“I can be a freak.  I can, I can be a freak.”  You hear it before you see it, American hip hop announcing the vehicle’s pending arrival like a trumpet does royalty.  If it is loud from fifty meters away; by the time you’re inside, the noise is deafening.  The cacophony has many parts, none more prescient than the “beep be beep beep” of the driver’s horn, serenading each and every pedestrian it passes.  A church wedding is not even spared, the bride and groom walking through the front doors to applause, confetti, and our man plying the crowd for business.  The crowd takes it in stride, some even quickening their step to catch a ride as we round the corner.

Any account of a journey to Africa includes the imperative taxi story.  They are a fixture on the landscape of the continent, from the sands of the Sahara to the Paton’s “beloved country.”  They go by various names, from the matatus of Kenya to the tro tro’s of Ghana while maintaining the same basic form of the 15 passenger mini-van.  In South Africa, they go by the basic descriptive name of mini-bus or simply, taxi.  They generally feature an audacious paint job with a name like “Luxurious” printed on the front, a fearless driver with a colleague who handles the money, and music that would make Run DMC proud.

Unlike the New York City subway, there are no maps for mini-bus routes.  Without a modicum of trust, using this public transport “system” would be virtually impossible.   It is the epitome of informal.  As the taxi passes, some sprite, confident teenager leans out the window, yelling the destination of the cab.  What  I hear: “dslkjf dkjoihie wuiocn knvkc joj.”  Eventually, you flag one down, state your destination, and someone tells you where to go to catch the appropriate taxi.

Meanwhile, my current ride plows through the next intersection, daring another vehicle to try and pass, the music changes abruptly, and the man caressing the steering wheel to my right bobs his head to “Shorty is a eenie meenie minie mo lover” under a threadbare blue beanie with “Nike” printed on the side.  The cigarette dangling from his mouth is nonchalantly removed for a raspy cough and then replaced.  I scan the taxi and notice a sign on the interior that reads, “Is there life after death?  Mess with a taxi driver and find out.”  Meanwhile, he weaves through traffic, speeding to cut in front of slower cars and then stopping immediately in front of them to swallow up a passenger.  He takes every detour, prowling for little old ladies and their five rand fares.  A wristwatch fastened around the rearview mirror helps him keep pace.

Outside, the bright clothing colors contrast with what is a typical Port Elizabeth day, gray and drab.  A child screams from her mother’s lap as if to say, “Are you trying to kill me, mom?  The next row features two women covered head to toe with black robes, which in turn feature ornate blue embroidery.  The driver leans over to ask where I am going.  I tell him that I stay in Riemvasmaak.  “Riemvasmaak?” he repeats, shocked.  I nod.  He makes a quarter turn to report the news to his “cashier.”  “He says he stays in Riemvasmaak!”  He says it again, the r’s rolling gloriously off of his tongue.  I invite him to come and visit, but before he can reply, Shakira’s Waka Waka surges through the speakers.  He reaches to increase the volume, setting aside his disbelief, be it ever so briefly, to croon along with the World Cup theme song, “…Cause this is Africa.”


Feel it. It is Here.

The first African World Cup began on June 11, 2010.  The day before the tournament was a kickoff concert that included famous musicians, athletes, politicians, as well as my favorite moment of the World Cup thus far.  Archbishop Emeritus Desmund Tutu was summoned to rile up the crowd.  Even as he came onto the stage, he couldn’t contain himself, dancing with glee and sending the crowd into conniptions.  In the middle of speaking, he lost himself in the moment and moved away from the podium to dance again.  The man is a legend.  And you could see immediately what the World Cup means to this country.

The first match of the tournament featured the home country’s Bafana Bafana versus much higher rated Mexico.  I watched from the FanFest public viewing area with 25,000 other yellow-clad fans.  When Bafana scored the first goal, it was everything the country had dreamed of during six years of preparation.  The crowd of South Africans and foreigners alike erupted in a delirium of celebration: primal roars, hugging strangers, kissing friends, and blowing vuvuzelas.The ubiquitous humming of the vuvuzela will be one of the lasting memories from this world cup.  There is no mistaking the sound; if you’re wondering whether you’ve heard a vuvuzela, you haven’t.  The incessant droning transforms each stadium into a hornet’s nest.  Entering one without ear plugs is a risky proposition.  The decibel level is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at a sporting event.  To top it all off, it is the perfect length to reach directly into the ear of the person sitting in front of you.

My host counselor with the Rotary club surprised me with tickets to the first match in Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium.  The dreary play of France and Uruguay was bested by the beauty of the new stadium. 

Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban

The second match I attended pitted the Ivory Coast against Portugal.  Despite having two of the best strikers in the world in Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two teams failed to score.  I have now seen just over 180 minutes of World Cup soccer without seeing a single goal.  On Saturday, I hope to break that streak when the Netherlands takes on Japan in Durban, home to the only stadium in the world with a cable car over the pitch.

Happy Derby Day

Normally, I do at least a little revising and editing for blog entries.  In honor of the special day, I’m blogging stream of consciousness…

I watched “the rugby” from Scrumpy Jack’s last night.  In an exciting match, the hometown Stormers won by a landslide.  I think I acted the part of rugby fan pretty well, convincing two blue and white striped fans behind that I was knowledgable enough to sit in their section.

The university semester is fast coming to an end.  I’m over the hump of regularly scheduled class work, with “only” final research papers and a Thesis proposal to finish in the next two weeks.  Once these are finished, my mind is dialed in to the World Cup and a two month circuit through southern Africa.

I’m excited and ready to expand my knowledge of South (and southern) Africa beyond Cape Town.  It can be difficult to really get out.  Yesterday morning, I took the train to the center of town with the intent of catching the next bus to anywhere.  It turns out that the next bus left 6 hours later and arrived “anywhere” at two in the morning.  Cape Town is effectively excluded from the rest of South Africa, excepting the Garden Route and the Cape Peninsula, both beautiful, but lacking any perceptive difference.

I’ve recently become addicted to “How I Met Your Mother.”  My housemate, Jimmy, has the first four seasons on his hard drive.  Lacking a television, I’ve taken to watching an episode to wind down after class.  “An episode” has turned into 3 or 4 at a time.  That Ted and Robyn really crack me up…

Ultimate Frisbee Nationals are this weekend.  Due to my mandatory attendance at Rotary meetings, I haven’t been able to play on the national team, but I went to watch the UCT matches today.  My ultimate involvement has been a recent development (last 5 years of my life?) and I am constantly amazed at how much fun frisbee people are…

I constantly fail at setting the alarm correctly at my house in Observatory (granted, not the safest area of town).  My housemates, after laughing and making fun of me, ask me, “well, how do you set the alarm in your country?”  Chagrined, I reply, “well, we don’t really do alarms in most places.”  The culture of security is one of the strongest distinctions between here and home.  An example: I drove through “horse country” a few weekends ago.  There were rolling hills, solitary trees, barns surveying luscious green and a particularly South African trait.  Outside the picturesque and paradigmatic white picket fences were larger metal gates with razor wire at the top.

Today is one of the days I’m most homesick to be away from Louisville.  I love the excitement of the

Kentucky Derby, the buildup and the climax, the pageantry, the parties, the beer and the betting and most of all the beauty of the whole event.  So here it is, if you’ve survived this far, Kevin’s Derby winner from halfway across the world….drum

roll…wait for it…. Conveyance Super Saver! But don’t hold it against me if you lose any money, I spent about 45 seconds making that pick… (not to mention, I’ll probably erase and change it once the race is finished!)

Enjoy your friends, family, taco dip, and mint juleps.  “And down the stretch they come…!!