Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 5: Ellis Park, Nasrec, Braamfontein, Greenside

Previously during my trip: I get my accreditation, walk to a mall that closes really early, and watch a live game show that is falling apart at the seams.

I attempt to go to sleep after my marathon viewing of the game show, but my sleep schedule is still out of sync with Johannesburg time, so I lie in bed, tossing and turning for the next six hours, when I “wake up” to start my first day of volunteering.

Part of Johannesburg’s plan to revitalize their city is to build a mass transit bus system. They built dedicated bus lanes in the center of main roads and highways and have placed stations in the middle of the two bus lanes. They system is called Rea Vaya BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), and “Rea Vaya” means “we are going.” The problem, however, is that this approach is “too little, too late.”

(the Ellis Park North Rea Vaya BRT station; minibus taxi at left)

First of all, minibus taxis (more on them later in a future blog post) have a near-monopoly on people who don’t have a car. Secondly, the Rea Vaya network is very small compared to the routes available by minibus taxis. Thirdly, the minibus taxis frequently use the Rea Vaya-only lanes, which is a violation of the law. Fourthly, people love their cars (sound familiar, Los Angeles?). Lastly, as I found out, the drivers are unreliable.

I arrive at the Rea Vaya station only to find it shuttered with giant steel doors frequently found after a store closes for the day. A security guard stationed in front of this door tells me that the drivers were on strike today, which immediately throws a wrinkle into my plan to use Rea Vaya to get to the stadium. I have to call a metered taxi to take me to the stadium, which costs me over R100. Strikes aren't new right before a major sporting event, with threats or action taken before the 2006 World Cup in Germanythe 2004 Athens Olympics, the 2002 World Cup in South Koreathe 2000 Sydney Olympicsan Air France strike before the 1998 World Cup ... you get the idea. Notable exceptions: the 2008 Beijing Olympics (I wonder why...), the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy (workers signed a no-strike agreement), and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City (9/11 still fresh on everyone's mind).

The uniforms aren’t ready yet, and I arrive at 8 AM, as my schedule indicates. However, the sign-in sheets are not yet ready, so I decide to check my e-mail on the computers provided in the Volunteer Centre. After about an hour, nothing has happened yet, so I seek the assistance of the Volunteer Coordinator, a man named Lukas.

After hearing that I’m an international volunteer, Lukas assigns me to be a part of the Accreditation, as he says it is one of the few functional areas that is operational this far before the tournament (today is Memorial Day in the United States, May 31).

So, I go over to another temporary building, the Accreditation Centre. Here I learn the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into making the badge that I received the day before.

Behind the counter where names are called is the heart of the badge production. In the center of the room are six tables, where three laminating machines sit. In the four corners of the room are four different color laser printers.

Warning: Boring explanation of how accreditation badges are produced follows...

First, the printers spit out a piece of paper with the accreditation badge (printed on paper with microprinting and wavy lines, similar to the paper that U.S. currency is printed on. Next, the badge needs to be de-perforated (or “burst,” as my mom told me). The badge is folded on the crease, then inserted into the laminate, which has some holographic patterns embedded in the plastic. This is then fed into a laminating machine, and then the whole card is placed in a plastic pocket and handed off to other volunteers, who then call the name of the person on the badge. They take a slip of paper left from the bursting and have the person sign it (the slip of paper has unique number that matches the badge paper). The volunteer copies the passport and staples it to the signed slip of paper.

The process is then repeated again. And again. And again. There are thousands of accredited people, all of whom need badges, from security to media to volunteers.

While working there, the supervisor in charge gives all of the international volunteer an “African name.” She assigns me the name “Thabang” (pronounced “tah-bahng, though it would be awesome if it was pronounced “the bang”), which  roughly means, “be happy,” according to the lady. However, I have a feeling that the name has an alternate meaning, as all of the local volunteers laugh when they hear it. I equate it to stupid women getting tattoos of Chinese characters without knowing the meaning of them, or people getting English phrases tattooed on them.

(a photo of the convention center where the International Broadcast Centre is located, a seeming lovechild of Cleveland's I-X Center and a Disneyworld monorail track, though that white rail in the picure above is for decoration only)

After “lunch,” which consisted of some rice and some mystery meat, I used my accreditation to take a tour of the International Broadcast Centre with another volunteer from Egypt named Muhammed. The International Broadcast Centre (this year located in a nearby convention center) is where all of the offices of all of the media outlets that cover the World Cup are located. 

