Today is the shortest day of the year... or the longest, depending on the hemisphere. Down here, the sun set around 5pm and the thought of the days getting longer gives me a lot of joy.
Though the South African winter is heavenly, the short days sometimes make me feel like hibernating... which is what I did for the majority of last week, when my annual bout of coughing, sneezing, and general unhealthiness took over. Those kind of symptoms usually rear their ugly heads come October at home (my brief encounter with pneumonia last year? Anyone?)-- which makes me right on schedule, on southern hemisphere time of course. Luckily, with some rest and TLC from my roommates, the World Cup holiday provided an excellent opportunity for recuperation. As a bonus, I also got to spend some quality time with the Fitzpatricks, our longtime family friends. They're here in South Africa to see some World Cup matches and to revisit a country they left behind back when my parents left, so it was really nice to have an adopted family for a little while. They stayed at a friend's house in Umhlanga Rocks, a northern suburb of Durban that I hadn't visited yet, so I enjoyed seeing another part of the city.
The World Cup has been a very unique aspect to being my year as an Augustinian Volunteer here in South Africa thus far. It's colored everything I've done, from geography lessons at St. Leo's to weekend plans to rearranged schedules and new safety precautions. Though I was apprehensive about South Africa's readiness to host such a massive event, and though I still have some reservations about the impression that people who visit are getting of this country, I've been overwhelmingly impressed by the festivities thus far. It hasn't been easy to be away from the kids we see five days a week ordinarily, but the sense of celebration that has taken over the city, the country, and most likely the world at large, is hard to ignore. Even if "Wave Your Flag" and "Waka Waka" are played on repeat on the radio (or at clubs in Durban), I still feel a wave of emotion when they come on during half-time down at the fan parks on the beach. I'm happy to deck myself out in South African gear for Bafana Bafana games, or drape myself in red, white, and blue to see the US play.
Meeting people from all over has been an amazing experience as well, especially when we get asked, "Oh, are you here for the World Cup?" Though they could be pure social interactions, these encounters offer us an opportunity to explain our work here, and just last weekend we met a Yale graduate who is also a full-time volunteer, up north in Mtubatuba; his organization uses soccer as a vehicle for HIV/AIDS education in the bush.
It's hard to be a volunteer with a full-time job when the rest of the country seems to be on vacation; the influx of visitors to Durban alone have really boosted the energy of the city, and it's made it very difficult to return to our jobs come Monday. Today was the first day of the holiday program we're offering to our learners at St. Leo's, and after a restless night last night and feeling generally apathetic about the prospect of working this week, I was so happy to see some of my students and spend the day with them, playing soccer, doing word searches, and feeling relieved knowing that at least some of them were keeping themselves occupied during this extra-long break from school. Becca was a star and led the kids in a paper mache project which they all loved! The camp will continue for the rest of this week and next week as well, and we've been assured that the numbers of kids will only increase over time. It's nice to interact with our learners outside of a teacher/student relationship. I only hope they'll remember who the teacher is when July 13th rolls around!
All in all, I continue to hope that this World Cup will result in more positive than negative for South Africa. I'm nervous at the prospect of all the jobs that have been created for the month-long event becoming obsolete, and reports of missing children in some of the areas we work in have started to surface, but I hope that they come from misinformation and are no more than rumor.
In the meantime, all we can do is make an effort to keep the people we serve safe and happy, and let the rest of the month unfold as it will... and maybe enjoy a little ayoba on the side.