Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moroccan Mint Tea

For the last few days I've been on a mission to get my mind right. For starters, I've been reading the Autobiography of a Yogi, so that's had me focused on the whole "mastery of self" thing. More practically, I've run into a few technological problems that could either break me or make me stronger. For example, I can't find the power chord to my Kindle, which has had me speedreading through Yogananda's opus in a race to finish before the thing dies. On a more tragic note, I recently spilled a delicious glass of Moroccan mint tea on my laptop. To top it all off, the lovely Chase Bank decided to disappear over $400 from my checking account, with zero explanation. So here I am, trying not to be troubled by the illusory ups and downs of maya, and for the most part, it's working.

The real reason I have to get my mind right is that I'm leaving South Africa in less than a week, after a beautiful three-month stay. In some ways, I could stay another 3, but since it's time to come home, I'm ready. Besides, it's not like I live in
Cleveland. I love The Bay. So, in the spirit of being positive about wrapping up my trip, I present to you...

5 THINGS I'VE MISSED ABOUT HOME


1. SINGLE-FILE LINES

I don't care if you call it a line or a queue, just do it! When I attended the USA vs. England World Cup match way back in June I was blown away by how crazy and difficult it was just get from the stadium back to my car after the match. In theory, all you had to do was board one of the park-and-ride buses and be driven back to the parking lot. In reality, trying to board one of the buses was like scrapping for rations in a refugee camp (I imagine). There were plenty of buses, there was just a lack of common sense and civility. The next day on talk radio several callers suggested that South Africans just needed a little bit more time to learn how to queue, as it was something they were not used to. I dismissed this as a ridiculous and possibly racist idea! Unfortunately, after three months in the country, I have to agree. South Africans are just not ready for the single-file line. Instead, they just bunch up at the front and squeeze through to the other side, like sands in the hourglass. It's an especially difficult adjustment to make for a gentleman like me that always likes to let/watch a lady go first!


2. BAY AREA CUISINE
We Baydestrians are spoiled when it comes to food. For so many reasons, I have to say that no place on the planet can compare. The Bay has people from every nook and cranny of the planet, and they bring their culinary skills and tastes with them. We have a healthy food culture that values local, fresh ingredients. Geographically, we sit in one of the best locations possible to get those ingredients, direct from the farmers market, Central Valley, Central America, the Pacific Ocean, Asia, or beyond. Finally, we have a strong enough economy and big enough population to support a healthy restaurant industry. This entry calls for a list-within the-list: "Drew's Favorite Eat-Spot Awards"

BBQ -
Kinder's (Arnold Industrial Way, Concord, CA)
Burgers -
Perry's (Union St., San Francisco, CA)
Cheesesteak - Cheesesteak Shop (Lakeshore Ave, Oakland, CA)
Chinese - Little Shin Shin (Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA)
Coffee - Cafe Dibartolo (Grand Ave, Oakland, CA)
Deli Sandwich - Genova Delicatessan (Telegraph, Oakland, CA)
Donuts - Colonial Donuts (Lake Shore Ave, Oakland, CA)

Ethiopian - Ensarro (Grand Ave, Oakland, CA)
Frozen Yogurt - Yogurt Deluxe (Lakeshore Ave, Oakland, CA)
Indian - House of Curries (College Ave, Berkeley, CA)
Italian -
Salute e Vita (Marina, Richmond, CA)
Japanese -
Coach Sushi (Grand Ave, Oakland, CA)
Mediterranean - Ali Baba's Cave Cafe (Fillmore St., San Francisco CA)
Pizza -
Zachary's (College Ave, Oakland, CA)
Senegalese - Bissap Baobob (19th Street, San Francisco, CA)

