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With a dollop of the right attitude, this country will change your life

11 Jun

Open letter to our Foreign Media friends


by Peter Davies 09/06/2010 09:09
 

Dear World Cup visitors,

Now that you are safely in our country you are no doubt happily realising you are not in a war zone. This may be in stark contrast to what you have been bracing yourself for should you have listened to Uli Hoeness or are an avid reader of English tabloids, which as we all know are only good for wrapping fish ‘n chips and advancing the careers of large-chested teens on page three.

As you emerge blinking from your luxury hotel room into our big blue winter skies, you will surely realise you are far more likely to be killed by kindness than by a stray bullet. Remember that most of the media reports you have read, which have informed your views on South Africa, will have been penned by your colleagues. And you know what journos are like, what with their earnest two thousand word opuses on the op-ed pages designed to fix this country’s ills in a heartbeat. Based on exhaustive research over a three-day visit.

Funnily enough, we are well aware of the challenges we face as a nation and you will find that 95% of the population is singing from the same song-sheet in order to ensure we can live up to our own exacting expectations.

We are also here to look after you and show you a good time. Prepare to have your preconceived notions well and truly shattered.

For instance, you will find precious few rhinos loitering on street corners, we don’t know a guy in Cairo named Dave just because we live in Johannesburg, and our stadiums are magnificent, world-class works of art.

Which is obviously news to the Sky TV sports anchor who this week remarked that Soccer City looked ‘ a bit of a mess’. She didn’t realize the gaps in the calabash exterior are to allow in natural light and for illumination at night, and not the result of vandalism or negligence.

The fact that England, the nation which safely delivered Wembley Stadium two years past its due date, is prepared to offer us South Africans advice on stadium-readiness should not be surprising. The steadiest stream of World Cup misinformation has emanated from our mates the Brits over the past couple of years.

If it’s not man-eating snakes lurking in Rooney’s closet at the team’s (allegedly half-built) Royal Bafokeng training base, then it’s machete-wielding gangs roaming the suburbs in search of tattooed, overweight Dagenham dole-queuers to ransack and leave gurgling on the pavement.

In fact what you are entering is the world’s most fascinating country, in my opinion. I’m pretty sure you will find that it functions far more smoothly, is heaps more friendly and offers plenty more diversions than you could possibly have imagined.

In addition to which, the population actually acts like human beings, and not like they are being controlled by sinister forces from above which turns them into bureaucratically-manipulated robots.

Plus we have world’s most beautiful women. The best weather. Eight channels of SuperSport. Food and wine from the gods themselves. Wildlife galore. (Love the Dutch team’s bus slogan: “Don’t fear the Big 5; fear the Orange 11”).

Having said all that, Jo’burg is undoubtedly one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Just ask those Taiwanese tourists who got out of their hire car to take close-up snaps of tawny beasts at the Lion Park a few years back. Actually, ask what’s left of them. And did you know the chances of being felled by cardiac arrest from devouring a mountain of meat at one of our world class restaurants has been statistically proven to be 33.3% higher in Jozi than in any other major urban centre not built upon a significant waterway? It’s true. I swear. I read it in a British tabloid.

Having recently spent two years comfortably cocooned in small town America, I’m only too aware of how little much of the outside world knows about this country. The American channel I used to work for has a massive battalion of employees descending on World Cup country. It has also apparently issued a recommendation to its staff to stay in their hotels when not working.

Given that said corporation is headquartered in a small town which many say is “best viewed through the rear-view mirror”, I find the recommendation, if it’s true, to be utterly astounding. In fact I don’t believe it is true. Contrary to the global stereotype, the best Americans are some of the sharpest people in the world. The fact they have bought most tickets in this World Cup proves the point.

Of course I have only lived in Johannesburg, city of terror and dread, virtually all my life, so don’t have the in-depth knowledge of say, an English broadsheet journalist who has been in the country for the weekend, but nevertheless I will share some of my observations gleaned over the years.

Any foreign tourist or media representative who is worried about his safety in South Africa should have a word with the Lions rugby fans from last year, or the Barmy Army cricket supporters (lilywhite hecklers by day, slurring, lager-fuelled lobsters by night). They managed just fine, just like the hundreds of thousands of fans who have streamed into the country over the past fifteen years for various World Cups, Super 14 matches, TriNations tests and other international events. Negligible crime incidents involving said fans over said period of time.

Trivia question: which country has hosted the most global sporting events over the past decade and a half? You don’t need me to answer that, do you?

