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CAN 2010

Here in Angola the atmosphere is full of excitement.  Later today, the Angolan national soccer team will play Ghana in the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations (CAN).  If Angola wins tonight, there is a pretty good chance that the President will declare tomorrow a national holiday.  There’s also a pretty good chance that I won’t be able to sleep tonight.  If the previous celebrations that occurred outside of my window in the populous bairro of Cassenda can serve as any indication, there will be plenty of loud music blaring, horns blowing, people banging on tin or metal surfaces and kids and adults alike singing and chanting at the top of their lungs. All night long.  It’s not totally off the mark to think that Angola will win considering that Ghana sent its third-string soccer team to the tournament, keeping their more talented and valuable players fresh and ready for the slightly more important soccer tournament that will take place in South Africa later this year.

But for now, Angola is enjoying its moment.  Everyone is wearing Angola t-shirts, hats and scarves.  Angolan flags wave from every other car.  For the last game, the President declared a half-day of work so that everyone could make it to watch the game on time (it started at 5pm, but with Luanda traffic, people sat between 2-3 hours in their car to get to the stadium.)  Luckily, I decided to continue working till about 3pm and missed all of the traffic.

Angolans are so proud to be hosting this tournament.  It’s their debut to the world that Angola, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, has turned a new leaf and is enjoying the fruits of their natural resources.  Unfortunately, the world (at least the part of the world that is paying attention) is coming away with a different picture.  The games kicked off with a tragic incident in the northern region of Cabinda by a separatist group hungry for media attention.   The group misfired and instead of hitting the Angolan escorts they were aiming for, their gunfire fell on a bus carrying the entire Togo national football team.  Two men were fatally injured and Togo opted to return back home and not play in the games.  Here in Luanda, the city has been preparing for CAN since before I arrived.  New high-rise hotels built to accommodate the influx of tourists for the games have been popping up everywhere.   But there are no tourists and most of the hotels are still not finished.  Journalists and soccer teams were told they would be given visas upon arrival at the airport, but regular tourists still had to go through the normal process of applying for a visa – meaning theirs should be approved about a month or 2 after CAN is over.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, even most journalists can’t entirely afford to pay $400+/night to stay in a hotel in Luanda – the most expensive city in the world, especially those coming from other African countries.

As for me, this is all part of the experience.  And of course, I don’t want Ghana to spoil the party.  I will be heading out now to watch the game at a friend’s place.  Forca Palancas Negras!

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