Friday, February 15, 2013


Please indulge me as I leave my adopted homeland.  I'm writing a series called 
"Top Ten Things I Would Have Never Said in America"

Saeed Ajmal celebrates
10.  Did you see that crazy Pakistani bowler?

I grew up hating sports.

I have no expertise in the field.   As a school girl, I was the last to be picked on any team and the first to be “out” in whatever sport we were playing. 

As I grew I hated seeing it on television.  I ended up marrying Mario, an All-American athlete who played every American sport and finished University thanks to a sport scholarship.  He taught me to tolerate baseball. 

That’s it. 

When we moved to South Africa I was suddenly surrounded by more sports than I ever could have imagined. Not only was I ignorant of the “big three” (football, basketball and baseball), I was now ignorant of a whole bouquet of world sports.

But the subject of sport now did something amazing:  it helped me see how insulated Americans are.  Not only do most Americans not have passports; most Americans grow up seeing America as the center of the world.  

The way that Americans think of sports illustrates this.

In America our version of “football” is not played anywhere else in the world.  To the rest of the world “football” is what I grew up calling “soccer”.  In any third world country in Africa the kids learn football at a young age.  They learn to make balls from plastic shopping bags tied together with string.  There is a big attraction to football, the game you play with feet.

I grew up thinking that football is a game centered around catching and carrying a ball that can only be kicked if it is held or stood on something to keep it upright.  To the rest of the world, that game is called “American football.”

In America, baseball is seen as the national pastime, culminating with a playoff in October called “The World Series.”

No other teams in the world are invited to join in the World Series.

Basketball in the states is a game that dominates television.  Here?  No basketball hoops can be seen.  Hoops around here are for a game called netball – played in all of the commonwealth nations.

For some reason the play of sport has made me humble here.  After bragging about American restaurants, the service, the police, our incredible roads…I can look at sport and remember that I am part of a bigger world that celebrates different things.  I came here with no knowledge of rugby, soccer and cricket – the “big three” of the rest of the world.

This past week South Africa has been involved in a “test match” with Pakistan in cricket.  Test cricket lasts FIVE DAYS!!  FIVE DAYS of watching one match… the thought exhausts me.

Still, it is marvelous to hear the stories of the play.  To see my friends’ faces light up as they talk about the matches and the skill involved. 

“That Pakistani bowler is a spinner,” one of them told me, pointing to the match on my gym's big screen TV.  Everyone in the place is watching.

My brain has to switch suddenly to a world perspective.  Bowling in the USA involves a lane, a gutter and a heavy ball with three holes in it.  For the rest of the world , a bowler pertains to the sport of cricket: bowling is the action of propelling the ball toward the wicket defended by a batsman.  A “bowler” in cricket is similar to a “pitcher” in baseball.

“Yeah?” I say, trying to look bored. It's no use; my mind is woken up and I engage.

“He’s the best spinner in the world,” he says in awe and admiration.  As he says this, Saeed Ajmal releases the ball and it curves, causing the crowd to go wild.

“Yeah,” I say, watching the cricket match at my gym.  “He’s got a crazy, wicked spin on that ball.”

Did that just come out of my mouth? I watch as a group of men in beards and pill-box caps and jilbabs jump around in celebration.  

They are proud of their bowler. 

I have learned to think of things from a world perspective and not just from an American perspective.  Part of what taught me is world sport.  

If you look up "bowling" on the very world-friendly wikipedia, you will find that it prefaces the article with: “The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject.”

Well put.

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