Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I went to my first African soccer match last week.  Well, actually it was my first soccer match ever.  Except for the notoriety of David and  Victoria Beckham….I don’t have a clue about soccer. 

The Tchekpo Lycee (high school) was playing Taglibow Lycee.  I’d been hearing teachers and students talking about this match for weeks.  I’d been wanting to see a game.  Tchekpo and Taglibow are about thirty miles apart, and they appear to have a friendly yet fierce competition with each other both scholastically and in sports.  I likened it to a game between K.U. and Kansas State.  This game was the championship for the entire Yoto prefecture (county.)

I arrived at the school about 1pm on Friday.  When I showed interest in going to the game, I was invited to go and invited to ride down on the student buses.  The student buses being a caravan of bush taxis, bursting to the seams with hyper, sweating, excited teenagers.  When I arrived at the school kids were gathered around in various groups, waiting for the taxis to arrive.  The team was sitting in a circle under some trees, seemingly having  some sort of team meeting.   I’m used to seeing the kids in their uniforms, which is khaki colored skirts and trousers and white shirts.  I see them around the village, but they don’t dress up, and kind of blend in with everyone else.  For this game though, they dressed to the nines!  The girls and the boys showed their teenage individuality, and there was definitely a good attempt at western hip-hop influence with low riding jeans and big shirts, hats sunglasses.  The kids were playful, excited and enthusiastic. 

The Hip Hop Cheering Section
It became known in Tchekpo a few weeks ago that I could “wolf” whistle.   This whistle is non-existent in Togo, so the first time I did it in my English class, they were amazed at my talent.  They wooped and hollered, and many have come up to me and ask me to teach them how to do it.  They really had never heard anyone whistle this way.  My sister Jody taught me to wolf whistle.  I remember it well.  For weeks, one summer when we were teenagers, we would sit on the porch steps, and she worked, and worked and worked with me.  She had infinite patience with me (one of the only times.)  I remember the first time it worked.  The first time I whistled.  It was a real accomplishment.  I think I went around the rest of the summer whistling at everything that was whistle appropriate, and I’m sure many things that were whistle inappropriate.   I was often a valued member of the audience for my kids, and nieces and nephews, plays and sport activities because of my whistle, and while my kids sometimes begged me beforehand not to, I did it anyway.  I couldn’t help myself.  It was my way of letting them know I was there, and I was proud.  After a performance or an event, I would go up to them and ask them if they heard me whistle.  They would roll their eyes and say godddddd yes!  So now the Tchekpo highschool kids want me to whistle all the time.  A little bit of Americana hoopla!  When I arrived at the school Mr. Tomekin one of the teachers took me over to where the team was meeting.  He told me on the way over that he was going to give a little pep talk, and then he wanted me to whistle.  He did, and I did!  God, it’s so easy to impress people here.  They yelled and hollered and loved it.  At the game I was commissioned to stand with the little unofficial pep club and to whistle on cue whenever Tchekpo made a good play.

It was just plain fun to ride with the kids to Taglibow.  It would be difficult to distinguish any differences between them and American teenagers getting ready for “the big game” with their biggest competition.  There were fight songs, and laughter, and joking around, and flirting between the boys and the girls.
We arrived at the soccer field in Taglibow.   They have a little grandstand, that looks like it was built a  hundred years ago.  The field has ‘some’ grass.  It’s hard to find any grass in Togo.  Tchekpo doesn’t have a soccer field, so they have to play all their games away.  Last night I dreamt that Yoko Ono read my blog and donated a soccer field to the Tchekpo Lycee.  Where did that come from???  So Yoko…if you are listening,  Johns song, Imagine, is a constant inspiration to me.  Picture this…the John Lennon Soccer Field in Tchekpo West Africa, dedicated to all the “dreamers” out there!  Yoko?  Yoko?

The Tchekpo Team and Principal
Back to the game….The game was great.  Very professional.  There must have been at least 1000 very enthusiastic spectators.  After the stands were filled, people stood shoulder to shoulder around the entire filed.  Tchekpo held it’s own up to half time.  That’s really good considering Tchekpo is half the size of Taglibow.  Taglibow players looked a little more polished, a little more sophisticated in their green uniforms, and they ALL had matching socks.  Tchekpo had nice uniforms, but the team didn’t have matching socks.

There were vendors set up selling
The Pep Club after a great play
food and drink, and everyone was in a very festive, happy mood.  There was very friendly rivalry between the teachers for Taglibow and the teachers for Tchekpo.  They sat next to each other in the stands, and joked and elbowed each other.   There was even halftime entertainment, and entertainment everytime a good play was made by either team.  There were several kids dressed up in crazy outfits, which I’m sure signified something, but I didn’t know what.  Everytime there was a break in the game, these kids would parade in front of the stands, and around the perimeter of the field, and they would incite the crowd to laughter and frenzy.  There were also the horns.  The horns that you hear during the World Cup.  Both schools had them, and they would blow them long and loud after a good play.

There were several injuries during the game, at which time medics would run onto the field with a makeshift gurney, and carry the player off to resounding applause.   During halftime the teams went to their designated corners.  Taglibow was ahead, but not by much.  The Tchekpo team was sitting in a circle on the ground looking tired and dejected, most with their heads hung low, and arms curled around their knees.  Two coaches were yelling at them simultaneously, supposedly trying to inspire them, to give them hope that they could rally, that they could DO THIS.  “DU COURAGE!!!”  (YOU CAN DO THIS!)
The award ceremony

In the end, Taglibow won.  Dammmmm I wanted Tchekpo to win.  Immediately after the game the two teams lined up and shook each others hands with the Togolese handshake…which entails a snap of the pointer finger after the handshake.  They then had an award ceremony.  Taglibow was presented with a nice trophy.  Tchekpo spectators and team were very good sports.  They applauded a game well played.

After the game we all walked up to the main road and waited for our bush taxis.  We waited, and waited and waited.  An hour and half after the game our bush taxis finally rolled up to get us.  By this time there were a few men who had a little bit too much to drink.  They climbed on top of one of the bush taxis and proceeded to ride home in the open air.  I wondered if they would make it.  We squeezed into the bush taxis and rode home.  The taxi was much more quiet than the trip down.  The driver had the local Taglibow radio station on (there’s no radio station in Tchekpo.)  The announcer talked about the game, and the kids were excited about that, and became energetic again.  We left for the game at 1pm and we got back to Tchekpo around 9pm.  A long day for everyone. 

It was a fun day.  I couldn’t really detect any differences between this game and a championship game for any sport in America.  It made me think of Nelson Mandela and how he knew that South Africa winning the World Cup could inspire the nation and the world.  And it did.  And this game…though Tchekpo lost, brought the kids and adults of Taglibow and Tchekpo together.  It inspired the kids, It inspired the two villages, and it inspired me.  Rock Chalk Tchekpo!

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