This is Africa, Where Sometimes, We are Shocked & Surprised by Our Ability to Not Screw Things Up.

T.I.A. It means: This Is Africa. It’s what you say when things go wrong, when the centre cannot hold, when a plan falls apart, when your highest hopes are outweighed by your deepest fears.

You say it with a shrug of the shoulders, a sigh, and a shake of the head. What do you expect? What can you do? T.I.A.

The power goes out just as you’re about to start preparing dinner. T.I.A. You hit a pothole as you swerve to avoid a jaywalker. T.I.A. You lose a tender to the nephew or cousin of somebody important. T.I.A. You get stopped at a roadblock, and the cop says he can write out a summons, or you can pay the fine in cash right now. T.I.A.

Bribery, corruption, nepotism, cronyism, inefficiency, incompetence, the collapse of systems, the descent of order into chaos. T.I.A., baby, T.I.A.

You can say it out of bitterness, out of resignation, and even, perversely, out of bravado, as K’naan does on T.I.A.: “Welcome to the Continent of Holidays,” he sings, “where holidays turn to hell days. T.I.A., hooray, This is Africa.”

But what if we could turn the meaning of that acronym around?

What if we could use it when things go right, when the centre takes hold, when a plan comes together, when our deepest fears are outweighed by our highest hopes? What if we could say “This is Africa!” out of pride, out of joy, out of affirmation, achievement, and self-belief?

In Zurich, Berlin, Sydney, Singapore, or Toronto, nobody blinks twice, nobody feels the need to celebrate, nobody feels a tear welling up in their eye, when trains and busses run on time, when high-speed urban rail networks are launched ahead of schedule, when litter is collected in the streets, when airports are revamped, when flags fly from buildings and cars, when visitors jet in to attend a global event, when they are not mugged or shot at as soon as they wheel their trollies out of the concourse.

In other parts of the world, the default expectation is: Things will work. In Africa, the default expectation is that they won’t. Which is why it can come as a surprise, a jolt to the senses, when we are confronted by our individual and collective ability to not screw things up.

Oh, rest assured, the feeling will not last. It is based on emotion and perceptions, and these have a habit of shifting with the tide. Sometime in the next few weeks or months, you can bet on it, a newspaper will run a leader-page article with the headline: “Whatever Happened to the Spirit of 2010?”

People will be fighting, in Parliament and on the streets, there will be muggings and shootings, there will be strikes and outages and trains not running at all. In the eyes of some, the stadia will begin to look abandoned, weathered and rusting. But don’t let any of that trouble you for now.

The other night, at Soccer City, I saw a South African Policeman, standing with his feet apart, one eye closed, taking aim, his trigger finger cocked, as a group of foreign visitors stood frozen before him. Then he pressed the shutter, and they unfroze their smiles, and he cordially handed them back their point-and-shoot and they thanked him and hurried to the stadium, their faces painted, their vuvuzelas parping in the brisk night air.

My neighbours are an elderly Afrikaans couple, staunchly conservative, forver hankering after the Good Old Days, forever muttering dark thoughts about Zuma and his cronies. But right now, hoisted on their security gate, you will find the biggest Rainbow Flag in the whole neighbourhood.

This is a time of magic. This is a shifting of the seasons, a transition from what was to what can be. The precedents have been set, the benchmarks have been etched in stone. Someday we will look back and say, but we did it then, why can’t we do it again? And somehow we will, because we can, because we must, and most of all, because: T.I.A.

Picture by Stephen J Booth, travelpod.com

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“Their Only Crime Was Orange”

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I wrote this little song in support of the poor Dutch ambush marketeers, who dared to attend Netherlands versus Denmark at Soccer City while wearing bright orange mini-dresses.
If you’d like to write some music for this song, feel free.
If you’d like to sing this song, go for it.
If you’d like to play this song on your guitar and record it and put it on YouTube, you’re very welcome.
But whatever you do…don’t even think of wearing orange to a World Cup football match.

 

Their Only Crime Was Orange

 

They came to a land of Goodwill and “Cheers!”

To watch a few games and drink a few beers

They flew to the shores of a Rainbow Nation

That once served as Holland’s Refreshment Station

 

They came and they saw and because they were Dutch

In the cold chill of winter, they didn’t wear much

Just a skirt and a scarf and below, in the area

A little black label that said, “From Bavaria”

 

Three cheers, three cheers, for the Dutch marketeers

Oh bring us a round of Budweiser

Three cheers, three cheers, for their hopes and their fears

For now they’re in the scheizer

 

Chorus:

Their only crime was Orange

And nothing rhymes with orange

Borange, Corange, Dorange, Forange,

Their only crime was Orange!

 

They came to be proud and to sing for their country

Their voices were loud and they had the effrontery

To dress in the tone of their national banner

And behave in a shameful, provocative manner

 

They came to a land of a New Revolution

Of freedoms enshrined in a strong Constitution

They came to a land where all that doesn’t matter

For the laws of the land are proclaimed by Sepp Blatter

 

Three cheers, three cheers, for the Free Marketeers

Let’s drink to the cause they believe in

Three cheers, three cheers, for their hopes and their fears

Good Lord, they must be freezing

 

Chorus:

Their only crime was Orange

And nothing rhymes with orange

Gorange, Horange, Jorange, Korange

Lorange, Morange, Norange, Porange

Quorange, Rorange, Sorange, Torange

Vorange, Worange, Yorange, Zorange

Their only crime was Orange!

 

 

The World Cup Fever-Tree. A New Species. Just in Time for Tomorrow.

