June 28, 2010
The verb I choose today is Indulge. I hope you choose it, too, because I am going to ask you to indulge me as I post my favorite South African photos and natter on about them:
First, this is how I looked on my way out of town. Yes, I am wearing a wool sports coat in Houston in June. Yes, I am hot (in every sense of the word). Remember, the place I am going has temperatures between freezing and 70F. A wool sports coat would not be all I needed.
The South Africans were totally in the spirit of World Cup. They lined the roads of the interstate (this was two days before the opening kick off):
and when they couldn't be there in person, they substituted giant, yellow waving hands to make the point they were happy to see you:
What could be better than Nelson Mandela (besides that he is a living legend, still getting around at almost 92--July 18--despite spending 27 years in prison in a very small cell on in a maximum security prison on Robben Island. If you don't know the details of his life click on this biography on the ANC website or this one.)? A twenty foot tall Nelson Mandela.
We did get chased by a mother elephant in Pilanesberg National Park (seriously, the guide had to throw the van into reverse). You can tell she was serious because she has made herself larger by splaying her ears out. She didn't want us to hurt her little one:
Did you know that until today, every half of every game started right on time? One match I saw was held up by about fifteen seconds whiles the players waited in kickoff position, so they could start exactly on time. Not late, not early. Today, the Portugal squad stayed in the locker room at half for three extra minutes, AND EVERYONE NOTICED AND SAID UGLY THINGS, INCLUDING SPECULATING WHETHER THEY WOULD GET A FINE. Does it seem strange to you that the starts could remain so accurate. I think that must be a real tribute to the planning an execution of this World Cup! Thank you South Africa.
I also wanted to include a picture of a giraffe for my internet friend Jenny Trock. Giraffes have a coarse black tongue that lets them eat very prickly plants, which is a good thing since scrubby acacia trees are as endemic to South Africa as mesquite is to Texas:
I'm not sure if I know any strict creationists, but they would have had a hard time at the Sterkfontein Caves, unless they treated it like fantasyland. The current excavation going on there is digging out a quite complete homonin that could be between 3 and 4 million years old. We could hear the work going on as we went past this passageway.
We also got to experience a shebeen (well not a real one, which would have been illegal). How about a fauxshebeen. I don't know whether shebeens were illegal because they served bootleg liquor or whether they were a crucial meeting place for anti-apartheid activists. I was up for it either way.
I guess I need to put out one picture of the Lesedi Cultural Village. I was the coldest night of our trip and I really didn't think the people in the various villages needed to drop their warm blankets as we moved from village to village just so we could see them in native garb. As penitence for torturing them, I did eat the dried worm they offered me. They danced vigorously, possibly because we had forced them to doff their blankets earlier.
I know, I already showed you the cheetahs, but did you know they ate Iams and Eukanuba cheetah chow when they are at the endangered species center (for at least some of their meals). I also learned I had a new appreciation of vultures, who, because of the scavenger work they do, keep us also safe from anthrax outbreaks. If we killed off all the vultures (because they're ugly or because they talked like The Beatles in the Jungle Book) we would open ourselves up for widespread epidemics.
Besides asking about the vuvuzelas, the next most common question my friends have asked me about was security: did I feel safe? Both the stadiums we saw games in were located in the middle of tenements (Rustenburg was rural poverty; Ellis Park was urban poverty). That said, we never felt insecure. Everyone outside the stadiums seemed to be quite excited (and also quite entrepreneurial, selling whatever they could find: earplugs, flags, fruits, alcohol, to the football tourists). Here are two shots I took from the bus. The first is Rustenburg (where everyone opened their yards to parking). The second is urban Johanessburg.
After apartheid was turned over, most urban property owners built fences (brick or cinderblock in many cases) with concertina wire or electric wire on top. That is the number one thing you notice driving around. I think there were many worries about crime then (fifteen years ago). I'm sure some were founded. Maybe some weren't. Still those fences are a relic of that period.
The more modern look is represented by the photos of Brightwater Commons, a shopping and entertainment area about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel. Brightwater had a monitored parking lot with security, but inside it was pretty placid: shops, groceries, a skateboard park, a duck pond, a carousel, restaurants, and so on. Here's a wide angle view:
And here's something that made me wish I was about 75 pound lighter:
And why did we go to South Africa? To see the USA! Here's a glimpse at who else went. Except being heavily male, it was a pretty mixed group.
I'll leave this up for a few days, then introduce you to the fans from all over the world that I met.
I think you can get to Davis's Facebook album, for more photos than you have time to look at. We are slowly but surely adding pithy captions.