Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sunday in Soweto

"If you can't be an athlete, be an athletic supporter." 
- Principal McGee, Grease. 

On Sunday, Mr. Deep successfully ran and completed the Soweto Marathon. For those who don't know, a marathon is 26.2 miles/42 kilometers.  This is an extraordinary achievement and I am very proud of Mr. Deep not just for completing such a difficult physical event but also for the amount of training he has put in over the past months. He truly committed himself to this endeavor.

This post isn't about Mr. Deep's race though. Instead it's about my experiences spending a good part of the morning on my own in Soweto as a race spectator.

I have written posts about Soweto before but as a quick refresher, Soweto stands for South West Township. Blacks were forced to live in townships during the apartheid era and Soweto is the most densely populated black residential area in the country. Parts of Soweto look like a middle class neighborhood but other areas are informal settlements filled with shacks. Soweto is rich in history. Both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived in Soweto and the Soweto uprising of 1976 was a major event which garnered the attention of the world and led to increased sanctions and pressure on the apartheid government to change its ways. Although clearly it took a while.

On Friday evening, before the race Mr. Deep and I decided that on Saturday we would review the course route and come up with my spectator plan. On Saturday, Mr. Deep emailed me a course map (from the other room) and suggested that I, "figure out where I was going to be."

I would rather it had been a collaborative process. But Mr. Deep was obviously feeling stressed about the race and he didn't seem to want any part in the development of my plan. I thought about pushing the issue but decided not to. I think running a marathon is kind of like going in for surgery. No one who is going in for surgery is too concerned with the plans of those around them. You would not ask someone who was going in for surgery, "hey, where do you think I should eat lunch tomorrow while you are under the knife?" Or, "what time do you think you'll be finished? I have plans in the evening." So I left it alone and tried to come up with a plan on my own. To make matters worse, I was also given the world's worst map, one with a lot of missing street names.

I do realize there are plenty of wives who would say to their husbands, "have a great race and I'll see you when you get home." I also know there are a lot of expat wives (and South African wives for that matter) who would tell their husbands "sorry but I'm not cruising around Soweto by myself."  But I decided to suck it up and figure it out. This is the kind of relationship that Mr. Deep and I have. When one asks the other to do something, the person who was asked is supposed to do it...with a smile. This would be a good time to mention that following 9/11 Mr. Deep rented the last car in Houston and drove non-stop all the way to Minneapolis to rescue me and then he drove us home to New York. 

When I looked at the race website to see if there was any kind of information for spectators I couldn't find anything. Finally, I found a section about friends and family in the FAQ section. Only it wasn't very helpful.

The race began at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m and so we had to leave the house by 4:30. Unfortunately even 4:30 was not quite early enough because as we got close to Soweto the traffic was horrible as thousands of runners were trying to get to FNB Stadium for the start of the race. If you are a devoted fan and long time reader of my blog, you might enjoy the irony of the fact that the race began at FNB Stadium. 

We sat in traffic, barely moving, for about 45 minutes. Finally, Mr. Deep was running out of time and he got out of the car to walk to the start. Of course, as soon as he got out of the car the traffic started moving. He got back in the car and I was able to drop him off him pretty close to the stadium. I then continued on my way to the first point where I planned to stop and watch the race.
Walking to start.

I decided my first stop would be about 4-5 miles into the race. The map was so bad that I can't even tell you exactly what mile marker it was. I chose the location because it was near a big hospital, named after Chris Hani that I had passed on a tour once. I figured that A) a hospital is a safe place to be and even if it's not safe if something happens to you you're already at the hospital and B) a hospital has parking. 

But I guess I forgot that I was in South Africa because while the hospital had parking it also had massive security and a gate with guards so it wasn't like I could just drive right in and park. I saw a few race marshalls standing near the hospital and they suggested I turn around and park at the petrol (gas) station where they themselves had parked.

I parked at the petrol station and then walked down to where the marshalls were. In true South African form these women were so nice and friendly that we soon became best friends. They asked me where I was from. Partially I think because of my accent but also partially because they don't get a lot of white women hanging out alone in Soweto. I stayed with them and got to see Mr. Deep pass by and then I moved on to my next location.

Busi (who also goes by Lillian) is on the left. I didn't get the name of the woman on my right.
Someone must have driven into this traffic light. It still works though. 

My next location was to be around mile 17 near Vilakazi Street a very vibrant and famous part of Soweto. This is the street where both Mandela and Tutu lived. I chose it because I figured it was early enough in the race where I would still be able to see Mr. Deep finish and also because (you guessed it) I had been there before on a tour. 

Driving to mile 17 from mile 4 (or wherever I was) proved challenging as I kept ending up having to drive across the race course. While this was frustrating for me, it was extremely frustrating for those people who were going about their business and had nothing to do with the race. The taxi drivers seemed especially inconvenienced. And since taxi drivers never follow any traffic rules of the road, they were certainly not going to let a few thousand runners get in their way. The race marshalls had a tough job trying to control the traffic. At one point I saw a race marshall sitting on the hood of a car trying to stop the driver from driving through the race course. Sadly, I didn't get a photo of that!

Here is a marshall arguing with a driver.
A nice shot of the Orlando Towers a Soweto landmark.
I arrived near Vilakazi street and parked in front of a church. Tip of the day when driving around Soweto park near churches and hospitals. Vilakazi Street did not disappoint as there was a lot of entertainment, music and energy and while I would have liked to hang out there I thought it would be better to go around the corner and try to create a little excitement along a quieter stretch of the course. I walked down to a residential area and began cheering my heart out for every runner who went by. Eventually Mr. Deep came along and then I was free to head to the finish. 

Entertainment on Vilakazi Street.

Getting to FNB Stadium was difficult as I somehow had to cross the race route twice. I finally made it and parked near a long pedestrian bridge. The man who helped me park my car told me it cost R30 to park there and while I think that was total BS, I paid it anyway. 

On one of my tours I learned that FNB Stadium, which was built for the 2010 world cup, is supposed to look like a giant class of beer with a foam head. It actually does but you can't tell from this photo. 
I headed inside to meet our thoughtful and kind friends who had also shown up to support Mr. Deep. We all then watched Mr. Deep cross the finish line. 
Mr. Deep, his post race beer and his Soweto Marathon Medal. 

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.