I’ve come to realise that I’m at my most frustrated here when I try to do English things, and at my happiest when I do Senegalese things. One example of this is cooking. I spent a recent evening going through my recipe books trying to find something I could cook for people here, but virtually every recipe I have includes ingredients I can’t get (mushrooms, lamb, salmon, peaches, spinach). Or they involve using the grill, and I am still waiting for the part that will make my grill work, only eight months after the cooker was purchased. Far better to just eat mangoes.
Another example is watching football. I would like to be able to break my addiction to Manchester United for a few years, but with the gorgeous, talented Cristiano Ronaldo playing for the team I keep getting drawn back in. I have investigated purchasing my own satellite dish and decoder so as to tune into the South African channel, DStv, which shows all the English games – but just the set-up cost is over $1,000, before you even think about your monthly subscription.
So last week I tried one of the ‘free English premiership football on-line’ websites: a one-off fee of $15 and I could watch as much football (and news, and films) as I liked on my laptop anywhere in the world. There had to be a catch at that price, but it seemed worth a try.
The catch is that it doesn’t work. I signed up just before a game, and spent the whole of the first half downloading various bits of software (no doubt full of spyware and adware, but thankfully work have reasonable firewalls on our machines). Then I spent most of the second half trying to connect to the channel it was supposed to be on, finally getting the message ‘channel currently off-line’.
So this Sunday I trekked into town, to my friends in the Medina with their communal satellite connection. But the advertised Manchester derby wasn’t being shown, and no-one quite knew why. I have since discovered (thank you BBC website) that the contract for Africa has been awarded to a different broadcaster this year, a company broadcasting in just four countries in East Africa. So the hundreds of millions of us who live in the other 44 (?) African countries have to go without. That doesn’t seem like great marketing by the FA, but I suppose there is so little money here that they’re not all that interested in us.
Anyway, with no football to watch on the TV my friends invited me to go and see a live match with them. I was in for a very interesting, enjoyable and Senegalese afternoon!
A few blocks away we came to the Stade Ibramar Diop, where a game between two Dakar suburbs was scheduled for the afternoon. We quickly bought our tickets, but then had to join the queue to get into the stadium. I must admit I didn’t know Africans could queue, so this was quite an experience. It wasn’t anything like an English queue, but more a long human snake – everyone single file pressed up against the person in front, arms forward holding the waist of the person two ahead to maintain your position as the snake seemingly writhed from side to side. Wish I could post a picture but it didn't seem a sensible place to get out a camera.
As we got near the front, the policemen there decided there was too much pushing, so they waded in with the batons flying, and we all scattered pretty quickly. But my friends (all the time looking after me very diligently) pushed me back in as the queue reformed and then we were through, into the stadium.
The next stage was to get into a section of the stand, and my friends pushed me up the steps towards the first entrance. Here we faced a different type of uniformed officer, this time using their belts to keep back the crowd. Again my friends pushed me forward, seeming to think that the officers wouldn’t hit a white woman. I guess they were right, but all the time I was waiting for the officials to tell me to ‘get back immediately’ in Wolof, which I don’t understand a word of…
Inside the stand, I waited for my friends, when suddenly a crowd of people came in, and I just managed to avoid being pushed down a flight of stairs. I clung to the rail for safety, until my friends urged me forward again, and we let the momentum of the crowd draw us into the stand where we found a place to sit. Not like an English stadium, with numbered seats, but like the continental grounds (such as the Nou Camp and the San Siro) with tiered rows of concrete you can squeeze many fans onto.
I would like to say I enjoyed watching the game. But to be honest I couldn’t concentrate on it at all. Behind us in the stand was a massed band of drummers, that kept up a series of complex rhythms throughout the afternoon, accompanied by various chants/songs, and I felt far more as though I were at a concert than a football match. I asked if it didn’t distract the players, but was told it was normal and that it inspired them to play better. It certainly made for a superb atmosphere!
Finally it came to an end and we left the stadium with rather more ease than we had entered it. Then a group of shouting men rushed down the street, and people turned to watch as it seemed as though a fight was about to break out. One man appeared to have got himself cornered until he picked up a piece of rock and threw it at the surrounding crowd, which then parted for his escape. My friends told me people often get a bit fired up after a game and it wasn’t unusual for the police to fire tear gas into the crowds. Perhaps I should have been grateful after all that the match ended as a 0-0 draw.