Friday, June 11, 2010

So much for African fraternity

Patriotism in the Algerian capital, Algiers
I'm working in Algiers, the Algerian capital, on behalf of Culturissima, writing and researching a batch of cultural tours along Algeria's Mediterranean coast and deep down into the Sahara.

But the World Cup's just this moment started, and South Africa - the host country, of course, have just played their first match... so I've sent this off to a British football magazine for publication:

So much for African fraternity: the moment the referee blew the opening whistle for South Africa versus Mexico was the signal for the inhabitants of Algiers to desert their television sets and turn the streets of the capital into a Mediterranean Rio.

"Aren't you watching the game?"

"No, we want to have fun! One, Two, Three - Viva l'Algérie! Besides, it's sunny in North Africa but it's snowing in South Africa!"

He’s right: the television reception is poor – so much so that my neighbours devoted the whole of last night to hooking their ramshackle tv set directly to a huge satellite dish on the roof of a nearby tower block.

The reward for such initiative?

A spell behind bars - the dish sits on top of the local police headquarters.

Hopes are far from sky-high as Algeria gears up for Sunday’s opening clash between the Desert Foxes and Slovenia (Or is it Serbia? Croatia? Nobody seems to know).

"Une participation honorable, that’s what we’re after", says one local journalist: "But that’s the problem – that’s all we ever want: mediocrity. Give us our daily bread and fixed elections once every five years – that’s all we ever pray for".

Falah Benyoucef set out to disprove such cynicism by walking from Algiers to South Africa to watch Algeria’s first game, a journey of 8,000 miles.

It was only after trudging over the Atlas mountains, traversing the broad expanses of the Sahara desert and reaching Algeria’s southern border with Niger that Falah, now a national hero, inspected the visa in his passport: Maximum Stay in Niger – 24 Hours. Seven hundred miles in the space of a day was a feat too far even for Falah the Magnificent.

A few hundred wealthy Algerian supporters have made it to South Africa, flying from a special terminal that is normally reserved for pilgrims on their return from Mecca. On arriving the fans learned that "capitaine courage", Yazid Mansouri, has been dropped by manager Rabah Saadane, whose latest press conference ended with the hope that his team will make up for their individual weaknesses with collective desire.

This esprit de corps is very much alive in the western city of Oran – or that’s what the president of the region’s electricity board is promising: "We will have an équipe of highly trained engineers on duty during all Algeria’s matches. There is no reason for the public to panic".

Why the worry?

Well, many Oranais are still confused as to what happened to Zidane in the 2006 final. There was a power cut just before the forehead of Algeria’s most famous son made contact with Materazzi and many locals have still not seen the pictures of one of sport’s most iconic moments. It couldn't happen again, could it? Well, in the southern city of Ouargla the thermometer is now touching 46° in the shade, the power has gone off, the back-up generator has failed, there's no air-conditioning, no running water... but "One, Two, Three - Viva l'Algérie!"

Dr David Winter

1 comment:

  1. Well, I guess that Algerians don't really have too much in common with black South Africans, do they? Were there riots after Algeria got knocked out? When you back in Paris?