I was one of those lucky fans, but also courageous Ghanaians who dared to enter into Cairo Tuesday 19th November 2013 to cheer our national team the Black Stars in that final encounter which qualified Ghana into the 2014 FIFA WORLD CUP in Brazil.
There was so much talk about insecurity in Cairo prior to the game. With a military government in place there after the overthrow of the Democratically elected president this year, It seemed to our minds, or at least, to my mind, that we were going into a rowdy city. Cheerfully, It was not.
Well, we went into a quiet city. Even though we the fans were asked to report at the Kotoka airport here in Accra at 12:00 midnight, all the process at the Kotoko airport lasted between that time and 5: 30 am Tuesday morning. Imagine such a long night standing between siting, talking and walking. We finally took off with a chatted Egypt Air flight lasting six hrs to Cairo. It was like sitting in a bus from Accra to Bolgatanga, so long and boring at some point.
When I first sat in the flight, I said to myself, well, Egypt is better than Ghana, at least, in that they own a national career. I imagined how Much government of Ghana was paying the Egyptians to carry us on their own plane from Accra to Cairo and back to Accra, simply because as a nation, we have failed woefully in managing our own national career which was established by our forebears and collapsed because of a lack of discipline on the part of our political and business leaders over the years. So lets say that I began that journey with some thoughts of Lamentations for Mother Ghana.
There were all categories of fans. Some called themselves GOLDEN AGE SUPPORTERS UNION, JM SUPPORTS BLACK STARS, APSU etc etc. there were also some of us who were unlabeled. I went to Cairo as a journalist.
We arrived in Cairo airport at mid - day to be welcomed to Egypt by the smell of Tobacco all over the place. Cairo is definitely a smoking city. And if what we witnessed in Cairo is anything to go by, Egypt is a smoking nation. Almost every airport worker was smoking tobacco in the open. Cairo airport even have 'smoking rooms' where workers and travelers can seclude themselves and cloud themselves in tobacco smoke. At the airport, one Ghanaian supporter was detained briefly for entering into Cairo without a valid visa. How he managed to do that remains a mystery. Refreshingly, there was a free WiFi here at the Cairo airport which enabled me to post one photograph on my Facebook wall to announce our arrival to Cairo that afternoon.
The buses were waiting outside of the airport. With a suit - wearing driver accompanied by suit - wearing security man with a walkie - talkie in hand, each bus was supposed to be secured. We were instructed by the security man in each bus to close all curtains and not attempt to look outside the bus. Our curiosity to see the streets of Cairo did not allow some of us to strictly adhere to that sort of instruction. I tried to look as the buses moved in a convoy. I noticed too many construction works and excavations going on in Cairo, or at least, along the route that was taken by our buses. The landscape had the semblance of a desert.
The driver pulled over at a hotel named Le Passage. We the supporters were again instructed by the security man on the buses to remain seated. Of course, we obliged. Soon, food was brought into the buses. Each one for a box of assorted food and fruit. In addition to rice and chicken, there were vegetables and pastries. I had a piece of banana on my plate. Something was missing and everyone noticed it - water. These desert warriors don't play with water.
When we loudly demanded water, it took the security man on the bus not less than ten minutes to give us a hostile response of '' no water, only food, no water''. He was very stern in his demeanor and gesticulation. I couldn't understand. I needed water much more than I needed food that afternoon. On the top of my voice, I shouted out ' Is this how you welcome visitors to Egypt? First thing we give to visitors in Ghana is water. Give us water now or take your food'. That shout only worsened by thirst as I didn't even get a glimpse from the security man in response. He ignored us completely, then I remembered that we are not in democratic Ghana where people can demand their due - there was a military government in - charge of Egypt.
So with solid food in the stomach without water, we headed for the 30th June stadium which also is a military encampment. There were more soldiers than there were fans. Apart from the guns in their hands, almost all those I saw also had cigarettes in their hands. Cigarettes must be the cheapest thing in Cairo. Even journalists were distracted from their work by the cigarettes in their hands. At the entrance, a friend of mine dared to borrow a cigarette from one Egyptian security man. ' Can I borrow a cigarette' ? He requested whiles stretching his hand. And here comes the rude awakening. ' You want cigarette? Bring money' responded, the Egyptian man, unwilling to part with a free cigarette to a Ghanaian visitor.
