Goodbye South Africa

Thursday 29th of July 2010, 00.15h

“Daniel Stone arrived in South Africa on the 6th of May 2010 , with one sole objective in mind, aiming to make a difference. After three amazing months it is time to go home with some great memories, having met some wonderful people and having been through an eye-opening experience…the 31st of July 2010 will mark the end of the beginning.”

This is not a narration to a dream I had, just like my first post on this blog, this actually happened. Three memorable months are over and it is now time to say goodbye to South Africa. I came here with one objective in mind, to try to make a difference. I am not sure if I did or not. Three months is very little time to make a big impact out here, although it was sufficient time to make a big impact on me. I don’t think I have ever been through so many emotions in such a short period of time, good and bad.

I am very sad to have to say bye to so many great people I have met throughout my experience here. Over the past few weeks I have already been saying bye to some of the volunteers that have left to go back home before me. There are some big thank yous that I owe to people over here in South Africa that have made my experience here truly memorable. Tandy & Toby from You2Africa for making this experience possible; Jeremy Wyngaard, Jeremy Smith and Gaby, the coaches I have been working with at LifeZone for making me feel at home; and Kennedy, Nassy, Loveness, Gee and all the volunteers that have been my family for these last three months. It brings a tear to my eye thinking of all the things I have been through with all of them…

Starting with my first night in Cape town, going to Tiger Tiger (not how I thought I would spend my first night in Africa); my first impressions of Cape Town, wondering the streets with Tandy and Andrea on my orientation day; my first time in a Township with Kennedy; my first day coaching the kids at Garden Village school; climbing Table Mountain; going Shark Diving; coaching at Gaby’s club team, Norway Parks; being in South Africa when the World Cup was about to commence; helping out at the schools for their mini World Cups; going to my first ever World Cup game with Patricia, Spain vs. Switzerland; taking the LifeZone children to the fan park and getting our van broken into; going to the World Cup Final; visiting Robben Island; climbing Lions Head; having to say bye to all the children and handing out books to the schools that Maria so kindly donated…and most importantly, living the African experience.

During my time out here I restricted communication with my loved ones back home. I only spoke with my parents three times in the three months I have been here, and each time it was one of our birthdays. I wanted to ensure that I could concentrate fully on the work I had to do out here. I feel like I have been living a completely different life here in Africa to the one I was used to back home. My three months are up and I really do need my loved ones back into my life. My alarm will wake me up on the 3rd of August for work back at the Elisa office and these past three months will seem like a dream I have just woken up to.

Finally, I want to thank all of you that have been following my blog throughout my time here and contributing through your comments. I am sure that had it not been for the huge following I have had, I wouldn’t have dedicated so much time to writing about my experience here. As this is my last post on the blog, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the energy to confront each day here, which by no means has been an easy task some days, and hope my experience has made a difference on you in some way shape or form.

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Ubuntu

Tuesday 27th of July 2010, 22.25h

My time in South Africa is soon coming to an end. I am dreading the day I will have to say bye to everybody and everything that has been part of me over the last three months. I am also very much looking forward to embracing my loved ones when I get back home.

Before I left for Africa many people told me that by living in a third world country I would come back a changed person. I am not sure if I have changed or not. The decision I made to come to Africa has been one of the best decisions of my life. I have experienced so many things here and been through so many emotions that I am sure I have been marked for life.

For some reason, a sermon I was once given by Mr. Potter, my English teacher back at school, about the choices we have in life has stuck with me throughout the years:

In life, you are constantly having to make decisions. By doing so you are creating your path in life. All the decisions you make in life can affect the path you take. Everything you experience, the good and the bad make you the person you are.

Everybody back home is aware of the amount of poverty that exists on the African continent. One thing is being aware of something and another thing is living it. The experience of seeing it with my own eyes and living it day-in day-out has enabled me to put life into perspective.

Before moving to South Africa the thing that intrigued me the most was how people from different races lived side by side after having such a brutal history of racism. As soon as I got here I could see it on the streets, the gap in social class between the different races is still very evident. There are suburbs in Cape Town, like for example Constantia, one of the richest areas you can live in, only a 10 minute drive away from the Imizamo Yethu Township. With all the poverty there is in this country, I have seen a couple of Ferrari’s cruising the streets in Cape Town city centre.

A lot has been said about the amount of crime on the streets in South Africa and what a dangerous country it is. In the three months I have been here, the only crime I have experienced, or seen with my own eyes is a van being broken into, which is a lot less than what I had expected before coming out here. There is crime here but crime exists in every part of the world.

From my time in South Africa, what I hope I will be taking back home with me, above everything else, is what they call the Ubuntu spirit. Ubuntu is an African concept which focuses on people’s relationship with one another. Ubuntu is about unity, people living together, needing each other, respecting one another, helping each other out, being generous, basically doing the right thing in life. The majority of people that I have met in South Africa come across with this Ubuntu spirit and it is something that I think the rest of the world can really learn from. Although there is a big gap in social class and race here in South Africa, I have not heard one black person talk badly about white people (which is very impressive considering all the suffering they have been through in the past) and vice versa. The past is history and with their Ubuntu spirit the impression I get from living here is that most South Africans are trying to re-write history living side by side in peace.

