Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dr. Baksh & Family Go to the World Cup in South Africa

June 23rd:
As most of our patients are aware, we love football/soccer. When we heard 8 years ago that South Africa was hosting the World Cup in 2010, we started planning. It would be an amazing opportunity!!! We could visit family (Rayhana was born there and has lots of family) and experience the World Cup in South Africa, the first time on the African continent. This event is more than just football, with the history of apartheid in its recent past, this event is an opportunity to bring all the cultures and peoples of South Africa together to celebrate their accomplishment of working together to host such a huge international event.
So here we are days away from being at our first World Cup game and it happens to be in Rayhana's birthplace of Rustenburg.
Since we have been blessed with being able to make such an amazing trip, we wanted to do something for the less privileged children of South Africa. We have decided to take gently used soccer gear for the children. Our friends and Kanata Soccer have generously donated some gear. We would like to thank them for helping us do our small part.

June 28th:
The trip almost started early. The earthquake on Wednesday June 23, had our neighbors at the office wondering if we started our renovations earlier than planned.
Our drive to Toronto was fine, other than the torrential rainstorm for 20 minutes.
Our baggage, including the soccer gear for charity, was under the weight restrictions when checked into KLM for our flight. After a short layover in Amsterdam, we arrived earlier than expected into Johannesburg.
The Spain-Chile game was in progress. Airport staff was busy watching the game whilst working. Got a good night's sleep at Rayhana’s uncle’s place, after a combined 17 hours on two planes.
Went to FIFA ticket offices, slight line-up getting the tickets but well organized.
Traveled to Rustenburg on June 26th, about an hour away from Johannesburg, for our first World Cup game - US vs. Ghana. We saw police cars every 5-10 minutes along the way, just being visible.  We met with family before heading to the game.
The Park & Ride was set up well, four different areas to park and shuttle buses to take you to the stadium for a short walk to the entrance. Security was tight, including metal detectors before your ticket was scanned.
Literally bumped into Dr. John Odai, from Capital Endodontics in Ottawa. He is a big Ghana supporter, being born there.
People were walking up to us and taking pictures with us, Zayn (our son) was walking around with a big  Canadian flag, and we were wearing our Trinidad and Tobago shirts.
The actual game was fantastic. Technically no, but the experience as a fan was nothing that I had experienced before. I think the majority in the stadium, 35,000 in attendance, were cheering for Ghana, other than a few Americans who were there. The section that we were in was for non-aligned fans, but other than a couple of American supporters who were quiet, everyone was supporting Ghana, all different nationalities. I don't think our section was quiet for the whole match. 
The vuvuzelas were blasting, the chants were going, and Ghanaian drums were pounding.
The vuvuzela noise is over-rated, sounds worse on TV. We had ear-plugs, but they were not used.  You get used to the sound and it becomes a white noise, background sound for the spectacle you are watching. You blow the vuvuzela like a trumpet. The blast can be very loud if it is by your ear, quite deafening, The protocol is to point it in the air and blow your lungs out!
After the game, the Americans were devastated, but no one was rude or insulting, just celebrated the win.

Traveled back to Johannesburg the next day, after a big family brunch, for the game at Soccer City - Argentina vs Mexico. Walking up to the stadium, we were talking to fans from different countries who were excited to see two quality teams. The stadium was impressive, shaped like a calabash bowl and coloured.  Easy entrance procedure, and easy access to the stands area. The place was loud even though there was still plenty of time before the game was starting; a roof and 85, 000 people will do that.
The game was technically and tactically better than the night before. Our section was quiet, probably  too nervous. The skills of the players are wondrous to see.

Tonight we see Brazil play Chile at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. My throat is still sore from yelling in Rustenburg; not sure what it will be like after this game.

July 4th:
Brazil vs Chile game was played at Ellis Park in Johannesburg at 8:30 in the evening. We tried to drive past the stadium early in the afternoon, but they had already closed off the streets. We took a large detour through downtown Johannesburg. We got to try Mochachos chicken, better than Nando's! The game was like men against boys, Chile could move the ball but Brazil just ran through them. The crowd was mostly for Brazil; at times the singing and drums were louder than the vuvuzelas.