(the beautiful International Broadcast Centre, as seen from above)

Using the term “offices” is a stretch, though, as the “offices” just look like trailers scattered inside a building. There are “hallways” where there aren’t any trailers, and tons of cables traveling overhead in special racks made for them. We wander around the entire complex, seeing broadcasters from all over the world. There’s a bunch of boxes and crates in the “hallways” for PCs, flat-screen TVs, office chairs, and other furniture. We stumble upon a huge warehouse, filled with various boxes and crates from all over the world.

It’s amazing to me that they don’t source the materials from South Africa, choosing instead to ship it from other places in the world. Maybe the costs are too high to purchase locally, but I don’t understand how shipping equipment and furniture halfway around the world could cost less.

I have to leave early to meet with my future landlord and see my new accommodation (she called me yesterday to arrange this meeting), so I hire another metered taxi to take me to a new place in Braamfontein, which is located slightly north of the Johannesburg city center.

However, when I look at the place, it’s less than inspiring: the area is pretty rough, the room is run-down and dirty, and feels somewhat like a Soviet-built apartment complex, very antiquated and using a color palette last seen in the 1960s.

Luckily, the person showing me the place (a friendly lady named Lisle, and no, not that Liesl) said that the landlord had a place located in a better area with clean carpets. Located next to the rental office, a few kilometers away from the first location.

(these two dog statues loom outside of my cottage)

And what a difference a few kilometers make: the area is very nice, with a bunch of shops and nice restaurants located nearby, and the place (which ends up being a cottage behind a residential home) looks nice as well. I decide to lease this one and they start to draft the lease papers.

I meet the landlord, whose name is Joubert (pronounced Joe-bear). He finishes the papers and copies my passport as identification. I start to read over the lease and realize that he and Lisle are conversing in another language, which I deduce is probably Afrikaans, considering that they are both white and Afrikaans is an official language of South Africa, derived from Dutch.

Reading the lease agreement, I find the contract worded very strangely, with the use of the term “servant” used frequently, where “agent” might be more appropriate. For instance, in a sentence regarding if something were to break in the cottage, “The Lessor or his servants will repair the cottage in a reasonable amount of time.” I’m not trying to start something, but does anyone else think that someone was a bit upset by the end of apartheid so they get back by writing such Legalese (I'm joking)?

I sign the lease, and they give me the keys. However, I still need to get home. Joubert offers to drive me back to my hostel and I get another dose of South African hospitality. Not only does he drive me back to my hostel, but he stops at his house, and also introduces me to his wife and kids (very nice people, but having only met the guy about an hour before, it was super-awkward). Then he tells me that he used to be a veterinarian (the cottage is located next to an animal hospital) until he crashed his motorbike. He had his spleen removed, which ended his veterinary career (I’m not entirely sure of the connection), and spent months in the hospital. And I thought meeting his family was a bit awkward.

Thankfully, I arrive back at the hostel at about that moment, and I bid goodbye to Joubert. We agree that I’d drop off my luggage tomorrow morning before leaving for Soccer City, and I’d return the keys so they could make copies.

Back at the hostel, I begin to pack up my stuff for the move. I won’t be returning to the hostel, and I begin to examine everything I’m going to leave behind. I had never noticed it before, but at the foot of the stairs that go up to the rooms, there’s a weird picture of a random seven-year-old girl that looks like it was taken in some impoverished village in Asia. One more thing – she’s also half-naked. That isn’t awkward. Why would a guy that looks like this…
…have a picture like that?

Oh wait, that does make sense. In fact, if I were to pick the top ten people to have a picture like that, he’d be numbers one through seven.

I decide to turn on the TV to try and fall asleep, since I had been awake since midnight. I see Danny Bonnaduce and Dennis Rodman learning how to wrestle. I thought this was just a fever or fatigue dream, so I decide to go to sleep at 9 PM (later research revealed that it was the BBC’s airing of Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling).

Yes, that show actually exists.

What do I do next? Check back soon to find out!

Learn the lingo of the land:

robot – the term for a traffic light. I asked a local why they call them that, and they said that it is because when they aren’t functioning (which, as I’ve experienced is quite frequently), they dictate the traffic flow, and the people are subservient to their electrical powers. Really odd term though, and it’s made it even to pavement markings (some intersections have “ROBOT” painted in large white letters before it).

howzit – “How is it (going)?” The response usually results in “sharp-sharp” (pronounced shahp-shahp), which means “good.”

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