The impression I get is that African people seem to be a lot more family orientated and they do not focus so much on making money and being successful compared to us back home. There seems to be more important things to them in life, like for example being healthy and able to laugh. This I believe is part of the Ubuntu spirit which I am hoping I am able to take back home with me.

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Spain – Champions of the World

Wednesday 14th of July 2010, 21.41h

It is very difficult to express my happiness in words. Watching my country win the World Cup for the first time in it’s history is amazing, but being in the stadium to watch it with my own eyes is unbelievably mesmerizing. I only knew I would be going to the World Cup final three days before the game and ever since I got back from Johannesburg it has felt like a dream I have just woken up to.

The day after Spain defeated Germany in the semi-final I woke up with the idea of me trying to get a ticket to the game, knowing it would be practically impossible. The World Cup final had been sold out for months. It was my day-off work so I spent the morning surfing the Internet trying to see if there was anything available. There were some tickets for sale, for about 750 pounds. The problem was that the ticket was either in USA or England and thus would never have arrived to me on time before the game. I half-heartedly made my way to the Fifa Ticket Centre in Cape Town city centre to see if they had any tickets available there, knowing my chances of being at the game were very slim. At the Fifa Ticket Centre I found a Uruguayan selling a ticket. I was very fortunate to have been there at that time. I managed to negotiate a price with him and convinced him to sell me the ticket (there were other people there also interested in buying the same ticket). Unbelievably, I found myself on the bus, on my way home, with a World Cup final ticket in my pocket.

The next day I had to make plans of getting to Johannesburg for the game. I wanted Johannesburg to be an adventurous celebration. I am on a limited budget here and already had to dig very deep into my savings to ensure I could get a ticket to the game. The cheapest way for me to get to Joburg was on a 19 hour bus journey. I hadn’t booked any accommodation contemplating not needing it if Spain won as I would be celebrating all night long. I would then be back on the bus on Monday morning making my way back to Cape Town.

The day before the game, Saturday the 10th of July, I embarked on a 19 hour bus journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg, with arrival time expected to be 6am on the day of the game. The bus journey was long and tiring. The bus was not very comfortable and all the films they kept putting on froze half way through. On the bus I managed to meet a Chilean guy called Raul. He was very friendly and helpful. He had already spent some time in Johannesburg as he was following the Chile football team throughout the World Cup. I told him my plans of going to the game and not booking any accommodation. He managed to change my mind. He told me there were lots of places in Johannesburg that were no-go areas, too dangerous, and let alone being by myself. He advised me on getting some accommodation at the University of Johannesburg as he was told it was quite cheap and had been set up specifically for the tourists here for the World Cup.

The bus arrived in Johannesburg on time. It was still dark. My new Chilean friend was supposed to be going to the airport to continue his travels but wanted to wait till it was daylight to get the bus he needed to the airport. I had no clue where I was going so I decided to wait with him for a couple of hours in Park Station till the sun came out, I had time to kill. In the meantime, he gave me some more advice on the city and how I could find the university, although he wasn’t completely sure as he had never been there.

During those two hours of waiting for the sun to come out I was quite taken back by what I was seeing. Before coming to South Africa I was already aware that Johannesburg was quite a dangerous city. Gee, the girl who lives in the volunteer house with us, originally from Joburg had warned me about this and gave her brother’s number, who lives there, in case I needed it. The area surrounding Park Station is said to be a pretty “dangerous” part of Johannesburg. There were a lot of intimidating looking people walking around. Raul and I seemed to be the only white people in the station. I do not have a single bad word to say about the people there as nothing happened, and it is not their fault I felt so uncomfortable. It was more me thinking that it was somewhere I shouldn’t have been, I felt like I was trespassing an area where I didn’t belong. However, I ensured I put on a brave face and continued my adventure. If I was going to get mugged or beaten up than so be it, but I wouldn’t let the colour of my skin get in the way of me needing to get somewhere and needing to stop and ask people for advice along the way. Deep down I thought that South Africa has come a long way since Apartheid and if something was to happen to me it wouldn’t just be because I looked like an outcast.

The sunlight came out. It was time to say goodbye to my new friend and make my way towards the University of Johannesburg. Raul pointed out the direction I needed to go to get on the mini-bus, that he thought would take me to the university, but I still had to ask around. As I walked in that direction I saw a half-abandoned car park with a couple of min-buses inside. I heard some people talking. I walked into the dark car park and the first thing I saw was a man holding a newspaper with what seemed to be human manure on it. The place obviously didn’t smell great and I really don’t know what that guy was doing with that in his hand. I asked for the bus that went to the university but got no response. I then realised they were tramps. As I carried on walking down the road I saw a policeman buying sweets from a little stall. I told him what I was looking for and he told me to carry on walking down the road and I would find a bus station. After asking a couple more people on the way I finally found a bus station with a mini-bus that was apparently going to a campus of Johannesburg University, although I wasn’t one-hundred percent sure it was the one I was looking for. I decided to take a chance and get on that bus. Just as I got onto the mini-bus I looked out of the window and saw a man get into another mini-bus with a saw in his hand. I really did wonder what he was going to use that for. I told the driver to let me know when we would be at the university so that I could get off. I made it to the university safe and sound. I must say the people on the street were very helpful, although the experience was a little scary.