In addition. Don’t fret when you see a gaggle of freelance salesmen converge on your car at the traffic lights (or robots as we like to call them) festooned with products. You are not about to be hijacked. Here in Mzansi (nickname for SA) we do a lot of our purchasing at robots. Here you can stock up on flags, coat hangers, batteries, roses for the wife you forgot to kiss goodbye this morning and a whole host of useful merchandise.

Similarly, that guy who runs up as you park the rental car outside the pub intends no malice. He’s your car guard. Give him a buck or two and your vehicle will be safe while you refuel for hours on our cheap, splendid beer. Unless someone breaks into it, of course.

We drive on the left in this country. Exercise caution when crossing the road at a jog-trot with 15 kilograms of camera gear on your back. Exercise common sense full stop. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you want to leave wads of cash in your hotel room like our Colombian friends, don’t be surprised if it grows wings.

Bottomline. Get out there and breathe in great lusty lungfuls of this amazing nation. Tuck into our world-class food and wines. Disprove the adage that white men can’t dance at our throbbing, vibrant night-clubs. Learn to say hello in all eleven official languages. Watch at least one game in a township. You will not be robbed and shot. You will be welcomed like a lost family member and looked after as if you are royalty. Ask those Bulls rugby fans who journeyed to Soweto recently.

With a dollop of the right attitude, this country will change your life.

It’s Africa’s time. Vacate your hotel room. Join the party.

Waka waka eh eh.

Puddles & Mud

6 May

Following on from my earlier post about the rain…

(forgive the archive of photos, but me and my photoshop – we had a passionate moment!!)

After the downpour, Adam and I donned our winter woolies and went in search of puddles (a Caroline inspired one-handed photo, hence the off-centre):

The monkey in full winter regalia – you would think it was 15 below!

We found a few puddles outside, splashy enough, but not what I was after… I wanted MUD!

Off we went to the vlei to look for MUD… and boy did we have fun!! Dirty, dirty mud + permission to play in it = heaven for little boys:

A Running jump

And yes, the pants were soaked up to the thighs and there was more water in the wellies than out!

And I got in on the action too. I was barefoot the whole time…

Gooey, squelching, oozing mud. Between my toes.

I was dreading having to do it. It was one of the things on my list that I really thought I could do without. But now I would tell everyone – take off your shoes and walk through mud puddles. Do it now, do it tomorrow. There is something primal and elemental about walking in the mud barefoot.

# 8 of 101 Walk barefoot in the mud

Delicious…..

6 May

Oh, did I say I say I was going to miss Summer?

I am so fickle!

I LOVE this rain. Wrapped up warm. Heater blowing delicious warm air around my legs. Rain tattooing on the skylight above my office. Thunder rumbling. Snuggly scarf. Yummy coffee. Chocolate Biscuits! It doesn’t get any better!!

**satisfied sigh**

#84 of 101

12 Apr

How can you tell the difference between a true Capetonian and a visitor?

Upon hearing an explosive boom echoing through the city, most Capetonians will be nonchalantly checking their watches while everyone else will be anxiously scanning the skies with wild eyes. 

It can be quite amusing to see a visiting guest give a little jump when it happens. But then, us mother-city-people take our amusement wherever we can find it… it’s all part of our charm! 

What am I talking about? Why, the Noon Day Gun, of course. I think it is probably one of Cape Town’s oldest traditions. Every day (except Sundays and Public Holidays) since 1806, a gentleman from the South African Navy makes his way to the two canons on Signal Hill. He shoves a bag of gunpowder down one of the canons and prods it into place with a (I’m sure it has a proper name) stick-thingy. Then he places a (I’m sure it has a proper name) bullet-thingy into the trigger, chats to the visitors for a while and then counts down to midday and an almighty BOOM. Amazingly, there has only been one day in over 200 years that both the main gun and the backup gun have failed to fire. 

It’s quite high tech these days – no lighting of the fuse and frantic running away before it blows. The whole thing is set up to a trigger system that receives an electronic signal from The South African Astronomical Observatory’s Atomic Clock. Seriously. Remote trigger. From an Atomic Clock, no less…!!

I can highly recommend a visit to the Lion Battery on Signal Hill. The view is spectacular, the boom is majestic and, if nothing else, you can set your watch with atomic precision.

The Spectacular View

The Spaceship Has Landed (The 2010 World Cup Stadium)

Firing Number 64,116 (that’s a lot of Booms)

The Bag Of Gunpowder

Shoving it in with the stick-thingy

The bullet-thingy that ignites the gunpowder

Stand back… (way back)… 3…2…1… BOOM!!

Riding Shotgun

84. Watch the noon-day gun

 

Little Drummer Boy

12 Apr

Even though these photos were also taken as Spier. I thought they deserved their own post.

