Mzungu Memoirs

Uganda Cranes We Go

“We Go, We Go, Uganda Cranes We Go!” can be heard yelled in Kampala’s Namboole Stadium when the Uganda national football team plays.  I had the opportunity to attend the recent match between Uganda and Kenya, a qualifying match for the Africa Cup of Nations.  Uganda needed a win to qualify for the first time in 33 years.

Assembling a list from eMi and others who wanted tickets, I collected money and Semei, our office manager, fought rabid crowds to purchase our 20,000 shilling ($7.27 USD) tickets.  With excitement mounting the preceding week, we noticed street vendors selling flags, jerseys, noisemakers and even vehicle mirror wraps.  Crazed fans with plastic noisemaking vuvuzelas started their cacophony of honking the day before the game.  After several months with no success finding a Cranes jersey for Caleb, we finally found him one the day before the match at a local craft market.

Unfortunately, Caleb became sick the day before the game, including a high fever.  Heather decided to stay home with him and take him to the Surgery.  The last time one of us had a high fever, I ended up with malaria, so we have learned not to take chances.  After some ibuprofen to reduce the fever, Caleb felt well enough to at least put on his jersey and take a picture with Daddy.  By the way, Caleb ended up wearing his jersey all day, including the trip to the Surgery.  He is a very loyal fan of the teams he roots for: the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Dallas Cowboys and Uganda Cranes.

Our group of three Ugandans and thirteen mzungus had originally planned to meet at the eMi office at noon to head over to the stadium, some eight miles away.  Hearing horror stories of oversold tickets and 3-hour traffic gridlocks, we wanted to get there early.  The day before the match, Semei heard the gates would be open at 9:00am and people would be getting in line at or before 7:00am.  Keep in mind that the match was not scheduled to begin until 5:00pm.

We decided to meet at 10:00am and head out.  Arriving at the stadium about 11:15am, there were already lines of people that had no apparent terminus.  Walking toward the lines, we were approached by a Ugandan man claiming to be able to get us around the lines up to the gate (for a fee of course.)  After some discussion with Semei, we were escorted by at least three men over to a side gate.  Other discussions ensued with the police at that gate and the Ugandan man grabbed the gate forcefully, raised his voice and made a lot of hand gestures, somehow eventually convincing the police to let us through.

Once through the ticket checkpoint, we went through 2-3 security pat downs and bag check stations, entered the stadium and found some seats, often having to fight through crowds just to get through.  Looking at the stadium clock, I noticed we had over five hours until the match began and the stadium was at least 70% full.  So, I became perplexed as to why many Africans are often late to church, meetings and other occasions, yet arrive 6-8 hours early for a football match…

The pregame show (for lack of a better name) included “We Go, We Go” chants, people dancing on the field like this guy wearing a Uganda flag and catching coins thrown to him, some fights along the Kenyan fan section and a naked guy running onto the field.  Other groups of people dressed in all types of costumes paraded through the stands chanting, banging drums and carrying a framed photo of the Buganda tribe’s king.

. The game itself (once it finally started) was very exciting.  The Ugandan team was quite aggressive and kept the ball on the Kenyan side of the pitch for most of the game, with several opportunities to score.  Unfortunately, the game ended in a 0-0 tie.  Uganda ended up not qualifying due to the tie and Angola’s 2-0 win over Guinea Bissau, which vaulted Angola into the 16 qualifying teams.  Near the end of the match, the apparently upset Ugandan fans began throwing vuvuzelas, noisemakers, plastic bottles and even burning road flares onto the field.

In all, it was a great cultural experience; however, I think I will enjoy the next Uganda Cranes match by a television in a restaurant or with some friends.

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