After half an hour of wondering the university campus, which seemed to be deserted, I finally found the place where they were providing accommodation for the people going to the football match. The accommodation was very basic but it was all I needed. The university would be providing transport to the stadium at 13h and they would be bringing us back after the game. I found myself having to kill another 3 hours before we would make our way to Soccer City. I got some lunch and kept on pinching myself to see if I really was going to Spain’s first ever World Cup final!

It was time for us to make our way to the stadium. There were seven other guys also staying at the university and going by bus to the game. I got talking to four English guys and and an Irish man. The other two were Dutch. The English guys were what I call mad football fans. They go to all their club games every season. They went to the previous World Cup final in Germany, between France and Italy, and they have been to all the World Cups since 1994. The Irish guy was even more impressive, he had been to all the World Cups since 1990. I was in awe. They had reserved their tickets to this final two years ago. I was amazed to be hearing some of their stories. They were also impressed with some of my statistics. I told them that if Spain won the World Cup they would be the first country in the history of the World Cup to have won the World Cup after having lost their first game. This World Cup would also be the first one that a European country would win outside of the Europe.

We got to the car park and started making our way towards the stadium. It was a good 20 minute walk. Everywhere I looked I could see orange. It was still very early in the day but there was not a Spanish fan in sight, apart from me obviously, wearing my Spain shirt and with my flag tied around my neck. This led to a lot of dutch fans giving me high-fives as I walked past them and looking at me as if to say “where are your fellow countrymen?”. We got to the stadium where there were even more Dutch fans and the odd Spain fan. I couldn’t tell if they were South African Spain fans or actually Spanish. The atmosphere outside the stadium was awesome, although very Dutch. After about an hour of soaking up the Dutch party I made my way into the stadium desperate to see what it looked like inside and where I would be sitting. I got to my seat and was utterly disappointed. I was sitting behind one of the goals, on the second row. I couldn’t have been closer to the players if I had wished. However, when seated in my seat, the cameras that face the pitch blocked a big chunk of my view of the pitch. When standing I had a better view as I could just about see over the cameras, but I knew I couldn’t spend the entire game on my feet. I was quite pissed-off. I had paid a lot of money to get my ticket and make it all the way to the stadium, only to find my view of the match would be restricted. I made my way around the stadium talking to the stewards and some people who worked for Fifa, explained my situation to each one and asked what could be done. Nothing. I really do hate Fifa. They are such a money-orientated organisation. They use the emotions of the game to make as much money as possible from us fans, not giving a damn about anything else. When I read some of the interviews with Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, he comes across as such a hypocrite. I wasn’t going to let this dampen my mood. I was at the World Cup final and I would make sure it would be an unforgettable day.

Time soon flew by and the Closing Ceremony was about to begin. It was spectacular. Everything was just so impressive, the jets taking off just above the stadium, the children dancing on the pitch, the lighting, Shakira and then finally Nelson Mandela making a surprise appearance. The Closing Ceremony didn’t last very long and by the time I knew it the players were on the pitch doing their routine warm-up.

By this time the stadium was full. The TV presenter who works for Tele 5, Iker Casillas’ girlfriend, was on the pitch right in front of me talking into one of the cameras that was blocking my view. There was a small section of Spain fans sat not too far from me. A few hours earlier, just as I got into the stadium I met a Spanish woman from Mallorca. About 15 minutes before Kick-Off, to my surprise, I found this woman grabbing me by the arm and taking me over towards the section of Spain fans where she was sat. She knew I was watching the game alone and said that she wanted me to meet the other Spain fans in the section where she was sitting as she didn’t want me to be alone! There I met Spaniards from all over, Valencia, Jaen, Malaga…We were all singing songs together towards the Cuatro TV channel (the two guys who normally do the news) as they were also on the pitch doing their pre-match commentary.

The game was about to begin and I was forced to go back to my seat to watch the game. The match started with Spain attacking the goal I was behind. The Dutch enforced some very rough tactics which led to a few yellow cards being dished out in the opening 20 minutes. Spain were dictating play as they have done so far in every game they have played in at this World Cup. There were a couple of chances, most notably a Sergio Ramos header, but the half ended goalless. The game was still very much in the balance. Although Spain were dominating, it would take just one counter attack from the Dutch to score the opener and Spain would be on the back foot, just as they were against Switzerland.

Throughout the first half, at every opportunity, I looked behind me to see if I could see any empty seats, with the idea of swapping seats after the first half to ensure I wasn’t having to stand up every two seconds or dodging the cameras in front of me. I spotted an empty seat and quickly made my way there to be ready for the second half to begin. I now had a better view of the game.

