As you may know, South Africa does not have American Football. The closest sport I can think of is rugby –which is similar to football, but I would say a bit more brutal.

Rugby is as much a part of our culture in South Africa as football is a part of American culture. Saturdays are reserved for eating biltong (jerky’s mother), drinking (proudly South African) beer and watching the rugby game.

The talk of campus, for the last week, has been the first home football game of the season. So when Saturday, Sept. 6 came around, the anticipation and excitement levels amongst the international students were high. Not only was this our first Charlotte 49ers football game, but also our very first ever football game.

When the big day finally arrived the international family set out with our newly bought Niner-gear, sunscreen and high spirits. We joined up with the tailgating crowd, sought out the shade and took photos of this momentous occasion until it was a decent enough time to go to the game.

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Photo courtesy of Corlene Beukes

As we walked to the stadium my voice drifted and a fellow-Niner overheard me say that I do not know the game so I would probably just cheer when the others did. He explained some of the rules to me and although all I got was “two end-zones,” I felt as though I was completely ready for this.

With my newly acquired knowledge, I entered the stadium and got a seat, which had a little gift on it –McDonald’s sponsored thunder sticks which, to be honest, made my day. I mean who does not like to make that much noise? It is a built-in desire of human nature.

We arrived just in time for kick-off and thusly the game began.

The first touchdown was incredible. The crowd went wild and with “FORTY! NINERS!” ringing in my ears, I felt like I was starring in a movie (except that there were no cameras and no quarter backs declaring their undying love for me over the microphone) but at least the sport was fascinating.

The whole show of it all and the uniting element of sport made my heart happy, and it was like being back in South Africa for a few moments. Sport unites; it really crosses all borders.

When my senses finally relaxed by a smidge the scents that were floating about caught my attention. With my nose leading me, I discovered funnel cake, lemonade, cotton candy and so many more delicious things. I bought funnel cake and was temporarily transported to heaven.

I decided, as I walked back to my dormitory, that football culture here and rugby culture back home do not differ that much. Both have fanatic fans, associated foods and songs, dedicated and incredibe athletes. And, once again, I knew that home is not where you are, but who you are with. People make everything better –whether it is rugby or football.

So with my brand new “Charlotte 49ers” tank-top, my stick-on tattoos and my green face paint, I am looking forward to the rest of the football season.

Who knows, if my experience continues down this path, maybe someday my Saturdays will be permanently reserved for eating funnel cake, drinking lemonade and watching the football game.

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