Friday, September 14, 2007

We can't see the goal!

My house sits perched on the edge of a valley that is Port Elizabeth. From my porch I can see straight down this tranquil valley and out to the crescent shaped harbour of Admiralty Bay. The bottom of this valley is a flat, fertile flood plain, not peppered with patches of small domestic agriculture, as you would expect, but a patch of grass that is the hub of this town, a green rectangular playing field.

Throughout summer it was cricket which inhabited this space, with a tiered concrete stadium on the north side. Now autumn is upon us (although no leaves are turning here) and the football season has begun. Matches are played as the heat falls out of the sun. They finish just before the great glowing orange ball immerses itself in the harbour and extinguishes its heat for another 12 hours. At around 4.00 every Wednesday and Friday evening I can almost track the highlights of the match from my house through the jubilant and derogatory noises of the crowd.

Just below my house there is a wall which holds the road to the edge of the valley. People sit and linger here and watch the football as they pass. Tonight I joined them to watch the game. There was the white team and the fluorescent yellow team. Most of the white team had dreadlocks and any time one of them touched the ball the crowd would cry 'go rasta go!'. They even addressed each other as rasta, 'here rasta", 'pass rasta'. It struck me that this was a trifle confusing and may account for the team of flying dreads being 3-1 down to the belisha beacons.

The pitch is still raw from the season of cricket, with a gaping brown scar down the middle where the crease had been. It is tended to, it seems, by grazing goats in the day and in the season becomes a place for sound systems and dancing after dark.

Young boys, seemingly oblivious to the match, played their own game as they kicked a ball around behind the sidelines. The crowd exploded with cheers and taunts every time the ball approached a goal. From our elevated seats on the whitewashed wall we could only tell when the white team had scored by the reaction of the crowd. A beautiful young 'dread' with Egyptian cheekbones had greeted me when I perched myself onto this exclusive viewing spot. Not with a word or a sound, just a nod. As the game progressed he ventured a bit further down the conversational field, the talk was preceded by the customary offering of a half smoked joint which he pulled out of his back pack and lit as if he had been saving it for this precise moment. He asked me where I was from and if I was enjoying the game. 'It's a nice spot' he said 'only problem, you can't see the goal for the mango tree. It doesn't matter tho' he said 'we like it'.

I liked it too, high up above the pitch, looking out to sea as the sun was setting. Watching the vibrant colour washing itself out of the island as the evening haze marched in. Taking in the game which seemed to have drawn every inhabitant of the town to participate in the accompanying vocal chorus I emptied my mind, smiled again at the beautiful cheekbones and felt a deep seated sense of being part of this place. I didn't mind either that we couldn't see the goal.

Last night I met Egyptian cheekbones man in the street. He hailed me from the darkness and greeted me with the handshake of a clenched fist; knuckles touching knuckles. He introduced himself as, wait for it, 'Specialist Ninja Man'. Not just any Ninja man then, a specialist one to boot!

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