From outside, the Kamuzu Stadium looked like a relic, something from a movie about Africa set in the 1970’s. Inside, the stadium was packed with life, the throngs of fans roaring.
I’m not much of a soccer/football fan, and I’d go so far as to say that the actual sport aspect of attending this match was boring. Instead, I spent my time observing people, listening to their shouts and watching their celebrations. For me, that is the experience of attending a sporting event abroad. At least, one that isn’t hockey.
I went with Christopher, one of the guys who lives and works here in Blantyre. I’m not really sure of his exact job description, but his English is good, and besides his regular duties in the office, he’s taken it upon himself to make sure I’m fed and looked after. When he told me he was going to the football game alone, I said, “Why don’t I come with you?”
He said that since it’s a semi-final match, there is a chance that the crowd will get violent, and he didn’t want me to be part of that. I accepted this, but then he asked his friends, and they figured it would be safe. So off we went.
The crowds milled about the stadium, flooding into the many small doors around its perimeter. There was no sense of lining up or organized presentation and scanning of tickets. Or even bag searching. There was nothing but a pile of people pushing to get in through the doorway.
At one point, Christopher and I ended up in one such mob. He’d made eye contact and some sort of an agreement with a guy near the door who was also communicating with the security. This was all in their local language, so I could follow none of it. All I know is that everyone began pushing, and the guys stood behind me, helping to push me through the door. There was push-back from the guy working the door, and the whole pod of people backtracked. There was all kinds of unintentional groping at this point. All I could do was grab my bag, close my eyes and hope to stay on my feet.
Eventually the push got us through the door… but we were without tickets. Christopher followed the guy he’d encountered at the door into the bathroom. Some money was exchanged and we went to find a seat.
There was also no suggestion of assigned seating. We milled around until we found a spot we wanted. Normally Christopher sits out in the open stands, and I was fully prepared to do that; note my big sun hat! He found us a little covered area with some plastic chairs, and that’s where we stayed. In that section, there was a mixture of foreigners and Africans. For that, we paid KW3000 instead of the KW1000 Christopher normally pays. I can only hope I didn’t cramp his style.
Looking around, I could see that much of the stadium was vacant. Christopher told me the upper levels were barricaded because “the stadium is old. It could collapse at any moment.”
Like, I said, the sportsing was boring. But I loved listening to the crowd. I’m accustomed to the singular loud “Ohhh!” cried in disappointment at hockey games. Here, the sound was a loud, booming “Eee!” and if you can imagine that in a deep African voice, you are right there with me.
When the home team scored, countless people leaped from their seats and began running around. I could only laugh. This was a completely different experience from the beer-sloshing high fives at hockey games that I know so well.
Once the game was done, we all made for the door again, and this was somehow more civil. While I saw signs of fighting during halftime, there wasn’t even a push to get out, and the huge numbers of people left peacefully, stepping out onto the streets and interrupting traffic. I was one of them.
I made it to Malawi! Currently I am doing my next clinical rotation here and will be based out of Blantyre for 6 weeks. Let me get my blogging juices going here, and I’m sure I’ll have loads of good stories to come. I have all sorts of exciting travel plans! (I also have a couple of Utah-based posts planned, too, so I hope that’s okay!)