Wednesday, 29 August 2012

AFL in Capetown

AFL: African Style 

I could have been in Melbourne if I closed my eyes and listened to the pattering of rain on the grass, like it does on so many winter days. I could have been walking out onto any suburban footy ground ready to start the afternoon match that is the highlight of so many people’s weekends, including my own.

But alas when I opened my ears and my eyes, I was certainly not in Melbourne. The jumpers were the same, Pies vs Blues, the ball was the same, red and made of leather, and to some extent the ground was the same. But the sound of African singing and dancing as a warm up exercise definitely told me I wasn't in Melbourne. I was in Capetown, South Africa, about to help umpire my first African game of AFL.
Here goes..

To my pleasant surprise, the players knew what they were doing. The ruckman jumped for the ball, the rovers gathered it and bodies were flying, this was footy the way I love it. One small difference was that the traditional 'BALL' was only heard approximately twice a quarter, rather than the twice a minute back at home. But I wasn't complaining about that, nor were the other umpires, all of which were female! Cleo and Lerato were the main field umpires with 6 other females making up the boundaries and goals, two of which had travelled down from Joburg with me on the plane, Charmine and Brigitte as well as Lerato.  Another slight difference was the ground. It had 4 goal posts at each end- that was all in order, and you could just make out the marking on the field. But what you don't get on Melbourne grounds is your very own rain system by way of sprinklers that won't turn off. But a job is a job and you work with what you have. So we had 9 umpires, 36 players, a ball, a field and some extra water...certainly enough to play a football game.

Lerato and Cleo
All the umpires 
From my sources within AFL South Africa, I have heard that the players can sometimes treat the umpires not so nicely, but that was not going to happen on my watch. After having a pre-game meeting with the umpires, to make sure everyone knew what they were doing, it was time to tell the players to do what I wanted them to do. The list was simple. Be nice, don't swear, don't get angry at us (the umpires), your teammates or other players and we won't get angry at you, play fair, play by the rules and try and have fun!  

There are the goal posts!

So off we went. Up went the ball, splat went the players, splash went the ball on the wet ground and splish went the water from the non-stop rain/sprinkler system in the middle of the ground. Oh and not to mention the actual rain that was falling on this extremely chilly winter's day in Capetown. 

My job during the game was to try and teach my 6 and a bit years of umpiring knowledge to umpires that are relatively new to the game. The first quarter was about feeling my way through what AFL in South Africa actually means, so I could translate this into Melbourne footy then translate it back into African footy. Obviously the players and the umpires are not as exposed to AFL as I have been, where it is your face, on your TV screens and possibly splattered about my house (carn catters!), so their feel for the game was a bit different. Nonetheless it was a great brand of footy. Daring, fast-paced, hard, at times clumsy but above all there to give it a red hot go! As umpires we had to be right on it. There for the holding the ball when a player decided to be a bit too daring, or for the high tackle when a player went in a bit too hard. And we had to run our socks off to keep up with the running, side-stepping and long kicks that are involved with AFL in SA.
Being the photographer during the game

Once I was not quite quick enough and got a ball smack bang in the knoggin..I think I blacked out for a second, but after a couple of minutes of running around with vision in only one eye I was all good to continue being the umpiring teacher. As the game wore on I could see the confidence in Cleo and Lerato grow tremendously. Their whistles became louder, their calls stronger and positioning more effective. I felt like a proud mother sending her children off to big school for the first time.

In the last quarter I let Cleo and Lerato control the game themselves, where I only stepped in one or two times to pay a free kick. With my down jacket on, rain ceasing (apart from the sprinklers of course), I was able to be a semi-spectator in the middle of the ground. I think this is why I love umpiring so much. Each weekend I get to be a semi-spectator in an incredibly spectator friendly sport. I am of course doing my job, looking out for free kicks and keeping control of the game, but every now and then you become a spectator. Whether it be for an amazing mark a player just took on someone else's back, a desperate tackle, an incredible goal or a beautiful kick, I'm there, in the middle, whistle in hand, watching the excitement and joy that is footy.