My insistent friend decided to give the Egyptians a lesson on hospitality. 'You have to welcome me to Cairo with a free cigarette ' he said whiles stretching his hand to receive one. He got it finally, accompanied by fire to light, it took us into our stands. Here, we saw a couple Ghanaian supporters holding some bottles of water. They bought each bottle for US$7. Water is Gold on this desert called Egypt. Of course, some of us couldn't afford it - even if it was sold in Gh cedis.
Understandably, our energies were low at the stadium. Our voices too sounded horrible considering the dry throats we used. Determined to cheer our black stars, we still tried to put up a good performance but these desert warriors won't let us. With laser lights, they beamed into our eyes offensively - and they did it without apology. If they were not pointing it at our players on the field, they were on us the supporters on the stands. It was so irritating, you have no idea. The hostility of Cairo was coming to it's peak. I am sure you saw it on on television.
With US$ 1m winning bonus promise from the military government determined to hold on to power by any means necessary, the Egyptian players put up their best performance. As we cheered, we debated the US $ 1m. Could these power usurpers, who we are told, have been denied funds by their American friends and allies, really afford a million dollars for each Egyptian player if they beat Ghana by more than 5 goals to qualify for Brazil 2014? or were the soldiers just yapping?Some of us argued that their promise was just a populist move - one of those discredited communist inferior tactics usually employed by soldiers everywhere to get the support of the masses.
The Egyptian military rulers knew that it was near impossible to beat the black stars of Ghana with so many goals to qualify them for Brazil World Cup. Nevertheless, that tactic employed by the military regime went as far as energizing the Egyptian football players beyond reasonable doubt. According to what I saw on the pitch, their formula was ' If you miss the ball, don't miss the man' and they had a timid referee to give them back up.
Unfortunately for the Egyptians that day, God was a Ghanaian.
Sending us back home after the game wasn't such a daunting task for the Egyptians. We left the military stadium at about 10 pm under full military protection and direction straight to that same hotel where we got lunch without water earlier in the afternoon. This time, we were allowed to disembark and walk into the hotel where assorted dinner - and of course water for the first time since we arrived in Egypt - was waiting for us. Just imagine the stampede from thirsty and hungry foot soldiers turned black stars supporters who were asked to serve themselves. Many foot soldiers headed first for water - naturally. Others went for food without knowing it's names or tastes. That seemed like a recipe for disappointment.
One foot soldier after loading his plate with tasteless junk food came to sit by me. Upon his first attempt at tasting the food, he turned round to ask me ' what food is this' ?....but amazed by his unreasonable question, I asked him why he didn't ask that question before fetching the food. He left immediately to replace. Whiles here, I gulped at least 5 gargantuan glasses of water, plus, there was another free WiFi to power my iPad which was now full of interesting pictures from Cairo which I wanted to share with my social media friends. I took advantage immediately.
This other guy had been so famished without water the whole day he decided to harvest water from the various tables after dinner. He carried with him two empty bottles, and from where he got those bottles, I don't know since the Egyptians did not serve their water in bottles. As he harvested, he got to a table near us but occupied by Egyptian security men. He found a glass full of water. The owner, a security man, had gone for more food. As he emptied the glass of water into his bottle, the owner returned and caught him in the act.
The Egyptian was uncharitable as he grabbed the glass of water with anger and replaced it on the table to the disappointment of the Ghanaian foot soldier. Visibly angry at the very provincial act of the Ghanaian soccer fan, the Egyptian security man began an amusing narrative to all his colleagues who were willing to listen and laugh off the night. Such a worthy ambassador of Ghana! I felt ashamed as a Ghanaian witness.
Anyways, the Ghanaian ambassador to Egypt, Alhaji Said Sinare who welcomed us into Egypt in the afternoon was also at the Cairo airport that night to give us a goodbye handshake as part of his diplomatic routine after late dinner. When I got into the returning flight, I concluded that Cairo was undoubtedly hostile to us. May be hostility is their nature but who knows, it could have been out of their envy over us going to Brazil at their expense. A desperate man is capable of anything including hostility.
What ever be the case, we had the last laugh. I say ayeekoo Black stars! Brazil, here we come. And hopefully, the Brazilians being half Africans and not Arabians, we may come home with a better story of hospitality to tell come next year.
Source: Sacut Amenga - Etego
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