Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Haves and Have Nots of the World Cup

Two nights in the wonderful 5-star Lagos, Nigeria airport terminal and a week in South Africa later, I'm now in Ghana. Horrible visa complications prevented me from ever boarding in Lagos, and I endured a two-day Tom Hanks-like festival during which I was patted down enough times by security for it to be considered a mild form of sexual harassment. By the end of it I knew not only which crackers were the best bang for the buck or where to find free internet, but also how to sculpt my McDonald's-French-fries-greasy hair into different works of art.

To make a long story short, they kicked me back to South Africa, almost unwillingly. At one point there were threats to send me back home. I went immediately toPretoria to get things sorted out, and was able to stay two nights with an Afrikaans couple. The first night there was a braai (like a BBQ) at their neighbor's, an extremely nice native South African
couple who were best friends to my white hosts. This was indicative of the composition of the rest of the guests. Considering that even in the US de facto segregation is alive and well, it was inspiring to see this in a country which has emerged from apartheid less than 20 years ago. Of course, with this diverse group of individuals, I had some extremely stimulating conversations about race, politics, and poverty.

With a few days to kill until my flight, I tried to make the best of bad situation and grabbed my vuvuzela and headed to Durban for the Spain/Germany game. The beach-front city was exploding with energy, and I can't honestly say I focused too much on poverty over those two days. The game experience was amazin
g, even if the play wasn't too inspiring. One interesting thing is that vuvuzelas aren't as annoying in person as on TV - there's no constant buzz. Instead, there are single blows and coordinated chants - all jumbled up it just sounds like a buzz on TV.

On my last day I headed back toJourg to catch my flight, and with time to kill I went to Soweto to check on my friends. I had no one's phone number, so I just popped into the Motsoaledi neighborhood. At first it seemed a hero's welcome. Everyone still knew me. Even people I couldn't remember. They asked, "Are you looking for Siphiwe?" But it wasn't that positive. Not much had changed for Siphiwe. World Cup hadn't brought as much tourism to him as planned. He had stopped going to church but said he would soon, now that the Cup was finished. I popped in to see Sandy - the welcome was warm, but I didn't stay for long. While I was there she talked, between taking pinches of snuff, about how the World Cup really hadn't helped her shebeen much at all. Then I went to see to Nessie's bar and, of course,
found Patricia and everyone else. I don't think they ever expected to see me back. Again, I saw that nothing much had changed, except Junior quitting his restaurant job and becoming unemployed because he thought it was too much work for too little pay.

In just a matter of days I saw the best and brightest of South Africa on display for all the foreigners like myself, while just next door in Motsoaledi things are going nowhere fast. What will be the legacy of this World Cup? Will it bring more attention to the plight that the majority of South Africans find themselves in, even whites? Will the government use revenue and goodwill of the world earned from a Cup well-run to improve access to opportunities for people like Siphiwe? Or will it be just another big glamorous sporting event for "haves" like myself? I shudder to think of the likelihood of each.

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