Cleo and I after the game

In the fourth quarter I was able to see the little kids that had huddled under shelters or behind walls to watch the game out of the wind and rain, whether they really knew what they were watching or not. I was able to see the coach, in an Essendon tracksuit yelling out instructions just like I hear every Saturday. I was able to see the celebration of a goal, the goal where the team knew they were safe from defeat. I was able to see the colourful shanty homes of the township that surrounded the ground. This was South Africa and I was watching Australian football, and I was loving it. 

Western Cape celebrating their win in the rooms

In the end it was Western Cape (Capetown) that came home with the 4 points (if they play for 4 points) over Gauteng (Johannesburg) by about 25 points.  It was an awesome first experience of AFL in South Africa and I really hope I have many many more in the months to follow. There is such a passion for the game and you can tell that people just want to share it. I hope I can be part of that sharing experience. A massive thank you to Phindi and the team at AFL SA for giving me the opportunity to be able to experience this. And to Neville Nash, for sending that email many months ago. The wheels are a moving and the AFL train is a chugging. 

Friday, 24 August 2012


Rwanda: a little country in the middle of Africa full of big-hearted people

A couple of weeks ago I went to Rwanda for five days to visit my brother who has been working there for the past 6 months. I hadn't seen David for nearly a year so I was pretty pumped to see him for the first time in a long time!

I had no idea what to expect from Rwanda. The only image I had in my head of what it could be like was from the movie Hotel Rwanda, which I don't think was even filmed in Rwanda, and off photos that David has been sending us. The main story I had of Rwanda was one of violence, genocide and suffering, and although I knew that the country wasn't like that anymore, it is still hard to get that image out of your head.

Before I could fly into Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the Captain told us that we were by passing a place that I thought was called Bugambura, but turned out I was stopping in Bujumbura in Burundi, a country just next door to Rwanda. So after a 30 minute lay-over in Bujumbura, we set off again for the 25 minute flight across Burundi and into Rwanda.

Flying over Rwanda to get into Kigali, you realise just how hilly the country is. They call it the country of a thousand hills, but there are many many more! Just from flying over it I realised that this was indeed a very beautiful country, that had unfortunately seen so much horror. I landed 45 minutes early, which is very unusual for Africa since everything seems to run on African time, where everything is delayed.

I hoped off the plane and was greeted shortly after arriving by David and his friends Gilbert and Carine. It was so lovely to see David and give him a massive hug! I was greeted much the same way by Gilbert and Carine, and even though I had just met them, I felt like I had already known them for ages. Maybe it's all the times David has spoken about them on Skype.

Now I won't give you a complete minute by minute run down of what I did while in Rwanda (you'd get bored), but I'll give you the basic outline of some of the cool things I did, amazing people I met and just how amazing Rwanda is.

When I first arrived on Friday night, David and myself went to dinner with Noel who David works with.
David's friend Noel is one of the nicest people I have ever met. As soon as I met him, I had felt like I had known him for years. He just made me feel so comfortable to be Rwanda and to be sharing his country with him for a few days! Noel was 12 when the genocide happened. Most of his family were killed by the Hutus and he was forced to hide for many days to survive. David told me that while he was hiding, it took him 2 days to crawl 400 metres. Noel can talk about the genocide. You can see that it's not easy for him, but he wants people to know about it and for people to know exactly what happened rather than just know the Hollywoodised version of the story.

Although the genocide isn't openly talking about that much in Rwanda, it is always there, in the background of conversations, lurking, like a marker of time in Rwanda. It's almost like you can't talk about Rwanda now, without talking about the genocide. I think this is an extremely important thing to do. The country won't be able to move forward without tackling it head on, which I think is what they have done, and you can really see this with the way the country is today. I highly suggest that people read, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, by Philip Gourevitch. It is an amazing book about the genocide and how it came about. I read the 400-page book in about 5 days, it's that compelling.

On Saturday morning, David dragged myself and Carine to go horseriding. For all those who know David, you'd know that he loves horseriding, like loves it! I'm not the biggest fan of horseriding and Carine had never done it before so one could say that we gave David the reins for most of the time. The journey to horseriding was an interesting one. The main way that people get around in Kigali is by moto, a taxi service via motorbikes. You literally hop onto a motorbike, the ones where the drivers are wearing vests and have an extra helmet for you and away you go. I had my first moto experience about 1 hour after arriving in Kigali. I'd never really been on a motorbike before but it was so much fun, and I looked forward to the next time I got to ride on one!
No hands- my first moto experience!

