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Africa
Abeja Dispatch

Rugby and Pizza Hut---welcome to Africa!?!

Map of South Africa
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Kevin and I with Chris' family
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Our first stop in Africa, and we're staying with a Chinese family - South Africa really is the rainbow nation! Shawn and I are in Durban, a big coastal town on the Indian Ocean, staying with Chris and his family, who moved here from Taiwan nine years ago, right about when Apartheid was starting to crumble.

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Chris and Brent show us the local scenery
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Chris and his friend Brent have been showing us around their town, and the local natural sights (like a beautiful waterfall) - even though it's time for "writing exams" here and they should be studying hard! (Thanks, guys!) Chris and Brent are in "Matric" (short for matriculation) that is, senior year, at Westville Boys High School.

Although the Westville Boys School is technically a public school, it is much more formal than public schools in the states. Similarly to British schools, the boys all wear suits and ties and have to keep their hair short. Peta, a friend from Westville Girls School, explained that her school also has a very strict dress code - right down to the types of barrettes and the color of ribbons they're allowed to wear in their hair. I think of the ripped blue jeans and crazy dye jobs that roamed the halls of my high school and marvel at the difference.

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This could be anytown USA - only it's in Africa!
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"Sports are VERY important here in South Africa!" Or so we were told by everyone who came to a pizza dinner hosted by the Westville Boys School Interact Club. For the predominantly white schools here, the biggest sports are Rugby and Cricket. Saturday was the big rugby game against their rival school, and everyone was required by the school to attend. Chris and Brent are both "precepts" at their school, which means they have some responsibilities to help maintain order among the students, including taking account of everyone at the game.

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The Westfield Boys cheer for their team
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Cool, a Saturday game with the whole school! Throw on your shorts, tennis shoes, and a funny t-shirt, right? Well, not for these boys. All the students from both schools were there, in full school uniforms - and sitting together. But don't think for a minute that it dampened their spirits. On the contrary, I think it increased their sense of camaraderie and school pride. As the teams pummeled each other on the Rugby field, Chris and Brent, along with the rest of Westville Boys School, screamed themselves hoarse.

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Joanne, Wayne and I hanging out after the game
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After the game, we all went to Brett's house for dinner, and then out to a celebratory party for the victorious Rugby team. Out of their school uniforms and with their girlfriends, I wouldn't have known it was any different from the parties I went to in high school, except for their funny South African accents. Even though the school is predominantly white, there are black and Indian students who seem to be fairly well integrated into the scene, and were celebrating along with the rest of the school.

The weather stays warm here all year around. So even though it's the middle of winter, the next day we went down to the beach for sun and body surfing. For Shawn and me, it was the first time we'd ever been in the Indian Ocean. Brent pointed out the shark nets that keep the Great Whites and other sharks from making a dinner out of the surf rats that line the beaches. Rollerblades and bikes cruised past the Sunday crowds.

I must admit - this was not the Africa I was expecting. For the last few days, I felt as if I was back in high school. It was fun and carefree, with a great future to look forward to. Still, when I think of the school that Shawn and I visited in Egcekeni, a nearby black township, I realize how very different people's realities can be, even when they're so close to each other. I hope that, in the future, all kids can have the same opportunities for education and carefree, hopeful teenage years.

Abeja

Abeja studies the gentlemanly sport of Rugby.

For such a "gentlemanly" culture, rugby seems a bit out of place. It makes American football seem friendly. I was a little confused by the rules, so I asked the guy next to me in the stands to help explain. For one thing, the game doesn't stop when the ball hits the ground, even if the poor guy who caught it is at the bottom of a huge pile of other sweaty guys. "When does a play end?" I asked.

"When the whistle blows." Yeah, thanks, dude.

"When do they blow the whistle?" I tried again.

"Whenever the ball goes out of bounds or there is a penalty." he explained.

Was he being vague just to annoy me, or did he think that really explained anything? When I asked what constituted a penalty, he said, "you know, anything against the rules." Great. Here I am watching a game where guys practically rip off each others clothes, pick up the guy running with the ball, slam him down and then pile on top of him, and randomly drop-kick the ball in the middle of a play- and this man is trying to tell me there are rules.

Ok, actually, there are rules, and I eventually figured them out, more or less. For example, you can't tackle anyone above the shoulders. Isn't that nice. I think firearms are probably not allowed, either. Another rule is that you can't pass or roll the ball forward, only backwards. To move the ball forward, you either have to run with it or kick it. There are also fairly strict rules concerning players staying on their own side. If the offense gets ahead of the ball, they are "off side." It's also against the rules to tackle or block or touch anyone except the guy with the ball, who is fair game to any abuse you want to dish out (I saw punches being thrown).

Play starts with a "scrum," which appears to be a highly organized blob of uniforms, one team on each side, pushing into each other. The ball tossed into the middle, only to be kicked out the back as the organism divides into individual players who proceed to try to kill the guy with the ball (remember, no firearms).

A "touch-down," which they call a "try," is worth 5 points. The crowd, of course, goes wild. Once, the guy just barely made it across the line before he was tackled and apparently seriously injured. He lay there, writhing in pain, while the rest of his team and everyone in the crowd celebrated wildly. Later, Peta chastised the boys for not caring more about their injured player. "I was so worried! I mean, I knew we would be done without him!" I'm glad someone cared.

After a touchdown, they try for the "extra point", which they call a "conversion," which is worth another two. "Field goals" scored during regular play or after a penalty are worth three points. There is another hint at British civility that is lacking in American football - when a player is going to punt the ball, everyone is completely quiet.

At the end of the game, the players line up and take turns clapping for each other. Again, I was amazed. Weren't they just engaged in a vicious battle?


 

Monica - Capturing the Celebration of the Century!
Shawn - Hluhluwe: Finding the "Big Five" Beasts of Africa
Kavitha - South African Youth Enter the African Century

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