Monday, October 30, 2006

Chasing Tigers: Adventures in Finding a Tigers' Game in Rural Kenya

Over the past 5 months in Kenya, we've met some of the biggest Detroit sport's fans in the world... they just don't know it yet. We've encountered a fisherman on a remote island in Lake Victoria decked out in a Stevie Yzerman Red Wings jersey, a baby admitted to the hospital with malaria still proudly donning her Tigers jersey, and even an elderly man in the slums of Nairobi showing off a vintage 1984 World Series jacket complete with the name "Dorothy" embroidered on the front. Being fellow Detroit sports fanatics, we get extremely excited when we encounter any display of Detroit sports-gear. We'll run up to these folks and enthusiastically explain that Detroit is our hometown, and that we're so thrilled to meet fellow fans. However, the reply is always the same: a blank confused look and "No sorry, this is just a shirt (jacket, etc)." Although they may be merely wearing second-hand clothes to serve a purpose without understanding their significance, we know in our Detroit-heart-of-hearts that deep-down they really are Detroit sports fans... they just don't know it yet.

Despite this immense Detroit following in Kenya, we've had more than a heck of a time trying to catch a Detroit Tigers playoff game in an area where there is no running water, let alone electricity and you can count the number of TVs in town on one hand, let alone those with satellite connection for the MLB playoffs. That's not to say that we haven't been trying...

After asking all around town if anyone carried the baseball games and hearing the reply, "What is baseball? Is it like football (soccer, the only "real" sport according to the people here)?", we had our first stroke of luck at, of all places, a campsite on Lake Naivasha. We were astonished to find a television connected to satellite TV with the MLB playoffs on the schedule for 4 am. We begged and pleaded with the Masai guard to open the bar and turn on the TV in the middle of the night, which was successful after we explained, "watching the Tigers in the playoffs is like watching Kenya in the finals of the World Cup". We awoke at 4 am from our tent, walked past a pod of hippos, and popped on the TV expecting our first glimpse of the Tigers in the playoffs since our childhood. Instead what we found was a group of announcers at the sportsdesk announcing that this evening's game between the Tigers and Yankees was cancelled due to rain. What luck!... but we were not yet defeated.

Over the next 2 series, we struggled on the islands of Lake Victoria without access to any TV, but kept up with the action via text messages over the cellular phone. We would excitedly jump from bed in the middle of the night to find that the Tigers had taken a lead in the first, or had gone to extra innings, or that Mags had hit a game-winning home run. Though this kept us up-to-date on the scores, it couldn't replace actually seeing our Tig's take the field.

Our big break came as we were hiking beach to beach living in fishing villages. Between villages we came upon the sole exclusive tourist resort on the island, run by a British character, whom we have come to know over our stay here. He generously offered for us to crash at the resort for the night for a break. We seized the opportunity and quickly went to work feeding him drink after drink, until he agreed to stay up until 3 in the morning with us to watch the Tigers on his private satellite TV in his house. Needless to say the British chap passed out before the game started mumbling something about "this game is nothing but rounders", and we were left to finally watch our Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series.

Seeing the men in the Old English 'D' take the field sent shivers down the spine, and watching Comerica Park come alive in a way that Detroit has not seen since 1984 was something truly special. For that brief moment, we were able to forget where we were in the middle of Lake Victoria in Kenya, suspend the intense emotions that we've had to deal with over the past months in working in this impoverished, HIV-prevalent area, and experience a surge of pride and excitement in seeing our hometeam represent our hometown in the center of the world stage. We intently watched the first 3 innings, savoring every pitch as we had worked for weeks to have this opportunity, when the generator power cut out and we were left in darkness. While we didn't have the chance to see a whole game, the chance to catch a glimpse of Detroit Tigers baseball in the middle of rural Kenya was something we'll never forget.

Although we were unable to catch any more games and have received the sad news that the Tigers were defeated, we want to thank the Tigers for the amazing 2006 season. Their efforts were seen and felt literally around the world. From unifying a city ridden with auto-industry lay-offs and tough economic times, to providing those of us away from our Michigan home a chance to escape our situation and join our friends and family rooting on our Tigers, this team has made us all proud! BLESS YOU BOYS!

As we set off to hike Mount Kilimanjaro this week, we will proudly wear our Detroit Tigers' gear and hoist the Detroit foam finger (which, of course, we packed in our luggage 5 months ago) from high atop Africa.

As promised...


Anonymous said...

Kev and John,

Glad to hear that you guys are still able to find that "cloud with a silver lining" especially amongst all that you have seen and had to deal with. What's with the lightweight Englishmen I know you guys would stay up with him to watch the Worldcup...!
Looking forward to hearing more about the climb. It appears through your itenerary that this outfitter is very well organized, we will look forward to seeing some pictures.
Take care and be safe. DAD M.

Anonymous said...

Kevin and John,

Congratulations to both of you! You made everything happen that you set out to do and were still able to keep up with the goings on in the D!! Can't wait to see you guys. John, don't forget that I reserved a spot in your backyard in December. Tell Paul that he's forgiven. -Nellie