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TALE OF SOCCER BALLS ILLUSTRATES VILLAGE'S OBSESSION--AND ITS NEED

August 27, 2007 12:35 am

BY FRANK DELANO

ACCRA, Ghana--As a result of this e-mail conversation with Acquah, one American football was in the 39-pound duffel bag of gifts that my son Nathaniel and I took to Africa in July.

Nathaniel, 18, and Acquah's 19-year-old son David were soon throwing it to each other on the street outside our hotel in Accra, capital of this soccer-obsessed nation.

In Prince's Town, Nathaniel, David and other boys played soccer every day on the pitch in the center of town.

"The games were really intense," Nathaniel said. "Kids in Ghana start playing the game as soon as they can run, but once I got used to the level of contact, I had a lot of fun."

Like everyone else in the world except Americans, Ghanaians call the sport football. Hundreds of fans watch the practices of their favorite teams. Multitudes turn out for games.

The whole country came to a standstill last year when Ghana's national team played in the World Cup. The Black Stars were the only African team to make it through the second round.

Joyous celebrations greeted Ghana's 2-1 victory over the United States. Ghanaians now delight in reminding Americans that the first goal against the U.S. was scored in the game's first 40 seconds, a World Cup record.

"Next time, the score will be Ghana 4--U.S. nil," a policeman said to me beside our car at a highway check-point. I put both hands over my ears at the thought of such disgrace. He laughed and waved us on our way.

The gift bag was full of T-shirts, calculators, cups, key chains, Frisbee-like discs and other Fredericksburg souvenirs donated by City Hall, the Fredericksburg School Board and The Free Lance-Star.

Acquah said later that there were enough souvenirs in the bag to give one to each family in town.

We presented the gifts to Prince's Town Chief Nana Kundumuah IV at an official celebration attended by hundreds of people July 11. They cheered every T-shirt.

Pandemonium erupted when I tossed one of the flying discs to the children in the crowd. They all jumped up from their seats on the ground and scrambled after it. The adults dismantled the pile-on of children and restored order.

But the biggest cheer came when I held up the two soccer balls I had bought in Accra at Bikama Enterprise, "Dealers in Fashionable Sport Ware, Equipment & Stationery."

I had quickly learned from the shopkeeper that outfitting two Prince's Town football teams was out of reach. He said it would cost about 20 cedis ($20) to buy one uniform, or $880 to dress the 44 players.

I couldn't afford that, so I bought the two balls at 13 cedis each.

Everyone in Prince's Town seemed to know about the balls as soon as we arrived.

We shared a house with some teachers. Early on our second morning in town, one of the teachers pleaded with me for the balls.

He said that some American students had come to Prince's Town last year to see a total eclipse of the sun.

They had brought a minisoccer ball with them and played a friendly game with the locals between the bamboo goals on the sandy field in the middle of town. When they left town after the eclipse, the Americans gave the ball to the school.

"Now the ball is worn out," said the teacher. "There is no money to buy a new ball. The school's PTA expects the government to provide everything. The PTA contributes nothing, the government not much more."

I told him that I would love to give the balls to the school, but I must give them to the chief. The chief would decide who got the balls.

On our last morning at Prince's Town, a delegation of a half dozen men arrived at our house to talk to our host Acquah, the president of the town's sister-city committee.

As usual, the meeting took place in the shade of the acacia tree in the yard. The discussion was entirely in Nzema. I didn't understand a word, but somehow I fathomed that they were talking about the balls.

When the men left, Acquah told me what happened. He said the delegation consisted of managers and players of the town's two football teams. They said their teams had no balls for practices or games. They needed them as badly as the school.

"Chief Nana has made a decision," Acquah said. "He's going to give one ball to the school and the other one to the teams."

Frank Delano: 804/333-3834
Email: fpdelano@gmail.com


"I want to bring some small gifts to the residents of Prince's Town when I come. Can you suggest some things that they might enjoy and find useful?" E-mail from Frank Delano to Alfred "Kaku" Acquah, May 13, 2007.

"To your information we have two football teams in PT so remember them in your gift."

--Acquah to Delano, May 19.

"What do you think the PT football teams might like? I'm not sure I can bring many footballs!"

--Delano to Acquah, May 21.

"The Football teams will appreciate anything ranging from football to jersey, any one you can afford to purchase."

--Acquah to Delano, May 22.

"Tell me more about PT's football teams I've looked at some Web sites that sell football uniforms, but I have no idea what I might order for the PT teams. I also doubt that I will be able to carry everything in my luggage Perhaps the best solution would be to buy some jerseys or balls when I get to Accra. Let me know what you think."

--Delano to Acquah, May 23.

"The football teams in PT have 22 players each and their ages range from 14 to 22 years. Since it is not properly organized they are yet to adopt colors, so I think for now any color will do. I agree that we buy what you can from Ghana to avoid clearing and freight charges."

--Acquah to Delano, May 23.

"Besides the soccer have you thought of bringing one America football for a try? That will be interesting and historic."

--Acquah to Delano, May 24.




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