I have never been an aficionado of sports, but I must say I have been compelled to follow the Olympics. If for nothing else, for the fact that Rwanda is represented with a sizeable number of sportsmen/women. Let’s cheer our sports torch-bearers on.
The fact alone that we are represented at the Olympics should be celebrated. I remember only recently when sports to a Rwandan meant bananas. When it was bananas, competitions never went beyond the village. For instance, football. Football was for youngsters who had nothing better to do. And it could only be played when parents were away. Otherwise, it would be the cane for whoever was caught indulging in it.
How did we make balls from banana fibres? You got any mellow, dry grass and bound it together with dry banana fibres, tying everything tightly together into a ball that could easily bounce off the ground. Only after that could you form a team. A team was hardly ever eleven players. And the playing field did not have to be level. As to goalposts, they could be shifted any time any player willed it, as they were in any case not a necessity.
Back then football was not the cutthroat business it has become today. People played for pleasure; for leisure. If you remember the death of the Colombian defender, Andres Escobar, who accidentally scored against his own team, you know what I am on about.
But bananas were not for football only. Bananas were everything. They provided food, shelter and clothing in addition to sports kits. Even today, bananas can be eaten as food and, when ripe, as fruit. When crushed, the ripe bananas provide the most nourishing juice. And the juice, when fermented, turns into the most potent brew. This brew, in turn, when distilled, provides the most intoxicating gin (kanyanga/waragi).
Bananas, they were the 9th wonder!
For your shelter, you only needed to get hewn tree trunks and branches. First, you sank these tree trunks in the ground. Then you tied dry reeds around them with banana fibres, after which you made a skeleton of the walls of your house. You did the same for the pointed roof, and did a quick job of finishing by stuffing the whole framework with dry banana leaves to keep you warm or cool, depending on the weather, and to keep away the elements. If you were particularly finicky about appearances, then you did an elaborate handiwork of banana fibres both on the roof and the sides of your house, and ended up with a singularly beautiful piece of art! Remember, too, that the ‘isinde’ (umbrella-hut) that I’ve talked about here is similarly made.
As waterproof wear, banana leaves could be worn as blouses, shirts, skirts or even shorts. So, if they have been honoured in the ‘matoke’ country of Uganda, as ‘essanja’, to denote the perseverance of a man into third term, it’s not for lack of imagination.
Dry banana fibres could make things as diverse as hats and containers, socks and mats, shoes and curtains and hosts of other useful things like plates! You only had to be aware of the enemy of all things dry: fire. All the versatility of everything dry banana goes up in smoke the moment it gets in contact with fire. And no ash is even left to tell the tale of its before-fire fame. Fortunately, bananas have a life before death!
And that’s how green bananas came in handy as sports kits. Time was when we used to hurtle down hillsides at tens of km an hour, our feet firmly fixed on the fleshy layers we had cut off the banana tree trunks for our skiing wizardry. You should have seen some of us champions turn and twist around trees, bushes or rocks as we sped downhill at crazy speeds, only to turn and spin around with relish at the bottom of the hill amid cheers from our competitors up on the hill!
You could call it short-track speed skating, in which case it could be said to be part and parcel of Summer Olympics. Or you could call it skiing, in which case it was part of our version of Winter Olympics. But we were not interested in names or fans, only the sport. Sometimes we could cut a whole tree trunk of a banana plant and use it as if in ice sledge racing. In that case the speed was not so high. But even to be a spectator you needed a strong heart!
Now somebody says they invented the Olympics? We had bananas, which is why, personally, I don’t give a hoot about today’s Olympics. It’s no longer about pleasure. All are out for their precious name. With a gold fetched from the Olympics, the world of moneybags is at your feet.
But so are the Western World sharks, all eager to tear you bare and milk the last dime out of you. But, the dilemma..... A Chinese teenager who smashes all swimming records at the London Olympics this week. The sharks cannot get their greedy fangs on her, so they attribute her success to doping. Today’s sports!
Where, the good old days when we went bananas over bananas?