Akanam Nkwe: Chronicles Of A Naija Fan In Russia

Posted on July 23 2018 , at 09:05 am
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Written by ‘Kufre Ekanem.

 

Part I:

The Kaliningrad Rematch: Crushing Croatia in the Bus

Akanam nkwe… Naija no gree

 

It is a post-match Kaliningrad. The night is finally dark. The chills have descended. It’s cold enough to bring out the sweatshirts, cardigans and ilk but not enough to temper the good bonhomie of fans from both sides.

 

After the long trek from the stadium and an impatient wait, we finally finagled the free bus going to the city centre. That was when it happened.

 

Some of the Croatians break out in a loud chant to celebrate their deserved victory in the group opener. They sing. They chant. Very loud. Without any consultation, we ‘vex’. Together. What is it na? Someone cannot lose game to you people and have peace on the bus?

 

We immediately respond with our own chants too. We throw in the national anthem “Arise O’ Compatriots” in full fettle. Their collective surprise is very satisfying. These Nigerians can still sing after the way they lost. In my mind, I am borrowing from my in-laws and I am thinking “nkeagbasaraginwa” 😁.

 

After the momentary shock, they come back. All the Croats are in on it now aiming to drown us out. Like in the stadium, they outnumber us. Unlike in the stadium, the ratio is different. In the stadium, they were almost 70 Croats to 1 Nigerian but here, in the bus, it is 3 to 1. For Nigerians, this is almost like evening the odds. We are already hoarse from the match. We don’t care. A new competition is afoot and we are not backing down. Not tonight.

 

Yours truly becomes choirmaster or song curator (take your pick). We fire back! Nzogbu nzogbu! Enyimba enyi! Nzogbu! Enyimba enyi! Nzogbu…!

 

Now, Bus S02 is agog. We drag the Nzogbu as long as we can hold it then we yield the air. The Croats respond with a blare of theirs. I don’t know what they are singing but that is fair. They don’t know what we are singing too.

 

They clang off a strange one that sounds like “guasdgyush jderoaghsbb jfizic jrhrbdjskzzz” or something like that. In response, we kick off a fave oldie: “Nigeria, we hail thee. Our own dear native land…”

 

And so it goes. It devolves into a ding dong. Ping pong. They ding, we dong. We ping, they pong. Some of them start to flag but the bulk are still cranking it. We are tired but not giving in. We start to interrupt, to break their play (if you get what I mean). “Kererenke! Obi!! Kererenke!!!” My repertoire is finishing but they have no idea.

 

Just then there is a lull from them. They miss their cue and we seize it like a free kick. I quickly consult with two experienced attackers and we quickly improvise with the chance: “Labe igi oronbo, ni be la gbe n sere wa…”

 

It is unapologetic route one stuff. Like teeing up a free kick into a crowded 18-yard box with space for a free header or two. Our guys know an open goal when they see one. This is it. Injury time in the bus match. The assist in Kaliningrad is on and the strikers seize the moment as if we were just starting: “INU WA DUN ARA WA YA, LA BE IGI ORONBO… ORONBO!” We put it ‘pon the repeat like autoplay on steroid. The Croats are stunned. Goaaaaallll for Nigeria!

 

They are already congratulating us before the referee applies the brakes and opens the door for all to leave the stadium (read bus).

 

Nigeria wins …. hands down. In possession and in the scoreline.  We are happy. We have beaten them as they beat our boys.

 

This is what my people in Akwa-Cross will call ‘eyenowong ikwe’. I am still hoarse from it all and we are still pained by the result from the pitch but bring on the Icelanders in Volgograd and we will proudly do it again.

 

Like I said: Nigeria is the best country in the world. That is my story and I am sticking to it.

So long Kaliningrad. Akanam nkwe…

 

Part 2:

Defrosting the Volgograd Ice: Mansa Musa With the Splice

One chance, bon chance, Mansa Musa with the splice. #AkanamNkwe

 

On a surprisingly warm Friday night in post-match Volgograd, we found ourselves singing again. Like in Kaliningrad the coach number was S02. This time it was inside the tram, not the bus. Tram S02.

 

I think you already know why we were singing on Friday night but more of that after a brief dribble. In other words, let’s review the VAR before I return to the main action. Stay with me and I promise not to “so the penarity into throw in” #Hain!

 

A wise Homo Sapiens once said, “never say never”. Between Kaliningrad and Friday, a number of nerves have been severed. Language. Language. Language. When I got tired of improvised sign language, I reluctantly took a friend’s persistent advice and downloaded Uber and Google Translate. If that sounds like a proactive action on my part, ‘forgerrit’. The friend (who will remain nameless) just refused to help with translating on his phone (as usual) leaving me in a ‘one chance’ situation. I had to sharpen up fast. Don’t ask me about the situation, I won’t answer you.

