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   Date: 5/2/11 Bookmark and Share

The Search for Higher Meaning

Shining in a White World: The Black Stars—by Hanna Meghji ’11
(Page 3 of 4)

As evening set in, the game came to a close with Uruguay winning the match 2-1. I asked a staff member to accompany me to my hotel room. The hotel was like a large living organism. The administration building was the nucleus, a large central structure, and surrounding it were fifteen cottages, each with four suites split between two floors.

The water was hot and vicious. I hadn’t felt so clean in ages. The askari who had accompanied me home now walked back to the dining area with me. I took in the delicious smells of both traditional African food and a general all-health-conditions-friendly buffet of fries and pasta. Candles were the only source of light in the dining area, creating a dim, romantic, and peaceful environment. I ate quickly, anticipating the showdown that would ensue later. Almost all of the guests were Americans. I knew that every local in the hotel was cheering for Ghana; hell, the entire continent was! I could not wait. It was not long before the actions of those in the hotel mirrored those of the American and Ghanaian football players.

As they assembled into their respective locker rooms, we, the inhabitants of the Serena Hotel in the Serengeti, hurriedly forced the last morsels of our dinners into our mouths. The Tanzanian natives—brown-skinned, laid back, hospitable people dressed in khaki uniforms with gold nametags attached to their left breast pockets—began to murmur as the countdown for the kickoff drew nearer. The white tourists let their sunglasses hang around their necks as they swarmed into the lounge excitedly, leaving no couch, countertop, or inch of wooden floorboard bare. The African workers stood behind their guests, maintaining a respectful distance but also eager to watch the game, laughing and chattering excitedly amongst themselves.

It was a pleasant yet strange scene: two populations coming from entirely different backgrounds crowding around one television that sat atop a table in a small bar in the most luxurious hotel in Tanzania. As the undertone of Canadian artist Knaan’s song "Waving Flag"—Coca Cola’s token theme for all commercials during the World Cup—faded, the excitement and chatter in the hotel came to a standstill. In the distance, you could hear the wind blowing. A cheetah yawned preparing for another cool winter night on the savannah, and a herd of wildebeest lowered their shaggy necks and curved horns to the earth, taking shelter amidst the long blades of grass.

It was in this silence that I first noticed it. With the fragrance of garlic potatoes still lingering upon my tongue, I surveyed the room. Everyone had bowed their heads. Some had closed their eyes. Others whispered to themselves fervently. Two worlds—the East and the West, the wealthy foreigners, and the obliging locals—had united in silence, united in prayer. What was it about sports and the preservation of honor and legacy through friendly but intense competition that urges us to call upon our spiritual senses? How is it that two entirely opposing factions can share one prayer and hope prior to facing off with one another? And, yet, there they were: a white-skinned man held his white-skinned wife’s hand, clutching her fingers tightly as he sat in a red sofa directly in front of the African bartender, named Welcome, who had clasped his two hands together in front of his lips, praying silently.

I even found myself calling to God, though I was not sure whom I was praying for. I wanted Ghana to win. They were the underdogs, and they needed to show the world that this continent had more than just poverty and STDs and civil war. This was a landmass exploding with skill, prowess, and perfection. And there was a part of me—a large part of me—that was an American, a part of me that thought, “Hey, if the U.S. makes it to the quarter-finals, maybe, just maybe, that is what it will take to spark some interest around international football in the States.” The game was beginning, and I still had not sorted out my allegiances.

And the kick is...

Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai gave the football to the Ghanaians, and The Black Stars took off with force. Within the first five minutes, Kevin Prince Boateng danced his way through the American midfielders, the first line of defense. Facing three American defenders, he entered the boundaries of the penalty box alone and unsupported. With a gentle and deft flick of his left foot, he launched the football delicately into the back of the goal…and, before I could stop to think, my arms were above my head in triumph. I yelled and howled with the workers who were standing next to me as the Western tourists gaped at the television, floored by the fact that this little team from West Africa had just scored a goal only five minutes into the match.

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