Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Do Buy - Dubai - Due By

No Chapels, No Problem

Fr. Mitchel and I decided on our way back to the States to do a long layover in Dubai. Our flight from Johannesburg to Dubai was an overnight one, eight hours in length. It was long enough for a good bit of sleep…if you are the type who can sleep on a plane. I’m not, so I approached our 18 hour layover running on about an hour of combined sleep. We arrived at about 8:30, intending to say Mass before we started out into the city. We saw signs for prayer rooms, which meant only Muslim prayer rooms, some for men and some for women. No chapels, anywhere. Really? I wonder if the ALCU would actually do anything about this if it happened in the U.S. Probably not.

We improvised and celebrated Mass out in the sitting area on an end table of a row of seats. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it was the first time Mass had been celebrated on that table.

Brunch – Way Up

After this, we made our way to the Burg Al Arab hotel, which is the tallest and perhaps nicest hotel in Dubai, sitting on an island on the shores of the Persian Gulf. You probably have seen pictures of it. It is shaped like a sail of ship.

We ate a brunch in a restaurant perched at the top of the hotel, looking out over the Gulf. We looked forward to the food, but the view of the manmade islands was supposed to be stunning. Unfortunately they had a sand storm the day before, so we couldn’t really see much of anything. The food was quite impressive, though. I was so impressed by the spread that I actually ate lobster, oysters, and clams (my family could tell you how much of a feat that is.) We took our time to get our money’s worth, but eventually we couldn’t cram anything else in and had to move on. The restaurant manager took us around to show us another fancier restaurant and some of the other eye-popping features of the hotel. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t afford a night’s stay there, but it was great to be able to see it from the inside.

The Persian Gulf

We thought that eating in the hotel’s restaurant would give us access to their beach, but that was not the case. So, we had to go to a public beach. It was not at all fancy, but we got into the Persian Gulf and avoided getting fried, so the mission was accomplished.


By the way, the temperature was 104. Can you say oppressive? Sure, I knew you could. How people lived here before air conditioning is beyond me.

Dubai Mall

Dubai has several large malls, but two of them seem to stand out as fixtures of the city. We first went to the Dubai Mall. All of Dubai is like Vegas on Red Bull, and the malls are no exception. This has an indoor aquarium, an ice rink, and a link to the tallest building in the world.

The Official City Bird…

…is the crane. I have never seen so many buildings being built in a city. And this is true, even though the city is scores of billions of dollars in debt. Feed a cold, I guess. It would probably be a wonderful city in which to own an architectural firm.

Dubai Museum

Lots of wax figures demonstrating the commercial and social history of Dubai. The only interesting thing I can remember is that somehow the wax figures hadn’t melted.

Emirates Mall

We decided to watch the Brazil-Portugal game in the other big mall. This mall’s claim to fame is its indoor ski slope. Yep, snow skiing…indoors…when the outside temperature is 104. When I first looked in through plate glass windows, I saw a bunch of kids in identical ski jackets. I just figured that they were all taking lessons together. It took my sleep deprived brain several minutes to realize that everyone was wearing the same jacket…because it is Dubai…where no one needs a winter jacket…except when skiing indoors. They were standard issue when you paid to ski.

I thought it was funny to watch everyone in the snow. They all were fascinated with making snow balls, though they often ended up as snow pancakes. Some were almost more interested in making snow balls than in skiing. I can understand. Taking the effort to get carried up the hill to ski down in 45 seconds would get tedious. Regardless, it was pretty cool to see people skiing indoors.

Way, way, way up

We finished our day outside the airport by going up in the tallest building in the world. Fr. Mitchel wasn’t keen on going, but there was no way that I was going to be that close to an architectural marvel and not go up. The observation deck is on the 124th floor, which is really high, but the building has another 76 stories above that. The building is literally more than a half-a-mile tall. A HALF-A-MILE. Try getting your mind around that. It’s height blows every other tall building out of the water, by a lot. I don’t see it being rivaled anytime soon, especially in this economy. I could go on and on about architectural stuff, but I won’t bore you anymore. By the way, Fr. Mitchel was very glad we went up.

