Saturday, June 19, 2010

Going to the Game

I was catching a bus on the coldest, wettest day Cape Town had experienced in many years. Not just a local bus, but a bus that would carry me 800km to Port Elizabeth to watch a football match. Did I hear you ask why? Because the biggest sporting event on the planet is taking placed in my country and I want to be a part of the experience.

I was catching a bus with my English friend John, who wanted to go to Port Elizabeth to cheer for the English football team. We stared grimly at the bus parked outside of the ticket office. More and more people were being squeezed in, their luggage squashed into big lockers along the sides. We breathed a sigh of relief when we discovered that this was not our bus company. “OK, where is it?” And then a bus drove in, its windscreen wipers battling the elements and windows misty with the promised warmth inside. We made a dash for it, and stowed our stuff on the shelf above the seat. I sank gratefully into my refuge and watched the driver’s assistant check the tickets of the embarking passengers. They came from all walks of life, some clutching plastic packets while others stowed large bags in the compartments next to the wheels. The doors swished shut and we set off through the driving rain.

I was settling deeper into my seat with a sigh of insulated comfort when it struck me – the sweetly sour smell of urine. I hoped that whoever it was would not stay long on the bus. But the smell persisted until I noticed a creeping sense of wetness at the back of my thighs...the seat I was on was wet! I rapidly moved to another seat, hoping that my pants would dry without smell. Ah, the joys of community transport.

We drove amongst beautiful snow-covered mountains, stopping in Paarl, Worcester, Robertson, Mossel Bay and Plett to exchange passengers. The newcomers would climb the stairs into the bus looking hopefully for an empty row of seats. Some were lucky to find a private space, while others had to share bum space. As the journey proghressed we began to bond with one another, united by the irritation we experienced at the onboard movies. There was a communal television screen at the front of the bus, turned up loud through the bus’s intercom system. We watched a fundamentalist Christian movie that invited us to fireproof our hearts. Having given our hearts to Jesus, we then were invited by Leon Schuster to believe that he was a African traditional healer in the second version of a movie that should never have seen its first creation.

A toddler walked down the aisle and charmed all the passengers with her smile, and was instantly rewarded with crisps and sweets from various passengers. An old granny chewed on her gums quietly in the corner. A German tourist with a Maltese cross tattooed onto the back of his neck claimed a smoke break at every possible opportunity. A wealthy white pensioner, retired from Cape Town’s northern suburbs to Sedgefield, got off muttering confidentially to me that this trip with the Blacks was not as bad as he had expected. The toddler waved to the whole bus before following her mother down the stairs to the exit.

Our stops are predetermined. They are at the less significant petrol stations with attached shops. We get to use their toilet facilities in exchange for trooping into the shop to buy food.... well not real food but rather pies, crisps and sweets, tired sandwiches, and various beverages. When a passenger complained that we were 60 minutes behind schedule, the driver’s assistant suggested that we could see it in a positive light. He explained that in such bad weather we had a choice - we could either take a swift bus trip that might land us in hospital, or we could take a slower trip that would get us safely to our destination. The passengers agreed that we would exercise the latter choice, and settled in for a slightly longer trip.

And we did indeed arrive safely – eagerly anticipating renewed friendships with Eastern Cape friends, and football in the new Mandela Bay stadium.

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