 

Another friend in the group stubbornly stuck to his way and ended up paying for hair relaxer in the supermarket when his desire was a body cream. His name is withheld too but it took me, new convert, to evangelize him and save him from anointing his head with hair conditioner. For his scalp would have ‘runneth over’. In other words, if you don’t get the language here, you enter ‘one chance’

 

There are so many one chance tales to tell from off the pitch but every experience was a blur till Friday in Volgograd when the baba nla one chance occurred. I gave a friend my match ticket to hold and missed our bus and rendezvous point due to road diversions and communication. So much for Uber and Google Translate! My entire team of friends was in the stadium and the security protocol was: once in, no out. Had I entered the one chance of all one chances?

 

I made the long trek towards the designated gate. Gate 2. I paced there while my friends sought approval for someone to bring out my ticket. I heard the national anthems and the match started before my ticket came. My friends are good people. On Fridays, at least.

 

Ticket in hand, I hot-footed it into the stadium by the 7th minute. Some ‘oyinbo‘ guy was ensconced in my seat clapping for Iceland. When I indicated that it was my seat, the guy shrugged and motioned for me to take another seat close by. Ehn? My perfect pitch side seat! On my ticket that I stood under the sun to wait for since? I glared at him from narrowed eyes. The same way a lion focuses ahead of… Anyway, before the roar could leave my throat, the young man borrowed himself sense. As he passed me, he muttered “bon chance, Nee-je-ria”. Oh, I thought, he speaks French. “Merci beaucoup”, I answered without a smile, “toi aussi”. Language.

By now the whole world knows the tale of the game at Volgograd. We sang hoarsely through it all but here is the summary of the game for your files:

 

Our Eagles scored, not once but tw(ice)//they played at pace with lotsa sp(ice)//we took the game to those in b(ice)//at whistle’s shrill they’d lost their f(ice).

 

They tried their thunder clap athr(ice)//a global boon, their splay of d(ice)//When Musa stopped that cross so n(ice)//For all their huuuu, that goal was pr(ice).

 

They tugged, they knocked, our base was (ice)//The points they fought to split and sl(ice)//Then Mansa knit the points in spl(ice)//And Sig then spooned his kick like r(ice)

 

Three points in the bag! That is why we were singing in Tram S02. We took no prisoners. We slammed those chants like our throats were embedded with amplifiers. We crowed and croaked and coughed and choked. But still sought for an extra gear to go. This time, we were more. Three singing bands of Nigerians had blended into one as if we had been rehearsing together for months. It was a command performance but for the creaks in the voices. It was a disc jockey’s display of repertoire in the warm Russian night. Minus the gizmo. From hit to hit. Back to back. All the shots were inside the net. No hitting of the bar this time. The Icelanders could not even contend. We were all proven singers. Bathroom shower crooners. Boisterous ride that. Before the tram stopped, we allowed the Russians on the tram to chant one song though. Courtesy.

The selfies and fan photos? Throughout the day but a dozen times more once we hit the FanFest area. We were celebs. On the world stage too. It was absolute bedlam and we lapped it up. Winner oo oo oooo. Winner oo oo ooo. Naija we don win o, winner. Pata pata we go win again o, Winner.

 

Fans from other countries were asking for every bit of Naija memorabilia they could swap for. Caps, jerseys, jackets, name it. We were all for it and did our fair share of memorabilia swaps. One item was out of discussion for me though: my good luck #ShineOnNigeria muffler.

 

Next up, St. Petersburg against the Argies. We are here and ready. The permutations don’t matter to us. The eleven on the pitch will do their job. If they like let them outnumber us again like the last two games, we won’t care. We’ll sing and shout and wave the flag. Nigeria is the best country in the world. That is my story and I am sticking with it. Akanam Nkwe.

 

Spasibo Volgograd.

Tuesday, please be kind.

 

Part 3:

The Near Kill at St. Petersburg: We Lost Our Voice, But Not Our Pride

Near kills, double swap and a case of hubedis! … #AkanamNkwe

 

Post-match night in St. Petersburg. We did not sing. We couldn’t sing. We haven’t sung. You know why.

 

When you go into a game with an open mind, do you accept the outcome better? Is it easier to be behind the whole match and lose from there than when qualification is snatched from you in the 85th minute with no chance to respond? Would it have been better if Argentina scored through a proven striker like an Aguero, a Higuain, a Pavon instead of the once in a blue moon strike by a non-scoring defender using his usual standing peg? You think ‘bad-belle’ is worrying me? Gbam! You are right, my belly is bad. But my heart is still right…and it is still right where it was. Supporting!

 

But we didn’t sing. The choir did not form. When last last, it assembled, the parts were not complete. Amidst the throng of blue-white, the bulk we did in post-match was shake our heads and trudge. Could have. Would have. All rife. Referee didn’t. Referee did. Tongues of thunder, claps of flame. The whole world thinks our luck was ill. The boys showed up and stayed in game. For four score minutes, topped up with five. It cracked like biscuit, it broke in shards. We munched the bit pieces, from minute eighty-six. From me to self I spoke up and stood muffler aloft. Proud pain, sad vex and rueful. Bird flown off in fresh near-kill.