The second half started pretty slowly. The longer the game went on the more dangerous the game became for Spain. They seemed to be getting in comfort mode which the Dutch took advantage of. I can’t remember the minute but Robben had a one-on-one chance that Casillas managed somehow to save just in front of my eyes. It was a heart in mouth moment. Holland seemed to be getting more into the game as the half progressed. David Villa did have an unbelievable chance that I do not know how the defender managed to clear off the line. There are things that you see when you are at the stadium that the TV cameras might not show. As the Dutch were getting into the game, and Spain were deserting their nice two touch football, it was Xavi who was waving his hands like a lunatic, getting the players to get back to the game they normally play. For me, he really was the brain behind this magnificent team and although Villa was the goalscorer, Xavi was the main man for Spain. As the 90 minutes were coming to an end penalties came to my mind. I really didn’t want the game to be decided on penalties but thought that if the game did go to penalties, and the penalties would be taken on my side of the pitch, I couldn’t be closer to watching history in the making. I was so close to the pitch I would probably have been able to catch the ball had a player failed to hit the target from the penalty spot!!! The final whistle went with the deadlock still to be broken.

For the entire second half I had a fat Indian guy sat behind me who kept on complaining every time I stood up when there was a goalscoring opportunity. First of all, I had no choice but to stand up as the guy in front of me kept on standing up. Secondly, we were at a football match, the bloody World Cup final. We were not at the cinema or theatre. It is the most natural thing to stand up when your team is about to score. After what I had to put up with for the entire first half, having to dodge cameras, I wasn’t going to back down. I made my feelings clear to him and told him what I thought. He didn’t look impressed. This is something that I have found quite evident throughout the World Cup here in South Africa. There are a lot of people who go to the games but don’t really have that love for the game, or even understand it. Don’t get me wrong, there is a massive following of football here in South Africa, I know because I work in the community, but a lot of the people you find at the stadium have probably never been to a football game before this World Cup, and are there because they have the funds to be there, which in my eyes has been a big shame.

It was time for extra-time to begin. Spain, attacking the goal I was behind, started to dominate again. Cesc was introduced to the game and I think he made Spain’s game a lot more fluent. At this stage I was so so cold and nervous. When I get nervous all the tension goes to my neck, I could really feel the pain. Spain had two really good chances in the first half of extra time. One fell to my favourite player, Cesc. He was set free in front of goal but Stekelenburg somehow managed to save the one-on-one, just as Casillas had done a few moments earlier. Half-time soon came.

There was a South African blonde woman sat next to me. She was frantically taking pictures with a big camera for the whole time I was sat next to her. I think she was there for work. At half-time she asked me if there would be another 15 minutes left to play. I nodded. Surely there are are football loving fans who work as photographers and would do anything to be at the World Cup final taking pictures…

The second half is quite a distant memory. All I remember is the red card, which I couldn’t tell if it was really a red card or second yellow card offense (no replays), and the best moment of the entire day, the 116th minute. Andres Iniesta smashing in the ball on the half volley.

As soon as that goal went in I jumped out off my seat and ran towards the pitch. There was just a big bar, the stewards, all the cameras and a goal post between me and Iker Casillas, who was down on his knees. I was just shouting towards the pitch “somos campeones”, “campeones del mundo” waving my flag in the air. I looked behind me to see people looking towards the pitch and at me. I looked up at the tier above me, where the main section of Spain fans were situated, they were all going berserk. I couldn’t believe it, there was no way Holland would get back into the game with four minutes left and down to ten men. We were the champions of the world! As I made my way back to my seat for the final minutes of the game I was surprised to see people taking pictures of me, in my mad state! A lot of South Africans were supporting Spain on the day, well they were wearing the Spain colours and it was a day out for them, but when Spain scored the goal you could see it didn’t really mean much to them. For me, the moment Spain scored the world stopped. Nothing else existed. It was just me raging in happiness towards the pitch.

The final whistle went. I made my way towards the Spaniards I had been chanting with just before kick-off and we continued our singing and dancing (or just jumping). I hugged everyone I saw in a red shirt. The players on the pitch were all going just as mad, jumping around congratulating each other. By the time I knew it the players were lifting the trophy, which looked so shiny. The players then paraded the Cup half-way round the stadium and went up into the section were all their family members were situated, not too far from me. It was very touching to see how they were embracing their family members. I am sure they have been through a lot of tough times with their family en route to becoming professional footballers. When you win the biggest accolade there is in world football you do really want to share that moment with your loved ones. In that moment I wished I was back in Spain celebrating this victory with my loved ones, although one cannot have everything in life. I was lucky enough to be at the stadium watching a historic moment with my own eyes, so I could live with it!

After the celebrations, the players left the field and I had to make my way back to the bus that was waiting for me to take me back to the university. As much as I would have loved to celebrate all night long in Johannesburg, there wasn’t anywhere I could go. All the Spanish were making their way back to their hotels too. I met up with all the guys back on the bus and they were so happy for me. They saw how elated I was. I hardly had any voice left. We got to the university and I made my way back to my room, feeling on top of the world.

The next day I woke up with a hangover, but a nice one. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I still couldn’t believe the magnitude of what I had witnessed. I had to make my way back to Park Station to get on the bus for another 19 hour journey. The bus ride back to Cape Town was very uncomfortable, but I really didn’t care. My mind was still in Soccer City. I got home at 6am, went back to bed to see if if I would finally wake up from this dream.

