So a few days behind the official opening, but last night was my first up close and person experience with World Cup festivities here and I thought I should write a little about it. First things first…my bday dinner was green bean and potato salad and beets with basil. And lots of red wine and vodka pamplemousse. Thanks to the small gathering for providing a very festive birthday eve.
I’ve been following the World Cup action as best as my fairly clunky internet connection will allow. Before last night that meant getting score updates and glimpsing half shots of photos posted to world news sites. However, last night was the first BIG GAME…England-US. The international volunteers–mostly Brits–had made plans to meet at Thermometer to catch the action. Thermometer is a fairly typical, but better than average, Cameroonian sports bar. The “outside”, which really is the entire bar since the place had only lattice work for walls, was equipped with a tiny tv and large projection screen–which of course was broken. We enjoyed a beer or two, waiting for the rest of the group to arrive before settling in the main room in front of the big screen. It was LOUD, and by the time the ball dropped (uhm, is that what you say? sounds a little pubescent to me but…) there was barely a path for the bar-maid to drop off full bottles.
I was sandwiched between a Cameroonian and a Briton. When the American national anthem played, the two other yanks, myself, Lars (who spent a year living in Indiana…of all places) and a few Cameroonians stood up to salute. At this point I wasn’t exactly sure who the local crowd would be pulling for, aside from those few who stood up to join in with the anthem. There is actually a very large diaspora of people from Bamenda living in and around Baltimore and DC, and since the locals here all love their cousin Obama I suppose I could have wagered an educated guess.
With the UK’s first goal within the first 4 minutes my companions all erupted and, in my dads’ words, their hearts started singing and beer began flowing a bit more freely. For the limited knowledge I do have of World Cup level soccer, I think the game was pretty damn good up to that point, and particularly after the gaffe by Mr. Green, in the net with the goalie gloves. (note: I think my self-perceived understanding of soccer more or less comes from the fact that I compare it to hockey. Yes, I know that’s ridiculous). Anyhow, when the ball trickled in past Green a good 3/4’s of the bar flew to their feet and started swapping high fives. Since the three of us who had stood for the anthem also stood out like sore thumbs in the cheering crowd (where everyone else was a local supporting team US) them did a lot of leaning and slapping to make sure to congratulate us as well. Good times.
I was happy that the evening was as overall happy and uneventful (which I’ll get to in a minute) as it was. Over the past few days we’ve received warnings from the state department that Americans in Africa need to be at a heightened state of awareness, warnings that friends here who are also from “white countries” have also received. Warnings along the lines of make sure you lock all of your doors, protect your belongings, don’t carry valuables out with you. Since Cameroonian’s didn’t really have a stake in last nights game the mood was generally really joyous. However, all of the foreign/”white” volunteers are definitely on alert for what may happen with Cameroon’s game. We’re all very excited, but past events relating to Cameroonian losses to white countries do create a little cause for worry. Apparently after said losses in the past businesses owned by whites have been looted and whites out and about have been targeted for beatings.
I feel like I should explain why many of the issues I have written about have to do with the “white” issue, but it’s hard to explain if you haven’t been in an environment like this. VERY often, if not always, when I’m out in town I won’t see another white person. I don’t have any issue with it, but the locals are not too pleasant about the fact that we’re “white.” Kids will follow you singing songs about white men with long noises, during a ride in a taxi a women told me her daughter was scared of me because I was white, and often times you feel a bit like a zoo animal because of the attention being white draws (both in looks, calls and the like). I can recognize some good reasons why not everyone is friendly with regard to the whites, but it is still a fairly uncomfortable position at times. Granted, most of the locals are immensely friendly and kind and keeping a look out for you. However, the warnings associated with the world cup definitely shine an ugly light on race relations here.
I don’t want to end this on a somewhat sour note…the atmosphere here is pretty much one of festivity and celebration. Everybody is really gearing up for tomorrows match between Cameroon and Japan–which I think is at 3pm, and I’ve been told most places (aside from bars) will shut early for it. The lions have been ALL over any of the tv’s I’ve seen, and I’m going to be on a mission to grab myself a jersey before the game.
I’m actually on the way out the door now to head to the Germany-Australia game with Lars and some of our Australian friends. A little birdy told me that the US is the favorite to come out of their team grouping–and the best bet is that they’ll meet Germany. The residents of the mansion are eagerly awaiting…