Thursday, July 8, 2010

Feel It? It's Here!

"Feel it! It’s here!” is the tagline for the South African World Cup experience. You see and hear it everywhere. It’s another way of saying, "Show, don't tell." 

From the moment visitors to South Africa land at our crowded airports, they feel FIFA FEVA! I wish you could all experience this for yourselves. So I thought I would take you all on a brief trip to a World Cup match in my home town of Port Elizabeth (PE).

As we leave the airport, cars whizz by flying national flags. We drive along newly widened roads. Flags flutter from fences, hang in windows of houses and buildings and festoon the front of shops and hotels. I park the car near the beach and we get out to walk.

The heavily-guarded four and five-star hotels which cater for the teams when they’re in PE, overlook the sea. So the beach front, shopping centre, and pavements (sidewalks) are abuzz with foreigners and locals, mostly arrayed in festive outfits and national colours.

The day of your visit is the day the Portuguese team play Ivory Coast, and both these nations are colourful in appearance and behaviour. Everyone we pass greets us with big smiles, laughs, cheers, and friendly comments.

You especially notice the friendliness of the people clad in the green and gold of South Africa as they wish you and other visitors "Good luck!". They are showing you "Ubuntu" - the African philosophy that we are all inter-related, and cannot live without one another.

Someone near you yells, "Ayoba!" and several shout back. This slang term expresses excitement and delight. Before the World Cup, this referred to good dancing, but it’s obviously become a soccer byword.  You jump as a taxi zooms past. A passenger leans from the window blowing a raucous plastic trumpet. It's the infamous vuvuzela. The constant buzzing of hornets you heard on your TV back home is nothing like the real thing. To your surprise, you notice many of the foreigners carry vuvuzelas.

Up ahead, you recognise the familiar smell of KFC. Along the beach front, vendors tout traditional South African food. It’s been a long time since breakfast. You eye a "curry bunny", relieved to see that it's actually curried mince that oozes from a vetkoek, a South African version of the old fashioned Dutch olliebollen. You trace a pungent smoky smell to what looks like beef sausage (which you learn is boerewors, a spicy traditional sausage) sizzling on an open barbecue (or braai as it’s called here.)

You can’t resist the smells any more. You pull money from your pocket and try to figure out how many rands and cents you need and how it translates into your money back home. The vendor spoons a cooked tomato and onion sauce over the wors, and you're ready to go.

We join a long queue of excited people of all colours and nationalities to buy our tickets for the Park-and-Ride. Half-an-hour later, we climb onto the shuttle with concertina-like joined coaches. From the excitement of the locals you realise these are new acquisitions to the city, especially bought for the World Cup.

The chatter, the laughter, the sharing of experiences, and yes, even the odd vuvuzela, makes this the most exciting, and noisiest, bus trip you have ever experienced. A loud cheer goes up, accompanied by more blasts of several vuvu-you-know-whats, as a bus bearing one of the teams drives past with a police escort, sirens wailing.

After a 15-minute bus ride, and a 20-minute walk along with thousands of others, we finally enter the stadium. Heavily armed police dressed in riot-garb stand at every entrance, guns to the ready. No one seems worried, so you decide not to be either.

Security is very high throughout the country, as South Africa is determined to ensure the safety of all its guests. Inside the stadium, a massive ring of security guards, dressed in orange, stand with their backs to the field, their eyes fixed on the spectators. They are not permitted to even glance at the game at any point. Remembering some of the disastrous moments in world sport, you feel relief. Here, in a country reputed to be high in crime and violence, you feel safe.

The beautiful world-class new stadium is packed. Before long, a roar from the crowd welcomes the teams as they jog onto the field.

They stand to attention in front of their flags. Silence—a blessed vuvuzela-free silence—falls across the stadium as the national anthems of the two teams blaze out from the gigantic speakers. Any person playing the vuvuzela during a national anthem will be immediately removed from the stadium and heavily fined.

