When I look back at my unbelievable two month trip to South Africa it is difficult to choose one aspect that stands out above the rest. I ate good food, enjoyed beautiful scenery, was exposed to quality rugby, and grew more as a referee in a short amount of time than I could have imagined. The one thing that influenced me the most, however, would be the four refs that were with me at the academy. For nine weeks I spent most of my waking hours with those guys, and gal, training, eating, taking exams, refereeing, and just relaxing together. They grew on me.
I arrived at the house on Cluver Street at about midnight. Everyone was asleep and, of course, a bit sluggish to come out and meet me.
Geoff is the first Zimbabwean I have ever met and he is White so that was strange. At the time, he was Evan’s roommate and was more lively after being woken in the middle of the night, and his parting words before returning to bed were advising me that the water is safe to drink. Up until that point I had not thought to question the water but I wasn’t too worried either way. Within a few days – probably the very next day – I found out that Geoff was the partier of the group. If memory serves, he went out every Saturday night for the previous five or six weekends before I arrived. In fact, during my nine weeks in Stellenbosch there were only two, maybe three, Saturdays when he did not got out. He is 19, away from home for the first time, and in a college town so that sounds like standard operating procedure to me.
Having never met a Zimbabwean before, much of our time together was him telling me about his country, which he did not seem to mind. He regaled me, and whoever else was listening, with stories of the three bars in all of Harare, the three Lamborghinis in all of Zimbabwe, and the interesting financial situation in 2008. For me, tales of Zim’s currency was the most mind boggling topic because I could not, and still cannot, fathom purchasing a loaf of bread and gallon of milk for trillions of dollars. Even now, when I have a $20 trillion note in my possession, I am still amazed by the situation back then. Currently the unofficial official currency of Zim is the US dollar.
In my opinion, Geoff is Evan’s primary nemesis. Their law discussions were always the most passionate (Geoff is absurdly technical while Evan says “play on”), Geoff would often be a step faster with speed/agility, Geoff had the best score on Evan’s machine in the vision lab, and Geoff was always right on Evan’s tail with Evan’s best machine. I don’t think Geoff was as concerned with being right behind Evan in certain things as Evan was concerned with being right behind Geoff. Geoff did, however, sit back and enjoy the ride as Evan became grouchy not just because of hunger or lack of sleep, but also because of losing to Geoff.
The best thing Geoff did for himself was convincing a nice young lady named Georgina to call him boyfriend. Georgie is attending culinary school and whenever she visited from Cape Town, she made the house smell great. Since meeting her, Geoff has learned terms like caramelization and roux, he now appreciates fine wine and brandy, and even picked up some domestic habits like washing dishes and keeping his room somewhat tidy. Anyone that meets Georgie, including myself, advises him to not mess up this situation that is not necessarily good for her but is great for him.
Ryan, the lone South African, was the youngest of the group and the smallest of the guys (and only barely heavier than the girl). Since he was my roommate, he helped me the most in the beginning with knowing where we were going, when we were leaving, what to bring, etc. When I arrived and started to unpack my bags that first night, I thought he was going to return to sleep since I did, after all, wake him up. Instead, he stayed up while I sorted out my area and we chatted about where we were from and how we got to be where we were. I appreciated that he resisted drifting back to sleep for those few minutes.
Since Ryan was the only one with a car, he was forced to shuttle us around at times. We walked to and from training in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, and dinner in the evening, and Hendrik or Marius (our coaches) would drive us to and from games so those events were never an issue. Ryan would, however, drive us to drop off our laundry, to the mall, or anywhere on a rainy day. On some days, we would be running late or just be feeling lazy and someone, usually Evan, would request Ryan’s vehicular services. Ryan usually refused at first, but Evan would soften him up and Ryan would give in. Those were always good days because, while the walks were not difficult, a car meant our day just became a little bit easier. The car never had much gas in it though, and for reasons only Ryan understands, the tank was never filled. He added R50 here (R=rand) and R100 there even if he had enough to fill the tank. It probably didn’t help his compact car’s fuel efficiency to be carrying four passengers (in some cases large) plus our luggage.
Ryan was the perennial peacekeeper. Whenever there was a conflict, Ryan was not a part of it and only stepped in to distract from the argument by changing the subject. These conflicts were only law-based, never personal, and even when Ryan was partial to one side of the argument he kept a firm poker face. A lasting quote was born from an argument involving Evan and me regarding offside players in front of the kicker in general play. Evan and I went back and forth for 10 minutes or so before Ryan said, “Hey guys, look at the moon!” There was nothing special going on with the moon, but the debate was halted for the night.
