I just love the Champions League.
Here I am, in Sulaimani, Iraq; there’s a thunderstorm outside; all I can find to eat is chicken and rice; whenever I take a shower my bathroom floods; lunch costs me $1.50; and the TV in my hotel apartment “suite” works via antenna and only picks up two or three local channels, mostly full of disruptions and static.
And yet, on the two nights during my first week in Iraq that featured Champions League quarterfinal games, there they were. Signal as clear as the sky, right on my home TV. Now, let it be known that in this region, Champions League games are played only on the most exclusive Al Jazeera Sports channels, which even some bars don’t have. But, go figure, one of the (three) channels that I get on my TV temporarily switches to AJ Sports to show the games, for the benefit of the people of Kurdistan. Not sure if I made myself clear: the Kurds switch form their local programming in their own language to broadcast an Arab channel. That’s how powerful soccer is. That’s how much it means. To Iraqis, to me, and to the owners of the small grocery stores that decorate the main street where my hotel is.
Walking back home from dinner on a Tuesday evening, I was inwardly enjoying the aftermath of a satisfying meal. I had just tried for the first time a spot people had been telling me had good pizza: Europe Cafe’. The owner, a nice fellow named Star (yea, it’s pronounced like that but not positive on the spelling) originally from Suly, had lived in Sweden for thirteen years. He had come back in the past few years because the climate was good for business, the quality of life was growing by the year, and he wanted to open his own cafe’ offering some of the delicacies he had been exposed to in Europe. Hence, “Swedish Burger,” “Swedish Pizza” and “Cappuccino” were ready to be served. Indeed, the thin, not overly cheesy pizza lived up to the hype, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. As you can imagine, I got goosebumps when I saw the adjective “Swedish” in front of the noun “pizza.” Anyways, I was headed back home after saying bye to my new friends at Europe Cafe’, when I noticed that the clerks at every single little grocery/convenience store I passed were busy staring at small screens placed near the check-out counter. Some screens were facing the street, and I finally realized what they were watching: CSKA Moscow – Inter, live.
I will soon be watching Inter – Barcelona, like many others around the world. Only that my telecast will have the added benefit of Arabic commentary. Let me tell you, nothing says “Gooooool” like “Gooooool” in Arabic.
Enjoy! I know I will.