Taco Truck - Sinaloa (22nd & International, Oakland, CA)
Tapas -
Tamarindo (8th St., Oakland, CA)
Taqueria -
Gordo (9th Ave, San Francisco, CA)
Thai - Siam Lotus (Haight St. San Francisco, CA)
Sunday Breakfast - The Montclair Egg Shop (Oakland, CA)
Vietnamese - Miss Saigon (Grand Ave, Oakland, CA)
Honorable Mention -
Rolling Dunes (Lakeshore Ave, Oakland, CA)
Overrated - Bakesale Betty's Fried Chicken Sandwich, Everett & Jones


3. NOT NEEDING A CAR
I covered the harsh realities of transportation in Jozi in an
earlier post. I haven't owned a car since 2006 and I don't plan on buying one any time soon. It's become part of who I am. Believe it or not, it makes me a lot more efficient and organized. Not owning a car helps keep me healthy: physically, psychologically and financially. I get more time to read everyday on the bus and on BART. I ride my bike for at least 30 minutes everyday, which should be more than enough to keep me off the fat farm. I don't have to pay for gas, tickets, registration, tickets, insurance, tickets, repairs, tickets, and all the other things that make owning a car so expensive. I really miss Oakland's walkable neighborhoods, like Lake Merrit, Uptown, Temescal, and Fruitvale.

4. BURNERS FOOTBALL CLUB
I've been lucky to have the chance to work with players from different clubs and teams here in Africa, including Wits F.C. Juniors, Black Diamonds F.C., Grupo Desportivo de Manica, and the University of Johannesburg Men's Team. But, you know what they say: "You can take the coach out of the
Burners Football Club, but you can't take the Burners Football Club out of the coach." I think they say that... well, I say that. Burners FC started in 2006 as a rag tag group of friends from the East Bay (originally the B-Town Burners) who just wanted to play some indoor soccer on the weekends. Now, we are a fully fledged world class football (and social) club. For the last month or so I've been working from afar to get our two youth teams registered for the upcoming Fall season, and as always, I am juiced! I'm always proud when one of our players moves on to bigger thangs, as several already have. But I'm always excited to start off a new season, to see how each player, new and old is going to surprise me... they always do. This will be my fourth year working with some of the boys, and my first with others. It's gonna be a good one, and as always, we're gonna have a funky good time.
5. FAMILY

Nuff said, you know who you are! To the ones I've always known and the ones I've never met, I'll see you soon!


Pura Vida...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Luckiest Man Alive... Pt. 2


My new friend Jerry from Soweto told me that in Africa, getting stung by a bee is a sign of good luck. I told Jerry, "that's the kind of saying that people who have next-to-nothing invent." He laughed. I tried to laugh, but my arm was KILLING me. Later that night, I thought about Jerry's wisdom and decided that there may be some truth to it. After all, we've already established that I am the luckiest man alive (see earlier post). Plus, I've been stung by a bee three times, in some of the most unlikely places possible. The first time, when I was just a wee lad, I got stung on my tongue. The second time, it was in between my fingers—possibly the single most irritating experience of my life. This weekend, she got me on the right brachialis, dang near in my armpit. Not as tricky as the first two, but enough to make me feel special.


Honestly, I have better reasons to believe that I am the luckiest man alive, and last weekend that list of reasons only got longer. I finally got to spend some quality time in the North West Province of South Africa, home of the Royal Bafokeng Nation. Back in April, when my friends, Schyleen and Ron, heard that I was going to South Africa they made it very clear that visiting RBN was a must. It's true—there is so much going on under this one roof that is right up my alley.

The The Royal Bafokeng Nation is the ethnic homeland of the Bafokeng people, who settled in the Rustenburg Valley during the 12th century. Just to put things into perspective, the Republic of South Africa was only formed in 1961. During the 19th century the Boers began to settle in the valley, encroaching on Bafokeng territory. Over the next 150 years, the Bafokeng people would struggle to retain control of this land—miraculously, they were successful. Remember, land rights of Africans, with or without title, have often been completely ignored throughout history. In the 20th century the South African government designated ten areas as "bantustans" with the goal of restricting/relocating blacks to specific areas. As my friends back home in the U.S. shake their head in disbelief, I ask them to first remember the Homestead Act and the creation of Indian Reservations.