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World Cup Final – Holland vs Spain…

here I come!!! I am going to the World Cup final in Johannesburg!!! I can’t believe it! I woke up this morning, ecstatic about Spain’s victory over Germany and put it in my mind that I wanted to be at the final, the first one in Spain’s history. If there is a will, there is a way. I managed to get my ticket from a Uruguay fan who obviously didn’t want to go to the game anymore as his team lost in the Semi-Final. I was in the right place at the right time. Now I have to make plans of getting to Johannesburg, which is a 20 hour drive! Thank you God. I am a very very very lucky and happy boy! Vamos España, a por ellos!

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A day I will never forget

Wednesday 30th of June 2010, 20.35

Yesterday is a day I will never forget, and for all the wrong reasons. I cannot recall having been through so many emotions in a single day…

7.15 – As my alarm went off I was excited for what I thought would be a thoroughly enjoyable day. Our work for the day with LifeZone consisted in taking about 50 children to the FanFest (setup in the centre of Cape Town for the World Cup) to play street soccer. We would be entertaining tourists and other South Africans who would be on a day out at the FanFest watching the World Cup games on a big screen. It would also be a great opportunity for LifeZone to do a little publicity and ensure those present in the FanFest are aware of the organisation and it’s efforts within the Cape Town community. Spain playing against Portugal in the final game of Round 16 would put the icing on the cake on a truly enjoyable day…or so I thought.

8.30 – Kennedy, our driver, drove us to the football field where we are coaching the children now that the schools are on holiday. Alex (another Brazilian volunteer on the same programme as me) and I met up with the other coaches and some of the children we would be taking with us to the FanFest. We waited for the rest of the children to arrive and after Jeremy Wyngaard(the organisation owner) said a little prayer asking God for all the children to return home safely, we made our way to the centre of Cape Town in a big minibus. Spending time with these children and doing these kind of activities really does remind me of my younger days when I was in their position, going on a day out to play football with my school or my Sunday league team. I get just as excited watching these children go through this experience as when I was in their position.

9.30 – We got to the FanFest. Jeremy had to sort out the paperwork with the security guards to ensure we would be allowed into the FanFest which was open to the public at 13.00. They allowed us in to practice a little before the public would make their way in. At this point we encountered our first mishap of the day. All the children were told to bring sandwiches for lunch as the food in the FanFest was too expensive for them as they do not have the necessary pocket money to be able to afford to buy food inside. We were then told by the security guards at the gate that they wouldn’t be allowing any of us to take any bags with food into the FanFest, not even the children (even though they were well aware of our situation). It says a lot about the type of organisation of the company behind these FanFests, FIFA. So, we reverted to Plan B. The children had to eat as much as they could before going into the FanFest to ensure they wouldn’t get hungry any time soon. All the bags with food would then be left in the LifeZone van that Jeremy had driven to get to the FanFest.

10.30 – Once in the FanFest, after being searched, the children could start playing football. The moment all us coaches and the children had been waiting for arrived. The only people in the FanFest at this moment in time were the security guards and other people working in the FanFest as the children played 5-a-side street soccer amongst themselves. I felt very proud to be part of the organisation watching how these children were showing their skills trying to impress.

11.26 – “Do you want to buy a ticket for tonight’s match?” I received this text message from Ronaldo, a fellow volunteer in the house. He was selling his ticket for the Spain – Portugal game as he was feeling ill. WOW! I was willing to pay a lot of money to watch this game. It is not everyday you get to watch your country play at the World Cup in the knock out stages and it really was a mouthwatering encounter, Spain against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. I replied saying I was interested. After having sent a few texts backwards and forwards and trying to decide where we would meet so that I could collect my ticket, Ronaldo decided he wasn’t sure if he wanted to sell his ticket anymore, he said he would let me know…

12.30 – Mishap number two. The children had been playing football in the FanFest for the past two hours. During these two hours of playing football, as one of the guys who works inside the FanFest walked past me, he mumbled something about us being lucky as it seemed to be raining everywhere in Cape Town apart from in the FanFest. A few minutes later it started to rain, pretty heavily. We had to find shelter as it really wasn’t safe for the children to play in those weather conditions. It didn’t seem like it would be disappearing any time soon.

12.57 – “Do you have Toby’s number? I gave him the ticket. Pay him today. Meet him in town, otherwise he will sell it. You owe me a really big one indeed, my friend”. Text message I got from Ronaldo…I would be going to the game. YES! I love these spur of the moment kind of things. I was so excited. I told Alex about the news as he also had a ticket for the game so we could go together after we had finished with the children in the FanFest after the Japan-Paraguay game. I was really looking forward to the game now.

14.00 – We were still unable to play football due to the weather conditions and it was time for food. As the children were not allowed to bring their food into the FanFest, the organisers decided they would provide us with food and drink. We all sat in a stand we had access to in front of the main stage where the FanFest big screen was situated as we scoffed down the pies we had been given for lunch. Due to the weather conditions, the FanFest was empty and we were ruing our luck at having chosen a rainy day to be in the FanFest. Jeremy was talking about organising another day out, possibly a World Cup semi-final day to try and be at the FanFest with the children on another occasion.