Horseriding was at the top of Mt Kigali, so we had to moto it up to the top of a mountain, on quite bumpy, narrow, steep roads where at times I felt like I might fall off but luckily the bikes have little handle at the back that you can hold onto, so I held on. The view at the top of the mountain was beautiful and definitely worth seeing. We rode around the pit at the horseriding place for about an hour and a half, David riding for about half of that and Carine and I sharing the rest. We were riding one of about 4 horses in the whole of Rwanda, trust David to be able to find it!
The view of the hills in Rwanda
Me on the horse
David, Carine and the owner David
David and his beloved horse

After our horseriding experience, we met up with Gilbert and went to lunch in the centre of Kigali and had  some delicious veggie burgers (David makes me feel bad eating meat when I'm in his presence). Then we walked around the lovely, clean, orderly streets of Kigali and headed back to David's apartment. That night David and I went for a lovely all body massage which nearly made me fall asleep. They used a hell of a lot of oil but it was so relaxing and something that I needed after sleeping in a not so great uni bed for the past 3 weeks!

On Sunday night we were invited to a housewarming party for a friend called Sam that David works with who had just got married. It was a lovely night as I got to meet some more of David's lovely friends, to hear stories about what David and his friends have been up to and to just have fun. Everyone I met was so nice and welcomed me into their lives with such ease. I thank David for making such lovely friends and for being a pretty cool person that makes me being there very easy! 

Sam and I
David and I showing off our denim shorts
David, Sam, Sam's wife and JC
Carine, Noel and I
Genocide Museum 
 On Tuesday I went to the genocide museum. It is an incredible museum that is hard to put into words. The museum itself is situated on a hill that looks out onto parts of Kigali and where you can see the main CBD. Inside the museum, it is peaceful but obviously sombre. It is made up of sections to explain how the genocide came about, what happened during the genocide and what happened and is happening after the genocide. You follow the museum around like a labyrinth, where on the outer section there is information and pictures before, during and after the genocide. Then you go into the inner labyrinth of the museum where there are pictures of those people who were killed, the clothes and mementos from those killed and skulls and bones of about 200 people that were killed. It was definitely confronting to see 200 skulls and 400-plus bones in one place, and to know that they had been brutally killed by another human being. But what struck me was how much the skulls all looked the same in one way or another.

This is not to say that the skulls all looked like Tutsi skulls, but they all looked like human skulls, like my skull or your skull. I don't know if this is a morbid thing to think, but in the end we are all similar. We all have a skull, two arms, to legs and a body. Why did there need to be a distinction between who was who in Rwanda? Why did there need to be Hutu and Tutsi people? I obviously know that everyone is different with different religions, ethnicities, values and beliefs, but when you get down to the crux of it, we are all the same. We are all human. The Rwandan Genocide was an extremely horrific 100 days in Rwandan history, but also in the history of humanity. How can we as bystanders let a group of human beings kill another group of human beings and do very little to stop it or even make it worst? What degrades people in such a way that makes it ok for a neighbour to kill a neighbour, a friend to kill a friend or even a relative to kill a relative all because they are labelled Hutu and Tutsi? How do some people not know that this happened, or even deny that this occurred? We said in 1948 that the Holocaust or something similar would never happened again, but a little under 50 years later it did, where nearly 1 million Tutsi's were killed in the space of 100 days. 
The Genocide Museum

I had an incredible time in Rwanda and want to go back there right away. The people and the country were so incredibly lovely that it is hard to see that something awful happened not very long ago. The only physical remnants you can see of any conflict occurring is on the side of the Parliament House in Kigali, where there are bullet and mortar holes from fighting between Hutu rebels and Tutsi rebels. Other than that, you wouldn't know. I don't know exactly how the country has come to seem so harmonious in the 18 years since the genocide occurred. I'm sure that there are divisions, anger, hurt and every other emotion under the sun still being felt by Rwandans and will still be felt for probably their whole lives, but it seems such a peaceful and extremely safe place. I'm so glad that I got to spend my time in Rwanda with my brother and was able to see what is he doing and how respected he is by the people he works with. I definitely hope I can go back very soon to hang out with the amazing, lovely and generous people that I met. Thanks for making my time in Kigali so awesome.

