Ok, first off, so sorry for not updating for an entire month. Shame on us. I guess track and field day really dominated our time. More on that when I get some pictures. I do not have, unfortunately, pictures of this blog. My camera died just as I turned it on. bummer:( Anyway, last Saturday, I got to experience a soccer match like no other I have ever witnessed before. After teaching at KCS for so many years and watching game after game of soccer, I never really got the big deal of how popular of a sport it was to people, until now. Niger was playing Cote D'Ivoire, yes, an arch rival. In part due to the fact that Niger rarely wins and the Ivory Coast almost always wins.
We had been going to the Stadium for the last couple of weeks and had noticed that while we were all running around practicing for our track and field day, there was the national jr. soccer team also practicing. While we rarely mingled, I found out through the ones who could speak french that there was a game Saturday. However, noone could tell me what time and who. Finally, as we were walking out the door after our field day, I asked a man who was sitting near the door what time the game started. He told me, "Seize heure", like duh, man, what planet are you on, everybody knows when the biggest game of the year is to take place! I then asked him how much it would cost thinking it would be like 3-5, 000 francs, but he said with a big smile, "Mais, c'est gratuit. It was FREE! FREE! No way, this could not be. That would never happen in the states. To open the biggest stadium in Niamey(the only stadium) and have all those people come in, it would be a huge money maker...in the states. But, that is where things are different...they would rather have thousands of screaming, singing, clapping, and foot stomping fans than make the several thousand dollars they could have made. But, there was a catch. I thought, oh, oh, here it comes. The man said that we had to cheer for Niger, if we cheered for the Ivory Coast, it would cost us 5,000francs. I laughed and promised that I would cheer for them even though some of my kids who come from the Ivory Coast would not promise such loyalty.
Normally, the dorm likes to go the American Recreation center to play softball, swim and eat yummy food, but today, many of the kids were hesitating. I asked them if they would rather go see THE game instead. So, I ended up taking some kids to the rec because softball was just too strong of a force for them, but a few more stayed in the van to go see THE game. Kind of ironic, too, that we had THE GAME here just like in Columbus, Ohio, where another GAME was taking place. I digress.
We pulled into the parking lot with no trouble at all since we were a bit early. We walked into the stadium like any other and found some seats and immediately noticed two things. First, an entire section of the stands taken up by the military of Niger who were just having a great time in entertaining the crowd. They were all singing, dancing, moving, clapping all in unison and it was incredible to watch and listen to. The second thing I noticed was that as the sun was starting its descent behind the stadium, the shadows created shade, of course. The line of people in the seats perfectly followed the line of the shade. Incredible. Of course, us crazy white people? In the sun! Fortunately, that didn't last too long.
At four o'clock when I was told the game would begin, I was ready. Come on ref, lets get this game started, I thought. But, again, unlike the states, the four o'clock time was just posted to get everyone there by 4:30, the actual starting time. But, it was quite comical to watch the two teams warm up, sometimes all together, and sometimes not. The most comical time was watching the officials warm up. I could tell who the field judge was and who was going to be on the sidelines, just by the way they warmed up. They were almost in perfect unison, did the same thing back and forth across the field for most of the time between 4 and 4:30.
The pre game band as they were, was nothing like the marching 100. Those of you who are Buckeyes fans will know who that is. The notes I did hear didn't sound too bad, but I heard like one note before everyone in the stands began to scream wildly as, I can only assume, that their national anthem was being played.
Finally, 4:30 comes and I am getting a bit anxious because I thought that the game would be almost through the first half by now. I told the kids at the rec that I would come get them at 6 so I could watch the start of the other GAME on Armed Forces Network. THE GAME begins....it is soccer, I sit back and relax because it is soccer. I have never really enjoyed soccer because of all the scoring, or lack thereof, and the first half proved my point. These guys ran and ran and ran, working so hard to score, but didn't. What a waste, right? yeah, I know, they were just breaking them down for the second half of one score after another. But, we did get to see a bunch of guys carried off the field on stretchers, because the "EmT" squad had to do its job. After they carried them off, then the trainers worked on the players to get them back into the game. Of course, you still had your "flops" trying to draw fouls, as well. There was a lot of play at the opposite end of the field from where we were, but that was ok to see all those plays open up shots on goal that were either not taken quickly enough, or they missed. Niger most definately had the advantage in attempts on goal in the first half. I felt like the superior team was kind of dominated.
The second half rolls around and the crowd is getting a bit restless for a score. We have had several good chances and just could not capitalize. As this seeminglingly endless, scoreless game continued, the only entertainment became who had the biggest fight in the stands due to the people up top throwing things to the people down below, like water bags, bottles, etc.
So, about half way through the second half, it happened. Something worth seeing on the field. A player received a red card and was ejected from the game! Yes, a player from the Ivory Coast said something to the official as the official was going over to check on an injured player from Niger. The official whipped around as if someone had just slapped his face, threw up the red card and then his hand to signal the ejection. That was all right. I felt as if Lou Pinella himself was there! What excitement! As the fans were throwing things at this player as he tried to exit, my attention was not on the game. Oh, for instant replay because in the one moment I looked away from trying to will a goal, it REALLY happened. The team from Niger scored a gooaaaaaalll! I looked up just in time to see the ball leave the players' foot and go into the net.
What happened next was truly sensational. I thought that the people up top had no more water to throw down, but it looked as if a fire department had begun to spray the crowd down from outside the stadium. There were so many water bags and bottles tossed into the air and broken, that the spray from them all created this mist all over the crowd, who, by the way, was going crazy. The celebration from this one score lasted almost to the very end of the game. In fact, just as the crowd caught its collective breath, the game ended, thus sending the crowd into another frenzy. It was an incredible win for Niger! The amazing thing was through all this is that before the game ended, the ball boys began to pick up the water bottles and things from the track and give them back to the people in the stands so they could do it all again! I thought, " what are you doing? Are you crazy?"
Now, to conclude this rather long story of this milestone, leaving the stadium was another whole adventure. If you cannot read any longer, please come back to read about the leaving experience! I will post another story tomorrow with the exciting conclusion on my complete soccer experience! I am not sure that there is anything quite like it anywhere else!
P.S. By the way, I did make it back to the rec center for the second half of the other GAME where there was plenty of scoring...at least by the Buckeyes! Go Bucks!