“That is the US ambassador to South Africa.” Derya whispered to me as she pointed at the people seated directly in front of us. I wondered why they were so well dressed for a rugby game. This was certainly one of my most unique days of the trip.
I was on as health kick the last few weeks. There was a newly opened cross fit box (they call gyms boxes for some reason) within a five minute walk of the boat, so I thought joining would be a good way to make some active friends for my month in Cape Town. After four days, I still hadn’t hung out with anyone outside of class, but the weekend was approaching so I was optimistic.
Earlier in the week my cross fit instructor, Dean, told me another American was going to jump in to some of the classes. Sure enough, an athletic looking woman with a Wisconsin Soccer tee shirt walked in, already sweating. Her name was Derya, and apparently she likes to run six miles before exercising, like the workouts weren’t difficult enough already. The more I got to know her, the less surprising it was. She and her twin sister played both varsity soccer and ice hockey at Wisconsin, and her sister stars for the USA Women’s Rugby National Team. I like to think I’m good at sports with various intramural and rec league titles to my name, but these girls have NCAA championships and her sister is an Olympian (although I still think I could take them in tennis).
Saturday morning around 1000 I saw a message on Instagram from Derya inviting me to watch the Rugby 7s tournament at the Cape Town Stadium. It sounded more fun than polishing the boat, so I canceled my plans with Nor’easter. Two hours later, I picked her up from a nearby hotel and we walked to the stadium together. On the way she gave me a ticket and a wristband, and said that we were going to the team USA box, and she only was supposed to bring her family in there, so we were going to have to pretend we are old family friends. We spent the rest of the walk learning about each others families, jobs, and childhoods (yet she neglected to tell me she grew up in Alaska!).
The stadium was a spectacle. There were many groups of people in costumes, ranging from Wimbledon whites, to red solo cups, unicorns, to groups in Hawaiian shirts. I felt out of place in my jeans and tee shirt. We walked through the stadium, and entered the box, where fortunately everyone was dressed more traditionally. The group was diverse, with team USA donors from the East Coast, a former USA Men’s Rugby player, an ex NFL player, a Dutch model, the Ambassador to South Africa, Derya, and me, the crazy guy sailing around the world with his dad who just happened to be in Cape Town at the same time as his “old family friend”.
We found two seats and watched the end of the New Zealand vs. Canada game, before sampling the buffet. Then, the football player, Harry asked us to do shots with him. I had been alcohol free for two months, but that seemed as good an occasion as any to start drinking again. Fortunately, those were then only shots of the day. We watched several more games, including the USA women losing to Australia, but Derya’s sister, Alev, scored twice (all the USA points). The final game of the day was South Africa vs the USA men. The stadium was electric, and South Africa pulled out a tight victory. We were disappointed, but the rest of the stadium was thrilled. The terrible traffic leaving the stadium might have been worse than the loss, but after an hour we made it to one of the donors’ Airbnbs to regroup before heading out to an amazing beachfront restaurant.
The food was incredible, with sushi, beef carpaccio, tuna tartare, calamari, and more circulating around the table of 14. We ate and chatted, all with our toes in the sand. I was next to the football player, Harry, and he was probably the funniest person I’ve ever met. We talked absolute nonsense for most of the dinner, with personal anecdotes thrown in from time to time. By the time we finished it was around 11pm. I was not up for the after party and responsibly took an Uber home, exhausted and full from the late dinner, keen to wake up fresh to finish buffing Nor’easter.