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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Unearthing the Real Passion Behind 2010 World Cup Games

As all eyes turn toward South Africa and the 2010 World Cup, Chimurenga and the Chinua Achebe Center have sent fourteen prominent writers, among them Chris Abani and Alain Mabanckou, on a guided pilgrimage to thirteen cities in Africa (and Salvador do Bahia). Their experiences will be published as travelogues.


Here is a post by Nigerian writer Chris Abani:

For Chris Akunda
Posted by Chris Abani on 3 July 2010

The light is brittle from the floodlights, the night colder than any African night should be, the Vuvuzelas are blaring at full volume, and Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg is a riot of color as the fans arrive giving the stands the look of a bedazzled sweater. The game is the US versus Slovenia and the South African fans are torn between supporting the USA, who they love and Slovenia who are the underdogs in the game.
Seated in the stands among the screaming fans is Eric Akunda a Kenya-born US citizen. Like so many fans from around the world, Eric has come to watch the world cup, but unlike many of the other fans, he is on a special mission. He is here to make his son’s dreams come true in a most unusual but heartbreakingly beautiful way.

Chris Akunda, Eric’s son, was not only a devoted fan of the game who had been saving up for a long time to come to the world cup with his father. Chris played soccer too, and spent hours on YouTube watching clips of soccer games from all over the world, looking for what he described as, “sick moves to put on his opponents during games.” Chris played soccer diligently, and when not on the actual field, or on YouTube soaking up moves, he played Playstation FIFA World Cup games.
He was a 7th grader at Hamilton Southeastern Junior High in Indiana and he excelled at school, math and a love of writing standing shoulder to shoulder with his love for soccer. But he also played basketball and the piano. A member of the Fishers Soccer Club, a non-profit that funded a league for under 13 players across the United States, Chris was also part of the Indiana Soccer Olympic Development Program since he was nine, having started playing soccer at four.

Chris had been playing in the Coca Cola Classic Soccer Tournament in Greenwood Indiana on the 6th of June, when he collapsed on the field, and was taken to the ER. He died some hours later from a congenital heart condition that had gone undiagnosed. He was 12.
Soccer was a religion for Chris. He was, as his father Eric told me, a crazy soccer fan who understood the game so scientifically and intimately that he had followed soccer players long before they became stars, often predicting to his father who they would become, and every prediction he made about the players who would have career defining moments from Spain, Argentina and even the US are all coming true. His expertise even included a deep knowledge of the referees and who would be a bad draw for a particular team. Every prediction he made for the World Cup as far as best player, highest goal averages, is coming true. It also turns out, Eric tells me, that Chris taught him everything he knew about the current state of the game.

Chris’s parents, Eric and Jacqueline Akunda, who were ardent fans and supporters of their son, took time off work to take him to games and tournaments. And although they didn’t tell me this, I suspect that their decision to give up the safety of paid jobs to begin their own solar energy company might have been partly motivated by the need and desire to give Chris more of their time and attention.
To honor their son’s desire, Eric brought Chris’ cremated remains to South Africa, and he takes Chris’s remains to the games he attends. When I spoke to Eric, he and Chris had been to three games, and intended to go to as many more as he could manage.

With a voice full of grief balanced with a grace I cannot even begin to summon, Eric told me: it was a privilege to have Chris through our lives.

This moving story, in the midst of the world cup controversies and excitements reminded this writer not only of the deeply human aspects to gatherings like this, but of the deep generosity of Africa and her children.

Send your sympathies to Chris Akunda’s family at http://www.chrisakunda.com/

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