Friday, May 21, 2010


In America, Soccer is for young kids learning how to play a sport (part of what I'm good at is overgeneralizing). Our kids played and were good...I wasn't nuts about the parents, forcing their children to do well and stressing if they weren't getting enough play time; but I was completely loving my kids loving soccer.

It took me several years to realize the importance of soccer around the world. For instance, what I knew as "football" was called "American football" and soccer was REALLY "Football".

I still call it soccer.

Our first trip to Africa (2000) was to a small country called Malawi, a third world poverty-stricken country where I witnessed extreme conditions in small, rural villages trying to make enough food for everyone. We preached the Gospel faithfully, and I saw firsthand the power of faith in these people. Their lives were simple, poor, filled with faith and relatively different from anything I had ever seen.

Still, on Saturdays, the whole village cleared off their world-class green grass field (one of the prettiest I had ever seen) and held a tournament of our guys (white, black, Indian...from all over the world) squared off against the poor village team who played with no shoes....and they kicked our butts. The only one who held is own on the field was our rather big goalkeeper - Mario.

Our first trip to Brazil in 2001 was surrounded in bright yellow and green (Brazil's colors) and chants of "REYNALDO!!"... (there's always a Reynaldo, by the way) and I soon found out that my sport-loving husband would rather go to a soccer match that shopping with us at the famed bazaar called "The Hippie Mart". He went and came back changed. I even got a Brazilian jersey out of the whole thing. The back said "Reynaldo" with a number 7.

I have to admit to being less than literate (completely clueless) when it comes to most sports. I always cheer for my friends and kids...or husband, but have no idea what the rules are. When it comes to soccer, I know my classic "almost-nothing".

So, when South Africa was given the honor of hosting the FIFA (Federation of International Football Association) World Cup in 2010,the whole country erupted into cheers while I stood back, politely clapping. This country has had to endure plenty of negative foreign news reports and its own self doubt in the six years since it won the right to host Africa's first World Cup, but with a kick-off date of June 6, most of those reports are discredited...or ignored.

Instantly, I watched a lazy country "snap to" and begin to widen its freeways, expand (or build) its stadiums and fall into a stupefied hype unlike any I had ever seen before. The 10 stadiums that were ordered to be ready for the Cup were indeed ready on time. In fact, they were early. Six of them (five built from scratch and one extensively expanded and rebuilt) are churches of architecture, wowing even the most jaded of critics. I wish I could attend a match just for the acoustics.

Although there are plenty of areas of concern to test the nerves of organizers, our country is pulsing with a heartbeat that can only be compared to an expectant father.

Here are some tips if you are planning on coming to the Republic of South Africa (RSA) for the cup. I've thought of all the things that I wish I knew before I moved here:

1. -- SOUTH AFRICA IS A DEVELOPING COUNTRY -- Don't expect everything you're used to!--

Power outages; traffic on small roads when there's room for big ones; slow service, no service; people who don't know the meaning of "personal space"; no seat protectors, etc..

Being in a developing country means that your western conveniences are almost everywhere, but still very different. KFC has one recipe of chicken. It takes a long time to get served in a restaraunt. There is no mexican food. Manners are different, in some places, non-existent. Street vendors are everywhere, so is begging. At street lights (robots) taxis shove in front of your car and honk (hoot) at pedestrians to see if they need a lift, then stop suddenly, if they do.

Sometimes tourists don't want to tour, they want to be at home in another country. South Africa is half first world and half third world. The blend means you give up a lot, mainly your preferences.

A good tip? Keep your heart ready for new things, be patient and enjoy the wild ride. Oh yeah, bring hand sanitizer!

2. -- YOU'RE COMING TO THE WORLD CUP... so is everyone else! --

I'm sure that people think that RSA will be busy. I don't think they know it will be like Bethlehem during the census. Because of the influx of people here, patience of everyone may become thin. Try to prepare for the worst.

Lines will be long. Bathrooms will be not-so-nice, and the whole event may be "So not worth it!" if you have an impatient attitude. The people waiting with you will speak other languages, and may be impatient as well.

If you haven't booked a place to stay yet, GOOD LUCK!! Call us and we can help you find a place... within reason.

A good tip: If you are coming, plan a lot of time to get from place to place. Take little snacks and water bottles with you. Be prepared for a lot of people asking you to share, and don't be afraid to smile and politely say "no".

3. -- BE ALERT, CAREFUL, and for the love of GOD don't look frightened!! --

As with all events of this magnitude, street crime increases. Local hawkers, confidence schemers, pick-pockets, and thugs come out to play, especially at the event gates. Once you're in the match, there's very little to worry about, but while you wait in line (in the cue)be very aware of what's going on.

Our national press has started warning people to be aware of their surroundings ranging from violent crime to being followed... use your common sense, and remember my favorite catch phrase "What would Mario do?" If I can speak from a foreigner's perspective, this country is basically friendly and doesn't want to disturb you, they want you to enjoy yourself and come back.... get ready for some good contrasts.

A good tip: Do a Google search for "common tourist traps" and get the low-down on being in a foreign country and not looking like a target.

4. -- EAT LOCAL FOOD!! --

The good news on South Africa? Food is cheap, and it's good!! Local fruit bursts with flavor (EAT ALL
YOU CAN!!) and chicken tastes like it did when I was 12. Try something called "boerwors" (BOO-er-vors)and paap (pup). Biltong is better than jerky, samoosas are from God, and get ready for the best meat... and I'm almost a vegetarian. Most of the meat here is free-range, so pretty healthy and delicious.

By the way, prepared food is tricky. Seasoning is either English, Dutch, Portuguese or African. All are not what you're used to. If you order fish and chips, it comes with the skin on, if you get a hot dog it will most likely be mushy, and the french fries are not as crispy as we like them in the states. Oh, and Mexican food? Just come to my house. It's the only place I've found it.

A good tip: Ask a South African for the best place close by. Experiment with stands and "Wors-roll" hawkers. They usually do pretty well, and need your business. Mario's favorite chain is called Spur (a local family restaurant that is politically'll see) and my favorite chain is good ol McDonald's- there's tons of them here, and may God smite me with a wicked allergy to all their food!!


A personal pet peeve of mine is how many people do this.

Poor people don't beg. Beggars beg.

If you want your money to go to the poor I can help you find a deserving family who really needs it because of a devastating something that's happened. Street beggars usually work for someone and live in communities that are rife with alcoholism and drug abuse. If you really are moved to give, try giving an energy bar, or a bottled water.

Anyone who wants to have a job can hand out fliers for 70 rand a day, but has to work a full day. Many people who work for others have a salary that is less than these street beggars make.

Oh, the ones that make the most? Ones who have babies, ones who have no shoes, ones who are disfigured. These are the gold of a creepy business. Don't fall for it.

A good tip? Keep your windows up and your doors locked, especially when you exit a venue.

Smile, make eye contact. Clap your hands together and show them your open hands. This is universal for "Bless you, but I have nothing to give you". Most will smile back. The ones who are terribly successful will point to their belly or their mouth and keep begging....

Remember, we all are human, and EVERYONE needs Jesus. Make the most of every opportunity, but be wise. Above all, have fun...and bring face paint!!

Oh yeah, Bufana, Bufana!!

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