Features

Face to face with Wild Dogs

THE author (middle) with Chipolopolo midfielders Salulani Phiri (left) and Rainford Kalaba at Osvaldo Vieira International Airport in Guinea-Bissau.

Travelogue:
ROBINSON KUNDA, Lusaka
WHEN you land at Osvaldo Vieira, which is the only international airport in Guinea-Bissau, you will be greeted by humidity with high temperatures sometimes surpassing 40 Degrees Celsius.
Then you will see old buildings in its old city centre built by the Portuguese, who colonised the country in the 19th century.
To date, Portuguese is the national language spoken in almost all parts of this country, which ranks among the poorest in the world.
It is a tropical country on West Africa’s Atlantic coast and borders with Senegal on the North and its population is estimated at 1.9 million.
After attaining independence in 1973, and recognised in 1974, the name of its capital, Bissau, was added to the country’s name to prevent confusion with Guinea (formerly French Guinea).
Guinea-Bissau has a history of political instability since independence, and no elected president has successfully served a full five-year term yet.
However, the people of Guinea-Bissau are quiet friendly.
Unlike many countries that are dominated by Islam in West Africa, the main religion in Guinea Bissau is Christianity, mainly Catholics because of the country having been colonised by Portugal.
The journey to Guinea Bissau to watch the 2019 Africa Cup qualifier between the Djurtus (wild dogs), as the Guinea-Bissau national football team is fondly called by its supporters and the Zambia national team, took us about eight hours on a chartered plane.
We spent four hours from Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka to Douala International Airport in Cameroon where the plane landed to refuel and we embarked on another four-hour journey from Douala to Guinea-Bissau but due to bad weather, the journey took a bit longer.
Eventually we landed at Osvaldo Vieira International Airport around 05:00 hours local time (07:00hrs Zambian time).
Zambia Sports Fans Association (ZASPOFA) patron Peter Makembo collected the passports from the 125 soccer fans who were on the plane for immigration clearance purposes.
The moment we walked out of the terminal, we were greeted by scotching heat and most people suddenly started sweating profusely. The temperature was as high as 30 degrees Celsius yet it was only in the morning.
Then there was tall grass just a few metres from the airport premises but what shocked most of the soccer fans was the heavy presence of stray dogs of different breeds within the airport premises, ranging from German shepherds to mongrels.
For those who hate dogs, it was not a safe place.
Osvaldo Vieira may be just one of the few international airports in the world where one would find a number of dogs roaming around.
As we waited for the pick-up transport that Pastor Makembo had organised, some fans disappeared into the nearby compound only to emerge a few minutes later carrying assorted types of beers. There were bars within the airport vicinity.
Soon, a convoy of eight yellow minibuses arrived and we embarked on a 25kilometre journey to Azalai Hotel, where we had lunch as we waited for the match to kick off at 16:00 hours (18:00hours Zambian time).
Throughout the journey, we never saw traffic lights but the drivers had to make several stops to allow either pigs or cows to cross the roads.
We could also see rice fields almost everywhere since most of the area is watery.
By the way, rice is a staple food in Guinea-Bissau.
The old models of the respected German car Benz are the common taxis found on the streets.
Goats, pigs and cows also roam the roads freely and they could be seen criss-crossing the streets in town centre.
Those who love goat meat did not miss anything, it was readily available and nicely prepared.
After our lunch, we took off for the stadium and Bissau-Guineans lined up the streets shouting Guinea Bissau two, Zambia zero. They were almost correct in their prediction; the match ended 2-1 in favour of the home side.
At the stadium, Makembo and his team stole the limelight with their drums and the parked 24 September National Stadium went completely quiet when Justin Shonga scored from a free-kick,14 minutes into the match, to put Zambia ahead.
The situation in the stadium was tense with the home fans at times hurling assorted objects onto the pitch, thanks to the many Zambians that travelled for giving the Chipolopolo courage. However, Guinea-Bissau fought back and scored two second-half goals through Toni Silva and Piqueti Brito to carry the day.
After the match, we needed to rush back to the airport but the journalists asked Makembo to give them time to conduct interviews and attend the press briefings.
Chipolopolo coach Sven Vandenbroeck came for the briefing but his counterpart Bacero Cande could not make it as he was still recovering having fainted when the final whistle was blown due to excitement.
Finally, we went back to the airport in readiness for departure back to Lusaka and surprisingly, it was an easy entry into the boarding lounge. I expected the normal airport security checks but there was nothing. Some soccer fans easily smuggled bottles of beer which they had bought from the nearby compounds into the plane.
Around midnight, the plane was in the sky again, we landed in Cameroon for refuelling before connecting to Lusaka.
We arrived at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport around 11:00 hours and the plane carrying the national team and some fans followed an hour later.
What a journey it was.



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