Next up I'm off to Capetown to umpire AFL for AFL South Africa! I'll let you know how it all went very soon.

Love to you all,
Love all that you are,
And all those around you.


Thursday, 9 August 2012

What to do when you don't have class..

Sophie and Emma having a jump

As some of you know or may not know, I am indeed studying in South Africa at the Monash University here. It is in Joburg, but it's approximately 45 minutes from the centre of town, 2 hours with bad traffic.

That's a good and a bad thing.

It means that we're not near the extremely 'dangerous' parts of Joburg, where apparently crime is a part of everyday life. So Mum and Dad don't stress too much,I'm pretty safe. But that also means that there is not much around the University, and the only way you can go anywhere is by 'taxis' which are essentially people who don't mind waiting out the front of our Uni to give us lifts places, and we pay them.

Where I live is called Ruimsig, pronounced Roomzig, or Roym-zig, depending on who you talk to. But when you say it you must put a bit of a harder sound on the R, making it sound like you've got a bit of flem in the back of your throat. Have a go, it's pretty fun to say! And just to give you a sense of how lively Ruimsig is, one South African friend told us that Ruimsig is known as a place of retirement, for people to leave the hustle and bussle of the city for a quieter, more serene part of the world.

I live at the top left of the map!
For me, having not much to do is something that I'm not familiar with. Back in Melbourne I was a very busy beaver trying to fit as much into the day as possible, be it work, uni, umpiring and the like. However, down in Ruimsig town it's a bit of a different story. I only have 7 hours of Uni a week, which can go down to 6 depending on how chatty the lectures are. This 7 hours is split up between two days. Monday 8-10am and Wednesday 10-12pm, 12-1pm and 4-6pm. So as you might imagine I have quite a lot of spare time, or at least that's what it seems like. Spare time to do lots of Uni work, get organised for the semester and start assignments early. Well, this is what I try to do, but sometime I'm not as successful as I'd hope to be.

So here's a little list of the things that I, along with roomies (Sophie, Emma and Gaelle) and the other exchange kids (Marion, Rachel, Oli, Tom, Matt, Owen and Hilmi) like to do when we don't have class.

Activity 1: Paintball!
The boys in the group discovered after a few days of being here that there is in fact a paintball place about a 5 minute tax ridi from the Uni! How awesome is that!? So of course we had to try it. The boys went first to give it a go and came back with a few bruises but mostly raving about how great it was. So a bigger group went the next time, but at night time for a bit of mortal combat by night by paintball. We got our overalls on, our masks at the ready and our guns ready to fire and off we went for a 2-3 hour battle of paintball! We split into teams and tried hard not to get hit but hit as many people as you could in the mini games that we played. We each bought between 200-400 paintballs so that meant that people would be hit quite a lot. And all this for about AU$20! Nothing like the $100 or more it can cost to do it in Melbourne! By the end of the night I had only been hit a few times, one in the head (I'm going to get you back whoever did that!) and in the legs a few times, but all that only resulted in one bruise..winning at paintball! Some others didn't fair so lucky but all in all we survived shooting paintballs at each other and will definitely be venturing back there soon!

Most of the gang at paintball!

Activity 2: Featherbrooke 
The local shopping complex is about a 10 minute walk down the road and is called Featherbrooke. It is home to pretty much everything we need. You've got the local supermarket called Pick N Pay, the local fast food eateries of KFC, Wimpy's and Steers, the FNB Bank (where we spent many an hour trying to set up a bank account), the Bottle-o, the local cafe of Mugg and Bean, the more upmarket supermarket of Woolworths (the sponsor Masterchef SA, yes they have it here too) and the famous Stones bar slash nightclub, but I'll talk about that in more detail later.

We venture down to Featherbrooke between once and four times a week depending on how good our 'big' shop is at the start of the week. The boys tend to venture down there a bit more as they enjoy the taste of Wimpy's and KFC (affectionately known as the Dirty Bird). It's a pretty extensive little shopping area and serves our simple needs of living on res, cooking for ourselves and sometimes having a class of red vino and cheese to top it all off. Mugg and Bean also do a steller ice coffee that we've only tasted once but I feel that another tasting needs to happen soon!

