Jozi v CPT: let the fur fly
The check-in queue for the domestic flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth is long and endearingly chaotic. There are glum faces, checking and re-checking of phones, facepalms, and barely contained rage, while the airline staff chit-chat, joke around and playfully hit each other like this is some high-school hallway. I feel like I'm back in Colombo.
When I get to one of the counters, the two men behind me begin to argue loudly about who is next. One pushes the other. The shove is heartily returned. Bags are kicked over. Voices are raised, along with quivering fingers. They are doing their best to cause a scene, but no one in the vicinity is interested. Folks are still checking their phones, dolefully filling out forms, and staring blankly into the distance. Just when I think punches are about to be thrown, the two seem to suddenly realise no one around them even mildly cares and stand down, maybe a little embarrassed.
Then two counters free up at once and they are called forward simultaneously.
Port Elizabeth seems like a town out of 1970s California, with its palm-lined seaside promenade, quirky hotels in pastel shades, and holiday-makers rocking up to the beach with their tents.
This is the first city I have ever explored on this continent, so when I tell South Africans that it is nothing like what I imagined an African town would be like, they look at me like I'm a moron and ask: "What did you expect? Zebras lining up at the zebra crossings, and lions chasing wildlife cameramen around the bus stops?"
Well, yeah, sort of.
I wind up chatting to one of the St George's Park security guards while I wait to film a few of the Sri Lankan players for a video story. He follows the South Africa team closely, but doesn't know much about Sri Lankan cricket. He asks me how I think Sri Lanka will do.
"Well, you know, they have won five Tests in a row," I declare, full of confidence. "The bowlers are coming along. There's some real talent there in the batting, I tell you. It should be a great series."
I spend most of the Test trying to avoid seeing him again.
South African slang is superbly evocative, and I pick a few titbits up:
Shaap shaap means "fine", or "okay" - similar to the Sri Lankan "shape".
An oke is a bloke.
A sunshower is a "monkey's wedding" - an English translation of a Zulu phrase, the idea being that having rain and sunshine together is as ridiculous as monkeys getting married.
Soutie is the derogatory Afrikaans term for an English-speaking South African. Literally it means "salty penis", as these folk are said to have one foot in Britain and one in Africa - their genitals hanging in the ocean.
There was one linguistic quirk that often tripped me up. When South Africans ask "How are you?" or "Howzit?" the expected response is "Good, and you?" - those three words running together so it sounds more like "good'n'you". Not being used to this, however, I'd merely say "good" when someone asked me how I was, but so ingrained is this habit, the other person would automatically also say "good", without me having asked them anything, and we'd both stand there looking like idiots.
The second stoush of the trip is so much better than the first. I'm having dinner with a few other journalists at a brewery when suddenly a man smashes his beer bottle on the ground and goes after someone else in his group. Friends immediately intervene to keep the aggressor from his target, and the women in the group begin shouting: "Corm darn, James. Corm daarn."
I go for a run for the first time in at least a year, taking the seafront route along the promenade. When I make it to the Port Elizabeth pier, I'm rewarded with a captivating view of the town and the surrounding coastline.
On the way back I find colleague Firdose Moonda also on her run. She accompanies me towards our adjacent guest houses, but while I wheeze and splutter through the last kilometre, Firdose - a daily runner - is infuriatingly serene, like she's gliding along on a hoverboard.
I make a note of the South African ambulance hotline number, in case I decide to go for any future runs.
Squeezed between the frigid cobalt of the Atlantic and the grand, forbidding Table Mountain, Cape Town is one of the most stunning cities in the world, and boy, does it know it. I am staying in the prosperous Sea Point neighbourhood, where Audis and BMWs stud the spick-and-span streets, yoga is rampantly practised, inexpensive coffee is snootily scorned, and good wine copiously consumed.
On New Year's day, Cape Town is a little more egalitarian than usual. Tens of thousands of folks from the surrounding area have flocked to the beach, which stretches roughly from the city all the way out beyond the eastern suburb of Camps Bay. The people who came earliest have set up picnics by the water, but soon all the best places are taken, and huge groups have spilled out onto the pavements - the little ones flitting around eating ice cream, and adults lazing on mattresses in the sun. By evening even some roundabouts have begun to be occupied by people who came to be idle in the vicinity of the ocean.
After the day's work, I hire a bicicyle and ride east, up the hill, to the suburb of Clifton. The views towards the Cape Town peninsula are majestic; great sandstone cliffs brooding over waves as if guarding the land from an endlessly frothing sea.
