Photo: sacks08

Africa’s most important football tournament runs January 19 to February 10.

In the Southern African winter of 2010, my dad, brother, and I spluttered our way down to Cape Town from Harare in our tarmac-tinted pickup we called “The Beast.” It drove like a cumbersome cyborg constructed by a team of unskilled engineers wearing blindfolds. The only power it possessed was the uncanny ability to strand a family with no understanding of mechanics on the highways across the plains of Southern Africa. This was a skill regularly employed by The Beast, as we later found out.

We were heading down to the first FIFA World Cup ever to be held on the continent. We drove from Harare through Zimbabwe and traversed grassy, tree-flecked landscapes splintered with rocky outcrops. We went through the Highlands just past the border, and the dry flatland between Johannesburg and Cape Town, spending nights in a couple small towns on the way.

We spoke to more mechanics than waiters, and by the time we were descending into the Cape our car sounded like a homemade go-kart, catching the attention of passersby as we roared along at a mighty 10 miles an hour.

Once settled in Cape Town, we indulged in the pandemonium that engulfs any city when the World Cup lands. The bitter backdrop of the spectacle was the gargantuan construction of stadia in the light of huge housing problems and unaddressed social issues. On top of this, critics rightfully doubted that the venues would attract enough usage in the aftermath of the event, and that they would become a burden on the local municipalities. This has proved to be the case, and money has been siphoned in to maintain the vast majority of new stadiums.

Gloomy reality aside, for the next few weeks the 2.5-year hangover from the World Cup will briefly abate as the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in South Africa. Expect the monotonous screams of the vuvuzela. I remember being unable to think for long periods of time when the sound reached a certain level. It possesses its victims until they are overcome by a dull, buzzing numbness.

I think it’s the sensation a bee experiences the split-second before it dies.

In Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, there will be as much action off the field as on. Clubs and bars should be heaving with painted faces and flags. Head to Jo’burg if you want to experience the festive gridlock in the sprawling city. Cape Town and Durban should have above-decent weather and include the beach as part of their citywide arenas.

Go to a Chisa Nyama if you can (these are big open spots where they flame-grill fresh meat and you can grab a beer). If you’re in Durban, have a Bunny Chow (a hollowed out half-loaf of bread filled with curry). Look out for rooftop parties above Arts on Main in Jo’burg. Try to leave Long Street in Cape Town if you can. This will prove extremely difficult, as it’s where most of the madness will go down in the city.

A fellow Spoken Word artist will be spitting at the opening ceremony, and a bunch of events will be popping up all around the major cities. Expect noise, late nights, and the sullen faces of fans freshly let down by their team’s failure to get through the group stages. Pick a team with a slim chance of success (you’ll have less expectation to endure).

The competition will be going on for the next few weeks, and if I was still a border away I’d definitely consider a road trip over a long weekend (as long as the driver was confident in his car’s condition).

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