Rio de Janeiro, July 13, 2014 - it feels like an unreal dream that I am on my way to the Final of the 2014 Football World Cup, cheering for my country’s national team as they take on Argentina. I was a young boy when the two countries last met in a World Cup Final in 1990 and I remember the exuberant excitement after Germany won through a late penalty. It would be a dream come true if after 200 days and 45,000km of driving around the World from Africa to Brazil, Germany would lift the trophy again.
Rio de Janeiro is completely booked out and we spent last night in a small town around 50km outside. Early in the morning, we drive to Rio and I feel thrilled at the sight of Rio's splendid panorama in the golden morning sun – the glorious white sandy beaches, iconic Sugarloaf and throning high above on Corcovado Mountain the Christ Statue.
Our first stop is the FIFA ticket center where we pick up our tickets for the Final. Outside, a huge crowd has gathered, Argentinean and German football fans hoping to find someone who will sell them a ticket to the Final. A group of Argentineans has driven the 2800km from Buenos Aires to Rio, non-stop for the past 48 hours, their car is covered in blue & white Argentinean flags.
Some Germans spontaneously decided yesterday to fly to Rio, just to be here on this day, with only a faint hope to get a ticket as the Final has been sold out for many months. One of the Argentineans offers me 4000 US$ for my ticket, but I decline – there is no money in the world that could buy the emotions with which I look forward to this match.
We have a couple of hours until the match and drive to Copacabana, the epicenter of the World Cup frenzy. Covered with all the flags of the countries we passed through on our journey, now complemented with a large German banner, Pele inevitably draws attention. Smiling people wave at us while motorists constantly honk and show their thumbs up as we pass them. Since the memorable Semi-Final, I have spoken to many Brazilians and while they feel extremely dejected by their team's performance, they all congratulate me on the German team and tell me that they want Germany to win against Argentina, the arch rival. Argentina winning the World Cup on Brazilian soil would be the Brazilians' collective worst nightmare come true and only Germany stands in between this happening. Therefore, many Brazilians today wear Germany shirts and display German flags.
Copacabana is already heaving with activity and excitement. Argentinean colors and flags clearly dominate and outnumber Germay's – it feels as if the entire population of Buenos Aires has temporarily emigrated to Rio de Janeiro. Many have brought instruments and large groups gather everywhere in wild drumming, chanting and dancing.
Time to head to Maracana – more frenetic singing in the packed metro and on the pathways to the stadium, we have to pass several security and ticket controls until finally we have made it. We are in the block of German supporters who are trying to counter the mighty Argentinean crowd in cheering on the German team throughout the match. A very different match to the one against Brazil which had been decided after half an hour – Argentina is the more agile team and there are several heart-stopping moments when they seem to be certain to score. After 90 minutes, I feel exhausted from the tension and twenty minutes later, I have resigned to the match being decided through dreaded penalties. Then suddenly out of nowhere – Goooooooooooooooooooooool! Tension released, people who have never met before fall into each other's arms, cheering, screaming and jumping with uncontrolled joy. Agonizing ten minutes later, the referee blows the final whistle and exhausted German fans are cheering and singing their hearts out. The dream has come true - the ultimate ending to the "Africa to Brazil" journey.
Later that evening, I am back at crowded Copacabana beach where Germans, Argentineans and Brazilians peacefully celebrate together. I sit down at a quiet part of the beach and look out into the waves and up to the illuminated Christ Statue with its arms spread out to welcome the World.
This is how Brazilians have made their visitors feel welcome at this biggest show on earth. Few Brazilians speak English but they make up for this with their jovial nature and genuine joy and friendliness. With music everywhere, life in Brazil seems to be a continuous song and dance. Brazil is doing very well economically and there is close to full employment – here, house helps choose their employer rather than the other way around. Nevertheless, even Brazil has grave problems. During the World Cup, its violent crime was well hidden through a massive police presence, but the peoples' disgust with the corruption in their government came out in almost every conversation I had. However, what unites Brazilians is their enormous pride and what impresses me most about Brazil is its tolerance, the way Brazilians accept and embrace their differences. Brazil is a true melting pot with all shades of skin colors, a broad freedom to express oneself and an absence of tribalism - Brazilians simply look at each other as fellow Brazilians.
My thoughts are trailing beyond Brazil and memories from the past eight months are flooding my head. This journey has brought me to places and cultures I had never heard of before. It has allowed me a glimpse at the stunning beauty of our planet and the incredible diversity of humanity. One thing it has taught me is humility. I have crossed many countries that have seen countless empires come and go and which today are governed by big men who are revered as semi-gods. Yet, few of them are known outside their countries and even if they have iron-fistedly ruled for decades, this is just a tiny span of time in the face of history. Only a handful of strong men such as Ghingis Khan or Alexander the Great are known beyond their millenia and even the mightiest Empires have crumbled within relatively short periods. Thus, this journey for me has brought to life the futility of seeking power as an end in itself. I would hope that our politicians in Kenya and elsewhere embrace this humility and recognize that however important and powerful they may be here and now, this is irrelevant in the face of time unless they use of this power for the benefit of the people they lead.
Our primary goal has been to travel from Africa to Brazil, but there is an equally if not more important goal that we hope to accomplish through this journey — giving bright but less fortunate Kenyan kids an opportunity to also live their dreams, through completing their high school education. if you have enjoyed the stories from our journey over the last eight months, i would appreciate if you support this cause with a donation, however big or small. i pledge to match each of your donations with an equal amount donated by myself.