On South Africa, 2010

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I haven’t written a blog post in a damn long time, and with good reason. Since the beginning of June, I have been wrapped up in World Cup fever. I was torn about whether it would be more interesting to share sweeping aphoristic conclusions and judgments about the state of the country and of the sport, or whether to just talk about my experiences. I’m going to go with a mix.

Now, as you may know, I am a South African (born, citizen, whole family lives here) and have been here dozens of times, and spent as much time here as in any city in the United States; it is home. When I touched down in O.R. Tambo airport in June, the energy was palpably different. There were vuvuzelas blowing, a welcoming team of dancers, black, white, colored, doing a hybrid of traditional Zulu and modern Kwaito dances in baggage claim, and groups of Asians, Europeans, Latin Americans, and other Africans huddled in energetic clumps throughout the terminal. The highways in every major city were lined with the flags of the countries representing the cup. It was overwhelming.

The country ran exceptionally smoothly for the month of the cup. Stories of crime were way way down. Despite there being some issues with FIFA and the ticketing, games were energetic and the atmosphere was positive and electric at all of them. It is remarkable what South Africa has been able to achieve in only 16 years of democracy. It gives me pause to think that a country can completely renew itself so drasticaly, leaving itself so vulnerable to political unrest, but then rise to the myriad challenges of modernizing itself amid fierce competition and seemingly intractable hurdles like the HIV epidemic. Hats off, South Africa.

I came down here with a group of friends from Andover and San Francisco, and met up with one of my Stanford roommates, so I had a big team that I was celebrating with, but also hosting. We went to Johannesburg, Durban, Umtata, East London, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town over the course of 2.5 weeks. We drove along almost the entire coastline of South Africa over a couple days, staying in hotels, with cousins and aunts and uncles, getting set up in impoverished houses that weren’t up to my American friends’ gentility, and mega-mansions that exceeded their wildest expectations.

We went on safari, where we had the good fortune of a crazy Botswana Boer, who led us on night drives, silently following lions as they hunted unsuspecting orex, on walks up to river beds were a dozen hippopotamus lay, and through thick brush, sneaking up on grazing rhinocerous, coming a hilarious 10 meters from them, with only one 50-caliber and whatever creativity and pace we could manage on foot as defense.

We dined at catered golf-clubs and five star resorts, and at KFC and street vendors selling Bunny Chow, meat pies, and everything in between. We hiked Table Mountain and danced across the rocks on the flat summit. We looked out on the Indian and Atlantic Ocean at the same time. We negotiated prices with sleazy cab drivers and negotiated narrow single-lane highways abutting sheer drops of 30 meters and more. We partied with Lionel Messi’s brother in Cape Town, the night before Argentina lost 4-0 to Germany, a game where we wore ourselves out on the vuvuzelas.

I’m a sucker for hyperbole, so this statement should come as no surprise, though I mean it no less than I ever do: Best. Country. And. Best. Trip. Ever.

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