Tag Archives: logistics

Mdantsane soccer

This morning we are heading to Mdantsane Village, and Craig is looking forward to the drive. “It’s really interesting,” Craig tells me. “You’ll get to see so many different kinds of places on the way.”

Informal settlements are like tent cities in Canada. They are illegal, mostly… in some rare cases people own the land but aren’t able to afford a house so they build a shack there. Generally, people are squatting. The informal settlements are groups of shacks made of tin and scrap wood, and are extremely crowded. There are also RDPs (Reconstruction and Development Program areas) which are government housing. The houses here are small but have basic amenities. In some areas you will see an RDP home with one or more shacks built adjacent to it. This is where people have attached illegal structures to an RDP home or plot so they can share the toilet and running water.

But what Craig is saying to me now is something different. “That was a black township and we’re coming up to a coloured township.” Of all the things I have had to try and understand about race and class since I arrived, the black/coloured distinction is the one that has surprised me most. “Coloured” refers to mixed race people, and their communities are separate from black communities and Afrikaans communities. I find the term “coloured” to be extremely distasteful – evocative of the language of slavery – but I am also aware that I am applying Canadian sensibilities to South African history and culture. It is one of the major challenges of being here and it is so tangled that I find myself avoiding writing about it, avoiding the political landmines…

With 2 million residents, Mdantsane is the second most populous place in South Africa after Soweto. The village is divided into areas, historically called Native Units (NUs). The term NU is now considered offensive so the areas have recently been officially renamed zones, but the roadsigns still say NU (as in NU 13 or NU 6, with an arrow) and our directions are to go to NU15. We are looking for a soccer field, where we will meet Craig’s friend Sandile.

Craig’s work sometimes takes him into the township but he’s not been to NU15 and we quickly become lost. The vibe in the village is electric: crowded, loud and bright. We pull into a gas station to fill up and ask for directions. Craig has become quite skilled in isiXhosa; I am impressed. As we leave, three little girls in bare feet spot the BMW and come to the window to ask for rands. Craig hands them some change.

We drive; we get lost. Craig pulls over to ask some women selling clothes at a crossroads for direction to NU15 and they point down the road the way we came. As Craig turns the car around I notice another stall at the roadside with an open fire and dozens of goat heads in a pile.

Eventually we surrender and call Sandile who meets us on the corner and jumps into the car to direct us to our destination: the incongruously-named Winter Rose Sports Club. He instructs Craig to drive inside the gates… then onto the playing field itself where a game is in progress (Sandile claims we are being stared at because we are the only white people but I have to wonder if piloting the BMW over the corner flag might contribute), and past the goal line of the adjacent field. We park behind Sandile’s car and get out.

Sandile coaches a men’s soccer team called the Mountain Birds. Knowing that I am interested in soccer, Craig has arranged for us to attend their game. When we arrive, they are warming up. Listen up, Sweet Cleats: we’ve got a new warm-up routine.

Sandile explains that he coaches both the Mountain Birds and an under-15 team. They have one set of kits, which are shared. After todays game, the jerseys will be given to the under-15s so they can wear them for their game the following day. As well, all players are responsible for providing their own cleats. One player doesn’t have any so he is warming up in his sandals; he’ll try and borrow boots from a player in the previous game when they finish.

Sandile (bottom left) and Craig (bottom right) with the Mountain Birds.

Sandile (bottom left) and Craig (bottom right) with the Mountain Birds.

Me and Craig with a couple of the under-15s.

Me and Craig with a couple of the under-15s.

I am frustrated because I know for a fact that many of my friends have closets full of unused soccer gear that would be happily donated and put to great use here, but the logistics (cost of shipping, hold-ups at Customs, packages arriving empty) of getting it to Mdantsane are prohibitive. Craig is going to carry back equipment after his trip home in December but that is hardly a sustainable or long-term solution.

The Mountain Birds are fast and the game is aggressive and fun to watch. At the first whistle Sandile transforms, shouting and waving his hands. “I am not yelling at them,” he turns to Craig and I. “I am encouraging them to play better.” Then he faces the field and begins yelling again. “They are good, Sandile,” Craig says. “You will win the championship.” We must leave early because we are off to Addo that afternoon. We shake hands with the players on the sidelines and the under-15s and hop into the BMW.

#4 controls the ball in borrowed cleats.

#4 controls the ball in borrowed cleats.

The linesman.

The linesman.



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Linens ‘n’ things

I am in the Debonair Pizza (award-winner, Best Name Ever) with a perfect personal round – extra cheese, meat lover’s: hopefully kudu or blesbok or warthog – and I have finally pressed the combination of buttons on my loaner Nokia celly that will turn it on. For the past several moments I have been sitting at the plastic table, turning the thing over and over in my hands, eyeing the edges, manipulating it like a monkey with a typewriter (which is really all I am after all so I suppose I shouldn’t feel so sheepish under the stares of the kid across from me). I dial Craig. “He-eeey,” he sing-songs. “Holla!” I cry back. “Um, yeah. So Craig, I am in the Debonair Pizza on Oxford Street. The store I was in was just robbed and their credit card machine is down. I don’t have enough money for the shirt I want and the ATMs aren’t on speaking terms with my Scotiacard. Any chance you can pick me up and take me to another bank machine? In Joburg I was able to use the ones in gas stations – the aftermarket kind.” Silence. “You’re on Oxford Street?” I can hear the stress in his voice. “Yeah, in the Debonair Pizza,” I reply breezily. “A block down from the Biko statue.” “Give me ten minutes and I’ll come get you.” We hang up and I sink my teeth into possibly the tastiest and certainly the most dashing slice of pizza of my life.

It all started with Ryan Lanyon and the dodgy Levis. Heeding the advice of my friends, I had been relentless with myself in packing for this trip: No more than two pairs of jeans!, I had berated myself, psychically spanking myself with a wire hanger. Well, we all know how that turned out, and add to it that it’s bloody cold here on some days. No two ways around it: I had to shop.

I went to East London’s Oxford Street, a busy shopping thoroughfare with lots of pedestrian traffic in and around the shops and street kiosks. Oxford Street is medium rough. The stores are pretty low end and the streets are jammed with people selling sunglasses, vegetables, wallets, Crocs, belt buckles, CDs, and cheap jewelry. A block away, on Buffalo Street, is the Buffalo City Mall, where I was headed when a distinct change in vibe – from ‘colourful’ to ‘treacherous’ – sent me back to Oxford. I was the only white person which was unnerving but also probably really good for me. I mean, that’s a meaningful experience, right – to be the only one and to have to go about your business. It’s palpable. Everyone should do this a least once, I was thinking self-righteously as I tried to be purposeful and aware and not overly paranoid.

I was also preoccupied with avoiding the vehicular traffic. Cars here don’t stop for pedestrians so when I had to cross the street I would shadow someone until they traversed, essentially using them as a human shield. This worked a charm but every so often put me squarely in the middle of a jostling crowd doing something I had not foreseen, like hailing a cab. There is no public transport. People get around by driving, walking, hitchhiking, and taking cabs. The cabs are minivans that drive up and down the streets, endlessly honking (when I first arrived I kept turning my head and pointing to my chest as if to say, Who, me?). The driver leans out the window, and in an unforeseen twist, hollers where he is going; if you are going there too, you launch youself in and undoubtedly onto the lap of a fellow passenger. The cabs can hold around ten people.

It was with some relief that I walked into a store called Identity. It was familiar enough, like Urban Behavior meets Primark, which is right around my price point. I found a couple of shirts and a pair of shorts to try on and I headed into the change room. I was stripped down to my smalls and pulling a shirt over my head when I heard a crash and someone shout something in a language I didn’t understand. (DANGER!) A half-second passed and then there was this great swelling of increasingly urgent voices, all yelling. I couldn’t understand a single word and that was definitely the worst part. My imaginaton quickly and efficiently filled in gun shots, hostage-taking, rape and murder. As if all that is necessary to knock over an Urban Behavior, but that’s where I was going with it in my head.

I began dressing, fast. I was pulling my own pants back on when I caught sight of myself in the full length mirror. I looked utterly terrified – and I was. I was blinking rapidly and my hands were shaking as I buttoned my fly. Quickly I was dressed and then I just stood there, staring at myself in the mirror. I met my own eyes and let out a nervous little noise. I was trying for a laugh but my throat was too dry; it was more of a bark. Stay calm, I told myself. This will make a great entry for the blog.

When a few moments had passed without any screaming from the front room, I unlocked the change room door and poked my head out. The store was in disarray and people were milling about excitedly. I grabbed my bag and the shirt I wanted (a nice little linen number that I haven’t stopped wearing since – I worked for this shirt!) and I went to the cash.

I <i>worked</i> for this short.

I worked for this shirt.

