Crazy for Soccer

I should have known that the soccer match coming up was a big one, when I saw the large announcement posted outside the main entrance to the Coptic Church in town.  Between the pictures and a few Arabic words that I could make out quickly, I noticed that the church was hosting a showing of the upcoming soccer game between Egypt and Algeria.  It wasn’t until a few days later, that our neighbor/landlord told us that it was a qualifier for the world cup.  Egypt, who has won the Africa cup a few times lately, was in danger of not making it to the world cup.  I learned that they had to win this game by 3 goals to advance.  Only 2 goals meant a rematch in a neutral country.

Unfortunately Jayson was out of town and beyond the reach of television during this game, otherwise, he may have been able to participate in the hype and excitement as he gathered with Egyptians to watch.  For me, the game started at 7:30 on a Saturday night…just about the time I was giving the girls a bath and putting them to bed.  We don’t have a television in our house, so I wasn’t going to watch, but I was cheering for Egypt as it would make for a more interesting World Cup this summer if the country we reside in was playing.

Two days before the game we got an alert email from the US embassy in Cairo.  It informed us of the game coming up, and urged all US citizens to stay away from the area of the stadium due to crazy traffic and the possibility of riots–even non-violent ones–before or after the game.  It seemed a little over the top to me.  Sure, I would avoid the area like crazy.  Don’t want to deal with the crowds and traffic, but I wondered about the threat of riots.

As I walked around town today, the day of the game, I could see the number of Egyptian flags had increased on cars and in shops and from people’s homes.  People were gearing up for the big game.  As I was doing my errands that day, a girl from a local shop stopped me to ask if I was cheering for Egypt.  “Of course,” I replied.  She seemed tickled by that.  I really don’t know how I couldn’t cheer for them, and still live here.  We talked a bit about the game and I showed my knowledge of the situation.  She said that if they didn’t advance tonight, but still won, the next game would be played in Sudan.

So, 7:30 rolled around and I gave the girls a bath and put them in bed.  I had some things to do after that and was busy in the kitchen around 9:30 when I heard a loud cheer go up from our building.  It was a collective cheer from below, above, outside and inside.  I thought, they must have won!  I quickly ran to my neighbors and rang her bell.  She came to the door quickly and returned to the TV even more quickly. 

“Did they win?”  I asked.

“No, just scored a second goal.  There’s only a few minutes left.” 

She kept watching the screen, cheering, holding her breath, getting down on her knees, shivering with excitement as Egypt had another good chance on goal.  (Take note that my landlord is a 50 year old mother of 3 grown sons.)  Another minute passed and the game ended.  Another loud cheer went up and all of Egypt celebrated their team’s victory.  I still think it meant they had to play another game, but at least they were still alive.  That was only the beginning of the celebration.

Now it is about 11:30pm and I was planning to be asleep by now.  But it’s near impossible as people are cheering and horns are beeping and sirens are wailing all around.  Our building is not located in a loud place…we rarely hear traffic besides the minivans that begin their route in front of our building.  But we are right next to a bridge that runs out of town, and for the last two hours, people have been constantly beeping their horns as they drive over the bridge.  I just keep praying that all this noise doesn’t wake the girls up! 

I’m glad for them–the team, the people of Egypt.  It’s probably something that unifies this country…Muslims and Christians alike.  I hope Egypt advances and does well, but right now, I would really like to sleep!  Oh well, that can be difficult in a country that doesn’t really sleep on a normal day until 2am.  It’s just that on this night, there is national permission to celebrate loudly and freely…probably until people fizzle out around 2am.  I hope I sleep before that!


Postscript: The rematch in Sudan is this evening, so the country is enraptured once again. Even Emma the other day chanted. “Go Masr, Go Masr!” (‘Masr’ is Arabic for ‘Egypt’.) We hope they win, even if it costs us another night’s sleep.

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