Wait­ing on wait­ers in Li­bre­ville

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - Njab­ulo Ngidi

ISPENT my last hours in Gabon in a place that be­came a sec­ond home while in Li­bre­ville – Rivoli. It was a re­fresh­ing sight af­ter en­dur­ing a rain-filled day in Port-Gen­til. It’s the rainy sea­son in that part of the world. Their year is sep­a­rated by the rainy sea­son and the dry sea­son – not this con­cept of win­ter, sum­mer, spring and au­tumn. It’s ei­ther hot or hot with rain. Rivoli is a mod­est es­tab­lish­ment that sells freshly-made pizza, a chicken stew that will re­mind you of your grand­mother’s and their fa­mous chilli pep­per, which I took home with me amongst other things. This es­tab­lish­ment be­came our hang­out of choice for the night games of the Africa Cup of Na­tions that were played in Franceville and Oyem. We would watch the early evening games in our ho­tel rooms and then pro­ceed to Rivoli for sup­per and late nigh foot­ball.

That’s where a French­man had the au­dac­ity to ask for the chan­nel to be changed to a Ligue 1 match from an Af­con game that was be­ing watched by ev­ery­one there.

If that French­man had asked the owner, I am sure she would have gladly changed the chan­nel.

The most se­nior mem­ber of our crew, Daily Sun sports ed­i­tor, Mathews Mpete, be­came our spokesper­son and man­aged to have the chan­nel switched to the Gabon v Cameroon game. I thought it bizarre that any self-re­spect­ing Gabonese wouldn’t want to watch the game. The Pan­thers, af­ter all, were on the cusp of be­com­ing the first hosts to crash out in the group stage of the Af­con since Tu­nisia did so in 1994.

Min­utes into the match, I un­der­stood why she didn’t want to show foot­ball. The staff quickly con­gre­gated in front of the TV and left the pa­trons to fend for them­selves, dash­ing back to the TV af­ter serv­ing the food. The usual “are you still fine?” rounds were scrapped. We had to raise our voices to get our drinks. The mood was lively at first as the Pan­thers started brightly.

Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang’s miss of a sim­ple tap-in stunned ev­ery­one in­side.

The two Cameroo­ni­ans in the restau­rant’s staff were the most cheer­ful. We even saw a huge smile from a wait­ress who seemed con­stantly grumpy on all the nights we spent there. It was dif­fi­cult to pin­point if she was happy be­cause she is Cameroo­nian or be­cause she saw the waiter she fought with on our first day there, dis­tressed at the sight of Gabon strug­gling. I could make out the two who backed the In­domitable Lions be­cause they were wear­ing sweat­bands with the colours of Cameroon.

The pair cel­e­brated goal­keeper Fabrice On­doa’s save that took the In­domitable Lions to the quar­ter-fi­nals. Even though I had to work ex­tra hard to get my drink, I didn’t mind be­cause the sight of the em­ploy­ees say­ing “screw work, our na­tional team is play­ing” was beau­ti­ful. Sadly for them that would be the last time they watched their coun­try in this tour­na­ment. But that won’t be the last time the staff squeezes in watch­ing the Af­con while at work. They did that in all the other matches. It’s just that when their team was play­ing, they weren’t coy about it.

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