Ghana baby Ghana

A Letter from South Africa
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  June 30, 2010

Florida Road is a crowded strip of bars and clubs in Durban, a city on the eastern coast of South Africa. On Saturday night, the patios teemed with people, soccer fans of all denominations, team scarves around their necks, bright jerseys, faces painted for Portugal and Brazil — the big match the day before — now smeared. Taxis beeped and rushed by, music thumped, people edged toward the TV screens (so many screens), and every now and then a blast from a vuvuzela droned up and down the sidewalk. About 400 miles to the north, at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, the US-Ghana World Cup game was about to start.

I'd arrived in Durban the night before, after 28 hours of travel from Boston. Eight time zones, a new hemisphere, and a flipped season later, I was a bit blurred around the edges. Billy the Bum's, a bar and burger joint on the top of Florida Road, was at capacity for the match, packed with fans of Ghana, the last African team remaining in the 2010 tournament.

But it wasn't so much Ghana backers that filled the room as it was people rooting for Africa. Even among Americans, loyalties were split. "I'd love to see an African team make it to the semi-finals," said a Tanzanian who grew up in Connecticut and is now living in Manhattan. "But at the end of the day, I'd like to see the Yanks go all the way."

"It's win-win," another American in the crowd said when asked which team he wanted to see go on. "I'm happy either way."

It was clear, both from the red-and-yellow jerseys on the backs of a few guys at the bar, as well as the tables full of locals roaring for the Black Stars, leaping out of their seats when Asamoah Gyan scored Ghana's winning goal in extra time, which team — which continent — the crowd supported. It was easy to forget, in the midst of the festival atmosphere in this "rainbow nation," the significance of a bar full of white South Africans cheering for the all-black Ghana team. The mood in the room was never anti-American; it was decidedly pro-Africa.

At the close of the game, the one fan wearing an American flag as a cape got a vigorous pat on the back from a Ghana supporter. Both were smiling. The American did not look disappointed.

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