No sign of Kilimanjaro. The famous mountain is out of view for the duration of our stay in Tanzania. This is common here in May. It’s winter time and visibility is poor. The Ball is here, but Kilimanjaro doesn’t appear to be.
One last chance… we board the Precision Air sponsored flight to Dar es Salaam via Zanzibar at Kilimanjaro International Airport. Will we win again? We hope so. Alas, even miles above ground, there is no sight of Africa’s highest peak. We’re just surrounded by cloud.
Anyway, thoughts turn elsewhere during the flight. Andrew hasn’t seen his girlfriend for months and she’s come to visit The Ball for the Tanzanian leg. Christian’s excited for other reasons – he’s looking forward to his first cavalcade with The Ball and what looks like being one of most outrageous series of events planned for The Ball yet.
DHL’s Managing Director Blaise de Souza is there to greet The Ball on the runway and a scrum of media are there too. We’re led through to a waiting crowd. It sounds like pandemonium out there. Andrew and his girlfriend Jessica embrace.
Tanzanian poet and musical superstar Mpoto greets The Ball at the airport. A large crowd outside of the terminal is entertained by drummers beating out rhythms of life while dancers shake their booty in true African style to some outrageously good Congolese tunes. The Ball is led to a truck endowed with a massive “The Ball is Here” sign in the green and white of sponsor Zantel.
Christian and Andrew climb on board as the truck is led off by 6 DHL motorcycle outriders and followed closely behind by baton-wielding policemen in a 4×4 with sirens blaring. People lining the streets recognise Mpoto, who is known for his socially conscious poetry. Some look at us confused or smile in amusement, others wave frantically, some dance wildly.
Christian can hardly believe his eyes and ears — this isn’t anything like previous trips that The Ball has made.
Two sweaty, stinky, happy vagabonds holding a ball (yep, you guessed it, The Ball) are on the back of a moving truck, surrounded by dancing Special Olympics volunteer girls and SO athletes, led by a gendarmerie on a motorcycle, siren blaring away, and followed by 10 bright yellow DHL vehicles. It is a sight for sore eyes…
…and a sound for dancing ears as an excellent DJ is cranking out super tunes on the rather large sound-system on the truck and, as we pass, bystanders are getting into it — dancing and waving. The Special Olympics athletes are absolutely made up. So are we. What a great time. What a great idea! A cavalcade through the streets of Abidjan from street to stadium, from the airport to downtown, from slum to high-rise. This snaking cavalcade of fun has a morning of visits through the streets of Abidjan and a Unified Football event to get to. Let’s go.
At our first stop we meet with Côte d’Ivoire’s most famous footballer of all time: Laurent Pokou who is even more famous and highly regarded in Côte d’Ivoire than current Chelsea star Didier Drogba. Pokou was twice the highest goalscorer of the Africa Cup of Nations and was voted the best African player of the twentieth century. He is all smiles as he juggles The Ball with Phil and children. Laurent has paid for the cavalcade. He loves this ball.
We process through 5 of Abidjan’s 10 districts and in each we stop to meet the mayor and various dignitaries for a quick hello and a hand over of footballs and football shirts from SO turning up at an event, where the Minister of Sport is awaiting The Ball. He addresses a large crowd and mentions The Ball as a unifying factor. After he has headed it and signed it we are off again.
Our final destination is a Special Olympics unified football event, where Andrew is a super-sub, coming off the bench to score a cracking left-foot goal. 20 minutes of football later, he collapses in a heap on the ground, unable to move any more in the sweltering heat.