16.00 – It was still raining and we were still in the FanFest. It was time for the first game of the day to Kick-Off. By the time the game started there were only 9 boys left with us as all the others were bored and started getting agitated having to stay seated due to the rain. We arranged for the minibus to take those children that wanted to go home. Japan and Paraguay played a boring 0-0 game which Japan eventually ended up losing on penalties.

18.45 – As soon as the Japan game was over we had to quickly make our way to the LifeZone van where we had to collect Alex’s bag with our food and make our way to meet Toby to get my ticket. Toby said that if I wasn’t there by seven he would have to leave and give the ticket away as he was also going to the stadium and didn’t want to be late, so we really had to get a move on. We were running a little late as we had to gather all the children together. Jeremy decided to take us quickly to the van and the children would later catch up with the other coaches. As we got to the van I was in shock. The back window of the LifeZone van had been smashed in. As I looked in I could see two balls in the back of the van. As soon as I saw this I thought it was some yobs being stupid and decided to smash in the window for fun. The car was parked on a main street and it had been there all day in broad daylight. As people walked past us and watched us observing the van all I could hear them mutter was “Oh man”. I looked at Jeremy. He looked a little in shock but as if it was something he might expect. Jeremy is a man I really admire. He was a professional footballer playing in South Africa and decided to hang up his boots at a tender age of 28 (for a footballer) to focus on his community development organisation. He was very calm about the situation. My initial thought was the cost of having to get the window repaired. LifeZone is a Non-Profit-Organisation. They could really do without having these sort of expenses. As Jeremy looked inside the van to see if there was any further damage he looked over at us and told us that all the bags were gone. A couple of moments later all I heard was Alex say “my ticket”. I looked over at him and his head was in his hands. His ticket for the Portugal – Spain game was in his bag, that had been taken, as well as his credit card and glasses. He was distraught. He had paid 140 pounds for the ticket but it wasn’t about the money. Having a World Cup game taken away from you just before Kick-Off and in that manner is very hard to take. It is so many people’s dream to go and watch a World Cup game. Jeremy felt guilty, although it was not his fault at all he felt responsible. He was frantically calling anybody he knew who had any possibility of having a spare ticket for the game. It was impossible. As all of this was happening, the children arrived to the scene with Gaby and Jeremy Smith (the two other coaches). They looked just as surprised to see the window smashed as we did. I really do wonder what was going through their mind as soon as they saw this. Had they seen something similar before? Were they scared? I know I would have been petrified if I had seen something like that at their age. All their bags had been taken too. There was mainly food in their bags but some children had clothes and football boots too. They didn’t look bothered about their bags being stolen. They were just intrigued about the broken window and the glass that was smashed on the floor and inside the van. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A van with the words “You are the change” and “LifeZone” splattered all over it, obvious to all that the van belonged to a non-governmental-organisation, had its window smashed in, in broad daylight and on a main road and there was no sign of anything. No policemen about, just men and women with their children walking past nodding their heads. At this point I thought that there was no way I would be going to watch the Spain game. I then got a phone call from Toby. Toby works for You2africa, the organisation that organised my stay here in South Africa and got me onto the LifeZone project. I explained to him what happened and told him that I wasn’t sure if I could meet him or what time. He understood and said no problem, if I made my way towards him he would wait. Jeremy decided to call the police and told us to go as there wasn’t much we could do.

19.30 – Alex and I made our way to meet Toby. I was so gutted for Alex. The day started with him going to the game and me watching it in the FanFest and then it ended with me on my way to the game and Alex distraught. I didn’t know what to say to him. There was nothing I could say to him to make him feel better. I tried to support him as much as I could and get him to speak to try and get as much out of his system as possible. He spoke very little and just listened as I tried to make him feel better, unsuccessfully. We met Toby and I arranged a place where I would meet Alex after the game.

20.20 – I got inside the stadium with Toby, Deborah (his wife) and a friend of theirs just as the teams were coming out. Contrary to the other games I had been to, I had just made it on time for the national anthems. I was really in no mood to watch the match. I found myself in the Cape Town stadium subdued once again but for a completely different reason this time. I missed all the pre-match excitement and atmosphere. I was in the stadium watching my country play in the World Cup in the knock out stages and although I wanted to see my country win I wasn’t too bothered if I saw them lose. I was no way as nervous as I normally am if I am watching my team play in such an important match. When David Villa scored his goal I repeatedly shouted YES about four or five times. I was happy to see him score and when I cheered I noticed a hint of anger come out. I was relieved to be at the stadium to watch my country score (at half time, with the score 0-0, I was starting to think I was a jinx). It also enabled me to let off some steam which I had inside me after what I had just experienced a few moments earlier. Spain won the game 1-0. At the final whistle I was very happy to see us go through to the next stage of the World Cup.

