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   Date: 5/2/11 Bookmark and Share

The Search for Higher Meaning

Shining in a White World: The Black Starsby Hanna Meghji ’11
(Page 2 of 4)

I could see the other safari cars in the distance leaving trails of dust behind them as they bounced along the rocky roads. Those cars were filled with wazungu, expatriates here to tour and ogle. Those were the people who expected Africans to serve them without question. Not I. Then, why did they see me that way?

“Thank God for the World Cup,” I thought to myself.

It was only when we discussed football together that the locals felt as though I was one of their own. According to all the drivers, those wazungu couldn’t be bothered with football, especially the Americans. They just did not understand its richness or significance. The drivers also thought that because Americans drowned themselves in fast-paced games like basketball or rowdy, heavy-contact games like American football—which really was a spinoff of England’s rugby—they did not value the skill and resilience that players required to play football and so did not value the game.

“An hour and a half later,” I remembered a fellow Smithie crying once, “and the score is what? Still 1-0?! That’s nonsense!”

But it wasn’t about the score. It was about the attempts, the defensive prowess that turned certain goals into almost-goals, and the footwork that allowed for a team to maintain possession as they delicately and purposefully danced their way across the field.

During this year’s cup, things felt different. In the preliminary round of the tournament, countries are classified into one of eight groups. Having lost to Paraguay and tied with New Zealand, the Italians had underperformed, not earning enough points to continue. France met the same fate. England had been playing poorly, tying with both the United States and with Algeria. Germany had lost to the Serbs, and Brazil had tied with Portugal.

Lost in this world of football, I walked back toward the jeep.

“You are smiling,” Hashim, my driver, noticed. “You must be thinking about tonight.”

I laughed. He always knew.

“But who will you cheer for?” he asked me. “Have you decided?”

I shook my head, causing him to laugh at me again.

“You see? It is true when they call you mzungu.”

A mid-afternoon desert slumber.

I smiled at his teasing. Tonight was the biggest match for all African countries. Of the six African teams that had qualified to compete in the World Cup, Algeria, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, South Africa, and Cameroon had all been eliminated in the group stage. Ghana was the only one that had made it through, and in this next match they faced the United States. The American team was not only littered with more seasoned players, but it had the morale and mental strength to win. Yet, despite their younger and less-qualified lineup, Ghana had become a beacon of hope for Africans worldwide. Tribes, races, and countries united in their support of the Ghanaians all over the continent. They had become Africa’s token team: The Black Stars. With the World Cup being held in South Africa that summer, “continent pride” had superseded both “national pride” and “league pride,” and, for many Africans, its intensity was increasing daily.

This unity and pride that backed the Ghanaians was also the primary cause of my moral quandary. Was I Tanzanian enough to choose Ghana and Africa over the United States, a country that had been my home for almost 15 years? Both options came with an element of betrayal. The only question was: which betrayal could I live with and which could I not?

The Game Is On

We had arrived at the Serengeti late in the afternoon, as the drive from Manyara had taken up almost the whole day. Hashim and I decided to pull into the hotel to catch the second half of Uruguay versus North Korea, the first post-group-stage game of the Cup. I rushed into the hotel, picked up my keys and asked where the television was. Instead of making my way to my room to wash away the dust and grime that had collected upon my skin, I made my way into the administration building. I could see the restaurant where they would begin serving dinner in two hours on the first floor. Above this dining area was a small bar, a row of three computers, and a comfortable lounge with a small television.

The hotel’s walls were the color of ivory, smooth and curved. The ceilings were high and majestic. Because they were located within the borders of the national park, the hotel owners were unable to put up a fence around their property. If I wanted to walk to and from my room after 6 p.m., I needed to ask one of the staff members to accompany me because there was nothing keeping the thousands of animals to which the Serengeti was home away from the hotel. It was a fantastic scene.

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