It was nice to go up at night, though many of the other skyscrapers were not lit up very well. During the day would be ideal, but since the air was so dusty, we figured we wouldn’t have seen much anyway. There is a fantastic fountain show between the mall and the skyscraper that you can see from the observation deck. It was awesome. So awesome that we decided to go down and see it again a half hour later from the ground. Both views were stunning. I’m sure it more than rivals anything in Vegas.

After gelato, we made our way back to the airport, where we watched Spain win and Fr. Mitchel lose…his camera. This meant we lost a lot of good pictures from the day, but in his usual optimistic way, he shrugged it all off as being the unimportant thing that it is.

Tears on a Plane

On the way home, I actually dozed, until the two-year-old in front of us threw his twelfth tantrum (praise God for celibacy). In my wakefulness, I decided to watch the movie Blindside for the first time. It was great. I cried less than two minutes in and kept crying through most of the movie…and I’m not ashamed.

Finally, we made it home…to New York. Then Detroit, where the whole airport became deflated after the U.S. loss to Ghana. Then, it a bit of somber resolution, we flew home to KCK. It was a great trip, but it was good to be back home.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Recap of our Itinerary

I will be blogging more in the coming days (although we will spend most of the next 48 hours either on planes or in Dubai), but I thought you might enjoy a run through what we did while we were here. Take breathers when you need them. As always, photos are at: World Cup Photos.


Friday, June 11th
Arrive in Dubai early in the morning
Arrive in Johannesburg during first game of the tournament
Watch soccer on TV at Andrew’s

Saturday, June 12th
Mass at Catholic Church in Brineston
Drive 2 hours to Rustenburg
U.S. – England game
Drive 2 hours home

Sunday, June 13th
Mass at same Catholic Church
Brunch and browsing at African Market
Watch more soccer

Monday, June 14th
Meet with Administrator of the Archdiocese of Pretoria
Visit a few Pretoria churches and cathedral
Visit hospice built by White Father priest
Visit Fr. Guido in rehab (he is a Canadian priest who has spent over 20 years here helping people in the poorest neighborhoods of Joburg)
Watch more soccer

Tuesday, June 15th
Elephant sanctuary
Cheetah sanctuary
Watch more soccer

Wednesday, June 16th
2-hour drive to Pilanesburg
5-hour drive through game reserve, seeing lots of animals in natural habitats
2-hour drive home
Watch South Africa/Uruguay match at Fan Zone

Thursday, June 17th
Argentina/South Korea soccer match at Soccer City
Watch Mexico/France match at Montecasino

Friday, June 18th
Apartheid Museum
Hector Pederson Museum
U.S./Slovenia soccer match at Ellis Park
Watch more soccer

Saturday, June 19th
5 hour drive to Durban
Beach walk in Durban
Fan Park to watch Nigeria/Denmark game

Sunday, June 20th
3 hour drive to Drackensburg National Park
4 hour hike (including my unplanned dip in the chilly creek)
4 hour drive back to Joburg

Monday, June 21st
Regina Mundi church visit and Mass in Soweto (where we saw the families of the U.S. team, including a priest I know from Mundelein)
Spain/Honduras soccer match at Ellis Park

Tuesday, June 22nd
4 hour drive to Kruger National Park
3 hour game drive through park
Drive to God’s Window canyon lookout
Watch South Africa/France game at pub in Sabie
4 hour drive home

Wednesday, June 23rd
Visit with St. Vincent de Paul members to mission in Deep Sloot
U.S./Algeria soccer match in Pretoria
Watch more soccer

Thursday, June 24th
Lion park, where we petted lions and giraffes
Cradle of Humankind, where we toured caves where early human remains were found
Fly to Dubai

Friday, June 25th
Day in Dubai
Fly to U.S.

Saturday, June 26th
Arrive in New York
Fly to Detroit
Fly to Kansas City

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

U.S.A. 1 - Algeria 0


In the previous two U.S. games, I have felt ashamed that I wasn’t more of a colorful fan like so many around me. If it wasn’t for my stocking cap that had USA and the flag on it, you wouldn’t even know who I was rooting for by my appearance. I refused to remedy the situation by buying a $120 USA jacket, but I told Fr. Mitchel that I really wanted to have some face paint. For today’s game, we went to the stadium with Daniel and Sydney, members of our host family, and Sydney brought face paint. Oh man. I painted a blue star on her cheek. She painted “USA” on my cheeks in blue and red. I felt like a fan…until I forgot I had it on and smeared one cheek…before we even got to our seats. By the end of the game, both cheeks were smeared (and yet I am about to go to bed and I still can’t get one of the “U”s off of my face.)

