Bon­jour! Lib­er­ated in Libreville

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - Njab­ulo Ngidi

IBLAME it on my up­bring­ing. Ev­ery time I go out, I check my pock­ets to see if any­thing gives away what’s in­side. I grew up in Dur­ban, Inanda to be spe­cific, at a time when you never an­swered your phone any­where and only the brave would walk around wear­ing head­phones be­cause that’s the last thing they would do with their phone be­fore it is “ex­pro­pri­ated”. Only the fool­hardy used those long pas­sages. The smart took the long route be­cause they would get there with all their be­long­ings in­tact.

I walked around Libreville with that mind­set, con­stantly check­ing my sur­round­ings as I ex­plored this city. It’s in me now and I doubt if any­thing will change that. But there was no dan­ger in this re­laxed place. I shuf­fled be­hind one woman, do­ing that dance where you try to go one way and the other per­son goes that way too and you re­peat that act a cou­ple of times. She was car­ry­ing a hand­bag and pulling a large bag. Not only did she not look back, she didn’t even clutch at her hand­bag tightly.

I walked the streets of Libreville at night without any threat or worry. After the games in Port-Gen­til, I saw peo­ple walk­ing al­most 10km at 11pm back to their homes. I re­alised then that I have to leave my para­noia be­hind.

Mandela, crime and Aids – in that or­der, is what South Africa is mostly fa­mous for in these parts. A lot of the vol­un­teers at both the venues I have been to, Stade de l’Ami­tie and Stade Port-Gen­til, have been to South Africa. They spoke about its beauty and crime.

Our trans­la­tor, who stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg, told me he was mugged at the Nel­son Mandela Bridge, which con­nects New­town with Braam­fontein, so many times he’s lost count.

But the one thing that touched me most was that many of the lo­cals I had ex­changes with un­der­stood a bit of isiZulu and isiXhosa. And here I am not able to even con­struct a sen­tence in French. I only found out about Fang, the most spo­ken Gabonese lan­guage, when I was re­search­ing about the coun­try be­fore my trip here.

I have al­ways known that we South Africans are in­su­lar, hardly look­ing at any­thing that hap­pens be­yond Lim­popo. To us, no life ex­ists there. That’s why we speak about go­ing out­side the South African bor­ders and into other parts of the con­ti­nent like it’s sign­ing your death wish.

“Make sure you’re safe,” is a state­ment from family and friends as you leave with a pass­port. One of the vol­un­teers here, in his soft-spo­ken man­ner, gave me a dress­ing down I will never for­get. He asked me why I can’t speak French, one of the most widely spo­ken lan­guages on the con­ti­nent. I mut­tered some­thing about where I come from. He said the prob­lem is that English­s­peak­ing Africans are spoilt by those who speak French and can also un­der­stand English.

It re­minded me of the first time I ar­rived in Joburg. I could only speak isiZulu and when some­one re­sponded in another lan­guage, I would still use my lan­guage un­til they changed. Back then it was be­cause I couldn’t un­der­stand nor speak any other lan­guage. I still do it be­cause I am spoilt. I know they’ll change to isiZulu. Damn! I should be more open-minded. That’s why I in­tend to learn French this year and if some­one speaks to me in Setswana, I’ll re­spond in my bro­ken ver­sion of it.

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