 

The Argentines made a great din of it. They had gotten out of jail. Many of them agreed we were more than a match for them on the night. They were being sportsmanly. Afterall, when that referee blew it done, awa day na hin spoil and na dem grab the spoils. Magnanimous de easy if na you win. They sang. They were a double score of thousands. If they were being gracious in victory, I chose to pay back well. One wanted ShineOn muffler, another wanted shirt. But the most interesting request I got was the ticket for Kazan. “Meus amigos”, “amigo” upandan they all spoke in potoki. “Você tem ingressos par’ Kazan?” they asked and backed in sign language. They were asking do you have a ticket for Kazan? Language.

 

They hadn’t thought they’d make next round. I didn’t have to vend. I swapped my #ShineOnNigeria muffler with a guy who promised he will keep it well. But my jersey was a double swap. I exchanged my XL with a decent Argie row mate but I didn’t check that his own jersey was an L. One M-sized Naija guy then made an opposite mistake and got XL for M. When he saw me strain to squeeze myself into the shirt I got, he smiled as if he remembered “the black man wey dey here …” (apologies to Bright Chimezie). Instead of wearing boubou home, he offered to swap his swap for my swap. That is how I got an appropriate size to avoid wahala of wearing a straight jacket on a sad, rueful long trek. Double swap to the rescue. Magana ya kare.

 

Quiet VIP bus ride to a drop off point. Quiet trek to the metro station. Quiet look around at all the quiet compatriots like me. Wondering about what they are pondering. Pondering about their wandering. We meet and pass and fistbump and force a smile. Surrounded by singing stomping Argentines who are simultaneously congratulating Nigeria for a good game, Requesting for photos with the gallant people they had felled to get a second round ticket and scavenging for any of us who had pre-bought tickets for Kazan where France lay in wait. In wait for them, no longer for us. As for us, the mind was focused on the pre-scheduled return flight the next day. Kazan ko, Kazakhstan ni. Kilo kan wa mbe? Make we find beer drink mbok!

 

Suddenly I remembered my phone and checked. Bad news in the very first message. Something worse than the scoreline had occurred. Wahala was afoot! One of us had missed his travel passport. We had less than 24 hours to our flight! It was past midnight in St. Petersburg. Panic stations!! One Chance!! Do we contact police or UBER? Or the restaurant we went to before the game? Or the mall he branched before to buy something-something for home. The stadium was out, we were certain of that. Was he sure that he had taken the pouch from the hotel? He wasn’t sure either but he had checked his room already. Naatin! Which meant we had to lobby the hotel to show us CCTV footage.

 

Do we contact the Police? Do we contact them immediately or in the morning? Do we need a photocopy of the passport data page? Who has a contact at Immigrations? Can we contact the Nigerian Consulate in St. Petersburg? Wahala!! Nobody sleep! How we split into small task forces and chased different leads and finally got lucky with barely four hours to go is a different story entirely. It was in the UBER and driver was a lady on part-time engagement. God bless her for driving up to return the passport.

 

Anyways, all ‘task force’ teams returned to the hotel and he who had not packed had 45 minutes to tidy up. We got to the airport on time and checked in. All boxes ticked and then the last trouble showed up. A funny case of hubedis! The Russian immigration officer took a look at me, compared my face to my travel documents and refused my travelling. Unless I could prove that I was ‘Kufre Ekanem. Me? The immigration officer (a fine Russian girl so) will look down at my passport, look up at me, make an imaginary tick on my data page in her hand. Is she comparing my right ear to the photo or wetin? Action sequence repeated. The forehead seems the same. She didn’t smile. I hear it is not nice in their culture to smile anyhow. I smiled into her stare. In my culture, a smile is safe and good. I didn’t wink though. To avoid stories that touch (or torch). It went on for almost four minutes. It had become a game. A game of ‘who is this’ or ‘hubedis’. I stood there. Smiling. Staring. No winking. Behave yasef.

 

She typed on her computer between the repeated actions. With questions flowing across the glass pane. Any other means of identification? Yes, Fan ID. I gave her. Same difference. Picture on Fan ID aligned with picture on the passport.  Face of man at glass pane did not. Name? I answered. Date of birth? Thank God, I have only one. Place of birth? I told her the one my mother told me. Signature on plain paper? I signed. Laslas, she stamped the ‘kpali’ and gestured I could go. I gestured back touching my cheek and chin in a question. She nodded in confirmation. Then she smiled. I did not. In my culture, it is not proper to smile at somebody who has wasted your time for nothing. She did not wink. I did not wink too. In my culture, (fill in the blank space yourself).

 

Anyways, I am proud to be back in Naija. We went, we saw, we cantered. The road has ended but our journey remains. See y’all some other time. I need to face my fufu and sip my Star. Then plan to get my face well shorn. Can’t risk playing a game of ‘hubedis’ with HR. Near kill was painful, near kill was sad. Two mornings after, we’re supporting still. Bring on the next one and we’ll do much the same. Nigeria is the best country in the world. That is my story and I am sticking to it.

#AkanamNkwe #ShineOnNigeria #FIFAWorldCup #Russia2018 #NigeriaUniteWeShine #WinningWithNigeria #NGAARG #StPetersburg #Lagos

 

‘Kufre is Corporate Affairs Adviser, Nigerian Breweries Plc.

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