Peace and unity football

Today I went to the "Nekongoh Peace and Unity Football Tournament, 1st edition" at the soccer pitch of the Big Bekondo secondary school. Becky and I left the house midafternoon for the 3 km walk to the grounds. When we arrived, the dancers were just beginning.

A group of ladies in (mostly) matching skirts were shuffling rhythmically along, bent at the waist, posteriors protruding, shoulders shaking to the sound of drums, a whistle, a handbell, and of course, their own sing-song chant. They worked their way into the grounds from the fence outside, right into the soccer pitch, stopping in front of the small shelter set up for dignitaries. This went on for about half an hour, I believe.

Next was a short dance/skit exhibition from a troupe from Kumba called "Spako and ? (didn't catch the name)." This consisted of 3 men, 2 oddly-dressed, both featuring undergarments; and one with a fake beard, costumed as a portly police officer, with the letters OPP on his hat. I don't know what that stands for, but my instinctive thought "Ontario Provincial Police" is probably NOT it. They cavorted about displaying a fair degree of athleticism but were too bizarre and sexually suggestive for my enjoyment.

The program officially began (around 4:00 perhaps; whatever the case, certainly not the 12:00 noon listed as the start time on the program schedule of the person next to me) with speeches from the chairman of the council; the spiritual advisor, a Presbyterian seminary student and one of Mike & Becky's translators, Joe, who had invited us to the event; the president of the organizing committee, a well-spoken young man in his 20s or 30s in gleaming white cotton; and the delegate for the ministry of sport from Kumba. Some highlights of the speeches were the spiritual advisor exhorting the participants to prepare themselves to accept defeat gracefully; and the young president who waxed eloquently about how the event will promote unity. 1-2-3 was his thesis. One represents unity; it's also the 1st "edition" of the tournament. Two represents unity because the Bible says a man will leave his family and cleave to his wife, thus the 2 of the September 2 game represents unity. Finally, 3, of the first game held July 3rd is the Trinity, which, of course, signifies unity. I thought points 2 and 3 were stretching it quite a bit but he certainly gets points for imagination.

I watched all of this from the dignitaries' shelter. I felt very conspicuous there, in the second row, with a bunch of African men, apparently leaders in the community. It doesn't seem fair that simply by virtue of being a white person I get invited to the place of honour. Then, it got worse. To start the game, they called all the dignitaries to trek out to centre field where the delegate from the ministry of sport made the honorary kick-off. As they stand up, Joe turns around and motions to me to come with them. AH! I hate being so conspicuous, especially when I feel completely culturally incompetent while intensely aware of my actions reflecting not only on me, but on all white people.

Nothing more was asked of me, however, so surviving the shock of the summons, I returned to my seat with a sigh of relief to watch the game. The long-grassed unkempt and uneven field was lined with a clothesline-sized rope to keep the spectators back. All of the pre-game events happened right in front of the shelter and even though the speeches were miked, I got the impression that the majority of the villagers gathered saw and heard little of it. Well, they were probably just there for the social event and the game anyway, so let the game begin!

The Mbulla Strikers were dressed in bright least the first string players were. I guess there weren't enough uniforms to go around because the second string was dressed in white and blue stripes. The Mbanda F.C.'s first string had very professional looking navy blue uniforms but I believe their second string was also clad differently, however I didn't get as good a look at them.

The first goal which was scored - a penalty shot - brought a bunch of the women dancers on the field, yelling, whistling and ringing the handbell. I'm assuming this is general practice but we didn't stay to the end of the first period, so I can't say for certain. Initially, the mood in the dignitaries shelter was sedate, but as the game warmed up some passionate fans revealed themselves. The masses around the edges of the field were very interested in the action.

Six-year-old Kenneth was tired and couldn't see the action so well from his mother's lap in the third row of the shelter, so we headed home part-way into the first period. On our way back through the village everyone we met on the road asked "Are you come from the game?" (in Oroko) to which Becky was compelled to return, "Yes; are you going?" though both questions were fairly obvious. Ah well, the lesson for ridiculous tongue-tied Karla is that the perfectly obvious will suffice if you need to make conversation with strangers.


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