The biggest thing to happen in the international soccer community in the last four years is going on at the moment if you haven't heard. It's kind of a big deal, yet somehow Americans still refuse to embrace this, the favorite sport of the world, en masse. This is a part of my own culture I don't understand. To me the "true" American way would be to get thoroughly invested in the world of soccer and completely dominate it, to the frustration and consternation of all others.
World Cup fever, unsurprisingly, has also made it to rural Mali. Despite the fact that I live in a mud house, take bucket baths outside, use a pit latrine with no roof every day, have to carry water to my house, and don't have electricity, I can still ride my bike to the edge of my village and watch all the World Cup games via satellite TV powered off solar panels and car batteries at the doctor's house at the village health center. I find strange paradoxes like this a lot out here...
Obviously I'm cheering for the US and my other favorite teams. I even have a little US flag to wave around when the Etats Unis are playing, which the villagers think is the most amusing thing since someone decided that humans could actually be amused. It's that popular.
When I'm not cheering for the US, I'm rooting for one of the teams in my "World Cup Bracket", which unfortunately had to include North Korea. Uhh! That, or I'm going for teams that I generally consider to be good or have good players. Interestingly this has led me to cheer mostly for teams from Europe and South America. This is in stark contrast to the Malian philosophy of World Cup enthusiasm.
Sadly, Mali didn't qualify for the World Cup. (But they did send a referee squad which ended up shafting the US out of a goal against Slovenia... Coulibaly!!!) Therefore, the locals have had to choose other countries to adopt as their own for the next few weeks. I'll give you a hint... the World Cup is in Africa for the first time.
That's right. They're supporting the African teams. If the team is all black players, they've got the confidence of Mali behind them. It doesn't matter if the team is considered "good" or not. Apparently hope and magical fairy dust are all you need for success. And since magical fairy dust doesn't exists, it's not surprising (to me) that out of the six African teams in the Cup this year, only one is going to make it past the initial group stage.
Needless to say, I get a lot of playful harassment when I cheer for a team opposing a one of the African nations. They tell me that I'm African now, so I have to support African teams.
I find this somewhat interesting. It seems that my soccer enthusiast friends and I will support teams that we regard as good, or the team of our nationality. Race or skin color or geographic location doesn't really play into it. I like Uruguay as much as I like Spain for the same reasons that I don't like South Africa or France. This concept is starkly in contrast to the general order of things here, which is to first cheer for anyone who is the same racially.
The viewing experience is also a bit different compared to the US. Since televisions are few and far between outside the city (literally, satellite even more so), any working television usually draws a crowd. I'm usually watching a game with 30 or 40 other men, who are all packed closely together in order to see what's happening on the 17 inch screen. If anything interesting were to happen... say a shot in the general direction of the goal, or a cross that happens to find no one... there are wild outbursts of enthusiasm. Hands raise up and wave frantically in the air. Sounds of high pitched screaming. A collective leaning in towards the TV. Yelling "Goal" even if the ball sails 18 million miles over the net. And then after the moment of excitement is over there's a nice long group discussion in which everyone simultaneously expresses their opinion on what just happened and then people start yelling at each other if they think it was a bad play. Sure, this is kind of like how a sports bar feels in the US, but without the alcohol and a lot more animated.
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