Love in the Time of Fútbol Fever

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Exactly four summers ago, after a quick and unexpected turn of events set in motion by the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, I was in Bangladesh for a second round of wedding festivities.  Elders, cousins and new family who were unable to attend the first ceremony in the frigid Arctic North (i.e., Canada) celebrated with us and arranged a series of family feasts. Our families’ beloved matriarchs, who have now all passed on, joyously placed mehendi on our palms, slyly whispered jokes about sex and marriage, and piously recited prayers when their audiences requested them.

This was also the summer of World Cup 2010 when South Africa was hosting. It was when the whole world learned about the vuvuzela; when one of my new uncle-in-laws had Shakira’s “Waka Waka” uploaded as his ring tone; and when Spain’s team dominated on the field rather than in hilarious fútbol jokes on twitter.

That summer, as was to be expected this summer, Dhaka was covered in Argentinian and Brazilian colors. There was not an apartment building in Old Dhaka that did not have at least one flat proudly displaying a Brazilian or Argentinian flag.  Bangladeshis are diehard fans, and even though the teams to which they pledge their loyalty are probably not aware of their unwavering support (let alone where their own country of over 154 million souls was located) — they did not care.

Photo of Dhaka in 2010/Instagram @sanahungry

Such fútbol love is mad, and the madness of Bangladeshi summers alone could make one delirious enough to mistake love for hate — or hate for love.

As hot and humid as the capital is during the summer months, the city shut down electricity use during the day to avoid a shortage at night when people religiously gathered to watch the games.

The city’s wealthy who owned private generators managed to get on with their air conditioners continuously circulating cool air inside and radiating more heat and noise outside; the poor, as always, bore the heat of others’ excesses.

The thing is — fútbol fans, rich or poor, were serious about the games. So serious that even a wedding celebration getting in the way could be an offense. So serious that a photographer reported with exasperation that he had to shoot a wedding in which the groom insisted on setting up a large screen during the reception so that the game could be projected and he and his guests would be able to watch and not miss his wedding.

The bride had tears in her eyes but did not protest.

In spite of all this, my mother-in-law organized a gorgeous evening reception. The fresh red roses and classy white lilies adorning the hall were perfect; the mouthwatering kachchi biryani was fragrant and the lamb was tender to near perfection.

Being as detail-oriented as she is, my mother-in-law considered and planned for any and all possible mishaps. Contingency plans included things like bringing along another pair of shoes in case the first pair did not match and considering a switch of gold and blood red hand clutches if necessary.

My father-in-law knew his wife usually took into account every detail a normal human being might miss, so he rarely interfered in such affairs. There was, however, one thing on his mind.

It was, after all, the summer of another World Cup. The timing of the reception had to be just right. As a new father-in-law, he could not stand idly by and risk overlooking the fact of the ongoing games. Word has it that my father-in-law took it upon himself to ensure — and double and triple (and probably quadruple) check to confirm — that there would be no match during the reception. More than a mismatched pair of cute heels, that would have been embarrassing. My father-in-law was the unsung hero of the event.

That evening after the reception, as tradition would have it, I was taken for the first time to my sasurbari. Greeted at the door by new in-laws with sweets and cold drinks, we were escorted to our bedroom which was covered in more roses and lilies. After a few more photos, the bedroom soon emptied out and I was left alone to change and rest. Having fulfilled their obligations, the men quietly but quickly gathered in the guest room next door to begin watching a match which they were grateful for not having missed. With their shouts of panic and joy in the background, I soon fell asleep.

Being witness first-hand to fútbol fever in four countries and four years later reading a recent Time piece “You’ll Never Guess Where Some of the Most Fanatical Fans of Argentina and Brazil Soccer Teams Can be Found,” I must say — Your sensational headline is wrong again, Time. My first guess was absolutely correct.

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