Monday, February 11, 2008

Go Misr!

Everyone in Cairo is in a great mood this morning. And EVERYONE is talking football.

Last night, Egypt won the Africa Cup of Nations. It was the second time in a row and their sixth victory in total. The score was one nil and when the game ended, even the Egyptian announcers on the sports show I was watching (in Arabic, but it didn't matter, I knew exactly what was going on) lept out of their chairs and started dancing in their ill-fitting suits. Out of nowhere, an Egyptian band appeared, dressed in traditional costumes, singing and dancing in between the crappy chairs and faux coffee table of the show's set.

On the football pitch in Accra, Ghana, it was pandamonium. The Egyptian goalie climbed on top of the goal post and waved to adoring fans who were trying desperately to break through the barriers and run onto the field. Zidan tore off his shirt and ran towards the crowd with his arms reaching for the sky, mouthing the Arabic equivalent of "YES!"

When the match was called, the Egyptian coach and several players dropped to the ground, prostrated in thanks and kissed their Qurans' before proceeding to kiss eachother, the cameras, the referees and anyone within their reach. One player kept kissing his wedding ring, smiling and pointing into the camera. When the Cup was finally presented, it disappeared under a human dog pile, covered by frantically waving limbs and team Egypt jerseys. Eventually, the team captain emerged to hold it up for the crowd.

Back in Cairo, the city erupted. I could barely hear our tv over the roar of crowds that had left their homes to pour into the night and celebrate the win.

From our 14th story balcony, we had a clear view of the street below. It was a heaving sea of people dancing, cars honking and egyptian flags waving. The main drag that our balcony looks out onto is a street called July 26. It is a 4-lane thoroughfare that cuts across the island of Zamalek and is the corridor between downtown and the more residential area of Mohandessin. Usually, it takes commuters to and from downtown and is filled with cars, buses and the occassional delivery/ transport truck. Last night, jubilant fans were running through the traffic, wearing egyptian flags on their backs like capes, jumping on top of cars and trucks and dancing and singing for joy. They were, quite literally, bursting with pride.

And it was contagious. Even though we hadn't watched the whole series and admittedly, I had only caught the last 20 minutes of the game, that didn't stop us from heading down to the street to join the celebrating crowds.

At street level, people were hoisting eachother up on their shoulders. Everyone was singing and playing drums -- or plastic cans or anything they could get their hands on that would make a loud noise. Even the security guards at the Lebanese Embassy (obviously local Egyptians) had overturned the stools at their stations, transforming them into drums they played while smiling ear to ear. Young men were lighting fire to aerosol cans, releasing long ribbons of fire into the sky as a row of hapless policemen watched on. Even the policemen seemed more interested in enjoying the show than putting a stop to any of it.

Firecrackers went off like gunfire. Okay, so maybe it was actual gunfire...I'd rather not think about it since it was all happening only steps from our home.

Hijab-wearing aunties, uber-stylish beautiful people, young kids and men and women of all ages had painted their faces with the colours of the Egyptian flag. Car after car overflowed with girls and guys yelling: "MISR!". Pedestrians were smiling and high five-ing eachother in the street. Motorists offered outstretched hands from their car windows as they inched by in thick traffic.

Egyptians are proud of their country at the best of times. Last night, Egyptian pride was on overdrive. The horns honked and the crowds "olaaay-olay-olay-olaaay"-ed till well into the early hours.

I was lucky enough to be in Paris when the French won the world cup in 1998, in NYC when the Yankees won the world series in 1999 and in Toronto when (unbelievably) the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. Every one of those victories resulted in a spontaneous street party and outpouring of national pride.

In the streets last night, the music and celebration joyfully eclipsed -at least for one night - the drugery and struggle of the every day. Last night, every Egyptian was a champion.

1 comment:

amreen said...

what a great post! how exciting to be there on such a fun and victorious occasion!