Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thoughts, Plans, Reality

My desire was beyond reason:  to read seven books packed in my suitcase, for this too-short 2010 World Cup holiday in South Africa.

1)  My brand new purchases:
  • African Roar, a fiction anthology drawn from the very best stories published from 2007-2009 in the StoryTime weekly literary ezine dedicated to publishing African writers.
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Away by Amy Bloom.
2)  My 'started but not finished':
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Love Invents Us by Amy Bloom
3)  And two of my favorite re-reads:
  • Drown by Junot Diaz
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
What was I thinking?  Our days and nights here in South Africa have been filled with remarkable experiences, some startling in their immediate lessons, others to be processed and reprocessed, and then embraced for a lifetime.  Maybe I'll do some reading on the flights back...

Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Before my arrival, I had heard about South Africa's world-class infrastructure. Now, here in Johannesburg I have seen for myself, the modern, highly efficient systems in place.  Everything Public works!  The malls are mind-boggling in magnitude (Monte Casino and Sandton City, to name just two of the hundreds) boasting four or five concourses, resplendent with shops dealing in everything under the sun, from high-end to designer to modern basics, you name it!  And the people that traverse the malls halls emerge from every corner of the world;  milling about in the enclosed spaces, amusing, indulging, scrutinizing, profiling.

Ah, Johannesburg is rich in diversity.

Cream colored or rosé, cement walls stretch across homes, opulent and modest alike.  Ten foot walls topped with barbed wire looping in endless menacing revolutions; alternatively, slender, pointed pieces of metal driven into the walls, thorny ends up, jutting with purpose towards the sky, establishing the unmistakable penalty for those who commit the crime of trespass.

In my travels, this has been the norm. Except in Alexandra, where everyone exists in this thickly populated area, in poor, dirty, deteriorated houses.  Young men, women and children jostle for dominance over the only open spaces - narrow tarmacked roads encumbered with humps, slowing taxis that roam in and out, carrying Alexandrans and visitors like me - loafing around, cigarettes hanging off chapped lips, playing street football, and hopscotch.  Ordinary folk accustomed to wrenching their lot in life, submitting to the status quo, or determined to transcend their subordinated lives, fashion a life of hard work and perseverance.

Mama Shujaa.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nigeria vs. Argentina

Ellis Park, Johannesburg - June 12, 2010.

"Excuse me.  Can you please tie your hair up?  Put it in a pony tail or something?"  My husband, cloaked in our Nigerian flag, said to the young lady in the front row, tapping her shoulder one time too many.

"Every time you flick it, it flies into my face," he completed his request, addressing her horrified glance, expecting full compliance.

The damsel in distress turned anguished eyes to the fat guy to her left before swinging back with a retort:

"It's my hair!"

Not sure what to expect, I stole a quick look at hubby and "WTF?" was written all over his face.

We were now more than thirty minutes into the match and the couple's euphoria was temporarily disrupted.  The fat guy's Argentina was leading Nigeria 1-0.  With fantastic Category 1 lower level seats, just five rows up from the pitch, right behind the press folk, there was nothing to complain about, except an inconsiderate fan's recurring self-conscious habit driven by vanity, nothing more.

The fat guy flung a fleshy arm around his Goan-looking girlfriend's thin neck, pacifying her whimpering:  "He's losing. He's upset. Just ignore him," was the likely consolation passing through his indulgent lips.

There. No more ribbing for a while. You see, much earlier, fat guy and hubby had engaged in some friendly fire.

"Argentina will demolish Nigeria 2-0! I'll bet you One Million Dollars!"  Fat guy looked like he had that kind of cash.
"Nah.  Nigeria will tie Argentina 0-0!" My husband responded, "Get ready to pay me!"

Now, I leaned over towards hubby with empathy and before I could say anything he started:

"What?  She keeps flicking her hair back towards me, and I have to lean forward sometimes and the darn hair gets into my face! This lady seated to my right has not flicked her hair, NOT ONCE!" He continued in hushed irritation.

I took a glance at the beautiful African chick next to him and it was plain to see (well, maybe not for all), that her hair was not 'hers' per se.

