The African Offside Trap
I keep meaning to blog about working on the labour ward here in Blantyre, but in the true style of one unwilling to face the still-parsing traumatic observations of the last month, I’m going to talk about football instead.
I am feeling much better and have been going to the gym again. I like the College of Medicine Sports Centre, it is wonderfully reliable in that all of the machines are equally broken – they all work a little bit. Maybe if you put an arm on one machine and a buttock on another, you might get some exercise. So mostly I run the track, do the occasional aerobics class and sometimes go and
look at the cute men in the weights room lift some weights.
Over the last few months one of the trainers has been organising a football match on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Those who know me will have heard my tirades against football, but you may not appreciate that this is nothing to do with the actual game. I despise drunken groups of men sexually harassing me. Because of course, shouting ‘Oi love give us one!! hur hur hur!’ will endear me to their laddish yet refreshingly honest embrace of mainstream masculinity and will charm me into ripping my clothes off. I find the disruption to public transport ludicrously annoying. I abhor the violence and loath the implicit regional jingoism. I also hate the bastardly awful tuneless songs. Bear in mind that I have lived within half a mile of Old Trafford, Highbury and ‘The Den’ in my life, which probably goes some way to explaining my ire. When we lived near Millwall I used to keep a head trauma kit by the front door (pen-light, dressings, gloves, antiseptic spray and a can of Special Brew). Occasionally I feel left out, but then I remember that I would rather eat an ear than have some pot-bellied nylon t’shirted testicle think it is acceptable to pinch my bum and smirk.
However, I have always loved playing football, it is a beautiful, graceful and exciting game (unless anyone in the crowd is going ‘hur hur hur!’). I used to play as a child, though I wasn’t allowed to trial for the school team because of my potential to one day grow breasts and multitask. I played for university too, being the small, fast and usually hung-over centre forward for Newnham Twos. But then you get a busy job, have kids, and next thing you know you get out of breath lifting the wine glass. Since we’ve been here, however, I’ve been enjoying getting fit again, so I was really excited when they invited me to play last month.
At first it was all very uncomfortable. Unlike playing on a mixed team in the UK, with guys who are programmed from their first day of school ‘never to pass to a girl’, the men here were gentleman like and courteous. Unfortunately. Every time I went to tackle someone, and usually I had no hope as they are mostly much better than me and all about a foot taller, they would politely tap the ball to me and stand out of my way with an encouraging smile. This is chivalry, but also it is the natural Malawian deference and kindliness; it is more important to be polite than it is to win. Things quickly got better though, after I scored a goal and did my ‘Snoopy dance’*. Strangely, they then seemed to loose some deference (respect).
So yesterday, still a bit pale and about 10kg lighter than I was before the sepsis, I played once more and it was brilliant! Genorino, who is really good, has taken me under his wing (literally, I don’t reach up to his armpit) and let me play on his team. For the first time in a decade I felt again like I could fly. I also realised that I am feeling at home and becoming less of a stranger in this hot and peaceful land; more in tune with the local emotions and behaviours. I scored a goal and instead of the idiotic victory dance, I spent ten minutes stubbornly insisting, against all the kind reassurances of the other team, that I had, in fact, been offside.
*Head back, twirling round, flapping paws and grinning. Usually very sweaty by this point. V sophisticated and sexy.