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The streets in my neighbourhood of Northcliff are named after trees: Acacia, Ebony, Mimosa, Maple, Cedar, Beech, and so on.
That’s because there are more trees in Johannesburg than in any other city in the world, and more World Cup fever too.
The proof: these splendidly-dressed specimens at the corner of Acacia and Shaka. (Okay, not every street is named after a tree.)
I salute the good neighbour who went to all this trouble, and I hope those beagles do their job, and keep watch over the trees and their beautiful bark.

South Africa, where the Riot Police are Friendlier than the Football Administrators

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Okay, maybe it was a stupid idea to go to a football match without tickets. But come on. Firstly, this is South Africa, and that’s the kind of thing we do over here.

 Secondly, this was a friendly, USA vs Australia, at Ruimsig Stadium. A friendly! Step inside, you’re very welcome, sit anywhere you want, we’re all friendly here!

And also, I had tried, all week, to get tickets, or at least to find out whether or not you need tickets to go a friendly. I asked the Internet, I asked Computicket, I asked the lady at the FIFA ticketing centre, who looked at me blankly and told me to ask Computicket, who…well, this is South Africa.

So when Saturday came, I left nice and early with my son and his friend, and we drove to the stadium and eased into the queue of cars, with their flags fluttering in the breeze, only this time there were Star-Spangled Banners and Union Jacks with Southern Crosses rampant as well.

Someone was waving the Stars ‘n Stripes from the sunroof of their SUV, and for a moment I felt a curious sense of disconnection, as if I wasn’t in Roodepoort anymore, and had somehow translocated to Kansas. I get that feeling a lot these days.

Then we got to the gate of the parking lot of the stadium, and the man standing there sketched an oblong shape with his fingers, which I immediately understood to mean “ticket”.

I rolled down the window and said, “Can we get tickets inside?”, and he said “No, you can’t get inside without a ticket”, and he motioned us to turn back because we didn’t have tickets. But this is South Africa, so I just said, “We’ll get tickets inside”, and I drove in and we parked.

Everywhere I looked, as we walked towards the stadium, I saw people clutching tickets in their hands. I was getting worried. I saw a man wearing the American flag on his shoulders, and I asked him if we knew where we could get tickets. “Ah, we got them from the Embassy,” he said, and he gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder when I sighed and said I didn’t have any.

A big sign at the stadium gate said “No Entry Without a Valid Ticket”, and a big man at the stadium gate, with a curly wire dangling from his ear, said “No”, when I asked him if we could get tickets inside. My son and his friend were getting impatient and irritated, and so was I.

I asked a man with an Australian Football Federation blazer, and he said no, and a man handing out tickets to schoolchildren at a trestle table, and he said no, and then I saw a man from my team, wearing my shirt, and standing outside the fence, looking on as the teams ran onto the pitch for their warm-up.

He also didn’t have tickets. He had a picnic cooler with him. He was ready for the game. “Maybe they’ll let us all in when everyone with tickets has gone in,” I said. “No,” he said, “I don’t think so. They’re FIFA. They’ll probably just leave us all standing here.” But he was wrong, because a policeman came along and told us we had to move away from the fence. Ag, come on, seriously?

By now, there were a bunch of us standing around the fence, ticketless, clueless, hopelessly trying to figure out a way to get in, as the minutes ticked away to kick-off. I wandered around, mentioning the word “tickets” to people who looked friendly, and no sooner had I done so, then other people would come up to me and say, “You got tickets?”

A guy in a Bafana shirt, just like mine, said in a low voice that he could get me tickets, and how much money did I have on me? I said a hundred bucks, which wasn’t really true, but I didn’t really want to spend anything on free tickets for a friendly anyway. Come on, we have to draw the line somewhere.

I went back to the guy with the picnic cooler, and he was talking to a riot cop, with a regulation 9mm pistol and a regulation baton and a regulation teargas cannister and a regulation boep.

The cop said, “It’s not us, hey, it’s FIFA, they’re going to ask to chase all you okes away from here any minute now.” I said, it’s crazy, we just want to watch some football, we’ve come all the way out here, and our own team isn’t even playing.

They’ll never let you in, said the cop. Not without tickets. Forget it. The guy with the picnic cooler said to the cop, “is it okay if we drink a beer here?” And the cop said, because it was a serious question, “Strictly speaking, this is a public place, and you’re not supposed to drink alcohol in a public place.”

“Is it okay if I drink it in a glass then?” said the guy in the Bafana shirt. The cop popped his earpiece from his ear and said, quietly, “Look, I’m not going to say whether you can or you can’t.” He pointed at a glass enclosure at the top of the stadium. “Just remember FIFA are in charge here, hey. And they can probably see you, wherever you go.”

Then he gave us a conspiratorial shrug, and went back to his duty, which was to stand at the fence and make sure we didn’t hop over or disturb the peace. But there wasn’t any peace: the ball had been kicked into play, and the vuvuzelas were already drowning out the announcer.

Okay, I said to my son and his friend, let’s go, we can stop along the way for a milkshake. Then, just as were heading up the hill, back to the car, we saw a lady who recognised my son’s friend from school, and we told her our sorry story, and she pointed at a man in a green jacket, and said, why don’t you ask him nicely.

So we asked him nicely, and he motioned us to wait, and then, looking straight ahead, he tore three tickets from a roll in his pocket, and we thanked him discreetly and made our way in.

They were great seats. It was a great game. We saw David Beckham in the VIP suite, up and to the left. And we learned a little bit about South Africa, which is probably the only country in the world where the riot police are friendlier than the football administrators.

I hope the guy with the picnic cooler managed to find some tickets too, or at least enjoy the game while drinking his beer on the verge.