Whenever we told anyone that we were going to attend a soccer (er, football) game, we were greeted with raised eyebrows.  Actually, let me clarify: whenever we told any white person that we were going to attend a soccer gamer, we were greeted with raised eyebrows.  The eyebrows differed in meaning from intrigued surprise to disapproving bewilderment, but they were all raised just the same.

In South Africa, sports – like so much else – carry a racial identifier.  Rugby is the sport of white Afrikaners, though there have been repeated efforts to make the team a source of national pride across racial lines.  These efforts have had mixed results, with highs such as the triumph in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which took place in South Africa and featured Nelson Mandela rallying the nation behind the team, and lows such as this year’s efforts to get a court order to stop the South African team from leaving the country for its failure to make greater efforts to include black South Africans on its roster or in its player development. Soccer is the sport of the black South Africans.  Cricket seems to draw the most diverse crowds, though the national and professional teams are predominantly white – at the matches we’ve been to, there has been significant black, white, and Indian representation in the stands.  These distinctions are not wholly accurate, but they are generally true.IMG_1856

Undeterred by raised eyebrows, we set out to the stadium here in Bloemfontein for a soccer match between the local team, Bloem Celtic and the Kaizer Chiefs, a club from the Soweto townships near Johannesburg that is sort of the Lakers or Cowboys of South African soccer.  Continue reading


Casual Interactions, v3 + Day-to-Day Pictures

Finally taking a breath to catch up on some of our pictures.  Included below are links to two albums – one is filled with the things we have been doing at home, including lots of Kiel Cottage snapshots and a surprisingly perfect sukkah; the second is filled with various things we have been doing around Bloemfontein, including our first cricket and netball matches.  We have really settled into a rhythm here and have been very fortunate to be able to interrupt that rhythm fairly often with terrific trips as well.

Also, in the spirit of including some of the minor characters who have played roles in our journey, I will build on previous lists of casual interactions (here and here) with a new one, focusing on 2 groups of people – neighbors and safari guides.

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Mystery Mananga at Kruger

[Editor’s Note: I know all you want is the pictures.  Links to 3 albums from the trip are here – 2 are from Kruger itself and the other is comprised of the non-Kruger parts of this trip, including two stopovers in Johannesburg, a visit to a Shangaan village, and a trip to the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga.  Enjoy!]

We settled on the first week of October for our visit to the most famous national park in South Africa, Kruger, because the university was off that week.  What we didn’t realize was that the week was also spring break for primary and secondary schools all over the country.  We were thus both surprised and worried when we got in touch with the accommodations at Kruger to find that there was nothing available in the park during the whole week.  Were two Wurzburgs not flying halfway around the world to join us, we could have simply changed our dates.  As it was, we had to find something – anything – to accommodate the 6 of us.

As I sat in a meeting a couple weeks before departure, I got a semi-urgent text from Meggan: “When will you be finished?”  As soon as I got out of the meeting, I called.  “I think I’ve got a place for us, but it seems a little too good to be true.  I need you to take a look at it.”  Once home, I followed her internet trail as best I could, working to figure out if this place she had found was (a) actually there, and (b) available.  After an hour of sleuthing, we determined that this place was either a very well-crafted hoax or a very poorly-advertised gem.  There were no trip advisor reviews, though there were photographs – whether the photos were of an actual place was anyone’s guess.  Payment could only be made through a specialized lodging site and could not be made until an invoice had been emailed to me.  As I entered in our credit card info, I felt about 70% certain that the place was legitimate.  I figured I’d leave it to American Express to deal with it if it was not, though Meggan pointed out that the greater concern at that point would be arriving to Kruger without a place to stay.  True.  There was always the giant van we were driving, I suppose.
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On Monuments and Memories

Some of you may have already seen this piece I wrote which ran in this week’s Memphis Flyer.

rhodes must fall flyer

It describes connections between a statue controversy here and one at home.  A couple of further notes on this topic…

First, specifically with regard to the South African effort to undo the symbols of colonialism on monuments or street names or elsewhere, there is some irony in the fact that the movement to take down the Rhodes statue had as its name, “Rhodes Must Fall,” an English phrase.  There is no more lasting or dominating sign of the colonial conquest in South Africa than that the two European languages dominate civic life.  Although the nation’s other native languages are spoken widely, English is the language of government and the economy and, for the most part, entertainment.  Even Afrikaans, which was pushed for half a decade under the apartheid regimes, is being squeezed out of public life.  Regardless of the removal of the Rhodes statue, the prevalence of English remains an increasing, enduring, and unavoidable symbol of colonialism.
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Animals of the Cape

[Editor’s Note: We are fully aware that adding this particular post immediately after a post attempting to convey that life in South Africa is not so vastly different from life at home does a great deal to undermine that point.  It isn’t to be helped.  After a week in Bloemfontein leading our normal lives, we returned to being visitors (as opposed to residents), doing all the visitor things, including putting ourselves in places where we are likely to encounter animals.]

