by Alisa Routh
JOHANNESBURG — What a day! What a day! Church, food, and football; a typical Sunday spent in a very extraordinary place.
Today the 21 of us ventured to Bethesda Methodist Church. As we pulled up to the beautifully designed sanctuary the first thing I noticed was the breathtaking stained glass windows resting on walls from the floor to the ceiling, the gorgeous golden colored wood and the choir that sounded like angels.
We probably looked like true tourists, taking pictures of the inside, the outside and the people like we had never seen a church before. I stopped after we sat down, fearing I would offend someone and knowing that my grandmother would have not approved of my behavior because, “I was raised better than that.”
A church elder greeted us in the most exciting manner I had ever seen and then proceeded to speak to the congregation. In an effort for us to feel at home and for the members of the church to get to know us he asked one of us to sing a song. We all looked around to try and figure out who was going to do this task, especially because none of us knew that we were going to be asked to sing. I shrunk in my seat but knew that I was not going to be chosen because there were far better singers in the group other than me. I could only hold a note. Fortunately Tatianna, a brave soul from Fayetteville State in North Carolina, got up and started a song. I didn’t know it nor did many others from the group, but we tried to sing along with the parts we did know. Embarrassed. Truly embarrassed by our performance, especially after the congregation didn’t clap until the elder urged them too and even more embarrassed after they began to sing a song that was so marvelously pitched and harmonized.
Then the pastor came in and began his sermon, which was about obstacles and triumphing over them. I knew that it was going to be a great lesson because I looked at where I was and who he was. As a black South African he and several other millions had faced discrimination and violence for decades but still rose from that. All of us could relate to his topic because as black Americans we have experienced similar things.
His particular example did not deal with apartheid but about the World Cup and South Africa’s bid to host the games. Following the sermon we took a lot of pictures and I realized that this would be a big part of our trip, taking pictures. The preacher stood with us and said something really interesting. He stated that he knew about black American culture and then he demonstrated what he knew. The first thing that came out of his mouth was “nigga.” I was so shocked I blocked out everything else he said. The way that African Americans are portrayed in the global media needs to change, especially if that is their impression and idea of us.
Once we left church we went to go eat at this restaurant called Sophia’s in the Mall of Rosebank. When I looked at the menu I saw a lot of things that looked familiar and some that didn’t. Something that really stood out was the ostrich burger. It seemed interesting. A prime cut piece of ostrich meat seasoned with peppers, onions and cooked to perfection. I ordered it. I wanted to try something new and experience the food I wouldn’t be able to get in America. Then I thought about how hungry I would be if I didn’t like it, so I changed my mind and got the chicken. While we waited for our meals we entertained each other by talking and displaying our talents. Some of us rapped, some sang and other did poems. I even participated and did a monologue. We left 3 HOURS later.
Next was the game. We traveled back to the hotel to change and pack our coats, blankets, scarves and hats because contrary to my belief before visiting the country it did get cold in South Africa. (It was winter, after all!) The excitement was high. The chaperones and my fellow student contest winners were so excited to go. I, on the other hand, was a little mellower. To be honest, I had never even watched a soccer game until I found out I won the contest. In an attempt to get more excited, I went around to each person with my Flip camera and asked if they were rooting for Mexico or Argentina, who were playing in a big second-round game.
When we arrived to the Soccer City Stadium there were so many people outside. Security was tight. Police stood around looking for suspicious behavior, and there were several security stations that checked your items to make sure there were no weapons. Inside people were dressed up in costumes and wigs. I could see why fútbol was the world’s favorite sport and why the FIFA World Cup was its favorite arena because it was like a hidden culture.
Our seats were really close to the field and I was extremely lucky to be seated right behind the actor Idris Elba, our celebrity guest. I observed him early on in the game to try and read what kind of person he was. My observations ended after it began to get cold and I bundled up more tightly in a blanket. The combination of the blanket, a score of 1 to 0 for over 30 minutes and my earplugs made me sleepy. In fact there were several sleepyheads in our group including one chaperone. We took pictures of them during their slumber. Right when I thought the game was going to be a bust it started to get exciting. Mexico finally started to fight back, though Argentina won the game, 3-1. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, we had to leave before the end. Some fights had broken out, and security officers were entering as we were leaving. The place where so much joy occurred had the potential of being very hazardous.
Overall, the day was the beginning of something marvelous. Although I have not experienced the land yet I could feel that this trip would be something to tell my grandkids.