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08/22/2010

Love Song for Football.

Five years ago, around this time, I came back from West Africa.  I was only there for six months, but you can learn a lot about a place in half a year. I worked as a journalist with a few local papers and it was a pretty magical period. I'm finishing up a project now, starting to think about what I'll do next. Itchy feet are a perpetual state of being for me. I'd love to get back to Africa.

I wrote this during the last World Cup. It's a piece of a book that I've been writing, on and off, for... well, for awhile.

 ~

The win means that Ghana’s playing Brazil for a berth in the quarterfinal against France.  Everybody loves an underdog. Suddenly my friends at home are asking about Appiah, and Mensah. They want to eat Fufu.

No. No you don’t.

This team has raised the hopes of West Africa. These players, who’ve faced such racism, people in the stands chanting, “Monkey, Monkey”, these players are hoping to be the first African team in history to score a goal against the Brazilians. One goal.

The Black Stars. The self-proclaimed Brazil of Africa.

The country is still. Ghanaians are quiet in prayer.

At game time, we look strong. Brazil scores first, Ronaldo breaking a record for most goals scored in the World Cup finals -- 15 and counting. And then, Ghana dominates. First, a shot on goal by Draman. It’s palmed out, but it’s a shot. On goal. Against Brazil. And the crowd is going wild crazy. And then, Appiah’s got a clear shot to Amoah, who’s looking at the goal but kicks it wide and it sails past the post, then Amoah again, then Addo, and nothing’s gone in, but we look aggressive, professional, we look fucking good. Still, it's tough to watch. Brazil’s held back by the Stars’ defense, and John Mensah sends a beautiful header right at the Brazilian goalkeeper and, although it bounces off his shins, it is only a matter of time.

Molls and I are watching on the projection sheet again, because we think it’s good luck. Garbage bag walls and a ceiling block out the sunlight around the screen. It’s sweltering, cocooned inside black plastic, laid in like tinned fish. It wasn't this dark inside the last time. Maybe things just feel different when you're winning.  

I’m trying to gauge the number of people in this tiny space, all wearing Black Stars t-shirts or puffy orange top hats with a black star in the middle. We’re a grand crew in this airless plastic mass. Everyone is silent. The large man next to me is praying. The large man next to him is clutching his throat. It’s one nil, and half time is coming up. One goal before halftime, just to validate the effort. Come on, come on, come on.

Insh'allah.

And, out of nowhere, his name’s Adriano, and he hoofs the ball past our guy, Kingson, and even though he is clearly offside, the goal’s ruled good, and the rest of the air’s let out of our black plastic yurt.

“But everyone saw it. He’s offside, he’s offside-oh!”

There’s fury in Accra as the second half gets underway, but by now, Brazil dominates by two goals, and by the time our guy Gyan is thrown out over a yellow card, the chasm's too wide. 

Three-nothing. Final score.

The people of Accra look to celebrate the bravery of their team, but there are tears. A palpable despondency is sweeping the country and, maybe, the rest of the continent.

~

The woman who sells waatchey outside my office says, “God will punish that ref”. Molls’ radio station’s running a Black Stars/Proud to be West African consolation rap on a virtual loop. I’m amazed by the rapid turnaround of this new billboard hit. Emotions in the newsroom at the Public Agenda are high as we talk about how we're going to write this.

It’s a bad day to be an oburoni.

Roland, one of the ad guys, is giving me the silent treatment, because, he says, I’m one of them. Ordinarily, it’d be something of a miracle to be mistaken for a Brazilian woman. Today, Brazil is a curse word. My editor says I’m lucky this isn’t Nigeria. If this was Nigeria, he says, I’d probably be dead. 

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