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I Love The Smell Of Patriotism In The Morning

July 7th, 2009 10 comments

polandflag The thing about realising that you’re South African, is that you have to realise that the rest of the world exists, and have to understand it in a very meaningful way

As a kid growing up, the rest of the world was geography, and maybe some news. And so, although I was from South Africa, and I knew South Africa, I never fully appreciated being South African, simply because patriotism is a relative perception.

There’s a dirty word. Laboured as it is with images of gun toting mentalists running around the world killing everybody, “patriotism” has acquired a terrible tarnish. In the words of Bill Hicks “I fucking hate patriotism man. It’s a round world, the last time I checked.”

It was my first trip overseas, in August of 1995. We went to Poland, on a rowing tour, and it was just about the best introduction you could hope for to the rest of the world. Rowers from all over the world congregated for two weeks in the (as I remember it) small town of Poznan. Everybody was there with a common purpose (to beat everybody else), and this gave us a bridge across all the nationalities. Regardless, it also made everybody very conscious of where they were from.

Now I’m not a big believer in the “sudden flash” way of life. Stuff doesn’t hit you like lightning one day while you’re wandering around on Aliwal beach drinking Old Brown Sherry from a plastic packet. Stuff hits you slowly, many times over, and one day you wake up to a filthy hangover and the realisation that the stuff’s been there all along.

That said, If I had to identify the moment I first became proud of being a South African, it was on that tour. We were standing outside our residence, waiting to go to the course, and one of our guys who was still inside unfurled a massive South African flag from the window. We were one of the first teams to be competing under the New South African Flag, and I remember looking up at it and feeling immensely proud, and wanting to tell everybody how great our country is.

rowingBut I was very young, and such overt sentimentality came easily.

To say that I fully realised in that moment what it meant to be South African would be a blatant lie. I am still realising. These days, I live with a group of people from all parts of the Western world, in a small city in China. Small enough that Westerners are still freaks to be stared at. Understanding how different we are, and all of the good things and bad things that come from being South African – all of the big things like the colour of our skin (Small town Chinese people often believe I’ve become white because I stayed out of the sun), and the little things like having two ways of spelling sentence/ance – all of these understandings are making me realise day by day what it means to be South African. And it’s cool man. It’s fucking cool.

Anyway, that doesn’t matter. Patriotism is what I felt the first time I fully appreciated being South African, and I’ll admit that just once. Right, now I’m off to kill some people who don’t look like me.

Afrigator