Adam loves his music. One of his favourite things to do is to allocate an instrument to as many people as possible and then have them follow behind him in a “band” while he sings (usually The Grand Old Duke of York).

During out travels at Spier on Saturday we walked past these drums and he couldn’t resist.

He picked it up pretty quickly too:

First Attempt: Straight Arm Jab

Learning Fast: Watching Intently & relaxing those hands…

getting the hang of it… (still watching)…

Getting into it… getting the rhythm going…

Happy Boy!!!

Two Birds, One Stone

11 Apr

# 52 of 1001: Touch a Cheetah

# 28 of 101: Have a Picnic (1 down, 9 to go)

We (along with Aunty Jo) took Adam for his second visit to his beloved cheetahs this Saturday. Apparently developing a love of cheetahs is hereditary. Cheetahs have always, always, always been my favourite animal. Always. So, with my genes, the kid didn’t stand a chance – he was completely predisposed to be as besotted as I am. Last year, we took him to see the cheetahs and, to my (then) amazement, it was love at first sight for him. We bought him a soft toy that day and “cheetah” (who-is-a-girl) now goes pretty much everywhere with Adam. And I mean everywhere.

Because the universe works in such beautiful ways, I happen to have a wonderful friend who volunteers at the Cheetah Outreach at Spier. Which means she can get us in for free! And who can resist a (free) visit to the cheetahs. Not me!!

First we went in to see the Cubs. They’re not so little anymore and, because they tend to be exuberant teenagers rather than cute little cubs, there is an age restriction of 10 years. So Daddy entertained Adam while the girls visited the cubs. I’m not sure why my hand is hovering like that… it looks like I’m giving the cat Reiki…

Felix actually opened his eyes at one point (like domestic cats, they sleep about 16 hours a day…). Luckily I was standing in the right place to take a photo. Who’s a beautiful boy?

Then, we all went in as a group to say hi to Enigma. Adam couldn’t stop stroking him. And since then, any opportunity he gets, he’ll lay out his cheetah and show you the right way to stroke the cheetah. (Sit with one knee up, stroke the back only, one direction, firmly, nice and slowly and with much reverence…)

 

Then, being at Spier and it being such a beautiful day, we took the opportunity to have a picnic on the grounds.

Ahhh… the good life. (that’s our paper bag from the picnic, we did pick it up!!).

There is so much fun for little boys at Spier… climbing the big rocks, bridges, sand to play in, water to throw things into… just so much dirt to play in…!

…trees to climb… yes, he got up all by himself…

…now you see him… now you don’t… (my shattered nerves) … can you spot him?

Dad is more nervous about this have-tree-must-climb habit than I am.

Who’s your Daddy…

Supporter’s Club 101

4 Apr

As much as I love that Adam bops along to Train and Soul Patrol with me, I think it is important that he also understands what is important to his father.

With that in mind, today was all about “Daddy’s Race”. We set off early (far too early, if you ask me) this morning to try and give Dave some moral support during his first Ultra Marathon.

I must admit, there were a few times during the day when I seriously doubted my sanity. Most notably while standing at Constantia Neck, freezing cold, getting soaked to the bone in a flash downpour while simultaneously trying to keep my child (somewhat) dry and under control, while also trying to keep my camera dry, trying keep my glasses from fogging over every 10 seconds, while trying to find a place for my child to wee, all the while trying to keep my eyes on the runners so as not to miss the one we wanted to see (those blighters run bloody fast considering they had already run 40+km)…

Anyway, we spotted him and he was delighted to see Adam. I think he was past finished and needed his boy to give him the extra edge to finish the last 10km.

We then raced back to UCT so that we could see him cross the finish line. Adam was most concerned about this aspect (probably because he ran it yesterday so he understood what the finish line was all about).

He finished in 5h47 – which I think is pretty impressive. Apparently he was in serious pain from 18km. That means he ran for almost 40km in constant pain. I guess it really is all in the mind, I’m pretty sure I would have given up if I was in as much pain with 40km still to go.

The home stretch (don’t you just love the UCT buildings?):

The two champs (you can see the exhaustion/pain in his face):

Notes to self for next year:

  • pack sunscreen and hat
  • pack rain coat and umbrella
  • pack 16 juices and an endless array of sweets (read: bribes) to keep child occupied
  • pack hiking boots for hiking up to Constantia Neck in mile long congested traffic
  • put child on some sort of wheels so that he can be dragged along with some legitimacy
  • pack gumboots for standing in mud while waiting for runner
  • Do it all again – it was worth it!

 

Proud little boy showing off Daddy’s medal:

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