July 6th:
The night of the Brazil vs Chile game, I became feverish and tired. I slept the night and was tired the next morning. I stayed behind and slept and rested the day, while the others went to Pretoria to watch Paraguay play Japan. The report was not an exciting game but the crowd was fun. The whole stadium participated in doing the wave repeatedly.
We visited relatives the next couple of days then left late on Thursday July 1st, to make our way towards Port Elizabeth. We stayed overnight in a small town called Middelburg, Eastern Cape at a guest house. We passed a number of construction sites on the highway. The difference between Canada and Africa became apparent instantly with the highway construction. Instead of barriers and temporary lanes, we saw lanes blocked off by small rocks, stones & sticks and line-ups to access one lane on the highway with each direction taking turns.
The next day started with a drive to Port Elizabeth, the roads crowded with cars racing to the stadium. The excitement was palpable before the Brazil-Netherlands match. We parked at the Park & Walk, 10 minutes from the stadium. The stadium was outstanding, nice design, great sight lines. There was a buzz (not from the vuvuzelas) from the time of the warm-ups. The crowd was 65-35% in favour of Brazil, but at the end even some of the Brazil supporters were applauding Netherlands for the game well played. The pace of the play was amazing, incredibly fast. Holland just played better and forced the game more than Brazil. The skill level is amazing to see in person, you can watch on tv but to see it live is different.
We drove to Knysna that night, along the coast towards Cape Town. The next day we finished the drive to Cape Town, along the Garden Route. South Africa is truly a breathtaking country with vistas that keep coming no matter where you are driving. We ended the day by taking in the Spain-Paraguay game at the Fan-Fest zone in downtown CapeTown. Most of the crowd was for Spain but the game provided enough excitement and talking points to keep the crowd buzzing throughout the evening.

July 4th was our wedding anniversary and we decided to take it easy to recuperate from all the traveling and only started touring around in the afternoon. We went up to Signal Hill then to Camps Bay and walked on the beach and dipped our feet in the water, even though it is winter in South Africa.  The Atlantic Ocean was ice cold.

Plans for Cape Town include Table Mountain, Cape Point and Robben Island. More to follow.

July 17
Tried to get into the Fan Park in Cape Town to watch the Netherlands-Uruguay semi-final that was being played in Cape Town, unsuccessful, the place was overflowing and no one was allowed in.  While standing in line, got into some conversations with people from a number of countries, including Cote D'Ivoire.  The atmosphere was outstanding.  There was a fan walk to the stadium also with entertainment along the way.  The next day was the Spain-Germany match from Durban.  This time, we got to the fan park early.  There was live entertainment at the park.  Cape Minstrel players, musician and singers, were the most entertaining.  The atmosphere in the park was great, everyone singing along, then excited for the whole game.
We had tickets to see Robben Island the next day, as we walked up to the ferry, it was announced that the tours were canceled for the day due to rough seas.  We went instead to Table Mountain, the wind was very high, but the views and setting are spectacular.
The next day we drove to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope, then up the peninsula to see penguins, baboons and ostriches.
We tried to get to Robben Island again but couldn't get a tour before we left for Port Elizabeth on Friday.  On our way to Port Elizabeth on July 9th,  we stopped at Cango Caves for a tour, fascinating caves with amazing stalagmites and stalactites, and the drive was heart-stopping.  Narrow roads through mountain pass.
The game in Port Elizabeth on July 10th, for 3rd place, or the losers-final as it is referred to here, was exciting, lots of action.  Fortunately the partial roof over the stadium covered us, from the torrential rain that fell during the game.  
We woke early the next morning and drove to Johannesburg to see the final with Rayhana's relatives.
The whole experience was wonderful.  Lots of enthusiasm and good will from all the fans as well as from the stadium and fan-park workers. The population is cynical about the amount of money that FIFA has taken out of the country but grateful for the exposure and increased sense of nation from the tournament being in South Africa.   The people are expecting a bit of depression after all the visitors return to their countries.  The crime incidence was almost zero.  That is expected to increase with the decreased police presence in the coming weeks.  Tourism is expected to keep increasing due to the exposure from the FIFA games.   

Before we left, we decided to visit Fordsburg Primary School, an inner city school in Johannesburg and donate the soccer gear from Kanata Soccer and our friends to them. 

Excerpt from an email sent by Mr. Lockhat.
From: Ismail Lockhat,
Principal  Fordsburg Primary School
"The Staff, Learners , the School Governing Body and I, express our heartfelt gratitude for your generous donation of soccer kits.
Most of our learners come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and were overwhelmed by your generosity. You can be rest assured that the kits are already put to good use.
A special thank you to Rayhana and Imran for having taken the trouble to bring the kits all the way from Canada and presenting it to our school.
Once again  Thank You." 

This was definitely a trip of a lifetime for our family.   Being back in South Africa to see what this country and its people are capable of organizing, was amazing.  South Africa is as beautiful as ever, its people are friendly and hospitable. The main focus of our trip was to see the World Cup Soccer but it was extra special to be able to reconnect and spend time, however short with our family and share this amazing experience with them.  For more pictures of our trip, click here:

World Cup 2010 Photos

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