Activity 3: Soccer 
As I only have 7 hours of Uni a week, I decided that I needed something stable to fill in my time and to prevent me from suffering severe boredom. Unfortunately there is no AFL team at Monash SA, therefore no team for me to umpire, so the next best thing was what I used to do for many a year- soccer. So in the first week of semester I went down to the soccer oval to see if there was a team for me to join. As it turned out I was the only girl that turned up for training that day, but the coach reassured me that more girls would turn up and that there was indeed a women's soccer team. So on this first day I trained with the boys, which was a little intimidating and I think I only got one or two touches.

I was told by my coach that soccer training was everyday, so the next day I turned up and one other girl was also there, the captain. This was slightly promising. I just kicked the ball around with Si (the captain) for about an hour while watching the boys train then returned home. So this pattern has been as following for the past 2 weeks. However training has increased, where we run five laps of the oval (the other girls aren't happy about this), kicking the ball around, playing little games and shooting for goal. At the moment the highest number of people we have had at training has been 5. But I am told that we do in fact have enough people for the team.

Our first game was meant to be on Tuesday, but due to the snow, yes you saw right, it snowed here on Tuesday, in Africa, in Joburg..we couldn't play the game. We were suppose to be playing in Pretoria which is about an hour and a half away, but there was too much snow on the field so we didn't venture out there. I was a little relieved as it was about 1 degree and the temperature only would have got colder, but also a little bit disappointed as it would have been cool to play in the snow and throw snowballs at the opposition. Maybe next time. So that is what I do pretty much every afternoon from about 4.15pm to 5.30pm.

Activity 4: Stones
Stones is the local nightly hangout for mostly Monash people and a few randoms who want to let their hair down, shake their badonkadonks (bottoms) and also play pool if they so desire. It's at Featherbrooke so is very easy to get to. We have been twice, the first time the week before Uni started which meant that it was rather dead and we were one of very few people there for most of the night. The second time was a lot busier and we realised that the later you arrive the better it is.

The dancefloor is where it is at at Stones. It can be described as a glitterbox. The walls are plated top to tail in shiny little mirrors that make it looks like it's glittering. And the music is pretty swell too. I'll have to admit that I did go rather crazy when 'Starships' by Nicki Minaj came on. Maxees you may know what I'm talking about! Such a good song! I had a good jive to that, and lucky for me I have friends here that are willing to dance as crazily as I do. Thanks Soph and Susant :)

Tom and I on the d-floor!
There are also many pool tables at Stones that have had my name on them. Although I'm not very good at pool, I do enjoy a good game. And a good game I had the other night. I was down and out to the master player Owen, but somehow I manage to scramble my way back into the game. We were suppose to be playing in partners, mine being Sophie, Owen's being Susant, but the other two seemingly forgot that we were playing an intense game of pool so it was up to us to finish it. Owen skipped out to a lead of pretty much sinking all but two or three balls plus the black one while I had about six more to down. Somehow I got about 3 in a row, then Owen missed his and I got another two. The final shot was mine to sink, the black ball, and I got it in, but the white ball went in as well. I don't exactly know the rules of pool but I think that means I lose..but gentleman Owen awarded me the win. I think I was pretty much the only one in the place that thought our game was extraordinarily epic. Maybe it's my warped sense of pool that made it so, but I still enjoyed having a play! So that is Stones, pronounced Stooones, with a posh accent, just because it's a cool thing to do.

Activity 5: TravellingHaving two days of Uni a week leaves a bit of time for exploring. And having Thursday and Friday off makes it even better. Therefore, this weekend I am going to Rwanda (to visit my brother David) for 5 days while the rest of the gang goes to Oppikoppi, a music festival about 3 hours from here. They have hired two cars, packed full with food, clothes and the like and have just made it to the festival. For some reason the festival was giving away free tickets to anyone that holds a valid Australian passport, so that meant pretty much all of the group bar 2-3 got free tickets. So random yet so perfect. I leave for Rwanda tomorrow morning and fly 5 and a bit hours to see my lovely brother for the first time in a long time. I'm very excited to see him and I know we're going to have a great time catching up, seeing the sights of Rwanda and doing whatever David has in store for us.

I'll update you guys on my Rwandan travels in the next blog, as well as what I got up to on my birthday..oh yeah I'm 21 now, how cray!

Lots of love xox