When I stepped forward to pay, the cashier was shaking her head. “They hit us every week!” She seemed irritated. “What happened,” I asked. “I was in the back – in the change rooms…” “Yeah, I saw you,” the cashier laughed. “You poked your head out like this.” She gave me a decent impression of a big mouth bass gasping on the end of a hook, and we both laughed.


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Guess where I’m posting from

I remember reading a travel book when I was a kid that outlined instructions for travelling to Spain. The authors prepped the reader for their journey with friendly tips like “pre-stamp postcards so you will never be out of touch”. They suggested appropriate denominations of traveller’s cheques, and offered slightly condescending advice on what to do if the cheques were lost or stolen (“If you have neglected to keep a record of the cheque numbers…”). Travel seemed to me to be terribly complicated, really only suitable for the smartest, most organized and worldly folks.

This post was sent from my celly! Things have gotten so easy, so integrated. Think it (Hmmmm I wonder if I could blog from my BlackBerry) and somebody’s already built a widget for that. Now any eedjit can travel all the way across the world (just watch me) without having to worry about whether they licked the stamp or left a copy of their traveller’s cheque numbers with their friends.

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Quantum of Meningitis

“That’s not really something you want to cheap out on, you know.” I can almost hear the sweet, sweet disdain in the voice of my ex (two removed) as I read the message in my chat window. I have just written that the meningitis shot will run me $145 plus the mandatory consultation fee ($45). Chastened, I hop on my bike and head down to the travel clinic.

I get in with a travel medicine specialist who reminds me of Dame Judi Dench’s M from the recent Bond films. She’s got a slapdash quality to her; her tweed suit seems bulletproof. Her blond hair is coiffed into a wispy helmet that compliments her icy eyes, and when she smiles the twinkle on her shiny molars reflects off the windowpane, filling the otherwise drab room with mischief and adventure. She makes me a better person. We are a house on fire, and within moments we are both laughing, heads thrown back in abandon.

“Meningitis!” she shakes her head, so I do, too. “Who put that in your head? Listen, if it were me I wouldn’t bother. You can get meningitis in Toronto.” My God – I have been misled. I thought I had to go all the way to South Africa to get meningitis but it was here the entire time. She consoles me. “Don’t worry – your time has not been wasted! We’ll get you adult polio and typhoid, and I am going to give you the follow-up price for this consultation. Fifteen bucks plus forty for the shots.” I love this woman so much that when she sticks the first needle into my right arm I barely feel it. She’s that good. As the second needle goes in – this time, squarely on the bingo wing – I say, “Ooooh. That one smarts a bit,” because I am swept up in the moment and want to throw in an olde style phrase. I leave the clinic and hop into my Aston Martin. I speak clearly into my cufflink: “Innoculations. Check.” I speed away.


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OK, now I know what 1time means: that quoted low price will only be available one time – after that the price goes up 100 rand. I am not kidding. When I hit “Book” the price was 100 rand more. Pauly the (paranoid) travel agent suspects some sort of sniffer software that detects when you’ve been on the site for a while and raises the price. Not to worry, thought I, I will use a different browser. I launched IE and typed in the URL… and the price it gave me was higher by another 100 rand. Maybe it’s a tax for being an IE user and if so, I can get behind that.

Oh yeah, also, I thought about it and 1time is a terrible name for an airline. Presumably they want their passengers to return more than one time, right? The name makes you want to fill in the blank, like, “One time I was on this plane and…” and these sentences rarely end well. And then that 3 second bit of audio from that Fugees song totally got stuck in my head: “ONE time…TWO time…” Completely nutter-making after 20 minutes of browser tweaking while I tried to figure out if the airline’s software was smarter than me.

Anyway, I totally got into it with this site. I cleared my cache and temp files, restarted my computer, and visited 1time. Sure enough, it thought it was my one-time visit and there was my first low price. Booked it: I win. More nice less price – booyah.


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When I arrive in Johannesburg on the morning of September 16 (that’s two days after I leave Toronto), I will have to board another plane to East London. I haven’t booked this part of the trip because I may be visiting with a friend of a friend in Johannesburg, so my dates aren’t yet clear.

I have a choice of airlines for this leg: South African Airways or 1time.co.za. Though the flights are a bit more expensive (around $30 CAD), SAA allows two checked bags and is, according to their site, “a Star Alliance member”. I imagine that this means that before the in-flight snack they hand out those molten microwaved hot towels that are inexplicably icy inside. My travel agent Pauly has never heard of 1time.co.za.