22.45 – I made my way to the place where I had agreed I would meet Alex. He had that same cold look about him. I felt so sorry for him, I probably looked just as upset. We spoke briefly about the game, I asked if the goal was offside and if it really was a red card (they don’t show any of the dubious replays on the big screen in the stadium) and we made our way to the centre of town where we would meet our taxi driver. We got home, explained what had happened to the other volunteers in the house and by about half past midnight I got to bed, feeling the lowest I have felt since I have been here.

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Losing my World Cup virginity

Saturday 26th of June 2010, 11.25h

This morning as I look at my World Cup Calendar I can now see the group stage points filled in and the next fixtures for Round 16. I have been watching most of the World Cup games avidly so far which has been the reason why there have been no posts on the blog for the past two weeks. During these past two weeks I have also been to two different stadiums to watch both my countries play live at the World Cup. It is the first time I have ever been to a World Cup game and possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Spain 0 – 1 Switzerland – 16/06/2010, Durban

The road trip to Durban on Monday the 14th of June never materialised. Patricia and I were expecting the tickets for the game to arrive from Switzerland on Monday morning. The morning and afternoon of the 14th of June passed and we still had no sign of the tickets. We decided to change our plan and book a flight for Wednesday morning, the day of the game, hoping the tickets would arrive some time on Tuesday. We were quite worried that we would not be in the stadium for the game. To our immense joy, the tickets arrived early Tuesday morning and so the adventure was still alive.

We woke up at 4am on Wednesday morning and got a taxi to Cape Town airport. I have never had to get a plane just to go and see a football match. The whole experience was amazing. Being at the airport at 6am and crossing paths with Honduras and Chile fans, also on their way to a football match singing their songs as loud as they could was all part of the pre-match excitement. The pre-match nerves started to kick-in very early on in the day.

Patricia is the person with whom I have gotten on best with in the volunteer house. Her being Swiss and me being Spanish ensured there was good banter between us before the match and also made people we met laugh when we told them we were going to the game together, like for example the taxi driver on the way to the airport. Would we come back on good terms?, he asked. With Spain being favourites I made my feelings clear, Spain would walk away with a 5-0 victory. Being the underdog, Patricia kept silent and nearly had the last laugh (I say nearly because although Switzerland won the game against Spain, they got knocked out of the World Cup last night as they were unable to beat Honduras).

Seven hours after having left Cape Town airport we found ourselves outside Durban football stadium, very anxious for the game to begin and enjoying the pre-match atmosphere. We came across two Swiss guys who told us they had left Switzerland on the 1st of March and had driven by car all the way to South Africa for the World Cup, an unbelievable story! They would be sitting a few rows in front of us, which led Patricia to inform me that she thought we would be sitting in the Swiss section of the stadium, surrounded by Swiss fans. She was right.

As we wondered around the stadium before kick-off something which amazed me was seeing so many Spain fans. I could clearly see that these Spain fans were not Spanish, they all seemed to be Indian, wearing Spain shirts, waving Spain flags, blowing Vuvuzelas with the words Spain on them and had their faces covered in Spain colours. At the time I didn’t really understand what was going on. I have since found out that Durban is home to a big Indian community and the Indians seem to support the team that is favourite to win, which led them all to being Spanish for the day.

We made our way into the stadium about an hour and a half before kick-off. The stadium in Durban is amazing, nothing like what I have seen before. Obviously it is a new stadium built for the World Cup. The massive arch that stands at the top of the stadium really does make it look spectacular. As the fans started to enter the stadium, Patricia and I were being surrounded by Swiss fans and the odd Indian with his Spain flag. There was a little section in the stadium of “real” Spain fans but the rest of the stadium was overtaken by the South African Indians. That night after the game I met two Spanish guys from Barcelona (Catalans and Real Madrid fans!) who were in South Africa just for the World Cup. They had told me that Marca, a Spanish newspaper, had reported there would be about 5,000 Spanish people in the stadium. They were sat in the Spain section of the stadium and said there were only about 500 Spanish people in the stadium, a very poor turnout by the Spaniards for their first game at the World Cup in which they are favourites to win.

I was well into my pre-match nerves as we stood in the stadium watching the players warm up. The game started. I could still see empty seats, something which really did irritate me knowing what a big football following there is in South Africa by the citizens who do not have the funds to be able to go and watch a World Cup game.

Spain started the game dictating play as we all expected. Every time Spain missed a chance I would shout in anger towards the players. Some of the Swiss fans sat next to me looked at me bemused, probably thinking to themselves what I was doing in this section of the stadium. I was so nervous I decided I would take pictures of the match in action once Spain had scored their first goal. That moment never arrived and I have no pictures of the game in action. That will teach me for next time!

Spain lost the game1-0 to a pretty lucky goal scored by the Swiss after having dominated the entire game. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was so upset. I have watched thousands of games over the years and have always hated watching my team lose. Only three months earlier I was at the Nou Camp when my Arsenal team got ridiculed 4-1 by the mighty Barcelona. This time I was watching most of the Barcelona players that beat Arsenal that night play for Spain and this time I was cheering them on, only to have gotten the same gut-wrenching feeling of watching my team lose. The pain is worse when you watch the game through your own eyes rather than through a TV screen. The moment Switzerland scored their goal, as I looked around the stadium I witnessed the so called Spain fans, the Indians, waving their Spain fans celebrating. It is quite funny now I think back but I certainly wasn’t amused at the time. I was also deeply hurt by the Spain players at the end of the game. All those fans that traveled so far just to watch Spain play at the World Cup, albeit 500 Spaniards, and the players didn’t have the dignity to applaud the fans as they walked off the field, defeated by the Swiss.

