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Summer Stories Series: Vuvu Mania

September 3, 2010

Alex Mitchell
Summer Stories Series: Vuvu Mania

Over the summer, Forum creative manager Alex Mitchell traveled to South Africa to do a photojournalism project on the World Cup and its fans. He was accompanied by Aleksis Psychas '10 and Moose Halpern '10, as well as his high school friend, Kai Moreb. This article and others will be published in his coffee table book entitled The Light-Skinned Black Stars.

I first met the vuvuzela walking along the streets of Accra, Ghana. Often unwarned, the plastic horns boomed out relentlessly, hitting my ears from every direction. Like the unsynchronized car horns of Manhattan, they were only a minor disturbance in a loud city. I knew these horns would be plentiful in South Africa, but I didn’t realize they would be as loud and suffocating as the diesel-fueled Ghanaian tro-tros that owned the streets of Accra.

It wasn’t until I saw the first game of the World Cup that I began to really loath this plastic beast. My friends and I didn’t have game tickets until June 19, eight days after the opening celebrations in Johannesburg. Until then, we watched from bars and hostel living rooms with strangers, sharing our complaints over the incessant buzz that was riling a whole world of sports fans. Goodbye to the chants and songs of distinguished national histories; hello to the monotone vibrations only thousands of plastic horns could create. Soccer bloggers sneezed criticism all over World Cup director Danny Jordaan for allowing such a cacophony to continue. In his response, Jordaan said he would “enforce a ban if he was forced to do so.” He eventually urged the world to embrace South African culture and support the county’s unique norm surrounding soccer. I was unhappy, my friends were unhappy, and nearly every other World Cup fan I met was unhappy.

But this all changed on June 19.  As we sat for two hours in traffic on the drive to Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg, vuvuzelas announced the event like Depression-era paperboys. From the shanty houses and shops on the sides of the roads children blew their vuvuzelas in excitement; their vigor matched by the flag-bearing fans leaning out of their rental car windows. Ghana and Australia were there with vuvus in their hands and smiles on their faces. Somewhere along the grueling crawl of traffic the four of us exchanged 40 rand (about 6 US dollars) out our own windows to satisfy the growing horniness within us. And yet, when I took my first blow on the keyless trumpet, I failed to produce the notorious boom I heard all around me. Instead it was more of an embarrassing whimper, an attempt one might expect from a fan with emphysema. Perhaps it was going to take me a while to become a true Vuvu Master.  Nonetheless, I was a convert of this raging phenomenon.

Inside the stadium the horns were amplified, but unlike the consistent noise heard through television speakers, the vuvuzela frequency was vacillating--moving with the momentum of the game and the drunken spunk of the musicians sitting in my proximity. It was fun. We had adapted, our perceptions renovated by personal experience. It was an amazing feeling to have our negative expectations flipped upside down and supported by our World Cup peers. Like when a kid realizes the opposite sex (or same) does not have cooties, us Light-Skinned Black Stars found in one sunny South African afternoon the pleasure and communal joy the vuvuzela offered to the World Cup and its fans.

Despite the awkwardness of backpacking with meter-long horns, we brought our vuvuzelas with us everywhere in South Africa, always privy to join impromptu anthems, prepared for times when cafés or markets might explode in celebration. In one truly amazing moment during the South Africa v. France match, Kai and Moose initiated a stadium wide vuvu chant, an acomplishment worth the FIFA Fan Badge, if only it existed.

This summer South Africa introduced me, my fellow travelers, and the world to vuvuzelas, an instrument that will continue to disgruntle the critic that has never had the satisfaction of drowning the air in deafening merriment, changing the sound of stadiums forever.

(I did finally figure out how to blow the vuvuzela. It’s more about the lips than the lungs.)

Send in your summer story here. We will be publishing the best submissions over the next two weeks. After all have been published, students will be able to vote for their favorite submission. There will be a prize for the highest vote getter.

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