The weather forecast suggested that the weather would be clearer south of Cape Town, so we picked up on a Tuesday morning, hopped in the car (with Aunt Carly in tow), and drove down toward the cape.  In the afternoon (more on the morning later), the weather was indeed clearer and we were slowly approaching the southwestern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope.  The scenery was incredible – steep, rocky mountains rising along the coast, some of them blanketed in an intense green in lower parts; waves crashing onto rocky shores.  En route we saw a rainbow over the sea thanks to the moist, but clearing air.  Wonderful.

We reached the Cape Point National Park in the mid-afternoon and wound our way toward the Cape of Hood Hope, where we hoped to go for a hike.  Upon our arrival, there were people with cameras gathered around baboons sitting on the rocks near the water’s edge.  The people with cameras, maybe a dozen of them, were clearly undeterred by the signs posted throughout the park informing visitors that “Baboons are dangerous WILD animals – DO NOT FEED THEM – Keep Doors Locked and Windows Closed.” I snapped a couple of shots from the car, then, emboldened by the apparent lack of concern of the other humans, got out to get our gear ready for what looked like it would be a terrific hike to the top of the ridge overlooking the cape.

Things became slightly more interesting/concerning as one of the baboons hopped atop a nearby car, then scampered onto a convertible and laid on its back, apparently using the top of the convertible to get at an annoying itch.  This was some distance away, so I returned my attention to Ben’s shoelaces. Continue reading

What Culture Shock?

As I glanced through the pictures of our recent trip to Addo Elephant National Park, I began to think that we might be giving a fairly misleading account of our time here in South Africa.  For 4 days, we visited a national park and surrounding environment and saw and interacted with animals.  But we have been in South Africa for 30 days now.  That’s 26 days in which we were not on safari.  For almost all of those days, we have lived a life that would be incredibly familiar to those who know our life in Memphis.

Indeed, the most surprising thing to me about our experience thus far has been just how similar life here is to life at home.  That this is surprising says both something about my expectations about our life here, which in retrospect were not based on much beyond caricature, and about the realities we are living.  Yes, we live near a game reserve where we have come across unrestrained (if not quite wild) animals and yes, we have had intimate interactions with monkeys and ostriches, but these are very much the exception – and even those exceptions occurred within protected wildlife areas.

Since we returned from Addo, we have spent the vast majority of our time in our cottage, a cottage that is situated in a tree-filled neighborhood within a modern city.  IMG_9845Near our house are a couple different squares – the nearest has our favorite pizza restaurant, a small grocery/convenience store, a DVD rental place (here’s a difference!  Still doing DVD rentals here), a gas station, a couple other restaurants, a bookshop, and a wine and liquor store.  My excursions out this week have been to the university a couple of times, for a jog through our neighborhood, and to a Target-like store to grab printer ink and a cricket set for Ben.  Meggan’s excursions out have been to the gym and to the grocery.  With the kids we went swimming at the gym and spent a lovely afternoon on the grounds of the nearby art museum, doing afternoon lessons among mosaic sculptures and the most interesting carousel I’ve ever seen.
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Casual Interactions, 2nd Edition – On Language

In the spirit of including some of the individuals we have been bumping into along this journey (an effort begun here), here are some additional casual interactions.  The first several are about language…

  • The check out person at Game (something like Target) who tried to get Meggan’s attention by speaking to her in Afrikaans to tell her the location of the baggage check (where we have to put bags we bring in while we are shopping) and realized once I got to the front of the line why Meggan didn’t heed her advice and had gone to the entire opposite end of the store; we don’t speak a lick of Afrikaans.
  • Another check-out person, maybe at Pick n’ Pay (grocery), who was stunned by our English. “You speak English so fluently,” she complimented us.  These two encounters are representative of a couple of things.  First, everybody speaks to us first in Afrikaans.  I suppose that means we look like we are local.  Second, although most people speak English, hardly anyone seems to speak English as a first language – as a result, most English speakers have heavy accents  Our English – our native language, fluent English – thus must sound a little different.  Accents differ depending on first language – those who speak one of the 9 African languages sound quite different from those whose first language is Afrikaans.  But English is the language most people have in common, a fact that has enabled us to get around fairly successfully.

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