The Bafokeng people took extreme and creative measures to retain control of this land. Money was pooled in community funds used to buy the land that had already been occupied for centuries. In some cases, sympathetic white groups were used as "fronts" who could buy the land on paper to protect it from being stolen by unsympathetic whites. Ultimately, the efforts to hold onto the land would reap huge rewards. At the end of the 19th century the Bushveld Igneous Complex was discovered. In plain English, the Royal Bafokeng Nation sits atop one of the largest concentration of platinum deposits in the world.

No, the platinum is not the part about this place that is "right up my alley." I don't do jewelry. The exciting part is what RBN has done, is doing, and plans to do with this serious cash flow. As a real-life case study, RBN represents a unique chance to for me to observe massive urban planning (my undergraduate major), sports development (my profession), and youth education (my raison d'être), all in one place. With an emphasis on sustainability, RBN has laid out a master plan "aimed at creating an environment in which people live with dignity and have access to facilities – health, education, recreation and employment – thus enabling them to maximize their abilities and talents." Economically, the goal is to wean the Bafokeng community of 300,000 people off of the mining revenues before the ore deposits run out (are you listening, Saudi Arabia?).

Like I said, there is a whole lot going on at RBN, and I was only there for a few short days. On my first evening in town, my host, Sue, brought me along (willingly) to her yoga class. Ironically, I've lived in the Bay Area for almost three decades, but I had to travel to Africa to try yoga for the first time. I loved it, and can see myself doing the downward dog a lot more in the future.
On my first full day I visited Royal Bafokeng Sports (RBS), a division of Royal Bafokeng Holdings. Many of you may recognize the name Bafokeng because the stadium was one of the ten sites to host World Cup 2010, including the USA vs England and USA vs. Ghana matches. The world class training facilities made international headlines because England's team was based there during their short stay at the tournament. What is even more impressive than the World Cup headlines is the impact that Royal Bafokeng Sports is having in the local community. Currently, almost 20,000 kids are participating in RBS programs, including soccer, rugby, athletics (track & field), martial arts, and netball. The soccer program reaches 5,000 kids, not including the the competitive U13, U15, U17, and U19 teams. On Friday I observed the training sessions, which are run by a team of Brazilian and Irish coaches. It was especially nice to get some pointers from Darren Conway of the Football Association of Irelan (FAI) while he worked with the goalkeepers.


At the professional level, RBN owns two franchises— the Platinum Stars (soccer) and the Platium Leopards (rugby). On Friday I attended the unveiling on the new Platinum Stars kits for the 2010-11 season. That evening, I watched my first ever live professional rugby match between the Leopards and the Durban Sharks. It was not close, I'll just leave it at that. Fortunately, when you're in the box with free food and drinks—thank you Darren—you hardly feel the sting of a bad loss. After the game, we rounded out the night at News Cafe in Rustenburg. One thing that I love about Africa is that it is still cool for guys to dance. And by "dance" I mean actually  dance—not two-step in place as if the world will end if you spill a drop of your Hennessy.

On Saturday, we all took to the rugby field at the Bafokeng Sports Campus for a long day of choreography practice. 200 young athletes from the five different RBS programs have been chosen to perform in the pregame show at the Tri Nations Rugby Tournament. The upcoming match between the Springboks and the All Blacks at Soccer City has already sold out. By the way, I don't care about any court ruling—I will always call it "Soccer City." While it was amazing to see all the kids work out their routines, the highlight was when a spontaneous dance-off broke out. I was proud of the soccer boys, but I have to admit that the youngster from the athletics program was too smooth, and the big oke from the rugby squad has his own thing going on.


video

video



In the afternoon I got to sit in on a presentation given by Ezzy Seabelo, the Community Development Director for Royal Bafokeng Sports. The presentation was given for Brooks Meek, the Vice President of International Basketball Operations for the NBA, which is looking to partner with RBS to develop the sport in South Africa.

