I am not much of a sports aficionada. When the Super Bowl rolls around, what enthusiasm I manage to raise generally centers around the prospect of snacks. The rise or fall of the fortunes of Philadelphia teams tend not to inspire me to greater emotion than “Oh, that’s nice,” or “Alas,” depending on the context. However, four seasons of field hockey and one of lacrosse did leave their mark: I can usually manage to enjoy watching sports of the ‘people running up and down a field with a ball’ variety, at least for a while. American football is not included in this category: the ball isn’t round, and gameflow consists more of throw the ball, maybe run a bit, lose the ball under a dogpile, stop gameplay, rinse and repeat. I like more finesse and teamwork/passing.
But this post isn’t about American football; it’s about what the rest of the world calls football. I always considered soccer a decent sort of sport: not as pretty as (women’s) lacrosse or the level of basketball where people still pass to each other, not as sensible as (women’s) field hockey, but enjoyable enough. I wasn’t any good at it even before I spent four years being trained not to kick the ball or ever let it touch my feet, but my brother’s involvement in a local club ensured that I learned at least the rudiments of the rules.
And then I went to Spain. Ivan, Pepi’s younger son, is a diehard fútbol fan who could possibly have played for Barcelona, and we were a Barça household. I cultivated an appreciation for the game, and soon came to prefer televised fútbol to dubbed American movies, even if Ivan’s yells of “GOL” made me jump every single time. Spain did poorly in the World Cup that year, but it was Barça that really mattered, anyway.
Here in Zambia, most people who follow football have an English Premier League team. I’ve never developed a preference, and tend to take my affiliation from whoever I’m watching with. La Liga games are also aired, though, and I sometimes see Barcelona flags and jerseys, though not as often as English teams.
But now we have the Africa Cup of Nations, and of course everyone follows Zambia, myself included. I wasn’t paying much attention, because I don’t generally seek out sports events of any sort, and I only tend to see games if they’re on when I’m at Monica’s, but last week I realized that the Zambian team was doing very well: had in fact made it to the quarter-finals. So of course I watched the game with the other SALTers at our spiritual retreat last weekend. We could hear the sound of horns and vuvuzuelas drifting over the wall from the nearby compounds. (Did you know that distant vuvuzuelas sound disconcertingly like mosquitoes?)
Zambia proceeded to the semi-finals. I made a point of seeking out an opportunity to watch the game, and found myself watching with a number of my neighbor ladies. Let me tell you, football with Zambian ladies is like no other sports audience I have ever participated in. No one screamed GOAL, although there were a few a few shrieks and protestations of ‘I can’t watch!’ at some of the skin-of-the-teeth saves. The real difference, though, made itself apparent when Zambia scored the first goal sixty-some minutes in. We clapped, we whooped, Mercy ululated, Esther did the ‘doncha kubeba’ dance as well as once can while sitting on a couch with a sleeping baby. (When African teams score, it’s not one player showing off and rejoicing; the whole team breaks into a little dance routine. ‘Doncha kubeba’ is one of ours.) Zambian women are very good at showing elation. I hope that one thing I can retain when I return to the States is the ability to just drop all inhibitions and rejoice. We watched with bated breath for the remaining time, and for the extra four minutes (If anyone wants to explain to me WHY there were four minutes added on at the end, feel free), and when the game ended without a Ghanean goal, we just partied all over again.
The final match is Sunday night. Zambia hasn’t had this good a chance at the cup since the famously terrible tragedy in the eighties(?) where most of the team perished in a plane crash, flying to, incidentally, Gabon, where the cup is being held this year. Zambians are loving this. The whole country is excited. And me, I once again understand why people follow sports teams. This is FUN. But I’m very glad that I’m not in Lusaka tonight; I can only imagine that things there must be getting crazy right around now.
Edit at time of posting: This was written on Wednesday.