Have You Seen the Taal Kraal?

Yesterday, one of my colleagues, a young woman from Zimbabwe named Joy, asked me about ten gallon hats, cowboys and John Wayne. While her inquiries were clearly in jest – the mock-galloping gave her away – I really wasn’t surprised by the questions. As strangers in a strange land, we’ve become popular targets for interrogation.

This is despite the fact that (the very best of) American culture is regularly imported here by way of B-grade Hollywood films, sitcom reruns and Royales with Cheese. The opportunity to grill a real, live American about anything from the supposed superiority of Starbucks to driving on the other side of the road to “Why do your Republicans talk so much about ‘freedom’ when they insist on taking it away from women/minorities/immigrants/gays?” is often too difficult to resist. Shame that we still don’t have good answers.

Without conducting the scientific research necessary to confirm, I’d say that the two questions we get most often are these, and I quote:

  • “When are you people leaving?”
  • “Have you seen the rugby?”

The first question, you must understand, is not meant to be rude. We like to think of the phrase “you people” less as an arbitrary, disdainful lumping and more as a term of endearment. As if the word wonderful was accidentally omitted. Still, we’ve been getting the question for the better part of six months now …

As for the rugby question, until recently, we could not supply a satisfactory answer. While we became avid supporters of the Springboks during the Rugby World Cup last year, we couldn’t see one of those matches in person because, well, they were all in New Zealand. Now, however, all attention is on the Super Rugby league, and we have our own team here in Pretoria: the unfortunately named Blue Bulls.

It was time to see the rugby.

Thanks to the gracious organizing efforts of Quintus and Christa Smit, their daughter, Marni, and Marni’s boyfriend, Giancarlo, we scored tickets to a Bulls v. Crusaders match at Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

Crouch. Touch. Pause. Engage. Blue Bulls & Crusaders preparing for a scrum.

Loftus during Blue Bulls matches is informally, yet fittingly, known as the “Taal Kraal.” Taal is the word for “language” in Afrikaans, and kraal is the word for “corral.” In essence, by going to a rugby match at Loftus, one is effectively surrounded on all sides – corralled in, as it were – by Afrikaans. And I mean Afrikaans Afrikaans. The Boers love themselves some rugby! And they love to talk about it. In Afrikaans.

Don’t get me wrong, we understand why people like the sport. I enjoy the strategy, something I learned to appreciate while watching and discussing World Cup matches. (As it happens, the match we saw featured several players from the Springboks side, as well as the All Blacks, as the Crusaders are from New Zealand.) Jenny, bless her, loves the muscular men with the thick thighs. When she spotted Victor Matfield, I thought she might rush the pitch and hurl herself into his arms, nuzzle his werewolf beard. Never mind that he is actually retired and his appearance was as a business-suited sideline reporter.

Blue Bulls & Crusaders players compete for the ball during a lineout. (not pictured: Victor Matfield)

But, the point is, rugby – especially Blou Bulle rugby at the Taal Kraal – is a white thing. I think fellow American Ryan Brown said it best:

… don’t let Invictus convince you otherwise: rugby is whiter than a Wilco concert and always will be.

So it is. And, so what? So is ice hockey, eh?

At least we got to experience an authentic slice of modern Afrikaner culture. At least we got to openly and enthusiastically support men with Blue Bulls … jerseys.

At least we people got to see the rugby before we left.

What Can We Tell You?

As Jenny noted in her last, great post, a lot of people are reminding us in ways subtle and not so much that our time in South Africa is more than half over. Sadly, we are keenly aware of this fact.

Now that we are in our eighth full month of life in SA, we find that not only is it difficult to imagine the day that we will have to leave, it is becoming increasingly difficult to spot the unique things that happen each day the way we could when we first arrived. Someone with no shoes in the grocery store? Yeah, that happens every day. Another zebra? Yaaaaawn… Weird kid dancing for spare change at the robot? Must be Tuesday.

So, maybe it’s a good idea at this point to let YOU ask the questions. What do you want to know? What can we tell you about our daily lives, or about our experiences here?

