Allez les Lions! (Also, Vamos, vamos Argentina!)


Less than a year and a half ago, I boarded a plane in Dakar bound for New York. As I stepped off the collapsible staircase and through the door of the plane, I realized that I had effectively left Senegalese soil and I had to hold back tears. A few drops squeezed out despite my best efforts and as they slowly rolled down my cheeks, I imagined that I must look like a bad French new wave film.

Before I realized that the cabin crew was 100% American, I apologetically explained to the flight attendant whose eye I had accidentally caught, “Je pars…,” and then I trailed off sheepishly. She smiled at me with the truly soft and sympathetic look of someone who has borne witness to this scene a million times, and she said simply, “I know.” I am not sure she did actually know what I had said, but she knew what my tears meant. I am leaving. I don’t know when I’ll be back. And it feels like I’m leaving a bit of my heart behind.

I thought of that moment on Tuesday evening as I crossed over the East River from Manhattan into Brooklyn. The sun was setting, and New York was at its most beautiful. Earlier that morning I had been briefly and emotionally reunited with the country I hadn’t been ready to leave, and it was wonderful.

That’s all a very melodramatic way to say that I watched the Senegal v. Poland game from a Senegalese cafe in Crown Heights, and I ate Senegalese food for the first time since being in-country, and I heard Wolof and West African-accented French all around me, and when Senegal won I may as well have been in Dakar for all the joy in me and surrounding me.

I am so thankful that New York is a city where you can experience a little bit of the magic of every other country on earth. And it is especially magical at World Cup time.

I’m going back to the cafe on Sunday for the Senegal v. Japan game and what I hope is a repeat of the euphoria of victory. (I won’t even get into the sadness of the Argentina v. Croatia game. I’m hoping for a miraculous turnaround that allows Argentina to advance and Messi to stop looking so forlorn.)

As we go into the weekend, I leave you with a few moments of Team Senegal adorableness.

This is why I ride with Senegal, indeed.

:( World Cup sadness

before the World Cup game at Porteno

Well, that was depressing. I watched the final World Cup game at a packed Argentine restaurant in Chelsea. After one brief moment of overwhelming elation when it appeared as though Argentina had scored what could be the Cup-winning goal – unwarranted, because it was invalidated as offside – Germany scored the only true goal of the game in the last minutes of extra time. The room I was in fell dead silent. The owner of the restaurant, who had been leading patrons in rowdy song just moments before, muted the TV’s. We somberly watched the Argentine players cry. I felt fairly awkward knowing I was surrounded by people whose disappointment and sadness knew no bounds, while mine would inevitably be forgotten within a day (though my pity for poor Messi lingers on).

One thing that, unfortunately, will not soon be forgotten as I’m sure it will be stuck in my head for weeks: a gleeful chant taunting arch-rival Brazil, which inexplicably was still considered relevant and applicable for the Germany game and hence was sung over and over and over again til I practically knew it by heart.

To wit:

So at least I learned some Spanish on Sunday.

The words:

Brasil, decime qué se siente tener en casa a tu papá.

Te juro que aunque pasen los años, nunca nos vamos a olvidar…

Que el Diego te gambeteó, que Cani te vacunó, que estás llorando desde Italia hasta hoy.

A Messi lo vas a ver, la Copa nos va a traer, Maradona es más grande que Pelé.

(Photo: before the game, when spirits still ran high.)