Saturday, 5 June 2010

Taxi Drivers

We're nearly at the half way mark, here in Johannesburg.

So far, 28 days later, I haven't had much of an experience outside of
the "walls" - for the most part people have agreed that it is one of
the friendliest places we've been to, but also that there is an over-
riding sense of danger. There have been crimes, property has gone
missing, but rumours of flame-throwing cars and lawless marauders
smashing down the gates at dawn, have so far been unfounded.

I went to Sandton, a kind of up-market sprawling mess of consumerism
that poor countries do so well for their rich minorities, primarily
to collect my match tickets for the three games i will be in
attendance to. It was a story of two cab drivers.

The first was incredibly knowledgeable about the beautiful game, and
spoke intelligently and happily about the World Cup, about the teams
he knew and liked, the chances of those in attendance. It was a fun
and charming cab ride, from someone who seemed to, despite not seeing
any real evidence of visitors ready to spend and tourist the city, be
filled with optimism.

The next cab journey, back from the horror of the mall (I'm not a big
shopper, and the bigger the mall, the more unpleasant I find the
experience) was polar opposite in many ways. The driver was still
friendly, still happy to talk, however he spoke of the failures of
government, the corruption of the organizers and those in bed with
them, and the overriding sense of the false sheen of hope that such a
visiting event offers.

It is hard not to think about how disruptive such an event can have
on a country that exists in such violent extremes of wealth and
poverty. Will the hope fade with the blows of the vuvuzela - the cup
leaving, along with the focus of the world, the injection of hope and
money and employment? Are such things more damaging than we realise?

In the morning, I go down to the breakfast area of our accommodation,
my room cleaned by a team of cleaners, maintenance undertaken by a
fleet of electricians and painters and builders, security checking my
pass. I buy a coffee from the three servers who remember exactly what
I have and how, and pay before taking my seat to eat a breakfast
prepared by a host of cooks, my plates cleared by a team of
bussers... will all of this leave, and these people think back fondly
on the two or so months of employment they have had? Will they go on
to work somewhere else? Or will it all go, leaving them damaged by
the cheating glimpse of what could have been? "I was a barista at the
World Cup" signs held up at road junctions, a handful of coins tossed
out from a car that leaves them standing, like the thousands,
millions of guests on a jolly up for 4 weeks of football.

The organising committee will no doubt come out of this event very
well - their pockets lined from the revenue and licensing, while
South Africa foots the bill. "We promote the game from grass roots to
the highest levels!" it will no doubt proclaim at one of the many
luncheons that seem to take place for them.

Onwards to Brazil...

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