I've been home in New Jersey for five days now, feeling a bit strange and not sure how the adjustment back to the US is going. People ask me, and I realize that I don't even know exactly what I'm thinking, and it all feels like a blur in a lot of ways. So, without the ability to process or reflect very much yet, I'll do what comes more naturally: talk about football.
The timing of this World Cup is perfect for me, as it gives me the chance to relax and enjoy the biggest event of the game that I love at a time when I need to relax and move slowly. It is also timely because I've just spent two years in Africa and am now watching Africa's first World Cup. Watching South Africa play Mexico in the opening game, the pit in my stomach told me that I was rooting whole-heartedly for South Africa. I celebrated when they scored the first goal of the tournament, a stunning goal from a player with the wonderful name Tshabalala, and predictically, the South Africans danced. I realized that in this World Cup, more than anything, I am pulling for the Africans. South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon - I just want one of them to go far.
It might seem strange, as all of those countries are very far from Uganda and culturally very different. They could be rivals. You wouldn't root for Argentina because you had spent time in Uruguay; you would hate Argentina. But this is different. An African team doing well would be celebrated across the continent, millions of people cheering for their "neighbors." Never mind that a Ugandan might know nothing about Ghana: they are fellow Africans, and the success of Ghana would be success for a Ugandan. Africa is a continent that is downtrodden, that has borne the yoke of colonialism, of slave traders, and of murderous rubber-traders, and now bears that of tyrants, of violence, of tribalism, of corruption, of poverty, and of AIDS. It has been said that Africa's biggest crisis is a crisis of confidence, and so I hope for the encouragement of seeing an African nation go far, of seeing people like them, people with whom they can truly identify, succeed on the world's biggest stage.
Am I dreaming? Maybe. But the excitement about this tournament is palpable in Uganda, and people are crazy about any African team when they come up against competition from outside the continent. I found that Ugandans don't seem to identify themselves strongly as Ugandans, rather they identify first with their tribe, and then as Africans (likely one reason that colonial boundaries can lead to African nations being dysfunctional, but that's another, much longer story). There is a sense of African-hood, perhaps arising from their shared skin color and their history of being ruled over by Europeans, which means that Ugandans could revel in a victory by Cameroon as their own victory. At least I hope so. That pit in my stomach is hope. Hope that so many people I know, and millions more that I don't, can take courage and confidence because of the world's biggest game.