One ball's journey to the World Cup
Spirit of Football
Alive & Kicking's
250,000th ball continues its journey with the Spirit of Football team
from London to the World Cup opening ceremony in Johannesburg.
We are in Ouidah, a city on the Atlantic coast of Benin - a country that alongside Togo is squashed between Ghana to the east and Nigeria to the west, like two slices of meat in a giant sandwich.
The streets here are clean, the people are friendly, and once upon a time business here was booming. The commodity, however, was people, with hundreds of thousands of Africans taken from their homes in chains as slaves, never to return, deep in the hull of ships headed west.
Many things have changed since then, but the presence of the voodoo religion remains strong throughout Benin. Andrew from Spirit of Football is happily chatting away with Ouidah’s mayor, their conversation ending with a firm handshake, when Andrew, as a throwaway gesture, mentions how great it would be to get me blessed by a voodoo practitioner.
The mayor's smile slips and, releasing Andrew's hand, he turns towards one of his aides and makes a sign with his hands in much the same way Terry Hurlock did before killing his opponent's desire to do anything fancy with the ball. The aide nods slowly and solemnly. “Then it will be done,” replies the Mayor. We're ushered into a car and driven at speed through the city's narrow back streets, behind us an evening sun falling from the sky.
We arrive in darkness at the home of Houngwe Towakon Guedehoungu. He's not just a high priest of voodoo, but the world's leading practitioner of the religion – sort of like the Pope of Voodoo. We were invited inside to take a seat.
Several minutes pass before our host appears through a beaded curtain hung over a doorway at the far end of the room. On first impression it's difficult to fathom what's more frightening, the childish fear of being possessed by some evil spirit, or Mr Guedehoungu's outfit. Either he's been through his nan's blouse collection, or Brazil's kit manufacturers have opted for something a bit avant-garde.
He sits on a long couch with a white towel hung around his neck. Our translator explains what I am and tells him about our journey. He takes me gently in his hands and uses his powers to consult with the spirit world. After a while he reassures us by saying the gods will protect both my guardians and I. He continues by saying that the gods would also protect the World Cup in South Africa.
He then asks the spirit world to allow an African team to lift the trophy. Everybody resists the temptation to chip in with asking the spirit world if they could take Mr Guedehoungu on a trip to the men's department of Marks & Spencer.
We leave Ouidah very thankful to have received the voodoo gods' blessing, and set off looking for a bookmaker to lay our savings down on Ivory Coast winning the World Cup.
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