In 2010, I taught a writing class at Montgomery College’s Takoma Park campus, just outside Washington, D.C. As the class entered the room, I was amazed. They resembled a meeting of the Africa Union. There were students from nine or ten African countries and many of them knew one another so they were boisterous and energetic. There were students from Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, and a cluster of students from Cote d’Ivoire. The minute I began to speak they went silent and I came to know them as the most hardworking group of students I’d taught. The class was an introductory composition class so we did a ton of writing and grammar. The students were all adults. They all had full-time jobs and took this class very seriously.
In the midst of many writing exercises and a dozen essays, reading their work aloud and seeing their sentences up on the projection screen, I came to know some of these students well. One fact I quickly learned was their passion for football– soccer– and the upcoming World Cup which that summer would take place in South Africa. The Cameroonians and the Ivorians especially teased each other, bantering back and forth about how this team would defeat that team, how this player’s skills far exceeded that player’s skills. They wrote and told stories about their teams’ histories, the characters on each team, the unique and powerful role which football played in their country.
Needless to say, I was fascinated because here I was the student. I learned all about Ghana’s “Black Stars” and Cameroon’s “Indomitable Lions.” I learned about Roger Milla and his famous football skills. I learned about Cote d’Ivoire’s “Elephants” and their legendary leader Didier Drogba. All this led me to explore more about these countries. The students from Cote d’Ivoire especially took my interest and taught me. They told me about the divisions in their country, the role football plays in unifying the country. Many of these students, especially the Ivorians, stayed in touch with me after the class and we have continued our friendships. I know of their marriages, some of their new jobs, but I’m especially thrilled when I learn of their college degrees.
With the 2014 World Cup approaching, many of them began to reach out again over Facebook and email and I could sense their excitement building again. This time my excitement was building too. I’d become a full-fledged fan of the Elephants. I’d been reading about them, learning of their World Cup qualifying games. I was psyched up to follow them too. Just last night, Cote d’Ivoire played their first game in the 2014 World Cup and they defeated Japan, 2-1 in a tough match. We’ll see what the rest of the World Cup brings them.
For me, the World Cup has already been a success. It has connected me to people I would otherwise never have come to know. They would have been another class of students, but that might have been the end of it. Now some of them are my friends. Also, I know something of a part of the world far from my own. I read everything I can about Cote d’Ivoire and anytime it shows up in the news, I’m listening. It makes my world bigger, more interesting, more rich.
I am very sympathetic to the Brazilians’ protests regarding the costs of these games. The problems that come with hosting an international event like this are real. In spite of that sympathy, there’s no denying that these games have opened me to people and places I wouldn’t have known otherwise. In these days of “us versus them” and all the “otherizing” that goes on among people with perceived differences, we need the connections. We need the music, games, stories that link us together, that show us we can perhaps drink from the same cup.
Don’t we need a World’s Cup? Don’t we need to know that we are more alike than different? Don’t we need reminding that when one of us thirsts, we all thirst?
Photo Credit: FIFA