The African World Cup
The rhetoric all over Africa was that it was their World Cup, South Africa would be sharing it with the entire continent. Cafés and restaurants over Khartoum were filled with men watching screens, ranging from Sudanese men clad in their traditional djellaba puffing on narghile, to shirt-wearing Westerners, ummm, also puffing on narghile. With alcohol illegal in the country, what would have been a very pleasant beer was replaced with fruit juices and thick, warm sahleb.
Everywhere was broadcasting the matches. In the small grocers next to my house, the owner was huddled behind the counter, straining to hear the commentary issuing from his radio. Cultural centres screened their countries’ matches, as did the embassies. The folk of Sudan Boombox organised an event on the street in front of the Dutch embassy, a giant screen next to the stage where DJs were spinning hip-hop. People danced in the street, one eye on the screen, the other on the MC — I checked my self, was I still in Sudan? The Dutch ambassador took to stage, inviting everybody back if his team made it through. (They did, but there was no follow-up event.)
I watched games in the dust-floored back room of an Ethiopian restaurant, the rooftop of an Egyptian café, the opulent courtyard of a Sudanese establishment. The cries of one particular Arab commentator become a running joke.
As friends headed over to the most western-leaning café in town for the final, I joined some others in a smoke-filled room of a local shisha joint, as the waiters squeezed through the crowd carrying baskets of hot coals, waves of heat passing through the already baking room. When Spain scored, the men in white behind me were on their feet, dancing. It may not have been their country’s team, but their love of FC Barcelona or Real Madrid took precedence.
The amjad driver who picked us up afterwards had a big grin. He, too, was rooting for Spain, and outside in the dusty streets of the capital, he had sat, hunched over his radio.
Khartoum nights often offered little in the way of activity, but for that month of the tournament, the city felt alive.