We aren’t doing the “please pose for photos” thing, like most tourists would probably tend to do with the Maasai. They seemed to be quite intrigued by The Ball and why we’re filming it in all kinds of crazy locations. There is often a real conflict here generated by the tourist thing that people do — trundling in with their cameras, have the locals pose for pictures and then trundling off again.
We weren’t expecting them to warm to us as they have done. The first day we were here in Longido, the Maasai kept their distance. It was the locals who were playing with us. The Maasai appear to be cautious people. But we can understand their caution. Perhaps they saw that we are here to have fun. And they understand this. We are not parachuting in and trying to come to terms with and understand their culture in a matter of hours. That is simply not possible. We don’t have the time to do a proper ethnography or cultural study. And this is not our mission anyway.
We have brought something tangible, something unique and something magical to them. They took their time in the first few days of our visit. They sussed us and our strange ball out. It has been a lovely introduction to Tanzania. This has been really special arriving here incognito. And still the spirit of The Ball shines through.
The more I think about it. The more respect I have for the Maasai. They have greeted us with friendship and not with “one picture 10 dollars, come on my tour.” They have just invited us into their homes and invited us to play football with them and helped us to kick The Ball onwards to South Africa and done so with a real spirit. The Spirit of Football perhaps.
Kalyibu, from the Maasai Boma tribe invites us to visit his village, just outside of Longido.
The Maasai here have upheld their traditional beliefs: They wear their traditional clothes, pierce their ears as they have for centuries (ear lobes are so large they can wrap them around the tops of their ears) and they still live very simply in thatched huts surrounded by their animals.
As we move towards the Boma we meet many Maasai who are eager to touch The Ball. The Maasai appear to be a tribe full of goalkeepers as they are very keen to throw The Ball around and not so good on the ground.
After a few yellow cards are dealt out by Christian for handball, perhaps realising that they are on the brink of being sent off, they begin to pass The Ball around with their feet and relish this new experience. Eventually we arrive at the village and its time for a game of football. It’s suggested that the cows, goats and donkeys can play too but they seem quite shy.
Andrew fires The Ball past the Maasai goalkeeper at the entrance (goal) to the village and everyone enters. The Ball is kicked into a hut, where a stew is on the boil.
The Ball seems to hold an almost mystical value to the tribes’ people: children and adults alike want to touch it and kick it and every single one of them signs it. As we leave the village, we have forgotten something very special. The Ball!! They run after us and hand The Ball back.
We feel honoured to have been guests of Maasai. We’ve won again and The Ball rolls ever on.
I’ve supported Liverpool my whole life. Angie, my mum, grew up on Anfield Road in Liverpool. How could I support any other team? And in my childhood Liverpool were the kings of Europe and utterly dominant in the old English First Division with Kevin Keegan, King Kenny and (the now mind-blowingly dull) Alan Hansen. But we’ve not won the league for 20 years and our arch rivals have dominated. Like most Liverpool fans, I am expecting us to win the first Europa League title as we settle down in front of the big screen in Longido, Tanzania to watch the semi-final live from Anfield.
As I’ve travelled with The Ball (Tanzania being the 24th country en route to the World Cup) I’ve met hundreds of Liverpool fans. And, unfortunately, many more Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea fans. Africans love their Premiership football. Just about everybody wears a fake jersey of the club team in England that they follow passionately and the first question is almost always “which English team do you support?”. And, to our amazement, we’ve stumbled across live Premiership and European club football in some of the most out of the way places. Longido is a prime example.
We are the only Europeans in town. The locals are mixed between the indiginous Maasai and new arrivals from the rest of Tanzania. The population numbers a few thousand. Football, once more, is a unifying force. Live football in Longido means one place: a bar with a projector, a large screen, a mixed crowd and Kilimanjaro beer. We’ve won again. Last night we watched Inter hang on against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Julio Cesar, who signed The Ball in February, was once again the star of the game. And tonight, the locals are hungry to see more live football. And so am I. Its another huge European night at Anfield. Come on Liverpool!
Ahhh, its not to be our night. Babel misfires. Gerrard is a shadow of his former self and Benitez confuses once more with his strange substitutions. I am left frustrated. My team is out. The club goes deeper into crisis. But life goes on even though in the moment I can’t imagine it. Liverpool is out.
Tonight, in Longido, I am walking alone.
Alliy invites us to join his football training session. They are preparing for their big May-day football game at the weekend. Andrew joins in while Christian juggles on the sidelines with kids too young/small to play in the game.
The Ball is played with for the first 10 minutes but it is deemed too flat and is traded for another football.
The other football pops after striking a thorn on the sidelines and The Ball is called back into action.
The practice session lasts long past the point where it’s possible to see the ball, but no-one seems to mind.
The Mondo Challenge Foundation crew whizz into town: They are on a mission. Their uniforms, bright yellow polo shirts, are the first thing that we see. Mondo’s Director, Anthony Lunch takes charge: ordering food, sending a messenger running to find Mr. Alliy and organising a kick-about on the street with locals from a Maasai tribe. It’s a feverish pace.
We are glad to see how motivated Mondo’s Directors are and we find out about the projects they are funding. Anthony tells us about Mondo’s hectic schedule — meetings this morning in Longido, this afternoon and tomorrow in Arusha and the following days in Moshi at the foot of Kilimanjaro… then back to the UK. A whirlwind tour. They have no time to waste and are incredibly precise about the money they invest and the return on that investment in terms of quality of help. And before we can blink (or even snap a photo of them) they are off again.
Alliy Mwako arrives, beaming a huge smile, and makes us feel most welcome. He immediately understands what The Ball is about and begins to suggest an itinerary. We’ll stay in his guest house and play football this evening. The biggest bonus for Andrew -– Alliy’s a fervent Liverpool fan too.
All this action is foreign to this sleepy, out of the way corner of the world, tucked in at the foot of idyllic, tree-covered Mt Longido, not far from the Kenyan border. The view of the more distant Mt Meru is spectacular.
Unusually, the people here leave us alone. We’re not being inundated with requests. No one is trying to sell us paintings or phone cards or children’s shoes or even shoe polish. Instead, we are looked at, stared at even… who are these guys? What about that ball full of signatures? Perhaps suspicions have been aroused. We are keen to find out more about this town.