Upon reflection about my fan markings, I realized something interesting: U.S.A.United Kingdom, Slovenia, Algeria. Coincidental? No way. Providential? You better believe it.


The U.S. fans at the games have been great, but our numbers seem low. All three of our games have had crowds of only around 40,000, and there have been many open seats, which is the fault of FIFA and corporations who have big blocks of seats but don’t care if they are left unfilled. This is disappointing. Every seat should be filled, so that as many people as possible can have the unforgettable experience of a World Cup match.

Because of the way the tickets were allotted, Fr. Mitchel and I sat next to the same couple from Washington D.C. all three U.S. games. The wife had a camera and took lots of photos. She told me today that she has taken 300 photos at each game and 500 photos on their safari days. Her blog has her photos: (she’s even further behind than I am, but she takes good photos and gives you an idea of the landscape here.) Anyway, Fr. Mitchel and I have gotten to see lots of animals on this trip, but she said that on their safari yesterday they cougars and their cubs super close. They must have paid more for their safari than us. Pretty awesome.

The fans to my right today were from Ft. Lauderdale. The man has been to 5 World Cups. His fiancĂ© has been to 2. (I’ve been to 1, but you better believe I want to make it to Brazil in 2014.) Both of them were great. I was impressed at how calmly he reacted when, at the same time, he spilled all four beers he had bought for himself.

The Game

You saw it, so you don’t need my recap, but just know that the emotions of a game are exacerbated when you have thousands of compatriots with you. We sighed together at every missed opportunity. We went crazy together at another bad call that denied us a goal. And we celebrated like mad men when Landon Donovan scored one of the biggest goals of his life to put us in the next round. We were three minutes from joining the team on a trip back to the States, but the boys pulled off the necessary win by the skin of their teeth. Ninety minutes of scoreless soccer were worth it to see one goal. The elation we all felt is hard to describe. Again, I didn’t think twice about hugging a relative stranger. I must have screamed “Oh my gosh” at least 15 times. It was great.

If you already think that soccer is crazy, here’s more ammunition for you: the U.S. is first in our group of four, moving on to play Ghana on Saturday, and yet, in the three games that we played, we were winning for a total of 2 minutes. I love it. For the past week, I have talked more about points and ties and goal differentials than I have in my entire life. Fr. Mitchel and I hash out every possibility and scenario for each group on a daily basis. It’s awesome for a math lover like me.

Saying Goodbye

Alright, tomorrow night we leave this wonderful country. I hope to spend some time tomorrow filling you in on all the other stuff we’ve been doing. Our schedule has been crazy full, but let’s be honest, I don’t get to South Africa on a regular basis, so we had to keep moving.

Remember, you can see photos at: World Cup Photos.

Enough for now. You need to get back to being a productive member of society (to make up for me.)

God Bless,

Fr. Scott

Monday, June 21, 2010

Conquering Drackensburg

Drackensburg National Park

After our enjoyable stay in Durban, we ventured northwest to Drackensburg National Park. It is a huge, well, national park, with mountains and cliffs and a gorge. It has the second longest waterfall in the world, though we were kindly informed at the visitor’s center that the source of the waterfall was frozen. That’s okay, we have good imaginations. We could pretend there was water falling.

Several sources told us that we should do a particular trail and follow it to its end. Most people, the sources said, turn back on the path before finishing, thinking it is too difficult, but they miss out on an amazing view. Well, don’t tell two competitive guys that a trail is too difficult. You only fan the ego.

So, we took the trail. It winded along the side of a ridge, through plains and through rain forests, over rocks and up climbs. Around each corner, we thought we would see the amazing view. We saw great views around each corner, but nothing that was amazing compared with the wonderful views we already could see. So we kept pushing ahead.

