FIFA World Cup blog: Confessions of an African journalist | Africa | DW | 22.06.2018
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FIFA World Cup blog: Confessions of an African journalist

In his second blog from Moscow, Nigerian journalist Samson Omale describes his experiences in getting to grips with the sheer size of the host country and learning how to walk the Russian way.

Before leaving home, I  had decided to set up my operational base in Moscow. But little did I know that visiting other cities and venues would be like embarking on a trip to another continent.

Did I underestimate how large Russia is? Well, it seems so. Just think about this. Fans whose teams have matches scheduled in different venues may have to travel almost 40 hours by train or fly more than four hours to cover a distance of 3,046 kilometers (1,893 miles) to be in the right place at the right time.

A Nigerian couple, who identified themselves as Emmanuel and Bridget, told me they had to spend three days on the train from Kaliningrad to Volgograd to catch up with matches involving the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

To appreciate the humongous size of this vast country, I have been digesting the fact that Russia has 11 time zones spread over an area of 17 million kilometers with a population of 144.3 million people.

Journalists and fans have to contend with these logistical nightmares in getting from one venue to another.

A plane after landing at Russia's Platov International Airport which was built specially for the 1018 World Cup (Imago/ITAR-TASS/M. Lystseva)

Rostov-on Don Platov International Airport was constructed specially for the 2018 World Cup

Do you speak English?

Recruiting and deploying volunteers is a vital component of any major tournament to try and avoid any incidents that could threaten the success of an event on the scale of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

 More than 15,000 FIFA volunteers have been recruited and deployed at airports, train stations, stadia, hotels and fan ID centers to make sure the World Cup runs smoothly.

I talked to one of them who is a student at Moscow University and he told me that being a volunteer at the 2018 World Cup is an opportunity to be part of history.

They are easily spotted in their orange t-shirts with 'Volunteer' written in bold on the side — but I was taken aback to discover that a large number of the volunteers do not speak English. I had assumed that part of the criteria for engaging a volunteer should be the ability to communicate in at least one foreign language other than Russian.

In search of African food

After accommodation, food is the next most important factor to consider in making your international travel memorable.

Africans in general are particular about the food they eat when they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. But for me, my approach is simple: Explore and enjoy the taste of your new country.

That's easier said than done when all you find yourself consuming in a week is bread, soup and burgers.

So I broke my first rule on international travel and went in search of African food. I indeed found a restaurant but I had to question if it was worth the total travel time of two hours and a cost of $150 (€129). By the way, I ended up eating egusi and fufu (a Nigerian delicacy).

Fans united

Match days are often fun days. Moscow is practically jolted to its foundations by the sheer energy dissipated by fans who scream their lungs out, parade in their colorful attire and provide spontaneous entertainment. Match venues are transformed as a carnival-like atmosphere takes over and for a moment you can forget all your troubles.

As you open up to suck in all this positive energy, you are tempted to question why the world is divided into meaningless stereotypes.

 Football fans from Nigeria (Reuters/J. Silva)

Nigerian fans relished Friday's winning performance by the Super Eagles against Iceland

Learning to walk

In Russia there are very clear social rules. They are unspoken but any attempt to break them could draw the ire of passing Russians. While it is so easy to bump into someone on the streets of Lagos, Johannesburg or Nairobi, and it is considered perfectly normal, in Russia you don't even get that opportunity in the first place.

Here is why. When you walk along a Russian street you must stay on the right. I learned that the hard way but then I met a Kenyan journalist who hurriedly organized a "how to walk along Russian streets" course for me.

So now you also know that if you visit  Russia one day, it's safe to stay on your right side of the walkway and not saunter down the middle of the street or anywhere else.

Until next time - from Russia with love!

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