Discovering a new identity

2010-06-22 00:00

“I saw the South African football team,” my daughter exclaimed, as she burst through the kitchen door. “After Joah’s practice had finished, they came onto the football field, all dressed in green.” Joah plays for Savages Football Club, U6

“Oh, can you show me them next week?” I replied.

The following Friday night, after Joah had finished his football session, Lael hurried up to me. “There they are,” she whispered, pointing excitedly up the sideline. I followed her gaze. Slouching onto the field were a number of potbellied, stubble- covered, stompie-flicking men. “No,” I said. “ No, I don’t think that is Bafana Bafana, actually.”

“Oh,” my daughter sighed disappointedly. “So that team is not playing in the World Cup then?”

The World Cup has brought many blessings into our home: cold beers, warm friends, shared meals and slow nights. But undoubtedly its greatest gift has been to open up our children’s world and to give them an identity in it.

“But,” my slightly disappointed daughter continued, “Dad is playing in the World Cup, hey?”

“No.” It’s not that he’s potbellied, but he’s also not quite at international football standard.

“Why not?” my children frowned.

“Okay, look, the South African football team is made up of the best players in the country.”

My children stared expectantly at me.

“And my point is that Dad is not one of the best football players in the country.”

“But, is Pietermaritzburg in the World Cup?”

“No, Pietermaritzburg is not a country. It is a city.”

“Is Africa in the World Cup?”

“No, Africa is not a country, it’s a continent.”

“Is New Jersey in the World Cup?” (I don’t know where that came from.)

“No, New Jersey is not a country, it’s a state. Like a province.”

“What’s a province?”

As a home-schooling mum, I had been covering this in geography for well on two years now but clearly nothing had sunk in. Pietermaritzburg was the world and our family was ruling it, and until now that was all the identity my children had needed.

“Okay, so you get the seven continents — remember the song we learnt. Then you get the countries of Southern Africa — remember the map we coloured in? Then you get the nine provinces of South Africa — remember the test we did? And then you get Pietermaritzburg. So in the World Cup we have the 32 best football teams, from the 32 best football countries, in the whole world. And they play each other. Then they knock each other out and then the winner wins.”

“I hope England wins,” Lael sighed.

“No, you can’t. You have to hope South Africa wins, or if they don’t, then another African team.”

“Because South Africa is our country,” Joah replied. “And Africa is our continent,” concluded Lael.

“Exactly.” And, because the world is bigger than Pietermaritzburg and there is football talent outside of our family, we will cheer for South Africa, the other African countries, the Asian countries, the European countries, the Americas, Australia, and lastly, Uruguay.

Because no identity is complete without an enemy.

• Sarah Groves is a freelance writer living in Pietermaritzburg.

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