Footballs and Love
Dawn was ideal racing conditions. Slight overcast, cool breeze, low humidity. Not what I expected before arriving here. It boded well for tomorrow’s start.
Until the heat hit. After a big breakfast, busses, scooters, 4x4s and walking had everyone at the local soccer stadium. En route, it was amusing watching the ever-vigilant constabulary pull over a VIP for not riding a scooter with a helmet. Ahem. One can’t afford to mess with the hair, darling. 😉
The local scout groups were in attendance, and after receiving the donated footballs each team had brought along, impromptu games broke out across the field as we waited for the procession. The scouts were intrigued by the racers, not really aware of what is to unfold this week, though after some explanation, wondered if they’d have the money to participate in such a sport. The scout leaders do have an active programme, mostly featuring hiking, orienteering and water sports, and teach the youth that life isn’t just about enjoyment, but hard work, discipline and service.
After the chickens had scarpered off the field, the procession began in earnest, led by a marching band, with one scout brandishing the banner for each team. With a serious police escort, the parade wound its way into the centre of town, before circling around to the large marquee that had been erected in front of the bike-building villa of yesterday, La Residence and seat of the Executive Council of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly. This is also adjacent to the Rodrigues Tourism Office, which is very convenient if you want to get things done on the island. We also arrived proper sticky - “perspiring” doesn’t cut it.
With a creole band playing, led by smartly dressed dancing couples, the teams filed in for the official presentation. The senior executive of Rodrigues, Chief Commissioner L.S. Clair, asked Heidi for an impromptu dance as the band grooved in the background. Dancing seems to be a thing here, hmm.
Heidi delivered the opening address, starting in native Creole, which the locals responded to warmly. The nerves out of the way, she embraced the islanders, their support and invaluable help, before celebrating all the first time expedition racers, the first-time visitors to Rodrigues (pretty much everyone racing bar one team), and gave a salute to the parents of Julien Samson, which left them tearful midst a raucous cheering.
Heidi celebrated the bravery of all volunteers, officials, supporters and teams for believing in them, for following her and Stephan to the island, and with a big laugh, said “you don’t know what’s about to hit you.” Could some of the caution from experienced teams be vindicated?
She also encouraged teams to embrace the local culture, dance, taste the beer, and if they spot media crew hiding in the bushes, when the teams are suffering, hurting, or just need a hug, to embrace the media too. Literally.
Speaking with passion, she closed with her message of It’s All About Love, prayed over the entire assembly, and ended with the theme of family, of Saffy’s “Brotherhood”, of the tribe. If we’re going to do anything, we should do it with love.
This clearly resonated with the Rodrigans, and the Commissioner’s message was no less loving. In fact, he should be the lead crooner in a jazz band, such is the silky smooth, liquid gold of his husky delivery. In a plain white T-shirt, slacks, and comfortable loafers, he doesn’t stand on ceremony, and after voicing kiss after kiss, asked if we could feel his love. The teams lapped it up – one couldn’t help but be beguiled. A sincere charmer of note.
The teams were then individually paraded to the audience, followed by singing, and then Stephan Muller got up to conduct the obligatory Q&A.
I’m now sitting under the blossoms of a peregrina tree, waiting for smoked marlin salad to arrive, so while I’d love to detail the content of that briefing, my stomach is calling. Au revoir!
Follow the action live from Sunday 1st on http://expafrica.live
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