After a busy few days, I was looking forward to Sunday, the day made for rest and family. What better way to spend the day than hanging around the house with the family that took me in the for weekend. Sue, Charles, and their kids (Sam and Rebecca), opened up their home and treated me like family during my visit, and Sunday was no exception. A late morning cup of coffee with a freshly picked passion fruit... a little digging in the dirt with Charles to replace a sprinkler head... some backyard soccer with Sam. But no old school Sunday is complete without a surprise visit from an unexpected guest. The highlight of my weekend, and one of the highlights of my time in South Africa, was the chance to sit down with Memogelo, Semane Molotlegi—the Queen Mother of the Bafokeng people. Her son, Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi is the "36th king of the Bafokeng, and the 15th direct descendant of a long lineage of Bafokeng kings." Years ago Memogelo took Sue under her wing, and now their friendship has grown to the point where it is nothing for her to just stop by for a chat. So there I was, with Sue, Charles, and Memogelo—having coffee and chatting about local politics and what-not. All I can say is that she does not wear her royalty on her wrists, fingers, or around her neck, but even if you didn't know who she was, you would know she was somebody special after sitting with her. In the words of Maya Angelou... Phenomenal Woman.

Pura Vida

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Finding My Way

My, how time flies! I can't believe my 3-month stay in South Africa has reached the home stretch. With less than 3 weeks left in the Motherland, it feels like the World Cup was about a year ago, and every now and then I find myself forgetting that I'm not actually from Jozi. But who knows, maybe I am! Actually, this month my cousin, Myra, is going to visit our oldest living relative, Lucy Chandler. Aunt Lucy turned 108 this July 4th, on the same day that my new nephew, Gabriel Louis Williams, was born—talk about the old and the new. We are hoping to get a swab of Aunt Lucy's cheek cells, which may help us determine what part of Africa we are actually from.

In the meantime, I've been finding my way as an Black American in Africa—yes, Unity, we could argue about this all day, but I tend to agree with Smokey Robinson's spoken word piece. While I'm not qualified to start writing any how-to-survive guides, I still thought it would be fun to share some of my insights about how I've settled in and found my groove here. Here goes:

Getting Around Town

My first bit of advice about asking for directions on the streets of Jozi is... DON'T. Most likely, you will be told that "you must just go sttttrraaaight past the robot and you will get there just now." Whether or not you reach your destination depends entirely on which direction the person happens to be facing when you ask them. The other problem is this uniquely South African expression, "just now." But we'll tackle that, as well as the local definition of "robot," in later paragraphs.

Public Transportation? Mass Transit? Fahgetaboutit. There's a beautiful new light rail called the Guatrain (pronounced How Train). It's clean, quiet and fast, but it costs about $12 USD one-way, and for now, it only runs between the Sandton shopping district and the airport (just in time for the World Cup!). The region is also developing a solid Bus Rapid Transit system, which is great in the areas where it's up and running. Unfortunately, the "Rea Vaya" stop in front of the UJ Auckland Park Campus where I'm staying is still under construction.

The bigger issue is dealing with the minibus taxi "cartels," which became entrenched during the Apartheid era, when only whites were allowed to ride the public buses and trains. Eventually, the informal system grew so large that it completely displaced all other public transportation. The drivers (and their "bosses") are none-too-eager to be displaced by any new mass-transit system. This is understandable since the taxi's, which cram up to 20 folks into one van, can rightly be considered mass-transit. I won't lie—I have yet to ride one of these deathcabs. First of all, my health insurance plan is extremely bare bones. Second, you have to know the special hand signals to flag them down in the right direction. It's no consolation that they always honk and pull over for me when I don't need a ride.