Eventually we reached a ravine, climbing over rock and water. We came to a point where it was not apparent where we should go to follow the trail. There was an arrow pointing left which was painted on a rock, but as we started that way, three guys came back and said it wasn’t worth it. They then climbed 50 feet up a rock face on a metal wire ladder, but as we started to follow, they had turned around and said they were tired and didn’t want to keep climbing. Too much? Ha.

We scaled the ladder, then we had to scale a 100 foot cliff with pegs drilled into the rock. We mastered this only to find another part of the ravine. It was not apparent at all where we should go, so I started along a rock next to the water, only to find it icy slick. Too slick. So slick that I slid eight feet down into the water. I was quickly above my waist in chilly water. I easily got out, but I was wet.

It wasn’t a disaster, but I didn’t want to walk back 2 hours in soaking wet jeans. Providentially, Fr. Mitchel had swim trunks and sweat pants, so I was able to make the trek back in dry sweat pants.

As far as we can tell, we finished the trail, but we didn’t see the view they talked about. Or maybe we did. Either way, we had a great hike with some beautiful scenery. Go to World Cup Photos to see some pictures.

More than enough. Talk to you later.

God Bless,

Fr. Scott

Durban on the Coast


If you are like me, you did not know that South Africa even had a city named Durban. Well, it does. It’s a coastal city, about five hours southeast of Johannesburg.

You might wonder why we would go to Durban and not to Cape Town. That is a legitimate thing to wonder about, but let me answer with three words: it’s too far. Cape Town would be a whole day’s journey one way, and we didn’t feel like spending two of our days in the car. Yes, we could have flown, but apparently the weather there is nasty anyway, so this trip will end up Capeless.

Durban was recommended by many here in Joburg (short for Johannesburg,) as a good place to experience the coast, especially since it was about 20 degrees warmer there. They were right. After the long drive and the struggle to get to our hotel, we set out to experience the beach. It reminded me a lot of Santa Monica, with piers and restaurants and amusement rides and jugglers and mimes and sand castle builders and an ocean. One of FIFA’s official fan fests was right next to our hotel on the beach. There were lots of fans watching the tournament games on a big screen.

We could have gone swimming, but we decided just to get our feet wet in the Indian Ocean, which I was seeing for the first time. Then we walked north along the beach. The shops and attractions kept going and going. It was impressive, even though most of the architecture was from the 50’s and 60’s. That must have been when the city’s tourism first boomed.

Along the walk, we watched Netherlands fans walking back from their game with Japan, which was at the Durban stadium. There were thousands of them, and they all were wearing the team’s color: orange (your right if you say that orange is not in their flag, but maybe they were afraid of getting shot accidentally by deer hunters.) We’d see one goofy outfit, only to see it trumped by a goofier one in the next batch of fans. Their fans are intense.

We thought it was great to have a hotel with a view of the ocean and the fan fest, until we celebrated Mass in our hotel room. Let’s just say that the music from the fan fest was not out of Gather or Worship hymnals. The proximity to the fan fest also became an issue when we tried to go to sleep, though the music mercifully ended at 11pm, 45 minutes after the last game was over.

After Mass I ate a King Steer burger along the beach, and then we watched the Cameroon/Denmark game. The four minute walk to our hotel room after the game was a nice feature, offsetting the noise in our room.

The next day Fr. Mitchel and I started with a walk on the beach to the south. Then we ate breakfast, packed up, and made our way to Drackensburg National Park.

But that is for a different post. ‘Nuff said.

God Bless,

Fr. Scott

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Elephants and Cheetahs


After our day of rest, we made a trip to a few animal sanctuaries. We started with elephants. African elephants, as you know, used to be hunted quite a bit, but now they are pretty well protected. So protected, in fact, that the elephant population in South Africa’s Kruger National Park is nearly twice what the park can handle. Authorities will be thinning it out soon. In the past they would thin out populations by killing the older, more mature elephants in a herd. But the younger elephants would become rowdy and poorly behaved without adult mentors, so now they thin whole groups at a time, from young to old.