You insert your earplugs as deep as possible.They don't block out the sound of the vuvuzelas, but they muffle it and protect your hearing. At one point you remove one to say something to me, then jolt in alarm at the explosion of sound which hits your eardrum. You hastily push it back into position, and soon master the art of shouting into my also-plugged ear.

The combined noise of the vuvuzelas is deafening—literally. The decibel level is such that spectators have been repeatedly warned through the media to wear good ear plugs to protect their hearing. But it is also magical. It is thrilling. And it is African. The African World Cup experience wouldn't be the same without vuvuzelas. At least there is no litter. No bottle-throwing. No unruly spectators. Despite the huge excited crowd of over 40,000 people, you don't feel threatened.

"La-doooooo-mah!" screams the crowd. The Portuguese thought they had scored a goal. A loud groan goes up at the realisation that the kicker was offside, and the goal doesn't count. You've learned another African word. "Laduma" is the word of celebration when a goal is scored.

A Mexican wave starts at the far side of the stadium and does three circuits of the entire crowd before petering out. At half-time, Zakumi, the S.A. World Cup mascot, walks along the bottom of the stands, waving and blowing kisses. People shout and wave back.

At the end of the game we join the masses as they return to the shuttles. No matter who's won or lost, everyone seems happy. An accidental shove, a hand reaching out to stop you falling, laughter, numb behinds from sitting too long, and oh yes—still the occasional vuvuzela. It’s all part of FIFA FEVA.

Ayoba! Feel it? It’s here!

Have you attended a function where all the senses were in abundance? Please tell us.
(For some great of photos of the "about town" excitement, see Ruth’s post a few days ago.)

SHIRLEY M. CORDER is an RN, a pastor’s wife, mother, grandmother and multi-published freelance writer. You can contact Shirley through her website or follow her on Twitter.


  1. "All the sense in abundance?" In many small towns in Canada there is a tradition of celebrating "community day" on a summer weekend. When I was a child those evenings were the most exciting event of the whole summer. We'd start with a parade, all the merchants in town plus the service clubs, churches and some individual families would decorate a float. There were marching bands, some with majorettes (my career goal at the time was to be a majorette) and some with bagpipes. When the parade was over, the main street was blocked off and booths selling food, games of chance, stuffed toys spilled onto the street. The smell of popcorn, hot dogs, mustard and vinegar was predominant. There were dances held at two different halls, depending on your preference in music and at the end of it all -- fireworks. There you go, sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. What a night!

  2. Hey Shirley. When we first heard the newscasters talking about the vuvuzelas, we thought it was like the long black plastic horns we take to the Saskatchewan Roughriders' games. But then we watched part of a game and I asked hubby what that awful hum was and he said those vuzela things. I couldn't believe that's what everyone was talking about. Our Rider games do not sound like that! Oh, I'd go nuts at a FIFA game.

    Thank you for taking me to South Africa so I can see, feel, taste, smell and hear the experience. :)


  3. Thanks for your comments, Alice and Anita.
    Alice, your description of the celebration is great. It sounds like a wonderful experience.
    Anita, it's funny but the vuvuzelas have become such an integral part of the event that most folk have got over the negative aspects. It's amazing how many of our foreign visitors have bought them (and played them at the game!) I believe a good number of the overseas spectators left South Africa with vuvuzelas in their hand luggage! So look out world sport, here they come!
    And actually, they probably are exactly like your long black plastic horns. It's just that there are thousands - all being blown at once!

  4. Well I'm sorry those horn monsters are heading my way! They have driven me nuts all through the World Cup! Your photos are fabulous though!
    I used to enjoy when the fair came to town when I was a kid. That was a day for the senses: laughing in the hall of mirrors, screaming in the ghost train and again when hurled around on the roundabouts, the tastes of hot dogs and candy floss (candy floss is called 'Barbe a Papa' in France (Dad's Beard).



  5. Thank you, Shirley. It all sounds so exciting. May this have a positive impact on the country for a long time to come.

  6. Thanks for sharing! My Chilean son-in-law has dragged our whole family into World Cup interest (frenzy, for him--interest, for the rest of us) so it was fun to see this from the home town point of view.