The Shop


As a black man, I don't play when it comes to my haircut. Yes, many of you laugh as you remember my afro, but I took that quite seriously too. I've been going to Center Stage West Salon on Lake Shore since the store next door was selling red black and green Cross Colours overalls. And if it's not Center Stage, then I cut cut my own hair, so it's no surprise that I travel with my own clippers. Unfortunately, the difference in electricity currents here shorted out my clippers—the same thing happened in New Zealand—so I was stuck like Chuck. Everyone says the first words you should learn in any language are "please" and "thank you." I would add "skin-tight fade" to that list. After a couple of tries, I got my cut correct in Downtown Jozi for only 20 Rand. This was a very happy medium between the shop at the mall that charged 50 for the chiskop (baldhead), and they guys sitting at the bus stop with their clippers plugged into a portable battery (I didn't ask how much that treatment would cost).

A Few Good Words
I've mentioned some of the drama that not having the right words can cause. I'm a linguist at heart, but I am no match for South Africa, a country with 11 or 12 official languages, depending on who you ask. My strategy has been to pick a few choice expressions that seem to transcend all language barriers. Here are some of my findings:

- "Now Now" vs "Just Now" - One of the most important things to understand is the difference between "now now" and "just now." Apparently, "now now" means really soon, and "just now" means kinda soon. Ironically, neither expression means "now," and either one can also mean never.

- "Eish / Aysh" - My new favorite expression. According to a slang guide that Sonja provided, it is a "common term that denotes a wide range of emotions from joy and surprise to confusion and anger... when in doubt, use it." I've found it to be most effective when said while shaking one hand off as if you just touched a hot stove.

- "Is it!?" (pronounced uzzit) = "fah real?"

- "Robot" = traffic light (yes, a traffic light—don't ask me why).

- "Lekker" (pronounced lacquer) = nice

- "Organize" - Jelly hipped me to this excellent expression. It means pretty much the same thing, but here it's much more versatile. For example, when one guy approached Jelly on the street begging for change, he said, "hey, can you spare a few Rand? I'm tryin' to organize a pie." Brilliant. It wasn't long before we were talking about "organizing" everything from some chicken to a spare world cup ticket.

- "Hectic" - Like, "organize," this is not a term that is uniquely South African. But you can't live in Johannesburg for too long without realizing how important this word is. In a word, Joburg is "hectic."

- "Sharp" - A few months ago in this blog I wrote about how each culture and language has a magic, multi-purpose word—in Fiji it was "bula." The magic word for South Africans is clearly "sharp" (pronounced shop or shaaaahp). By my count, it has at least 5 meanings, including hello, goodbye, thank you, your welcome, and O.K. Occasionally, if people really want to get their point across, they'll double it up, as in "sharp-sharp."

Hosts

Without a doubt, the key to finding my way has been to have an amazing set of hosts. Ernestine has been my ultimate plug in Jozi.
She's brought me into the Office for Community Engagement / Strategic Partnerships Unit at UJ, where the lovely team of ladies (Monki, Juliet, Bella, Natie, Lucretia, Lucia) have put me to work. On the first day I met Ernestine, she took me to the Wits F.C. Juniors training grounds, where here husband, Grant, coaches the U14 team. From that point, Grant and the Wits F.C. Juniors family have become my futbol home away from home—thank you!

On top of that, Ernestine also connected me with Adrian Carter, who has opened up his home to me for the past two months. Adrian also introduced me to Niamh Faherty and the team at the UJ Sports Bureau, who were nice enough to take me to Moçambique last month—massive thank you!



My very first hosts in Johannesburg were Sonja and Moiketsi, whom I met through my stateside cousin, Joe Hurd. Sonja and Mo handed me off to UJ, but they never forget about me. Last weekend they took me along with them for a long weekend getaway in the province of Mpumulanga. After a beautiful and relaxing weekend, I get to add Nana and Craig to my list of greats hosts. They let me pretend to be part of the extended family as we celebrated their 5th anniversary and Nana's birthday in style. Moiketsi and I pulled up to the cottage at Walkersons Estate on Friday evening, and for the second time in my life, I was treated to Craig's deluxe braai with delicious chimichuri. Bright and early the next morning, a small group of ambitious folks (that didn't include me) braved the bone-chilling cold for a fly-fishing expedition. When I say "bone-chilling," I do mean that literally—in fact, we came across some "Willie Warmers" at one store when taking a stroll through Dullstroom later that afternoon.


