World Cup visitors fall for Joburg

24 June 2010

It’s Ayoba! – an exuberant South African expression of delight or approval – that’s the general feeling for the City of Gold from the foreigners streaming to Johannesburg to watch the football.

Joburg has been bustling and buzzing with football fervour since the World Cup kicked off, and international visitors are to be seen at almost every corner.

Hanging with some foreigners in Ellis Park recently, they spoke about how well they were settling in Joburg, a city of contrasts that doesn’t get much favourable publicity internationally.

Among all the World Cup tourists, the Americans are an extremely enthusiastic and gregarious bunch. Contrary to stereotypes of brash, loud-mouthed arrogant snobs, they seem to have settled in well in Joburg and have even learned about local culture.

Fan fever

Before the USA-Slovenia game, Ryan Littman-Quim from Boston, Massachusetts worked up some fan fever under a tree near the west entrance to Ellis Park.

He was hanging with a group of his countrymen, face painters, and having his face painted for the game. From under the tree, they played the African concord drum, sang, yelled and blew the vuvuzela, clearly drumming up support for their national side ahead of kickoff.

Their jovial mood and excitement was palpable and almost every Joburger who entered the stadium from this gate stopped by to either shout “USA baby” or have their faces painted in bright USA colours. The brouhaha of drums, vuvuzelas and squeals of excitement caused a ripple effect, and everyone joined the party.

Surprisingly, Littman-Quim is soaking up local culture during his stay, with his vuvuzela probably his first item of African World Cup memorabilia. He’s even tasted local cuisine and learned a few colloquial phrases, something somewhat unexpected.

‘Yes, we can!’

One of his compatriots, draped in USA regalia, delightedly shouted when he saw Littman-Quim’s T-shirt, which had a picture of President Barrack Obama. “We love this man,” he said, and the group broke into a euphoric scream of Obama’s famous election campaign words: “Yes, we can, yuuhuuu!”

Clearly, the American lot were full of high-spirited mirth. Asked to describe Joburg in a single phrase, Littman-Quim fell silent, stepping back and forth. “Aaaah,” he said for a few seconds, and then it came to him: “Ayoba? Is that alright,” he answered in a rich American accent.

Although he was staying with a friend in Pretoria, north of Joburg for the World Cup, Joburg felt more like home, he said. He compared the city, with its allure, its ambiance, picturesque landscape and skyline, ingenious and friendly people, world-class stadiums and vibey atmosphere to New York, a concrete jungle where any dream can come true.

Similarly, Johannesburg is the most populous city in the country and is its economic powerhouse, where deals are sealed, dreams are realised and there is plenty of entertainment; there’s nothing you can’t do – and Littman-Quim likes this.

‘This is a cool place’

“[Joburg] people are very friendly and this is a cool place. I was in Soweto the other day at Elkah stadium at the Fifa Fan Fest™ for the Bafana Bafana match against Uruguay. It was cool man. The locals are friendly; it’s a nice place,” he said.

He also poured scorn on international reports of Joburg being a dangerous place. “I think all that is rubbish. This is a friendly city. You just have to know your way around, just like in New York.”

The American has had the hair on his abdomen and chest artistically shaved into a map of the United States, to show how patriotic he is. Draped with their country’s colours and with faces painted alike, the group managed to sway most passing locals to support their national team.

Ghanaian perspective

Loud and happy as they were, the Americans were not the only foreigners in Ellis Park. Kabwe, from Ghana, is a bulky yet humble chap. A little shy, he pointed out that his English was not good. “My English is little bit bad,” he said. “If you need, I speak in French, my home language.”

Still, he was keen to speak about Jozi. “It’s not the first time to come to Johannesburg,” he pointed out. “I come every time, after six months I come, after six months I come, but now I come just for the game and next week I go home,” he said confidently, despite his broken English.

Of the city of gold, or Jozi as locals prefer to call it, he said uncertainly: “The World Cup is fine, everything is fine, I’m happy,” before disappearing into the clamour of the stadium.

Another visitor, George Mashigo, is a Cameroonian national who has so endeared himself to local culture, he’s even changed his surname. Looking happy, he asked for his picture to be taken with the raucous Americans. After a few snapshots, he talked incessantly about his penchant for football.

Loads of match tickets

He had bought loads of match tickets, he said – more than 18 to be precise, and he’s watching every game in a different province. “I drive to a different match every day. Yesterday I was in Bloemfontein, today I’m in Joburg,” he said in an unmistakably Cameroonian accent, his football regalia testament to his nationality.

Mashigo lives in Pretoria, but works in Johannesburg.

“Ellis Park is a fantastic place but not as good as Soccer City, the main place to be, hey. I’m watching [more than] 18 games, one every day. I’ll take a break and then I’ll watch the semifinals and the quarterfinals, but I’m looking for the finals ticket. Have you got the final ticket?”

Despite not having any luck getting tickets to the finals, he reiterated: “Joburg is a fantastic place, I must say.”

Source: City of Johannesburg