Soccer in the Rainforest

This past week, we left our home base of Arusha on a nine-hour drive to the West Usambara mountains, one of the top 25 most bio-diverse regions in the world and the most bio-diverse region in all of Africa. We spent our days camping just outside of the Mazumbai rainforest, conducting tree canopy surveys in the morning and exploring the forest on our own through a non-scientific lens in the afternoons. The Usambaras are home to a beautiful tropical rainforest with almost a quarter of the species endemic to that region, meaning they are found only in that area. Although you wouldn’t know it if you were deep in the forest, there are many neighboring hamlets outside of Mazumbai. One day we went to a local school in Mayo and then went to support them later that afternoon at their sub-zonal soccer tournament. Here in Tanzania, soccer is a very big deal. Nearly every secondary school competes in tournaments ranging from the lowest (sub-zonal) all the way up to a national competition.

The principal of the school we visited invited us to the sub-zonal tournament, which was such a large even that it warranted the day off of school. We accepted his invitation and drove down the dusty mountainside until we came upon a soccer pitch full of about seven or eight hundred people. When our cars rolled up, about four hundred children, many of whom had never seen white people, ran up to us yelling “WAZUNGU! WAZUNGU!” , a commonly heard phrase which translates to “foreigner” or “white person”. The kids formed a dense mob around our cars so tightly that we could barely make it to the soccer pitch. Samwell, one of the wonderful staff members on our program even (half jokingly) chased a few of the kids away with a stick. Once we made it to the sidelines, the two opposing teams, Mayo and Mazumbai, paraded onto the pitch in their bright yellow and red uniforms, respectively. The crowd went nuts. Both secondary schools had large cheering sections dressed in their school uniforms, dancing, chanting, and singing. One man even had a makeshift vuvuzela (ala this summer’s World Cup) made out of a cow horn.  The sidelines were packed with people and some even climbed trees and pickup trucks to get a better view. Overall, it was great to experience a sports game here in Tanzania and I hope to get back to the pitch again soon.

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