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  • We stayed in South Africa the year they hosted the World Cup. It was a winter when we had come undone and were seeking to find new paths and all the old patterns had to fall away. Going back to the island with heartache and issues unresolved and having to explain the baggage we carried seemed too much to bear. So we stayed on.

    Winter in South Arica is bright and mild. We carried the sofa onto the stoep. Set up a table in the sun. Walked. Reminded each other to drink and eat. Walked again.

    Neither of us are sporting types. In 11 years living in Pretoria, we’ve been to one Blue Bulls Rugby game as a cultural experience. We barely know the rules for football beyond the idea that you score a goal by kicking the ball into the nets and using your hands is bad.

    But The World Cup. This was once in lifetime stuff.

    We went ahead and got tickets to a game. Team USA against Algeria. We scoped out restaurants where they installed flat screen TVs and made reservations. We live close enough to the stadium in Pretoria to tell the score of rugby games by the roar of the crowd and as we drove past on the way to school during the last weeks of the semester we watched the preparations.

    Actually you didn’t need to drive by the stadium to notice the changes. A full three years in advance they started ripping up major roads and putting in trenching for fibre cables and digital networking. I got lost every time I went to the airport the changes were so rapid. Everything was being done at once; stadiums, bridges, highways, overpasses, new busses, signage, public art, parking. The nation was mobilized behind a common vision.

    We bought vuvuzelas and hooted them as we walked answering the hoots and whistles from houses in the neighbourhood and from the long lines of people waiting for a bus or taxi.

    We were no longer the only ones on the streets in the evening, suddenly a nation rediscovered walking, maybe it was the squads of mounted police at every intersection who stopped traffic and walked us all across, maybe it was the streets closed off to traffic altogether, maybe it was the fanparks with the huge screens to watch the games, or maybe it was a shift in the national mood to optimism and hope and great anticipation. The world had come to South Africa.

    We went to the Italian Social Club for the first game and leapt out of our seats and cheered with the rest of the patrons all of us wearing green and gold.

    We talked games and points and possibilities with the gardeners and security men on our regular walks. In a nation struggling out of a history of division and separation there was suddenly a common topic of conversation.

    We walked down to the stadium and watched the crowd surge in, vuvuzelas going full blast, when South Africa played Uruguay and then went and watched at a restaurant as the hope for Bafana-Bafana (the nickname for the South African side) slid away. Ok, Ok but then there was Ghana, Africa still has a chance.

    And we walked into the stadium to watch our game. Flags and color. Pink fairies with hairy legs and gauzy wings. Bare chested painted warriors. The cat in the hat. Thing One and Thing Two. They were all there too. All of us caught up in a wild surging sea of vuvuzelas and chanting.

    When a call went the wrong way it was, “Fuck FIFA. Fuck FIFA.”

    And USA, USA, USA

    And swing low sweet chariot

    And ayooo, ayoooooooooo

    No one sat.

    And when the last goal was scored a jubilation erupted, cups and beers and hats all flying and strangers hugging strangers.

    A young man from Des Moines jumped onto his seat, tears streaming down his face. This is the best night of my life, he said over and over.

    We stayed and cheered and cheered as the team went round the field saluting fans and we walked home with a sense of optimism and possibility that had come from the most unexpected source in that dry and dusty South African winter when we had fallen out and so much had fallen away and we were adrift and far from home.
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