Yet, 1time.co.za has a rad tagline: more nice less price. Just like that – no punctuation, no capitalization, no bells and whistles. Like, why use the taxi chit from your Dad’s company when you can just as easily hitch a ride with your fun aunt who always has the good looking boyfriends that give you presents like rock CDs of bands your friends have never heard of?

Forget being a Star Alliance member; if SAA wants to compete for my travel dollar they need a new image. I suggest South African Airways: Flight for your right to party.


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The most frequently-asked q so far has to do with the mechanics of preparing and planning for a trip like this. Part of me felt really overwhelmed by all the organizing and costs. In some ways it is almost easier to surrender to the idea that it’s impossible than to commit and go forward.  Read on to learn how I did it:

Rule 1: Be organized.

Rule 2: Be flexible.

Rule 3: Take risks.

Not much to be done there. I researched the cost trends for flights to South Africa on Kayak, chose a travel time that wasn’t absolute peak season, and used a travel agent (my friend Paul who works at Flight Centre). I felt like I needed an agent because there were layovers and connecting flights and so forth, and Pauly’s always come through for me. The cost of the flights was still exorbitant, but at least when I booked I felt confident that I’d gotten the best deal possible.

I am staying with a friend. This kind of travel isn’t for everybody, and not everybody has a friend or acquaintance as generous as Craig, but for those of us who can handle being outside our comfort zone while inside someone else’s home, I recommend it. It’s an authentic living situation rather than a manufactured facsimile, and it can make things much more affordable. Plus, you get that old college feeling waking up on someone’s floor – it’s a brilliant remedy for your mid-life crisis.

I am going to a place where I can wine and dine cheaply, but also, having a kitchen is key. I am a big fan of picnic-style eating, especially in the day time. In the end, though, you’d have to eat no matter where you are, so I try not to get too uptight about it.

Travel items:
This is a category that can be deceptively robust. For example, I have luggage: I bought a set from Canadian Tire a few years back for $35, and only one piece has disintegrated (literally, the wheels fell off, which was funny and devastating as I dragged my hobbled valise through the bustling pedestrian malls of Camden Town). For this trip, though, I think it would be wise to have the appropriate luggage – luggage I can count on to not lie down and give up at the first sign of stress. This kind of luggage tends to be laughably expensive, so I have arranged to borrow it for the trip (Thanks, Ryan!). Similarly, borrow power adapters, travel pillows etc etc. Everyone has a closet full of this stuff.

Bills, bills, bills:
Sadly, Rogers Wireless, the Student Loan Centre, and my landlord don’t give a toss about my adventure in do-goodery. I can’t help you with Rogers or the banks, but I reduced the amount of rent I have to pay while I’m gone by locating a housesitter/subletter. Also not for everyone, but if you can get past the weirdness and trust issues, it’s possible to really help someone out while they are helping you out. I used the strangely hard-to-find Sublets/Temporary Wanted section of Craigslist (directly linked here) and found a perfectly lovely woman from the States who is coming to Toronto to study in a bridge program in midwifery (and if you can’t trust the midwives, really, who can you trust?). She is going to live in my house and feed my cats (a service I might have had to pay for), and in return I am offering her a nice apartment a short walk away from her school, at a reduced rate. Win-win, right?

For a lot of people, work can not be combined with travel at all. I am lucky in that I can take some of my work with me. I work for myself so I don’t have to ask for the time off, and my work life happens online. It really doesn’t matter if I am sitting in my home office with Mendoza on my lap, or if I am in an apartment in East London, obsessing about the rumoured giant (hissing!) cockroaches of South Africa. While I am away I will be working on a volunteer basis, but I will also be doing some client work so I am neither skint nor disconnected on my return.

People want to help – it’s as simple as that. If you can be organized (see Rule 1) and make it easy for them, people want to kick in. I set up a PayPal button on this site so my friends and colleagues can donate; in return, I will volunteer my time in Africa, and include everyone in that experience by blogging about it. It’s a great idea to be flexible (see Rule 2) about donations, too. A customer service imbroglio last week turned into a positive outcome when not only were my concerns addressed, but I was also offered a credit on my web hosting account in lieu of a donation to the trip. Thanks Site5!

I also chose to travel without the help of an agency. Agencies tend to charge you for their part in matching you with an organization – a fee that does not always find its way to the organization served. These overhead costs don’t include flights and can be in the thousands of dollars. By necessity I had to find another way (see Rule 3).

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