On a more savory note, I finally found a good South African beer while in town—not suprisingly, at a microbrewery. Also not surprisingly, it was a porter, just like my personal favorite from back home, Black Butte Porter (Deschutes Brewery).





After a short helicopter ride (another first for me!), and a few hours in town, we geared up for the main event. The food was delicious, though not as good as Craig's braai the night before, or Gail's french lamb recipe that would follow on Sunday. The company was excellent, and if I had known Craig and Kelly for any more than one month I would not have been able to hold it together during the beautiful toasts from their friends and family.










This coming weekend, my list of great hosts will only grow longer, as I travel to the North West Province. The people of Royal Bafokeng Nation have been supporting me from afar throughout me trip, but this will be my first opportunity to spend some quality time in their neck of the woods. I'm looking forward to it! Until then...

Pura Vida

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Christmas in July


After a mind-blowing experience in Moçambique, I was due for a relatively low-key week back in Johannesburg. So, that's what I had (except for last Saturday, but I digress).

Most of my week was focused on preparing for the final project of our Mandela Day Initiative in the Office for Community Engagement at University of Johannesburg. In the spirit of Mandela Day (July 18th) our team designed five different projects to be carried out at the end of the month. The projects were designed around the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, focusing on 1) Poverty & Hunger, 2) Literacy & Primary Education, 3) Gender Equality, 4) Health, and 5) Environmental Sustainability. I was responsible for designing and pulling off the Environmental Sustainability Project, and I am proud to report that our City Clean Up Day was a success!



The next day I was exposed to an interesting global phenomenon for the first time in my life... Christmas in July! I was a little skeptical at first. Honestly, I love me some Jesus, but Christmas is probably my 13th favorite Holiday (after Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, my birthday, your birthday, your Mama's birthday etc.). But, after a whole bunch of coaching and volunteering, I was ready for some good ol' fraternizing, so I accepted the invitation and got myself in the spirit. Actually, the event was lekker, and a lot more affordable than real Christmas. We stopped at the sto' on the way to buy our contribution to the gift exchange: a flask of Zorba vodka, a can of Red Bull, a mini-bottle of champagne, and a pack of South Africa's version of bubble tape—all for less than 30 Rand!
The function was complete with Christmas decorations, frosted windows, gluvine, costumes, and a fully functional ice sculpture. Here's how it worked: you pour a shot of Jäger (or some other poison) in the top the snowman's head, and it comes out the bottom extra cold and ready for consumption. It's your job (not mine) to be well positioned and ready to receive!


When I'm not coaching, working at UJ, or drinking from a snowman's belly, I manage to make time for my one true habit: the books (and the Kindle, Lita!). Here's an updated list of what I've been enjoying (some more than others) since I left the Bay at the end of May.

BOOKS I'VE READ SO FAR:
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin - by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
- Three Cups of Tea - by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin (2006)
- Wuthering Heights - by Emily Brontë (1847)
- How Can Man Die Better: The Life of Robert Sobukwe - by Benjamin Pogrund (2006)
- Beauty and the Beast - by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont (1756)
- The Prince (De Principatibus) - by Niccolo Machiavelli (1832)
- The Last King of Scotland - by Giles Foden (1998)
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - by Benjamin Franklin (1791)
- The Constant Gardener - by John le Carré (2005)
- Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy - by Moisés Naím (2005)
- The Poisonwood Bible - by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
- Man and His Symbols - by Carl Jung with Henderson, von Franz, Jaffé and Jacobi (1964)
- So Long A Letter - by Mariama Bâ (1981)
- Civil Disobedience (Resistance to Civil Government) - by Henry David Thoreau (1849)


Pura Vida...