Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Cup of Nations Final

So the Cup's been over for a few days now and I'm left wondering, 'When's the next Cup?'

I know it's in 2010, when I'll most DEFINITELY be in Angola for the matches. What I'm getting at is that I'm missing the tournament.

I only saw two matches live. But I came away with a sincere appreciation of the African game, the passion of the fans and the style of the attacking play on exhibit.

I managed to watch the final between Egypt and Cameroon at two locations in Harlem, New York City.

The first place was a small, nondescript restaurant on 116th St. They had a huge, widescreen TV with a blurry signal, some delicious smelling food in the back kitchen and a room full of people from all corners of Africa watching the match. I only imagine they were all from Africa, because I couldn't understand what they were saying and they were deeply involved in the match.

People yelled at the TV, people threw their hands into the air. But beyond that, they smiled. They offered us seats. They kept looking back to see how we were doing. That doesn't often happen at the bars I frequent to watch football. Most times, I'm stuffed next to some drunk brute who wants to bash my head in because I support a different club. Not so here.

After the restaurant, we found a smaller cafe to watch the 2nd half. This wasn't really a cafe, more a 'greasy spoon' you find in nondescript neighborhoods. But the passion emanating from the place was exquisite. One lad had a Cameroon shirt on, one on his body, another wrapped around his head. He motioned us in while jumping up and down to the hip hop beats of his beat box.

Hardly anyone in the place spoke English. But the place was hopping in anticipation of the second half. The Cameroonian lad with the shirts kneeled down to pray, constantly putting his hands to his face, the pain in his stomach on exhibit for all to see.

Finally, I felt like I was somewhere I could watch the game among true African fans! Motioning with our hands, we somehow got the waitress to serve us lamb stew over white rice. Very delicious! People smiled at us, some in bemusement as to why two Americans would want to watch the African game, others just happy to have us.

The place was packed full of men, some cheering for Cameroon, others for Egypt. They oohed and awwed every time a slicing pass came to an Egyptian striker. They jumped up and slapped the counter when Cameroon came close to scoring. And they cheered wildly both in support and opposition when Egypt found the back of the net.

The game ended and the arguing ensued. I don't mean arguing in the sense that glasses were thrown and knives were unsheathed. I mean the footballing debates started.

'Why didn't Song defend better?'
'What happened to Eto'o?'
'Ivory Coast should have won!'
(I'm guessing this was said. I bet it was. Football has a language all its own and one doesn't need to know another's language to know what's being said.)

On it went in a strange tongue for half an hour. Finally, the trophy was presented. We paid our check and said our goodbyes.
'Merci' said the gentleman at the door as held it open for us, letting us out into the cold Harlem afternoon. Outside, some of the men from the restaurant stood and argued some more, each with a smile on his face and a pat on the back.

They waved goodbye. We smiled and made our way.

I can't wait for the next Cup of Nations.


Chxta said...

The beauty of the African game. Our 'hatred' lasts only 90 minutes. Nice you got a taste. Can't wait for 2010 when Naija comes back (only if we have the sense to sack Berti though...)

Anonymous said...

Chaise Lounge Says: 'Looking forward to the world cup 2010.'