Even though there are tons of elephants at Kruger, they still have elephant sanctuaries. The one we visited near Johannesburg had five elephants that the sanctuary either bought from zoo or circus trappers. They try to make the five elephants into a family that they can then release back into the wild. In the meantime, as they are bonding, the sanctuary uses them as teaching animals for uneducated folks like me. In a cold, two hour tour, we learned about elephant herds and bodies. (Their skulls are huge but very porous in order to cool the brain and reduce the weight of the head. Their brains are five times the size of a human brain because they can migrate large distances and need to be able to store a huge amount of information about their path – hence the sayings about the memory of elephants.) The tour also gave us a chance to feed the elephants; pet their trunks, ears, belly, tails, and the soft bottoms of their feet; lead them around by their trunks; and get a muddy, wet, cheek-sucking kiss from their trunks.

Cheetahs, et al

Next we went to the cheetah sanctuary. Cheetahs are one of my favorite animals because they are sleek and fast. Their strides when they are running full speed are about 25 feet, where their hind legs will land in front on their fore legs in order to better propel themselves. We got to pet one, which was cool. They are really loud when they purr. Unfortunately they are going to be eliminated from the wild of Africa perhaps as early as 2012.

In this sanctuary we also saw wild African dogs, who eat extremely fast, even while their prey is still alive; ostriches; a few types of vultures; honey badgers, who have to have tops on their cages because they will build ramps to get out; monkeys: and a few others.

Your Education

So, what did I learn that would be helpful for you? How about escaping from wild animals?

Elephants – when they charge, you can’t outrun them, but as you run, start throwing off items of clothing, which they will stop and smell, slowing them down.

Cheetahs – do not run, but stand still. They understand prey as animals that run away, so if you stand still, they will be confused.

Ostriches – they can impale you with one kick, so it is best to roll up in a ball near a tree and try to protect your vitals.

Lions – well, unlike cheetahs, they don’t just chase prey. They also chase and kill any creature they think might be a threat to their hunting domain. If they attack…um, pray.

Wild African Dogs – unlike domestic dogs, they don’t fall for the stick throwing technique. They attack in packs (though two adults always stay home to watch over pups) and they eat quickly, while you’re still alive. So, um, go to confession before venturing into the African wild.

Helpful? Doubtful. Oh well.

God Bless,

Fr. Scott

Friday, June 18, 2010

U.S.A. 2 - Slovenia 2

Everyone in the world knows that the score above is not the real score of the game, but you don't need me to whine on and on about the ridiculous call that you probably got to see better than me.

So, yes, today was one of the U.S. soccer game days. We actually started the day in Soweto, which stands for the Southwest Township, an area in Johannesburg that was very instrumental in the ending of Apartheid. I must tell you all about this, but it won't happen in this post.

Regardless, we went from Soweto to nearby Ellis Park for the game. It was a great afternoon for soccer; not cold, especially since we were sitting in the sun. Our seats were near the top again, but the site line was wonderful, and we were near the half line. Nearly our whole section was rooting for America, which was a nice change from the England game. It meant that we could all cheer and sigh and yell in unison, especially during the many times that the referee tried to steal the game from us (whoops, I wasn't going to write about it.)

Anyway, I don't recommend that people who are manic depressive watch soccer. So few goals are scored and therefore so much rides on each goal. After the first half, we were deflated in the stands. I sat depressed with my head in my hands. But Fr. Mitchel, in all his wisdom, said that we were going to come back, and he was right. Even though we were down, we all knew that the U.S. had the potentional to put the ball in the net. And they did. And we cheered.

It's funny that when in a situation like this, some inhibitions go away. I was seated next to a guy from San Francisco who just arrived in the country this morning. He was your typical Californian, very laid back and friendly. After our second goal, I first hugged Fr. Mitchel. Then I turned and gave this guy a big bear hug. I don't think he was expecting it, but he didn't hit me in response. We were just too overjoyed to care.

Although we all wanted to win, the U.S. fans were so proud of the team, and we all left with such joy in our hearts. The four Slovenia fans in our section, yeah, not so much. They were deflated.

Okay, enough. We've done more than soccer, but I haven't written it up yet. Soon. Remember, Fr. Mitchel's pictures are at World Cup Photos.

God Bless,

Fr. Scott