The big story on Kyle Abbott's defection to Hampshire is breaking on ESPNcricinfo. Other papers have followed up and it is clear now that the great Kolpakalypse is about to hit. Over the next 48 hours there will be many thousands of words to write, several press conferences to attend, administrators to drill, players to question, and analysis stories to bash out. The press box is bracing fearfully. Journalists are asking each other what they know. Coffee is being hoarded. Requests for thoughts and prayers from loved ones are sent out.
The Sri Lanka team, lovely fellows, make it easier for everyone by falling over meekly and making the match less worthy of writing about.
The match is long over and the stadium is mostly empty, when Abbott is seen decamping to a corporate balcony adjoining the press box. He is sitting there, having a beer, when suddenly, on the other side of the ground, four young women strip down to their underwear and begin to frolic around on the pitch. There is a group of men - perhaps their boyfriends - watching the women, but Abbott is undaunted. He shouts to them. He waves. He pleads with them to come over to his side of the field - as if he hasn't taken enough from this country already.
At a Cape Town farmers' market, near a table of beautifully gnarled organic pumpkins, two former Johannesburgers are bashing their old city.
"I can't believe I lived there for so long," one says, with a shudder.
"I know, it's so much better here, isn't it?" replies the other.
They look deep into each other's eyes, like survivors of war trauma, and agree: "Joburg is such a dump."
So far, South Africa has seemed a little like the remains of what was once a magic show. The streets are beautifully planned, and the public spaces and infrastructure are comparable to what is found in Australia or New Zealand. People drive good cars and live in fine houses. But you feel that perhaps you are not seeing the internal machinations of this production.
Occasionally, like on the drive to Cape Town's airport, the curtain parts and the casual traveller is afforded a glimpse of the nation's backstage. The tin-shack shanty towns come into view, for example, their narrow streets unkempt.
Effectively, you realise it has only been roughly 25 years since the end of apartheid, when black "townships" were designed to lie out of view and provide labour to the pristine white cities. On the vast scale of history, that's barely a blink of an eye.
If you thought Capetonians were rough on Johannesburg, you should hear what Joburgers think of Cape Town. I have arrived at the final city of the Test series, and I'm at a birthday dinner for a South African journalist. As soon as Cape Town is brought up in conversation, several Joburgers unite to launch an unrelenting attack.
They concede that Cape Town is exceedingly pretty. It's the people they can't stand. "Capetonians drink their little lattes and craft beers, and hang out by the beach all afternoon doing nothing, thinking they are better than the rest of us," the Johannesburg locals say. "They call Table Mountain 'the mountain', as if there's no other mountain in the world. Plus, we make more money than them up here anyway."
Most of this is jest, since there are Capetonians at the table. But there is no doubting there is seething resentment underneath.
Taxi drivers have been wonderfully friendly in each of the three cities, but nowhere have they been as garrulous as in Johannesburg. Here they seem to be from all over this side of Africa. I meet Mozambicans, Somalis and DR Congolese, but mostly Zimbabweans. It is a Zimbabwean long-time resident of Johannesburg who gives me my most memorable ride. From the moment he picks me up, he pours forth non-stop about the problems with crime in the city, going at least 20 minutes without taking a breath.
"These gangsters will walk around with guns all the time, anytime," he says. "They will shoot people with their guns, shoot the air with their guns, and to show off, they will open beers with their guns, stir their tea with their guns, and probably scratch their backsides with their guns."
I had been repeatedly told to keep my wits about me in South Africa, but so far on this trip, I have not even come close to feeling unsafe or threatened - in Johannesburg or elsewhere.
Johannesburg has recently begun to use three-wheelers, and I manage to photograph one coming up Corlett Drive, next to the ground. I'm almost tempted to hail him and climb in, but the driver doesn't seem like the sort who would take his vehicle shooting across traffic at busy intersections, or the kind to lavishly berate other people's driving while leaping haphazardly between lanes and running small children over, so it wouldn't have felt enough like home for me.
The Sri Lanka team, lovely fellows, have given us a couple of days off, and I spend what would have been the fifth day at the Apartheid Museum, near Soweto. Some sections - like the short documentary on the political ructions of the 1980s and early '90s - make for especially sombre viewing, while beautiful photographs from the second half of the 20th century give the visitor an idea of the conditions that led to the creation, and later the downfall, of the system. The exhibits are thoughtfully presented; you enter through different doors based on the race your ticket has randomly assigned you.
In general - and I've only been here three weeks - South Africa seems a nation bravely confronting its history, which I guess is more than can be said for many.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando