I can almost hear the vuvuzelas from South Africa…or wait, that’s actually a pickup truck that just drove by with young vuvuzela-wielding men blaring to their heart’s content. I can’t imagine what its like to have rows of eardrum-splitting vuvuzelas behind me but even one is loud enough to call the cow’s home. As obnoxious as they are, you have to admit, they are uniquely African…a plasti-fied capitalization on a coveted emblem of South Africa’s Zulu tribe. Malawi seems to have been bitten by the vuvu-bug too, seeing as how every where you go (or hide) vuvuzelas come blasting out of windows and cars.
Even in Malawi the excitement of the World Cup is palpable. Malawi as most of you have noticed did not make the Cup but are deeply invested all the same. “Who are you cheering for?” –“Côte D’Ivoire!” –“Ghana!” –“Cameroon!”…Malawians’ sympathies often tend to be for their fellow continental neighbors although most of Malawi’s soccer-savvy follow the English Premier league diligently and also place their bets on the home countries of their favorite English imports. Still the mood seemed crestfallen a few nights ago when Brazil beat Côte D’Ivoire….or when Cameroon lost to Denmark. If there’s one word that sums up this World Cup, its expectation. It started the moment South Africa secured the spectacle and was then bestowed with the high expectations of delivering. Africa as a continent may have never had as strong a five teams as it has now and the expectations of Africa to win on its own soil are high.
In Lilongwe people are figuring out how to make some bank off the World Cup. Restaurants that did not have TVs are getting them. In one neighborhood they erected a giant screen to watch the matches next to a bottle store. Restaurants are starting to advertise TONIGHT ENGLAND VERSUS ALGERIA! or BRAZIL VERSUS COTE D’IVOIRE or which ever match happens to be on. In a city swelling with ex-pats you can be sure that there will be at least a handful of potential spectators whose nation is playing that night.
In the climaxing weeks to June 11th, Malawi was a conduit for travelers with their sights set on the World Cup. On a boat ride last month down Lake Malawi, we met four who were meandering their way from Addis Ababa to South Africa…just in time for the World Cup. I’d constantly be hearing about intrepid Americans and Europeans passing through Malawi, one pit-stop on the way to Soccer Stadium, Johannesburg. It has been billed as “Africa’s Cup” and it certainly is in many ways. Many people have seen South Africa 2010 as the way to scratch a travel itch to Africa they have always wanted to scratch. Southern Africa has been flooded with backpackers exploring some of Southern Africa’s less frequented countries. Malawi hasn’t exactly seen a boom in tourism although it has benefited and a lot more people can find it on a map now. I suppose that’s a good start.
Going out to see “the match” (really any match) has become a daily ritual. I played little league soccer as a kid and loved the game. Part of my memory of soccer is intertwined with Capri Sun, “The Big Green,” and wearing that jersey but I genuinely loved the game. Later on, my commitment to sports waned and music became my activity of choice. I still have a deep appreciation which grows being in a country where soccer is the king of sports. Malawians aren’t exactly soccer-fanatics. Malawi stunned everyone by making it into the African Cup of Nations in Angola earlier this year and then stunned them again by beating World Cup qualifier Algeria. Malawi’s interest in soccer became sharpened. It is sharpening still as the excitement from South Africa drifts northward. I have not yet to buy a vuvuzela. I think I owe it to Peter Mawanga and the band to preserve at least some of my hearing before we go into the studio.