Friday, June 23, 2006

Doin' Nothin', Soccer Style

Traditionally, I am not very good at just doing nothing. While I am a huge tv fan, for example, I cannot watch anything except for the most important sporting events without a book in hand to read during down times and commercials. I get antsy just lounging around. The idea of doing nothing but sitting, say, on a beach all day is not my idea of paradise, though if there are volleyball courts and books and picnics and walking and swimming and a radio I can start getting with it.

So this is an interesting few days. Until I head to Pretoria for my conference and some research, I have literally no plans. I've already met some people in cafes and bars, and when they ask me what my schedule looks like, I can honestly tell them that it is completely free for the next three days. Yesterday the goal was simply to stay awake, which I did (more on that in a moment)and today the goal is just to wander. I met an interesting actress/writer at a coffee shop and we talked for a couple of hours. Now I am ensconced at a used bookstore/internet cafe that I visit every time I am in Melville. In an hour or so I'll move on again. I might get my hair buzzed (it's already short, so I balk a bit at paying 70 rands -- $10! -- to get it shaved, but at the same time, once I decide I am getting my hair cut I tend just to do it. I'll surely grab a late lunch/early dinner, and even though the games are not very compelling today, I will go watch at least one of them over beer or wine or hot chocolate. I got the weekly Mail & Guardian, my favorite South African paper, which comes out on Fridays, as well as the Star, which is my fav . . . well, which is a South African daily. I am carrying a bag with stuuff to read. So I still am not doing nothing, but for me, this is as close to it as it gets, and I am adjusting. I suspect I'll keep meeting people, making short-term friends, one of the joys of travel, and taking things as they come.

As promised, I met my goal of making it as far as the game yesterday, at which point I knew I'd be fine. I found a nifty little cafe with two couches next to a fireplace -- a serious score. A woman about my age was there and started a conversation. She is a journalist working on some documentary, and we just talked and enjoyed the fire. One of her friends came in, we chatted a bit more, and then they shifted to Afrikaans while I awaited the opening kickoff of the game. They were chatting about boys. Eventually I decided to let them know that while I am not fluent, and I was trying not to listen, I understood about two thirds of what they were saying and gleaned most of the rest. They were surprised and a bit embarassed. No real need, but still, I felt it only fair to let them know. We chatted some more, though most of my attentions were on the game, and when the game ended and their friends started pouring in, it added a nice social element to the ambience, at least until inevitably I was the outsider, at which point I was due to move on anyway.

What can I say? The US simply did not come to play in this World Cup. But it was a fun scene. I was a bit removed from the screen, having chosen to keep my fireside poll position, but there was a roomful of African guys and we jawed back and forth in a friendly way. They respected the Americans but as with most of the continent, had fully embraced the Black Stars as their own, as well they should. They did not really put up a fight when I argued that the penalty kick was based on a cheap call, but they also pointed out that in the most technical sense our goal likely came on an offsides. They were ebullient when the clock, after a capriciously announced five minutes of injury time (they all assumed it was a conspiracy against Ghana), ran down to all zeros. It was all good fun. Except for one aspect that left a nasty taste in my mouth, even if I restrained myself. There were two white South African women rooting for Ghana, and why wouldn't they. But they kept referring to Ghana as "we," which seemed a bit odd. I suppose they have some claim to the continent as well, but it struck me as disjunctive and maybe a bit pretentious. But then one of them said "beat the fucking imperialist Americans."

Um, excuse me, what was that? Let me get this straight. You are a white South African. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you and your predecessors were beneficiaries of the most noxious colonial settler regime in African history and the world's worst racial dictatorship in the decades after World war II. Yes, yes, yes, I know you PERSONALLY opposed apartheid. I just find it funny that all of the white people I encounter who are over the age of 35 all opposed Apartheid, yet the National Party never received less than 84% of the vote until 1983, when the Conservative Party, which was more ardently pro-apartheid than even the Nats stole a few percentage points. I find the American Imperialism argument problematic when it comes from the most well-meaning critics. When blurted from the mouth of a white South African who benefitted in every possible way from apartheid for half of her life (where she lived, where she went to school, where she could attend college, where she could travel, what sorts of jobs she could have, with whom she could associate . . .) using "we" to describe Ghana's soccer successes? Well, color me unimpressed by your Pan-Africanism couched in geo-political inanities.

That exception aside, I do think Ghana's win marks a great Pan-African moment. The explosion of happiness in the bar was legitimate. The celebrations across the continent have been rapturous. This win means so much more to Africans than it ever would have meant to Americans that I not only do not begrudge the Ghanaian victory, I am happy for it. They have a tough draw against Brazil coming up, but what do they have to lose? They faced a gantlet of top 10 teams, two of which they defeated to get to this stage. They are aggressive and vibrant. They are a little bit lucky. They are confident. Why not? (Beyond the fact that Brazil is the greatest national team in the history of the sport, is playing well now, and has what by any measure is a better roster of superstars, I mean). Africans have been talking about Pan-Africanism and falling short of it for the entirety of the post-colonial era. At least this one time, this grand African nationalism seems to be a welcome, if undoubtedly temporal, reality.

I stayed out for a bit longer, drinking Castles and making new friends. I went back to my B&B ("Akuwaiseni," which means "Place of rest" in, I believe, Zulu.) and tried to watch some bad television, but before long I crashed. I awoke a few times during the night, but slept until 7 this morning and remained in bed for a while before starting my day. I am rested and ready, even if it was zero degrees celcius when I got up (which as you might recall is exactly 32 degrees fahrenheit, or freaking freezing).

A few additional notes: The M&G this week has several articles (print and online) on South Africa's take on the China question, which is basically whether or not to Fear the (China) Dragon. I certainly feel as if the China question is following me. I'll be writing more on that issue for other forums when I get back.

Meanwhile, over at Big Tent, Tom has a beautiful evisceration of Steve Rushin's assertion in Sports Illustrated last week that Americans hate soccer because we are ignorant provincials. I add my two cents in the comments, as do other folks.

In any case, it's time to move on as I practice this strange doing nothing thing.
Update: More on SA and China from this week's M&G can be found here.

1 comment:

David Kane said...

Some of us are taking issue with these comments on EphBlog.