On The Rhodes (Durban, South Africa)

Written 13 June 2010.

It was a slow day and the sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road, and there are a lot of them in Africa. Machine guns are like iPods to the African populace, with ammunition the bread of this continent. Guns before butter is never more truer than in Zimbabwe, where tourists are greeted at Victoria Falls Airport by two Customs options: guns to declare and nothing to declare. Whilst in Rhodesia, B and I received an audience with elephants, impala, hippopotamus, wild boer, babboons, zebra, and the most dangerous animal of all, the Zimbabwean. Whilst not actually threatening, the Zimbabwean male is a strange creature. Prone to sitting by the side of the road with worthless knickknacks, the refusal to trade US Dollars for such baggage weight was invariably met with the declaration: “I like your shoes”. Should this be ignored, “I like you hat” and “I like your kidney” would come soon. The highlight of visiting Zimbabwe was not actually anything Rhodesia itself had to offer (although the Falls were pretty good), but in making friends with a trifecta of Queenslanders.

The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar, and the Zambezi delta was resounding with the inescapable shriek of the vuvuzela. For those that think this horn is the devil, let me remind them that this is hell. As Sir Leo of DiCaprio reminds us, we come here with our hand sanitiser and malaria tablets and think this is Afrika. Truth is, Afrika is a phantasmagoria of sights (amazing), smells (nauseating), tastes (somewhat more nauseating) and sounds (unbearable). A hippo lifting its head from the aquatic horizon is specactular, the impromptu shower that the Falls delivers is more cleansing than Rexona body scrub (the official scrub of the 2010 World Cup), and Game Biltong is delicious. But the national guitar of South Africa, this plastic horn of hell, is the cursed work of a cursed land.

She looked me over and I guess she thought I was alright, thankfully she kept walking, because girls in South Africa are more likely to have HIV than a high school diploma. It’s important to remember this when you’re as loose as Robin van Persie on shore leave at Cool Joes on the Durban beachfront. I was there with B and the Q3 after watching the Bawanna Bawandwagon draw the Mexican Burritos at the Fan Fest live site. (For those keeping score, the fan sites here sell full strength beer for equivalent AU$2.75 for 440 millimetres.) It was at Cool Joes that a number of hairybacks were drawn to your reminiscing raconteur and co., with all five of us drawn into a licentious web of alcohol, sex, Lady Gaga and transmissable diseases. Props to the DJ, however, for knowing his audience: he played Africa by Toto. And it sure is going to take a hell of a lot to keep me from returning.

I was having this discussion in a taxi heading downtown, we were heading from Essenwood Markets across to the Gateway in North Durban. There were seven of us in the cab, which was doing 130km/h in an 80 zone, when it crossed to the opposite side of the road to overtake. My life flashed before my eyes (more interesting than a Merchant Ivory film, but nothing on Blood Diamond), but thankfully the driver heeded our swearing and shouts of fear to return to the right lane. True story: the cabbie was overtaking a police cruiser. Instead of arresting the cabbie, the coppette behind the wheel was too busy texting.

She’s a rich girl, she don’t try to hide it, she’s probably not a local.

A man walks down the street, he says, “Why am I soft in the middle now?”. I reply, “It’s because you’re not an Aussie on tour”. At least not me on tour. I’ve barely slept since arriving, and yet I’ve managed to achieve so much, such as enjoying a Greek lunch whilst watching the hairy boys be dominated by Korea de Sud. Shortly after this visceral delight, I wandered downstairs from the restaurant with my new friends (don’t know their names), and there was Lucas Neill, leaning against a (Jimmy) Bollard. Turns out we’d by chance had lunch next door to the team’s hotel. Within the hour, the whole squad was down there, chatting and posing for photos with the eight Aussies who’d been lucky enough to be there. Although luck is not the real reason this happened: truth is, you make your own luck. I like to think the team stayed there because they predicted that’s where I’d have lunch. The rest of the Aussie contingent in Durban lined the streets to the stadium for 3 hours to catching the most fleeting glimpse of their heroes. I had a feed and met the team, and that’s why I’m not soft in the middle now, soft in the middle now, but the rest of my life is still pretty hard.

Joseph’s face was as black as the night and the pale yellow moon hung in his eyes, his path was marked by the stars in the Southern Hemisphere and he walked the length of his days under African skies. Best keep him away from Andrew Johns.

Homeless, homeless, moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake, a lake that Philip Hughes once scored a century in each innings on. Just one of the casual entries on the Kingmead accomplishments board in the Members Stand. That’s where I sit now writing this unread drivel. This stadium is home to some amazing artifacts of cricket history, such as the team photo of South Africa’s first squad upon readmission and signed bats from every team from the 2003 World Cup. Some people question the merits of South African cricket’s quota system, but they should remember that before readmission, South Africa had an even more stringent quota system. And the tents aren’t too bad. The only problem is the emails from here: everyone knows that emails from people travelling are so boring.

Fat Charlie the Archangel sloped into the room, he was supposed to inspire his proud boys to success with his princely smile and horsey wife. But alas, this king-da-come was let down by his newly trusted steed, Robert the Green who, with an ungainly dive and unopposable thumbs, fumbled the ball into his own net like a Pakistani wicketkeeper who’d just received a text message from influential cricket personality Lara Bungle. I watched this hilarity at Tent City with the rest of the yahoos. Not only was I able to sing every word to both national anthems, I was also able to cheer on a fantastic performance from our Seppo cousins. One of my fellow tourists asked me what I would do if I was England’s manager, right about the 65-minute mark, and my reply: “Bring on Theo Walcott.”

A long time ago, before you were born, when I was single, and life was great, I went to see Australia beat Germany at the newly opened Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. It was a tough game, and not everyone was as confident as I was, but the boys in the Wattle tones did the business once again against the Teutonic foe. I watched this game with friends old and new, some of them forever and others fleeting, but the victory lived with me forever. And we scored last too, so M won his bet.

Over the mountain, down in the valley, lives a former talk show host, everybody knows his name, he says, “There’s no doubt about it, it was the myth of fingerprints, I’ve seen them all and they’re all the same”. But they’re not all the same. So very boring.

But this is still a land of grace.

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