As much as I hate losing, and being surrounded by the opposing team fans celebrating, I couldn’t help but feel a little joy in watching Patricia celebrate. She was just as nervous as me throughout the game, suffering probably even more as Spain were toying with Switzerland just unable to get a breakthrough. When Switzerland scored she celebrated it about 10 seconds after the goal had gone in probably thinking it was going to be chalked off for one reason or another. The only time I heard her speak throughout the game was on 90 minutes when the fourth referee showed that there would be 5 minutes of injury time. She shoved me pointing to the sideline and said “5 minutes?”. I just nodded, desperate for my team to find a goal from somewhere. The final whistle went and she started jumping and shouting. I was gutted that my team and country let me down. Patricia saw I was upset. She asked if I wanted us to leave the stadium but I couldn’t take that moment away from her. I watched as the Swiss were going mad that they had beaten Spain for the very first time in their history. We ended up being some of the last fans to leave the stadium.

Patricia and I spent the next day wondering around the beach front in Durban, watched Argentina spank South Korea 4-1 in the Durban Fanzone and then made our way back to Cape Town.

England 0 – 0 Algeria – 18/06/2010, Cape Town

The next day it was England’s turn. I was still upset about the Spain game but I tried my utmost to lift my spirits and cheer on the three lions. Once again I went to the stadium early to get a feel of the pre-match atmosphere. The main port of Cape Town is called the Waterfront and is an area where the wealthier people normally hang out. The Waterfront consists of a big shopping centre and some bars surrounding it. On Friday the 16th of June, the Waterfront was taken over by English fans, it was like a siege. Contrary to the Spanish fans, the English fans had traveled to South Africa in numbers, as they always do.

Everywhere you looked you would see somebody wearing an England shirt with a beer in hand. The Algerians were non-existent. Watching the England fans I started to get a feeling of having seen all of this before, just in a different part of the world. England fans drinking and singing songs. There were a lot of fans singing songs that I really do not condone. These kind of people (and their culture) are a small reason why I cannot see myself living in England ever again. It is all good and fun to sing songs about your team or country but all the singing seemed to be directed towards the German people and the two World Wars the Allies won, without a German person even being present. I didn’t like what I was seeing so I got some food and made my way to the stadium early.

I got to the stadium a couple of hours before the game and then started to get the buzz once again. The Green Point stadium in Cape Town is also spectacular. Everything just looked so new and swanky, everything was made for a great spectacle. The game ended 0-0. There is not much I can say about the 90 minutes of play as I don’t think I have ever been so subdued. It was probably the worst game I have ever seen in my life. I cannot believe that those England players put on an England shirt to represent their country at the World Cup (I tell you it is every little boys dream) and perform the way they did. It looked like they really didn’t give a damn about the match. Once again I was left disappointed. In the two games I went to watch both my countries play, I didn’t even get to see them score one goal in 180 minutes of football. As the final whistle went I was part of the 60 odd thousand England fans booing the England players down the tunnel. Once again, no applause from the England players in appreciation to the effort the fans made to be there in South Africa. Utterly disappointing.

After the game ended I had to make my way back home. After looking for a taxi and not getting any luck I ended up walking all the way home from the centre of Cape Town, a 45 minute walk. It was a little bit scary considering Cape Town is one of the most dangerous cities in the world and I was wondering the streets alone at midnight. It also gave me a chance to contemplate the debate about my nationality.

Before going to both these games I wondered to myself if my life long saga of being Spanish , English or Maltese would be solved with the emotions I would feel towards my countries playing in their respective match. I have never been to an international match before and thought that this experience might make me sway one way or another. It didn’t. When I meet new people and they ask me where I am from I sometimes feel a little stupid having to explain the whole story as to me being Spanish (mother), Maltese (father) and English (place of birth and mother language). I have always and will always support Spain over England in football, just as Arsenal is in my heart as my club team, that will never change.

I don’t have that unity to one country like for example the South Africans. You see them when they sing their national anthem and you get a sense of unity that it gives you goosebumps. In South Africa I feel more Spanish than English but when in Spain I also feel like an outcast. It is something I have installed in my head now that it will always be this way and it won’t change. In a way, although I wish I had this sense of unity towards one country, I am proud to have such a diverse culture that makes me the person I am.

I got home safe and sound.

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Happy Birthday Papa and Pictures

Happy Birthday my old man! Hope you have a wonderful day and enjoy watching the World Cup Kicking-Off. If they show any FanZones of Cape Town on TV, look out for me, I will be there in the mixer🙂 Also wish Nana Polly a Happy Birthday from me for yesterday, I hadn’t forgotten.

Here you have a few pictures I managed to upload. There aren’t many but as Internet is so slow here it’s all I could do for now:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/50906133@N08/

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