INSIDE AFCON 2019: Tales From Egypt – Part 1

CAIRO – Breaking news, having exclusive stories associated with our names and generally being a force for good are most journalists’ raison d’être but a journalist’s career can’t really be said to have been complete without the life-changing experience of covering and reporting from live events.

It is an immense privilege being in the thick of the action, experiencing a new culture, being a live witness to history, interacting with locals and the main actors as well as being the conduit for conveying the stories and shaping the narrative and that experience is one of the richest and most fulfilling a journalist can have.

I’d had my first taste of covering a big sporting event outside the shores of Nigeria when I covered the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana last year and like good old Oliver Twist, I wanted more, so imagine my barely contained excitement when I was informed by the boss that I’d be part of the three-man team – alongside himself and Johnson Chimaroke a.k.a Maroqs to the men’s version in Egypt.

By the way, the boss is none other than Kelechi Nkoro a.k.a The Watchdog but who, for the purposes of this diary will now be known henceforth as “Big JournalistTM” for reasons that will soon become clear.

Our journey to Egypt started as most journeys outside Nigeria do – from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (although when I informed my folks I’d be traveling to Egypt, naturally, they wanted to know if I’d be making the journey by bus just like I did when I traveled to Ghana. Hilarious).

We had a relatively smooth experience skipping past the numerous airport checks in Nigeria thanks in no small part to very interesting and what I must confess were pretty effective ‘tactics’ employed by Big JournalistTM.

L-R Maroqs, me, and Big JournalistTM

Our six-hour flight aboard Egypt Air on Wednesday (what better way to travel to a country other than on an eponymous carrier?) which we’d booked for our journey to and from the tournament was quite tranquil and made bearable by the fact that the three of us sat together.

Descending into the Cairo International Airport, one of the things that strikes the eye – for a Nigerian at least – is the expanse of bright lights that stretches as far as the eye can see. I’d flown into Lagos before and the difference couldn’t have been starker.

Getting our visa on arrival proved to be a bit tedious (Big JournalistTM couldn’t employ his tried and trusted, ahem, ‘tactics’ in Cairo) but we finally managed to get it sorted and finally stepped into the city where we were ushered into a waiting bus and zoomed off to our hotel.

Now, there are few things as frustrating as being driven about in a new city on your first visit by a driver who neither understands nor speaks English and since none of us was fluent in Arabic, we had to make do with a combination of sign language and the keywords of our requests (Big JournalistTM wanted us to stop for food and to use the ATM) spoken in pretty loud tones.

Quick Tip: if you ever find yourself in a similar situation be sure to remember this – sign language and keyword (bank, atm, hotel, stadium, eat food) are a lifesaver.

Driving through Cairo at night by past 11 pm and later when we went to search for food (Burgers and Chicken at a KFC) at past 12 am, we were struck by how lively the city was, the busy traffic and the large number people including entire families with their kids still up and about at that time and having spent two nights in Cairo, I can say this is a norm – life really begins here when the sun sets which perhaps is a function of the harsh daytime weather when humidity and temperatures can be really oppressive. There were even European style horse carriages on the streets which we made a mental note to explore soon.

Morning of Thursday, Big JournalistTM and myself departed our lodgings at the SemiRamis Intercontinental in downtown Cairo for the Cairo International Stadium to sort our accreditation. We left Maroqs behind to sort his equipment and join us later – oh, by the way, breakfast was sumptuous; a buffet of everything.

On our way to the stadium in a taxi (negotiated for through the time-tested sign language and keyword combo) I was struck by the lack of atmosphere which I felt was strange for a football-mad country like Egypt on the eve of Africa’s biggest football showpiece.

We passed through an underground tunnel – my very first experience of an underground highway and brethren we still dey learn for Naija sha. A visible feature of the city was the large number of white-uniformed police officers with black pistols hung snugly like a fashion accessory on their hips – a reminder of the police state that Egypt is.

We got to the stadium – a pretty impressive edifice with a cavernous underbelly – and immediately set about getting our accreditations. Mine was still having issues but Big JournalistTM got his without hassles and proudly showed me his tag: he’d been granted an all-access pass.

I smiled at that, he looked at me as said, “you think say I be small journalist? I be big journalist oo.” My gaze fell on his ample stomach and I thought to myself “indeed boss, indeed.”

With that, he was off to cover CAF president’s Ahmad Ahmad press conference after which we all then proceeded to the Cairo City Festival Mall for the launch of La Liga Space which had Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Morientes in attendance.

Brothers and sisters, if you think being driven around an unfamiliar town by a driver who doesn’t understand your language was frustrating, try ordering an Uber ride in Arabic. But the Holy Spirit sent us help from above and we were able to get back to the hotel after a long and very stressful day.

Dinner was the usual burgers and fizzy drinks and hopefully, the Special Grace of God junk food no go kill me for Cairo although things should get better when we move into our AirBnB apartment on Monday where Maroqs has been assigned chef duties.

Take a swipe at my gallery

I’ll regale you guys about me and Maroqs encounter with Egyptian Yahoo Yahoo boys in the next edition and how everybody in this City seems to smoke for a living. Also, we will be making the trip to Alexandria to cover the Super Eagles’ first press conference today so make sure to keep a date with us and follow us on all our Social Media platforms as we bring to you all the sights and sounds around the 32nd AFCON in Egypt.