We know, just by looking at the site statistics, that the blog has had nearly 12,000 visits thus far, and that people who come to us are searching for things like:

  • “angry birds”
  • “buy a donkey afrikaans”
  • “men in panties” (still a popular one)
  • “giraffe looking back”
  • “rhino pimple”
  • injera trees” (if only injera grew on trees)
  • victor matfield‘s waist measurements” (I think all of these searches were performed by Jenny)
  • “photos of contemporary landscapes and outdoor bbq areas”
  • “living room, indoor, human, flowers”
  • “photo victor matfield topless” (again, Jenny)
  • “doing gender being a gender” (wouldn’t you like to be a gender, too?)
  • “how to cook goat head south african way”

While some of these searches yielded the results people were looking for, most of them probably did not. So, send us your questions through our contact page and we will do our best to answer them. We’ll even make the questions anonymous, so feel free to ask away!

We’ll post the whole Q&A as soon as we have some good questions and answers.

Hooker, Rucking, Loose-head and other words that don’t mean what you think

The Rugby World Cup is underway in New Zealand (you knew that, right?) and South Africa’s Springboks are off to a good start. They beat Wales by the hair of a dragon’s nose, 17-16 (my Welsh friend Kev claims Cymru was robbed), in their opening match, and face Fiji next.

The U.S. team, the Eagles, struggled in their first contest and lost to Ireland, 22-10.

So, for those of you scoring at home, that’s adopted/ancestral homelands: 2, actual homeland: nil.*

Every Friday during the World Cup — actually, every Friday since we’ve been here — is “Bok Day.” Every South African is supposed to don a Springboks jersey or t-shirt in support of the Boks. Never mind that we are ten time zones away from the actual matches, we’re all gonna wear the same shirt on the same day. It’s kinda like Spirit Week before Homecoming. And, if you hang out on campus long enough, you’ll see Clash Day and Pajama Day, too.

No Springboks gear? No problem. Just drive anywhere in Pretoria on any day and you can buy bootleg jerseys, flags, scarves and t-shirts from enterprising vendors at the stoplights of major intersections. Fitting rooms not provided.

Springbok Lock, and possible werewolf, Victor Matfield

The problem with rugby players is that too many of them are devastatingly handsome. They are massive, mountains of men. One Springbok in particular, Victor Matfield, has a habit of distracting my wife whenever he appears on TV or even in the newspaper. She thinks he may be a werewolf, an idea that she quite fancies.

(I must remind her that the wives and girlfriends — WAGs, or Scrummies — of rugby players ain’t so bad, either.)

Another player, Schalk Burger (hey, isn’t that what the grade school cafeteria served on Thursdays?), is not as classically handsome, perhaps, but he still has legs the size of my waist. There’s a TV commercial on right now that tells the story of Schalk competing in a mountain bike race as a kid. His chain broke somewhere along the way, so he carried his bike through the rest of the course and across the finish line. He took bronze.

Despite how decidedly unmanly these big Hercules make me feel, I still proudly wear my Boks jersey on Fridays. I do not, however, wear a mullet. Or a beardo.

For those of you who’d like to check out more hunky rugby dudes, learn a bit about South Africa and/or see Morgan Freeman in the role he was born to play, go rent and watch the film Invictus. The scenes where François Pienaar (Matt Damon) visits Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) in his office are in Pretoria, at the Union Buildings.

Oh, and about those words from the title (definitions courtesy ESPN Scrum):

  • Hooker – the front row forward wearing No. 2 shirt. The player is supported on either side in the scrum by props and is required to gain possession of the ball in the scrum by hooking or blocking the ball with one of his/her feet. The hooker will normally also be the forward who throws the ball into the lineout.
  • Rucking – typically after a runner has come into contact and the ball has been delivered to the ground once any combination of at least three players have bound themselves a ruck has been set. The primary difference from a maul is that the ball is on the ground.
  • Loose-head – the No.1 prop in a scrum due to his head being outside the opposition’s tight-head prop’s shoulders.

Now I just need to learn the actual rules of the game.

* While I was drafting this, the USA Eagles beat Russia in their second match, 13-6.