He was also the weight watcher of the group, but mainly when it came to getting seconds at lunch or dinner. Ryan is by no means plump, but for some reason whenever it came to extra portions he would say, “We’re gonna get fat, guys.” It’s worth noting that this stance rarely stopped him from getting seconds himself. He and I both had a cache of snacks in our room. My cache was larger and included chips, cookies, and candy. In the beginning, he only had chips stored away, but by then end of my trip, his cache included cookies and candy as well. He accused me of being the influence behind his increased snack consumption and said I would be the reason he got fat while I was gone. He said these things while stuffing a cookie into his mouth.
Before meeting Evan I thought he was 27 or 28. This thought was baseless, but judging by the way he hobbled down the stairs, he could have been older. I later found out that he is only 25. At one point he tweaked a back muscle and we saw Evan age 50 years in one day. He had his chest out, back arched, butt out, arms and legs flared, and he walked with a waddle. Needless to say, we had a good time imitating him. At the end of the trip, one of my teammates and I had a discussion on what each of us did best. We decided Evan was the go-to guy when it came to law knowledge. We, the refs, did not always agree with Evan’s interpretations and he sometimes did not have answers or had incorrect answers. Despite these things, whenever one of us had a question about law (what the law says, what should/could be done in a certain situation, etc.), Evan was the first stop.
He also was arguably the most competitive and did not enjoy losing, especially in the vision lab. If someone broke one of his records he would be grouchy for a few hours, if not the entire day. He would give you your props because he isn’t a sore loser, but he would still be sore. Being tired or hungry also made him grouchy. Everyone knew these things so we had fun with it.
At a certain point during the trip, Evan and I started spending more time together. This stemmed, in part, from the fact that we had shared American experiences. I think the biggest reason we got along so well was the fact that we could speak about just about any topic with an open mind. We spoke easy topics like rugby and US vs SA lifestyles, but we also discussed things like our places in the world and politics. When one of us disagreed with the other, no names were called and no fingers were pointed. Instead, we heard what the other had to say, gave opinions, facts, and played devil’s advocate in order to come to an understanding. Of course we agreed to disagree on some topics, but at the end of the day I enjoyed our chats and I think we both walked away as slightly better people.
Throughout the trip, Evan was the most affected by his normal (American) life so it seemed he always had home on his mind. His wife is pregnant and he, fortunately or sadly, will be missing five or six months of the pregnancy. Evan still took the time each night, despite our busy and tiring schedule, to Skype with or call her and they would chat for an hour or so about this or that. On one occasion, he wrote his wife a very impressive sonnet (with some help by Kahlil Gibran) and for Mother’s Day he drew a picture of his wife sitting on a couch eating pancakes with the baby in the womb, holding a card with a heart and the word “MOM” on it. All of the housemates were thoroughly impressed. Even though Evan is missing most of the pregnancy, he will be back home in time for the birth of little Evelyn Kelly.
Emily touched down one day after me but did not move into the house until a day later. Hendrik did not want to wake everyone at midnight again so we did not meet Emily until we were walking to campus for our first session of the day. Coming from New England, for the first week or so she could not stop talking about the weather. Apparently, March in Boston means cold air and no direct sunlight.
She had a good time with Geoff’s accent. His accent is a version of the English accent and it was the way he said a handful of words and phrases that drew Emily’s attention. For example, he pronounced the word “spar” like the word “spa” and instead of saying “as well” with equal emphasis on the “a” and “w,” he pronounced it “As well” with greater emphasis on the “a.” Emily was never mean about her jeering and, after awhile, I don’t think she was even trying to imitate him so much as she was speaking with a foreign accent that happened to sound like Geoff’s. He didn’t mind too much and tried to make fun of the American accent, but since he was outnumbered three to one, Emily always won that fight.
Over the nine weeks that we were in South Africa she snapped well over 1,000 pictures. These pictures were taken via cellphone and digital camera and were composed of rugby, people, sights, weather, and food. To me, taking pictures of our food was the strangest part of her photography because, up until meeting her, I had never seen someone take that many pictures of food. It turns out that her phone is full of food and, unless you have 20 minutes to sit and look, you should not ask her to show you those pictures. Since she took so many pictures of our meals, particularly lunch and/or dinner, she was always the last one to finish eating. She would apologize for taking so long, and the rest of us would shake our heads and tell her not to worry about it.
House-maties from left to right: Evan, Kahlil, Emily, Geoff, Ryan