"That is because it is not HERS!"  I whispered back and was met with a watered down version of the earlier look - "WTH?"

Most weave-toting African woman don't flick 'their' hair I had to explain later.  Hair flicking is a learned behavior that has constraints, for example, the risk of revealing the tracks along which the fake hair has been sown...


In the end, everything went well. After half time, the couple returned, the Goan chick had a woolly hat on (temperatures had dipped) the couple switched seats, there was no more hair flicking. The score remained Arg-Nig 1-0 so there was no exchange of funds.

Tomorrow, we are off to Free State Stadium, in Bloemfontein, for the Nigeria-Greece match.

Go Super Eagles! If the Eagles play as well as they did in the second half of the Nigeria-Argentina match they will win! Sharp! Sharp!

Mama Shujaa.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Price of a Smile

There is a lack of smiley faces here in Johannesburg. And I need them, thrive on them. Just a little something to bid me Welcome!  The slightest hint, I'll take that.  A change in expression, enough to fool me into thinking that you embrace my presence.  Because I want to identify with you.  Whether symbolic, or fake, like the nanosecond ones dished in pulsing metropolises like New York. Transform your face, let your smile hold sway over your mind.  Summon the god of laughter, of joy, even if temporarily for the World Cup, because the world has converged on this great country for a month.

I've recovered from my initial hurt on day two, when I discovered that you did that to everyone: talk to them in your own language - Zulu, mostly.  I believed you thought I was one of you, felt momentary compatibility, somehow.

All these tourists here, staying in apartments, hotels  needing to shop for groceries in supermarkets, for AC/DC converters in hardware stores, asking for directions. You don't see the big HUH? when you repeat the directions three times in Zulu on my face? Read it. Try to communicate with me, or don't you care?

Why not?  Is it linked to the memory of apartheid, like the taxi driver told me?  I shared with him my observation: so many non-English speakers in customer service type positions.  Some of them are not educated, he explained in impeccable English.  He was raised in Soweto, he studied hard, learned English, worked as an accountant in the chemical industry before retiring.  He said that during apartheid, young Africans were forced to study in Afrikaans, subjects like Chemistry and Biology (sounded awful, jaw breaking in Afrikaans), imagine!  he said, trying to study hard subjects like that?

So is the memory of apartheid intricately connected to language resistance?  Afrikaans, and English, the languages of oppression?  Does your mother tongue help numb the memory?  Strip it and its cruel legacy naked for all to see it for what it is?  I must admit, I'm a bit turned off by the guttural South African English accent, for now.

For how long are you going to tranquilize the pain of the past? South Africa is only 16 years old, I know, it is still fresh.  We need to be reminded, no doubt, like the Jewish community does well to remind us about the Holocaust; while they continue to ameliorate their economic and political power, from Wall Street to Hollywood. South Africa (40 million strong) should do the same and it all starts with education. Learn the oppressors language because then, the enemy cannot surprise you.

I know the gods of football are in town right now, our cultural heroes.  And yes, I've seen a whole lot of smiles in the stadiums, at the fan parks.  It is because we are supporters of the players, the teams, the nations.  We feel something larger, we feel temporary shelter from overly committed lives, our daily struggles.  But when we leave the stadia, when it is all said and done how do you leverage the experience?


Mama Shujaa.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Eating, Drinking, Sleeping Football

We are in the vast and beautiful city of Johannesburg where everybody is eating, drinking, sleeping and dreaming soccer. Yesterday, we watched a fantastic World Cup 2010 Opening Ceremony and opening match at a Fan Park in Sandton City.

Some questionable officiating notwithstanding, RSA should have won that match over Mexico. Even so, we are pleased with the 1-1 draw, especially after France and Uruguay tied at 0-0.

This morning, I am at an internet cafe, my keyboard has a few sticky letters, I'm getting tired of backspacing to fill in a missing e, o, t and f here and there. So, I'll be back as soon as I can with details; the ambiance...

This afternoon, Nigeria plays Argentina at Ellis stadium, we will be there.  The vuvuzelas are deafening!

Mama Shujaa.