Chaos and craziness as passionate Egyptians ready to host Afcon

21 June 2019 - 11:51 By Marc Strydom
Employees and security personnel are seen beside a drawing for tournament inside the Cairo International Stadium on June 19 2019 ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations opening match between Egypt and Zimbabwe in Cairo, Egypt.
Employees and security personnel are seen beside a drawing for tournament inside the Cairo International Stadium on June 19 2019 ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations opening match between Egypt and Zimbabwe in Cairo, Egypt.
Image: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Bless Egypt and its heart.

Troubled Egypt has the biggest of hearts and that is what will make the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations special and probably a classic.

Inevitably‚ when one finds oneself in a busy location‚ the first day will start crazy‚ just get crazier and end on a tangent of lunacy.

In Cairo‚ place of the pyramids of Giza‚ horse and donkey-drawn carts are oblivious to some of the world's most ridiculous traffic and drivers.

The site of Friday night's hugely anticipated Africa Nations Cup kickoff between Mohamed Salah and his host country against Zimbabwe at Cairo International Stadium is such a place.

Egypt can get a mediocre rap as a tourist destination but it is the world's oldest tourist destination.

Napoleon invaded it in 1798‚ he was the first modern tourist following the Romans and the Ottomans.

So there can be a perception of Egypt as a little overrated.

As if the pyramids were built there as a tourist trap to lure unsuspecting travellers into Cairo's markets to be haggled‚ it’s not overrated.

If you do one thing in your life‚ after you've manage to scale the steps to Macchu Pichu or penetrate the Cambodian jungle to view the ruins of Angkor Wat‚ get to Cairo.

Bless Cairo and bless Ehab, my Uber driver on the day of my arrival to temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius in a Saharan and Arabian mid-summer.

He was a welcome sight after paying too much for my first taxi from the airport to Cairo International Stadium to lug around a 12kg backpack and a smaller laptop bag looking for the accreditation centre.

In 2006‚ when Egypt were bidding with Morocco and South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup and had a lot of impressing to do‚ their organisation of that Nations Cup on home soil was super-slick.

In 2019‚ with no immediate World Cup to host and in the era of the Confederation of African Football's new‚ controversial Madagascan president Ahmad Ahmad‚ they stepped in for Cameroon as last-minute hosts of this tournament.

A day before Friday’s kickoff‚ there is no signage to the accreditation or media centre‚ which is located in a huge basketball court‚ and it had no WiFi‚ or if it did there was no one to help anyone access it.

Accreditation in 2006 took place in a plush conference centre but in 2019 it is in a rustic‚ small room buried somewhere in the basketball centre.

At least‚ as in 2006‚ and unlike the two-day scrums in Ghana in 2008‚ the process took a brisk 20 minutes by enthusiastic volunteers.

Bless too the tough economic times in SA‚ which have resulted in sports journalists being sent to cover the tournament on a small budget, if at all.

Day one was also the day when this reporter's laptop decided to begin posting a message on the screen stating that it needed repair.

As Bafana took in former Premier Soccer League referee Jerome Damon's match officiating presentation at their Novotel Airport Hotel and a team photo by the poolside‚ I was left swearing at the business centre's computers for being set in Arabic.

My phone died leaving the hotel and I stopped behind a palm tree to charge it on my now reset laptop which was one-and-a-half hour's IT achievement that I am decidedly proud of.

Stopping by the palm tree alerted the guards at the front gate who ran towards me with a bomb-sniffing dog.

My third Uber of the day was back to Cairo Stadium‚ to see if it was still possible to put my name down for match tickets for Friday night's opener, but the stadium was closed.

So my fourth Uber drive‚ still with the priceless Ehab‚ was to my budget hotel 30 kilometres from Bafana's in Giza, but navigation conveniently sent us to the wrong address in rush hour traffic.

When we arrived on the street next to what seemed to be a water plant or a factory‚ Google Maps told me that my hotel was in fact 15km, or about 47 minutes away in traffic, and I allowed myself some more swear words.

Lost in translation‚ Ehab seemed to think this was directed at him.

On the way to the correct destination‚ he pulled over to order some street food to cheer me up‚ the kind of chow that guide books always warn you not to eat to avoid getting sick.

I have no idea what I gulped down‚ but it seemed like spicy mince on a roll.

Finally‚ with the last turn into the street of my hotel in Giza‚ Ehab hit one of the motorbikes weaving through mad Cairo traffic.

No-one in this city drives at anything less than full throttle‚ braking only at the last moment.

In true Cairo fashion‚ there was some gesticulating and apologising between driver and rider in the street. Ehab rubbed his now scratched front-right bumper and life moved on.

Bless Egypt for a heart as big as Ehab's.

This Nations Cup‚ finally in a European off-season‚ has all its big-name players and the teams have all had good preparations.

Egyptians have a passionate approach to life and this translates into their love of football.

This Nations Cup is going to be an adventure.

Let it begin.