Game Day

Yesterday, cross-town football rivals Simba and Young Africans—aka Yanga—clashed on the pitch at Tanzania’s National Stadium in a match that whipped not only Dar es Salaam but the entire country into a sporting frenzy.

The game, which ended tied at 1-1, was quite dramatic, with an early goal from a handball by Yanga being counted by the officials. Incensed Simba fans broke chairs, charged onto the pitch, and eventually provoked police into firing tear gas to subdue the crowd. The team itself, not to be outdone, protested so vehemently that red cards came out and players ejected. Once order was restored, Yanga played sluggishly, eventually letting Simba equalize late in the game for a tied score at full time.

I wasn’t at the Dar Derby, however. I got the recap from the paper this morning. I was posted up in my room on the 5th floor of the Econolodge in Kisutu, updating my resume and banging away at a cover letter. While not as exciting as other friends’ Saturdays, it did help to reaffirm how much I love Dar. For a city that’s hot, dusty, crowded and forever frustrating, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Yesterday I sat with my windows open and the door to the balcony wide, listening to the sounds of the city drift up into the room. The honking of horns from drivers negotiating traffic on narrow streets, the yells of day laborers and street vendors, the clickclickclick of coins in the hands of the young boys selling peanuts and cigarettes, and the deafening roar of air defense jets on maneuvers overhead. It’s all so much, but on game day, it’s even better.

It’s hard to describe how intently the denizens of Dar follow this match—football fandom has no cognate in American sports. Every radio at every store or roadside stand was tuned to the game, with every TV in every bar, canteen or lunchroom dialed in and every cell phone in the hands of a teenager tinnily relaying the radio calls. Everywhere was full, and those who couldn’t afford lunch or beer or find a seat stood in doorways and on sidewalks, often 3 or 4 deep, watching through windows and eking out partially obstructed views just to be part of the experience.

It’s all well and good, these throngs and masses watching the games, sitting standing or lounging wherever they can—but then someone scores.

It beggars description. It really does.

Someone, somewhere, starts it. Statistically, someone has to react first. They cheer. They yell. They honk the horn of their taxi. They bang something metal against something else metal. A rock against some corrugated tin. It doesn’t matter, something starts it. And then, it just—goes. Cheering, yelling, horns honking—now the whole city is roaring, some great, full-throated wailing that builds quickly, impossibly, in unison, like everyone on Earth is watching this match, reacting in joy or shock or anguish, celebration and mourning from opposing teams now joined into one great human sound that falls off and dies, first slowly then all at once. And there’s a breath. A brief moment that seems an eternity, as this great body breaks into its constituent parts, each spectator again an individual. In that moment we are profoundly alone, but still watching together. The players reset. Smack is talked in both directions. Play resumes and our attention returns. Again the anticipation builds and so does the sense of community, the sense of narrowing in our focus and swelling out our presence to touch our neighbors in fervent anticipation of the next great moment, the thrill or the anguish, the call to unleash ourselves, the freedom to yell out and cheer or cry or bang something metal against something else metal. It is nothing like I’ve ever experienced. I love game day.

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