Hal naksab? Inshallah: The African Cup in Cairo

Trip Start Jan 18, 2006
Trip End Jun 02, 2006

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Monday, February 13, 2006

The first night I walked into the AUC dorm I was introduced to Egyptian passion for soccer. That night Egypt was playing against Libya and all the security guards had abandoned their posts to gather around the TV. As the tournament continued and Egypt kept winning, the frenzy grew. Still, I didn't really comprehend how big a deal it was until I went to a game last weekend.

Lauren, my Syrian friend has a friend named Mohammed who got us tickets. Mohammed was typical upper class Egyptian, wearing Armani and talking about his favorite nightclubs in Zamalek. He was stressed because we were running late, arriving at the stadium only three hours before the game started. This is how faithful Egyptian fans are. When we walked in at 3:00 the place was packed and we proceeded to stand and cheer until 6:00. By the time the game started I was already exhausted.

I'm not a soccer person but in Africa it's not really about the game. It's like a constructive tribal war, where countries fight each other without anyone dying. And the fans take their job of cheering very seriously. Everyone had a flag and the 80,000 some seats in the stadium became a swirling mass of red, white, and black. One guy had shaved his head to make it look like a soccer ball; a dozen others had brought drums and were pounding out chants. The women weren't passive observers, the Muslims had all put on headscarves that matched the flag and they yelled the cheers just as fervently as the others.

Everyone was surprised and thrilled to see four Americans yelling along with them. Unfortunately, the fans from Congo faced a colder welcome. A tiny section of the stadium had been roped off for them and they barely filled. It was rimmed with two rows of police officers, a thin defense against any possible rioters.

I had sat down to rest for a second when the entire stadium surged with energy. Everyone jumped not only out of their seats, but up onto them, as they waved their flags.

"What happened?" I asked Mohammed as the field was still empty. He pointed to the big screen.

"The team has arrived!" I could see on the screen that the bus had pulled up. For the next half hour as we waited for the players to actually run onto the field, no one sat down and everyone yelled "Masr! Masr!" over and over.

The game began and I was soon completely wrapped up in it. Barely aware of the rules, I was constantly asking Mohammed about penalty kicks and corners. We won decisively and that's when the real craziness began. 80,000 Egyptians poured out of the stadium, dancing and shouting alhamdulillah! At the same time all over Cairo people were pouring into the streets. The honking cars were deafening and the smiles and laughs contagious. The traffic was bad so people climbed out of their cars, sitting in the windows so they could pound on the roof. Taxi drivers went crazy, sticking flags out their windows as they whizzed around the pedestrians. Silently I thanked God that Muslims don't drink, otherwise it would have been an instantaneous riot of joy.

A week later, Egypt was in the finals. I was spending the night at the Nabils so I got to watch the game with an Egyptian family. It seems that my soccer craze is a bit unusual for women, so I found myself sitting in front of the TV with Hany, Bolbo, and Maged as their wives and sisters worked in the kitchen. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, distracted only by 15 year old Maged who was running around praying and saying "I can't watch! I can't watch! Oh, my heart is coming out of me! Kayte, you have no idea how I feel!" Despite his prayers, the game ended with a score of zero-zero.

Plates of macaroni casserole and glasses of Pepsi were passed around as two overtimes ended and still no goals. This meant the game would be decided by penalty kicks. Bolbo, the father in the Nabil family, promised everyone he would take us to KFC if Egypt won. This got the women interested, and soon all eight of us were crowded onto their couches. The first Egyptian player scored and we all exploded with joy, hugging and kissing one another. It was like a Syrian reunion on steroids. Three more goals and Egypt had clinched the title.

Almost instantaneously we heard people filling the streets. A group of little boys with a drum were marching around cheering "Masr! Masr!" The Nabils quickly changed into nice, evening clothes as we prepared to go out. Egyptians love to overdress, but I still refused to get decked out just for some fried chicken.

The ride to the restaurant was the best part. The streets were filled with overjoyed people. Maged and I yelled "mabruk!" to everyone we saw and Hany was blaring Arabic music. Once we arrived at KFC, Bolbo went up and ordered for all of us which is typical here. Two heaping piles of chicken later, we all sat back full of Kentucky goodness and Egyptian pride. As I danced to some Egyptian music, Bolbo pronounced "Al-an Kayte mish Amereekee, hea kul masreea. Now Kayte isn't American anymore. She's all Egyptian."
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