt that garnered lots of compliments. Most people wore soccer jerseys, and a few fellow South Africans were decked out in SA flag-gear that was a visual feast of red, blue, yellow, green, black and white. The hats were particularly fetching.
The pleasantness was related to the polite and mutually helpful exchanges. Strangers proactively helping strangers, enthusiastic spontaneous conversations and a palpable atmosphere of positive anticipation. And for once, everyone seemed to use their handtowel to wipe the baisin down in the toilet. Remarkable.
But how much can you pack into a single day?
Arrive at 8pm Saturday, a brief stop at an official fan spot for my Bafana Bafana jersey and zoom through customs and immigration straight into the arms of my beloved Mom and brother. They had been partially deafened by a mere 15-minute exposure to the vuvuzela welcoming committee. It was incredible. We could hear the bee swarmlike buzzing all the way in the baggage collection hall.
The drive to my brother’s new house — barely a week since he moved in — was as flag festooned as I could hope. We went by the Mary Fitzgerald Fan Park in downtown Newtorn Joburg. The US v UK game was underway, the crowd was modest as it was cold! I always forget how warm, sunny winter’s days plummet into cold nights after sunset.
We explored the fabulous new house while listening to the game on the radio — an interesting experience because you become so attuned to every aspect of the commentator’s voice as it paints the picture of the action. Then we headed to my dear friend MA’s house, where we relived the highlights (or lowlights if you’re an English fan) in multi-media and then went out to a local spot.
At 1am it was clearly time for dinner, so we headed back to my brother’s where he whipped up a supper feast of calamari, butternut soup and pumpkin seed bread. Yum! A few hours later it was time to test out the Victorian ball and claw bath and catch some sleep.
Funny enough I had no trouble getting up a few hours later. I even beat the start of the Sunday morning impromptu vuvuzela wake up calls. At 10am, they started honking at individual houses in our and other neighbourhoods in the valley below.
After one of my favourite breakfasts — my brother’s freshly-squeezed orange juice, Jungle Oats cooked the old fashioned way and rounded out with an espresso — we set out for a fan park. Everywhere we went we passed private homes, office buildings and businesses sporting flags. Cars sported multiple flags — two plus attached to the doors, sideview mirror flag socks, petrol cap flag socks and flags that attach to the antenna. Add to that the type that suction cup to the inside of windows, and it was a riot of moving patriotism, with street vendors selling all of the above. (I quickly added some colour to our car, though didn’t follow through on the sideview mirror sock threat!)
At the Innisfree Park Fan Park we ‘negotiated’ a parking space in an office block across the road and my mom, brother and I walked in through the various security checks. The number of friendly, well-informed South African Police persons and security from an independent company was impressive. Unbelievably, one of the first sights to hit me when we finally reached the park, was a UNICEF booth. I got to chat with the Jozi-based team who were set up for tagging children and reuniting them with their families in case they became separated, as well as using the opportunity to educate the public on the organization’s mission and mandate.
A short walk and more helpful literature on nutrition from the City of Johannesburg later, we were greeted with my favourite World Cup sound: K’Naan’s ‘Wavin Flag’. Waka Waka whatever, to me there’s something infinitely more like a call to waving arms about ‘Wavin’ Flag. And it seemed as if I was not alone. While I was bounding about the grass, people in front of the large screen were boogying to the tune. All day and everywhere, that’s the song I heard, part Coca-Cola adverts and part resonance to the song’s African authenticity. (Must mention that after first hearing the song many weeks before and having iTunes reimburse me for their corrupted, unlistenable version, the wonderful LG from Coca-Cola sent me one of the commemorative CDs. It’s been on my favourite playlist ever since.)
One bright yellow vuvuzela, some match watching and a boerewors roll later, and I was ready to roll to the next fan park. So we headed to Newtown across the Nelson Mandela Bridge. Thank goodness it was a Sunday, because the few cars on the bridge had slowed to a slow crawl to video/photograph the amazing Bafana Bafana fan graphics that run the entire length of the bridge, topped by massive images of Madiba. I can’t imagine what this must be like on a week day!
It was great watching the Algeria v Slovenia game at the Mary Fitzgerald fan park. It was a complete contrast — a real brick, urban environment in contrast to the rolling grass hills of Sandton’s Innisfree park. It was clear everyone was rooting for Algeria, African solidarity in action. My erratic vuvuzela tooting caught the ear? of the french TV5 crew, who then interviewed me on what I thought about it and whether it should be banned. After enthusuastically suggesting fans go out, buy one, blow it and be liberated, I’m afraid I failed miserably at providing a demonstration of my lack of skill. A little later when I gave some produced particularly hearty honks, the crew was nice enough to turn around and cheer me :0)
But all too soon after the end of the game, it was time to pick up my backpack and head to the airport. Still, that flight back through Frankfurt was fun too. I was seated in a sea of black clothed Mexico fans, one of whom would stand up at erratic intervals and yell Bafana Bafana and point at me, to which his compatriots would cheer. Our pilots were kind enough to bring us updates of the Germany v Australia game that stopped our cabin attendants in their tracks.
But after Frankfurt, as everyone split off to their separate flights, I definitely felt a little like a lone yellow shirter in a yellow shirtless world. That was, until I stepped off the flight at JFK and two of the ground crew pointed at my shirt and said, “Yeah, Bafana Bafana!” Yeah!
To see these photos and a few more from the trip, click here to go to Flickr.
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