Within five minutes of meeting me, people usually know that I love Duke and Duke basketball. I can’t help it – my love for sports, and for my alma mater, are deep and I have an irresistable urge to share it with every person I meet.
I’m also an almost rabid fan of the Indiana Pacers, Indianapolis Colts, and Indiana University basketball. Sports is a major part of my life – both in terms of taking up a large part of my time when I’m in the US, and in terms of my identity.
So when I realized that my dream of being in the Peace Corps was going to conflict with my ability to follow not only my favorite teams, but sports in general, I had to take several calming breaths while re-watching SportsCenter for the third time that day.
While being in Benin, I have not followed my teams nearly as much as I would like. But I’ve had the fortune to follow them a bit. Last year, I got to see the home Duke-UNC game at the workstation, back when ESPN still had service in Africa. I got to see twenty minutes of a Pacers game. I saw a grand total of 2 hours of March Madness games (though sadly none of them were Duke, though since we didn’t do well that may be for the best).
This year, I WENT TO A GAME IN CAMERON BECAUSE MY BOYFRIEND IS AMAZING. I will not apologize for the all-caps in that statement, because watching a game in Cameron is like nothing else, but when you’ve been basically starved for all sports, it’s a bit like having been stuck on a desert island and suddenly the cast and crew of Top Chef turn up to make you a gourmet meal which you then get to eat with Padma and Anthony Bourdain. On New Years Eve, I was able to watch a RANKED Duke football team (you read that correctly. Football) play in a bowl game. I saw the first ten minutes and (some of) last ten minutes of the Colts playoff thriller while in the Indianapolis and Detroit airports.
And last night, I was sort of able to watch the Duke-Syracuse game that is an instant classic. The streaming site I had was slow and the video was so patchy I missed a lot of the first half, but I could hear the ESPN announcers and I saw, if somewhat haltingly, most of the second half and overtime.
That I can tell you about every basketball game I’ve seen while here is not unusual for me, because basketball is my second religion. But the fact that I can do so in only a few paragraphs is testament to how difficult it can be to be a sports fan in a country that doesn’t understand the sports you like and doesn’t have quick internet access.
Being in Benin has forced me to become much more zen about my sports passions. Because I can no longer read souting reports, and watch every game, and watch replays of certain possessions or opponents or players, I can take a much more long-term view of my teams. So the fact that the Colts lost in the second round of the playoffs doesn’t bother me because I’m able to look at our season as a whole, and the direction we’re headed for next season and the next five years.
But it also makes me focus on details, because I get so few of them. I will remember commentary from a game recap I read back in November, though the game and the commentary may not have said anything important or even still relevant, it’s a major force in shaping my opinion about the team. I miss things, especially trades and pop culture moments, like the Seahawks player who gave a crazy post-game interview or something. And I miss entire teams turning around. I found out today that apparently UVA’s basketball team is good? Total surprise.
Being a basketball and American football team in Benin is tough. Heck, being a soccer fan in Benin is tough when there is no longer a bar in your village so you have to leave village to watch international matches. (We’ll see how this goes during the World Cup).
But my love of sports runs deep and provides a link to home, a link to my American self. So if it means staying up till four in the morning to watch a grainy, halting online stream of a game, I’ll be there.