Anjali Nayar| Thursday 3rd June 2010| CBC|
Douala, Cameroon – During breakfast I was entranced by the Cameroonian jersey-clad dancers, rhythmically hip-thrusting their way across my television screen. It was the music video for local musicians Ebel La Gloire and Macha’s latest song: “The Lions in the image of a lion.”
“Let’s go the Lions, the Indomitable Lions. You are the joy of the country. Cameroon is behind you,” sung Macha in the first verse. Enlightening as much as it is entertaining. I’ve uploaded a clip of the music video to YouTube, so you can try your luck at the accompanying body vibrations.
I headed out on to the streets, where I waded in a sea of green, red and yellow soccer jerseys, shorts, tracksuits, caps, wristbands and bandanas and that is just the beginning.
In the sky above me, there was a billboard of Eto’o “reaching for greatness” (ostensibly greatness is a Guinness beer).
“We can’t wait for 2010!” exclaimed another poster, advertising a mobile phone network.
It turns out that soccer paraphernalia is the rule rather than the exception in Cameroon. The sport brings together the country in a way nothing else can – use what metaphor you will.
“Here in Cameroon, soccer is our leading political party. It’s soccer alone that that unites us; it’s soccer alone that brings us good things,” Roger Milla told me.
“In as much as other countries are addicted to drugs, Cameroonians are addicted to soccer. They love the game and would play anywhere, anytime,” related Beau-Bernard Fonka, a Cameroonian journalist.
“Soccer is a religion in Cameroon. Everyone feels the fever and wants to share it, ” said Edmond Atangana, a star juggler.
Prowess in soccer is akin to patriotism here. If you are a good player, “you are a true Cameroonian”. Well at least that’s what the crowd in central Douala was screaming in support of Edmond Atangana (his street name is Atango) as he performed his juggling act later that day.
I had never seen so many creative and comical moves. All I could do was shake my head, smile, and get out my camera. Check out my photo essay.
Two balls at once, juggling while skipping rope, head stalls, shoulder stalls, mouth stalls, ear stalls, hat on and off while stalling. Back to the shoulders, shirt on and off. But then, there was the piece de resistance – a handstand while stalling the ball on the back of his neck. How is that even humanly possible?
“Sign him up for the national team,” one man called out. “Ronaldinho wouldn’t even be able to keep up with him!”
By this point, the crowd was shrieking – Atango was juggling the ball off his backside. See my video clip of it.
On my way back to the hotel I ran into a group of people zooming around on homemade skateboards with a soccer ball. A guy called Hammer, originally from Niger, told me he has used the growing momentum of the World Cup to kick-start a local league.
It’s been tough trying to recruit the city’s handicapped, he said. Most of them don’t have jobs and think any minute not spent begging might mean foregoing dinner. And the soccer basics, like jerseys and balls, are out of the question. I joined the group for a game and though a few of the players had only been training a matter of months, I promptly lost the ball. Impressive moves, Cameroon. You can check out my photos of the group here.
Cameroon’s second national sport
As I’ve mentioned on my twitter account, if soccer is Cameroon’s national sport, flirting with women is a close second. I get at least three marriage proposals a day, no joke. Walking down the street, I can hum along to the symphony of kissing sounds, hisses and one-liners.
“Hey beautiful,” is usually how it starts.
I really don’t know how Cameroonian women deal with all the attention; I was often knocked into bouts of hysterical laughter.
The brazen playfulness was there for all to see one evening at the Omnisport stadium in Yaounde. I was shooting a group of young men playing ball and trying to ignore the crowd cooing behind me about my bow-shaped legs (I’m told bow-legs are sought after because the shape can lead to better ball-control).
Out of nowhere, a teenage boy actually came up from behind and kissed me on the check before running away. I was in the middle of filming an interview hand-held so couldn’t even turn to see who it was. There was a roar of laughter and congratulations behind me.
SMS messages turn into Shakespearian love sonnets. “I feel my heart beating and everything is so calm that nothing can affect me now. You leave a void in my heart.”
Really? After I met you for five minutes and asked you a question about soccer?
The only thing that trumps a love for women here is soccer. As long as the ball is rolling, the women are safe. Maybe that’s why I really enjoyed the Champions League final a couple weeks ago.
I was anonymous in the crowd huddled around a television no bigger than a shoebox. Everyone was in costume, donning Inter Milan jerseys with number nine on the back, in support of Cameroon’s darling, Samuel Eto’o.
Behind the bar there’s a wall-sized banner of the Cameroonian team, with “Respect! ” in red bubble letters at the top.
Time stopped. Diego Milito scored. And again.
“Milito is strong,” one man exclaimed.
“But the pass came from Eto’o,” said another. “[Milito] is a small brother who is learning how to score from Eto’o.”
“It’s Eto’o who is strong,” another man rationalized.
Eto’o the hero, again.
“How much time is left?” a woman beside me asked.
“Four minutes,” someone else called out.
“Ah, that’s too much,” she said, nervously. “I hope Bayern Munich isn’t like Manchester - those guys can reverse a score in three minutes.”
The game was finally over. And time started again. The man in front of me ordered a beer and turned around to face me.
“You left your husband outside?” he points to some random man standing at the entrance of the bar.
“That’s not my husband,” I replied.
“If you don’t have a husband, I will be your husband,” he said matter-of-factly.
Groan, time to leave.
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